Mother of God Solemnity, a Defence

Mary, Mother of God

Introduction

On January 1st, All United States’ Catholics are obligated to attend Mass for the feast of Mary, the Mother of God. In other countries, this feast is known as a solemnity. I used to joke about the United States Council of Bishops making it a holy day of obligation. I thought it was to prevent Catholics from partying and drinking too much. In reality, the choice of January 1st has historical precedent. In this post, I will define solemnity and Holy day of Obligation. Next, this post will describe the importance of Mary, Mother of God and why the Church chose January 1st.

Solemnity

The Catholic encyclopedia defines solemnity as a feast that deserves extra attention. Solemnities occur because either they are important for the entire faithful or they celebrate a local saint. A lot of parishes take their name from saints. Thus the feast day of that saint becomes a solemnity for them. The Church considers Mary, Mother of God to be so important to the faithful. Thus, The Church also celebrates it as a solemnity. In the United States, the solemnity of Mother of God is also a Holy Day of Obligation. In fact, all Holy Days of Obligation are solemnities, but not all solemnities are Holy Days of Obligations. There are ten Holy Days of Obligation.

Holy Days of Obligation

Canon 1246 states that Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation. In addition to Sunday, The Church gives ten other days. These include: the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God, Her Immaculate Conception, Her Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints 1. Canon 1246 gives power to Bishops to abolish certain holy days of obligation with prior approval. This explains why Catholics celebrate Mother of God in the United States.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Why January 1st?

The Catholic Church celebrates this solemnity on January 1st. In the Byzantine Church, the celebration of the second person always occurs after the primary person 2. For the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the primary person would be Jesus. The Church celebrates Jesus on December 25th. Thus, any celebration of Mary’s motherhood would occur after December 25th2. Different locations celebrated the Solemnity of Mother of God on various different dates. The Coptic Catholic Church celebrated on January 16th 2. The Catholic Church in France celebrated on January 18th2. The Roman Church celebrated on January 1st2. The Roman church chose this date because they wanted to replace the pagan feast of the God Janus 2.

In the fifth century, disputes arose about the nature of Jesus’ divinity. The major question centered on whether Jesus inherited two natures. Mary contributed to his human nature and God contributed to his divine nature. The Council of Ephesus met to debate and decide this issue. They declared Jesus had one nature that was fully human and divine and thus Mary was the Mother of God. The Solemnity was extended to the entire Latin Church in 1931, the fifteenth century of the Council of Ephesus 1. When choosing a date, The Church went with the ancient practice of Rome. Pope Paul VI explains,

This celebration is assigned to January 1st in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome2.

So we Catholics celebrate Mary, Mother of God on January 1st. We should understand The Church is not trying to prevent late night parties. Rather, The Church deems it important and desires to honor the Roman traditional date.

Celebrating the solemnity today

So what can we as Catholics today learn from celebrating Mary, Mother of God. First of all, we remember Mary’s yes to God. When we remember her yes, we are strengthened to make our own yes to God. We remember Mary’s humanity. We can acknowledge that Christ was fully divine and fully human. One must understand Christ’s nature to understand the incarnation and our own salvation.. Last, when attending Mass on the New Year, we make a conscious effort to put God first before starting a New Year. So this New Year, don’t sleep off a hangover, spend some time with your spiritual mother by attending the solemnity of Mary Mother of God.


  1. https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/holy_days_of_obligation.htm 
  2. https://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/S/solemnityofmary.asp 

Why Praise and Worship is Important to Catholics

Left side is man raising hands praising and right side is a church choir practicing

Introduction

Catholics tend to criticize praise and worship music. I’ve heard it described as sappy emotionalism that has no place in worship. Catholic rightfully criticize its presence in Mass. Yet, praise and worship may have a legitimate place in Catholic spirituality. St. Paul speaks of spiritual songs in Colossians 3:16

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God

According to this verse, we are to keep the words of Christ in us. St. Paul offers two ways of doing so by teaching and admonishing each other and through singing. According to Paul, we are to sing: 1. Psalms, 2. Hymns, and 3. Spiritual songs. Most Catholics are familiar with singing Psalms and hymns because it happens at Mass. Yet, I’m sure the concept of spiritual songs would confuse most Catholics. I argue that hymns are distinct from Spiritual songs. I also argue that one needs both in order to “let the word of God dwell in us.” Praise and worship songs fall under the category of spiritual songs. I will use both spiritual songs and praise and worship interchangeably. First, I need to explain the difference between Hymns and Spiritual songs.

What are hymns

Hymns are a piece of music that the church uses to give glory to God. In a Catholic context, a piece of music qualifies as a hymn when it also qualifies as Sacred Music. A hymn qualifies when it is: 1. Holy, 2. Has beauty of form and 3. Is universal.1 Traditionally the church only allowed for Gregorian chant and Polyphony. Since Vatican II, the church has allowed newer composition. Newer compositions do not automatically include modern songs. To understand why we need to understand the philosophy behind beauty of forms.

The criteria that allow Forms to be Beautiful 2

The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas helps define these criteria. If you hate philosophy, you may want to skip this section as the concept can get pretty confusing. Aquinas stated that a person conceptualizes beauty. A person bases beauty on actuality, proportion, radiance, and integrity.

Actuality

Aquinas argues that everything is beautiful in proportion to its own form. Every object that exists has a form. A form helps distinguish different objects. For example, the body of a human takes a different shape than the body of a dog. When a human possesses all the correct body parts, that is beautiful according to form. The object must have action. In other words, the object must be doing a thing that makes it different from other objects. A dog must be acting like a dog. A human must be acting like a human. So to summarize, actuality requires existence, a form, and action. All this is necessary for anything to have beauty.

Proportion

This pertains to the idea that all the parts relate to the whole in a balanced way. Going back to our human example again. We can imagine a human with all the typical body parts, but those parts are out of proportion. For example, if one arm is longer than the body, then it would be impractical and not beautiful.

Radiance

Radiance refers to the shine that comes from the object and seizes the attention of the beholder. Music has radiance when it captures the attention of the listener.

Integrity

An object has integrity in two ways. The object must be perfect concerning it’s being. Likewise, the object must be perfect in operation. In other words, the object is not missing anything.

Hymns conclusion

So, Aquinas laid the groundwork to argue for an objective nature of beauty. So the church states reference the above criteria to determine beauty of form. If an object has beauty of form then it will have universality. Holiness refers to the purpose of the music, which is to give glory to God alone. So a perfect hymn must honor God, be beautiful to everyone. At the very least it must honor God and be in harmony like choir music.

Are praise and worship considered spiritual songs

These are songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are spontaneous and have no proportionality. They incorporate multiple instruments. Modern praise and worship music incorporates all of these characteristics. One such example would be Bethel, who will often sing spontaneously. They also create a mashup of two different songs. Catholic artist also performs this style of music. One artist that comes to mind is Emmanuel worship. Some people will mention that praise and worship are repetitive and emotional. This serves the purpose of spiritual songs. Spiritual songs help us reflect on God and his relationship with us. Hymns on the other hand help give God honor and praise. Thus spiritual songs are more meditative. Repeating over and over that God is a good father may sound simplistic, but it helps internalize the truth.

Conclusion

My frustration as of late stems from Catholics wanting to have their cake and eat it too. Some want traditional chants and to look down on praise and worship. Others want the mass to incorporate praise and worship. The songs may not be appropriate to function as a hymn. The former while correct denies the power of praise and worship. The latter waters down the Mass. I would like to see a balance. I would like to see beautiful harmonized music during Mass. The church can also have monthly spontaneous worship events. Yes, I can listen to praise and worship in my own time. Yet, there is something exuberant about worshiping spontaneously with the body of Christ.

Mid-week reflection: Why I'm not offended by the Met-gala

Dear Readers, I’ve decided that in addition to my weekly planned blogs that should come out Monday, I would write a short reflection on what is happening in the world as it pertains to the Catholic church. These will be much shorter and infrequent.
So the Met-Gala took place this week on May 7th. If you do not follow celebrities or the fashion world, then like me you may have been baffled by the pictures all over social media. These pictures showed celebrities dressing in ball gowns adorned with religious imagery. The dresses ranged from beautiful and tasteful, to outright mockery.  In this blog, I will break down:  Met Gala, what the Church says about art and beauty, and how involved the Church was in this event.

What is the Met Gala

According to Wikipedia, the Met Gala acts as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It consists of both a fashion exhibit and art exhibit. Every year there is a different theme. The Gala encouraged attendees to dress in accordance with these themes. This year the exhibit thought to explore the relationship between religion and fashion. More specifically, the exhibit wanted to show how religious art and liturgical vestments influenced fashions from the earliest 20th century to the present. [1]
The Catholic Church has always had a relationship with art and beauty. The Catechism states

Created in the image of God, Man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the creator by the beauty of his artistic works.[2]

Art mimics God’s creative act and thus the Church feels led to participate in artistic endeavors from time to time. However, Sacred art separates itself from worldly art in that

its form corresponds to its particular vocation evokIing and glorifying the transcendent mysteries of God.[3]

The distinction between art and sacred art becomes important when discussing The Met Gala. The dresses inspired by the Catholic Church fall under the definition of art; while the liturgical vestments and other accessories fall under the definition of sacred art.  The question is, can sacred art every be used to inspire non-sacred art or must the two always be divided.

How involved was the Church in the Met Gala

Social media and certain news outlets made it appear that the Vatican supported the whole event. In reality, the Vatican authorized Mr. Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute, to borrow vestments to display for the exhibit called Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination  [4]. Mr. Bolton met with Archbishop Gänswein to discuss his desire to show how the Church has served as inspiration for designers[4]. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the de facto minister of culture for the Vatican, agreed, saying that fashion has a biblical origin since God created the first clothes in Genesis [4]. Cardinal Ravasi also said that he saw similarities between gala attire and vestments in that both signify, “a distinction from the mundane and quotidian”[4].

Summarization and opinion

To summarize, if the exhibit itself makes any mistakes it conflates art and sacred art together. The liturgical vestments and other religious symbols are not mere expressions of truth but are objects designed to evoke adoration. They were never intended to act as mere fashion adornments. However, I have no problem with the acknowledgment that the Church has influenced art and fashion. The theme of the Gala; however, is another story. Encouraging others to dress in sacred imagery invites mockery.

Examples

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However, the mockery of the sacred should not surprise us. Jesus, in John 15:18, warns his followers that the world will hate them.

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

Rather than becoming offended or angry, we should instead follow the advice of John 15; abide in Jesus, obey his commandments, and love one another.

Work Cited

[1] https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/heavenly-bodies
[2]  Catholic Church. “2501” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[3] Catholic Church. “2502” Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012.
[4] Horowitz, Jason. “How the Met Got the Vatican’s Vestments” New York Times, 3 May 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/fashion/heavenly-bodies-met-gala-vatican.html

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!

You have seen those commercials before. They usually come during daytime television, where an old lady has fallen, usually in the bathroom. After that montage, an old man comes un the screen and says, “you need life alert.” Life alert is a necklace that one can wear with a button that can be pushed in case of emergency. At the end of the commercial, the old lady is smiling, and says, “thank you, Life Alert.” This product may save you from a physical fall, but what happens when you fall spiritually? I think initially it is easy to say well, go to confession. While I most definitely agree that confession is Life Alert for the soul, I think that to say confession is the answer too quickly dismisses the fear and shame that surrounds failure.
I know that in my own life I have battled with sins of omission or not doing the things I should. It reminds me of Romans 7:19, “19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” I have felt like Paul in that I want to pray and spend time with Jesus. More importantly, I want to make my mark in the world. Now I want to do these things to bring glory to God. Here’s the secret though, God doesn’t care about what we do so much as why we are doing it. It’s not that God wants us to sit on our butts and watch Netflicks. However, what God wants is our love. The question I’ve been asking myself is why does God deserve our love. Yes, he died for us on the cross, but how does this love manifest itself. Yes, God chose to die for me, but why?
I had radically encountered God’s love in the past, But the past month is the first time I question this love. I was miserable because of it. I didn’t understand why God loves us and why we praise him. I had told myself that God deserves praise because he gives us a purpose. However, after praising God I still have no clue what my mission in life is, furthermore, it seems that God works miracles in other’s lives, but not mine. It seemed pointless and I resigned to a “why bother” stance regarding my faith. I was going through the motions. I felt a sense of shame and guilt that kept me from doing more than the bare minimum. This was the “I’ve fallen” moment.
On 9/14, I attended a Steubenville Encounter Atlanta conference for Young adults (it was great and full review coming soon). What stood out to me was the concept of falling in love with Jesus. Joel Stepanek set the tone during his talk on The Breath of God. He read from Ezekiel chapter 37. He remarked that at some point we had experienced the breath of God or we wouldn’t be at the conference, but now we are dried bones. We have deprived ourselves of the breath of God because the world has made us feel apathetic. He talked about how when things are beyond our control, we either turn a blind eye or we attempt to make a difference. We cannot escape from the vicious cycle unless we have the Holy Spirit or breath of God in us. Through the various talks, I realized that I was, in essence, doubting God’s love and goodness.
That night, I went to reconciliation. After confessing, the priest tried to tell me that God loved me. He used beautiful metaphors, but on the inside, I wanted to scream, WHY, HOW DO YOU KNOW? Instead, I let the truth wash over me, knowing full well that it didn’t resonate or connect. After that, we had adoration, before adoration, the MC, Chris Stefanick, had us get into groups of 4. We were to announce in our group the lies that the devil says and to pronounce the truth about who God says I am. It is at this moment that everything clicked. What I do or say does not dictate who I am, God does. God loves me as his creation and he declares that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God would not have created me if I was not worthy of being created and for this alone I owe him praise.
Sometimes we can get blinded by the mission and forget the why behind it. I truly believe that I am in a session of rejoicing in the present, and not worrying about the future or filling my vocation. Rather let me be content to rest at the feet of Jesus and let him lead me in the dance of life.
 

Let's talk emotional manipulation

One day last week I wasn’t feeling good. I had a lot of things I wanted to get done, but instead of doing any of them I sat at the kitchen table playing mobile games on my phone. What makes mobile games so addicting? The short, non-complicated answer is that these games were made to trigger the dopamine receptors in the brain so that you would get a reward response. Game makers know how to market their games in order to be addicting. They do this because their ultimate motive is to make money. So they use techniques to emotionally manipulate you into buying the game. These techniques include among other things lights, sounds, and instantaneous rewards.
Also on Sunday, July 30th, I took a non-denominational friend to the Wave. (don’t freak, I went to Mass on Saturday night). First a little background. The Wave is a local megachurch mainly in the Hampton roads area; however, it is branching out into other parts of Virginia. The main campus is located on Great Neck Road,  Virginia Beach.  It was one of the first churches I ever attended and it is where I made my first public declaration of faith. Admittedly I am a bit nostalgic for this church even though I now know better.
When we drove up to the Wave, we were greeted by parking attendants. We asked politely where the handicapped spots are located (the visible ones in the front are taken). The parking attendant told us that there is more handicapped parking on the side. We went there and sure enough, there was one spot left. We headed inside, but not before my friend started taking pictures. I asked, “Are you taking pictures of the building.” “Yes,” my friend replies, “I’ve never seen a church look like this.” Previously my friend had remarked that the church looked like a car sales company. The building is two stories high and the front is cover in glass and the sides are white. No religious imagery at all. The only sign that is indeed a church is the words, “Wave church” above the building. We went inside. There is a lobby area. In front is a giant information desk and to the left and right are couches for people to sit including a newcomers lounge. We passed the information desk and entered into the sanctuary, which in actuality is a large auditorium. In front of the auditorium is a large stage and above the stage are three large screens. One look on my friends face and I could tell that she was overwhelmed, but excited. She took another picture, this time of the stage. The service began. An upbeat song began to play. People were jumping up and down and waving their hands. The songs were accompanied by smoke and stage lights After about 30 minutes, there was the offering message and an announcement video. Then we were told to greet one another and say that “they sang  like an angel.” After that, the message or sermon started.
Regard the message, I really enjoyed it. It was titled, “crashing through walls” and centered around James 1:2, and James 1:12. The pastor talked about the importance of endurance and how you can’t get anywhere without it. I want to take a moment to ask a question that I would have asked the pastor myself if given the chance. Where does endurance come from?  If it is necessary for the Christian life and it is the result of our own effort then how are we saved by faith alone like they profess to believe? If it comes directly from God then why do we need to work through trials at all?
Despite those questions, which didn’t come to me until later, there was a moment where I almost got sucked in. It was towards the end of the sermon, where the pastor said, “I want everyone to raise their hand and repeat after me, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.'” It is in that moment that I was once again swept away. I experienced an emotional high. I had been manipulated to feel certain things in that moment and everything had led me up to that point. The music, the lights, and the message were all designed, just like mobile games, to make me make that declaration to follow Jesus.  It is designed to get me to come back every Sunday so that I can get my fix for the week. The strategy is highly effective as thousands of people pour in every Sunday.  The question remains if church is reduced to an emotional experience, what happens when I, the consumer, am no longer moved? Can the gospel or good news be reduced to marketing tactics? Even if it can, should it be?
Catching Foxes podcast recently said that the greatest sin in youth ministry is emotional manipulation. They talked about how the goal of the minister should be about forming relationships and not be solely motivated to help kids encounter Christ. As I think back on my past experience at the Wave, I think that the greatest problem is that the Wave’s motivation is to seek the lost and to help foster an emotional encounter with Christ. These motivations are not intrinsically bad, but it creates a watered down product that ultimately shallow and worldly.
Christianity is much more than a worship band, stage lights, and lounge chairs. It is about sacrifice and reverence; two characteristics that the marketing business world can’t understand.

Let's talk about dignity!

Dignity is a word that you hear a lot. You hear it on the news and you hear it in the pews, but what is it? It seems like dignity is such a slippery concept. We hear about Death With Dignity, which argues that people in intense suffering deserve to die either at the hands of their physician or be provided the means to die usually by overdosing on drugs. Yet the Catholic Church also uses dignity to argue against euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.  How can the same concept be used by two different parties to mean two different things? More importantly, how can we talk intelligently about the dignity of LGBTQ people and still maintain that the homosexual act is inherently disordered or undignified? These questions are important, but in order to answer them, we must first ask, where does dignity come from?
During the summer, I spent a lot of time contemplating the concept of dignity. It first came up in my religious reasoning class but followed me around like a ghost. It came up in Sunday’s homily and again in the case of Charlie Gard. This led me to investigate the concept of dignity.
In short, dignity is the idea that human beings possess value. The problem is that society has forgotten the root of the value. This value comes from God-likeness. This means two things: 1 we are not God, and 2. we have characteristics of God. We are embodied creatures, which means that unlike God, we are tied to our biological makeup. However, that is okay, because our dignity is being like God, not being God. Dignity; therefore, entails both the soul and the body in unity. If dignity is found in the body then we have dignity by virtue of being members of homo sapiens. Thus we all have inherent dignity in our bodies that is worthy of respect and protection; however, there is more. We are not merely bodily creatures, for there are certain characteristics that separate man from animal.  It is in the exercising these higher characteristics that help men achieve fuller dignity.   It is here that we can measure whether an action is dignified in so far as it is an action consistent with the character of God.  There is more that could be said about the characteristics of God, but for this post, I will use the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness gentleness, and self-control.
Most disputes revolving around dignity tend to emphasize one side of the coin or the other. It is not inherent dignity or fuller dignity, but rather inherent dignity  and fuller dignity working together,
This can be seen in the death with dignity controversy. Those in favor of mercy killing emphasize the fact that it is undignified to live a life, where one is unable to experience love or joy due to extreme suffering. Those against mercy killing argue that the killing a person, no matter the reason, destroys the inherent dignity that person possesses. However, neither camp appeals to both strains of dignity in a cohesive way. Such an outlook would have to admit that it is undignified to lose one’s rational capacities, but it is also fundamentally unfair to deny the person’s intrinsic dignity that they possess regardless of their mental capacity. Under this outlook
However, neither camp appeals to both strains of dignity in a cohesive way. Such an outlook would have to admit that it is undignified to lose one’s rational capacities, but it is also fundamentally unfair to deny the person’s intrinsic dignity that they possess regardless of their mental capacity. Under this outlook, it would be wrong to kill a person simply because they have lost their rational mind, but there would be nothing wrong with letting the person die and making them comfortable.
Currently, there is a tension between the LGBTQ and the church. This tension exists primarily because the church wants to rightly uphold the inherent dignity of LGBTQ people especially those who are baptized. Yet, the church teaches that the inclination to be sexually attracted to the same sex is inherently disordered. How can a person have inherent dignity and yet the core of who they believe to be is inherently disordered?
To answer this question, we must remember that dignity is more than just the value placed on our biological makeup; it also entails exercising the characteristics that make us God-like provided that we have the capacity to do so. Two characteristics stand out to me: patience and self-control. Thus, in the eyes of the church, their job is to not just respect the inherent dignity of every person but to challenge people to achieve a fuller dignity. To water down this message, in turn, reflects negatively on the church’s perspective on the LGBT community. It says that the church must treat the LGBT community differently or have different expectations for them. If the church does this, ultimately, we are admitting that we do not believe that LGBT community can achieve a fuller dignity. Lastly, it is important to remember that one’s sexual attraction is not where dignity comes from, rather it comes from the belief that we are more than our biological urges
Whether you are facing a terminal illness, a painful debilitating disease, or same sex sexual attraction, it can be hard to find a balance between the idea that you are loved and have dignity and the idea that you are called to act in a different way in order to achieve something greater. However, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You have inherent dignity precisely because you are made in God’s likeness, which in turn places certain expectations.
Hence it is not that dignity is an ambiguous concept rather the two strands of dignity are hard to balance.
 

Feeling paralyzed

Dear readers,
I am paralyzed. I have a ton of ideas swimming around in my head and I don’t know where to turn or what to do. It’s like I’ve been given the destination without the map. May be though I have the map, but I don’t like where it is taking me. I want t go on the highway, instead of the back country roads. On the highway, you feel safe, secure, surround by others, and you can fly. Highways don’t offer much in terms of scenery. It doesn’t offer a sense of culture; instead it caters to the masses. God is challenging me, especially this week to take the back country roads. To dare to take a different path. To dare to follow Him into the unknown. In fact, I believe this challenge isn’t just for me, but for everybody.
Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”
So God is challenging me to examine myself to determine, whether my desires are leading my down the highway or the narrow path. So many times, I’ll think of ways the Catholic church can improve by doing things the way the world does them. While there may be legitimate concerns that I have with the Church’s tradition with  a little t; I have to stop myself and ask, does the practice of The Catholic church put us on the narrow road? I am wrestling with this because I want the Catholic church to be on the highway. I try to rationalize it by saying we can attract more people on the highway. If the church embraces the latest trends then surely it will look more attractive and inviting.
The reality is though that I think deep down inside, I want the Catholic church to be more attractive and inviting, because then it’ll be more comfortable to me the consumer. I truly never learned to die to self. Last Wednesday’s gospel reminds us that we must die to self. “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” We can die to self, only because Christ died for us. Only by considering what it cost him, can we begin to make sense of what it will cost us. I can guarantee that Christ did not die for you to have convenient parking on Sunday, to listen to great music, to hear a great message, or to have fellowship. Instead, he died so that we might have a chance at holiness. Now should we expect a good, welcoming experience, yes, but if we begin to think that is what it is  about, we have missed the point entirely.
In this self-discovery that I need to practice self-denial, God is showing me that I need to be more generous; not just with my time, but my treasure. You see, I’ve embraced the lie that as long as I am volunteering my time and talents, then I can keep my treasure. The reality is that all three aspects are necessary sacrifices in order to be a healthy disciple of Christ. I know I’m not alone in believing this lie. I’m sure that there are plenty of people, who serve their parish through volunteering with out serving financially.
Lastly I want to emphasize that dying to oneself is a gradual undertaking. I do not expect to give a full 10% of my income each month, but I can start with 1%. This is what Matthew Kelly defines as continuous improvements, in which a person takes small and consistent steps to meet a large goal. We, as Catholics, tend to be very rigid with rules and regulations. We focus on applying the rules; however, rules do no change hearts. If we want people to  give, we need to help foster gratitude for their parish community.We need to lead by example, and show why giving is important.
God gave us everything and it cost him his life, what would it cost you to follow him?

Adoration: the treasure of the Catholic Church

I finally returned to the perpetual adoration chapel after a very prolonged absence. I honestly can’t explain why it took me so long to return. Perhaps it was arrogance or even ignorance in that I believed I didn’t need it. However, I was very much wrong. In this blog post, I’d like to share what adoration is and my journey towards adoration
For those who don’t know, Eucharistc adoration is defined as, “adoring or honouring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. In a deeper sense, it involves “the contemplation of the Mystery of Christ truly present before us”.
There are different types of Eucharistic adorations:
1. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
This is a church service, where groups of people gather to adore the Eucharist. Like the Mass, it has it’s own unique stricture, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning is marked by the hymn  O Salutaris Hostia and the benediction ends with the hymn, Tantum Ergo, and the divine praises. The middle is the longest part and can be silent prayer or have music.
2. Holy hour
This is one an individual or group of people decide to pray in front of the sacrement for an hour of silent prayer
3. 40 hours
This is a special devotion, where the eucharist is exposed for 40 hours. For example, 3:00 PM Friday to 6:00 AM Sunday. In this devotion there are special rituals such as: reciting a sequence of an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory be 5 times — the last cycle being for the intentions of the Holy Father.
4. Perpetual Adoration
This is when the Eucharist is exposed 24/7 and people take turns being in the presence of Christ.

I truly believe that adoration is the treasure of the Catholic Church. From very awkward beginnings, I have learned to truly appreciate this special devotion and the power it has had in transforming my life. My first experience with adoration was awkward indeed in that I was not well prepared at all for the experience. I was not Catholic at the time. In fact, I was quite the opposite; I was pentecostal of the vineyard variety. So how did I end up at adoration? Well I had been talking to a very close Catholic friend about good preaching. I had asked him, who his favorite preachers where. He mentioned Father Mike Jolly from Saint Joan of Arc Church. I said that I’d be interested in hearing him preach, but didn’t want to go to Mass on Sunday. He invited me to adoration that was geared towards Youth and Young Adults. Later I would know it as a benediction service. Unfortunately the priest was not holding the service that night. This was of course disappointing, but since I was already on my way to the church, I decided to still attend. Turns out that since there was no priest, the service was very much striped down. I don’t remember much except feeling a bit bewildered. All the required hymns were in latin so of course I didn’t know them. Secondly it was silent prayer for an hour. I don’t recall up until that point ever praying silently for that long. I remember feeling very small, like a child. I kept getting distracted and looking around. I also felt different because everyone was kneeling, but I was not due to my disability. Yet in the mist of all these negative feelings, I definitely got a sense of sacredness and peace that was missing in my own church’s Young Adult service.
As a student working on my Masters in church history, I wanted to investigate the reasoning behind Eucharistic adoration. It is through this investigation that I read John 6:48-58. This is also known as the bread of life discourse, in which Jesus tells us that his flesh will be poured out for the whole world and that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. Furthermore, we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. I began to believe that this was a direct reference to the Eucharist and that the bread and wine was not just a mere symbol, but is literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. Hence, I had began to accept the source and summit of the Catholic faith.
Having come to this revelation and not getting very convincing answers from my pastor, I began to explore the Catholic church in earnest. I had heard about Catholic underground, a ministry that offered benediction of the blessed sacrament and even though I wasn’t Catholic, I decided to attend. This was a much better experience than the first time. They had praise and worship music. I still didn’t know the latin hymns, but it put me at ease. I remember that I got the same peaceful feeling. It dawn on me that one doesn’t need artificial lights or a loud praise band to make an impact. While in my previous church I had always questioned my emotional response since the service was designed to elicit emotion, here I knew that my emotional response was authentic because the purpose of the service was to strictly praise Jesus.
While in the process of becoming Catholic, I joined 2096, a weekly adoration group at Saint Matthew’s Catholic church. It was here that I found the support and encouragement to continue my journey as well as meeting life long friends. Unfortunate 2096 would be disbanded and I would soon have to search for other avenues for adoration.
Having unfortunately lost my weekly adoration group, I was also in the process of reading Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly. This book was very impactful and one of the things it encouraged was holy hour devotion.  I had never done a holy hour, I had always done benediction with light contemplative music. I was nervous about the prospect of being alone with Jesus in silence for an hour. What do I talk about; what do I wear? Over the years I’ve found what works for me and what doesn’t and I know that it has helped my relationship with Jesus, but also the Catholic church.
I hope that my testimony encourages you to, not only seek out adoration for yourself, but encourage others, who might benefit from the peace that comes from being in the presence of Christ. It can be scary and challenging to sit in silence especially in today’s world of noise, but I promise you that you will have peace, a newfound respect for the Eucharist, and an increase in faith.

Have you had a transformational experience?

If you’ve ever taken the time to read the daily Mass reading on a consistent basis, you may have noticed that The Catholic church at least tries to organize the reading around a theme. For instance, for liturgical year C cycle II, the 16th Sunday in ordinary time, the readings were Genesis 18:1-10, Psalms 15:2-5, Colossians 1:24-28 and Luke 10:38-42 and for July 18th we have Micah 6:1-4, 6-8 and Matthew 12:38-42. In both Genesis 18:1-10 and Luke 10:38-42, we are presented with people,  who are trying to entertain an important guest. In Genesis, we have  Abraham, who is visited by three men. It is heavily implied that these men have been sent by the Lord. He invites his guest to rest while he prepares a meal for them. He quickly delegates various responsibilities to the different people in the household. After the meal has been prepared , Abraham sits with his guest and enjoys their company. The guest bless Abraham by saying that when they return his wife, Sarah will be pregnant with his child.
In Luke 10:38-42, we are presented with Mary and Martha. Martha, like Abraham, is entertaining an important guest, Jesus Christ. Martha is described as being distracted, anxious and worried about entertaining her guest. She wants her sister Mary to remove herself from the feet of Jesus and help her. Jesus rebukes her and states that Martha has chosen to worry about many things when only one thing is needed and that Mary has chosen the good portion. Why is it that Martha gets rebuked by Jesus for wanting to delegate her responsiblities and yet Abraham essentially does the same thing and gets a blessing?
The key has to do with resting and enjoying the moment. Abraham, unlike Martha, was not anxious, worried, or distracted. He served his guest while still managing to sit and listen to them. Paul tells us in the Colossians readings that we too can serve his church without anxiety or worry because of the mystery, which is that we have Christ in us.
So how do we practically go through life without anxiety and worry. Well in the mist of our serving, we need to have Mary moments, where we have a transformation experience with Jesus.  This brings me to July 18th’s gospel. In Matthew 12:38-42, Jesus rebukes the scribes, who ask for a sign. Jesus, in verse 42, mentions the queen of the south. He says, “At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.” Once again, Jesus is reminding us that he is the wisdom that we should seek. He is the Son of God. If we go out of our way, like the queen of the south did for man’s wisdom; how much more should we be willing to travel to experience the wisdom that comes from Christ? Unfortunately though, there are so many people, who have never been inwardly transformed by the wisdom of Christ, because for whatever reason we don’t rest in him.
I’ve had the joy of having a transformation experience. The best way to describe it is to use emotional language, but it isn’t really a feeling. It is an assurance deep inside yourself that there exist something greater than yourself; a sort of peace that passes all understanding. Suddenly a weight has been lifted and you feel free and you have no fear or worry. It is the place where the world disappears and you are alone, but yet not alone. it is in this place that you can feel God wrap his loving arms around you. It is not something that is limited to a one time experience, but rather it is an experience that we should carry with us everyday.
God’s mercies are new everyday and each day offers a new opportunity to go into that deep place, where you can taste heaven and feel yourself sitting at the feet of Jesus. God desires to share himself with you and he has gifted his church with numerous opportunities to experience him intimately. The first way is through the unbloody sacrifice of the mass, in which God represents himself in the form of bread and wine so that we may consume him and be one. The second way is through adoration in front of the consecrated bread. It is here that we have a direct line to experience the presence of Christ directly. I liken the difference to talking to your lover on the cell phone verses going on a date. While one can have intimacy over the phone, it is another level when you can be in the real presence of your lover. Similarly when we pray, we are talking to God on the cell phone, but when we pray in adoration, we are essentially going on a date with Jesus. Confession can also be a moment for transformation in which we feel God’s love through hearing the words, “you are forgiven.” Lastly sacramentals such as the rosary and praise and worship can offer opportunities to have a transformation experience. Ultimately each person is different and experiences God in different ways; however, we should always strive to rest in Christ and to be transformed by his presence, which is real and inviting.

Solutions to the Catholic music problem

In my blog thus far, I’ve attempted to show that there is a Catholic music scene; however, the artists in the scene are relatively unknown due to the Catholic church’s liturgical structure, Western European cultural influence, and tradition. Now I will be outlining ways the Catholic Church can support these artist.
1. An argument for contemporary music a Mass
Obviously the best way for Catholic artists to gain exposure is by showcasing their music at Mass. This is the most effective way because a good majority of Catholics only come to Mass and thus Mass is their only exposure to Christian music. The use of contemporary music at Mass is very controversial.
If you recall in my last post, I linked to an article by Peter A. Kwasniewski. He argues against contemporary music at Mass. His main thesis is that using music with secular origins conforms the mind to the world instead of to the divine mysteries and does not foster a contemplative atmosphere. Furthermore, he argues that the instrumentality of the music is what lingers in the soul, not the lyrics. He states,  “A piece of music carries with it and conveys not only what its maker may be thinking and feeling, but in a deeper way, the thoughts and feelings of the context and culture out of which the musical style or its elements emerged.” (1). He proclaims that, “our calling as Christians is to bring holiness from the altar into the world, and, as much as we can, to transform the world, renew it, sanctify it by the power of the sacred mysteries. Christians have never seen it as their job to bring elements of the fallen world from the outside into the temple, remaking liturgy, preaching, and art forms into reflections of that world.”(1) I’d like to respond to this argument.
First, I would like to ask, isn’t all music inherently secular? Music, in my opinion, has always found its origin in human society and culture. Perhaps the only exception would be Plainsong or Chant since this style directly relates to the Hebrew chanting of the Psalms. As time went on, this chants would become more elaborate. In fact, Gregorian chant is derived from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican chants.(2) It would go on to replace the local chant tradition of Rome. According to David Wilson, Gregorian chant was promoted, not by the church, but by Charlemagne, who ordered it performed by the priests upon pain of death.(3) This brief history summary serves to  showcase that even music written for the church and by the church had cultural influences. If culture can influence the early church’s music choices, then it can continue to influence the music of the church today.
Furthermore, Kwasniewski doesn’t just support plainsong, but also Renaissance polyphony. He states, “Traditional Church music is derived from sacred precedents: Christian plainchant from Hebrew chanting of the psalms, Renaissance polyphony from plainchant (when singing a motet by Palestrina you can feel the Gregorian influence upon every line), Baroque styles from Renaissance ones;”(1) This is hypocritical when one considers the origins of Renaissance polyphony. According to Msgr. Charles Pope, Renaissance polyphony emerged as harmony was introduced into Church music. (4)  He describes that harmony entered into church music as a culture shift occurred due to the reintroduction of Greek Philosophy, “Several factors influenced the introduction of harmony. First, there was the reintroduction of Greek philosophy and some of its views back into the Western world through scholasticism.” (4). Likewise Msgr. Pope points out that,
” the music was not without controversy. There were two main problems with this new style called polyphony. The first problem was the intelligibility of the text. With multiple harmonies being sung, the Latin text, often staggered across many parts and voices, became harder and harder to understand. Clergy in particular complained of this, arguing that the sacred text was taking a backseat to musical flourishes. In addition, the “theatrical showiness” seemed secular to many. The second troubling issue was that many of the composers of the day drew from secular melodies that were often heard in taverns, in theaters, and on the streets. They would often take these recognizable melodies and set them as a cantus firmus (musical theme or foundation) of sacred compositions, including the parts of the Mass.” (4).
Hence it seems hypocritical of Kwasniewski to promote polyphony when he accuses contemporary music of have the same problems that originated with Polyphony. I believe he can be criticized for having a slanted view of the history of sacred music. I also believe he misunderstands the nature of contemporary worship music. Kwasniewski seems to think that contemporary worship music involves slapping Christian lyrics onto secular music. The reality is that Contemporary worship music and gospel music arose as spiritual hymns for the 21st century church. It arose to sanctify the secular, to take what was secular and make it holy. Contemporary worship music especially gospel music was not an attempt to secularize the sacred like Kwasniewski believes. However, since contemporary worship music at mass remains controversial, I have a few  guidelines.
`1. Whenever possible use Catholic sources and Catholic artists
This avoids two criticisms. First, it avoids the criticism that this music is not sacred because it did not originate in the church. Second, it avoids the criticism that funding contemporary music funds protestant artists, which in turn promotes heresy. The vigil project is a good example. It is a group of Catholic artists, who currently have written 7 songs for the Lent liturgical year and they are working on Advent as well.
2. Save the upbeat song for the recessional.
This allows the church to be mindful of the sacredness of the mass and allows room for contemplation.
3. Absolutely no secular music
If it is not written by a Christian or Catholic artist and is not in a hymn book, don’t use it.
4. Avoid theatrics, Mass is about contemplation, not entertainment.
5. Coordinate the music to the Gospel message
This makes the use of Contemporary worship music less like a gimmick and more like it is relevant
There are less controversial ways to allow artists to promote their music.
2. Adoration with live music
Here in the Virginia Beach area, we have a ministry called Catholic Underground in which there is adoration accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a singer. Afterwards there is a free concert featuring a Catholic artist. Unfortunately, this only happens twice a year.
3. More Diocese should host and sponsor Catholic music festivals.
So far the only dioceses that I know that sponsors an annual concert are the Toledo Diocese and Diocese of Cleveland. They sponsor Exclaim and the Fest respectively. One criticism I have of these festivals especially the Fest is that they fail to invite Catholic artists. If you are going to have a Catholic festival make sure you have at least two Catholic artists; otherwise, you become indistinguishable from other protestant sponsored festivals and promote the belief that there are no good Catholic artists.
4. More Catholic conferences like Steubenville and market the conferences as open to all ages.
Maybe I’m bitter since I wasn’t Catholic in middle school and high school, but why is every single conference geared towards youth or college individuals? There is very little for older Young Adults or even adults. Likewise this is a great way to get Catholic Artists on board. In fact The Josh Blakesley band recently gained popularity from touring with Steubenville youth conferences.
5. Parishes should allow more room for Charismatic prayer groups.
Worship in the Holy Spirit by its very nature is improvisational and therefore offers a great way to incorporate Catholic contemporary worship.  I would also like to see more Charismatic Masses offered by individual parishes.
The main point is that Catholics deserve to have opportunities to express themselves through contemporary praise and worship. If not at Mass, then the Church should find other avenues to offer these opportunities. While silent contemplation should reign supreme, people also crave worship music that is relevant and allows them worship with their whole body and allows improvisational prayer expression. A balance of both modes of expression is what is needed in today’s church.