Rejoice Always! This Means You.
By Fr. Robert J. Carr
It is a general rule of ministry that one never talks about their past. As you know, I generally do not abide by that rule for one simple reason. My past is more a celebration of Godís grace in our lives than anything about me.
If I Could Spend Time in a Bottle
You know I spent five years virtually living in a bottle. I have told you that, and I share that often because it is not I who quit drinking, it is the grace of God that led me out of that prison. I have been sober now for going on twenty-six years. I also, through the grace of God, returned to the Church. When the first Sunday of Lent came around, I was looking for something to do for Lenten discipline. I realized that returning to Sunday mass was probably the best thing I could do.
It was that practice that led me to St. Charles Borromeo Parish on Point Loma, California. Point Loma is a part of San Diego. There I experienced mass that was literally life-changing. The community was alive in the faith and they participated powerfully in the mass.
I entered the Church also dressed as the angry sailor I was. I was in jeans, a jean jacket and a printed T-Shirt. I was literally, albeit subconsciously, just daring someone to throw me out of the mass. No one did. Again the whole experience was life changing. So much so, that I began to question how I could possibly leave the Church in the first place if this is what mass is. I learned quickly when I attended mass in another state. My impression was that the mass was dry and not life giving at all. It was more an obligation than a celebration. It was there, in fact, that I understood the use of the word celebration in the context of mass. Mass must be a celebration not an obligation. We celebrate mass as we did on Point Loma not obligate it as we did in the parish where I attended mass that weekend.
Paul says it all. Rejoice always Philipians 4. Does the meaning of those words change for you when I tell you that Paul was writing from prison as part of the persecution against Christians? Remember, this is a Roman prison, not an American prison. Both are nasty places, Roman prisons were nastier by far than American prisons. Yet, here he is calling the early Christians to be joyful. How can one possibly imagine doing this? He also taught to pray without ceasing and in all circumstances give thanks.
The Secret of Christianity
This is the secret of Christianity. It is one that the worldly do not get. When we truly live the gospel of Christ, we live at a deeper level of our faith. One of the comments made during my homily preparation group is that God is awesome. That relationship with God changes our vision so completely that the most painful situation can be turned into a source of grace and joy. This is just part of the fruit of the Christian life.
Being a Catholic is a time to be joy-filled in the Lord always. Why? Because we enjoy the experience of knowing that we are Godís children by baptism and that we are being created every day in his image to become more and fully human and fully alive, regardless of where we are.
However, Paul adds another dimension in his letter to the Thessalonians that makes, American Catholics especially in the North East, nervous.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
Whoa! We Do Not Do That Kind of Stuff Around Here Pard'ner
This is not North American Catholicism. That is especially the line do not despise prophetic utterances. In modern terms that means the Charismatic Renewal. This element of Catholic spirituality makes some people quite nervous. It is different, it is not the normal course of events for us here in this part of the country and some have a terrible fear of the demonic when they hear of these things. Yet, here it is in the letters of Paul along with his words to rejoice. Test everything, do not quench the Spirit, and do not despise prophetic utterances.
One of the themes Pope Benedict has been preaching this week is one that builds on Pope John Paul IIís theme of ending mediocrity in our life and in our community. He has warned that any concept of Catholicism being a boring way to live oneís life is just plain wrong. Yet, unless we understand and absorb these words of Paul-- these joyful words even in the midst of oppression--we will never comprehend an exciting and challenging Catholicism in our lives. We will be in danger of obligating mass and not celebrating mass. We will be living an oppressive form of faith that gives us no life. That is worse than no faith at all.
The Dangers of Mediocrity
Pope Benedict criticized the philosophies around us that preach that Christianity is boring. He also brought ...
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