Abp. Listecki’s Message (and Humor) Following Near-Fatal Experience

The archbishop of Milwaukee, His Excellency Jerome Listecki, has just shared a story about a frightening allergic reaction he suffered the other day. In it he tells of his throat and face becoming completely swollen to the point where he could hardly talk to the operator on the other end of his 911 call and receiving the Sacrament of the Sick from Fr. Luke Strand.

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Quoting from his story, his overall message, along with his humor, is indeed something everyone should reflect on more often.

…I apologize for missing my normal deadline [no pun intended] for the Tuesday LOA on August 8.

Last Sunday’s gospel was “be prepared,” because you know not the hour or the time of day. Monday was close to being my day. I realized how many things I did not have in order. But, thanks to the kindness of a good priest, I was oiled up in the sacrament, understanding that I might have been standing before Jesus…

How many of us have our houses in order for when our time comes? Thank God for the sacrament of confession and parishes who make it easy to frequent! ☩

Life is Short, a Catholic Perspective

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend time with some people I love in Wisconsin’s beautiful Northwoods. Time was spent outdoors during the day and in supper clubs at night. As is often the case, some of the best conversations came with cocktails. Also as is often the case, some points were not made the most effectively.

The Sitch

Reflecting on the day and beyond, someone rightly pointed out how short life is. This person said that he has been thinking about this more lately and how important good memories with loved ones are. I responded that I also have been thinking about this lately and concurred on the importance of good memories with loved ones, punctuating the end by saying “and being in a state of grace”. I mentioned this because it’s something that often crosses my own mind as I reflect on the complexities of our short lives and how it’s important that we seek to always be in a state of grace in case our final day comes as a thief in the night (1 Thes 5:2). I was directing my statement to my entire group because I love them. Also, I mentioned it because it was relevant to everyone seeing as, due to mankind’s fallen nature, it is something everyone regularly fails at. Unfortunately, the matter-of-fact tone with a pat of the bar might have sounded a bit unctuous immediately before being ushered to our table, preventing me from expanding on my point. So I’ll expand now since it makes for a nice little blog post.

On Grace

Being in a state of grace at the time of death is what gets us into heaven. This is accomplished by one continually strengthening themselves in following the example of Christ and frequent confession. No one wants to be caught off-guard when the “thief” comes in the night.

Grace: Condition of a person who is free from mortal sin and pleasing to God. It is the state of being in God’s friendship and the necessary condition of the soul at death in order to attain heaven.
-Online Catholic Dictionary

The Catholic Church understands this properly and encourages Christians to constantly look for new ways to become better. A stagnant spiritual life is actually a spiritual life slipping backwards. Or, as GK Chesterton says and as Bishop Robert Barron coincidentally quoted in his homily yesterday, the worst way to keep a fence post white is by doing nothing. In order for us to heed the words of Saint Paul, we need to run the “race” of life by constantly moving forward to claim the “imperishable wreath” waiting in heaven (1 Cor 9:24).  Thus, we need to be in a perpetual state of conversion for the sake of our souls.

Life and Death, Bodily and Spiritual

“If you could meet anyone, who would it be?” A lot of people answer this ice-breaker claiming they want to meet Jesus Christ. I want to meet God too, but often people (including myself) assume this first meeting will be filled with smiles, hugs, and flowers. It’s telling that a common response to coming face-to-face with Jesus in the Bible is to fall onto one’s knees trembling in utter humility and even shame, probably because the moment someone meets God, Who embodies the fullness of love, truth, and justice, they are held to account for the way they lived life. I view it as analogous to a teenager trusted by his parents to stay at home while they go out of town. Allow me to elaborate:

While the parents are gone, the child, thinking he has plenty of time to tie up loose ends before they return, does many things he knows his parents wouldn’t be pleased with: has parties, makes messes, lets people sleep over, dings up the car, etc. The entire time the teen is enjoying himself and ,while perhaps not doing anything “that bad” (after all, no one has died!), he knows his parents love him very much. But how would the child act if, unannounced, the parents returned before he could get the house in order?

The parents open the front door to find a destructive mess, lingering smoke, and empty beer cans. The teen now knows his parents have just arrived and is upstairs. Sure, he knows his parents love him more than anything else, but does he rush down the stairs to joyfully embrace them or does he become fearful. Chances are, at that moment, he’d do anything for just one extra day to make things right.

All the times we turned our back on God without seeking forgiveness will be brought forth in the presence of the light of Christ (lumen Christi) just as dust collected on a desk is observed when the morning sun hits it. So, seriously, how would you act and feel the moment you meet Christ? Would you confidently approach Him with your arms extended or would you suddenly recollect all the ways you turned your back to Him. If we were all to answer honestly, it would probably be anything but the former.

Anyone familiar with Scripture knows that the words “life” and “death” are often used in two ways. Life and death have their obvious bodily meanings, such as when Lazarus was raised from the dead but Scripture, perhaps more frequently, uses these terms in a spiritual sense also.

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Two seraphim surround the divine Throne in this 14th-century painting by Jean de Berry. Seraphim are portrayed with six wings.

When God says “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die” (Gen 3:3), He was not implying the fruit was poisonous and Eve would clutch her stomach and topple over. He was warning her that her spirit would die, she’d fall from grace. And, as Christians should know from the words of Jesus Himself, a dead soul is far scarier than a dead body. Eve might have thought she dodged a bullet when she ate the fruit and continued breathing, but in reality what happened was far worse. A dead soul is a damned soul, a soul that has permanently shut out the light of God. That’s why Hell is sometimes described not as a place of hot fires, but as motionless, lonely, and bitter cold. Cold because it is so far away from God’s love (described as burning fire in Scripture). In fact, this is where the name for the highest of the nine choirs of angels originates. The angels closest to God are called Seraphim, which is Hebrew for “consumed with fire”.

<Infobit> These angels are guardians of the Lord’s Throne and sing:

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus
Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God of Hosts

 


Does this sound familiar to anyone??

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One of the many nifty graphics from the Baltimore Catechism

So too does Scripture use the term “life” in the spiritual sense. When Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51), he isn’t implying we will walk earth forever like a zombie. He is saying that, by the consummation of the covenant between us (the Church) and Himself that takes place at Communion (which can only be valid if the communicant is in a state of grace just as for a marriage to be valid certain requisites need to be met),our souls may have eternal life in heaven which is absolute spiritual perfection.

::wipes brow:: – whew

And I tried to convey all that with a quip so quick, the bartender couldn’t even garnish my martini with a bleu cheese-stuffed olive in time.

The Point I was Trying to Make

This is something we all need to think about more. Everyone has their own attachments and appetites that need to be heroically battled in daily life–even if we think they are relatively small. And, if we care for the well-being of the souls of others (including our enemies) as we are commanded to do, we will try to not avoid this topic!

The life of our soul is born when we are baptized and dies every time we turn our back on God. It is reborn each time we come face to face with God–the priest in persona Christi–in the confessional. The older we get, the more vigilant we need to be that our body does not pass away at a time when our soul is already deadened. Good memories are good on earth, but I’d image they’re great in heaven. ☩

Saint Michael, Saint Raphael, and Saint Gabriel, the archangels (note: the third choir of angels), please intercede for the strength of all the faithful men and women reading this.

Charlie Sheen and the Embrace of Disorder

To Americans that don’t live under a rock, Charlie Sheen doesn’t need an introduction. Mr. Sheen was the “tiger blood”-fueled immortal that couldn’t stop #winning even if he tried. He raked in millions from the hit TV show Two and a Half Men, he dated porn stars, slept with anyone he wanted, had an appetite for cocaine, and generally did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. He simply operated on a different level than most of us normal humans. At least that’s what he wanted to believe.

I don’t know all the details of the story so I won’t attempt to speculate but when I first read that Sheen was diagnosed with HIV, it didn’t seem so shocking. In fact, I’ll bet it wasn’t terribly shocking for most people when they heard the news. Why?

Well, probably because he lived a disordered life publicly. The news of him being HIV-positive surely is an outcome of despair for both him and those who love him (not to mention the many women he slept with). Despair (or sadness, hardship, devastating outcomes, etc) follows disordered choices. The Church calls disordered choices sins. Jesus, and basic logic, tells us that if you avoid sin, you will avoid self-inflicted despair both on Earth and beyond. Now, of course none of us are able to avoid sin but there’s a difference in being a sinner (making occasional disordered, selfish choices) and embracing a lifestyle of complete disorder as Charlie seemingly did. Disorder catches up to everyone somehow.

Obviously I don’t actually know Sheen or what is in his heart, but we know the life choices he openly bragged about. With sexual promiscuity (particularly rampant in this situation) comes a higher risk of certain bodily hardships or outcomes (despair). HIV in this case. This isn’t to say that earthly despair will follow every disordered choice. For instance, a man may very well be able to fornicate with many women until the day he dies without experiencing STDs, a broken heart, or other possible hardships that arise from this lifestyle (not taking into account any despair left in the hearts, minds, or bodies of the women used). But this doesn’t mean the man is off the hook because while his earthly/bodily life may have not been affected the disordered lifestyle must somehow balance back out in the universe (think of the immaterial universe as a delicate ecosystem). Like the laws of entropy or gravity will in the end never be circumvented, neither will the Natural Laws of the universe. Morally disordered actions always effect souls which must be reconciled (whether on our terms in the confessional or God’s elsewhere) to bring back harmony, balance, and justice to the immaterial universe.

Luckily Charlie still likely has plenty of time on Earth to change his direction. If it’s true that God never gives us more than we can handle, perhaps this can serve as an important turning point in his life and he can make this a story of triumph (aka #winning) by reconciling his disordered choices on his own terms through the mercy of the Lord.

Please join me in asking for the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, that Charlie Sheen find Christ in his life, leading to a conversion of intellect and heart.

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St. Aloysius Gonzaga | Wikipedia

 

The Speech That Made Cardinal Bergoglio Pope Francis

Of course many things led to the Argentine cardinal becoming our pope, but the following (short) speech is what seemed to change the hearts of electors during the pre-Conclave General Congregations, including Archbishop Francis George of Chicago who was on the fence who to vote for at the time. (For a detailed account of not only Bergoglio’s life but of everything that led up to his election, check out the detailed biography: The Great Reformer)

During these General Congregation meetings, each cardinal was given five minutes to make a speech about what qualities they think the next pope should have and in what direction the next pope should guide the Church. Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was one of the very few that came in under the allotted time; his was only three and a half minutes. In fact, he didn’t even have his speech written down, he was just going off some notes and if it were not for Cuba’s cardinal for seeking out a transcript we wouldn’t be able to get this illuminating glimpse into Bergoglio’s idea of the Church.

The speech pairs well with Pope Francis’ (we’re still talking about the same person as before in case you’re not the most polished statue at the Vatican) call of conversion to all sinners. It is also a good preface to his comments about how the Church is like a “field hospital” to those devoured by the despair of sin. He explains that the Church doesn’t exist for itself by its own power but exists for the universe by the power of Christ.

I am going to paste the speech below along with the quick blurb written by Andrea Tornielli to introduce it. Bold sections are parts I think are particularly important.


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Bergoglio began with a reference to evangelization: “The sweet and comforting joy of evangelization” (quoting Pope Paul VI) “It is Jesus Christ himself who spurs us on from inside,” followed by four concise points (see below) which the Pope touched on in his speech to cardinals during the General Congregations.

1. “Evangelizing supposes apostolic zeal. Evangelize implies that the Church should speak candidly, coming out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only in the geographical sense but also to go to the existential peripheries: those of the mysteries of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and of religious indifference, of thought, of all misery.”

2. “When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize, it becomes self-referential and then gets sick (cf. the woman hunched over the Gospel). The evils that, over time, occur in ecclesiastical institutions have roots in referentiality, a sort of theological narcissism. In Revelation Jesus says he is at the door and knocks. Obviously the text refers to hitting from outside the door to enter … But think of the times when Jesus knocks from within to let himself out. The self-referential Church seeks Jesus Christ within and does not let him out.”

3. “When the Church is self-referential, unwittingly believed to have its own light, it is no longer the mysterium lunae (mystery of the moon) and leads to the evil that is so serious: spiritual worldliness (According to de Lubac, the worst evil that can befall the Church). That lives to give glory to one another rather than God. The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it, believes it has a light of its own; it ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives rise to this evil that is so serious[,] that of spiritual wordliness. It lives for the glory to be given to each other. Put simply, there are two images of Church: the evangelizing Church taking leave of itself which religiously hears the Word of God and faithfully proclaims it (Dei Verbum religiose audiens et fidenter proclamans) or the worldly Church living in itself, of itself, for itself. This should shed light on the possible changes and reforms that must be done for the salvation of souls.”

4. “Thinking about the next pope: a man who, from the contemplation of Jesus Christ and from worshiping Jesus Christ helps the Church out of itself to the outskirts of the existential, that helps Her to be a fruitful Mother, living “the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing.”tumblr_mjmmj7FJQB1qg4lyzo1_500


Pope Francis is holy, honest, kind, smart, humorous, open, vibrant, pastoral, and inspirational. He is a beautiful pope. Pope Francis, please continue praying for us, we are praying for you.

To read the entire article that I quoted from, click here.

Wage a War on Despair

There is more to being “pro-life” than just being against abortion. Being pro something means being in favor of something. If we are pro-life, we must always encourage the culture of life. No one embraces the culture of life better than Catholics. The Universal Church’s message at every turn is one of love, hope, forgiveness, redemption, and joy. WE, making up Christ’s body on Earth, have the important task of being the messengers. We are called to live like Christ lived, spreading the joy of the Gospels to every corner of the universe not only through our words but through our actions.

Humanity is of a fallen nature. Our inherent selfishness is the Original Sin we are tainted with. When we think we know best, we turn ourselves away from God. Luckily we have free will. We have the freedom to do what’s right. First let’s establish the difference between political freedom and natural freedom. Political freedom is the freedom from our government to do, think, and say things as we please regardless of if they are good or bad for us (assuming it doesn’t violate other people’s rights)–this is often what people think of when we talk about “freedom”. Political freedom is incredibly important as it protects things like our God-given rights to personal property, justice, self-defense, freedom of speech, and religious freedom. But we are not talking about political freedom here, we are talking about Natural freedom. Natural (God-given) freedom is the freedom to choose what’s right. It’s the freedom to turn towards God with even the smallest decision. The gift of free will is the ability to do what’s right rather than simply take the path of least resistance–this is what separates us from the rest of nature. Unlike a growing tree, flowing river, or hungry animal, we have the ability and freedom to choose a path differently than what the minimum for moving forward in time requires (a tree will grow in a direction that’s easiest to move, a river will flow in a line that offers the least resistance to water, an animal will take whatever food that’s easiest to claim). If we had no free will, we could only react in ways that would support our innate desires and physical preservation.

Let me help explain this with an example.

Situation: you’re walking behind an elderly lady in a parking lot. As she approaches her car, she reaches into her pocket for her keys. Along with her keys, a $20 bill slips out of her pocket and falls to the ground unnoticed.

Outcome without free will: You take the money for yourself as she drives away. There is no reason not to take advantage of this easy way to preserve your ability to pay for things, just as a lion would take the food of another lion that has overlooked their mistake. It’s survival of the fittest. Another option doesn’t even cross your mind. It is not even sinful because you didn’t have the ability to even consider otherwise.

Outcome(s) with free will: (1) You choose to take the money for yourself. Only yourself and God will know of this. OR, (2) you can pick up the money and give it back to the elderly woman even though it would be in your own self-interest to do otherwise.

Free will gives us the ability to do what’s right even when it’s not the easy thing to do. Unfortunately, humans too often choose to turn their backs towards God when given the choice. Every time we sin, we are turning our back towards God. While turning your back to God might not immediately harm your own Earthly life (or you might not realize it), it is harming someone. In our example, the person being hurt is the woman that will never see her $20 again. While mortal sins like theft certainly do take place in our world, most people know these things are wrong and usually avoid them. More often we are guilty of much smaller (venial) sins throughout our day that build up like a wet blanket on our society. Every time we purposely fail to acknowledge somebody, every time we drive too closely to someone who’s going too slow, every time we tip less than we should out of selfishness, every time we fail to completely finish a task, and so on, we are contributing to the often-unrealized pain of others in a “death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts” sort of way. These seemingly small choices are all ways of turning our backs on Our Father and by doing so we are all wronging ourselves and one-another. Despair in the world is the outcome of built up unreconciled sin.

Note: I really can’t stand super slow drivers. I actually secretly want you to tailgate them.

Despair is the complete absence of hope. We have all experienced despair to varying degrees. There have been nights you’re going through a situation of gut-wrenching pain and you see no light at the end of the tunnel. There are people who are perpetually in a state of poverty (whether financial, spiritual, mental, or physical poverty), and despair hangs over them like a dark cloud. There might be a situation in our life that we cannot change even though we desperately want to end the despair it causes (which is when we pray to Our Lady, the ‘Undoer of Knots‘). No matter how well-off in life you are right now, you have felt despair at some point and are surely still going to. Despair exists because of sin, right? So how do we fight despair in the world? We fight despair by bringing a message that is Kryptonite to despair: joy. We must spread joyful witness in all our actions. Bringing joy, even in the smallest of actions, to the least among us offers a glimpse of hope. Just when someone is down in life and they feel undignified, disrespected, and forgotten, it is you, the faithful Catholic, that must come along to dignify, respect, and revere their life. Remember the pro-life thing?

Mary the Undoer of Life's Knots | I really could have used your help with my Christmas lights this year.
Mary the Undoer of Life’s Knots | I really could have used your help with my Christmas lights this year.

Note: the rest of this post contains a lot of suggestions based not on what I necessarily do, but also on what I know I should do better. I fall short of the following recommendations every day. 

We must be gracious to those around us. Remember the oft-forgotten! Don’t just thank your cashier, thank your bagger too. With a simple affirmation of appreciation, you might have brightened someone’s otherwise hopeless day that they are masking from people around them. We must always make sure to thank the people who are serving us. The waiter that just offered you more water is a human soul deserving dignity, don’t just nod your head without looking at him, tell him “yes, please.” and then, “thank you”. Or we can make a worker’s day better by putting something back in its proper place at a store after you decide you don’t want to buy it. Open the door for others, smile when others are speaking, look at people in their eyes, try to engage conversation beyond the minimum required for a transaction. Suggestions like these sound elementary but, if you look around, basic manners like these are disappearing from everyday life.

Always preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.

-St. Francis of Assisi (rumored)

I try to compliment the people I run into in daily life that wouldn’t normally be praised. I actually complimented my quiet “sandwich artist” at Subway today for her careful hoagie assembly skills. I noted that she was really good with transferring the meat from the little paper tray to the bread, pointing out that most people just flip the meat onto the bread quickly, losing some ever-so-valuable sandwich topping. She smiled and said “thank you, I don’t like that either”. Maybe she has already forgotten about my words but maybe she was going through the darkest time of her life and I was able to provide a beam of light. We should especially seek to compliment fellow Catholics in public to help strengthen their daily witness of the faith. In the past month I have complimented a nice bartender at a sportsmen’s club on her Benedictine crucifix necklace (and I think she gave me a couple extra wings because of this :-D ) and a grocery store cashier on her Saint Christopher medal prominently being displayed on top of her uniform. Many people are bashful to compliment these things…WHY?! Are they scared of seeing someone smile? We must let people know we think they are doing a good job, especially when it comes to displaying their faith tactfully.

It is, however, okay to avoid eye contact with cashiers if they have ever bagged your meat with your other items. Then they deserve no respect at all.
It is, however, okay to avoid eye contact with cashiers if they have ever bagged your meat with your other items. Then they deserve no respect at all.

We should also forgive those who might not deserve forgiveness in our lives. If that is hard to do (another thing that is much easier said than done), keep in mind that forgiving is something we do for ourselves if no one else. It frees our own soul.

..forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.

-GK Chesterton

I have directly benefited from the forgiveness of others in my life. If I have been forgiven for actions of my own, who am I to withhold forgiveness? If the Gospel calls us to forgive others, who are we to do otherwise? Aside from saving your own soul, it could bring great hope to someone in despair. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean accepting the lifestyle of an unrepentant perpetrator, it means letting go of a harmful or hurtful action directed towards you. We must freely forgive (which can be near-impossible in some situations), especially if forgiveness is asked of us. Our Father freely forgives us daily and especially through the Sacrament of Confession, let us participate in His image by doing the same.

Never forget this: The Lord never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we, who get tired of asking for forgiveness.

-Pope Francis

Something else we should strive for is expressing interest in other people. Ask your coworker how his son’s basketball game went. Ask how your neighbor’s Christmas was. Tell your friend you’ll be praying for their sick family member. We must avoid apathy towards others–even when it’s difficult to care. Strive to make a connection with everyone you regularly come into contact with. Show others that you care about their life.

Lastly, when you see somebody struggling in life, try to reach out. Reaching out doesn’t have to be some great gesture. It can just be a small gesture out of great love–not only will you be making someone’s life better, you will be also be participating in JPII’s call to the New Evangilization. (Book Suggestion: Evangelizing Catholics – Scott Hahn)

The birth of Christ is a time of Joy and Hope, let’s live it out not only through the season of Advent but the entire year!

We can do no great things; only small things with great love.

-Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

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We must always embrace the “least” among us. This means anyone that would be ignored for any reason.
Pope Francis hugs 8-year-old Dominic Gondreau, who has cerebral palsy, after celebrating his first Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square
Fighting the “throwaway culture” – Pope Francis hugs 8-year-old Dominic Gondreau, who has cerebral palsy, after celebrating his first Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square

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