Time for a Spiritual Health Assessment REGIS NICOLL {Dr. GOD making a House call}

 

Time for a Spiritual Health Assessment

REGIS NICOLL

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is more than a bracing reminder about our duty to the poor; it is a cautionary tale about misjudging our spiritual condition.

In Jesus’s day, material wealth and well-being were commonly assumed to be divine blessings for personal righteousness: the rich were rich because of their moral virtue, and the poor, poor because of their sin. The rich man had bought that line only to learn too late that he had been wrong, tragically so. Sadly, it is a line selling well today, as evidenced by the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel and its various permutations.

Jesus told his disciples that there will be people at the threshold of heaven, claiming to have done great things in his name, only to be told, “I never knew you”—people like the rich man whose spiritual valuation was all wrong.

As we enter the New Year, these warnings should prompt us to consider our own spiritual well-being.

Vital Signs
If pressed, would you say that you are spiritually healthy, sick, on life support, or, like the rich man, a dead man walking? Based on what vital signs?

I can imagine many folks considering themselves “healthy” based on some combination of religious activities: church involvement, bible reading, worship attendance, tithing, keeping the commandments, probably the very things the rich man relied on which, in the end, didn’t serve him well. And it is not hard to understand why.

Since religious activity can be the product of spiritual formation or behavior modification, taken by itself, it is not a reliable indicator of our spiritual state. Basing our spiritual health solely on religious activity is like basing our physical health solely on physical activity. While diminished physical ability can be indicative of a serious medical condition, many times it isn’t. Lance Armstrong was competing in, and winning, world cycling championships while harboring a virulent, undetected cancer. In the same way, religious activity alone, despite fervor and effectiveness, may never reveal a moldering interior life.

Understanding our physical risks requires that we undergo intrusive procedures—blood tests, colonoscopies, pelvic exams, and mammograms—involving needles, x-rays, scopes, and probes that can be uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing. Understanding our spiritual risks requires an equally intrusive and sometimes unpleasant procedure: probing beneath the surface of religiosity and moralism to the temper of our heart—the attitudes, affections, and motivations that shape what we are and what we do.

Spiritual formation is an inside-out process. It begins in the head, transforming our thoughts in how we view ourselves and the world; proceeds to the heart, transforming our character as manifested in “fruits of the Spirit”; and flows out to the hands, transforming our activities from works leading to death and works of righteousness to “fruits of the Kingdom.”

Given that Jesus regarded “fruits” as the touchstone of spiritual formation, we might consider how they might apply in a year-end spiritual assessment.

Fruits of the Spirit
“Fruits of the Spirit” are about character marked by a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To test those fruits, we might ask ourselves how they have developed over the past year. For example:

Is our attitude toward our neighbors and enemies more loving?

Do we find it easier to experience joy and peace when things aren’t going our way?

Do we have more patience with frustrating people and circumstances?

Are we better at responding kindly to unkind people and returning good for evil?

Have we become more faithful to the things we know as true?

Are we better able to say no to harmful thoughts, desires, and temptations?

We also might ask others (spouse, close friends, and family members) how they think we’re doing in those areas.

Fruits of the Kingdom
Fruits of the kingdom are about multiplication—that is, growing God’s kingdom by leading individuals into a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ and redeeming nations through the social, political, and cultural institutions that make them. Admittedly, any numerical measure of those fruits can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine for a couple of reasons.

First, we don’t produce them, we only bear them; they are the work of God and only he knows the results. Thus, we may never know how we have drawn people closer to the kingdom or further away; nor may we know the kingdom influence we have had on the wider culture. Second, even if we could know those things for the present generation, we couldn’t know the effect of our spiritual legacy on the generations to come.

In Kenya it is said that you can count the number of seeds in a mango, but you can’t count the number of mangos in a seed. Put another way, you can count the number of disciples in a church, but you can’t count the number of churches in a disciple. Indeed, who could have foreseen the number churches that would owe their existence to the legacy of St. Paul, the Wesley brothers, or Billy Graham? Who could number the churches that will be spawned by one true disciple today? Answer, no one.

This side of heaven, material measures such as souls “won,” baptisms, membership, confirmation, ministry involvement, and churches planted will be defective, if not deceptive indicators of kingdom fruit. That’s why, as St.Theresa of Calcutta so well understood, in the divine calculus it is not material success that matters, only faithfulness.

Faithfulness, as a measure of kingdom fruit, is the alignment of our head, heart, and hands with the will of God—particularly, as it relates to incarnating the kingdom through the Great Commission and the Cultural Commission*. To sample that fruit we might ask ourselves,

Do we regularly seek God’s will through prayer, study, and contemplative thought, and do we follow it?

Are our beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors scripturally grounded?

Do we know our spiritual gifts and are we using them?

Does our faith inform the way we live at home, work, school, the ball field, the mall, etc.?

Do we have a heart for the unchurched, de-churched, and re-churched? Are we intentional in forging relationships with them?

Do we strive to understand others so we engage them meaningfully and winsomely?

Are we ready to counter falsehood with truth and grace?

Do we promote the sanctity of life, religious freedom, and sexual purity in natural marriage through our profession and practice?

Do we take seriously our duty to the poor, imprisoned, orphaned, and widowed?

Do we approach creation as a resource to use, enrich, and replenish?

By periodically rating ourselves on each of these, say, from one to ten, we can gain a sense of how we are growing (stagnating or declining) in “fruits of the kingdom” and identify areas for needed spiritual improvement. Realizing, as already mentioned, that unless they are accompanied by fruits of the Spirit, they can be a misleading indicator of spiritual fitness.

Granted, subjecting ourselves to such scrutiny can be inconvenient and unpleasant, disabusing us of cozy, but wrong, conclusions about our spiritual well-being. Yet we ignore it at our peril.

The danger of the unexamined life, as Socrates concluded, is “a life not worth living.” But it’s worse than that, much worse. It’s coming to the end of it and hearing our Lord say, “I never knew you.”

* The Cultural Commission, given to Adam and Eve in the garden and to the apostles through Jesus’ command to make disciples “of all nations,” is our mission to flourish creation by creating culture in a way that restrains evil, upholds justice, inspires virtue, and promotes the common good until that day when what God wills done is done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is a stained glass window depicting Jesus and the rich man in Saint Wendelin Church, Saint Henry, Ohio. END QUOTES

 

Why Mary Is Our Queen JP NUNEZ…….. re-blogged

 

Why Mary Is Our Queen

We Catholics love Mary. We ask her to intercede for us, we crown statues of her, we consecrate ourselves to her, and we build churches in her honor. To many people, even sometimes to Catholics, this devotion can seem strange or even idolatrous. What makes Mary so special? Why does she get a special form of devotion that no other saint receives? While a full answer to that would require more than just a single article, I want to look at part of the answer: she is our queen, and as our queen, she deserves all the love and honor we give her. More specifically, I want to look at how the Bible subtly teaches this doctrine even though it never comes out and says it explicitly.

Jesus, Our King

Mary’s role as queen of the Church is intimately connected to Jesus’ role as our king. That may seem strange to us today, as we’re used to thinking of a queen as the king’s wife, but once we fully understand the biblical background to this idea, it will all make perfect sense.

To begin, let’s look at the nature of Jesus’ kingship. He is not just our king in some vague, undefined sense. No, he is our Davidic king, and that makes all the difference in the world. In the Old Testament, God promised King David (the same David who fought and killed the giant Goliath) that his descendants would rule over Israel forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16), but things did not exactly work out that way. While David’s dynasty lasted for several centuries, it eventually came to an end when the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians and exiled away from their land (2 Kings 25:1-7). The Davidic dynasty was no more, so God’s promise seemed to have failed.

Nevertheless, the prophets foretold a day when God would make good on his promise and raise up a new descendant of David to rule over his people once again (for example, Ezekiel 37:24-25), and the Jews of Jesus’ day were anxiously awaiting the fulfillment of these prophecies. With this background, let’s turn to the New Testament and look at the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary when he announced that she would be the mother of the Messiah:

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Gabriel was clearly telling Mary that her son would be the new Davidic king, the long-awaited descendant of David who would restore his ancestors’ dynasty and rule over Israel. As a result, it seems reasonable that Jesus’ kingdom, the Church, would resemble the Davidic kingdom in the Old Testament in at least some key ways, so let’s take a look at that kingdom and see if it can shed any light on Mary’s queenship.

The Davidic Queen

When we do that, we find something remarkable: the queen was the king’s mother, not his wife. She was known as the “queen mother,” and she held a very important office in the kingdom (1 Kings 15:13, 2 Chronicles 15:16, Jeremiah 13:18). To see just how important she was, let’s consider a woman named Bathsheba, the wife of King David and the mother of his successor Solomon. When David was king, she would bow down to him and call him “my lord” (1 Kings 1:16, 31), but we see something very different after her son ascended to the throne. When she became the king’s mother, he would bow down to her, and he gave her a throne at his right side, indicating her royal authority (1 Kings 2:19).

Like I said before, this may seem strange to us, but there’s actually a very good reason why the queen was the king’s mother rather than his wife. The Davidic kings often had more than one wife, so it would have been difficult for them to choose just one to be their queen. However, they only had one mother, so choosing her solved the problem. From all this, we can already begin to see why we honor Mary as our queen. She is the mother of our king, so just like the mothers of the Davidic kings of old, she too is our queen.

“The Mother of My Lord”

Nevertheless, we need to go further than this. Not every single detail about the Davidic kingdom in the Old Testament transferred over into the Church, so it is possible that the role of the queen mother didn’t either. As a result, we have to dig a bit deeper and see if the New Testament gives us any indication that Mary is in fact our queen. To do that, let’s look at a little line in the Gospel of Luke that hides a wealth of meaning behind a seemingly unassuming phrase:

“And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

This verse comes from the story of Mary’s visitation of her cousin Elizabeth immediately after her visit from the angel Gabriel. When Elizabeth realizes who has come to see her, she lets out this exclamation of surprise that it is Mary. Now, when we read this text, most of us tend to assume that the phrase “my Lord” simply refers to Jesus’ divinity. Mary is the mother of God, so Elizabeth is surprised that she is coming to visit her.

However, there is another way to take this phrase, one that makes more sense in this context. Remember, this story comes immediately after Gabriel tells Mary that she will be the mother of the new Davidic king, and the phrase “my Lord” is exactly how Bathsheba addressed her husband David when he was still king. In fact, it was a common title used in the Old Testament to address the Davidic king (for example, 2 Samuel 3:21, 1 Kings 2:38), so its use here is almost certainly not coincidental. No, Luke knew what he was doing, and he intentionally placed these words on Elizabeth’s lips to continue the Davidic theme from the immediately preceding story. By calling Jesus “my Lord,” Elizabeth was referring to his Davidic kingship, so she was actually calling Mary the mother of the new Davidic king.

Elizabeth’s Surprise

It may seem like a short step from here to the doctrine of Mary’s queenship, but we haven’t clinched the argument just yet. It is still possible that Elizabeth referred to Jesus as the Davidic king and Mary as his mother without implying that the office of queen mother transferred over into the Church. To demonstrate that it did, we need to take one final step, so let’s take a closer look at Elizabeth’s surprise that “the mother of my Lord” would visit her.

Her words convey a sense of unworthiness in the presence of Mary precisely because she is the mother of the Davidic king; they imply that she does not feel that she deserves to be visited by Mary precisely because of who Mary’s son is. And why would that be so? Why would she be so surprised to be visited by the king’s mother? The best explanation is that she knew that Mary was the new queen mother, and Luke, in narrating this scene, wanted us to know it too. Otherwise, if Mary had no special status, it is difficult to see why Elizabeth would feel so honored to be in the presence of her cousin.

Mary Our Queen Mother

From all this, we can be confident that Mary really is the queen of the Church. Just like the mothers of the Davidic kings in the Old Testament, the mother of Jesus, our new Davidic king, is also the queen of her son’s kingdom. Granted, the New Testament never spells this out explicitly for us, but if we understand the subtle echoes of the Old Testament in the Gospels, it’s clearly there. Elizabeth’s surprise at Mary’s visit makes sense only if Mary is in fact our queen mother, so that’s our smoking gun. It shows that the office of queen mother did in fact transfer over into the Church, so Mary really is our queen, and she deserves all the honor we give her.

The Glories of the Mother of God Bl. John Henry Newman

 

The Glories of the Mother of God

Bl. John Henry Newman

MONDAY, JANUARY 1, 2018

Happy New Year from all of us at The Catholic Thing.

“When the Eternal Word decreed to come on earth, He did not purpose, He did not work, by halves; but He came to be a man like any of us, to take a human soul and body, and to make them His own. He did not come in a mere apparent or accidental form, as Angels appear to men; nor did He merely over-shadow an existing man, as He overshadows His saints, and call Him by the name of God; but He “was made flesh.” He attached to Himself a manhood, and became as really and truly man as He was God, so that henceforth He was both God and man, or, in other words, He was One Person in two natures, divine and human. . . .

Protestants have seldom any real perception of the doctrine of God and man in one Person. They speak in a dreamy, shadowy way of Christ’s divinity; but, when their meaning is sifted, you will find them very slow to commit themselves to any statement sufficient to express the Catholic dogma. They will tell you at once, that the subject is not to be inquired into, for that it is impossible to inquire into it at all without being technical and subtile. Then, when they comment on the Gospels, they will speak of Christ, not simply and consistently as God, but as a being made up of God and man, partly one and partly the other, or between both, or as a man inhabited by a special Divine presence. . . .

Now, if you would witness against these unchristian opinions, if you would bring out distinctly and beyond mistake and evasion, the simple idea of the Catholic Church that God is man, could you do it better than by laying down in St. John’s words that “God became man”? and again could you express this more emphatically and unequivocally than by declaring that He was born a man, or that He had a Mother? The world allows that God is man; the admission costs it little, for God is everywhere, and (as it may say) is everything; but it shrinks from confessing that God is the Son of Mary. . . .

 

And the confession that Mary is Deipara, or the Mother of God, is that safeguard wherewith we seal up and secure the doctrine of the Apostle from all evasion, and that test whereby we detect all the pretences of those bad spirits of “Antichrist which have gone out into the world.” It declares that He is God; it implies that He is man; it suggests to us that He is God still, though He has become man, and that He is true man though He is God.

 

By witnessing to the process of the union, it secures the reality of the two subjects of the union, of the divinity and of the manhood. If Mary is the Mother of God, Christ must be literally Emmanuel, God with us. And hence it was, that, when time went on, and the bad spirits and false prophets grew stronger and bolder, and found a way into the Catholic body itself, then the Church, guided by God, could find no more effectual and sure way of expelling them than that of using this word Deipara against them; and, on the other hand, when they came up again from the realms of darkness, and plotted the utter overthrow of Christian faith in the sixteenth century, then they could find no more certain expedient for their hateful purpose than that of reviling and blaspheming the prerogatives of Mary, for they knew full well that, if they could once get the world to dishonour the Mother, the dishonour of the Son would follow close.

 

The Church and Satan agreed together in this, that Son and Mother went together; and the experience of three centuries has confirmed their testimony, for Catholics who have honoured the Mother, still worship the Son, while Protestants, who now have ceased to confess the Son, began then by scoffing at the Mother.

You see, then, my brethren, in this particular, the harmonious consistency of the revealed system, and the bearing of one doctrine upon another; Mary is exalted for the sake of Jesus. It was fitting that she, as being a creature, though the first of creatures, should have an office of ministration. She, as others, came into the world to do a work, she had a mission to fulfil; her grace and her glory are not for her own sake, but for her Maker’s; and to her is committed the custody of the Incarnation; this is her appointed office – “A Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they shall call His Name Emmanuel.”

**

As she was once on earth, and was personally the guardian of her Divine Child, as she carried Him in her womb, folded Him in her embrace, and suckled Him at her breast, so now, and to the latest hour of the Church, do her glories and the devotion paid her proclaim and define the right faith concerning Him as God and man. Every church which is dedicated to her, every altar which is raised under her invocation, every image which represents her, every litany in her praise, every Hail Mary for her continual memory, does but remind us that there was One who, though He was all-blessed from all eternity, yet for the sake of sinners, “did not shrink from the Virgin’s womb.”

Thus she is the Turris Davidica, as the Church calls her, “the Tower of David”; the high and strong defence of the King of the true Israel; and hence the Church also addresses her in the Antiphon, as having “alone destroyed all heresies in the whole world.”

And here, my brethren, a fresh thought opens upon us, which is naturally implied in what has been said. If the Deipara is to witness of Emmanuel, she must be necessarily more than the Deipara. For consider; a defence must be strong in order to be a defence. . . .It would not have sufficed, in order to bring out and impress on us the idea that God is man, had His Mother been an ordinary person. A mother without a home in the Church, without dignity, without gifts, would have been, as far as the defence of the Incarnation goes, no mother at all.

She would not have remained in the memory, or the imagination of men. If she is to witness and remind the world that God became man, she must be on a high and eminent station for the purpose. She must be made to fill the mind, in order to suggest the lesson. When she once attracts our attention, then, and not till then, she begins to preach Jesus.

“Why should she have such prerogatives,” we ask, “unless He be God? and what must He be by nature, when she is so high by grace?” This is why she has other prerogatives besides, namely, the gifts of personal purity and intercessory power, distinct from her maternity; she is personally endowed that she may perform her office well; she is exalted in herself that she may minister to Christ. . . .

Such art thou, Holy Mother, in the creed and in the worship of the Church, the defence of many truths, the grace and smiling light of every devotion. In thee, O Mary, is fulfilled, as we can bear it, an original purpose of the Most High. He once had meant to come on earth in heavenly glory, but we sinned; and then He could not safely visit us, except with a shrouded radiance and a bedimmed Majesty, for He was God. So He came Himself in weakness, not in power; and He sent thee, a creature, in His stead, with a creature’s comeliness and lustre suited to our state. And now thy very face and form, dear Mother, speak to us of the Eternal; not like earthly beauty, dangerous to look upon, but like the morning star, which is thy emblem, bright and musical, breathing purity, telling of heaven, and infusing peace. O harbinger of day! O hope of the pilgrim! lead us still as thou hast led; in the dark night, across the bleak wilderness, guide us on to our Lord Jesus, guide us home.

Maria, mater gratiæ,
Dulcis parens clementiæ,
Tu nos ab hoste protégé
Et mortis horâ suscipe.

– Excerpted from Discourses to Mixed Congregations, “The Glories of Mary for the Sake of Her Son,” (Discourse 17) END QUOTES

**Image: Madonna and Child by Barnaba de Modena, c. 1350 [Städel Museum, Frankfurt]