Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 26, 2006

Lent is nearly upon us. Certainly the pączki (found in nearly every grocery store and bakery this week) remind us that Ash Wednesday is not far behind. Shrove Tuesday, known also as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and Karnival (carne vale, or “farewell to meat”), is customarily our final day of indulgence before the austerities of Lent begin. In fact, the word “shrove” comes from the Old English “shrive,” meaning “to hear confessions.” Lent can often catch us off guard, though: we “give up” our favorite dessert, beverage, or pastime, and grudgingly grit our teeth for the forty days ahead until Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, the true conversion of our hearts (or metanoia) sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and Holy Thursday finds us unprepared for Easter.

Nevertheless, such challenges to the great spiritual and corporal penances of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving shouldn’t discourage us, but rather encourage us to make the fullest use of this Lent. Since we are made up of both body and soul, these penances should motivate us to deeper love of our Lord and our neighbor; in turn, our love of God and neighbor reminds us to do penance for our sins and to renew our commitment to holiness.

Since the season of Lent is a time of penance (cf. CIC, can. 1250), the Church also obliges certain practices during this holy time: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. Every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence from meat as well. After our fourteenth birthday, we are bound by the law of abstinence; the law of fasting binds those eighteen years and older until they are fifty-nine years old (can. 1252). But why do we practice penance – giving up meat on Fridays or giving up chocolate for all of Lent?

The Catechism reminds us that penance “prepares[s] us for the liturgical feasts and help[s] us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (CCC 2043). We also read, however, that “Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (CCC 1430).

Such interior repentance is appropriate, even for the baptized, because we are all sinners; we are in daily need of conversion to God, breaking with sin, and turning from evil. God Himself desires our hearts more than anything, and throughout these forty days of preparation for the solemn celebration of the paschal mystery – that is, Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection – at Easter, we gain this conversion by contemplating the cost of sin: Jesus Christ, scourged and bloodied, crucified for our sins. Penance allows us to enter deeply into Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, to recognize our own infidelity and His mercy, and prompts a deep sorrow within our hearts. This, however, is not a sorrow of discouragement or despair, but a pain which arises from love and which brings about healing.

May we strive this Lent to enter into authentic fasting and deny ourselves good things out of sorrow for sin, and love for Christ; may we practice deeper prayer, coming to known our Savior through the Gospels and the Psalms; and may we grow in concern for our neighbor and give alms, not just from our surplus, but from our need. Let this Lent be the best preparation yet, so that we may fully celebrate the sorrow of Good Friday and the boundless joy of Easter Sunday as true members of Christ’s Body.

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 19, 2006

Last week, we examined the first half of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which is a theoretical or “speculative” look at the nature of human and divine love. The second half, our Holy Father tells us, “is more concrete, since it treats the ecclesial exercise of the commandment of love of neighbor” (1). In his introduction to the second part, he says: “The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament, and undertaking that is often heroic in the way it is acted out in history; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs, including material needs” (19, my emphasis).

After a brief historical examination of the Church’s earliest concern for the poor, particularly using St. Lawrence as an example, the pope stresses two important facts: first, “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia)”; second, “The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas-agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church” (25).

The question then arises: what is the relationship of faith to politics? Are the role of the State and the Church the same, interrelated, or completely distinct? The pope reminds us that “the Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State” (28). Nevertheless, “there is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love” (ibid.). Clearly, the Church is not left on the sidelines.

The Church, rather, “is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run” (29). The pope asks the concrete question: “What are the essential elements of Christian and ecclesial charity?” Section 31 provides the answers.

First, it is “the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc.” But we must give more than just material support; we also must truly love those in need of our care.

Second, he says charitable activity “must be independent of parties and ideologies.” Instead of serving worldly goals, charity “is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.”

Finally, charity “cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism.” Nevertheless, we don’t place Christ on the sidelines in our charity; rather, we allow love alone to speak. “God’s presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love.” Thus, “by their activity – as well as their words, their silence, their example – they may be credible witnesses to Christ.”

Mary, he says, is our perfect model and example of faith, hope, and love. He concludes with this beautiful prayer: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, you have given the world its true light, Jesus, your Son – the Son of God. You abandoned yourself completely to God’s call and thus became a wellspring of the goodness which flows forth from him. Show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him, so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world” (41).

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Second Look Project

Visit the Second Look Project -- an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in effort to help educate all of us on the truths behind abortion in our country. Dispelling the common myths around abortion helps all of us to be better informed and better able to defend the truth.

There is also an initiative currently underway in the State of Michigan for a ballot proposal to legally establish personhood at the moment of conception. The drive needs 300,000 signatures by July. For the moment, more information is available from (810) 750-4080.

(Biretta tip: Fumare)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 12, 2006

On January 25th, Pope Benedict XVI published his first encyclical, entitled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). Our Holy Father has given us a marvelous meditation on the meaning of love, human and divine, as the foundation of the Christian life. In many ways, Pope Benedict is re-focusing our attention on Jesus Christ at the beginning of his pontificate; he gives us the opportunity to reflect upon God’s love for each of us, our love of God in return, and our love for one another.

The encyclical is divided into two parts: the first part, the pope tells us, is “speculative” or a theological investigation of the truth about God’s love and its link to human love; the second part is a concrete application, examining the way in which the Church (and individual Christians) exercises the commandment of love of neighbor. I will examine the first part of the encyclical this week.

Pope Benedict begins his analysis of love by reminding us that the word “love” itself means many different things in our culture. “Are all these forms of love basically one,” he asks, “or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?” (2). To explain the authentic meaning of love, he then discusses the difference between two Greek words for love: eros and agape. Initially, the Pope defines eros as “a term to indicate ‘worldly’ love,” and agape as “referring to love grounded in and shaped by faith.” Nevertheless, he says, they cannot be completely separated: “The more the two [kinds of love], in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized” (7). This is to say that eros, the “ascending” and self-seeking love, is strengthened by agape and seeks the happiness of the other. “Anyone who wishes to give love,” Pope Benedict says,” must also receive love as a gift.” From whom do we receive this gift? “Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God” (7).

Amazingly, “God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creation – the Logos, primordial reason – is at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape” (10). Such love, the pope tells us, is most visible – most understandable – as we contemplate the pierced side of Christ: “It is from there that our definition of love must begin” (12).

The Eucharist draws us into Christ’s sacrifice; it is the gift of His enduring presence, and it also brings us into union with all to whom Christ gives Himself: “Communion draws me out of myself towards Him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. … Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to Himself” (14). Reminding us of this truth, Pope Benedict then demonstrates how this love we have received from God in the Eucharist – and which we have returned to Him – overflows into our authentic love of neighbor.

He says: “Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints – consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, and they form a single commandment” (18). Next week: the second half of the encyclical which sees the Church’s charitable activity as a manifestation of Trinitarian love.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

End of the Spear

I saw End of the Spear last night and thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of the lay (Protestant) missionaries who risked their lives to bring Christ to the native peoples of Ecuador. The group was among the founders of Mission Aviation Fellowship which continues to evangelize today.

It is a very poignant film and brings to mind the imperative to preach the Gospel to all nations. Do we have the missionary zeal required by our Faith? Are we prepared to preach Christ to all whom we meet -- regardless of the consequences?

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 5, 2006

Super Bowl weekend has finally arrived to the Motor City. The focus of the whole country has been on Detroit this past week, and even non-fans wonder what the final score on Sunday night at Ford Field will be. Just as with so many aspects of our lives, football – and in particular, the Super Bowl – can offer an insight into the challenges and triumphs in the Spiritual Life.
The Spiritual Life (or Interior Life) isn’t an artificial layer, added on by society or the Church. This “Spiritual Life” is actually the deepest and most fundamental dimension of who we are as men, women, and children. The Spiritual Life is the life of the soul, the closest point of contact between man and God, and the place of greatest struggle between good and evil. Although the human person is a “composite” unity, consisting of body and soul united as one, the soul is the dimension of man that allows him to strive for union with God, because it – like God – is a spiritual substance.

How does this relate to football, though? Just as in every sport, the athletes train and practice, working their bodies beyond the ordinary; they have God-given talent, but it must be refined by hard work, by discipline, and by continual effort. So, too, is each of us given the capacity to know, love, and serve God with our whole heart, mind, and strength. Yet, if we do not practice – if we do not train – these great “potentials” will remain just that. And when game time arrives – a difficult moral choice, a temptation to sin, or an opportunity for virtue – we will be unable to achieve victory.

Football also has rules and a structure. The quarterback is free to throw a pass once he passes the line of scrimmage; the secondary is free to practice pass interference; and the linemen are free to hold. But such apparent freedom results in penalties, and the actions of one player negatively affect the entire team. The major difference with our spiritual life is that the rules are not arbitrary. Football could be played in countless different ways; God, however, has inscribed only one human nature in our souls. There is only one human nature, and when we exercise our freedom, we are only truly free when we choose according to the truth. When we sin, not only do we offend God, we also damage the entire Body of Christ. Just as when one player scores a touchdown the whole team receives the six points, so too does the whole Body rejoice at the virtue and triumph of one of its members (this is the Communion of Saints).

The Spiritual Life is, however, the fundamental aspect of each of our lives. Nothing else is more important. We can choose to encounter God on the deeper levels of our Faith, to pray, to study, to discipline our souls; but we can also ignore our highest calling and avoid practice and sit on the bench. Unlike football, however, the Spiritual Life has eternal meaning. At the end of the game, the results of Super Bowl XL will just be another fact of history; Seattle or Pittsburgh will be victorious and the season will end. The Spiritual Life, however, does not just echo into eternity; it propels us to Eternal Life or eternal death. It isn’t just a game.

Thankfully, our Lord Jesus Christ has already won the victory over sin and death. When we live completely as members of His Body, there is no question as to the outcome; but we must choose to practice and to play with His team! Christ invites us to enrich our lives by encountering Him in prayer and the Sacraments, by renewing our commitment to practice self-discipline and penance, and to love God and neighbor with every bit of our lives. Then we truly will win the victory of everlasting life.