Category Archives: Meditations
By Rev. Ray Atwood Prince of Peace Cluster-La Porte City, Eagle Center, Traer
Does a carrot have a soul? I asked my students at Don Bosco this question, which led to some lively conversations among the students both inside and outside the classroom. The simple answer is: “Yes, carrots, like all living things, have souls.” That does not mean they are like us, on the other hand. We can understand this particular issue with the help of a great Catholic saint.
Wednesday, January 28th is the feast day of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas was born around 1225 into the family of the Count of Aquino, Italy. He first studied at the monastery of Monte Cassino and later at the University of Naples. He eventually joined the Friars Preachers of Dominic, and finished his studies at Paris and Cologne, his instructor being Saint Albert the Great. Becoming himself a teacher, he wrote several learned works and was especially renowned for his philosophical and theological studies. Saint Thomas died near Terracina on March 7, 1274. He is honored by Catholics on January 28, the day his body was transferred to Toulouse in 1369.
What is so special about this particular saint, and why celebrate his feast? In addition to being a holy man, he was a learned man. He wrote a three-volume work called the Summa Theologica, which outlined various articles of the Christian Faith (the Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, Prayer, Virtue). In this work he laid out in great detail a huge array of distinctions. These distinctions enable us to better understand the complex reality of our world.
One example concerns the soul. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that animals do not have rational souls and therefore cannot live in Heaven. The reason is that they are made to serve people on earth. In addition, there is no purpose for animals like pets in Heaven because they cannot add to our happiness in eternity (if they could the Beatific Vision of God would be imperfect, an obvious contradiction). But it is incorrect to say that animals have no souls. In fact, Saint Thomas tells us animals and plants have souls (animals have a sensitive soul and plants have a vegetative soul). These souls give the animal of plant life. Living things need souls in order to grow, take nourishment, and reproduce. In addition to these functions, man has a rational soul, which enables him to think, reason, and articulate truth.
There is much more we could say on this topic, but perhaps we should simply thank God that men like Saint Thomas have lived to help us understand the world as God made it through distinctions. Distinctions can help us understand each other and avoid prejudice and ill-informed comments. May distinctions help us navigate our complex and confused world.
By Rev. Ray Atwood Prince of Peace Cluster – La Porte City, Eagle Center, Traer
Roe v. Wade at Forty-One
Thursday, January 22 is the 41st anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion under all circumstances in the U.S. This decision was hailed as a victory for women and families, and is still celebrated in certain circles today.
Nevertheless, we must assess the cost of this decision, namely the fifty million babies whose lives were snuffed out by abortion since that decision. In addition, many more lives were taken by contraception which acts at times as an abortifacient (e.g., the morning after pill). Each of these lives is precious in God’s eyes and the souls of these babies are in His merciful hands. Women too have been harmed by botched abortions and even “successful” ones.
While no Scripture passage explicitly deals with the issue of abortion, many passages could be cited in defense of human life. After Original Sin, when she becomes pregnant, Eve declares: “I have produced a man with the help of the LORD” (Gen. 4:1). She recognized God’s role in human reproduction. Likewise, we are told in the Book of Ruth: “Boaz took Ruth. When they came together as man and wife, the LORD enabled her to conceive and she bore a son” (4:13). Again, the Lord’s hand is acknowledged in human reproduction. The prophet Jeremiah, in talking about his own origins, quotes the Lord: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (1:5). “Knew” means love here. God is the Creator of life. The psalmist exhorts the reader: “Rescue the lowly and the poor; from the hand of the wicked deliver them” (82:4).
Our country has deliberately encouraged, protected, and maintained a policy of allowing innocent children to be murdered in the womb. But there are fewer abortion mills and fewer abortionists in our country. Today more than 80% of counties in the U.S. offer no abortions. This is a number to be celebrated.
As we mark another infamous anniversary, may we reflect on the gift of human life and do our part to end abortion in the U.S. Prayer, communication, support for unwed mothers, and political activism are four important tools we can use in this fight. May God be with us as we fight for life.
By Father Ray Atwood Prince of Peace Cluster – La Porte City, Eagle Center, Traer
The Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly Ministry of Baptism
The celebration of the Lord’s Baptism in the Jordan River concludes the Christmas Season. The Baptism of Jesus is an excellent opportunity to renew the promises each of us (or our parents and godparents in our name) made on that special day, namely to renounce Satan and all his works and empty promises.
It is also an opportunity to reflect on the rich graces we received at Baptism. In the Catholic Rite, part of the ceremony involves an anointing on the forehead immediately after Baptism. This reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit, which came to rest on Jesus after He rose from the waters (Mk. 1:10).
The Church continues the work of the Trinity in this initiation sacrament. This anointing with Chrism Oil (olive oil mixed with balsam or perfume and blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week) gives the participant a share in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly ministry of the Savior.
What are these ministries? All three ministries come from Christ. Christ is our High Priest, as the Letter to the Hebrews points out in chapter nine. He offered His Body on the Cross to save sinners and open the gates of Paradise. The baptismal priesthood involves sharing in this sacrifice in Mass, which is the un-bloody renewal of Calvary. Lay persons participate by gathering and offering their prayers with the priest. They exercise their priesthood in the General Intercessions or Universal Prayer, a series of petitions for those in authority, the sick, the poor, the faithful departed and others intentions. They also exercise their priesthood in reciting the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father).
Jesus exercised His prophetic ministry by teaching the Beatitudes and parables about the Kingdom. He fulfilled the Law and the prophets. By teaching the Lord explained how He was the culmination of all the prophecies spoken in the centuries preceding Him. The laity exercise their prophetic ministry by witnessing to the Gospel and teaching their children how to know, love, and serve Jesus.
Finally, the kingly ministry is exercised in a specific way. When Jesus was in the desert He resisted the devil’s triple temptations. When we master our sins and overcome our vices, we exercise our “kingly authority.”
As we celebrate this special feast, may we grow in awareness of these ministries so we can more effectively exercise them.
By Father Ray Atwood Prince of Peace Cluster – La Porte City, Eagle Center, Traer
The Magi and Their Gifts
Sunday, January 4 was the Solemn Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. This is one of the manifestations of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. Saint Matthew tells us that magi come from the East, guided by a star, find the Christ-Child in Bethlehem, and offer him homage. In the magi, we see representatives of the Gentile world, which shared with the Jews in the light of salvation.
There are many angles and approaches we could take as we reflect on this passage, but one of my favorites is to focus on the gifts of the magi. Matthew tells us that they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Fathers of the Church (e.g., John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine) identified them as follows: gold was a gift for a king; incense was a gift for God; myrrh was a gift for a man who would die and be buried. These gifts are symbols of the Christ-Child, who had a divine nature, who was mortal and would die in a cross and be buried, and who is King of the Universe. The gifts tell us something of the nature and destiny of Jesus Christ.
There is a personal application of this biblical passage. It is this: each of us, like the magi, has gifts to offer the Lord. They may not be physical gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but they are special and valuable nonetheless.
Your “gold” could be a monetary offering to your church or parish community, or to the poor. It could also be your talents, such as organizing, leading, singing, or speaking about Christ. These gifts you can bring to the Christ-Child and build up your church and community. Your “gold” could also be the gift of time that you donate to a good cause. Time, talent, and treasure are valuable offerings we make to the God who gave us His only-begotten Son.
Your “frankincense” could be prayer. There are lots of prayers we can offer to God. How about a Morning Offering for a blessed day, a meal prayer, and an evening prayer? Experts recommend that we spend fifteen minutes a day with Scripture in order to listen and learn God’s will. It is a great investment in your spiritual life and, believe me, people need prayers more than ever!
Your “myrrh” could be mortification. This is austerity and self-discipline. A day of fasting, or perhaps abstinence from something you enjoy (TV, Internet, candy) is a good way to strengthen your resistance to sin and atone for the sins of others.
As we celebrate the Christmas Season, may we offer the best to the God who gave us the best in His Son.
By Pastor Christie John, Geneseo United Methodist Church
Advent greetings to you! “Advent” comes from a word that means “coming.” It is the four-week period that the church sets aside each year to prepare for our celebration of the coming of Jesus into our world. We know that peace and joy are associated with the celebration of Christmas. But what does Jesus’ birth have to do with peace and joy? To understand why we believe that Christmas is such good news, we need to begin at the beginning…the beginning of everything.
Scriptures tell us that our world is not here by accident – we were brought into being by a powerful, compassionate Creator – the one true Source of wisdom and beauty, goodness and life. Human beings were created with the ability to be close to God, to remain faithful to God and follow God’s ways. We were made to love God and to reflect God’s image as we graciously care for God’s good world.
Instead human beings turned away from God, and reaped the inevitable consequences of that choice: corruption and death. In our brokenness and rebellion, we became prone to selfishness, greed, arrogance, and bitterness. And somehow we dragged all of creation down with us. We did not care well for ourselves, for one another or for God’s beautiful earth. The image of God became more and more distorted in us. All that God had lovingly made for full, everlasting life was suffering and dying. We were in a horrible mess of our own making, and it broke God’s heart.
So what was God to do? We were suffering because we had moved away from God – God had not moved away from us. Where goodness wanes, evil rises. Where life diminishes, death emerges. We were on a profound downward spiral that we had begun and were incapable of stopping. I suppose God could have simply zapped the world and started over. But God loved us, and didn’t want to destroy us. I suppose God could have entered into the world with the kind of overwhelming power that made it impossible to refuse God’s gracious offer of loving, life-giving relationship with Him. But enforced love isn’t really love at all, is it?
For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, it is very appropriate that Advent comes just at the moment when our nights are longest. For the first Christmas marks the beginning of God’s surprising, loving and just solution to our despair, a hope that burns brightly in our darkness.