Bishop Foys encourages families to evangelize by living a holy life inspired and modeled after the Holy Family

(from left) Father Ryan Maher, vicar general and Cathedral rector and Father Daniel Schomaker, vicar general, during the recessional at the Mass for the Year of the Family.

Laura Keener, Editor.

The recognition of the Year of the Family — a year pronounced by Pope Francis for the Church to focus on the family and conjugal love — was initiated in the Diocese of Covington July 10 as Bishop Roger Foys celebrated a special Year of the Family Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington. The diocesan Office of Catechesis and Evangelization is spearheading the efforts for the faithful of the diocese to pray, learn and serve as a family, drawing families closer to each other and to Christ.

Bishop Foys began his homily by inviting those present to think about their childhood and the types of memories their childhood brings.

“I always encourage parents to make good memories for and with your children,” Bishop Foys said, “because when our parents are gone, that’s all we have left.”

“I have happy memories and I hope that your children will have happy memories of their childhood and their growing up and that they will learn from you what really and truly matters,” he said.

Bishop Foys encouraged parents, saying that when he was a pastor it was not uncommon for newly engaged couples to come to him seeking to be married in the Church, even though they had not been practicing the faith for some time. Often, these couples would return to the practice of their faith.

“Even if you might not think that you’re making any difference, trust me, you will make a difference,” he said.

Drawing extensively from Pope Francis’ Angelus address on the Feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 27, 2020, Bishop Foys highlighted the importance of family and how the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary and Joseph — are both a model and inspiration for family life.

“It is good to reflect on the fact that the Son of God wanted to be in need of the warmth of a family, like all children. Precisely for this reason, because it is Jesus’ family, the family of Nazareth is the model family, in which all families of the world can find their sure point of reference and sure inspiration.” Bishop Foys said quoting Pope Francis.

“Children want to belong, they want to be part of something,” Bishop Foys said.

Quoting Pope Francis again, Bishop Foys said, “In imitation of the Holy Family, we are called to rediscover the educational value of the family unit: it requires being founded on the love that always regenerates relationships, opening up horizons of hope.”

“Founded on love — there’s the secret,” Bishop Foys said. “Love can endure anything. It can endure any hardship, any struggle, any difficulty, any injury — within the family, love can conquer any of that.”

At the Angelus address Pope Francis said, “Within the family one can experience sincere communion when it is a house of prayer, when affections are serious, profound, pure, when forgiveness prevails over discord, when the daily harshness of life is softened by mutual tenderness and serene adherence to God’s will. In this way, the family opens itself up to the joy that God gives to all those who know how to give joyfully.”

Bishop Foys said that it breaks his heart to see families divided; to see families at a loved one’s funeral sitting on separate sides of the church because they are not speaking.

“Forgiveness over discord,” Bishop Foys said. “Home should be the place where a son or daughter can come no matter what. The Lord is the one to whom we can come no matter what. The same should be said of the home where the mother and father reflect God’s love, God’s joy, God’s forgiveness.”

Pope Francis acknowledged that it is true that all families quarrel, “but,” he cautioned, “before the end of the day, make peace. And do you know why? Because a cold war, day after day, is extremely dangerous. It does not help.”

Bishop Foys said that the Holy Father offers three very important phrases that all families should hold dear and say to each other often – excuse me, thank you and sorry.

“Excuse me, so as not be intrusive in the life someone,” Bishop Foys said. “Thank you — so much service that we do for one another within the family — always say thank you. Gratitude is the life blood of the noble soul. How much do we take for granted from our families, especially our parents?”

And the hardest one to say, Bishop Foys said, is “I am sorry.” Bishop Foys depicted a dramatic scene from the popular 1970s movie “Love Story” where, after a bitter quarrel, as the leading actor is about to apologize, his girlfriend places her finger on his lips and says the often quoted phrase, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

“Give me a break,” Bishop Foys said. “That’s boloney. Love means being able to say, ‘I am sorry,’ and knowing the beloved will be able to say, ‘I forgive you.’ That’s true love. Being able to say I am sorry, to humble oneself enough — to trust the other enough — to say, ‘I am sorry;’ with the knowledge that the love is so deep from the other — that it is from God — that we will be forgiven.”

Bishop Foys acknowledged that the family and family life is being threatened in the world and in our country — but Christians are not to be discouraged, instead they should have hope and to evangelize the world by living a holy, Christian family life.

“Destroy the family and you destroy a civilization,” Bishop Foys said. “Build up a family in faith and in love and in joy and in trust and you have a strong family, a strong community, a strong city, a strong country, a strong world.

“Today we ask God’s blessings on all families, especially those that are having difficulty — those that are struggling — we ask that they turn to the Lord and find their peace, find their solace, find their joy in the Lord. Families are precious to the Lord, or the Lord God would not have sent his Son to be born into a family. Jesus came to save us from our sins and was born in a family so that he, in his humanity, could experience the love of a mother and a father in a family.”

The Office of Catechesis and Evangelization invites families to visit frequently a newly created webpage www.covdio.org/family. There they will find helpful resources to learn, pray and serve during this Year of the Family.

Grandparents proclaim the Gospel and hand down traditions through their love

In anticipation of the first celebration of Grandparents Day, which the Church will celebrate July 26 this year and on the fourth Sunday of July on the liturgical calendar, Pope Francis, in his May 31 message to grandparents said, “It makes no difference how old you are, whether you still work or not, whether you are alone or have a family, whether you became a grandmother or grandfather at a young age or later, whether you are still independent or need assistance. Because there is no retirement age from the work of proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to your grandchildren. You just need to set out and undertake something new.” (See Pope Francis entire message on page #.)

Up a long and winding gravel driveway, past a still and tranquil pond in southern Campbell County is the home of Jim and Terry Roessler. It’s a welcoming, white country home with a wrap-around porch, an expansive yard with a Mary grotto, all set beneath a canopy of trees. The home exudes peace and love — a concrete expression of the Roessler’s themselves.

The Roessler’s are youthful grandparents and for them proclaiming the Gospel and handing down traditions to their 15 and growing grandchildren, especially passing on the Catholic faith, is essential. Mrs. Roessler notes that she has 18 grandchildren — 15, ages 13 on down, two in heaven and one on the way. For them sharing the faith is experiencing new adventures and is continuing traditions that have been handed down to them. Mrs. Roessler remembers her grandmother wearing a blue ribbon signifying her membership in a Marian group.

“I remember they would go and lead the rosary and attend Mass,” said Mrs. Roessler. She, too, has a devotion to Mary and, her children say, can be regularly found praying the rosary and inviting the family to pray the rosary together.

“I just know they were diligent about praying the rosary, going to Mass, and receiving the sacraments,” said Mr. Roessler about his grandparents.

“Holidays were wonderful,” Mrs. Roessler said about being with her grandparents. “That’s what you did, you had an Easter celebration and you went out and collected Easter eggs and you had a meal together. It’s always about having a meal together and sharing that day. I remember my grandmother always made me and my sister matching Easter outfits.”

Living the faith — living the Gospel of Life — being a witness to Christ’s love with an openness to life, Mr. and Mrs. Roessler said, is the primary role of grandparents. That role, Mrs. Roessler said, has not changed since she was a child, but she believes that role has become more urgent and grandparents have become more focused on that role as the culture becomes more and more secular and values and morals more distorted.

“I feel more of a need to be hands on, to be active in their prayer lives given the culture and passing the faith and the strength to live that faith along to them,” Mrs. Roessler said. “It is just living the faith, but now it’s done with more purpose or more intentionally.”

Like their parents and grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Roessler continue the traditions of holiday celebrations — albeit less the matching outfits — and Sundays are always a celebration.

“Sunday dinners are a big aspect of our lives, we make that a priority no matter what has happened during the week,” said Joanna Roessler, the youngest of the siblings. “We have discussions around the dinner table and the nieces and nephews pick up on that.”

“Grandma and grandpa are living out the faith and they see that — their witness,” said Laura Rousseau, the oldest sibling and mother of five. “Their door has always been open to anyone and everyone who needs help.”

Mrs. Rousseau said that her parents didn’t have a lot when they were growing up, however they were always a friend to others in need — providing groceries and clothing to a neighbor who had even less, opening their home to a neighbor whose house had burned down, welcoming their children’s college friends during the holidays when they couldn’t afford to make the trip home. That attentiveness to others in need continues and is influencing the next generation of Roesslers.

“They are thoughtful and do hard work without being asked and they are always looking to help others especially our family,” said Mrs. Rousseau’s oldest child, Eva, about her grandparents.

Family and faith are paramount for Mr. and Mrs. Roessler and they willingly and joyfully accept the necessary sacrifices to ensure the best for their children and grandchildren. All five of their children have attended a Catholic college — the Franciscan University of Steubenville — and Mrs. Roessler decided to home school the children to ensure their formation in the Catholic faith.

“I guess they could have gone to a secular college, but I hear of so many people that come from good Catholic families that are taught right out of the faith,” she said.

The sacrifice has not gone unappreciated, “My family sacrificed a lot to make sure we went to a good Catholic university. That was a really hard time when we all went to college because financially it took a lot,” said Mrs. Rousseau. “We all married spouses that also believe the faith is important — my mom and dad sacrificed so much for this,” acknowledging the discord she has seen families experience when one or more family member is alienated from the faith.

“Living as an example and my parents just encouraging our lifestyles and their always there to support us in having children and help us to live out the faith, recognizing that all children are a gift from God,” is what Ms. Roessler believes her parents have instilled in her and her siblings and are passing on to the grandchildren. “They are willing to drop whatever they are doing to come and help us and love us where we are needing to be loved,” she said.

“No matter how hard it was they always strived to make sure our family was a unit and together and that the faith was the center of everything that we did,” said Mrs. Rousseau.

Mrs. Roessler teaches CCD at her parish and takes seriously the ministry of teaching students the sacraments. Each year she attends the St. John Bosco conference at Franciscan University so that she can continually learn and grow in the faith. As a couple, the Roessler’s have enjoyed traveling as a way to deepen their faith life — attending World Youth Day in Canada to see St. Pope John Paul II, traveling to Rome and Assisi. Mr. Roessler said that two of their children live out of town — one in Wisconsin and another in Georgia — and they make a point of attending the baptisms and first Communions of their grandchildren, that can also involve some travel.

Mr. Roessler is a man of few words but his support and dedication to his wife, children and grandchildren speaks for him by the way he provides for his family. He said that he nurtures his faith “by going to church and being with family — being with our daughters and son and the grandchildren.”

Mrs. Roessler said that it is her greatest hope that by living the Gospel of life that others will see the joy and gift that children are and choose to open their hearts and homes to the children God would entrust to them — no matter the timing, no matter the ability or disability.

“I wish more people would be open to life and accepting of children they don’t realize how much their missing, how many blessings they are missing,” she said. “I never imagined having five children, certainly not 18 grandchildren, but it’s a joy.”

A reflection on Fatherhood – Year of St. Joseph and Year of the Family

By David Cooley.

This Sunday is Father’s Day. What a wonderful time to lift men up and reflect on what fatherhood really means, especially during this Year of St. Joseph and Year of the Family.

We live in a culture that often ridicules men and tries to make fathers irrelevant, whether through movies and shows, government programs, or the ability to conceive babies outside of a sexual relationship. Moreover, society’s view of men is often shaped by historical patriarchies, individuals who have made terrible mistakes and buzz terms such as “toxic masculinity.” There are many examples we can find to throw fuel on these fires, but it might be more beneficial for us to ask: Is masculinity really the problem or is it a lack of true masculinity? After all, the understanding of what it means to be a man truly culminates in fatherhood (especially spiritual fatherhood), lived out chivalrously as priest, prophet and king.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 18.3 million children, more than 1 in 4, go to bed each night without a father in the home (Source: U.S. Census Bureau. 2020). This has been a growing problem for a long time and leads to a greater risk of abuse and neglect, poverty, teen pregnancy, behavioral and drug problems and prison time, just to name a few. Children need their dads! Wives need good husbands as partners! It seems to me that if we are going to get through this difficult situation we need to do two main things: hold men accountable and return to them some of the dignity and respect that has been lost in the last 60 years.

In his book, “The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God,” then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope emeritus Benedict XVI), wrote: “The crisis of fatherhood that we are experiencing today is a basic aspect of the crisis that threatens mankind as a whole. Where fatherhood is perceived only as a biological accident on which no genuinely human claims may be based, or the father is seen as a tyrant whose yoke must be thrown off, something in the basic structure of human existence has been damaged.” (p. 29)

Fatherhood, and by extension motherhood and the whole family structure, are under attack. If we constantly tear young boys down with unhealthy messages, feelings of inadequacy and fear will drive out any confidence they might have had. Our culture, in supporting the worship of the self, encourages men to flee from the gift and responsibility of fatherhood in pursuit of their own desires. Fatherless homes have a large impact on children’s understanding of the world, love and of the heavenly Father.

For a man, any man, to live out the fullness of his meaning in life he must discover his vocation to fatherhood. Living out one’s vocation to fatherhood can be bound up in Holy Matrimony, spiritual marriage in the priesthood or religious life, and even single life. After all, we have Church Fathers, Desert Fathers, a Holy Father and even godfathers. We address our priests as spiritual fathers. And, of course, we have our biological fathers and our grandfathers.

Pope Francis has said that fatherhood is about giving life to others. In an address June 15, 2015, he said, “Becoming mothers and fathers really means to be fully realized, because it is to become similar to God.”

This is the cover of the book “St. Joseph, Tender Father: His Life and His Care for Us Today” by Louise Perrotta. (CNS photo/courtesy The Word Among Us Press)

St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus, is the model of fatherhood. A good family man is a provider, protector, nurturer and sponsor. He is happy to play his part off to the side, out of the spotlight, increasingly overshadowed by others, often unheralded and unrecognized. He is not perfect, but he is irreplaceable. He works and fights out of love. He always puts others before himself.

Men are spiritual sons, brothers and husbands first, but the summit of being a man is being a spiritual father. The source of fatherhood is God the Father. Therefore, men, we must hold each other accountable. We should always strive to live holy lives and bring people to Christ, the true face of the Father in Heaven.

The fight to save the family, the building block of human society, is a worthy cause. It’s going to take men and women of courage, integrity and faith. Abraham in Genesis is our father in faith, let’s strive to put our faith in God and “go forth” to the unknown future the same way he did.

Happy Father’s Day!

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

May, Mary, and the ’externals’ of faith

By Brad Torline.

A couple of years ago I posted on Facebook that I was looking for one of those “concrete Mary statues that people put in their yards.” I thought a fallen-away Catholic friend might have one they inherited from their grandmother.

Much to my surprise I ended up with one that had been in my family for at least 70 years.

When I asked about the somewhat comical paint job I found out that the statue had stood for a long time near my great-great aunt’s barn and that my grandpa had been encouraged to paint it several times as a child. I took it home, sanded it down and, following in my grandpa’s footsteps, I painted it — this time white.

A couple of days later it was time to do what I had planned all along. I hauled the 40-or-so pound, concrete statue a half mile up two hills to place it at the highest point on my friend’s 60 acre farm. There she stands today, overlooking the Licking River — “Our Lady of Grant’s Lick,” as we call her.  Those of us who hike those trails regularly will often pick wild flowers to crown her with or to lay at her feet.

Our Lady of Grant’s Lick

Why do Catholics do things like this? The world might say we do it because we are superstitious. Non-Catholic Christians might say we do it because we are idolatrous. The truth is we do it because we believe and because we love.

I’ll not bore you with an exposé on the political and ideological pressures that have, for centuries now, sought to force religion out of the public sphere and into the realm of private and preferably internal expression. The fact still remains — public, external displays of religion are increasingly uncomfortable for people today.

In recent decades we have seen this effect on the Church. How many of the Church’s traditions and external expressions have been lost in the last few generations?

I am frequently reminded that “external expression” does not mean “internal adherence.” I am told that, in the past, the Church had great external displays of the faith but that few people truly held the faith interiorly. I’m also told that, back in “the day,” a lot of people had the faith memorized but didn’t really internalize it. Well, nowadays many people still don’t internally believe the faith, and now they don’t have it memorized anymore either.

People are correct when they say that external acts of faith are superficial and useless if they are not accompanied with internal faith of the heart, but with all my heart I believe we, as a Church, acted unwisely when we removed and lost so much of what made the faith tangible. We are physical beings, after all, called to love God with both bodies and soul.

The tangible traditions and expressions — the so-called “smells and bells” — help make the faith come alive and seem more “real.” They give us physical ways to express our spiritual beliefs and our love.

It is an obvious best practice for elementary school teachers to use tangible activities, coloring pages, toys, etc. to help children learn abstract and difficult topics. When the children come around to understanding those things, do we think their understanding is any less “pure” or meaningful because they came to it by way of physical expressions and activities?

Let’s not fool ourselves. We like to pretend otherwise, but adults are basically children that got bigger, so the same principles apply to us. The faith is difficult, especially today. Let’s not be afraid to help ourselves learn it and internalize it with the aid of outward expressions, traditions and activities.

I think the Church is coming back around to this and we are seeing many traditions return. I encourage you to help out with this project.

It’s May — the month of Mary. What a great place to start. Consider planting a Mary Garden this year. Place a statue of Our Lady in a prominent place. Take your family on a hike to pick flowers for Mary.

It may feel awkward at first because, as discussed above, we are conditioned to be uncomfortable with outwards signs of religious belief. But give it a try — not for superstition’s sake, not to earn any special rewards but for the same reason my Grandpa and I painted our Mary statue — because when you believe in and love someone, it’s only natural to want to express it by doing something for them.

Brad Torline is associate director for the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, Diocese of Covington, Ky.

Stand in truth, render justice

By David Cooley.

This winter I have had the pleasure of speaking to all the diocesan high school seniors during their senior retreat at St. Anne Retreat Center. It has been a joyful experience and a wonderful learning opportunity for me.

One of the first messages I try to convey to these young adults is the importance of seeking out the truth in today’s world. I tell them it is okay to ask questions, any question, as long as we are willing to put in the time, do the work, to get to an honest answer. Getting to the truth of a matter has always been a challenging prospect (remember Pontius Pilot’s question to Jesus: “What is truth? [Jn 18:38]), but imagine what it is like growing up in the age of the internet and a 24-hour “news” cycle!

Youth are constantly bombarded with messages, coming at them from every angle. They have to sift through so much information every day be it from social media, Netflix, friends, textbooks and, unfortunately, adults who seem to be more interested in indoctrination rather than teaching critical thinking. Most young people these days carry around little computers in their pocket, and spend more time in virtual reality rather than actual reality. And, as they grow up in a secular culture, guess who is usually left out of the picture or at least put on the back burner.

One of the hallmarks of the Judeo-Christian worldview is that God speaks to the world. We don’t hear a voice coming down from the clouds (usually), but he speaks to us through the liturgy, through the Scriptures, through prayer, through sunsets and through other people. God reveals himself to us in more ways than we can even imagine. I guess you could say that there are ordinary means by which God reveals himself as well as extraordinary means. But, of course, it’s all extraordinary; we just simply get used to some things and take them for granted. But, for those who practice gratitude and the art of paying attention every day, the world is packed full of wonderment and there is a still small voice in the midst of the turbulent storm of modern life.

It is possible for God to speak to us in non-subtle ways. On March 16 of this year archeologists announced an incredible discovery in the Judean desert. During an excavation approximately 80 new Dead Sea Scroll fragments were found. These are the first ancient biblical texts to be found in 60 years!

The Dead Sea Scrolls, first unearthed in the immediate aftermath of World War II in the caves near Qumran on the northern shore of the Dead Sea in the West Bank, are ancient Jewish and Hebrew religious manuscripts that contain some of the earliest known Jewish religious documents, including biblical texts. Scholarly consensus dates the various scrolls from the last three centuries B.C. and the first century A.D. Most of them were found between the years 1946–1956. These newest fragments are believed to have been hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome nearly 1,900 years ago.

Think about that. These precious texts were hidden sometime between the years 132 and 136 A.D. and waited, preserved in a very dry, dark place, until they were uncovered this year.

Unlike most of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written in Hebrew and Aramaic, theses newest fragments contain Greek letters. Scholars have determined that they come from a Greek translation of the Book of the Twelve in Hebrew — what we call the Minor Prophets.

This extraordinary discovery would have been mind-blowing no matter what. However, I was impacted on a completely different and unexpected level when I heard the interpretation of versus found of the largest fragment. They are from the prophet Zechariah and state: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate — declares the Lord.” (Zec 8:16–17)

Those verses stopped me in my tracks. What is a more profound message for young people — in fact our entire world — to hear right now? For the next few days all I could think about was how lies and deceit underpin most of the things that ail our world. In fact, the fall of mankind resulted from a lie spewed from the ancient serpent’s mouth.

Think of all that pain that comes from deception, thievery and false witness. It is no accident that Christ refers to enemies of truth as children of the devil, who “does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him” and is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). When people treat the truth as either unattainable, a joke or only something to be manipulated for a “higher good” we are simply asking for trouble.

Here’s what we can know for sure: Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Nothing is more important than that. Truth, light and love are crucial in order for human beings to flourish. In this age of relativism, these verses found on the new Dead Sea Scrolls are not only the Word of God, ancient words of wisdom, but also indispensable advice for everyone alive today.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization

Jesus in Wilderness

A Lenten Reflection – Follow Jesus into the Desert

By David Cooley.

Lent is such a powerful time and if we open ourselves up to the graces of God it can be a time of great spiritual enrichment. Lent is so many things, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers us a concise reflection: “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.” (CCC, 540)

The mystery of Jesus in the desert is just that — a mystery — but that doesn’t mean revelation hasn’t given us a lot to ponder while reading over these intriguing passages. What is the desert first of all? More to the point, what is it not? Well, it’s not the Garden of Eden!

If Eden was a walled, beautiful garden where all your needs were met and the chaos of the wilderness was kept at bay, then the desert is its direct opposite. In his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote that by going into the desert Jesus descends “into [all] the perils besetting mankind …” (p. 26).

Jesus had gone to the Jordan to be baptized by John in order to enter into solidarity with us sinners. The first thing the Holy Spirit does is lead him into the desert “to be tempted by the devil” (Matt 4:1). What this means is that the Lord subjected himself to all the risks and threats of human existence (cf. Heb 4:15). Ultimately, Jesus came to battle with the forces of evil and so, in the midst of his sojourn, he is met by the prince of evil himself.

But, before we get to the temptations of Christ, it is good to note that the spiritual implications of going to the desert are not all negative. We are meant to follow Jesus wherever he goes and if he goes into the desert, then we should too. Going to a desolate land, for us, means getting rid of all the noise and distractions that often come between us and God. We must rid our lives of clutter, focus on what is truly important, living simply enough so that we can hear God’s voice and find joy. Sin has a lot of negative consequences, and one of the more minor ones is that it complicates everything in our lives and leaves us trying to hide from God. Going into the desert is all about not hiding from what scares us and seeking God. With paradise lost, it is a place of reconciliation and healing.

Oftentimes, when we face temptation it is something that comes from within. Satan had to approach our Lord from the outside and because of this Scripture is able to give us a glimpse of Jesus’ struggle to stand against all the distortions of his mission. Remember that these temptations and the devil himself are with Jesus every step of the way to Calvary. Pope Benedict points out that the story of the temptations is an “anticipation that condenses into a single expression the struggle that he endured at every step of his mission.” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” p. 27)

In his book, “Life of Christ,” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen calls the temptations of Jesus “three short cuts from the Cross.” It is important to recognize the difference between temptation and sin. Since Jesus had a human nature he had to go through the human experience of withstanding temptation, but being tempted is not the same as giving into temptation. Archbishop Sheen wrote, “The temptations were meant to divert our Lord from his task of salvation through sacrifice. Instead of the Cross as a means of winning souls of men, Satan suggested three short cuts to popularity: an economic one, another based on marvels, and a third, which was political.” (“Life of Christ,” p. 67)

With the first temptation (Matt 4:3), Satan challenges Jesus to turn stones into bread. On the one hand, we can reflect on this as a temptation toward instant physical gratification. The virtue, then, we learn then from Jesus’ response is the importance of self-sacrifice. However, both Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Sheen go further with their interpretation and they see is as a temptation for Jesus to become the savior of the world by ending hunger. “If you solve the people’s physical, material needs they will not be able to resist following you.” To this Jesus answers that we have more than physical needs; we have spiritual needs as well (see Matt 4:4; cf. Deut 8:3).

Perhaps the second temptation to “Throw yourself down” and God will save you (Matt 4:6) is a manifestation of self-idolatry, the temptation to see one’s self as more important, better than others. Or, considering Jesus’ response that we should “not put the Lord, your God, to the test” (Matt 4:7; cf Deut 6:16), we can conclude that Jesus is telling us that God is not subject to our authority. We cannot call on him to prove himself by throwing his promises back in his face; we cannot ask him prove his existence by meeting our needs and satisfying our curiosities. God is not simply a magician or a genie waiting on our beck and call. In either case, Jesus shows us the importance of humility — accepting our place in the universe by recognizing that we do not have the mind of God.

Finally, Jesus is offered all the kingdoms of the world if he would just abandon the Father’s will and serve Satan. The third temptation proposes a short cut to glory, a chance to bypass the Cross and go right to kingship. Who can deny that it is so hard for human beings to resist an easy way out instead of following through with what is right? Satan wanted Christ to turn away from pain and suffering and let the kingdom of the world remain under the power of sin and death.

But, Jesus didn’t come to be Lord of the world, an earthly king; he came to redeem humanity. And the only way to do that was to take upon his shoulders sin and death and carry them to Calvary. There is no crown without the Cross. There is no way to get to the resurrection without the crucifixion.

After the Resurrection Christ says, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (Matt 28:18). Only someone who has power in heaven has real, saving power. Power in virtue of his Resurrection presupposes the Cross, his death. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord will all pass away, but the glory of Christ — the humble, self-sacrificing glory of his love — will never pass away.

The third temptation reminds us that the worship of false idols; the worship of power, politics and the idea that man can create a perfect world without God, is a dangerous proposition that inevitably leads to a tragic downfall. To worship Satan, to serve Satan, means you are a slave to sin. To worship God, to serve God, is true freedom. Jesus, for a third time, quotes Deuteronomy: “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matt 4:10; cf. Deut 6:13).

After his 40 days in the desert, when he appeared to be in a weakened state, Satan tried to get Jesus to turn his back on his divine mission. He tried to get him to avoid the Cross and search for “a better way.” Christ is always the model we should follow. Those temptations didn’t make Jesus weaker, they made him stronger. If we follow Jesus into the desert these 40 days of Lent will help us prepare to battle the forces of evil as well.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.

Reaching for the heart

By Brad Torline.

The Gospel reading a few Fridays ago asked us to contemplate one of Jesus’ most challenging teachings: “You have heard that it was said … You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment …, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” (Matt 5:21-22)

Gehenna — the valley of Hannon — was the stuff of nightmares. It was a “cursed” place where the ancients offered human sacrifice. In Jesus’ time it was a place of disposal, where large heaps of garbage, refuse and even the remains of the poor were set ablaze, ceaselessly smoldering and burning.

This is the image Christ used to describe Hell. This is the punishment he says we risk when we say to someone, “You fool!” I don’t know about you, but this makes me nervous. In my day, I have said a number of things, to a number of people that were far worse than the phrase, “you fool!”

There’s some comfort in remembering that Jesus uses exaggeration from time to time. Even so, it’s usually to ensure that we are paying close attention and taking him very seriously. So what is he trying to tell us?

There is a common misconception that Christ came to abolish and replace the old laws. I have even heard of a young person saying, “Isn’t that why Jesus came? So that we can chill, have fun and not have to worry about the rules?” This is a fairly egregious misunderstanding, and it remains unfortunately prevalent today.

Jesus makes it clear that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, a Scripture scholar and Trappist monk, puts it this way: “Christ does not reject the law but rather, intensifies it. In some sense he makes it more demanding, because he imposes conditions, not only on the externals of our lives but above all on the abiding attitude of our hearts.”

External laws and external punishments are not bad. The point is that they are not enough. It’s good to not murder. It’s good to punish and judge those who do. But it’s not enough!

Christ, the Lord, the God-Man, the Word of God who, from all eternity, descended into the depths of man’s condition, taking on the form of man and slave and suffering victim IS NOT SATISFIED with the merely external. He is after the heart.

The Greek Fathers called Him “The Knower of Hearts,” for he sees our hearts and he will not be satisfied until, not only our external lives and actions are cleansed from sin, but also when our very hearts and beings are cleansed from any taint, from any of the sources of sin.

How does murder happen? It begins with anger. And anger begins with contempt. Jesus, the “Knower of Hearts” tells us that it is not good enough just to refrain from external violence. We must also cleanse ourselves of the internal violence of anger and contempt.

When I reflected on this and looked inwards a few weeks ago, I realized just how much anger and contempt I have inside. It’s difficult to not view everything in relation to the unbelievable events that occurred last year. But if you’re anything like me, 2020 has left its mark inside me — vestiges of anger and contempt, which may not always be on the surface but, like the fires of Gehenna, continuously smolder and burn in the background of my mind.

Even for those of us who refrained from getting into heated arguments in grocery stores or raging political battles on social media, how many of us escaped last year unscathed with no anger or contempt left in our hearts? I have realized that I have plenty of anger and contempt inside of me and that Jesus won’t be satisfied until I get rid of it.

Contempt for ideas, movements, ideologies and actions that threaten the Good are one thing. But contempt for human beings — any human being — is forbidden. In fact, if we harbor any, we make ourselves liable to Gehenna.

On the one hand this seems overwhelming. How, Lord, can you possibly expect us to eradicate any and all traces of contempt for other persons from our hearts? It is too enormous a task, too against our nature — it is impossible.

On the other hand we remember that, with grace nothing is impossible and that Lent is the perfect time to work on this. Let us turn to the sacraments — to confession, to the Eucharist, and to prayer and beg Jesus to clean us of contempt.

He will leave our zeal for truth, goodness and beauty and won’t alleviate righteous anger which seeks to defend such things from any actions or movements that attack them. But he will burn out all our contempt for people, including, perhaps, any contempt we have for ourselves. It is not ours to hold on to it. We are not permitted. We are commanded to let it go — to love even our enemies.

And when we finally do let go of all contempt — can you imagine the freedom?

Brad Torline is associate director for the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization, Diocese of Covington, Ky.

Is it time for the ‘Benedict Option’?

By David Cooley.

St. Benedict of Nursia was born around 480 AD; those were not easy times. Twenty-five years earlier Rome was sacked a third time, this time by the Vandals. And just four years before Benedict was born the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed. The whole center of gravity shifted from Rome to Constantinople and Italy was abandoned to the barbarians.

In the midst of this collapse comes a man who doesn’t, as some believe, leave the world behind, but realizes that in the midst of all this chaos he must find a way to stay focused on what truly matters. That was Benedict. Out of that humble beginning formed a community of people living together seeking God and helping anyone that needed them. That community was a social experiment that welcomed barbarians, soldiers and sons of senators all in the same place, and it changed the course of Western civilization.

I think it’s fair to say that we also live in a time of turmoil. But as Catholics, as Christians, this is nothing new for us. Still, somedays, life can be overwhelming. We all have our list of reasons, or excuses, to not be optimistic about the way things are going. But we have to examine that list of reasons and remove anything that puts us in a frame of mind that drags us down into the muck of the world instead of pushing us to live the way God intended us to live.

I don’t always practice what I preach. Some things, just to name a few, that I let get me down and discouraged are the condition of our culture, too much technology and the hostile political climate. I often feel that we rely too much on the powers-that-be to fix issues that aren’t just social-political but moral as well.

This leads me to another thing that gets me down — the state of the Catholic Church. I worry about the fact that a large percentage of people keep drifting away from the sacraments with very few of us knowing what to do about it. And those leaving the Church almost certainly have no idea what they are leaving behind.

One of the blessings in my life is that I always seem to find the right book to read at the right time. As 2020 turned to 2021, I found myself reading a book called “The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher. The subtitle is “A strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation.” In the book, Mr. Dreher laments that the Church ought to be a powerful counterforce to the radical individualism and secularism of modernity and yet it is often finds itself ineffective in combating the forces of cultural decline. The main argument of the book is that serious Christians need to do the same thing that St. Benedict did in the sixth century. No, not to go live in a monastery — at least not exactly.

Think about it this way, Benedict lived in unprecedented dark times but he was focused, organized and creative. He wasn’t scared to live out the mission of Church, without compromise, no matter what it costed. He read the signs of the times, stayed focused on the Lord and converted people by the way he lived. Everything came down to prayer, work and community.

Mr. Dreher writes: “We have to develop creative, communal solutions to help us hold onto our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them. We have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly counter-cultural way of living Christianity, or we will doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.” What he is talking about is no easy task, and it does require a type of withdrawal from the world. The Benedict Option is a strategic spiritual withdrawal, not necessarily a physical one.

So, where do we start? Luckily, we already have small Catholic communities established — we call them parishes. Parishes are all part of Local Church (or diocese) but strategically placed throughout the neighborhoods of Northern Kentucky. If we can convert the neighborhoods then we can convert the city. If we reach the city then we could win over the state. If we transform the state then, maybe, we can’t save the culture. Then again maybe we can’t, but we are still supposed to try.

How we do all this is where the creativity and innovation come in. We can start small, in our own homes, in our families and in small groups of families. We must preserve our history and traditional Christian values. As disciples of Christ we are called to work together, keep building each other up, and challenge the world to seek the good, the true and the beautiful.

“At the root of the collapse of the West, there is a cultural identity crisis,” said Cardinal Robert Sarah. “The West no longer knows who it is, because it no longer knows and does not want to know who made it, who established it, as it was and as it is. Many countries today ignore their own history. This self-suffocation naturally leads to a decadence that opens the path to new, barbaric civilizations.”

Perhaps the West is doomed to fall again, but, we know that God is always in charge and that we are never completely helpless. If you feel overly concerned, I recommend reading “The Benedict Option.” The book offers a critique of modern culture but also tells stories of Christians today who are pioneering creative ways to live out the faith joyfully and counter-culturally. It is both humbling and inspiring at the same time.

St. Benedict responded to the collapse of Roman civilization by founding a monastic order. The question before us now is: how will we face the vast and unique challenges of our times?

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.

A reflection for Catholic Schools Week 2021

By David Cooley.

When focused on educating and exercising the minds, bodies and souls of today’s youth, Catholic schools shine as beacons of light in a dark and confusing world. When they rise up to the challenges of society and culture they bring hope and joy to countless Christian families and others who are trying to do their best to serve the Lord in trying times. It is no small feat that Catholic schools have stood strong through the tests of time in America, but there is no reason to think that things are going to get any easier in the near future. While we live in a world where medical and technological advances have, generally, made life more convenient and easier, having a sacramental vision has become way more difficult. As Mankind seems to wander further and further away from God, there is no doubt that keeping the faith while growing up is getting harder.

It is only right to take a moment each year and celebrate Catholic Schools Week (CSW). Catholic schools have a specific purpose to form students in love of God and love of neighbor; to be good citizens of the world and to enrich society with the leaven of the Gospel and by example of faith. They are a benefit to our cities and towns — believers and non-believers alike — but that is not what makes them so special.

The CSW theme this year is “Catholic Schools: Faith. Excellence. Service.” Faith, excellence and service are pillars of the Christian life. These pillars stand upon a solid foundation and direct people’s attention away from earthly distractions and up to the heavens. It is that solid foundation that makes Catholic schools so special.

What does it mean to have faith? It means that you believe in more than what this world has to offer. It means that you have come to know and trust the Lord more than you trust your own eyes. It is an understanding that the realities we meet with our senses are simply passing us by and that eternity, which is beyond, is even more real. As communities of faith, Catholic schools instill in students their destiny to become future saints.

What is excellence, if not holiness? Every Catholic, from a Benedictine monk in Norcia to the lawyer or teacher down the street in Northern Kentucky, is called to take their mission from Christ and spiritual formation seriously. The Christian life, like everything else, requires constant education, training and attention. We know that habits are developed at a young age. While it’s true that academic excellence is a hallmark of Catholic education, it is intentionally directed to the growth of the whole person — mind, body and soul —with an extra emphasis on the soul. A Catholic school teaches its students about the will of God, in contrast to our culture’s tendency to promote the worship of the self and other false idols. By the time a Catholic is confirmed they should realize what is being asked of them — they are being asked to lead a true and holy life; to follow Christ, even when it leads to the Cross.

And, finally, we have the pillar of service. The Letter of James in Scripture tells us that “… faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662 AD) takes the idea a step further, he said, “Theology without practice is the theology of demons.” We are called to live a life of service. Social learning through service is a fundamental part of Catholic education. It is not enough to just say we love God, we need to show it. Service in our Catholic schools is intended to help form youth to not only witnesses to Catholic social teaching, but to also be active participants in social change for the common good.

In a day and age when many seem to have lost their way, it is important to remember that the Catholic Church is not just a building or an institution, but the people of God working together to bring about the Kingdom of God today. The role of Catholic schools, an apostolate of the Church, is to raise up the next generation to continue this mission begun by Christ. Yes, these are hard times; yes, it is often a dark and confusing world, but at the center of the storm the light of Christ shines the brightest. Like everything else Catholic schools are in the midst of the fray, but Christ is the center of the school. Christ is that solid foundation upon which they are built, and that makes all the difference.

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization in the Diocese of Covington.

The Holy Innocents and Tragedy’s Role in Redemption

By David Cooley.

The liturgical Christmas season is really a beautiful and interesting time of year. While the secular world has the tendency to let go of the joy of the season on Dec. 26 and move on to the next “big” thing, Catholics stay focused on the birth of Christ and the idea of light conquering darkness in our world. We don’t mark the end of Christmas until the celebration of the feast of the Baptism of the Lord — which falls on the Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany (usually the second Sunday of January).

In addition to the Epiphany — a feast we easily connect to Christmas (wise men discover Christ on the path to true knowledge) — there are several other Catholic feast days that fall within the Christmas season. Some of these feasts, such as the feasts of St. Stephen (Dec. 26), St. John the Apostle (Dec. 27), St. Thomas Becket (Dec. 29), and St. Sylvester I (Dec. 31), don’t have much of a connection to Christmas and are often, unfortunately, overlooked. But then there are also the feasts that have a profound connection with the Nativity of Christ — the feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), the feast of the Holy Family (first Sunday after Christmas) and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1).

The feast of the Holy Innocents, in particular, can seem like a strange if not horrific break from the overall theme of joy that comes with the Christmas season. However, a close reading and further reflection can prove that this story from the Gospel of Matthew, although disturbing, can also be a message of hope.

Herod (the not so great) was king of Judea when Christ was born and he was a cruel dictator. He was absolutely obsessed with power. When he believed his sons became a threat to his reign, he executed them. He also killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, just to name a few of his victims. He was an insecure tyrant capable of extreme brutality.

When Herod heard about the magi in his midst looking for “the newborn king of the Jews” he sent for them right away, hoping to learn all he could to protect his throne. He attempted to trick them into telling him exactly where he could find the child but his plan failed and he became furious. He had already proven that he will stop at nothing to keep his power and so he ordered the execution of all male children in the region two years of age and under.

The details of the massacre are for the most part left to our imagination but the devastation of the mothers and fathers led St. Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children …” (Mt 2:18).

What are we to make of this horrific story of an evil king killing the young boys of Bethlehem in order to preserve and wield his power over the people?

Of course our hearts and minds go first to the innocent little ones and their families. It is natural for us to ask: why couldn’t God just prevent this slaughter? Truthfully, there is no explanation that could satisfy our human craving to understand why the terrors of this life are allowed. Suffering is indeed a mystery and cannot be endured without faith and trust in God.

And what are we to make of Herod? These small passages are perhaps among the most poignant in the New Testament on demonstrating what antichrists and the fruits of their labor look like. This story has repeated itself again and again throughout all history. It is man’s attempt to silence God and eradicate him from the earth. It’s man’s attempt to become God; to decide for himself what is good and what is evil; to believe that he can rule over everything with no consequences. Herod is someone who has walled off his heart to Christ and therefore offers the world the opposite of what Christ offers. To build himself up he must tear others down. What he desires is power and possessions; what he offers is misery and destruction.

Choosing darkness over light will always lead to death, if not for us, than for someone else, perhaps at another place, another time. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that the coming of Christ into the world is a lifeline from the darkness of evil that lies in the hearts of those who selfishly choose power and ultimately death over the good, the true and the beautiful. Christ is our hope.

Suffering, persecution and martyrdom come with the territory of following Jesus Christ. From the moment of his birth the Lord shook up the world. He is a king, but not in the way the world expected it. Kingship is not about control and comfort. It is through Jesus’ suffering, humiliation and death on a cross that salvation was won. His death won life – eternal life for us. And his blood which was shed for our sake obtained pardon and reconciliation with our heavenly Father. There is no crown without the cross. The only true consolation we can find for the tragedies of life is the resurrection. We believe that, in the end, God will right every wrong.

 

 

Year of St. Joseph

It is interesting to note that the infancy narrative in the Gospel of Matthew is told from the perspective of St. Joseph, as opposed to the perspective of Mary, as it is in the Gospel of Luke. Joseph is a quiet, meek and humble principal actor — he never says anything and he is never acting on his own accord.

There is quite a contrast between King Herod and Joseph (a descendant of a true king of Israel — David). Herod only cares about himself and his kingly power while Joseph only cares about doing God’s will. Joseph wishes to serve God and his family while Herod resorts to anything that will benefit his situation, including slaughter. St. Joseph is the model of someone who is decisive and acts wisely. He was the protector of his family and continues to be the great protector of the Church.

After the adoration of the magi, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream with a startling message: “Go to Egypt. Herod wants to destroy the child.” Joseph obeys immediately. He rises from sleep and, like Joseph in the Old Testament, finds refuge in Egypt. It’s striking that both the Old Testament Joseph (son of Israel) and the New Testament Joseph (son of David) had dreams from God that ultimately led them to Egypt. In fact, in the Old Testament it was in Egypt that the nation of Israel — the Israelites — finally came into being (see the beginning of the book of Exodus). Both Josephs were able to save their family in Egypt. However, that is not where they belonged. Egypt was a powerful empire; it represented the world and what it offers through slavery, politics and wealth. It was not the Promised Land, or the Kingdom of God.

Like Israel, Jesus too, will return from Egypt. Jesus’ return is the fulfillment of prophet Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Jesus relives Israel’s experiences. Jesus is Son of God in a deeper sense than Israel ever was. Through Jesus, God the Father will bring the old covenant to perfection.

 

David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.