church triumphant

The Church Triumphant: “Holy, holy, holy”

We’ve spent a few days examining the three states of the Church: militant, suffering, triumphant. The Church Triumphant is not our triumph, a victory of our own doing. No, the Church Triumphant is the triumph of Christ over sin and death. The Church Triumphant is the eternal glory of God. The Church Triumphant is the eternal fellowship of those whom Christ has saved and who have given over their lives to Him. These souls become, in essence, citizens of Heaven.

A citizen of Heaven is a saint. Some of them have been given the title “Saint” by the Church, but others go unrecognized by the Church Militant. Peter Kreeft:

Saints are not freaks or exceptions.  They are the standard operating model for human beings.  In fact, in the biblical sense of the word, all believers are saints.  “Sanctity” means holiness.  All men, women and children, born or unborn, beautiful or ugly, straight or gay, are holy, for they bear the image of God.

Saints are not the opposite of sinners.  There are no opposites of sinners in this world.  There are only saved sinners and unsaved sinners.  Thus holy does not mean “sinless” but “set-apart:” called out of the world to the destiny of eternal ecstasy with God.

You are called to be a saint, meant to be set apart and holy for God. You have a passport to Heaven, should you decide to use it. Yes: you. Your eternal soul, now embodied, is meant for a life before the throne of God, in His company and the company of all the angels and saints forever. That is the Church Triumphant.

Impossible, you may say. I am no saint. Saints are people like nuns who spend their whole lives praying the Rosary. (There are not any nuns who do this, by the way.) Okay then; a saint is a Jesus freak, talking about Him all the time to the point of annoying others. (Well, a saint may be annoying, but every saint was at some point a person who had to get up in the morning, make the coffee, go about his or her daily business, whether as a parent, a spouse, an accountant, a priest, a truck driver, a teacher. Nothing freakish about that.)

Yes. You are meant for sainthood. Your sainthood will lead you, should you put all your energy into sainthood, to the Church Triumphant. Your sainthood will not look like anyone else’s, because you are unlike anyone else. God created you in a unique manner, for a unique task. Yet ultimately, He created you to be a saint.

At Mass, just after the Eucharistic prayer, we pray the Sanctus:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

That is the hymn of Heaven. In Revelation 4, John gives an account of his vision of Heaven. Those before the throne of God sing this hymn. That means that, during the Mass, at that moment when we sing this hymn, we are joined with all the angels and saints. This is our destiny. This tiny little glimpse of Heaven that we have during the Mass is meant to be our home forever.

So many of us stumble about, searching for our heart’s deepest longing. Some look for it in sex or drugs or work. We search obsessively for it. We may not even know what we are looking for, but God made our hearts for Him and for Heaven. So, what is the “secret” of the Church Triumphant? Thankfully, it is no secret at all; again, Peter Kreeft:

The existence of heaven, the desire for heaven, the nature of heaven, and the relevance of heaven are all important questions. But there is only one question that’s absolutely essential, one question compared with which how we might save the world from a nuclear holocaust is trivial: “What must I do to be saved?” When I’m honest enough to look through the door of death, infinite joy or infinite joylessness loom up as my only two possible destinies. What decides for joy? What is heaven’s entrance ticket? What is the Way, the Truth and the Life?

I am horrified to report that I’ve asked this question of hundreds of Catholic college students, and far fewer than half have known the answer. This means that the Church’s religious education has been not a failure but an inexcusable disaster. Most reply either “God is good to everybody” or “I’m basically a good person.”

If anyone out there is unsure of the correct answer, then for the love of God get out your Bible and study for your finals! To save you time—since you may die while reaching for your Bible—I will quote God’s scandalously simple answer to the most important question in the world, how to get to heaven: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Lift your voice and sing, with all the angels and saints: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. And then, set about today on the road to Heaven.


Go Ahead And Throw A Party: Being A Hospitable Christian

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. (Heb. 13:2)

So you’ve scrubbed and polished, cooked for days, attacked every last dust bunny and made sure that even the basement looks presentable. You are ready for company.

You are also exhausted.

Many of us believe that our house has to be up to Martha Stewart-standards in order to have company. Some of us would never make a spontaneous invitation after church: “Come on over and have coffee! We haven’t see you in months.” We end up either rarely inviting people into our homes, or we are so exhausted by the preparations we cannot enjoy the presence of friends.

St. Benedict (c. 480-c. 547), despite the fact that he was a monk (most monks take a vow of silence), knew that hospitality was an important Christian attribute. He believed this so strongly that he made it a part of the Benedictine Rule, the “guide book” if you will, of the Benedictine orders.

Keep in mind that monasteries were often safe places for travelers to stop and rest. Lay people would also visit monasteries for spiritual guidance. Even though the monastery was “home” for monks and nuns, whose primary work was prayer, the monastery frequently had visitors. The Benedictine Rule was very clear about how visitors were to be treated. They were to “be welcomed and received as Christ.” No distinctions were to be made based on wealth or status. Guests were to be invited to share in the monastic life, a rhythm of prayer, work and service.

That’s all well and good for monks, you might say, but what about me? I’ve got a job and three messy kids and a dog that sheds, and I’m not that great a cook and have you see the dust in my house? How am I supposed to be hospitable?

Jack King, an Anglican priest in Tennessee, praises what he calls “scruffy hospitality.” Like so many of us, he and his wife would say, “You know, we should have so-and-so over,” but the list of things that needed to be cleaned, prepared and cooked for that to happen meant the invitation never gets extended.

[I]viting friends into our lives when we are only ‘excellent’ isn’t friendship. Sure, there are still times we like to go all out, spruce up the house and cook a huge, Jamie Oliver style meal. It can be fun and it’s enjoyable to do things well. But that standard of excellence is rarely possible with two children under the age of 3. Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.

King was so convicted about this idea, he preached a sermon on it:

Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.

Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship.

What we are dealing with here is pride. It is one of those oh-so-common-yet-deadly sins. We want people to be impressed. We set an impossible standard, because we don’t want to be embarrassed. Scruffy hospitality calls for a casserole, wine, music and a great big pot of humility.

Do not miss out on friendship and the making of memories because of pride. Invite folks in: into your home, into your heart and into the fellowship of Christ.


Angel Of God, My Guardian Dear: 6 Fast Facts About Angels

Let’s talk about angels. Angels are sort of a big thing in our culture; we even used to have a tv show about them. We buy angel figurines, decked out with wings and soft features. We tell people, “You’ve got an angel looking out for you!” But what do you really know about angels?

  • Angels are real. God created them. They are as real as you, me, the sun, water and the rest of the created world.
  • Angels are NOT human beings. We do not die and then become angels. Humans are always human and angels are always angels.
  • Angels are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings.” That means they don’t have bodies, but they do have souls.
  • Angels have intelligence and will. They can choose to serve God or not. (The “fallen angels” are one who chose not to serve God, but rather presumed they were greater than God. These beings now serve evil.)
  • Angels are God’s messengers and servants. They glorify God unceasingly.
  • Each and every person has a guardian angel that is unique to him or her, just as every angel is unique.

Angels are not “magical;” they are not fairies or some kind of good luck charm. Nor are they barely-dressed women touting lingerie. They serve God, and God is not about magic or luck. Nor are they chubby babies floating around our heads. They are warriors.

When God permits, angels can take on a physical form. After all, Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel: she saw an actual being, not a mirage or a ghost. In the Old Testament, Tobiah (son of Tobit) was accompanied by the angel Raphael on his journey to Media. Most of us will never see an angel, but they stand between us and evil. They protect us, body and soul.

Many of us were taught, as young children, to pray daily to our guardian angel for that angel’s protection, as God sees fit. This is a good practice for all of us, child or adult. If you haven’t spoken to your angel in awhile, now would be a good time.

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.


Feast of the Annunciation: An Answer That Changed Everything

The Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. However, in 2016, that date fell on Good Friday. The Bishops of the United States have declared that the celebration of this feast be moved to Monday, April 4. (By the way, this particular occurrence won’t happen again until 2157!)

The story is a familiar one to most of us:

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. – Lk. 1:26-38

It is hard to imagine how frightening this scene is. First, while we like to portray angels as chubby babies with wings floating in mid-air, angels are actually awesome creatures. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft gives us a clear idea of what angels are:

  • They really exist. Not just in our minds, or our myths, or our symbols, or our culture. They are as real as your dog, or your sister, or electricity.
  • They’re present, right here, right now, right next to you, reading these words with you.
  • They’re not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy, or “cool”. They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.
  • They are the real “extra-terrestrials”, the real “Super-men”, the ultimate aliens. Their powers are far beyond those of all fictional creatures.
  • They are more brilliant minds than Einstein.
  • They can literally move the heavens and the earth if God permits them.
  • There are also evil angels, fallen angels, demons, or devils. These too are not myths. Demon possessions, and exorcisms, are real.
  • Angels are aware of you, even though you can’t usually see or hear them. But you can communicate with them. You can talk to them without even speaking.
  • You really do have your very own “guardian angel”. Everybody does.
  • Angels often come disguised. “Do not neglect hospitality, for some have entertained angels unawares”—that’s a warning from life’s oldest and best instruction manual.
  • We are on a protected part of a great battlefield between angels and devils, extending to eternity.
  • Angels are sentinels standing at the crossroads where life meets death. They work especially at moments of crisis, at the brink of disaster—for bodies, for souls, and for nations.

Imagine a young girl who is suddenly faced with one of these “fearsome” creatures. And this “warrior” tells her she is to become the Mother of God. She has the presence of mind to ask a sensible question and give her undivided “yes” (in Latin, her fiat: “let it be done”) to this request.

It was a request. Mary did not have to answer “yes” to God. She, like all of us, had free will. (She did not have the burden of original sin, however. That is why the angel greets her as “full of grace” or “favored one.”) It is said that God is a gentleman; He never imposes his will on anyone, but waits until we tell him “yes” to His will.

Mary could not see into the future. She could not know the full weight of her answer. She did know that she wished to do God’s will, always and only. She knew she wanted to welcome Christ, the Messiah, the Savior. She said, “Yes.” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry writes:

We also see through Mary that faith is freedom. In this moment where she says she is the Lord’s handmaid, she is perfectly free. As free as anybody except Christ on the Cross. As said, Mary understood that her choice of the fiat would have negative consequences for her, although she probably did not understand the full ramifications. She could have said no. We have to believe this. She could have said no. She could have said no, and it would have been the total end of salvation history, with no Cross, no Resurrection, no life to come. Creation would have continued galloping into absurdity towards, probably, ultimate dissolution. This is why Mary rightly receives the most esteemed title of Mother of God. Her fiat had to cost Mary, and she could have said no. But if she had said no, it would have been out of fear. Fear of social opprobrium (and who among us has none?), fear of tribulation, fear of the unknown, the totally Unknown, blasting into her life like a torrent and changing everything. Who would not have that fear! We shouldn’t romanticize the Annunciation, we shouldn’t believe that it was easy-peasy; Mary may have been Immaculate, but Jesus sweated blood at Gethsemane. When Luke tells us that she was “greatly troubled”, we have to see it for the tactful understatement that it is. And yet at that moment, Mary is perfectly free, and her perfect freedom caused the salvation of all humanity.

On this Feast of the Annunciation, let us ponder this scene. A young girl, an angel, a question, and how it changed the world.