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The First Thanksgiving was Catholic

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 23:07

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about the pilgrims, the Mayflower, and the friendly Indians.

The first Thanksgiving was held about half a century earlier and more than a thousand miles to the south. And it was held by Catholic explorers.

There are actually several claimants to the first Catholic Thanksgiving.

One is the celebration held by a hardy band of Spanish settlers in 1598 in San Elizario, in what is present-day Texas. The expedition, which included women and children, had braved the Chihuahuan Desert and hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days. Once they reached the Rio Grande, the settlers paused and held a Thanksgiving Mass, celebrated by Franciscan missionaries, according to the account by journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick in her book, Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience.

Then there was the Spanish mission to St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, which Michael Gannon, a Florida historian, has called “the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.” No turkey or cranberry sauce here—instead, the menu for the feast included salted pork, garbanzo beans, and red wine, according to Kirkpatrick.

The Spanish in Florida, in turn, came one year after the French Huguenots, who also had their own Thanksgiving in 1564.

And there may have been one even earlier—in Texas in 1541, led by yet another Spanish conquistador named Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, according to the Washington Post.

There are other Protestant contenders as well. They include Popham Colony in Maine in 1607, Jamestown in 1610, and Richmond Virginia in 1619, according to the Post.

But the very first one may have been far earlier even than the one in Texas. Some say the first to give thanks was Ponce de Leon, who voyaged with Christopher Columbus in 1493, the year after the explorer’s first trip.

Ponce de Leon landed in Florida in 1513, reportedly on an epic hunt for the legendary Fountain of Youth, but more likely on a mission to claim new territory for Spain. “Thanks be to Thee, O Lord, who has permitted me to see something new,” de Leon exclaimed upon his arrival. He is credited with giving Florida its name, which comes from the Spanish phrase pascua florida—“the feast of flowers,” which was the Easter season.

But being historically first still does not dislodge the place of primacy held by the pilgrims. For their celebration is the basis for the American holiday. Yet, even here, Catholics play an indispensable part of the story through the most seemingly unlikely character—Squanto. Usually, as the story is told, Squanto seems to appear out of nowhere, like some angelic figure out of the wilderness, fluent in English and willing to help the starving settlers.

What is less known is that Squanto had been captured by John Smith to be sold into slavery but had been rescued by Franciscan friars. Squanto was baptized into the Catholic faith and lived in England before returning to his home. So yes, we owe our ‘first’ Thanksgiving to an act of Catholic charity. (Special credit goes to Taylor Marshall for ferreting out this forgotten story.)

It’s further noteworthy that at least two of the first Catholic Thanksgivings were Masses because our term the Eucharist comes from a Greek word whose literal meaning is thanksgiving. Every time we attend Mass we participate in the most important thanksgiving feast there is. As the catechism states, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that He has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification.”

As Catholics, then, this holiday reminds us of the ultimate source of all our thanksgiving.

Mary’s Role in Thanksgiving Day

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 23:05

It’s Thanksgiving week, and everywhere I look, everyone’s talking about thankfulness.

You don’t need me to remind you that this is a time to be thankful.  I’m sure that, like me, you’re hearing it everywhere.

Sometimes, when I’m doing these thankful exercises, I start out specific and work my way into general things.  I might think about the food that feeds my family; the work that provides the money for the food, the store in town where I buy it; the farmers who work so hard in the fields around our house; the system that allows us to have access to so much food.

Other times, I do things the opposite way.  I might see the blue sky and the lovely weather of a late fall day and, in being thankful, turn my attention to my specific patch of land, and then to my old farmhouse — which, though I love it and hate it at the same time, is a house nonetheless.  Then I’ll look inside the house, beyond the stuff and junk, to the people who make this old house a place where I want to be.

At the heart of my thankfulness is my faith.

I look at the person I almost was, at the path my life was taking, and I thank God for the series of interventions that led me to this point, where I live in a home filled with kids and a dog and a husband, with family just down the road.

I can’t help but be thankful for the divine hand that led me to Mother Church, that saved me from the person I almost was.

And when I think about my conversion to the Catholic Church, I can’t help but think about Mary.

Mary has been many things to me over the last 12 years.  She has been a lovely statue, a nice idea, a remote figure in a Bible story.

She has been the gentle touch during a sob-fest, a shoulder to rest my head on, the hand I hold when I don’t know how to pray.

She has been inspiration for pursuing a dream.  She has been confidence in my parenting journey.  She has been comfort during storms and trials.

But most of all, for me, she has been an example and an inspiration.  As my mother, she has never let me down, has never hurt me, has never pushed me away.  As my comrade-in-arms, she has never failed to encourage me, never stopped me from trying to do good, never pointed anywhere but heavenward.

I can look to Jesus with some measure of love because of Mary.  I can think of Him holding me close because I have experienced the love of His mother.

That’s what she does, you know.  She leads you to her Son.  This Thanksgiving, may Mary point you in the direction of her Son in a new and special way.

image: Our Lady Crowned by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr

In the first reading we see the

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 23:00

In the first reading we see the fidelity of Mattathias and his family to Yahweh their God and to their people’s covenant with Yahweh, despite the order of King Antiochus that they abandon their religion or suffer death.

In the Gospel reading Jesus weeps over Jerusalem: he wept not only because Jerusalem rejected his teaching and salvation but also because the city itself would be destroyed and annihilated, “they will dash you to the ground and your children with you, and leave not a stone within you, for you did not recognize the time and visitation of your God.”

Jesus loved Jerusalem: it was the city of David, it was the seat of the temple of Solomon, it was the seat of the Holy of Holies. It was the city of Yahweh, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.

Yet Jerusalem did not recognize and welcome the Messiah when he same. Instead Jerusalem crucified the Messiah on Calvary, just outside its walls.

We pray that we may “recognize the time and visitation of our God” in our lives. We pray that our eyes may see and recognize him, that our ears may hear and listen to him and that our hearts may embrace and love him.

Finally, we pray for one another, for those who have asked our prayers and for those who need our prayers the most.

Pope St. Clement I

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 23:00

We know that Pope St. Clement was Roman, was our fourth pope and was martyred outside of Rome, but this information is about all we know with certainty. According to tradition he was probably a freed man in the imperial household and was baptized by St. Peter. He succeeded Cletus as pope in 91, and was exiled to the Crimea by Emperor Trajan. He preached with great zeal to the prisoners working in the mines there. Because of this he was condemned to death, bound and thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck. It is also agreed by scholars that he was the author of a letter to the Corinthians in which he rebuked them for a schism that had broken out in their church. The letter is of particular historical importance as one of the outstanding documents of the early Church and significant as an instance of the bishop of Rome intervening authoritatively as the pre-eminent authority in the affairs of another apostolic church to settle a dispute as early as the first century.

About 868 St. Cyril, when in the Crimea on the way to evangelize the Chazars, dug up some bones in a mound (not in a tomb under the sea), and also an anchor. These were believed to be the relics of St. Clement. They were carried by St. Cyril to Rome, and deposited by Adrian II with those of St. Ignatius of Antioch in the high altar of the basilica of St. Clement in Rome. The history of this translation is evidently quite truthful, but there seems to have been no tradition with regard to the mound, which simply looked a likely place to be a tomb. The anchor appears to be the only evidence of identity but we cannot gather from the account that it belonged to the scattered bones.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for this holy pope that You gave to shepherd Your flock as well as all those whom You have put in authority. Help us, Father, to be submissive and docile to them, knowing that when they make infallible statements that they are speaking for You. Amen.

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

If man applies the virtues planted in his soul to the right purpose, he will be like God. The image we depict must not be that of one who is unlike God; for one who is harsh and irascible and proud would display the image of a despot. Let us not imprint on ourselves the image of a despot, but let Christ paint his image in us.

— From an instruction of St. Columban

Which virtues are the opposites of harshness, irascibility, and pride? How can I employ these virtues today to be more like God?

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Columban (615), Abbot, Missionary

Blessed Migeul Agustin Pro (1927), Priest, Martyr

St. Felicitas (2nd Century), Martyr, mother of the 7 Holy Brothers (July 10)

Spiritual Warfare Weapon: Gratitude

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:07

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy.” This text of the second Eucharistic prayer of the Mass not only states the primacy of gratitude, but also reveals a powerful defense against the evil one. Lucifer, once a magnificent angel of light, fell from heaven due to pride. Rebellion and ingratitude are cousins of pride. Now, one third of the fallen angels tempt humanity into pride, rebellion and ingratitude to God.

A person who has cultivated an attitude of gratitude to God in all things has formed a powerful weapon against evil spirits. This is precisely a Marian characteristic. I discovered the efficacy of turning ordinary temptations into a prayer of gratitude from the lives of the saints. In deliverance and exorcism ministry work, we note a difference when a prayer of gratitude is formed — even, before liberation. Such faith acts lessen the diabolical grip on a person.

St. Paul helps us understand this, “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So, we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:15-16). When we lose heart (faith in God) we are more prone to fall into temptation or cooperate with evil.

Christ taught St. Faustina, “But child, you are not yet in your homeland; so go, fortified by My grace, and fight for My kingdom in human souls; fight as a king’s child would; and remember the days of your exile will pass quickly, and with them the possibility of earning merit for heaven. I expect from you, my child, a great number of souls who will glorify My mercy for all eternity.” (St. Faustina, Diary, no. 1489 quoted by Beckman, God’s Healing Mercy, p.113)

This applies to all believers. A greater number of souls will eternally glorify The Divine Mercy because they received mercy in the way that David did in the defeat of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17). If, for a time we are tested by diabolical vexation, in faith we trust that God is about a great work in and through us. We believe that God will bring greater good out of the evil trials. For this we give thanks—even before the day of liberation. Like Job, during diabolical oppression, we bless the name of the Lord; thank Him for the liberation and restoration that is sure to come through perseverance.

The Church encourages believers to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. There is profound wisdom here, distinct from something shallower such as secular positive thinking or optimism. For Catholics, gratitude is foundational to living a fully human life. Why? Because when we give thanks to God in all things we walk humbly as Eucharistic disciples.

The source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist which means thanks-giving, thanks-saying, thanks-doing. Eucharistic life produces the fruit of gratitude, graciousness, goodness.

An enormous gratitude deficient exists in the world, personally and collectively. Unhappiness, rage, violence, are evidence of a gratitude deficit. It seems impossible for a person to be simultaneously thankful and unhappy, angry, violent, etc. Perhaps ingratitude also contributes to empty seats at Mass on Sunday. An ingrate is not very likable. Sometimes the problem is we don’t like ourselves very much. A solution could be to thank God for creating you; for loving you into existence, for accompanying you always, for gazing upon you with holy love.

Be grateful for the gift of life, faith, family, friends, education, job and everything else that is yours as gift of God. Gratitude keeps our spiritual armor well-oiled so that we can “fight like a knight” against the devil and his minions. Prayers of gratitude are repugnant to evil spirits.

Blessed James Kern, O. Praem. Priest of Gratitude

Thanks to my friend, Fr. Gregory Dick, O. Praem., of St. Michael’s Norbertine Abbey, I can share a powerful Litany of Abundant Thanksgiving to God. The author is anonymous, but this litany was a cherished devotion of Blessed James Kern, a Norbertine priest, who offered himself in substitution for a brother priest who had led a schism (the Czech National Church). Fr. Kern went to the extent of joining the Norbertine Order and Abbey from which the schismatic priest once belonged. The Lord accepted Fr. Kern’s offer of reparation; he suffered greatly and died shortly after his ordination to the priesthood. Fr. Kern desired to spread this litany of gratitude to God. He had several thousand copies of the litany printed. He died before he could distribute them. In the words of Fr. Gregory Dick, “I suppose he left that to us, his fellow Norbetines”.

Litany of Abundant Thanksgiving to God

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right and just.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give You thanks,

Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, hear us.

Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of heaven,

have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
God the Holy Spirit,
Holy Trinity, one God,
Holy Mary, Mother of God, lead our song of thanksgiving.

For light, life and all creation,
  we give thanks to you O God.
For the manger, the cross, and the dawn of Easter,
For the Dove and the seven flames of heavenly Fire,
For the revelation of the mystery of Yourself, the most holy Trinity,
For the Queen of Heaven, Your Son’s mother and ours,
For the cleansing waters of Baptism,
For those who led us into Your Church,
For my father, mother, relatives and friends,
For my homeland, government and native tongue,
For my daily bread, my home, and my vocation,
For consolation, success and protection in danger,
For the works of penance that You have given us,
For the bitter cup of suffering which makes us strong,
For the Anointing of Confirmation, which conforms
us to the Holy Spirit,

For the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood,

For the daily nourishment of this heavenly Bread,
For Jesus dwelling amongst us in the tabernacle,
For healing and strengthening us in the Sacrament
of Reconciliation,

For the consoling Anointing of the sick, which
heals and redeems,

For the power of priests to call upon You,
For the nobility, honor and dignity of marriage,
For the glorious gift of the Sacrament of
Matrimony,

For the Church who raises us up and binds us
together,

For this Rock of Truth withstanding storms and
distress,

For Peter, holding the keys of heaven in his hand,
For Your shepherds’ priesthood which serves as
Jesus served,

For the royal priesthood of the baptized who offer
spiritual worship,

For religious orders, the flowers on the tree of Your
Holy Church,

For the perfect proof of faith,
For the hope of beholding You face to face,
For the privilege of being able to love Your Name
and glory,

For the assistance of angels in this earthly battle,
For our Guardian Angels, our friends and
protectors,

For the courage we are given from the merits of the
Saints,
For all the Saints who are interceding for us before
Your throne,
For the guidance You give us in the Saints of our
age,

For the immaculate purity of the Virgin Mary,
For the Scriptures and the teaching of the
Magisterium,

For all the glorious victories of Your kingdom,
For all the illustrious feast days of the Church,
For Your hearkening to our intercessions for the
dead,

For having given us an immortal soul endowed
with intellect,
For having ennobled our will with freedom,
For having given us a will for good,
For having promised eternal rewards for even the
smallest of good deeds,

For Your kind providence leading us through life,
For Your light burning in the darkness of the night,
For Your voice sounding in the clouds of
disappointment,

For Your hand supporting us when the ground
shakes beneath us,

For the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
For the revelations of His unfathomable Mercy,
For all graces given us when we have deserved only
punishments,

For the resurrection of the dead,
For the coming of Christ on the clouds,
For judging the righteous in justice,
For bringing the proud to their knees,
For calling us to our true homeland in heaven,

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,

    spare us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,

    graciously hear us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world,

    have mercy on us.

Let us pray.

O God, who has said, “Always give thanks in everything,” we humbly beseech You to give us the grace of beginning our thanksgiving here on earth in such a way that we may be able to finish it in heaven. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

For more information about Blessed James Kern, O. Praem., or St. Michael’s Norbertine Abbey: stmichaelsabbey.com

image: Adoration in the Assumption Chapel by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr

The Supernatural Side of Stranger Things

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:05

My husband, Ben, and I recently finished watching Season 1 of Netflix’s retro miniseries, Stranger Things. Since I’m not a huge fan of sci-fi or supernatural fantasy, I reluctantly agreed to stick through all ten episodes, if only to convince myself that I could truly be open-minded about such fantastical stories. In the end, however, both of us were sorely disappointed and briefly discussed the reasons. That’s why I was surprised to see some Catholics favorably review the show while they dissected and looked for theological themes in the series.

Suffice it to say that I wanted to delve into their explanations and offer my own, which I’ll admit will likely be unpopular and perhaps even ridiculed. I’ll begin with the affirming points of the show, namely the nostalgic aspects that appeal to us Gen Xers; the virtuous qualities of many characters in the show – sacrifice, loyalty, honesty, to name a few; and the superb plot that unfolds intensely but steadily. There’s plenty of reasons why 80’s kids love Stranger Things, but we should also acknowledge that the show presents a distorted view of the battle against evil and unseen worlds.

The series arc eventually introduces viewers to The Upside Down, a mirror universe that is occupied by diabolical creatures. In this way, even the residents of a small town can be caught up in something greater than them, which is certainly part of the appeal. We long for something bigger than what we see in front of us. We can observe a longing for something more than what this world offers, and certainly the flip-side of this ethereal realm (e.g., The Upside Down) is for us to face the reality that there are frightening and mysterious spiritual realities that we cannot fully grasp or manage.

The foulness of The Upside Down now threatens our realm and many seem powerless to stop it.

When contemplating the dangers of spiritual battles, we must affirm what power we have, though, through our faith. We can control, via our free will, whether or not the presence of evil pervades our lives. I know this personally. The entire time I watched Stranger Things, I felt a sense of impending doom. There was never evidence that the people who entered The Upside Down or even those who tried to control it in the Laboratory understood that they could face and rebuke the demonic. In fact, as Christians, we must do this with confidence!

Why admonish something that has no counterpart, though? That’s another issue I had with the show: no trace of holy redemption. Sure, the human characters exhibited heroic and redeeming qualities, especially when Eleven sacrificed her life to save the boys who had become her friends, but where was the Redeemer Himself? Nowhere. We see this ghastly and clearly evil monster that is other-worldly, but no angel or God to save His people.

There is no mention of a Rightside Up. There’s nothing to suggest that the preternaturally evil monster has an omnipotent and benevolent nemesis, namely, someone who is sublimely holy – God!

When I was a young teen, I dabbled in the occult for a short period of time, which I explained in detail in an article I wrote three years ago for Catholic Exchange. The result was the same sort of experience I witnessed in Stranger Things: fear, anxiety, and the false sense that this bizarre and inexplicably evil presence was too powerful and could not be contained. But, perhaps like the characters in Stranger Things, this belief deceived me.

I lived much of my life – decades even – with this spiritual oppression looming behind me and hovering over me. It was subtle, to be sure, especially after I had confessed my involvement with the occult and did my best to live a life indicative of sanctity. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I learned I had to officially renounce the evil, and I did this with the help of two lay Catholic women trained in deliverance ministry.

One cannot close the portal to The Upside Down, so to speak, without acknowledging the all-sovereign Creator who is the only One we serve. We do not obey Him out of fear. Instead, it is out of love – the same love that was alluded to through the characters’ vague sense of sacrificial compassion in Stranger Things. But it was a finite love, of course, conditional in some regards. Every character was flawed, representing the human condition of concupiscence.

Where was the antidote to the hideous monster in The Upside Down? The characters had to investigate it for themselves, often at very high costs, and they went to great lengths to unravel the mystery that the laboratory was hiding from the public. In many cases, they committed crimes and sins, which the creators of the show clearly wanted us to justify because of the main premise – that the evil must be discovered and destroyed at all costs.

Is it necessary to lie in order to destroy evil? Or to break into a high-security facility? I’m not sure I have the exact answer, but evil is not conquered with sin.

There were several other articles I read that I intended to dissect in this article, but space and time have limited my ability to do so. I will mention that the other two blog posts I wanted to mention both stated that they saw elements of the gospels, Theology of the Body, and a glimpse of heaven in Stranger Things. Maybe I missed something huge, but I never saw any sign of heaven or even anything remotely related to it.

My point is this: I’m entirely in favor of creative licensing and our ability to enjoy a variety of fictional stories that utilize our imaginations. There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching Stranger Things. But when Catholics attempt to convince the populace that there are clear elements of Catholic spirituality woven throughout the miniseries, I have a problem with that.

We can, and should, see the good in everything around us, including the movies or TV shows we watch. Stranger Things absolutely has components of human goodness. But it was lacking in one glaring necessity: God. We saw the demonic; we understood and accepted that evil does exist. But we did not seek or name the only One who created all things and can vanquish such malevolence.

My hope was to see a beneficent deity introduced in Season 2, but it appears that it’s just a continuation of chasing the Demagorgon into oblivion, along with the intriguing unraveling of backstories, including that of Eleven’s cruel abduction and the abuse of her psychic powers.

After I completed the deliverance prayers to renounce my participation in the occult, I was enveloped in God’s healing mercy. This joy elevated me to shed tears of gratitude as His peace settled in my soul. Isn’t it more empowering to be spiritually liberated by our Triune God than to succumb to spiritual pessimism?

True Gratitude is Enough

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:02

Years ago I pasted up a comic that features a matronly character with a cat purring at her feet. Ironically, it was from the strip called “Mutts,” but it wasn’t the mismatch between title and illustration that caused me to cut it out. Instead, it was the accompanying quotation attributed to Meister Eckhart, a late-medieval Dominican mystic. The quotation is this: “If the only prayer you say in your life is thank you, that would suffice.”

That yellowed comic still hangs on a wall in our home, but it’s not in a place where I look at it every day. Nonetheless, the sentiment it conveys, that particular strip’s message and challenge, has never been far from my thoughts – it’s been nagging me and bothering me ever since I taped it up.

And just last week, it came leaping out at me at daily Mass. The Gospel was from Luke 17, the one where the ten lepers begged Jesus for pity and healing. Jesus promptly sends them on their way to – a doctor? a hospital? Nope, a priest! Yet, they went anyway and – lo and behold – they were all immediately freed from their disease and restored to wholeness! Alleluia!

You’ll probably recall what happens next: Nine of the ten take off – presumably to enjoy their newfound health, to share their miraculous recovery with family and friends, to pick up the loose ends of their lives that they’d abandoned years before – but one, only one, turned back to Jesus to give thanks.

That doesn’t mean the other nine weren’t grateful – no doubt, they were, and maybe they even pondered the connection between Jesus’ odd directive and their sudden good fortune. But, for whatever reason, only the one – an outsider, it turns out, a Samaritan – considered it needful, even necessary, to return to Jesus, glorify God, and give thanks.

Now what’s noteworthy – even startling – is Jesus’ response to this one: “Stand up and go,” he says. “Your faith has saved you.” In a sense, it was faith that saved all ten, at least from their leprosy. All of them clearly took it on faith that following Jesus’ offbeat command might lead to a satisfactory outcome – which it did. Yet there was something more going on in the one who expressed his gratitude: His physical healing was accompanied by – or, most likely, almost assuredly, preceded by – a spiritual healing. His was a temporal restoration that aligned with an eternal one.

And I think that’s what the Meister Eckhart quotation is all about: that a heartfelt and robust prayer of thanksgiving – not just thanksgiving itself – constitutes a bare minimum. At least for Christians.

We’re just a couple days away from our national Thanksgiving observance. It’s a most excellent holiday, not just for the family and friends, the feasting and football, but also for the opportunity to dwell as a people – even briefly, before the Mall opens – on what we’re grateful for. And we will do that. We’ll go around our tables and name people and events and things for which we are thankful, no matter how corny it seems – and that’s all right and good. Despite our ills and travails, even the unspeakable ones, we can all come up with something to be grateful for.

But it’s the next part that’s so important – the moment when most of us will follow our declarations of thanks with bows of head and voiced acknowledgements of God. That’s what transforms our natural thanksgiving into something supernatural – the same thing that set apart the one leper from the other nine. Moreover, it’s an indispensable dimension of our Catholic identity. “Eucharist,” after all, literally means “thanksgiving” – it is a sacrament of gratitude, the sacrament of gratitude – and since the Eucharist is the “source and summit” (CCC 1324) of the Christian life, then it’s fair to say that gratitude is Christianity, gratitude is Catholicism.

Which brings me back to that Samaritan leper, the one who came back to give thanks. Despite his disfiguring illness and isolation, which he shared with the other nine, this one apparently had somehow retained a fundamental gratitude – stubbornly, I suspect, perhaps even foolishly in the eyes of his comrades. They were lepers, after all, outcasts already dead in society’s eyes. Yet thanks came readily to this one’s lips. It was there all along and it compelled him to act.

Similarly, we do well to remember that Jesus instituted the Eucharist – our defining sacrament of gratitude – on the eve of his crucifixion. He knew what lay ahead, and yet he still gave thanks – and directed his followers to do likewise. Thus, for Christians, gratitude is essential regardless of circumstances. It’s the key, it’s the secret of our religion: A gratitudinous faith is authentic only to the degree that we embrace it – or at least attempt to embrace it – when giving thanks isn’t so easy.

That’s why the Mutts comic featuring that Eckhart quotation continues to bug me, because it’s a tall order to prayerfully and sincerely give thanks in the midst of our struggles, burdens, and disappointments. Apparently it also bugs Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the Mutts strip, because he’s been featuring the same quote around Thanksgiving intermittently for years. If you get Mutts in your local paper, look for it this Thursday – it might be there. But even if it’s not, keep it in mind and re-commit yourself to living gratitude, not just on Thursday, but every day. Do it with a Eucharistic mindset and commitment, and it will indeed suffice.

*

This essay was adapted from a reflection given on Grandparents’ Day (21 Nov. 2017) at Marian High School, Mishawaka, Indiana.

In the parable of the talents in the

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:00

In the parable of the talents in the Gospel reading, we are told that we must make the best use of the gifts given us in life: we will be rewarded or punished accordingly.

Our God-given gifts win for us much coveted worldly honors: power, prestige, fame. They could be boon or bane depending on how we use them. Success and fame could be all-consuming passions, leading to our own destruction. Our talents could remain dormant in us for a variety of reasons: such would be a great lack of responsibility on our part.

No one is without talents and gifts. Everyone has something to offer and to work with. Even in old age, we can give good example and guidance.

In the first reading and in the life of St. Cecilia, virgin and martyr, whose memorial is celebrated today, we see courage, faith and love of God even unto death.

May we have the faith and courage of the mother of the seven brothers: “I ask you now, my son, that when you see the heavens, the earth and all that is in it, you know that God made all this from nothing, and the human race as well. Do not fear these executioners, but make yourself worthy of your brothers – accept death that you may again meet your brothers in the time of mercy.”

“Since Jesus has gone to Heaven,

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:00

“Since Jesus has gone to Heaven, I can follow Him only by the traces He has left. But how radiant and how fragrant these traces are!”

-St. Therese of Lisieux, Mornings with Saint Therese

Saint Cecilia

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 23:00

Cecilia, also known as Cecily, was born in Rome and educated in the teachings and perfect practice of Catholicism. In her youth she made a vow of virginity to God. However, she was forced by her parents to marry a noble pagan youth named Valerianus. Refusing to forgo her vow, she convinced her new husband to respect her virginity, and eventually also won him over to Christianity.

Later, his brother Tiburtius was converted to the faith and both brothers practiced it with great zeal. Consequently, the prefect Turcius Almachius condemned them to death. Their executioner Maximus, however, himself was converted and suffered martyrdom along with the two brothers. Their remains were buried in one tomb by Cecilia.

At this point Cecilia came under the eye of the prefect and was soon sought by his officers. Before being taken prisoner, she made arrangements to have her house converted into a place of worship for the Roman Church. After a glorious profession of faith, she was condemned to be suffocated in her bath. Miraculously, this failed to harm Cecilia, so a soldier was assigned to behead her. Striking the neck of Cecilia three times without completely decapitating her, the soldier fled, leaving the virgin soaked in blood. She lived for three more days, during which time she was able to make dispositions for the poor. She was buried in the Catacombs of Callistus among the bishops and confessors who were martyred for the faith.

St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music. Many medieval pictures of Cecilia show her either holding a crown of martyrdom in her hand or playing the organ. While musicians played at her wedding, Cecilia sang in her heart to God. When the Academy of Music was founded at Rome in 1584, Cecilia was made patroness of the institute, whereupon her veneration as patroness of church music in general became more universal. Today, Cecilian societies (musical associations) exist everywhere, and the organ has become the primary attribute depicted in Cecilian art.

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Praise the Lord with the lyre,
Make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song,
Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”

— Psalm 33:1–3

What is my song of praise to the Lord today?

Prayer

St. Cecilia, pray for us that we make music in our hearts to God and manifest our love for Him in our daily deeds. In the holy name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Seven Steps to Surviving Winter

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:07

For as long as I can remember, I have dreaded the coming of winter. Big time.

I’m usually fine leading up to Christmas, but once the joy and excitement of Christmas is over, and the harsh and dullness of winter begins to set in…it’s a struggle.

When the snow starts falling, I start complaining. Whether it’s to my family, friends, co-workers, or by posting witty (i.e. smart-aleck) status updates on Facebook.

A couple of years ago there was the Polar Vortex.

Then came the Polar Vortex: Part 2.

Followed by Polar Vortex Part 3: Revenge of the Polar Vortex.

And with each snowstorm and each passing day of winter, we can tend to become increasingly depressed and grouchy.

Well, I’ve officially had enough of it.

Not of winter or snow. There’s not much I or anyone else can do about that. But I’ve had enough of my negative attitude about the season.

Starting this year I’ve decided that I’ve been miserable for three months out of a year for far too long. Starting this year, the complaining is over!

But hold on, it’s reality check time.

I fully realize I’m not going to suddenly love “all things winter”, joyfully running down a snowy street singing its praises. Plus, there is the risk of frostbite doing that. So, you may be thinking, “Ok Alan, what are you going to do then?”

Well…

  • First, I am going to stop complaining about it.
  • Second, I’m going to start being positive about.
  • Third, I’m going to find things to actually like about it.
  • Fourth, when steps one through three don’t work, I am going to rely heavily on gratitude. And repeat the steps.

God has given each one of us so many blessings.

To be alive.

To love the handful of people who cross our path each day.

To give of ourselves and accept help from others.

To try our hardest to do our best for God.

To enjoy the simple things.

And we can experience all of these blessings not just when it’s sunny and drinking lemonade. We can also experience all of these blessings, even during the coldest days of winter.

And when you think about it, God gives us so much to be grateful for during the winter months.

Winter is a time to be cozy and reflective. It’s a wonderful time to spend with family and friends. Whether it be Christmas, New Year’s, or just a quiet evening at home by the fire.

But perhaps it’s the stillness of winter that is hardest for some people. Winter can make a lot of people feel stagnant and dull.

But by asking God to help us adapt and even thrive during these times of stillness, we’re actually given a lot of possibilities. Things like enjoyment, happy memories and gratitude.

This winter I am inviting all people who share my dislike for winter to adopt some new habits that I believe will help ward off the gloom.

# 1 – Prayer

Our lives mostly depend on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm and kind, then our life will normally be as such. If we are negative and unkind in our thoughts, our peace is out the window. Essentially, our inner self, our peace or disruption of it, is based on the kinds of thoughts and desires we breed from within.

And if we’re wallowing in self-pity, or constantly being negative about the winter months, then our lives will reflect that negativity. And the best way to stop that from happening is prayer.

Take five or so minutes every morning to spend quiet time in reflective prayer. During this time, think about and tell God just how much you have to be grateful for. Think about the positive aspects of your life.

If you draw a blank, that’s ok too. Just pray to God to inspire you during these five minutes. Afterwards, observe the change in how you feel. This daily meditation can help keep you happy and positive all day. This will also help to restore your energy, especially when winter can cause us to feel sluggish and lazy. And don’t stop at five minutes. Pray throughout your day. It will absolutely change your perspective.

# 2 – Stay Healthy

Being sick will certainly help to cause a dislike for winter. Whether it’s catching a cold, having a constant dry, sore throat, or feeling like your skin resembles that of a reptile. Eat fresh fruits and green vegetables, which will boost your immunity. Take vitamin C daily. Put a humidifier in your bedroom at night, so your skin doesn’t dry out. Buy a beanie hat to wear when you’re outside. Yes, you’ll look goofy, but so does everyone else during the winter.

# 3 – Eat Healthy

I’ve always noticed that during the winter, as my mood goes down, my weight goes up. A lot of that is written off as Thanksgiving and Christmas overindulging, but it can also contribute to negative moods.

What we eat has a great effect on our mood and energy levels. It’s best to avoid refined and processed foods (like white breads, rice, and sugar). These foods are known to zap your energy levels and can affect your mood—causing depression, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Try to incorporate more healthy choices, like fruits and vegetables into your winter diet, and drink plenty of water. And everyone these days is claiming how healthy coffee is. So, drink up.

# 4 – Exercise

Exercise isn’t just for maintaining your weight and staying healthy. It’s great for relieving the stresses of life. And it’s great for getting through winter. You’ll have more energy throughout the day, and exercise also helps to improve your mood.

# 5 – Give Back

Instead of sitting around all winter waiting for spring, give of yourself. There is always someone, or some cause that needs our help. And the more we give of ourselves, the less we drown in self-pity and sadness. And when we give of ourselves, we’re also honoring God.

# 6 – Take Up a Project

There’s no time like winter to get involved in hobbies or by starting a home project. Last winter I spent a lot of time de-cluttering my house, which left me with a feeling of peace. But if you’re not into purging, how about painting? Either on a canvas, or your house walls. Not only will it look great, but it will also help distract you from having the winter blues, and you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment that is often desperately needed during the winter months.

# 7 – Be Grateful

When winter gets us down, it’s often because we feel confined and gloomy. We become increasingly tired of the cold weather. The walk from our cars to our homes or to work seems increasingly biting cold.

But perhaps we should stop to consider those less fortunate. For most of us, once we arrive home, or at work, we quickly regain our warmth and comfort. But some people do not. Some people reside and sleep in the cold. Whether it’s from being homeless, or from not having enough money to properly heat their homes.

How can we then complain about a cold walk from here to there?

Let us be thankful to God for everything, including winter. Being grateful for what God has given you will always help to improve your perspective on things.

I certainly didn’t invent these seven steps, but I have been researching them. And I plan to start implementing them this winter.

And I’m hoping (and praying) that this time next year, I can truly say, winter isn’t so bad after all.

Jesus Chose Mary for Himself

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:05

There is nothing more touching in the Gospel than the way God treats his reconciled enemies — that is, converted sinners. He is not content to wipe away the stain of their sins. It is easy for his infinite goodness to prevent our sins from hurting us; he also wants them to profit us. He bring forth so much good from them that we are constrained to bless our faults and to cry out with the Church, “O happy fault! O felix culpa!” His graces struggle against our sins for the mastery, and it pleases him, as St. Paul said, that his “grace abound” in excess of our malice (cf. Rom. 5:20).

Moreover, he receives reconciled sinners with so much love that the most perfect innocence would seem to have grounds for complaint, or at least for jealousy. One of his sheep wanders off, and all those who remain seem much less dear to him than the one gone astray; his mercy is more tender toward the prodigal son than toward the elder brother who had always been faithful.

If this is the case, then should we say that repentant sinners are more worthy than those who have not sinned, or justice reestablished is preferable to innocence preserved? No, we must not doubt that innocence is always best.

Although we appreciate health more when it is newly restored, we do not fail to value a strong constitution over the benefit of returning health. And although it is true that our hearts are moved by the unlooked-for gift of a fine day in winter, we do not fail to prefer the constant clemency of a milder season. So, if we may regard the Savior’s sentiments through a human lens, he may more tenderly caress newly converted sinners — his new conquests — but he loves the just with greater ardor, for they are his old friends.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is holiness itself, and although he is pleased to see at his feet the sinner who has returned to the path of righteousness, he nevertheless loves with a stronger love the innocent one who has never strayed. The innocent one approaches nearer to him and imitates him more perfectly, and so he honors him with a closer familiarity. However much beauty his eyes may see in the tears of a penitent, it can never equal the chaste attraction of an ever-faithful holiness. These are the sentiments of Jesus according to his divine nature, but he took on other ones for the love of us when he became our Savior. God prefers the innocent, but, let us rejoice: the merciful Savior came to seek out the guilty. He lives only for sinners, because it is to sinners that he was sent.

This article is from “Meditations on Mary.” Click image to preview or order.

Listen to how he explains his mission: “I came not to call the righteous” (Matt. 9:13), because, even though they may be the most worthy of my affection, my commission does not extend to them. As Savior, I must seek those who are lost; as Physician, those who are ill; as Redeemer, those who are captives. In this, he is like a physician: as a man, he is more pleased to live among the healthy, but as a physician he prefers to care for the sick. And so this good Doctor, as Son of God prefers the innocent, but as Savior seeks out the guilty. Here is the mystery illuminated by a holy and evangelical doctrine. It is full of consolation for sinners such as we are, but it also honors the holy and perpetual innocence of Mary.

For if it is true that the Son of God loves innocence so well, could it be that he would find none at all upon the earth? Shall he not have the satisfaction of seeing someone like unto himself, or who at least approaches his purity from afar? Must Jesus, the Innocent One, be always among sinners, without ever having the consolation of meeting an unstained soul? And who would that be, if not his holy Mother? Yes, let this merciful Savior, who has taken upon himself all of our guilt, spend his life running after sinners; let him go and seek them in every corner of Palestine; but let him find in his own home and under his own roof what will satisfy his eyes with the steady and lasting beauty of incorruptible holiness!

It is true that this charitable Savior does not cast off sinners, and far from sending them away from his presence, he does not disdain to call them the most honored members of his kingdom. He set the leadership of his flock in the hands of Peter, who denied him; he placed at the head of his Evangelists Matthew, who was a tax collector; he made the first of his preachers Paul, who had persecuted him. These are not innocent men; these are converted sinners whom he raised to the highest ranks. Yet you should not therefore believe that he would choose his holy Mother from the same lot. There must be a great difference between her and the others. What will that difference be?

He chose Peter, Matthew, and Paul for us, but he chose Mary for himself. For us: “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas . . . all are yours” (cf. 1 Cor. 3:22); for himself: “My beloved is mine,” and I am hers (cf. Song of Sol. 2:16). Those whom he called for others, he drew forth from sin, so that they might the better proclaim his mercy. His plan was to give hope to those souls beaten down by sin. Who could more effectively preach divine mercy than those who were themselves its illustrious examples? Who else could have said with greater effect, “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” than a St. Paul, who was able to add, “[a]nd I am the foremost of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15)?

Yet if he treated in this way those whom he called for the sake of us sinners, we must not think that he did the same for the dear creature, the extraordinary creature, the unique and privileged creature whom he made for himself, whom he chose to be his Mother. In his apostles and ministers, he brought about what would be most useful for the salvation of all, but in his holy Mother, he did what was sweetest, most glorious, and most satisfying for himself, and, consequently, he made Mary to be innocent. “My beloved is mine,” and I am hers. The gift of innocence could not be distributed with prodigality among fallen men, but it is no excess for him to give it to his Mother, and it would have been ungenerous to have withheld it.

No, my Savior will not do that. We see already shining forth from the newborn Mary the innocence of Jesus Christ, as a crown upon her head. Let us honor this new ray that her Son has caused to break forth upon her. “[T]he night is far gone, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:12). Jesus will soon bring about that day by his blessed presence. O happy day, O cloudless day, O day that the innocence of the divine Jesus will make so serene and pure: when will you come to light up the world? He comes; let us rejoice. You already see the dawn breaking in the birth of the holy Virgin. Let us run with joy to see the first light of this new day. We will see shining the sweet light of an unstained purity.

We must not persuade ourselves that to distinguish Mary from Jesus we must take away her innocence and leave it to her Son alone. To tell the morning from midday, there is no need to fill the air with storms or cover the sky with clouds: it suffices that the rays of the morn­ing sun should be weaker and their light less brilliant. To distinguish Mary from Jesus, there is no need to put sin into the mix. It suffices that her innocence be a weaker light. That light belongs to Jesus by right, but to Mary by privilege; to Jesus by nature, to Mary by grace and fa­vor. We honor the source in Jesus, and in Mary a flowing forth from the source. What should console us is that this flowing forth of innocence shines for the benefit of us poor sinners. Innocence normally reproaches the guilty for their evil lives and seems to pronounce condemnation upon them. Yet it is not so with Mary. Her innocence is favorable to us. And why? Because it is only a flowing forth of the innocence of the Savior Jesus. The innocence of Jesus is the life and salvation of sinners, and so the innocence of the Blessed Virgin serves to obtain pardon for sinners. Let us look upon this holy and innocent creature as the sure support for our misery and go and wash our sins in the bright light of her incorruptible purity

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Bishop Bossuet’s Meditations on Marywhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Be Thankful for these Holy Gifts

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:02

St. Ignatius asserted that the essence of sin is ingratitude. A great theologian of the past, Meister Eckhart, commenting on prayer, asserted that if the only thing we did in prayer was to “thank God” that would be enough! Shakespeare poignantly noted in one of his plays:  “More painful than a serpent’s tooth is that of an ungrateful child.”

In the healing of the ten lepers, only one of those healed came back to Jesus to render Him thanksgiving, and it was a foreigner—a Samaritan.  Jesus marveled that only one returned to give Him thanks and it was this foreigner. (Lk. 17:1-19).

The fourth Thursday of November is a holiday in the United States to show gratitude, Thanksgiving.  Eating, drinking, resting and enjoying life—all
of these are part and parcel of Thanksgiving, but sometimes we miss the real meaning of that day and forget to render thanks to God.

Indeed, all that we have in our lives, food, clothing, shelter, time, treasure and talents, not to mention the supernatural gifts bestowed on us are gifts flowing from the loving and Providential hand of a father that loves us so much that He even gave us His only begotten Son Jesus who shed His Blood and died on the cross for our salvation.   How thankful we should be!

The only thing that we have not received from God is what we have chosen freely of our own accord and that is sin. This is our own doing and our own “undoing” and it is crass ingratitude!

Eucharist

The word Eucharist comes from Greek, meaning “Thanksgiving”.   Mass is really “Thanksgiving” for the Gift of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, who gives Himself to us in Holy Communion. What a sublime, ineffable, extraordinary Gift!  Let us chime in with the Psalmist: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love endures forever.”

In the Contemplation to Attain Love, Ignatius insists that we look to above; from without, from within, as well as everywhere, to be keenly aware of God’s overflowing Gifts to us. This goodness of God should fill our hearts with joy, love and gratitude.

On a natural, artistic, human, but especially supernatural plane, we should be cognizant and grateful to God for all. Once again, with the Psalmist, let our hearts resound with joy: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love endures forever.”

Let us go through a list of the supernatural gifts that God has given to us and offer Him heartfelt gratitude!

1. Baptism

Review prayerfully all the graces that came to you in the moment that you were baptized: the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, the three theological virtue of faith, hope and charity; the four moral/cardinal virtue of Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Fortitude; the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Sanctifying grace—Friendship with God, freedom from the devil, a right to receive the other Sacraments, a right to inherit eternal life (heaven), receiving Mary as your Mother. Unworthy of this Sacrament and totally unmerited on my part, still God gave this to us out of His Infinite love.  Eternal thanks of Lord for your goodness!

2. Belief in God

At an alarming pace, atheism is spreading like wildfire throughout the world poisoning countless hearts. Imagine waking up in the morning and having no belief in God— all materialism, death, and then evaporating into oblivion for all eternity!  Hopelessness to say the least!   But no! Your belief in a loving and Providential God, serves as a buoy and  support to struggle through even the darkest nights, tempestuous storms, and thick , dense interior thickets. “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” (Psalm 23) These words triggers hope to surmount all obstacles.  “If God is with us, who can be against us?”

3. The Bread of Life

What incredible joy the knowledge that the sun will rise at dawn. Spiritually, the “Spiritual sun” will rise at the consecration of the Sacred Host in Mass when the priest repeats the same words that Jesus commanded him to say at the Last Supper: “Take and eat this is my Body; take and drink this is my Blood. Do this in memory of me.” If in desolation at night, call to mind that the Eucharist, the Bread of life, “The Spiritual dawning” shall break on high in Mass. That “Sun” will descend into the depths of your soul in Holy Communion. Eucharist= thanksgiving!

Lord, a million thanks!

4. Confession    

Even though weaknesses beset me, even though the just man falls seven times a day, even though my sins be as red as scarlet, I have the firm belief, and anchor of hope in Jesus’ most lofty attribute— His Divine Mercy.  In concrete, the Father of the Prodigal Son is always waiting with open arms to receive me after I fall, in the Sacrament of His mercy, Confession. (Lk.15).  Jesus, I trust in you!

5. Saints  

In a world filled with egotism, selfishness, anger and bitterness and crushing loneliness, we are really never alone! Why?  Thousands upon thousands of friends are at my beck and call in any moment, at any time and place. Who?  These are the saints.  Frustrating as it is when you call a friend and busy, again, busy, still again… busy—never, when you call upon the saints!  They are always ready to listen, to respond and to help and to befriend you in your temptations, sadness and loneliness!  What a blessing to belong to the “Family” of the Catholic Church!  There is always somebody at home!

6. Angels  

Not only are the saints, friends always attentive to our heart’s longing, but also the angels.  In the book of Tobit, the Angel Raphael accompanies young Tobias to his destiny, and future spouse, helping Tobias to overcome many almost insurmountable difficulties.  Your Guardian angel, St. Michael the archangel, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael are waiting for you to call upon them.   Even more, the many choirs of angels patiently await your prayer: angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim.   We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses ready to help us, both the saints and the angels!

7. The Revealed Truth   

Imagine living each day in which the truth changes according to one’s feelings, like the weather. How disheartening that must be!  As a member of the Catholic faith, we are not blown by the winds of changing fashions or  modes. On the contrary, we believe that Absolute Truth exists in Jesus who said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  He manifests and expresses His truth in His Word, the Bible, Tradition and Revelation, interpreted by the Papacy (the Holy Father) and the Magisterium, the Official teaching office of the Church. How consoling to know, beyond the shadow of doubt, that the Truth does exist in Jesus Christ and His Church!

8. Real Presence

In any catholic church throughout the world, and it might be the poorest, most simple humble church or chapel, rest assured, there is a Tabernacle and in the Tabernacle is living the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords”, that is Jesus, the Son of the living God.  He is always waiting for you to come and to visit Him.  “Come to me all of you who are weary and I will give you rest… (Mt 11: 28-30).  He promised with His last words: “I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.”

9. Heaven  

Jesus promised heaven!  This mere thought should elicit sentiments of hope and inexpressible joy in the depths of our hearts.  “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man, the wonderful things that God has prepared for those who love Him.” In moments of desolation, lift up your gaze to heaven where the Lord Jesus, the angels and saints and Mary are waiting for you. Patience, in this life, heaven is forever!

10. Mary: Our Life, Sweetness, and Our Hope

Remember the encouraging words of the great Saint Augustine: “If you were to put all the love of all the mothers of all time together, then the love that Mary has for you individually is far greater than all those loves.”  A mother’s love for a child is indeed strong. Many mothers would be willing to die for their child. Mary’s love is much more pure, noble, strong, constant, and reliable!  Returning from death and appearing to St. John Bosco, St. Dominic Savio asked St. John Bosco, what he thought brought greatest joy to him in life. After several attempts and failures, Savio revealed to St. John Bosco that his greatest joy on earth was his tender love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Before disappearing, Savio exhorted St. John Bosco, the great saint of the youth, to promote devotion to Mary. Indeed, he did under the title of Our Lady Help of Christians!

Prayer has many forms, expressions and dimensions. One of the hallmarks of true prayer is that of Thanksgiving. St. Ignatius, in the contemplation to attain love, encourages us to call to mind the many blessings that come from God. From above, on earth in all that surrounds us, from graces within, from the Church established as source of countless blessings, our hearts should abound in thanksgiving.  “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, His
love endures forever.”

 

According to tradition, at the age of

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:00

According to tradition, at the age of three, Mary was brought by her parents Joachim and Anne to the Temple at Jerusalem to present and consecrate her to the service of the Lord. She remained there in prayer and service until she was betrothed to Joseph. Today we pray for the men and women in monasteries and hermitages who serve the Lord and the Church through prayer and quiet work.

Today we also reflect on the responsibilities of parents for their children. Joachim and Anne took special care of their unique daughter Mary, teaching her what love and service of God are. What Christian values do we teach our children? How do we
do it? Hopefully by word and example. At the rite of baptism parents are reminded of their obligation to teach and rear their children and that they are their first teachers, and hopefully their best teachers.

Mary and Joseph, the mother and the foster-father of Jesus, did the same for the child Jesus and helped him grow “in wisdom and age, and in divine and human favor.” (Lk 2:52) How have we done in the growth and development of our children?

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:00

In the Old Testament, we read how Samuel and others were dedicated to God at an early age by their parents. They were presented at the temple to live there with the priests and be educated and brought up consecrating their lives to God. According to tradition, there were lodgings in the temple where women, also, were housed while they devoted themselves to the divine service in the temple.  It is our ancient Catholic tradition that our Blessed Mother, Mary, while still an infant, was also offered to God by her parents and presented at the temple. This is what we celebrate as “The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” The Greeks refer to this festival as the entrance of the Blessed Virgin Mary into the temple.

Our Lady herself, in her first moment of reason, consecrated herself to God, as all Christians are called to do. Every baptized Christian is bound at their moment of reason to dedicate their lives to God, however, unfortunately, so few do. We live in an age of self-love instead of love of God and willingness to live for Him.  We owe Him everything, yet many never think of Him, much less thank Him or give Him credit or glory for our works.  However, of ourselves, we can do nothing and the good works that we do are His and not our own.

The Blessed Mother spent her youth avoiding occasions of sin, keeping herself pure and holy. She carefully watched over her soul, always in prayer to the Father to help her. By making a vow of virginity to God, she led the way for other women to follow her example of purity. She remained in the Temple and thus was separated from the world until her marriage to St. Joseph.

From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day

Click the image above to purchase your own copy of “Graceful Living.”

Mary is the heart of the Church. This is why all works of charity spring from her. It is well known that the heart has two movements: systole and diastole. Thus Mary is always performing these two movements: absorbing grace from her Most Holy Son, and pouring it forth on sinners.

— Traditionally attributed to St. Anthony Mary Claret

Johnnette’s Meditation
As a child of Mary, how can I imitate her as “the heart of the Church”? In what ways can I live this out daily?

“As a child, Mary would certainly

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 23:00

“As a child, Mary would certainly be set apart and kept alone in order to prepare her for the great occasion.”

—Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica on Christ and Our Lady

Why Do Christians Get White Stones in Heaven?

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 23:07

Picture the scene: you’ve just arrived in heaven, after probably passing through purgatory.

Tradition tells us that you are then invited to the beatific vision. The Book of Revelation adds some details to this, listing some of the things you will receive in heaven. They include the ‘hidden manna,’ a victory crown, and fruit of the tree of life. But one item seems out of place in the list: a white stone with a name on it.

Here is how it is described in Revelation 2:17,

‘“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it.”’

What is the meaning of this white stone or amulet? Our curiosity is heightened by the fact that it has a new name which is known only to those who receive it. The other prizes are familiar to us. The hidden manna refers to our Eucharistic communion with Christ. The victory crown refers to our conquest over sin, Satan, and death through Christ. And the tree of life makes sense if we remember that heaven is Eden restored.

But a white stone?

There are a number of theories explaining what this means—and they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. In the first place, it should be pointed out that the white stone, contrary to what we might expect, really does come hand in hand with the hidden manna. The Old Testament actually describes the manna as having a white appearance and one account likens it to a precious stone (see Exodus 16:31 and Numbers 11:7).

Moreover, according to ancient Jewish tradition, precious stones and pearls rained down from heaven along with the manna. Precious stones also adorned the vestments for priests in ancient Israel. The connection the precious stones suggest between manna and priestly vestments makes sense if we remember that the manna is a type of the Eucharist, the body of Christ, the perfect priest who sacrificed Himself for us.

As for the white stones, one explanation is that they symbolized someone’s innocence at the conclusion of a trial—the white color, suggesting purity, reinforces this association. White stones were also awarded to victorious gladiators, which fits in with the context, which is about Christians who are victorious over idolatry. In addition, white stones served as a sort of ancient form of a ticket to a banquet, which ties in with the theme of the hidden manna.

The secret name on the stone could be a reference to the ancient practice of making magical amulets by inscribing the secret name of some deity on it, empowering the person who possessed the stone and recognized the name. Again, translated in Christian terms, we can see the white stone as a sacramental that empowers the one who holds it through knowledge of Christ’s name. (I’m particularly indebted for these insights to the commentaries by Robert Mounce, Brian Blount, Charles John Ellicott, and G.K. Beale, this author’s father.)

In the ancient world, the name of God signified His being. The classic example is God’s self-revelation of His name as I am to Moses: God is one who is self-existent in His being. In receiving Christ’s name His followers thus encounter his very being. As Beale explains,

In the ancient world and the OT, to know someone’s name, especially that of God, often meant to enter into an intimate relationship with that person and to share in that person’s character or power. … When someone gave a name to another person or thing it meant that they possessed that person or thing (Beale, 254).

So Christians will possess Christ in his very being because He possesses them. This leads to an alternative interpretation of the new secret name—that it is the new name of the individual Christian. The saints take on the name of Christ. This is consistent with Revelation 3:12, where Christ announces that He will inscribe His name on that of the believers, as Blount points out.

There is a long tradition of this in the Bible, stretching from Abram-Abraham in the Old Testament to Saul-Paul in the New, as Ellicott notes. Here, the new name signifies the final ‘transformation’ of the Christian, according to Mounce:

The new name is more likely to be the name of the one who overcomes. No one else can know the transforming experience of fidelity in trial and the joy of entrance to the great marriage supper of the Lamb. The overcomer’s name is new … in quality; it is appropriate to the New Age (Mounce, 83).

In heaven, then, Christians are promised to arrive at a fuller knowledge of Christ that ‘transforms’ their own identity. As the catechism says, “To live in heaven is ‘to be with Christ.’ The elect live ‘in Christ,’ but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name.”

The symbolism of the white stone is consistent with the Incarnational character of Catholic Christianity, which has always been concerned with the ‘thickness of the sensible,’ as one Catholic philosopher puts it. We believe in a God who became a flesh-and-blood man and who is ‘in heaven’ in physical form. We ‘taste and see’ the goodness of God in the Eucharist. We believe in the resurrection of the body.

The white stone is something that can be seen and grasped—a visible token of the invisible reality of the saints’ friendship with Christ and their invitation to the victory banquet in heaven. May we all pray that there is a white stone with our name on it waiting for us in heaven.

Do We Know That Jesus Existed?

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 23:05

For most people today, Christian and non-Christian alike, the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a real, historical figure is almost axiomatic. People often debate what he was really like and what he really taught, and many non-Christians even admire him for his character and his moral teachings. What they usually do not do, however, is question whether Jesus ever existed at all. For most, that option is simply not on the table.

Nevertheless, there is a small but growing group of people who do in fact deny that Jesus was a real person. This opinion has gained a lot of steam from the rise of the internet and the easy access we now have to all sorts of knowledge and opinions, as anybody with a laptop and an internet connection can spread their points of view to countless others. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that from my experience, if you know anybody who’s anti-Christian or militantly atheistic, there is a good chance that they believe Jesus never existed.

The Basic Arguments

Most deniers of Jesus’ existence defend their belief with three basic arguments: 1) We don’t possess sufficient non-Christian testimony to Jesus from the ancient world, 2) The earliest books of the New Testament don’t present him as a historical figure of the recent past, and 3) The stories about him in the Gospels are all reworked versions of stories that were already circulating in the first century.

In this article, I want to present a quick case for the existence of Jesus that tackles these three arguments head-on. Specifically, I am going to explain them in more detail and then turn the first two on their heads, showing how the evidence they appeal to actually contradicts their case. I’ll also show why the third argument doesn’t work, but there is nothing in it that we can turn into an argument for Jesus’ existence.

The Non-Christian Testimony

The first argument centers on the extant non-Christian testimony to Jesus. There are a few ancient authors who mention him, but the significance of their writings is disputed. For example, people who deny his existence often claim that these writers got their information about him from Christians, and they just accepted what they heard without questioning it.  As a result, they don’t provide any independent corroboration of Jesus’ existence.

Now, I don’t have the space in this article to delve into any individual authors or writings, but I do think we can turn this argument on its head. While we can debate the significance of various texts, what we know for sure is that nobody in the ancient world ever suggested that Jesus did not exist. Some ancient writers mentioned him and others ignored him, but none ever denied that he was a real, historical person. Even opponents of Christianity who argued against the faith (such as the philosopher Celsus) or ridiculed believers for their gullibility (such as the satirist Lucian of Samosata) accepted that he really existed.

Furthermore, the Church Fathers described all sorts of heresies and strange pseudo-Christian beliefs, but they never said that anyone denied the existence of Jesus as a historical figure. The closest we find is the belief that Jesus was a spirit who only appeared to be human (for example, Ignatius of Antioch describes this in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans 2:1), but that’s a far cry from denying that he ever existed at all. Simply put, if Jesus was a made-up figure, history has left us absolutely no trace of this. Nobody ever bothered to point out that Christianity was based on a man who never existed, so all memory of his invention was lost. That is incredibly unlikely, so even before we turn to the other two arguments, the scales are already tipping well in favor of Jesus’ existence.

The Earliest Epistles

The second argument looks at the New Testament epistles, most of which were written before the Gospels, and claims that they show no knowledge of an earthly, historical Jesus. For example, none of them mention Nazareth, Bethlehem, the names of his parents, or his debates with the Pharisees. Consequently, the epistles seem to present Jesus as a pre-existent divine being who came down to earth simply to die and rise again without having any sort of ministry or normal earthly life. As a result, proponents of this argument conclude that the earliest Christians believed Jesus to be a purely mythical figure, and his earthly life and ministry were invented later.

The main problem with this line of thinking is that the earliest epistles do in fact mention details about Jesus’ life. Sure, they don’t mention everything the Gospels tell us, but why would they? The Apostles wrote letters to instruct their congregations on matters of morality and Christian doctrine, not on the details of Jesus’ earthly life, so we should not expect them to mention things like where he grew up or who his parents were. Nevertheless, a few such details did find their way into the epistles. For example, St. Paul tells us that Jesus was Jewish (Galatians 4:4), that he was descended from King David (Romans 1:3), and that he had a brother (Galatians 1:19).

That last detail is particularly important. If St. Paul knew Jesus’ brother, then it’s just about impossible to deny that Jesus was a real, historical figure. Now, as Catholics, we believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, so we need to explain this point a bit more. The Greek word for “brother” was often used to refer to other close relatives (for example, in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, Abraham’s nephew Lot is called his “brother” in Genesis 14:14, 16), and the Gospels imply that James was actually the son of another woman (if you compare Matthew 13:55 with Matthew 27:55-56, it seems that his mother was named Mary but was not the mother of Jesus). Consequently, we actually have good reason to say that James was Jesus’ close relative, not literally his brother, and that’s just as good. If Paul knew a close relative of his, then Jesus must have been a real person.

The Copycat Claim

Finally, we reach the third and final argument against Jesus’ existence. This one compares the stories and sayings of Jesus in the Gospels to stories that were already circulating in the first century and posits that the Gospel writers simply copied those stories and reworked them to be about Jesus instead. For example, many say that Jesus’ miraculous multiplications of bread and fish to fed thousands of people (Mark 6:30-43, 8:1-10) are based on a similar miracle in the Old Testament performed by the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44). They claim that the evangelist Mark simply saw the story about Elisha and made up similar ones about Jesus.

If you are not already convinced by the first two arguments against Jesus’ existence, this one by itself probably won’t do much to change that. The fact is that narrative similarities do not prove that one writer copied from another. Rather, the most likely explanation for the similarities between the Gospels and the Old Testament is that the evangelists, who believed that the Old Testament prophesied and foreshadowed Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (for example, Matthew 1:22-23, Luke, 24:25-27), wrote their Gospels in a way that purposely highlighted those connections and showed exactly how the Old Testament points towards Jesus.

People also claim that the Gospel writers copied stories from pagan sources as well, but those claims suffer from similar problems. For one, as I said before, narrative similarities simply don’t prove anything. The mere fact that two stories are similar does not mean that one writer necessarily copied the other. Secondly, if we go through the entire corpus of extant literature from the ancient world, we should not be surprised if we find similarities to many things Jesus says and does in the Gospels. We possess so much ancient literature that we’re bound to come across numerous parallels to stories about anybody, not just Jesus. As a result, this third argument against Jesus’ existence does not work in any of its forms.

Where the Evidence Points

At the end of the day, the case against the existence of Jesus simply does not hold up. None of the arguments normally given are persuasive, and when we examine them closely, we can even turn some of them on their heads and show that the evidence they appeal to actually points in the opposite direction. As a result, we can be confident that Christianity is not based on a made-up figure. No, Jesus of Nazareth was in fact a real, historical person who lived and breathed in Israel 2,000 years ago.

5 Tips on Prayer with St. Thomas Aquinas

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 23:02

Prayer, St. John Damascene says, is the unveiling of the mind before God. When we pray we ask Him for what we need, confess our faults, thank Him for His gifts, and adore His immense majesty. Here are five tips for praying better– with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas.

5. Be humble.

Many people falsely think of humility as a virtue of a low self-esteem. St. Thomas teaches us that humility is a virtue of acknowledging the truth about reality. Since prayer, at its root, is an “asking” directed at God, humility is crucially important. Through humility we recognize our neediness before God. We are totally and entirely dependent on God for everything and at every moment: our existence, life, breath, every thought and action. As we become more humble, we recognize more profoundly our need to pray more.

4. Have faith.

It’s not enough to know that we’re needy. To pray, we also have to ask someone, and not just anyone, but someone who can and will answer our petition. Children intuit this when they ask mom instead of dad (or vice versa!) for permission or a gift. It is with the eyes of faith that we see God is both powerful and willing to help us in prayer. St. Thomas says that “faith is necessary… that is, we need to believe that we can obtain from Him what we seek.” It is faith which teaches us “of God’s omnipotence and mercy,” the basis of our hope. In this, St. Thomas reflects the Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the necessity of faith, saying, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Try praying an Act of Faith.

3. Pray before praying.

In old breviaries you can find a small prayer that begins, “Open, O Lord, my mouth to bless your Holy Name. Cleanse, too, my heart from all vain, perverse and extraneous thoughts…” I remember finding this slightly amusing– there were prescribed prayers before prescribed prayers! When I reconsidered it, I realized that although it might seem paradoxical, it gives a lesson. Prayer is utterly supernatural, and so it is far beyond our reach. St. Thomas himself notes that God “wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking.” The prayer above continues by asking God: “Illumine my mind, inflame my heart, that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly recite this Office and merit to be heard in the sight of Your divine Majesty.” The attentiveness and purity of heart needed to attain to God in prayer is itself received as a gift– and we will only receive if we ask.

2. Be intentional.

Merit in prayer– that is to say, whether it brings us closer to heaven– flows from the virtue of charity. And this flows from our will. So to pray meritoriously, we need to make our prayer an object of choice. St. Thomas explains that our merit rests primarily on our original intention in praying. It isn’t broken by accidental distraction, which no human being can avoid, but only by intentional and willing distraction. This also should give us some relief. We need not worry too much about distractions, as long as we don’t encourage them. We realize something of what the Psalmist says, namely, that God “pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber” (Ps 127:2).

1. Be attentive.

Although, strictly, we need only be intentional and not also perfectly attentive to merit by our prayer, it is nevertheless true that our attention is important. When our minds are filled with actual attention to God, our hearts too are inflamed with desire for Him. St. Thomas explains that spiritual refreshment of the soul comes chiefly from being attentive to God in prayer. The Psalmist cries out, “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek!” (Ps 27:8). In prayer, let us never cease to search for His Face.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

“Love is God’s gift to us

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 23:00

“Love is God’s gift to us in the Holy Eucharist. This is because God is love and He gives Himself to us.”

-Dom Hubert van Zeller, How to Find God

The mission of St. Mary’s Parish is to proclaim and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ,our pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith community is nourished by our sacramental life, especially the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. With Mother Mary as our model, we demonstrate our faith through worship, education, vocations and service.