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St. Samson (Bishop of Dol)

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 22:00

St. Samson was born in Wales around the year 485 and is considered one of the greatest missionaries to come from the British Isles. At the age of seven, his parents dedicated him to the service of God in gratitude for his birth after a long period of childlessness. He was enrolled under St. Illtud at his monastery at Llanwit, Glamorgan; when he reached manhood Samson was ordained deacon and priest by Illtud himself. This caused considerable envy among a number of the monks, and two nephews of Illtud attempted to murder Samson, who therefore left the community to live as a hermit on the island of Caldey off the coast of Pembrokeshire.

Samson’s father Amon and his uncle Umbrafel joined him on the island after Amon had recovered from a serious illness, having received the last rites from his son. When the Abbot Piro died, Samson succeeded him, but resigned after a trip to Ireland and resumed his eremitical life in Wales with his father and two others.

After a time, Samson went to Cornwall where he was consecrated bishop as well as abbot of St. Dubricius Monastery. He then traveled throughout Cornwall, working as a missionary, founding monasteries and churches, and gathering many followers for Christ. He crossed the Channel to continue his missionary activities in Brittany. There he was given some land on which to build a monastery; this site in time became the town of Dol, which became the spiritual center of Brittany.

Sensing that the end of his earthly life was near, Samson undertook a journey throughout the whole region of Neustria, moving slowly from parish to parish, often stopping to preach or to celebrate the Divine Office. His missionary activities throughout Britain and Brittany ended only with his death around the year 565.

During his life and after his death many miracles were attributed to St. Samson. Some of his relics, including an arm and a crosier, were acquired in the 10th century by King Athelstan of Wessex for his monastery at Milton Abbas in Dorset, which is why St. Samson’s feast is kept in many places in England. St. Samson’s name is still greatly revered throughout Brittany and Wales.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Sts. Nazarius & Celsus (68), Martyrs, Sts. Victor I (198), Pope and Martyr, and Innocent I (417), Pope

image: Massalim / Wikimedia Commons

Why Human Suffering?

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 02:35
Theology of Divine Mercy, Conversion, and Human Suffering

One of the beautiful things about the Catholic Church is its willingness to ask tough questions in pursuit of the truth. Popes, theologians, and saints have never been afraid to ask the hard questions about human suffering. The tradition of the Church is full of people pursuing answers to the hardest questions about the meaning of life, suffering, and mercy. Saint John Paul II asked some difficult questions in his encyclical, Salvifici Doloris, and found answers through Sacred Scripture and his own experience.

“Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why? It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally, about the purpose of suffering, and, in brief, a question about its meaning. Not only does it accompany human suffering, but it seems even to determine its human content, what makes suffering precisely human suffering.” – Pope Saint John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris

Saint John Paul II was no stranger to human suffering, having lost his parents as a youth and having experienced the persecution of the Holocaust in Poland. Because he wasn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions, he was able to find immense hope in the Gospel message of the redemptive suffering of Christ. John Paul II noted that our ability to ponder why we suffer, and the fact that a lack of answers bothers us, is part of what makes us human.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux was another saint who experienced the depths of suffering, yet maintained her faith until the end. Thérèse was tempted toward doubt and despair as she suffered from tuberculosis in her early twenties. However, instead of despair she chose to hope against hope and trust in the reality of God’s presence that she knew deep down. God provided her the grace she needed to persevere through the doubt, and now she intercedes on our behalf in heaven.

What John Paul and Thérèse had in common was that, when faced with human suffering, they didn’t run from it. Rather, they embraced it, turned toward God, and allowed themselves to be transformed by it. This meant that they had to ask some tough questions, and even ask them directly to God. By embracing their darkness and turning toward God with their questions, they could be purified and transformed by the renewal of their hearts and minds. This process was painful at times, but God provided them with the grace to persevere and grow in faith, hope, and love, as he will do for us.

The Church, while it always seeks to answer the profound questions of human existence, also acknowledges that we are limited in what we can understand on earth. While the Church formulates answers in the form of doctrines, the Church also leaves a lot of room for the mysteries of our existence that humans have always pondered and will continue to ponder to the end of time. As John Paul reminds us, it is in pondering these mysteries that we realize our humanity. It is in this experiential realm of mystery that Thérèse and John Paul were able to find hope in the midst of their darkness.

Do you ask the difficult questions in the midst of your suffering? Do you know where to look for answers?

At the Avila Institute, we ask the tough questions and find answers in the tradition of the Church. There are a couple resources you can check out to learn more about suffering and its role in your life.

  1. Divine Intimacy Radio: You can listen weekly as Dan and Melissa discuss various different resources that can help you in your spiritual life. In a recent podcast they discussed the topic of suffering with Dr. Ronda Chervin.
  2. Avoiding Bitterness in Suffering by Dr. Ronda Chervin. This book has been discussed on Divine Intimacy Radio and is a great resource for those pondering the reasons why we suffer.
  3. The Avila Institute: This coming Fall, Dr. Gama is teaching a course in the Graduate Program titled Theology of Divine Mercy, Conversion, and Suffering. You can learn more and apply by visiting our website. Students in this course will read from St. John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris as well as St. Thérèse’s Story of a Soul, the diary of Saint Faustina, and the writings of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. This course will explore the meaning of mercy, conversion, and suffering in the Christian life. To see other upcoming courses click here.
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Art: Photograph of St. Thérèse: Gravure de “Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, Histoire d’une âme écrite par elle-même, Lisieux, Office central de Lisieux (Calvados), & Bar-le-Duc, Imprimerie Saint-Paul, 1937, édition 1940.” PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Avoiding Bitterness in Suffering by Dr. Ronda Chervin, used with permission.

About Dylan Jedlovec

Dylan Jedlovec is an Operations Administrative Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Finishing up an undergraduate degree in Marketing and Economics from Samford University, Dylan is first and foremost a disciple of Christ and a son of the Church. Dylan has a heart for evangelization on college campuses, and has worked closely with FOCUS as a student missionary and served as President of the Catholic Student Association at Samford. As a member of the University Fellows Program at Samford, Dylan developed a love for the writings of the Saints, particularly the Doctors of the Church, through his studies of the core texts of the Western Intellectual Tradition. This love for the rich intellectual tradition of the faith brought him to the Avila Foundation, where he seeks to further the kingdom through feeding Christ’s sheep. In his free time, Dylan enjoys watching baseball, reading, hiking, running, and lifting weights (although you can’t really tell).

 

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This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

Learning Balance Alongside St. Martha

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 22:07

A good many of us live busy lives. This busyness can become burdensome as we pack our days with activities, work requirements, family engagements, and especially during periods of illness or suffering. Our service to our families and our neighbors can become a source of resentment, exhaustion, and spiritual malaise. This is precisely why Our Lord lovingly rebukes St. Martha when she allows herself to become so overburdened that she cannot stop in Christ’s presence.

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Through St. Martha’s example, Our Lord is telling us that we must find balance between service and prayer. If we do not take time to sit quietly with Our Lord in adoration, then resentment, anger, envy, exhaustion, and spiritual dryness can take hold. We can become trapped in sinful cycles that can only be broken through time with Christ and renewal through the Sacrament of Confession.

The destructive nature of resentment.

Our days are filled with many responsibilities. These are well and good. We are called to lovingly serve our families and communities. Problems arise when we overemphasize this call to service at the expense of our spiritual lives. Love requires time with God. If we want to grow in the supernatural virtues and be strengthened by the grace offers to us, then we must make regular time to pray. The Church has a rich tradition of many different prayer methods including meditating with Scripture (Lectio Divina, Ignatian), the Divine Office, the Rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, one can never overemphasize the need for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and a whole host of other devotions.

Resentment can build up in our hearts when we begin to feel overburdened by our call to serve. This is especially true in times of sickness and suffering. I have spent many long hours over the past few months driving to and from the hospital to see my husband when he has been an in-patient. It has been a challenge to balance serving him, homeschooling our daughter, making sure she’s taken care of, keeping the house up, and taking care of my own physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual needs. When I put prayer on the back-burner, I sense resentment boiling up inside of me. Resentment can cause us to view the world in a disordered manner and to place God at the bottom. This can present in a manner similar to St. Martha’s, which comes out with an envious tone. Resentment is destructive for all of us and those around us. We need quiet time with Our Lord in order to go about our days grounded in the love of God.

Busyness masks pride.

St. Martha’s desire to service Our Lord and to practice hospitality is noble, but there is a danger for all of us to fall victim to the deadly sin of pride. We can convince ourselves that we are more important in a situation than we really are, or, we can push too much into our lives in order to feel important. We do not have to get it all done. Our children do not need to be in every activity under the sun. As to the latter, we end up teaching our children an unhealthy form of busyness that will rob them of peace in adulthood. Christ reminds us that the most important thing is to spend time with Him. He constantly goes to pray on His own in order to spend time with the Father. He is our example. He teaches us to take a step back. It is crucial in order for us to grow in holiness. It is also essential that we work—guided by the Holy Spirit—to root out the deadly sin of pride.

Our culture runs from silence.

Busyness, more-often-than-not, masks our own fears, uneasiness, boredom, and spiritual struggles. It is much easier to focus on tasks–or even an illness–than to stand before Our Lord in all of our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, insecurities, and fears. What is easier: Turning on the TV or spending time in quiet with Our Lord? We often claim that we are too tired, but in truth, our souls have grown lazy (sloth) and we’d rather pursue things of this world than Heaven. Silence reminds us of our struggles. It also reveals our deepest selves and the pain we struggle with in our daily lives. It is easier for me to run to and from the hospital than it is for me to turn to God with my fears that my husband may die in the coming years, much sooner than I expected. Turing to Him with such pain is to be pierced through and it requires me to unite my will to His, even when I want things to be completely different. When we choose to run from silence, we allow uneasiness and anxiety to build up in our hearts. In reality, silence is to swim in the depths of God. It is to be given “the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).”

St. Martha is an excellent companion as we learn to balance the requirements of our daily lives with the demands of the spiritual life. Christ reminds each one of us of the need to sit quietly at His feet in loving adoration. It is in this school of prayer, where we find the peace we need to meet whatever will come our way. We are vulnerable in times of busyness. It is during these times that we can push God aside and appeal to our own sinful pride. This sin then unravels into torrents of resentment, anger, and envy. We must pray for the courage to come to Christ constantly with our needs and to drink in His living water. It is only then that we will be replenished and able to face even the darkest of days.

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken
and mountains quake to the depths of the sea,
Though its waters rage and foam
and mountains totter at its surging.
Selah

Streams of the river gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be shaken;
God will help it at break of day.
Though nations rage and kingdoms totter,
he utters his voice and the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Selah

Come and see the works of the LORD,
who has done fearsome deeds on earth;
Who stops wars to the ends of the earth,
breaks the bow, splinters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire;
“Be still and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
exalted on the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.

Psalm 46

image: By © Ralph Hammann – Wikimedia Commons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Stuck on the Way: The Simon-Veronica Loop

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 22:05

“For a moment, a vision more wonderful than that of Tabor is granted to the woman whose compassion drove her to discover Christ in a suffering man.”
~ Caryll Houselander

Where do you sit in church? Do you automatically gravitate to a region time and again, maybe even a particular pew?

Everybody does it, it seems – at least that’s what I hear from priests. Pastors know where their parishioners normally sit and what Sunday Mass they normally attend, and they take note if they’re missing – or if their perched in an unexpected location.

Then there’s us: Inveterate congregational nomads. Side aisle, center aisle, Mary’s side, Joseph’s side – who knows where the Beckers will end up?

These days, however, on those rare occasions when we have a quorum attending Mass together (hard to do when you have older teens who can drive themselves), we usually end up on St. Joseph’s side of the church near the cry room. I’m not sure why – we haven’t had a wailing baby for much too long – but I’m happy to defer to familial consensus.

But when I’m on my own? For daily Mass? I prefer Mary’s side between Simon and Veronica – between, that is, the fifth and sixth Stations of the Cross. It’s a physical space where I feel spiritually at home, an intervening territory that pretty much epitomizes the state of my soul most the time.

Simon, you’ll recall, was the country bumpkin that the Roman soldiers grabbed from the crowd to shoulder Jesus’ hefty burden. The Gospel accounts indicate that he didn’t volunteer, and the burden was reassigned to Simon only after the Lord, weakened by beatings, had stumbled under its weight.

Even so, Simon’s act, whether willing or not, is a striking metaphor for what it means to become a Christian, to be a Christian: We take up the Cross by taking up our own crosses, whatever they may be. Jesus told us as much himself – it’s right there in Gospels for all to read – so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that lived Christianity is associated with suffering and dying: Dying to self, dying to our pride and niggling selfishness, dying in ways we resent and resist. Dying, dying, dying, over and over again, way before we have to face biological death.

So that’s our starting place as believers – “Simon helps carry the cross,” the Fifth Station. A short stroll and a genuflection brings us to the Sixth, “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus,” and we’re confronted with an advanced stage of discipleship. Contrary to Simon, a drafted Christ-imitator, Veronica represents a willing, even eager apprentice. She lunges through the crowd, defying the Roman guards and their scourges, and applies a towel to the bloody face of love.

It’s a desperate spectacle of compassion and affection, a moment of intimate connection between savior and saved, that leads to an unexpected result: A transfer of divine visage from Christ to cloth. The Lord’s face grew bloody again soon enough, but Veronica’s courageous compassion earned her a permanent and precious memento.

Unlike Simon the Cyrene, however, Veronica has no biblical pedigree. “As we read the Gospel account,” writes Frank Sheed, “we miss one familiar figure – for Veronica was not to arrive for a good many centuries yet!” It’s true that her deed of compassion was well established in the Stations by about the 14th century, and that the traditions associated with a wondrous transfer of Jesus’ battered likeness to a towel go back much further. In fact, the towel itself, its sacred portrait faded into obscurity, is still preserved in the Vatican as a holy relic.

But did Veronica even exist? Her name could be seen as a clever amalgam of the Latin vera for “true” and the Greek icon for “image,” which itself seems to have been originally applied to the relic itself. It could well be that the “veronica” cloth paved the way for the Veronica character of the Sixth Station; that she was a pious invention which dovetailed nicely with an instructive narrative exhortation. “The name Veronica is to be found in none of the early martyrologies,” writes P.K. Meagher, “nor does it appear in the present Roman Marytrology in connection with this legendary woman.” St. Charles Borromeo himself yanked liturgical honors associated with her story from the Milanese Ambrosian Rite.

Still, legend or no, Veronica is right up there on the wall of my church – as she is in your church, in virtually all Catholic churches and chapels. “Consider the compassion of the holy woman, Veronica,” writes St. Alphonsus Liguori in his classic Way of the Cross. “Seeing Jesus in such distress…she presented Him with her veil.” Maybe there was no first-century Veronica; maybe the Sixth Station didn’t go down exactly like we recite it every Friday during Lent. Her legacy lingers intact nonetheless, and for me it endures as a singular spiritual goal.

For as much as I identify with the unwilling (or at least balking) Simon, my desire is to be a rash Veronica who assimilates the very likeness of Christ – no fear, no hesitation. It’s as if I’m drawn to that void stretching from the fifth to the sixth Station. It’s like a taut string on a steel guitar, and I get to be the empty bottle sliding fret to fret – from a religiosity of obligation to occasional high notes of energetic self-surrender, and back down again, over and over and over. No picking; no grand chords; no Christopher Parkening lightly skipping through Bach’s “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Just a sloppy slide, a wavering rhythm, a warbling tune.

And if that image suggests a corny country-western song or a downer Memphis blues, so be it. Either (or both) could appropriately accompany my perpetual interior languor – “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9.24)

Which, of course, is why I keep showing up for daily Mass. I’m confident that its Music will continue to draw me forward – regardless of where I sit.

The Infant of Prague

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 22:02

Q: My grandmother has always had a statue of Jesus as a child dressed up like a little king with a crown. She even has different outfits for him which are very elaborate. Can you tell me anything about this?

From the description given in the question, the statue is one of the Infant of Prague. Devotion to the Holy Child Jesus is a long-standing tradition in our Catholic spirituality. The early Church Fathers, like St. Athanasius and St. Jerome, had a special devotion to the Holy Child Jesus. Some of the later great saints, including St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus (the Little Flower), St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Teresa of Avila, helped popularize this devotion to the Holy Child. (As an aside, St. Teresa of Avila traveled with her statue of the Holy Child when she visited other convents.) In the 1300s, sculptures of the Holy Child usually made of wax or wood also grew in popularity. Keep in mind that even though the Gospels do not relate much information regarding our Lord’s childhood, “the hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life” (Catechism, No. 533).

The devotion to the Infant of Prague originated in the mid-1500s. In 1556, Maria Manriquez de Lara of Spain married a Czech nobleman named Vratislav Perstyn. She brought with her the statue of the Holy Child (which would become the Infant of Prague sculpture), standing about 18 inches in height. (Another tradition holds that the statue came from a monastery in Bohemia and was obtained by Dona Isabella Manriquez who presented it as a wedding gift to her daughter, Marie Manriquez, and son-in-law, Vratislav Perstyn.) In 1587, Maria then presented the statue as a wedding gift to her daughter, Princess Polyxena Lobkowitz.

In 1628, Princess Polyxena gave the statue to the Discalced Carmelites at the Church of the Virgin Mary the Victorious in Prague. She said, “I am giving you what I most esteem of my possessions. Keep the sculpture in reverence and you will be well off.”

In 1631, Swedish troops invaded Prague, and ravaged the Catholic churches. The Carmelites were forced to flee the Church of the Virgin Mary the Victorious. The Swedish troops desecrated the church, damaged the high altar, and cast the statue into a pile of rubble, breaking its arms and fingers.

In 1638, the Carmelites were able to return to Prague and to their Church of the Virgin Mary the Victorious. Although they were impoverished, they remembered the words of Princess Polyxena. Father Cyril found the statue of the Holy Child buried in the ruins of the church. He cleaned the statue and placed it in their oratory for veneration.

One day, while he was praying before the statue, he heard the Holy Child Jesus say, “Have pity on Me, and I will have pity on you. Give Me hands, and I will give you peace. The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you.” Father Cyril knew that he had to find a way to repair the Infant’s hands, but he and his religious brothers had neither the skills nor the financial means to do so. Therefore, Father Cyril implored the help of the Blessed Mother to come to the aid of her divine Son. Once again, when Father Cyril was praying before the image, the Holy Child spoke to him: “Place Me near the entrance of the sacristy and you will receive aid.” Father Cyril immediately complied. In just a few days, a man came to the sacristy after Mass to offer help. His donations paid for the repair of the statue. Moreover, the monastery would never face poverty again.

Miracles began to occur. (The early miracles were recorded in a book by P. Emerich, published in German in 1736 and Czech in 1749.) And with the miracles came numerous pilgrims.

In 1641, an altar was built where the statue was enshrined, and then in 1644, a chapel was built. The nobility began to support the devotion to the Infant of Prague, including King Ferdinand (Austria-Hungary), King Charles Gustav (Sweden) and Bernard Ignatius (Lord of Martinic). On January 14, 1651, on the occasion of a special procession of the statue from the Church of the Virgin Mary Victorious to various other parishes, Bernard Ignatius presented a gold crown embellished with precious stones which was placed on the head of the statue.

In 1648, the Archbishop of Prague officially approved the devotion to the Holy Child Jesus under the title, “The Infant of Prague.” On April 4, 1655, Archbishop Josef Corta, acting on behalf of Cardinal Harrach III, solemnly bestowed the statue of the Infant of Prague with both crown and orb. In 1741, the statue was set in another chapel, where the images of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph are on either side of it, and images of the Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit are above it, all together showing the human and divine families of Jesus. As best one knows, at about that time the statue also began to be dressed in very elaborate clothes.

Since then devotion to the Infant of Prague has continued to increase, especially in Italy, Spain and countries connected with Spanish colonial rule. The devotion inspires one to meditate on our Lord’s childhood and kingship. Despite various disturbances and wars, the statue has remained protected. Moreover, numerous miracles have been linked to this devotion.

A novena prayer, offered especially December 17th through the 25th, is as follows:

Dearest Jesus, little Infant of Prague, how tenderly You love us. Your greatest joy is to dwell among us and to bestow Your blessing upon us. Though I am not worthy that You should help me, I feel drawn to You by love because You are kind and merciful.

So many who turned to You with confidence have received and had their petitions granted. Behold me as I come before You, lay open my heart to You with its prayers and hopes. I present to You especially this request, which I enclosed in Your loving Heart: (request).

Rule over me, dear Infant Jesus, and do with me and mine according to Your holy will, for I know that in Your divine wisdom and love You will arrange everything for the best. Do not withdraw Your hand from me, but protect and bless me forever.

I pray You, all-powerful and gracious Infant Jesus, for the sake of Your sacred infancy, in the name of Your Blessed Mother Mary, who cared for You with such tenderness, and by the greatest reverence with which St. Joseph carried You in his arms, help me in my needs. Make me truly happy with You, dearest Infant, in time and in eternity, and I shall thank You forever with all my heart. Amen.

A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who devoutly take part in the pious exercises of a public novena before the feast of Christmas or Pentecost or the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Enchiridion of Indulgences, No. 34).

Editor’s note: This article is courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

“Fight, therefore, with great

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 22:00

“Fight, therefore, with great determination. Do not let the weakness of your nature be an excuse. If your strength fails you, ask more from God. He will not refuse your request. Consider this—if the fury of your enemies is great, and their numbers overwhelming, the love which God holds for you is infinitely greater. The Angel who protects you and the Saints who intercede for you are more numerous.”

-Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, Spiritual Combat

How come God reveals Himself to some

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 22:00

How come God reveals Himself to some people and to others he does not? Because it is God who chooses and not man. In the first reading, God chose Moses to receive the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai and not any of the other Israelites. He chose Israel to be his covenanted people, not because Israel was a great nation; he chose Israel because he loved them.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus reveals the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples and not to the crowd coming to see him everyday. Why only to some, and not to all? God always chooses a select few because his teachings are sacred and not to be given to just any curious onlooker. He also chooses the humble ones, those who are weak and nobodies in men’s eyes, in order to confound the proud and the powerful. The choice of God is his and his alone. What we can do is to heed his call to follow him if and when he calls us.

Saints Natalia, Aurelius, Liliosa, Felix, and George, Martyrs

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 22:00

At the beginning of the Moslem rule in Cordova, Spain, during the 8th century, Christians were allowed to practice their Faith; later, however, when the domination became complete, the Mohammedan leaders began a systematic persecution of the Christians. One of the most prominent martyrs of the day was the Archbishop of Toledo, St. Eulogius, who also wrote a Memorial of the martyrs who suffered before him, among whom were those we honor today.

Natalia was a converted Moslem and her husband Aurelius was the son of an Arab and a Spanish woman. They conformed to Moslem customs outwardly but practiced their Christian faith in secret. One day Aurelius happened to see a Christian patiently enduring the scorn of the populace and the fierce blows of the whip for having publicly confessed his faith. This worked a dramatic change in Aurelius: from that moment on, he and his wife began to live their Christian faith openly. After setting aside enough money to take care of their daughter’s future, they distributed the rest of their possessions to the poor, and gave themselves over to penance and devotion.

Their example proved to be an inspiration for a relative of Aurelius named Felix, who had apostatized from the Church, and his wife Liliosa who had been practicing her faith in secret. Now, Felix returned to the Church and both gave up all pretense of dissembling. All four began to visit and minister to the Christians who were in prison.

It did not take long before all four of these dedicated servants of God were arrested and themselves thrown into prison. Also arrested with them was a beggar named George, who belonged to the monastery of St. Sabas in Jerusalem and had toured Egypt and Europe in search of alms for his house. Since he could not be accused of the same crime as the others “apostasy from the Moslem faith.” George in order to obtain martyrdom insulted Mohammed to the Cadi’s face. Thus, when the first four were condemned to death by beheading, George was also included. On July 27, 852, these saintly followers of Christ achieved the martyrdom they so avidly sought.

Lessons

1. The most important thing a husband or wife can do for their spouse is to help them achieve salvation. These two couples understood that Christ and His Church had to come first in their lives, even though they knew full well that open profession of their faith would ultimately cost them their earthly lives. The heavenly crown they won for themselves far surpasses any suffering they had to endure on earth. So too may we all remember the glory that awaits us when we find ourselves in the midst of trials and persecution.

2. The monk George openly sought martyrdom — not something that most people would do. Natalia, Aurelius, Felix, and Liliosa tried to live in a Moslem society while remaining undercover Christians, but they finally realized that they could hide their faith in Christ no longer. If we ever find ourselves in the position where it would be more expedient to hide our faith, may we pray for the courage to profess it openly and face the consequences with courage and conviction. Our Lord tells us, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Pantaleon (305), Martyr; invoked against lung disease, for doctors and the medical profession

St. Celestine I (432), Pope

A Kneeling Theology

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 02:35
A Kneeling Theology

 

In order to be a compelling force in social renewal, theological wisdom needs the animating power of mystical wisdom. The study of theology needs to be imbued with a deeper contemplation of the Word made flesh. Some presume that recourse to prayer in the context of theological study is anti-intellectual, a flight into fantasy, or even an escape into the merely affective. Such prejudice indicates a disconcerting shift in the nature of theological study.

Theologians of every age have striven to bring theological questions to light in a scientific and disciplined way. A scientific understanding of these questions brings them to light in the highest level of rational consciousness. Yet, for the most part, only in the modern and postmodern eras has such theological wisdom been pursued without regard for mystical wisdom.

It is time to return to a theology studied on one’s knees.

Our greater awareness of method and recourse to technology in theology today seems to be at the expense of prayer. Very few scholars teach or write as if they believe that contemplation is of any objective value to the theological enterprise or that mystical wisdom has any real importance for the life of the Church. At least this is the impression one gets from what is published in many academic periodicals. Can theology without prayer build up the holiness of the Church?

Saint John of the Cross’s Theological Vision

A similar problem began to raise its head in sixteenth-century Spain. Members of the Inquisition and some bishops had come to the opinion that mental prayer was dangerous. This meant that for many people throughout Spanish society, the spiritual life was limited to basic catechesis, restricted liturgical practice, recitation of vocal prayers, and the practice of moral virtue. In the meantime, many were deprived of the deeper devotion to Christ that contemplative prayer makes possible. The Carmelite Reform would be the main cultural force renewing both the Church and the broader society.

Saint John of the Cross lost his father at an early age and grew up in poverty. Through divine providence he received good schooling and had an aptitude for the liberal and fine arts, especially poetry and theology. His education grounded him in a sound humanism and understanding of the Sacred Scriptures. He loved to sing, go on hikes, camp in the wilderness, minister to the sick, and spend time in prayerful solitude.

He became a priest of considerable administrative ability. He not only helped lead the Carmelite Reform during a dangerous period, even enduring imprisonment, but he also established priories and a university. No stranger to politics, his insistence on fairness and kindness caused him to be misunderstood, rejected, and persecuted. This did not discourage the rigorous schedule of spiritual direction he maintained for priests, nuns, and the lay faithful.

To help those entrusted to his spiritual guidance, he composed beautiful poetry by which he would teach important doctrines regarding the life of prayer. In his writings there are references and explanations of what we deem to be theological contemplation, a kind of prayer that takes place deep in the heart. One of his most thought-provoking descriptions of this kind of prayer is linked to the beginning of mystical contemplation:

O Spring like crystal!
If only, on your silvered-over faces,
You would suddenly form
the eyes I have desired,
which I bear sketched deep within my heart.

This ardent prayer, this deep desire emerges in the midst of theological reflection. It represents for Saint John of the Cross a milestone in the ascent of the hidden mountain and entrance into the secret garden of contemplation. We have already seen how he begins the Spiritual Canticle by describing a spiritual awakening in terms of an ardent lover pleading with her beloved to show himself. From this John of the Cross goes on to describe the journey of a soul searching for Christ in terms of the messengers He sends and the enemies that must be faced. Here, he takes us to the threshold of a deeper encounter, a tender face-to-face, a reflection on sacred doctrine that leads to a more mature union with God.

Sacred Doctrine as a Living Fount for Prayer

The soul who withdraws to seek God dwelling in its depths contains a fountain of living water according to Saint John of the Cross. This image speaks to the beauty of the truths of the faith received into the heart. They have the quality of water, which in stillness becomes smooth. The more fully sacred doctrine is received into one’s life, the smoother or more peaceful theology becomes to reflect on.

Beyond a simple mental assent to theological facts, receiving these teachings means to allow them to pierce our dull indifference so that we might treasure them as a gift from a friend. How we treat the gift reveals our attitude toward the giver. Applying oneself to the study of sacred doctrine with grateful devotion purifies and strengthens our faith. Saint John of the Cross is describing this inner purity when he speaks about the surface of these waters being smooth like crystal and as reflective as silver.

What is sought in this reflection and how it is sought constitutes the essential character of theological contemplation. One who is deeply in love thinks about her beloved all the time and, when he cannot be found, yearns to glimpse his eyes in every reflection. Those who ponder the truths of our faith filled with longing for Christ yearn for them to yield a sign of His presence.

The Reflective Quality of Sacred Doctrine

The reflective quality of the water describes an essential characteristic of the sacred doctrine that waters the heart. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the articles of faith are truth bearing: they bear relation to the First Truth, who is God. Saint John of the Cross brings this insight to bear on Saint Paul’s description that we “see” by faith “dimly” as in “a mirror” (see 1 Cor. 3:12). In the Carmelite’s description of the role of sacred doctrine in prayer, faith finds the revelation of Truth Himself reflected in the articles of the faith as in a mirror.

Saint John of the Cross’s teaching helps explain the enthusiasm we witnessed in Denver during the liturgies of World Youth Day, ’93. There is a relation that the sacred doctrine of our faith bears to the presence of the Lord. The Lord’s presence is accessible to us in propositions of our faith, not with the clarity provided by our natural power of understanding, but obscurely, dimly as if in a reflection.

Sacred doctrine is essential for the spiritual life because it makes it possible to gaze on Christ Himself. The more we study the faith with devotion of heart, the more we expose ourselves to wonder and awe before the Lord. Over and above what we understand theologically, prayerful reflection on what we believe gives a loving general knowledge of Him in a personal and intimate manner.

The “eyes” of the Lord formed in this reflection stir intense desires in the heart, according to the Carmelite Master. In other words, it is possible to be deeply moved, profoundly shaken when in our efforts to ponder our faith we catch the Lord’s piercing love reflected in them. Saint John describes this presence of Christ as no less than “remarkable.” Sacred doctrine, far from remaining on the level of abstract speculation, reflects the gaze of Someone who looks on us with love. When “sketched deep within” the heart, this kind of knowledge occasions spiritual maturity.

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This article is from a chapter in Fire from Above by Anthony Lilles which is available through Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on kneeling theology: Cover of Fire from Above, used with permission. La Vision de saint Jean de la Croix (The Vision of Saint John of the Cross), Jacques van Oost, 1675-1700, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Charlie McKinney

Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers, CatholicExchange.com, CrisisMagazine.com, and EpicPew.com. Charlie is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is a regular guest on Catholic radio and television. He and his wife have four children and they reside in New Hampshire.

 

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This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

Of the world’s population of over

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 01:06

Of the world’s population of over seven billion, Christians number a little over two billion: a little over thirty percent of the world’s population call themselves Christians, who call themselves believers and, hopefully, followers, of Jesus Christ.

Despite these numbers, there is so much suffering and injustice, violence and crime, broken relationships and wars in the world today. These evil things happen even in predominantly Christian areas.

More than a third of our country call themselves Catholics, believers of Christ and members of the Church of Rome. Yet how many are able to live out their Catholic faith, other than being baptized and married in the Catholic Church? What percentage of Catholics regularly attend Sunday Mass? How knowledgeable are most Catholics in the rudiments of Catholic teaching and morality?

Reading Jesus’ parable of the seed and the sower, we could probably say that the seed, God’s word, even today falls mostly on the paths, rocky soil and among thistles. Hopefully and with God’s grace, enough seeds fall on rich soil and bear fruit.

When Jesus Isn’t God

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 22:07

I recently had a conversation with some Jehovah’s Witnesses about the identity of Jesus Christ. As a Catholic, I obviously believe that Jesus is God, but Jehovah’s Witnesses disagree. Instead, they believe that he is a created being, just like humans and angels. More specifically, they believe that he’s God’s greatest and most exalted creature, but he’s a creature nonetheless. As proof of this, they pointed out that the New Testament often distinguishes between God and Jesus. For example, St. Paul does this in his Letter to the Romans:

“But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-9)

In this passage (as well as many others like it), the one whom Paul calls “God” is clearly someone other than Jesus, so Jehovah’s Witnesses conclude that Jesus isn’t God. On the surface, this seems to make perfect sense. There is only one God, so if we can distinguish between him and Jesus, it seems to follow pretty clearly that Jesus isn’t God. So how should Catholics understand these kinds of passages?

The Key Principle

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses brought up these passages, my initial reaction was to say that they simply distinguish between the Father and Jesus, but that didn’t work. There does not seem to be any indication that the texts are using the word “God” to refer to only one person of the Godhead; rather, they simply seem to be distinguishing between Jesus and God, plain and simple. Consequently, I had to do something other than simply assert that these passages are describing two persons of the Trinity.

After this failed strategy, I realized that they key to understanding these texts lies in the title they usually ascribe to Jesus: Lord. While not every one of these passages calls Jesus the Lord, many of them do, and that is extremely significant. In the Bible, “Lord” is a divine title, and it’s no accident that the New Testament uses it to describe Jesus.

Who is the Lord?

Throughout the Old Testament, we see God described with the Hebrew word Adonay, which means “Lord” (for example, Genesis 18:27, 2 Samuel 7:22, Psalm 8:1, Isaiah 4:4), and the New Testament follows suit by calling him Kurios, the Greek word for “Lord” (for example, Matthew 1:20, Acts 2:47, Revelation 4:8). As a result, when the New Testament describes Jesus with this same exact word, it’s giving us a subtle hint that he really is equal to the Father and thus God himself.

However, we have to be careful here. The word “lord” in the Bible doesn’t always refer to God, so the mere fact that the New Testament uses it to describe Jesus doesn’t automatically mean that he is divine. Rather, to really clinch the argument, we have to look a bit deeper and see if Scripture ever explains exactly what it means when it calls Jesus “Lord.”

The Divine Lord

Luckily for us, there is a passage that does just that. In the middle of one of St. Paul’s letters, he gives us a little refresher course on the God we worship:

“Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

In this passage, St. Paul is contrasting the many pagan gods with the one true God that Christians worship, but he does this in a strange way. He contrasts the pagan deities with both the “one God, the Father” and the “one Lord, Jesus Christ,” implying that Jesus is included in the identity of the Christian God. If that is not what he means, why would he mention Jesus here? Why would he include a mere creature in this context? Since he is talking about the God we worship, the one who is infinitely above any and all creatures, the mention of Jesus makes sense only if he really is God.

Moreover, St. Paul also tells us explicitly that “Lord” is a divine title. Before he mentions the true God, he describes the pagan deities as “gods” and “lords,” subtly foreshadowing the “one God” and the “one Lord” of Christianity. He uses these two words to describe the pagan deities because he’s going to use them later on to describe the true God. As a result, it’s clear that when St. Paul calls Jesus “Lord,” he is using it as a divine title; he is using it to teach that Jesus is in fact God.

Different Terminology

Even though the other New Testament writers don’t explicitly tell us what they mean when they call Jesus “Lord,” it’s fair to conclude that they used the word for the same reason St. Paul did; they too used it as a divine title. However, this this still leaves us with one question: if the first Christians believed in Jesus’ divinity and used the title “Lord” to express it, why did they often distinguish between him and God?

The key here is to realize that they did not have the sophisticated theological terminology that we use today to describe the Trinity. We talk about God as one being (or one nature) in three persons, but that language developed centuries after the New Testament was written. Instead, the writers of the New Testament had to describe the relation between the Father and the Son some other way, and they did so by giving them two different divine titles.

Despite what we often think, God’s name isn’t actually God; rather, it’s Yahweh, as the Old Testament tells us. The word “God” is simply a title, just like “Lord.” When the New Testament writers distinguished between God and the Lord, they were attempting to simultaneously express both the distinction between Jesus and the Father and their unity. They expressed their distinction simply by distinguishing between them, and they expressed their unity by giving them two equally divine titles. Simply put, whereas we today describe the relation between the Father and the Son with the language of multiple persons within the one divine nature, the first Christians used the language of one God and one Lord to mean the exact same thing.

Conclusion

Any time we read Scripture, we have to make sure that we let the text tell us what it means rather than tell it what it has to mean. In other words, we have to try to understand what the biblical authors were trying to tell us rather than simply interpret their words according to our preconceived ideas about what they could or could not have meant. When we come across difficulties like the distinction between Jesus and God, we can’t just assume that the authors of the Bible used terms and expressions the same way we would today. Rather, we have to delve more deeply into the text and see how they used that terminology, and when we do that, we can see that the first Christians didn’t believe that Jesus was a mere creature. Rather, they believed that he was in fact divine, that he was included in the identity of the one true God yet also distinct from the Father, and they simply expressed this belief with different language than we use today.

August Brings Divorce Fever: Here’s the Cure

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 22:05

According to researchers at the University of Washington, March and August see largest spike in divorce filings.  March, because the holidays tend to make marital difficulties seem so much worse, people decide in January that they’re done, take a month to get their affairs in order, and file in March.  August is big because, again, the Summertime is vacation time, and troubles in the home tend to be harder to escape.  Having experience another frustrating Summer, parents want to get filing out of the way before the school year starts.

If you or someone you love is at that place where they feel they have suffered enough in their marriage and think that there is nothing left to do but divorce, I am truly sorry.  That said, no one gets married with the dream of one day, going through a big, expensive divorce. Before you sign those papers, I respectfully ask that you take a moment to pray about the following.

1. Know The Secret

Here’s something most people don’t know and most therapists won’t tell you. You can’t just go to any counselor who says they “do marriage counseling.”  You have to go to a therapist who is a) marriage-friendly and b) has received actual training and ongoing supervision in marital therapy. Individual therapists often say they “do marriage counseling” but, because they have not received adequate training and supervision their success rates tend to be around 30%.  By contrast, research on marriage-friendly therapists (i.e., ones who believes marriage is worth saving), who have received formal training and supervision in marital therapy, tend to have success rates around 95%. It doesn’t matter if the therapist claims to have “done marriage counseling for 20 years.”  If they haven’t received formal training and supervision, then they have probably been doing it wrong for 20 years.

Along the same lines, talking to your pastor is good. You should do that.  Your pastor can do an excellent job helping you connect with God through your trials.  But guess what your pastor can’t do?  That’s right.  Marriage counseling. Because he isn’t trained to do it.  Training matters. Get the right kind of help.

2. Get the Right Kind of Help—Part Two.

Some couples are so demoralized by the time they go to counseling they attend  2 or 3 sessions and quit.  Assuming you are working with a trained, marriage-friendly therapist, you need to commit to at least 12 weekly sessions.  The first session or two is just assessment.  The third and fourth session is goal planning. After that you can start learning some new skills, but you’re going to need some practice to see if things are making a difference and that the changes stick.  By 12 sessions you should know if it’s worth continuing or not, but if you haven’t given it at least 12 sessions with a trained, marriage-friendly therapist, then no, you haven’t tried everything.

3. Solo-Spouse Therapy Works

So many spouses believe there is no point in seeking counseling because “my spouse won’t go.”  Here’s the surprising truth.  Your spouse doesn’t have to go to counseling for the marriage to improve for both of you (not just the one in therapy). Chances are, your spouse doesn’t want to go for therapy because the marriage is working just fine… for them. Solo-spouse marital therapy (aka “systems therapy”) will help you learn how to thwart your spouse’s inappropriate behavior while still respecting the integrity of the marriage  More often than not, that will make them want to work with you to create a more mutually satisfying change.

4. Most Marriages Can Be Saved

In the last 20 years, research has shown that people don’t just luck into successful marriages.  Happy couples have certain skills that unhappy couples don’t.  More importantly, those skills can be taught. My book, When Divorce is Not An Option How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love discusses 8  of these most important habits in detail but any trained, marriage-friendly therapist can help you learn how to practice these skills in your relationship.  The vast majority of marriages—especially the ones where couples have “tried everything” can be saved with the right approach.

5. Help Isn’t Expensive

Ok. Marriage therapy costs money.  Twelve sessions might cost between $1200-$2500 up front but for many, insurance will cover at least a portion of the cost if there is a diagnosis. By contrast, an average divorce costs $20,000 up front, and continues to affect your finances for years to come.  Getting good help is a bargain.

I understand if you’re tired.  But I can tell you both from research and from my own work with couples that unless you are in a physically abusive relationship, divorce causes more problems than it solves.  Especially if you have kids together, even after divorce, you are going to be in each other’s lives forever—except you’ll have less say in what the other parent does.  Your marriage can be fixed and it is worth fixing. You didn’t get married to get divorced.  Yes, your pain is real, but the right help will make a difference.  Get it and get back on track for your sake and your kids.

Shining Like the Sun in the Father’s Kingdom

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 22:02

I adopted a philosophy in my high school years that taught me a bitter lesson about life. I did not put in my best to excel in studies but to do the very minimum I could do to avoid failing. It backfired. I ended up doing way too little than I should have done, failing the examinations, and having to repeat the exams to enter college. I cannot make the same mistake in the spiritual life, being mediocre and minimalist with the aim of avoiding hell instead of striving for heavenly glory.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus indicates the high goal we should aim for in the spiritual life: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” In the kingdom that Jesus describes, it is not enough to avoid being burned in the fiery furnace like the weeds in the parable that have been planted by the enemy. It is also insufficient to be the wheat merely avoiding to be tainted by the weed. We must aim for Heaven at all cost and strive to enter through the narrow gate. (Lk 13:24)

How can we strive for heaven constantly and not just to aim at avoiding hell? Today’s Readings show us three things that are necessary.
First of all, we must strongly believe in what Jesus Christ has done for us and what He continues to do for us today. These means that

  • 1. We must believe that in His love for us, Jesus continuously sows good seed of His word of life in our hearts, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.”
  • 2. We must believe that Jesus, knowing our utter inability to even pray for what we truly need, graciously unites Himself to us through His Spirit to assist us in our weakness, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
  • 3. We must have faith that we can pray and do His will in all things because of the presence of His Spirit with us: “The Spirit intercedes for the holy ones according to the will of God.”
  • 4. We must also believe in the power of this divine life to transform our world just like the yeast affects the dough in which it is placed, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until the whole batch is leavened.” We are not condemned to a life of easy compromise with this world because this world has no power over the life of Christ that is within us, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”(1 Jn 4:4)
  • 5. We must believe that every moment of our lives is an act of that divine patience and mercy granting us the opportunity to return to God, “Let them (good seeds and weeds) grow together until the harvest.” We can surely make a change in our lives by the grace of God, “God gives His children good ground for hope that He would permit repentance for their sins.”

Secondly, we must be aware of the plots of the devil in our lives and in the world today. The evil one cannot stop the growth and spreading of the good seed; so he plants only what appears like good seed-plants in such proximity to the truly good wheat plants that it is too dangerous to try to separate them immediately, “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” We must learn from our past failures in the moral life how we fall for the direct or stealth attacks of the enemy through his conscious or unconscious human agents  and fallen angels.

Thirdly, in addition to nurturing out faith in Jesus Christ and what He is doing in our lives today and becoming aware of how we are overcome by the evil one, we must also take firm action.

  • 1. This action includes an intense sacramental life, especially the Eucharist and Confession. While the Eucharist nurtures and fosters the life of the true seed of Christ within us, the Spirit’s light and strength from Confession helps us to recognize and reject what does not nurture that life.
  • 2. We must also cultivate a heartfelt gratitude for the seed that has been planted in us. Receiving the good seed with a sense of gratitude to God makes us cherish and appreciate the gift of new life that we have received from Christ Jesus. It is hard for us to be careless and negligent in the spiritual life if we are truly grateful for the gift of new life in Christ.
  • 3. We also need constant prayer so that we can experience the light and strength of the Spirit within us guiding us to do the will of God faithfully in this world. It is in prayer that we allow Jesus to instruct and strengthen us to patiently endure the spiritual battle, “Let them grow together until the harvest.”
  • 4. We must also be convinced that it is only in the will of God that we find our strength, hope and joy. The apparently good seed of the evil one eventually takes away our freedom, makes us confused, and kills our joy. A life of compromise and mediocrity only weakens, discourages and saddens us.
  • 5. We must also be vigilant against our evil inclinations, the deceptions of the devil and the ploys of the devil’s conscious or unconscious human agents. The evil one waits for the opportune moment when we let down our guards to plant his deadly seeds, “While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds throughout the wheat, and then went off.”
  • 6. There is also need for us to examine our attitude to suffering in this life. We should realize that, just as “the sufferings of this present life are nothing compared to the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18), so also the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to the pains of hell where Jesus teaches that there will be “wailing and grinding of teeth.”
  • 7. There is also a need for us to take hold of and make use of the infinite mercy and patience of God now. We must place all our trust in the mercy of God who allows both the evil and the good to exist for now even as He offers the good the grace to persevere in goodness and offers to the evil the grace to repent. For both the good and the evil, there is always grace for a new beginning.
  • 8. Lastly, we must heed the warning of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917 who warned us that many souls are going to hell today. Maybe many of us are just aiming to do the very minimum that we need to avoid hell and sadly end up missing the mark. Our Mother Mary also calls us to aim for the excellence of the divine will without compromise “Do whatever He tells you.”

Our Eucharist is an encounter with Jesus Christ, who never ceases to sow good seed in our hearts. The devil is also busy sowing deadly seeds that only appear good to us with the aim of making us doubt what Christ has done and is doing in our lives and to weaken our own free action. With strong faith in Christ’s uninterrupted actions in our lives and our readiness to respond to His divine promptings and reject the seeds of the devil, let us aim for heavenly glory so that we eventually “shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father.”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Saints Joachim and Anne

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 22:00

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ genealogy, but neither of them mention the Virgin Mary’s parents by name, nor is there any reference to them elsewhere in the New Testament. A second-century apocryphal (unofficial) writing, the Protoevangelium of James , professes to give an account of Mary’s birth, and it is the source of the names Joachim and Anne. The accuracy of this tradition can be questioned, since many early legends relied more on religious enthusiasm than on historical fact, and since this particular story seems to be deliberately modeled on the Old Testament account of the previously childless Hannah’s bearing of the future prophet Samuel (1 Sm chapter 1).

What can be said is that Mary’s parents, regardless of whether or not their names were actually Joachim and Anne, must have been God-fearing persons who provided an atmosphere which nourished Mary’s perfect love and humility. Joachim and Ann can also be considered the patron saints of grandparents; though they may have never met their grandson Jesus while on earth, they played an important, behind-the-scenes role in preparing for the coming of His Kingdom.

Communion Reveals God’s Love for You

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:07

“I will write my law in their heart.”

Cf. Jeremiah 31:33

Not only does Communion enlighten our mind by a special grace, revealing to us, by impression rather than by reason, all that our Lord is, but it is also, and above all, the revelation to our heart of the law of love.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of love par excellence. Certainly the other sacraments are proofs of God’s love for us; they are gifts of God. But in the Eucharist, we receive the Author of every gift, God Himself. So it is in Communion especially that we learn to know the law of love that our Lord came to reveal. There we receive the special grace of love. There, finally, more than anywhere else, we acquire the practice, the virtue, of love.

First of all, what is love? It is a gift. That is why the Holy Spirit, who, as love, proceeds from the First and Second Per­sons of the Most Holy Trinity, is truly the Gift.

How do we recognize love? By what it gives. See what our Lord gives us in the Eucharist: all His graces and all His possessions are for us; His gift is Himself, the source of every gift. Communion gives us participation in the merits of all His life and obliges us to recognize the love that God has for us, because, in Communion, we receive the whole and perfect gift.

How did you begin to love your mother? Sleeping within you, without sign of life, was a seed, an instinct, of love. Your mother’s love awakened it; she cared for you, suffered for you, fed you with her body. By this generous gift you recognized her love. Well then! Our Lord, by giving Himself entirely to you, and to you in particular, proves to you invincibly that He loves you personally with an infinite love. He is in the Eucharist for you and entirely for you. Others enjoy Him also, to be sure, but in the same way that they benefit from the sun without preventing you from enjoying its rays as much as you wish.

This article is from “How to Get More out of Holy Communion.” Click image to preview/order.

Ah, such is this law of love engraved in our hearts by God Himself in Communion! In olden times, God wrote His law on tables of stone, but the New Law He has written in our hearts, with letters of fire. Oh, whoever does not know the Eucharist does not know the love of God! At most, he knows certain effects of it, as the beggar recognizes the generosity of the rich man from the few coins he receives from him. But in Communion, the Christian sees himself loved with all of God’s power to love, with all of Himself. Therefore, if you would really know God’s love for you, receive the Eucharist, and then look within you. You have no need to seek elsewhere for further proofs.

Communion gives us the grace of love. In order to love Jesus Christ as a Friend we need a special grace. Jesus, in coming to us, brings this grace at the same time that He places the object of it — that is, Himself — in our soul. Our Lord did not ask His disciples before the Last Supper to love Him as He had loved them; He did not yet say to them, “Abide in my love.” That was too hard for them then; they would not have understood. But after the Last Supper, He no longer says simply, “Love God; love your neighbor,” but, “Love me as a brother, intimately, with a love that is your life and the law of your life.” “I will not now call you servants . . . but friends.”

If you do not receive Communion, you can love our Lord as your Creator, your Redeemer, and your Rewarder, but you will never see in Him your Friend. Friendship is based on union, on a certain equality, two things that are found with God only in the Eucharist. Who, I ask you, would dare call himself the friend of God and believe himself worthy of His particular affection? A servant would insult his master in presuming to treat him as a friend; he must wait until his master grants him the right by first calling him by that name.

But when God Himself has come under our roof; when He has come to share with us His life, His possessions, and His mer­its; when He has thus made the first advances, we no longer presume, but with reason call Him our Friend. So, after the Last Supper, our Lord tells His Apostles, “I will not now call you servants. I call you friends. You are my friends, because all things whatsoever I have received of my Father I have given to you; you are my friends, because to you I have confided the secret of my majesty.”

He will do even more; He will appear to Mary Magdalene and say to her, “Go to my brethren.” What? His brethren? Can there be a higher title? Yet the Apostles had received Communion only once! What will it be for those who, like us, have received Him so often?

Will anyone be afraid now to love our Lord with the tenderest affection? It is well to tremble before Communion, thinking of what you are and of Him you are about to receive; you need His mercy then. But afterward, rejoice! There is no longer room for fear; even humility must make way for gladness. See how joyous Zacchaeus is when our Lord accepts his hospitality! But see, too, how his devotion is fired by this kind reception; he is ready to make every sacrifice and to atone over and over for all his sins.

The more you receive Communion, the more will your love be enkindled, your heart enlarged; your affection will become more ardent and tender as the intensity of this divine fire increases. Jesus bestows upon us the grace of His love. He comes Himself to kindle this flame of love in our hearts. He feeds it by His frequent visits until it becomes a consuming fire. This is in truth the “live coal which sets us on fire.” And if we so will, this fire will never go out, for it is fed not by us but by Jesus Christ Himself, who gives to it His force and action. Do not extinguish it by willful sin, and it will burn on forever.

Come often, every day if necessary, to this divine Furnace to increase the tiny flame in your hearts! Do you think your fire will continue to burn if you do not feed it?

Communion makes us practice the virtue of love. True and perfect love finds its full expression only in Communion. If a fire cannot spread, it goes out. So our Lord, wishing us to love Him and knowing how incapable of it we are of ourselves, fills us with His own love; He Himself comes and loves in us. We, then, work on a divine object. There is no gradual passage or transition; we are simultaneously in the grace and in the object of love. That is why our best and most fervent acts of love are made during our thanksgiving; we are nearer then to Him who forms them. Pour out your heart to our Lord at this time. Love Him tenderly.

Do not try so hard to make this or that act of virtue. Let our Lord grow within you. Enter into partnership with Him; let Him be the capital in your soul’s traffic, and your gains will be doubled with the doubling of your spiritual funds. Working with and by our Lord, you will gain a greater benefit than if you tried to increase your virtues simply by multiplied acts.

Receive our Lord, and keep Him as long as you can. Make plenty of room for Him within you. To let Jesus Christ increase in one’s soul is the most perfect act of love. Certainly, penitent and suffering love is good and meritorious; but the heart is re­pressed by it, weighed down beneath the thought of the con­tinual sacrifices it must bear. This way, on the contrary, the heart expands, opens fully and freely; it shows its happiness.

For one who does not receive Communion, these words have no meaning; but let him plunge into this divine fire, and he will understand.

No, it is not enough simply to believe in the Holy Eucharist; we must also obey the laws it prescribes. Since the Eucharist is above all the Sacrament of love, our Lord desires us to share in that love and draw inspiration therefrom. So come to Jesus out of love for Him! We must come humbly, to be sure; but let love, or at least the longing to love, be our ruling motive. Let us desire to pour out our heart in His Heart; let us give evidence to Him of our tenderness and affection. Then we shall know what depths of love are in the adorable Eucharist.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in St. Peter Julian Eymard’s How to Get More out of Holy Communionwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

image: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From Addict to Ascetic

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:05

One Saturday in 1884, twenty-eight-year-old Matt Talbot stood outside O’Meary’s pub in Dublin, Ireland. He was low on cash. Workers streamed by him, men with whom he had often labored, and he waited for one of them to invite him in for a drink. Work hard; drink hard—this had been his rhythm of life since he was a young man. All his money went to pubs. And when he was out of work and had no money, he found ways to get it—selling his shoes or clothes, or, once, stealing a fiddle from a blind street performer and pawning it. But this Saturday no one stopped to invite him in.

Something inspired Matt to leave his post by the pub door that day and return home to tell his mother that he would make the pledge—a promise to give up alcohol for three months. He went to a nearby seminary for confession. Three months later he renewed the pledge and never had a drink again. After over a decade as an obstinate drunk, Matt dropped the habit.

He lived his remaining years in quiet, hidden penance, growing in the spiritual life through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity. His life was so quiet, in fact, that he probably would be forgotten today except that when he died on the way to church on June 7, 1925, he was discovered to be wearing chains of devotion and penance under his clothes. Though his struggle from alcoholism to asceticism was mostly unknown to others, after his death Matt became recognized by the universal Church as a holy man, a role model and inspiration to those struggling with addiction.

I learned about Matt Talbot’s story this summer, which I have spent in Baltimore working at a soup kitchen with the poor and homeless. This city has been called the U.S. Heroin Capital. Every day I see people stooped over, swaying, stumbling to their seats, unaware of the ground under their feet, and falling asleep in their food. In Baltimore, an estimated one out of every ten citizens is addicted to opioids. And the city is only one hotspot in an epidemic that killed fifty-two thousand Americans in 2015.

Lives consumed by substance abuse make particularly obvious the misery of sin. Sin leads to more sin, and a life of sin leads to destitution and a profound unhappiness on the edge of despair. Those of us who personally know people being destroyed by addiction may begin to wonder how, or if, such darkness can be overcome. But Matt Talbot’s life shines a light into this darkness. He is reported to have said, “Never think harshly of a person because of the drink. It’s easier to get out of hell than to give up the drink. For me it was only possible with the help of God and our Blessed Mother.”

Matt only could address his perverted love of alcohol when he encountered a greater love—the love of the Father who welcomes home a wayward, profligate son; the love of the King who searches out the neglected to come celebrate his son’s wedding feast; the love of the shepherd who seeks the one wandering lamb, who prays that none may be lost. Matt Talbot’s story shows that this love is real and efficacious, able to free us from even the strongest of sinful bonds.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is reprinted here with kind permission. image: By Sharonlflynn (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Martha & Mary: Learning Not to Worry

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:02

Do you ever worry? If so, why do you worry?  Then next: when do you worry? Still more: does your worrying help you in any way you can think? Finally, what is it that can bring your worrying to a halt?

The whole reality of worrying so prevalent in these stressful times should be addressed and what is the remedy.

Martha and Mary

Jesus had three friends who were sisters with their brother: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They lived not too far from the city of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany. Jesus was their friend and their guest. Jesus loved these three and found warmth and comfort to go to their home and visit. However, on one occasion there surfaces from the heart and lips of Martha an intense worry.

The reason for the worry? By nature Mary was more of a contemplative. This means that Mary thrived on silence, reflection, and contemplation. On the contrary, Martha was a ball of energy! By nature very active, Martha liked to get things done. She was a planner and an organizer. A homemaker and cook, she liked things to turn out according to her plans and schedule.

On one occasion Jesus was a guest and apparently Martha was off schedule and did not have things ready according to her preconceived plans. Somewhat nervous, moving a mile a minute, carrying and worrying for Jesus she stopped to observe a scene that really bothered her. Despite the many tasks that were incomplete, her sister Mary was simply sitting before Jesus and apparently doing nothing; or at least Mary was not doing anything very profitable!  Mary was just sitting at the feet of Jesus, even though still so much had to be done!

What do you think was undone? Well, it could be that the table was not ready. Maybe in the kitchen the food was not yet totally prepared. Maybe there was not enough water for drinking or washing.  Who knows, maybe the house was not as clean as it should have been!  In any case, things were not ready according to the criteria of Martha; and this was wrong and it had to be remedied and as soon as possible!

How To Remedy It

Martha, the pragmatist and the “doer” had a simple but, what she thought, a very efficient idea: two hands are better than one; or the other proverb: “Many hands make light work.”  Therefore, Martha goes to Jesus to complain, what Martha thought was a very justified complaint!  In any case, the complaint was directed at having things ready quicker for Jesus!  So Martha tells Jesus to tell Mary to help her!  This seems to be a fairly reasonable request, very logical, practical, well-ordered and reasonable!

Jesus gave a surprising response: a gentle rebuke! Instead of Jesus telling Mary to get up in a hurry and to help Martha so as to have the schedule run perfectly on time, according to Martha’s criteria, Jesus gently rebukes Martha. Listen to Jesus’ words: “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. Mary has chosen the best part and she will not be deprived of it.”

How then can we interpret these surprising words of Jesus that were honestly in favor of what Mary was doing and a gentle fraternal correction to Martha?

Interpretation

Jesus was not displeased at the attention, concern, hospitality, and hard work that Martha manifested toward Him. Never forget that the Church actually celebrate Martha as a saint, every year July 29th. The point that Jesus wants to highlight in this passage as well as all throughout Sacred Scripture is the importance of the prayer life, the importance of silence which fosters contemplation and union with the Lord Jesus. Martha symbolizes the active life of service to others, if you like the Corporal Works of Mercy.    “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a foreigner and you welcomed me…” (Mt. 25: 31-46) Indeed we will be judged by Jesus on how faithfully we have lived out these works of mercy!

Mary’s Contemplative Life

However, the life of prayer or the life of contemplation has a supremely important role. It was precisely this that Jesus is trying to teach the world through the incident in Bethany and the tension that existed between Martha and Mary—two very good and holy sisters, but very different in temperament and character.

In fact Mary symbolizes all the different gestures we should strive to implement so as to live out a more contemplative lifestyle. Let us reflect upon the contemplative gestures of Mary:

  1. a)SIT AT FEET OF JESUS.  Mary was simply sitting loving at the feet of Jesus. Contemplative souls long to sit and to be with Jesus for long periods of time!
  2. b)CONTEMPLATE JESUS. Next, Mary simply gazed into the Face and eyes of the Lord Jesus. The Psalmist expresses this: “Look to the Lord and be radiant with joy.”
  3. c)LISTEN TO JESUS.  While sitting in front of Mary we can certainly imagine Jesus speaking to Mary. Try to imagine the way Jesus spoke, the tone of His voice as well as the content of His message. Indeed there is much food for thought!
  4. d)SPOKE TO JESUS.  It was not a monologue but a dialogue that must have been carried on between Jesus and Mary in Bethany.  This is the essence of prayer to listen and to speak to Jesus—a great definition of prayer!
  5. e)  However, the essence of this encounter between Mary and Jesus in the home of Bethany was love.  Mary loved Jesus totally and Jesus in turn loved Mary as well as Martha and Lazarus.
  6. f)  The net result of this loving encounter was a dynamic and growing friendship between Mary and Jesus.
Why Worry?

One of the reasons why we fall into the trap of being “Worry-warts” and end up by making others worry too (Remember, worrying can be contagious!) is that we can easily neglect the contemplative dimension in our lives. We can easily fall into activism. We can fall into the proverbial modern malady that we call the workaholic. We can fall into Marthaism—a new word that I have created related to this topic!

Therefore, when you find yourself nervous, tense, emotionally drained, frenetically moving from one activity to the next, like a robot—in a word, you are all stressed out and really bent out of shape, you will know the reason why! You have become too much Martha and not enough Mary.

A grace to pray for: Beg the Blessed Virgin Mary for the grace to strike a harmonious blend between the Martha and the Mary in your life, the harmonious integration of a deep prayer life and zealous active life of fraternal charity. May Our Lady the contemplative in the Annunciation and Our Lady actively serving St. Elizabeth help us to strike the harmonious balance between deep prayer and apostolic zeal!

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

“Those who are simply upright men

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:00

“Those who are simply upright men and women walk in the way of the Lord, but the devout run along it, and when they are very devout, they fly.”

-St. Francis de Sales, Roses Among Thorns

We think of the Apostles as &

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:00

We think of the Apostles as “extensions” of Jesus, those who had been with Jesus, “witnesses to his resurrection.” After the resurrection of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit, they went out with great faith and courage to preach the Good News of Jesus to the world. Except for John, the beloved apostle, all the Eleven gave their lives in witness of their love for Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading we see them as simple ambitious men. Jesus had to teach them what true leadership and service were.

Let us not be discouraged with our failures and ambitions. We pray that God may help and purify us, in the same way he taught and trained the Twelve. With God’s grace we too can be effective witnesses to Christ and his death and resurrection.

St. James

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 22:00

James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of St. John, is called St. James the Greater (so as to distinguish him from the other Apostle named James). Like their father, James and John were fishermen in Galilee. Soon after Jesus called Peter and Andrew (themselves fishermen and brothers) as His followers, He saw James and John mending their fishing nets; when He summoned them, they left their father Zebedee behind and became His disciples.

Though James and John deserve credit for their decisiveness in following Christ, this characteristic sometimes manifested itself as impetuousity and as a sudden temper. For instance, when a Samaritan town refused to receive Jesus, the two brothers wanted Christ to punish it by calling down fire from Heaven (Lk 9:51-56). It was perhaps for reasons such as this that Jesus gave them the title “sons of thunder.” On another occasion their mother Salome tried to ensure places of honor in Jesus’ Kingdom for her sons; this did not sit well with the other Apostles, and Jesus patiently explained that they did not know what they were asking (Mt 20:20-28). Along with Peter and John, James was a member of the inner group of Apostles; these three witnessed the raising to life of Jairus’ daughter, and also Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. After Christ’s Resurrection, St. James was one of the more visible leaders of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, and he was the first of the Apostles to be martyred. In 44 A.D. King Herod Agrippa had James killed by the sword to please the Jewish opponents of Christianity (Acts 12:1-2).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Christopher (250), Martyr; Patron of travelers

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.