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Repentance and the Fatherhood of God

7 hours 27 min ago

One of the most common mistakes we make is thinking of sin as merely a legal matter. That is, that it sin is only about breaking a code of laws and rules and righteousness about conforming to them. But to think of sin and righteousness in strictly legal terms is to miss the point. Sin is not fundamentally legal; it is rather fundamentally relational.

Put another way, sin is a breaking of communion. It is a movement away from love into that which is not love. It is a turning away from the face of God into the darkness of the void. That is not to deny that God gives us commandments. Yet, these commandments do not form an arbitrary legal code. They rather signify the boundaries of  a relationship. They are guardrails around the covenant of love which God makes with us.

Fear and Legal Thinking

One problem with a strictly legal framework is that we begin to think of God as a judge, distant and severe, waiting to mete out punishment for our every infraction of his law. We believe in an abstract sense that he is good and that he loves us, and yet we can’t escape the fact that he is ready to pounce upon us the moment we break the least commandment of the law. Fear begins to dominate our relationship with God. Sinners that we are, we can’t help but see him as an adversary to be avoided rather than as a father to be loved.

Scrupulosity is the inevitable outcome of legal thinking. We no longer trust God’s goodness but instead fear his wrath. When we sin, we repent because we don’t want to go to hell. We repent to appease God’s anger, and more importantly, to earn his love and favor.

The Father and the Prodigal

What is the alternative to legal thinking? It is to realize that we are no longer slaves, but sons. Whether or not we live like it, our entire identity is that of sons of the Most high God. To you God utters the words, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” To you, God says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” This is a stupendous reality—one we hardly meditate on enough.

There is no better illustration of the Father’s love for us than the tale of the prodigal son. The selfish prodigal took advantage of his father’s goodness. He couldn’t wait for his father to die and so demanded his inheritance immediately. Such greed, such craven disrespect. Moreover, when he finally received his inheritance, he wasted it in the worst possible way: on gambling and drunkenness and prostitutes. A larger insult could not possibly be imagined.

When the prodigal son finally came to his senses, he realized that he was better off in his father’s house. Even at this moment, however, it could hardly be said that his motives for repentance were pure. They were very much like our motives too often: Simply seeking to avoid misery and to stay out of hell. He wanted to grovel a bit and then be a slave in his Father’s house. Surely this would be better than eating from a pig’s trough. So he trudged home expecting wrath and a good shaming from his father. For how could anyone forgive such wrongs?

But then he did return home, and he received a shock. His father did not wait for him, arms crossed in righteous anger, to humiliate him and remind him of his wrongs. No, he ran to him and embraced him. He clothed him in his rich garments and prepared for him a feast.

The Heart of Repentance

Do you not understand? God loves you. He is not a policeman waiting to pounce like the ruthless Javert in Les Misérables. He is not a cold and calculating judge dedicated to a blind and impartial justice. He is a Father who has never stopped loving you and who runs to meet you the moment you turn toward him.

I believe it was only when the prodigal son received the father’s mercy that he experienced true repentance. Up until that moment, he was still thinking like a slave. He did not trust his father’s goodness and only expected the justice he truly deserved. But when he experienced his father’s radical forgiveness, when he realized he was and always would be a beloved son, everything changed.

Likewise with us. When we stop thinking like groveling slaves that have to earn God’s love, a paradigm shift occurs. We no longer fear God in the sense of expecting fierce retribution, but walk in the freedom and confidence of love. “Perfect love casts out fear,” as the Apostle says. We don’t repent because we want God to love us again, we repent because God has never stopped loving us. And that makes all the difference.

The post Repentance and the Fatherhood of God appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at The Catholic Gentleman.

Go to Hell or Go to Prayer (Video)

7 hours 58 min ago
Go to Hell or Go To Prayer

“Go to hell or go to prayer” is a striking title for a post but it is not an overstatement. Why is it that Saints and Doctors of the Church Teresa of Avila and Alphonsus Liguori believe that without daily mental prayer we will go to hell and with daily mental prayer we are assured of heaven? On the surface, these claims seem to be a bit over the top. How can they justify these statements? In this video, I explore the reasons behind these striking statements and how we can gain insight into the wisdom of these great saints.

Dear Friends, was this video a blessing to you? Do know others who might be blessed by it? Did you follow the link at the end of the video to the other resources we have prepared for you and those who also desire to know the life and peace that only God can give? Have we helped to encourage you to dig deeper in your faith? Please help us by sharing these videos on Facebook, through email, or whatever way that works best for you. Join with us in our desire to reignite the fires of prayer in the Church and bring about the renewal we so desperately desire to see from the Lord.

Yours in Christ,

Dan

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Art for this post “Go to Hell or Go to Prayer”: Detail of “El Infierno” (Hell), padre Hernando de la Cruz (Father Hernando de la Cruz), siglo XVII (17th century), PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. This prayer video used with permission. All rights reserved.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

 

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

Community: Having the Right Intention

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:07

In this continued conversation, I want to discuss having the right intention when undertaking the work of building up the Body of Christ and over-romanticizing community life. The two are closely related, and when our intentions are misplaced, we can be on dangerous building ground.

Humans are unique in our ability to dream, as we do. We do not merely toil daily for shelter and food, we dream of beauty, we build castles in our minds of how life can be, and we set those ideas in motion. And this is where we can fall terribly due to disappointment. To quote C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters, “In every department of life it [disappointment] marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.”

In the second chapter of The Screwtape Letters, Wormwood, the demon in training, is taking a lesson from Screwtape, his mentor, on the many ways he can use a new Christian’s ideas to tempt him away from the faith. Screwtape explains to Wormwood that the neophyte he is responsible for bringing to ruin has ideas about what “real” Christians ought to be–even down to the clothes they wear. He further explains that the new Christian will be continually disappointed and the more he knows of the ordinary sinfulness of the folks in the pew, the better.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that only plagues new Christians. We may outgrow our initial, more shallow ideas of what a Christian is, but there is a good chance we will continue battling our own ideas about what holiness looks like. And the longer we know our fellow Christians, the easier it is to see what we believe to be their sins and faults.

It’s easy to have romantic ideas about Christian community, to think it is the answer to our problems. The reality is, it’s absolutely necessary for Christians but not a cure-all. Community is the place we need to work out our salvation and help others do the same.

The work of building a community of any kind–a parish, a monastery, a marriage, a family–will mean we are in the trenches of sin. We will encounter the reality of fallen mankind but not just in others; we’ll be confronted with our own sins…whether we are ready to deal with them or not. Nothing makes the false images we have of ourselves come crashing down like close relationships. It is easy to love others from afar, not so easy up close!

Thinking back on the many ideas I had before moving close to the monastery where we attend Sunday liturgy is amusing to me now. When we lived in California, we were almost an hour and a half away. Having the monastery in walking distance was a dream we had for many years and are now finally living it in Wisconsin. However, that dream didn’t become a reality without many hitches and quite a few surprises.

I had my own romantic ideas of community life, some which I laugh at now. The move we made across country did not change who any of us are. We all ended up in a new village, and new homes but our relationships did not change. We still had to face issues we ignored before; we still had the same communication issues we always had, we still got on each other’s nerves in the same ways except it was intensified because now we saw each other far more often. Geographic location did not save us from our sinfulness.

Thankfully, we have enough respect and love for one another to put forth the effort of working through those issues. We also have a long history of struggling along the same path together. We are still finding ways to not only live with one another but also thrive and grow together. The love has only deepened.

In seeing some of my dreams about our community crumble, I learned that even though my hopes were good, I was not allowing God to be in charge. I was not open to His will in all things. I could’ve saved myself a lot of frustration in the first couple of years of living by the monastery if I hadn’t built up my own ideas of how things should be and if I hadn’t envisioned all kinds of wonderful plans.

The funny thing is, God has been in charge all along and “surprise, surprise,” His plans have turned out to be far greater than my own. I know this from my life experience: when our stained glass images start to shatter to reveal reality, we tend to get angry and feel we’ve been cheated. If we don’t get over this feeling of entitlement, we will miss the true beauty before us. It may be flawed, but at least it’s real. Too often we want to throw in the towel and walk away from people. If love for Christ and love for others is not our foundation then we will walk away from when things get hard.

We can’t build communities out of fear, vain glory, or selfish motives, neither for high ideals. Those foundations will not stand the tests of time. We also have to stop thinking like consumers.

Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option explains, “American Christians have a bad habit of treating church like a consumer experience. If a congregation doesn’t meet our felt needs, we are quick to find another one that we believe will.” He is right. Consumerism is a part of the Culture of Death. If we are no longer happy with our spouse, don’t want a child who will not be “perfect,” want to end life before it’s time, we will discard life–our own or others. We will consume what we want and walk away from what doesn’t make us happy. The Culture of Death has influenced our lives, even among those of us who are against it. We need to ask ourselves, ‘How has the consumer mentality affected my community, and what can I do to remedy that?’

We need to reflect on the intention behind our relationships and interactions with others. Are we seeking to serve or be served? Are we looking where we can encourage others or nit-pick their faults? Are we seeking to listen and understand or only desire to be heard and have our way? Is love of God and neighbor the foundation of our community and if not how can that be changed?

Over the past 20 years of being part of the small community I belong to, I have seen many people come and go. People who have ideas of what a monk should be, ideas of how Christians should behave, thoughts about families and their place in the church. Unfortunately, some of these people have allowed their ideas to keep them from entering into the life we all share. They’ve missed out on a place of love. It’s a community that is nowhere near perfect and doesn’t claim to be; it is a community built with the right intention, a community built on Christ.

The Intersection of Catholic Faith and Modern Classical Music

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:05
An Interview with Mark Nowakowski

I recently had the opportunity to interview Polish-American maestro Mark Nowakowski, a musician at the frontier of modern classical music, to say nothing of his family’s devotion to their Catholic faith. Mark recently released his new album, “Blood, Forgotten,” performed by the Voxare String Quartet. Here is the transcript of the interview, in which Mark answers some questions about his Catholic faith and how it intersects with his musical compositions.

Nowakowski: Thank you, Justin, for allowing me this wonderful opportunity.

McClain: What is the role of faith for you and your family?

Nowakowski: It is the root, the lens through which everything can be seen and understood. It is the subject of dinner table conversation, and we do our best to pray with the kids every morning and evening. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a Facebook picture of a perfect family. Having two parents working full-time just to make ends meet for the raising of three small children, and having deep and purposeful desires for how we want to educate and form these children, means that we reach the end of every day having failed in our goals and in a state of exhaustion. And if you’re not careful, that exhaustion can become a spiritual exhaustion as well. So part of this role is to allow faith to also help us balance everything and live this current time as well as we can, and to help us find the strength to pursue truth, beauty, goodness, and the paying of bills in a culture designed to shun the former and facilitate the latter.

As to my work, faith is everything. Again, it is the root and the lens, the expression of the echoes of origin and destiny. It is also the means through which aesthetic discernment can be sought, so that you can try to create the works that – as Henryk Gorecki said – people may need, as opposed to the ones that a confused society may want. This is the point at which art can become an authentic vocation.

McClain: How has your heritage as a Polish-American Catholic shaped who you are?

Nowakowski: There is a particular flavor to Polish Catholicism; it drifts a bit eastward while somehow preserving some of the mystery that was lost in so much of the Catholic world from the aesthetic and cultural flattening effects felt after Vatican II. Having John Paul II – my own hero and the source of my conversion – definitely helped, but also the long line of Polish saints from which to draw inspiration. The Polish musical tradition, from its earthy folk music to its deeply ascetic religious songs to its romantic musical and literary traditions, also had a deep formative effect on me which later helped me to discover my authentic voice as a composer.

McClain: What is your favorite piece of classical music, and why?

Nowakowski: That’s almost an impossible question to answer. There has been so much great music written that – almost like the depth of the magisterium – a lifetime does not suffice to experience it all. (That is also why I am generally against our current popular music and entertainment culture; there is too much quality available to give even a single precious moment to artistic mediocrity.) I can’t pick between all of the great medieval and renaissance music out there, while like many composers I’m always returning to the greats – [J.S.] Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – for inspiration and pleasure. Obviously, Chopin’s piano works are vital, as well as the art songs of that era, such as [Robert] Schumann’s “Dictherliebe.” Then there is our great American tradition, from Ives to Barber and everything in between. Perhaps my favorite modern works come from the recently deceased Polish composer Henryk Gorecki, whose iconic and best-selling “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” provided me with the answer to how to move forward with aesthetic authenticity while surrounded by the diktats of academic modernism, while his choral works (which I think belong on every Catholic bookshelf) are a fountain of great peace and repose. (The stunning “Miserere” album, recorded at Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago, remains my favorite album.)

Among those still living, Arvo Pärt exercises a particular influence, especially in his marriage of Christian mysticism and the process of composition, and how this has (despite a hostile culture) still allowed him to become the most performed composer in the world. James MacMillan comes to mind, as well as Pawel Lukaszewski, whose “Via Crucis” may be the first sacred music masterwork of the twenty-first century. To explore all of this beauty is an unending and great joy available to everyone.

McClain: As a composer, how did you come to embrace sacred music?

Nowakowski: I first learned about sacred music – real, authentic Catholic music – in my music history classes as an undergraduate. At that time, I was a lapsed Catholic, and I couldn’t understand how I had attended church for eighteen years and had never heard Gregorian chant, or polyphony, or any of the great sacred masterworks. Eventually, as I returned (or arrived for the first time) to the deep well of Catholicism, I frankly couldn’t stand attending parishes which didn’t understand their own liturgy and had no concern for the aesthetic magisterium. I would later become a parishioner of Saint John Cantius in Chicago, where the marriage of authentic Catholic liturgy and authentic Catholic culture is pursued with both verve and great humility. It is really something to experience midnight Mass with Mozart, or to hear some of the great polyphony written by underground composers during the Elizabethan persecutions, or the full repertory of plainsong. It is equally gratifying to watch the effects of this combined religious and aesthetic formation on the young people there, who are growing up suffused in such authenticity and quality and sometimes not realizing how lucky they are. As for myself, I knew that my meaning as a composer was to be found as a part of this tradition.

Yet most of my music isn’t strictly “sacred” music, because authentic sacred art is that which is applied to the liturgy. Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for living composers in the Church recently, though there are signs of this situation slowly improving. However, religious music, or music emerging from religious experience and fervor, is quite potent and common, and I can easily say that everything I have written in my career is religious in nature, simply because I am a religious person for whom the act of composition is an act of contemplation and prayer. My greatest hope is, whether the listener is encountering something simple (like a short choral work) or something much more aesthetically difficult (like one of my string quartets), that they can join in the contemplation from which these works emerged.

McClain: Why does the Church need to value sacred music now more than ever?

Nowakowski: Because it is our great treasure, because it is authentically Catholic, because our children deserve nothing less, and because the New Evangelization is absolutely dead in the water if we don’t leave pedestrian artistic expressions at the church door and instead embrace a full flowering of authentic Catholic culture. We’re likely entering a new cultural dark age, Justin, and I wouldn’t be alone in surmising that Western civilization is circling the drain at an alarming and increasing rate. During the last Dark Age, Catholic communities became centers for not only maintaining, but creating, authentic beauty. However long this new cultural malaise lasts, this is what we have to do now. I will be frank: one shouldn’t pick one’s parish because it has better music. That being said, if one’s parish is pursuing actual Catholicism, it will have better music. And if it doesn’t have the resources to hire musicians and pursue polyphony, it will at least have chant at the heart of its liturgy, because its leadership will know that this music has “pride of place” in our liturgy, and that it is supremely practical for the parish of humble means to pursue. Knowing these things, I must admit to retching in my soul every time I attend a Catholic church where I am forced to participate in a guitar-led “all are welcome” farce. Such expressions of liturgical music are not Catholic, they are culturally limited rather than universally humble, they are against the specific wishes of the Catholic Church regarding liturgical music, and they’re worth about as much as that monstrous tie-dyed tapestry hanging where an icon or real altar once stood.

James Flood, the founder of the Foundation for Sacred Arts, once taught me something that changed my life as an artist: the Church is not a blank aesthetic canvas upon which to impress my own opinions. Rather, Mother Church has asked for something in particular where sacred art and music are concerned, and that is what we should be pursuing.

McClain: Tell us about your new album, just released.

Nowakowski: This is a long project finally coming to fruition. The fantastic Voxare [String] Quartet from New York City has released a recording on the Naxos label, the largest distributor of classical music in the world, and a wonderful champion of new music. It features some of my string works that have something in common with Polish culture and history. The title work, “Blood, Forgotten,” is a searing multimedia memorial to the victims of World War II in Poland. The first string quartet – “Songs of Forgiveness” – draws from both folk songs and my own spiritual musings. The second quartet – “Grandfather Songs” – is really an homage to the passing Solidarność generation in Poland, as well as the great cultural foundation which made their accomplishments possible, while also being a nostalgic reflection on the blessings of my childhood. The final piece on the album – “O Sleep for Me, Sleep” – is a setting of an ancient lullaby which I put together after the birth of my first child. Voxare plays this music better than I could ever hope for, and I am beyond satisfied with the production quality of the entire effort. I think that this is highly serious music that nevertheless extends a hand to the casual listener, giving them a chance to enter into such a deeper musical experience. I’ve gotten humbling and wonderful feedback on this album from a variety of listeners, letting me hope that a diverse audience can really get something valuable from our efforts. I’d be thrilled if your listeners gave it a chance.

McClain: And your forthcoming book, In Pursuit of Beauty: A Catholic Examination of the Arts and Aesthetics?

Nowakowski: I’m working on the final draft right now, and hope to submit it to publishers before the year is out. Essentially, I have discovered for myself that there has been very little written about beauty and aesthetics in the history of the Church. This is probably because the Church has been simply so active in pursuing authentic Catholic art over the millennia, that such a conversation wasn’t really necessary. Yet after a century of rupture and the rise of modernism and populism, we are left confused and in need of an aesthetic reassessment. In the book, I begin with the question of what beauty actually is from the perspective of the great Catholic mystics, and build an exploration of Catholic aesthetics from there. The book also strives to express a grand, but also practical, vision of how to move forward with continuing our great tradition in modern times. Hopefully, when it is done, we can talk about it again together.

McClain: The Church needs more Catholic artists. Why is art – whether visual or performing – in the Catholic tradition so critical to the transmission of faith?

Nowakowski: All you have to do is look at those parishes which have embraced full Catholicity (including their artistic and especially liturgical lives), and you will see vibrant centers of faith, creativity, learning, and charity. What does the world have in comparison to our great aesthetic magisterium? It offers reality television, short thrill music, and the kind of “canned” culture that author Michael O’Brien so ably describes. It is cheap and shallow, though it is made with incredible gloss and finish and cannot be competed with for its short-attention-span appeal. We shouldn’t imitate it or bring it into our churches. We should, rather, be authentically Catholic and offer the world a radically different and superior choice. I think that some will accuse me of over-stating the importance of artistic expression in the Church’s life. I would invite them to read Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Artists (1999), or heed the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who described how martyrdom and artistic expression were the two most powerful witnesses of Catholic truth. God is calling many talented young men and women to become artists for his sake, and any parish embracing and encouraging their efforts will be the richer for it.

McClain: What is your favorite scriptural passage, and why? Also, from the perspective of a Catholic composer, what are signs of hope that you have observed in today’s Church?

Nowakowski: This is probably a very common pick, but Psalm 23 has always spoken to me as both a Catholic in a hostile culture and a composer in an indifferent culture. It reminds me that the Lord is our sustainer, and always leads me to Psalm 46:11 – “Be still, and know that I am the Lord” – and 1 Corinthians 3, where “it is the Lord that grants the increase” (v. 6). It reminds me also to be grateful not only for occasional successes, but also for the more common privilege of the struggle, because the one we struggle for is worth every sacrifice.

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:02

Q:  I know that Pope John Paul II had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa. Please explain how this devotion came about.

Pope John Paul II visited the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa on his first trip to Poland in 1979. He said, “The call of a son of Poland to the Cathedral of St. Peter contains an evident and strong link with this holy place, with this Shrine of great hope: Totus tuus (“I am all yours”), I had whispered in prayer so many times before this Image” (June 4, 1979).

The devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa centers on the icon of our Blessed Mother. Painted on wood, the icon itself depicts Mary pointing with her right hand and holding the Infant Jesus in her left; technically, this depiction of the Blessed Mother is identified in iconography as Hodegetria. As in other icons, Jesus looks like a small man held by his Mother, an imagery that reminds the faithful that Jesus is fully mature in His divine nature. Over time, due to exposure to devotional candles, the image has darkened, and consequently, Our Lady of Czestochowa is also known as the “Black Madonna.”

As to its origins, tradition holds that St. Luke painted the icon on a wooden table top made by St. Joseph, which Mary had kept when she moved to Ephesus and lived under the care of St. John the Apostle. Remember St. Luke included in his Gospel details of the annunciation, visitation, Christmas, the presentation in the Temple and the finding in the Temple, which were not included in the other Gospels and which he must have learned from Mary herself. St. Helena is credited with finding the icon in the early 300s. Theodore Lector (c. 530) mentioned the existence of the Hodegetria icon being in a church in Constantinople before the year 450.

In 988, the icon came into possession of Princess Anna, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the wife of St. Vladimir of Kiev (c. 975-1015), who had converted and became the first Christian ruler of Russia. In 1382, Prince Ladislaus Opolczyk took the icon to his castle in Belz. Later, he decided to transfer the icon to his birthplace, the city of Opala. On the way there, he and his companions stopped and spent the night at Czestochowa, a city in south central Poland on the Warta River. The next day, the horses hitched to the wagon carrying the icon refused to move, which Prince Ladislaus interpreted as a miraculous sign that the icon should remain in Czestochowa. He thereupon entrusted the icon to the care of the Paulite monks (the Order of Hermits of St. Paul), who had a monastery on Jasna Gora (the hill of light) overlooking the city. In 1386, King Jagiella (a.k.a. Wladyslaw II) built a more beautiful shrine church for the monastery. The first reports of miracles surrounding veneration of the icon date to 1402. About this same time, the faithful began to call Mary, “Healer of the Sick, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Poland.” Soon, hundreds of pilgrims came to venerate the icon and to implore the prayers of our Blessed Mother.

For this reason, in 1430, Hussites (heretical followers of John Hus who denounced devotion to the Blessed Mother and any veneration of icons) attacked the shrine. One of the Hussites desecrated the icon with his sword, making three cuts on the Blessed Mother’s right cheek. After making the last cut, the Hussite collapsed and died. Actually, this incident promoted even greater devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

In 1655, King Charles Gustavus of Sweden invaded Poland with his armies and conquered most of the country. The Swedes were followed by the Russians and Tartars who also occupied parts of Poland. However, when an army of 2,000 Swedes attacked the monastery at Czestochowa, the Paulite monks repelled them and credited their success to the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This victory transformed the war into a fight for the faith: the Catholics against the Swedish Lutherans, the Orthodox Russians and Muslim Tartars. Trusting in the Blessed Mother’s protection, the Poles were invigorated. King Jan Casimir on May 3, 1556, declared to Our Lady of Czestochowa, “I, Jan Casimir, King of Poland, take thee as Queen and Patroness of my Kingdom. I place my people and my army under your protection.” Victory was at hand. Since then Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, has been a symbol of Polish nationalism, patriotism and religious liberty. Faith and patriotism were seen as inseparable and “For Faith and Fatherland” became their rallying cry.

On September 14, 1920, the feast of the Holy Cross, the Russian army was poised at the Vistula River, ready to invade Poland. Tradition holds that the Russians saw a vision of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the sky and retreated. This incident is known as the “Miracle at the Vistula.”

During the Nazi and Communist occupations, the government banned pilgrimages to the shrine and imposed severe penalties for any violation. Nevertheless, millions of the faithful continued to take the risk to honor Our Lady of Czestochowa.

On August 26, 1982, the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Pope John Paul II celebrated the 600th anniversary of the arrival and veneration of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. From his chapel at Castel Gandolofo, which has an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa on the main altar, he preached a special message to his Polish compatriots, who at that time were struggling for independence from communist tyranny:

My dear compatriots! However difficult the lives of Poles may be this year, may consciousness win in you that this life is embraced by the Heart of the Mother. As she won in Maximilian Kolbe, Knight of the Immaculate, so may she win in you. May the Mother’s heart win! May the Lady of Jasna Gora win in us and through us! May she win even through our afflictions and defeats. May she ensure that we shall not desist from trying and struggling for truth and justice, for liberty and dignity in our lives. Do not Mary’s words, “Do as He (my Son) tells you,” mean this too? May power be fully manifested in weakness, according to the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles and according to the example of our compatriot, Father Maximilian Kolbe. Queen of Poland, I am near you, I remember you, I watch!

(This article is courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

“In every Holy Communion, we

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:00

“In every Holy Communion, we taste the supernal sweetness of the divinely communicated life as it pours itself out in tidal waves of supernatural strength and the limitless riches of Christ’s blessings.”

-Fr. John A. Kane, Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharist

In the first reading, St. Paul seems to

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, St. Paul seems to be singing his own praises. This was because he loved his catechumens so much and he was protecting them from those who would try to preach to them another gospel. The true teacher of faith is very protective of his disciples or converts because he feels responsible for their spiritual well-being. He has preached the Good News to them with no ulterior motive except to help them to receive salvation in Jesus Christ. Now he must make sure that they are not side-tracked in their desire for holiness. We are also called to be responsible for those who are under us – at home, in the workplace, in the parish, etc. We are called to be responsible for others, esp. those in need of our guidance and love.

As St. Paul was a spiritual father to his disciples and converts, we are also called to be “father” to others. But before everything else, we must truly believe that God is our Father. We must have experienced the loving and providential care of God in order to be able to pray the Our Father. We must also believe that God is aware of all that happens to us and is taking care of us even if things do not seem to be going very smoothly.

If God is our Father, then surely he wants us to be happy as all fathers would like to happen to their children. Also, a child of God desires that God be truly worshipped and adored. He has experienced God’s forgiveness for his sins and so he shares this forgiveness with others. He wants others to experience the fatherhood of God.

St. Paulinus of Nola (Bishop)

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:00

The fifth century bishop and poet St. Paulinus of Nola (354?-431) was the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul (modern-day France). His family’s wealth insured his rapid rise in Roman society; Paulinus became a distinguished lawyer and held several public offices, before retiring at an early age.

Paulinus and his wife Therasia, a wealthy Spanish woman, were baptized in 390, and then moved to her estate in Spain. After many childless years, their prayers for a son were briefly answered, but the child died a week later. Profoundly moved by this tragedy, they dedicated their lives to God and gave away most of their property, while devoting themselves to the care of the poor. Paulinus was ordained a priest by popular demand (celibacy was not yet a requirement), and in 395 he and Therasia established a small community near the Italian town of Nola.

In 409, he was chosen as bishop of Nola. During this time, the Roman Empire was under increasing pressure from barbarian tribes such as the Vandals. After one of their raids, Paulinus voluntarily exchanged himself for one of his parishioners who had been enslaved. When the Vandals discovered his identity, they were amazed by such charity, and released him and all the other townspeople of Nola who had been captured.

Paulinus corresponded with many of the leading Christians of the day (including Saints Augustine, Jerome, Martin, and Ambrose), and spent much time composing religious poems and hymns. He showed special concern for the poor, even arranging to give alms while on his deathbed. Soon afterwards, while lamps were being lighted for evening prayers, Paulinus said, “I have prepared a lamp for Christ,” and died.

Lessons

1. Jesus spoke of the need to “let your light shine before all” (Mt 5:16), and St. Paulinus did this through his generosity, humility, and concern for the poor.

2. Tragedies can bring us closer to God. Paulinus and Therasia grieved over the death of their son, but also used this event as an opportunity to deepen their commitment as Christians.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. John Fisher (1535), Bishop, Martyr

St. Thomas More (1535), Martyr, Patron of Lawyers

Make Known the Mercies of God

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 02:35
Make Known the Mercies of God

In the name of the Father, Christ sends His disciples into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to make known the mercies of God. The humble movement of God’s heart reaching out to ours, extending even into the deepest recesses of our misery, ought to evoke our love and gratitude. Those who come to realize what Christ suffered for their sakes yearn to give a return. They are so overcome by how much they are loved by Christ that they are willing to do anything for Him. They want to imitate Him in everything. We find this sentiment in the prayers and reflections of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who wanted to imitate in his own heart all the movements of the Heart of Jesus:

My Father, I abandon myself into Your hands. Make of me whatever You please. Whatever You do with me, I thank You: I am ready for all and I accept all; only let Your Will be done in me, my God. Provided that Your will be done in all Your creatures, all Your children, all those whom Your Heart loves, I desire nothing else, my God. Into Your hands I commend my spirit, and I give it to You, my God, with all the love of my heart. I love You, and I give myself to You for the sake of this love in me. Into Your hands, I entrust myself without measure, with an infinite confidence, because You are my Father.*

Blessed Charles wrote this prayer while meditating on Luke 23:46 — the prayer of Jesus on the Cross. It is the most powerful of all prayers ever offered. It was the prayer that Blessed Charles wanted as the heartbeat of his own life. This kind of union with Christ’s prayer is filled with wisdom in the face of apparent defeat, a wisdom that he in fact witnessed to in his own ministry.

As a priest and hermit, he worked for the conversion of the Taureg People in North Africa. They were Muslim, but not very devout, and he had hoped to win their hearts to Christ by showing them the mercy of God through his own kindness to them. Blessed Charles befriended them and gently entered into their lives. No one ever converted as a result of his efforts, but many were impressed with the hermit. Then there was an uprising, and the old hermit was betrayed by a friend, attacked by soldiers, and shot in the back by a frightened teenager. It seemed as though his whole life had been a failure.

Yet his abandonment to the Father and his life of prayer would influence many of the new religious movements throughout the twentieth century. Why was he so fruitful in the face of so much failure? To make this movement in the heart of Christ the movement of one’s own heart is to allow oneself to be as rejected and hated as was the Lord Himself. The more rejected and the more Christlike we become, the more fruitful our prayer becomes — even in ways we do not expect it to. Mental prayer in the Christian tradition leads to this solidarity with the Lord. It is the mystery of the Cross that unlocks the power of mercy in the world.

Primal hostility toward God in our culture and in the lives of individuals is directed at the person who is holy. This is the reason Blessed Charles was betrayed to his murderers. It is why great saints such as Maximilian Kolbe and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross were killed in Auschwitz. It seems this is really the reason Saint John Paul II was shot. It is also the reason he went into prison, embraced the man who shot him, and prayed with him. What does this mean for those who want to live with fire from above? Saint John of the Cross says, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.”**

*La Prière d’abandon, January 23, 1897.
**See Letter 26, in Complete Works, 760.

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This article is from a chapter in Fire from Above, which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on how to make known the mercies of God: Cover of Fire from Above, used with permission. Detail of Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti, 1510, Picture by Motty, 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.

Job and My Greatest Fear

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:07

Fatherhood has changed me.  I used to be able to handle stories of tragedies involving children with a sigh and a prayer; now, as a husband and father, I can barely sigh for the sorrow I feel.  Stories from friends about miscarriages or the death of a child mix in my mind with reports of school-aged Syrian refugees and pictures of a young boy washed up on a beach.  I can no longer simply sigh and say my quiet prayer, and then move on with my day.  I feel the weight of sorrow for strangers I have never, nor will ever, meet.

My greatest fear is losing my wife or our boys.  They are my life’s greatest treasures, the greatest gifts with which God has blessed me.  I will look at them, at their smiling blue eyes, and feel God’s love beaming out of them.

And the tragedies of this world, of friends, family, and strangers, shouts at me in my bliss: what if I lost them all?  What if I lost everything?

Strangely, or perhaps appropriately, my favorite Bible story is that of Job.

Job was a man who had it all and lost it: his wealth, his family, his friends, even to an extent his wife (she turns against him in his suffering).  He does this not because of his sins, but rather because of his righteousness.  Satan asks God to let him take away the good things God has given Job, to prove Job will not remain faithful to the Almighty.  God allows this evil, and thus Job finds himself childless and broke.  What follows is one of the most moving statements in all of Scripture.

Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair.  He cast himself prostrate upon the ground and said,
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked I shall go back again.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God (Job 1:20-22).

In such a trial, in such a great tragedy, Job remains faithful to God.  Even after Satan increases his oppression of Job, attacking his very body (and, interestingly, Job’s wife), the just man remains faithful.  In his faithfulness to God, he questions why this happened to him, lamenting his life.  His friends come and give some encouragement, but eventually decide that Job must have done some heinous sin to deserve his suffering.  After all, isn’t that why people suffer?  Jewish tradition would seem to think so (hence the Apostles’ reaction the man born blind in John 9).

But Job is adamant.  He may have sinned, but never something so severe to deserve this much suffering; he, he holds, is an innocent man.  The speeches between Job and his friends go back and forth, until finally his youngest friend, Elihu, chastises both the older friends and Job.  “He was angry with Job for considering himself rather than God to be in the right. He was angry also with the three friends because they had not found a good answer and had not condemned Job” (Job 32:2-3).  Elihu is a necessary voice in this dialogue.  He reminds Job that God is the judge of Job’s life, not Job.  God decides if Job’s offenses fit the punishment received.  In essence, Elihu notes, God is just.  He does not punish unnecessarily or without reason.  God has everything under control.

So far, Job’s story is my personal nightmare.  There is that terror when everything we hold dear to us, our very life, is taken away from us, and we are left with nothing.  What can we do but worry, or turn to God and ask Him why?  It is a bad dream that seems to have no ending.

Then, as with the worst bad dreams and dark nights, we awaken like Job to the light of morning.  It isn’t that Job dreamt the whole affair; his suffering is as real as anyone’s.  However, a light has sparked in the darkness.

God speaks to him out of the storm.

God’s response to Job is famous for its indirectness.  If the main question of Job is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” then the answer God seems to give is “Who are you to ask?  Stop asking stupid questions.”

But there is more to God’s response than a divine “shut up.”  God’s response sweeps through creation.  The God who, by speaking creates, uses descriptions of His creation to answer a question.  God speaks both of the vastness of creation and of its intimacy.  In one verse, God asks Job, “Have you entered into the sources of the sea, or walked about in the depths of the abyss” (Job 38:16)?  This and other verses indicates the greatness of God, His omnipotent providence.  He formed the world, shaped the universe, without anything, ex nihilo.  What can we do that even approaches that divine majesty?

At the same time, God notes his intimacy with creation.  In Job 39: 1-4, God brings up, of all things, pregnant mountain goats.  He asks Job if he watches the goats, noting when they give birth, what they go through as they bear their young, and where each of those young go.  He goes on like this for several chapters (the whole speech of God stretches through chapters 38-41), describing the grandness and details of creation.

Why would God bring all of this up?  What does this have to do with Job’s suffering and those of us who fear losing our loved ones?

Everything.

God can’t give Job a straight answer for why there is suffering because neither Job nor us could ever fully understand God’s providence.  In our own lives, we can look back at a tragedy that befell us or our family and see the good that came from it, the flowers that sprang from the filth.  That is product of God’s hand, that same loving hand that stretched the length and breadth of universe and guides every individual created thing, including his most fickle creation: us.

In His providence, God knows what is best for us.  Christ assured his followers of this fact (see Matthew 6:25-34).  I still do not want to lose my loved ones.  Yet in such fear I find assurance in the “meek and humble” pierced Heart of Christ, which shows, more than anything in this world, that no matter the tragedy, God is in control.

image: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Gripped by the Eucharist

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:07
A homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Her husband had left her after close to 40 years of marriage and five grown kids and moved in with another younger woman. Her friends made fun of her for choosing to remain single and faithful to her marriage vows and not follow their warped advice to “move on with her life” and get another “husband.” She had also recently been diagnosed with a form of cancer. Yet this woman would silently enter the pew each morning for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in her local chapel and to receive the Eucharist with a face that betrayed the pain in her heart.

Why should she continue to come to receive our Eucharistic Lord every blessed day though her entire life seemed to be falling apart? I always see in her example a reminder that we need the presence of God in our lives more than we need the gifts of God.

God’s gifts come and go and we cannot hold on to them forever. Think about how our youth, beauty, relationships, loved ones, joys, health, and off course, our earthly life, necessary pass away. But when God is present in our lives, it is not so much us holding on to God, but God who holds on to us forever and He never lets go in good or bad times.

Jesus’ Eucharistic discourse in the Gospel of today’s Mass contains two guarantees connected to the Eucharist that call us to trust completely in the worlds of Jesus. Jesus first of all guarantees us His abiding presence with us through the Eucharist, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” We are guaranteed eternal life (not a mere sign of eternal life) that is nothing but the presence of Jesus with us under the form of bread and wine. The second guarantee is that He will hold on to us till the very end and give us all that we need to hold on to Him, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

This solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ that we celebrate today reminds us of this double guarantee that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist: to be with us and to hold on to us even till death. Jesus freely surrendered the gifts that His Father bestowed on Him during His earthly life. He saw the death of St. Joseph, He saw His beloved disciples betray, deny and abandon Him, He saw His good reputation destroyed by the Jewish leaders, and He saw His life unjustly taken from Him. But His Father held on to Jesus even in the grave and raised Him from the grave, “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of Him, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Jesus held on to His Father as intensely as the Father held on to Him whether the gifts were present or not. By having His life in us, we are guaranteed that God holds on to us too and gives us what we need to hold on to Him.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, whether we receive God’s gifts or not, whether we preserve them intact or not, whether we use or lose them, let us continue to come to our Eucharistic Lord so that we live our lives with that guarantee of God’s presence with us always, holding on to us till the very end.

What does Jesus do as He holds on to us? In our Eucharistic Savior Jesus, God is fulfilling and perfecting for us the very same things that He did for the Israelites in the Old Testament. Moses reminds the Israelites in today’s First Reading of God’s power to set them free, “Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” First of all, Jesus’s Eucharistic presence is all about setting us free from sin, selfishness, worries, addictions and all things that hinder our freedom from becoming what God wants us to be.

Moses also reminds them of God’s wisdom that guided them through the treacherous desert, “(Do not forget) the God who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched land and waterless ground.” Secondly, Jesus in the Eucharist is our Good Shepherd who guides us along the way of life and enlightens our choices in the journey through life. Lastly, the Israelites are to remember the God who “brought forth water from the flinty rock and fed them in the desert with manna, a food unknown to their fathers.” Thirdly, Jesus in His love mysteriously nourishes and strengthens us with His own body and blood so that we can overcome all things and journey to the very end with Him.

Our Eucharist Lord is present with us to free us, to guide us and to nourish and strengthen us till the very end of our lives. We must go beyond attending the Eucharist in search of earthly gifts alone and then judging the presence of Jesus under the sacramental signs based on the presence or absence of His gifts in our lives. We must also go beyond attending the Eucharist as a mere obligation or duty imposed on us by the Church. How much more transforming will our Eucharistic celebrations be if we approached the Eucharist with the that readiness to be set free by Jesus, guided by Jesus alone in all our life choices and strengthened to do His will in this life?

A woman here in Marawi, Philippines, who has been displaced by the fierce fighting between the government troops and the Islamic Maute group, had this to say recently, “Our homes and stores have been destroyed, our neighbors and relatives killed. We have lost everything. It is only God that we are holding on to now.” Gifts and blessings come and go, often in painful and difficult circumstances. We can always hold on to the divine presence with us. Our Eucharist guarantees us that we are not just holding on to God but God, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, is holding on to us as we receive His body and drink His blood, placing all our trust in the words of Jesus alone and in His divine guarantee.

Jesus comes to us in today’s Eucharist. He knows all our needs even before we ask Him. He comes to give us what we need most – His presence with us. Whether we have and enjoy His gifts or not, let Jesus, our Eucharistic Lord, be ever present in our lives to free us, to guide us, and to strengthen us with His body and blood so that He will hold on to us even till the grave from where He will raise us up on the last day…guaranteed.

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

image: By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“St. Aga, Who?”

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:02

Just when I think that I’ve “heard” it all, I read some new, bizarre, nonsensical idea. Let me explain.  I was in the thrift store, scanning the bookshelves, when I came upon a book about simplifying your life while at the same time living your life more abundantly. So far sounds good!

I cracked it open to a random page and read, “This year, for a refreshing change, I thought we’d celebrate the feast of Saint Agabus, the patron saint of fortune-tellers, instead of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of disappointment. For who among us does not secretly want to know what the future holds, especially concerning matters of the heart?”

Well, that certainly is a lot to ponder! My first thought was St. Agabus, who? For what? And close on its heels, vying for my attention was “Clearly this woman does not know who St. Valentine is.” Reading the next sentence confirmed what a priest friend has repeatedly stated, “Curiosity is not a good thing.” He believes that studiousness not curiosity is a virtue.

Why is curiosity about the future not a good thing? Sure, we can be curious and wonder about the future. A young woman often wonders what kind of man will she marry. There are plenty of love songs that express that curiosity. Wondering is one thing. Curiosity to the point of seeking a fortune teller or “praying to the saint of fortune-tellers” is something else. What’s wrong with that?

In the CCC, we read 2115 “. . . A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it.”

Simply stated, by seeking out the “advice” of a fortune teller, that person is placing her “faith” in the fortune teller and not God. The fortune teller may be telling her absolute gobbledygook but she is going to believe it instead of believing that God, who is a loving Father cares about her personally and about her future.

To clarify a few more points. While there really is a St. Agabus, a prophet in the early Church, the Church would never give him the title of saint of fortune-tellers.

Furthermore, why does this woman label St. Valentine the patron saint of disappointment? In reading bits and pieces of the book, the answer becomes evident. She labels St. Valentine such because sadly she herself has been disappointed in love and has transferred her disappointment to St. Valentine, whom I venture to say she knows little about other than the secular notion of hearts, flowers, chocolate and love.

While it would be easy to dismiss her strange ideas as an anomaly, I venture to say considering the number of copies her books have sold, she is not alone with these strange ideas. She is a poor lost soul, searching for meaning, even if she doesn’t recognize it as such. Sprinkled throughout her book are bits of wisdom, “Accustom yourself to continually make many acts of love for they enkindle and melt the soul. ” Saint Teresa of Avila. But those moments of insight, gratitude or appreciation of simple wonders are closely followed by long passages narcissistic, self-indulgence.  Like so many people today, she has fashioned God to fit her concept of God, even so far as giving him names that she fancies for the moment–not that in her mind God is a he.

Where am I going with this? Do we know who God is? Do we have a relationship with him? Do we spend time in his presence? Do we have confidence in him? Do we believe he is a loving, kind Father, who cares about us personally. St. Agabus did or he wouldn’t be a saint. But what about us?

“If we all take up the mission of

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:00

“If we all take up the mission of praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon priests, the Spirit will surely grant the Church a new infusion of much-needed love, a new Pentecost, a new springtime of faith.”

-Kathleen Beckman, Praying for Priests

One of the memorable homilies I

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:00

One of the memorable homilies I remember was from our school head before we graduated from High School, “Go, make money and be rich!”

It was just before our graduation. He paused a few moments to let his words sink in. “Magpakayaman kayo,” he reiterated. We were not quite sure what he was saying, what he meant. Why was our school head urging us to become rich, rather than to live simple lives?

Having caught our attention, he then explained that wealth was both boon and bane. With it we could live good lives; but it could also corrupt us. Too much attention and desire for wealth could lead us to sin.

The challenge, he continued, was to have financial capacity not only for ourselves but more for the marginalized. Every peso we earned could help those who needed it. Give abundantly when we could. With this generous mindset we avoid the temptation of wanting more just to have more.

It is not bad to aspire for a comfortable life. But as we work for it, especially as we achieve it, let us not ignore our brothers and sisters who do not have the capacity or opportunity or resources to have the same. It is our responsibility to share with others cheerfully and generously so that they do not get left behind.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 22:00

St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591) was a young man who experienced his faith as something more important than the worldly concerns of life. He lived in Renaissance Italy, a time noted for its high cultural achievements and low moral standards.

Because he was born of a noble family, Aloysius was very familiar with court life, serving for a time as a page to King Philip II of Spain. The more he saw of such life, however, the less he appreciated its violent and licentious aspects. His father desired him to be a great military leader, but Aloysius, inspired by a book describing the work of Jesuit missionaries in India, decided to enter the Society of Jesus. His appalled father forbade this, and had eminent churchmen attempt to convince his son to follow a “normal” lifestyle, but Aloysius was not to be deterred.

After a four-year struggle of wills between father and son, the youth was allowed to enter the Jesuit novitiate in Rome. Aloysius had to adapt himself to Jesuit discipline, which was less rigorous than that which he was already observing on his own (for instance, he was now obliged to eat and recreate more, and pray less often than was his custom). Nonetheless, Aloysius was a model novice; he studied philosophy and had St. Robert Bellarmine as his spiritual director. The Jesuits established a hospital in Rome when a plague broke out in 1591; Aloysius was very active there in caring for the patients. He himself caught a lingering fever, but he continued his great discipline of prayer until his death at age twenty-three several months later.

Lessons

1. Jesus said, “What profit does a man show who gains the whole world at the cost of his soul?” (Lk 9:25). St. Aloysius Gonzaga took these words to heart, and rejected the allurements of the world in order to follow Christ.

2. Sometimes parents’ desires for their children are contrary to God’s will; as Aloysius’ life shows, a holy persistence (combined with respect for those in authority) can eventually bear fruit.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Terence (1st Century), Bishop

Announcing Our Next Book: The Lord by Romano Guardini

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 14:47

 

Announcing Our Next Book: The Lord by Romano Guardini The Lord (Week 1 of 23)

Dear Spiritual Direction Family,

Please join our Book Club as we read one of the great treasures of Catholic thought – The Lord, by Romano Guardini.

Following are the accolades from the back of my edition:

“Monsignor Guardini…has written more than just the life of Jesus. He places that life in the context of history and shows how the teachings of Jesus are related to the whole body of church doctrine and practice.” — New York Times

“This book is a masterpiece. It embodies the wealth of modern exegetical criticism opened by Protestant theologians like Karl Barth, the greatest traditions of ‘devotio modern,’ French seventeenth century thought, the great insights of the Catholic mystics, and the matured speculation of scholasticism. But above all, it is an approach to Christ through the Gospels.” — H.A. Reinhold, Commonweal

“Guardini’s book The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it still leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.” — Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI]

I’ve previewed the first couple of chapters, and I’m telling you – this book is rich! It is beautiful, insightful and directly applicable to our lives today. Let me just say, Chapter II: The Mother – Wow!

This book will carry us through to our Thanksgiving break – we plan to take our time so we can savor every chapter. Here is our prospective calendar:

We look forward to the discussion!!!

 NOTE: Speaking of discussions, our Comment Box has been getting slim lately – please drop a note to let us know you are there. And also, as we embark on this book, remember that our discussion is only as rich as the ComBox is full. Have you ever been involved in a book club where only one person does all the talking? Not nearly as much fun as when everyone contributes. We’d love for this online book club to be as personal as one meeting in your living room. When I designed this book club, I decided to write my posts as I would talk in my own home – this paragraph or chapter made me think of X,Y or Z. And then the discussion would go from there. The idea was that others could comment on that passage, or about something that particularly moved them in their reading – just as they do when we discuss books in person. So get in there – don’t be shy!!! We want to hear (read) your insights, your thoughts, your feelings, your resolutions!!!

Happy Reading! Reading Assignment:

Author Preface; Part 1: Chapter I-IV

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever read The Lord? If so, do you have any insights you’d like to share? How would you say it compares with other writings that examine the life of Christ?

2. See the NOTE above – please drop us a note in the Comment Box to let us know you are there – and if you have any suggestions that would help our book club serve you better, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

Read More: http://spiritualdirection.com/topics/book-club

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven – A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

 

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

How a Young Couple Rejected Contraception & Embraced NFP

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:07
From Shaun

Long before we trusted the Catholic Church or even considered marriage, my wife and I got into a heated debate about abortion.

“So you think abortion is a sin?”

“There’s no question: it’s wrong,” she said, as if it should have been obvious.

“What gives you the right to say that? I think there are several cases where a mother should have the choice to have an abortion.” “Like what?” she replied.

“Well, what happens if a father rapes his daughter?” “Um . . .”

“And what about the mother who is addicted to drugs?” “Well . . . ”

“See what I mean now?”

“No. Absolutely not! There’s no case in which a woman should abort her child. You gave two examples in which you think it would be good for that child based on outcomes you can’t predict. Do you just end lives because you think a life might be of less quality? I think all lives have limitless quality!”

“Um . . .”

She was making a good point. She continued:

“Then there’s the fact that you’re punishing an unborn child for the mistakes of adults.”

“But why would you force a child to be born with a disability?”

“Why would you take life away from any child? You’re not even giving them a chance! Some of the happiest people I’ve known are kids with Down syndrome, and their parents are filled with love for their kid.”

“. . .”

“Well?”

“Well, I just think women should have a choice. I guess I would put it this way: personally, I’m pro-life; I would never have or encourage an abortion. But at the same time, I think, legally, women should have a choice. I mean, how can we take away someone’s free will?”

We didn’t talk more about abortion that day or for many months to come. Talking about pro-life issues can be incredibly frustrating for disagreeing parties. Her opinion made some sense at the time, but it didn’t persuade me to abandon my sentiments on the subject. Even though we disagreed, what Jessica told me that day has come to mind every time I’ve had a conversation about pro-life issues.

From Jessica:

I remember the conversation Shaun mentions. His tone shocked me, and, like him, I’ve not forgotten it.

I went silent. That’s when I first realized we were not on the same page on the pro-life issue. He agreed that an abor­tion shouldn’t happen just because a baby was inconvenient. However, Shaun said, “It wasn’t that simple in real life.” He told me he had once helped a woman consider whether to abort her baby. The father wasn’t someone she was with any longer. She felt trapped between two bad alternatives: being tied to a man she didn’t want to be with, or being a young single mother. Months later, Shawn looked up the woman on Facebook and was surprised by her profile picture with a beautiful baby girl. Shaun was immediately taken with the baby.

“Are you happy she didn’t abort the baby?”

“Jess . . .”

“Think about it. Had she made that decision, regardless of when you think life begins, that little girl would not be alive. Period.”

The conversation went on to the usual: rape, incest, birth defects, and handicaps. I had the classic, thought-provoking answers. In the end, he left the conversation saying he thought women should have the choice, and I left it saying that every­thing possible should be done to save and bring dignity to both lives — mother and baby, but especially the innocent baby.

When we realized our relationship was heading toward marriage, I brought the subject up again. Abortion was a deal breaker for me. Although Shaun’s beliefs weren’t as strong as mine, I was relieved that in the meantime he had become very pro-baby as well as pro-woman.

From Shaun:

Fast forward a year: we were planning to be married; there was lots to discuss, and we wanted to be responsible. Our plan was, after about a year of being married, for me to get out of the military so I could finish my undergraduate degree.

This article is from a chapter in Surprised by Life. Click image to check out other chapters or to order.

We agreed that having a child was something we wanted, but not immediately, and so I asked Jessica if she would go on birth control. Jessica hesitated for health reasons, so I said I would go to the doctor with her. The doctor assuaged all of her concerns. From there, it seemed as easy as choosing a method. Was she going to take a shot? Pop pills? Wear a patch?

For reasons I don’t remember, Jessica decided to receive her birth control with the shot. One shot provided birth control for about ninety days, which eliminated problems that would arise if she forgot to take a pill.

For me, the goal was to make the issue “out of sight, out of mind.” To achieve my educational goals and maintain the integ­rity of my future family, using birth control was a no-brainer. I convinced myself that postponing children now would be better for kids born later.

It was 2008, and the job market was weak. With my unem­ployment imminent, I didn’t want to start our new life together without a solid plan. Since money problems were a major cause of divorce, I was convinced that the thirty-dollar cost of birth control was better for our marriage than the thousands of dollars it costs to have children — at least until I got my college degree and had a good job.

From Jessica:

Shaun and I had a very short engagement — just under a month! He had been working very hard on his degree and had to complete it.

My dream was to be a stay-at-home mom. We needed to work as a team on a strict plan. Time wasn’t on our side because of reproductive problems I had, so we wanted to work fast to get to a place where we could have babies.

We decided to postpone children for at least the first two years of our marriage and then revisit the topic. That meant we needed to choose a responsible method of family planning. We wanted to ensure the egg and the sperm would never meet, but if they somehow did, that life wouldn’t be aborted by the con­traceptive. We wouldn’t risk the life of our baby, planned or not.

The doctor allayed all our worries. He assured us that we could use any of the following methods without compromising our will to protect life at every stage from conception onward: the implant, the shot, the pill, or the patch.

We chose the shot, the easiest of the methods. The nurse administered it while Shaun held my hand, and within ten min­utes I felt nauseated and lightheaded. I was glad Shaun was there to drive us home. I hoped that the symptoms were the result of stress. On the way home Shaun thanked me, saying he wished there was a way he could take the shot instead of its being a burden laid solely on my shoulders.

From Shaun:

Before we were married we had what was for us responsible discussions about the future of our family. How many kids we should have? How should we space them? Did we want boys or girls?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but these questions were selfish. I see now that they weren’t really “responsible” conversations. We were concerned with convenience and selection, as if having a family works well only when it is arranged around material or professional goals. Unconsciously, we had judged that we could not take part in the creative act of childbearing unless we determined how, when, and where it happened. As good as our intentions were — not to form a family that we couldn’t manage — we were deeply mistaken about our obligations in marriage.

After two years of preventing pregnancy through contraception, I earned my undergraduate degree and landed a decent job. One night in September, Jessica was brushing her teeth, and I said to her, “Jessica, I’m ready to have kids. Can you stop taking birth control?”

I’ve only seen her that happy a few times. It’s a unique sort of satisfaction that filled her face. It was a mix of “Really? Are you sure?” and “Definitely!

We stopped the contraception immediately, hoping she would be pregnant soon. But we had a tough road ahead of us.

From Jessica:

The shot was horrible. Horrible!

I woke up every morning so nauseated I couldn’t function for the first half hour, was miserable until noon, and miserable again at bedtime. I had daily headaches, was always tired, constantly “spotting,” and emotional. I had to force myself to eat well when I didn’t want to eat at all, and I gained weight at an alarming pace. I had had two rounds of the shot when, in a social situation, I met the nurse who had administered the shot to me.

She told me about methods of contraception she couldn’t believe were legal, and what women complained about. The thing that she said she hated most in her job was giving women that shot and not being allowed to warn them ahead of time what they were in for, knowing two of the doctors gave poor information.

I requested a different doctor.

I would love to say that this is when I wised up and did my own research and at minimum read the small print for each of the methods we considered, but I did not. I have no one to blame except myself.

Next I tried the patch, which became increasingly unpleasant. I was glad when we ran out. Shaun was no longer in the military, and we had no health insurance. Although we both worked long hours, we had minimal income.

Someone recommended that I get the pill from Planned Parenthood.

Wasn’t that the place that does abortions? I wasn’t sure, but if it was, I wanted no part of it.

So I called.

The receptionist said they didn’t perform abortions, so I made an appointment. One small step at a time, our use of contracep­tion — even while we tried to protect life — led me to the doors of Planned Parenthood.

The waiting room was well lit and comfortable. I couldn’t find anything about abortions anywhere. I was looking for any reason to bolt. Sexually transmitted diseases and safe sex seemed to be the push. I went back to the room with the provider, who gave me my annual physical and a prescription for three months of the pill — the most affordable method they provided. She seemed as if she truly cared about me. She told me, when I asked, that their clinic did not perform abortions, but others did.

As I checked out, they pushed for full payment, which I didn’t have. Eventually the receptionist said they would cover half. I didn’t want to give them my business, but if I did, at least they were footing part of the bill.

The next two years I bit my tongue a lot and wondered when, if ever, we would try for babies. Then it finally happened.

Shaun came home from work one day thoughtful and quiet. That evening, he said, “Jess, I think I’m ready for us to have a baby. If we keep waiting for the perfect situation, it may never come. But we can make it work. What do you think about coming off the pill?”

Only a few times in my life have I been that happy and excited. I couldn’t hug him tight enough. I flushed the rest of the pills the same hour. A week later I couldn’t believe how good I felt; it was like someone had physically lifted a weight off my body and a fog had cleared. I told Shaun I didn’t care what we had to do in the future, I wouldn’t be going back on contraception. He laughed, thinking I was just happy we were trying to conceive. But two weeks passed, and he noticed the differences in me as well.

From Shaun:

Days after I asked her at the bathroom sink if it would be alright to stop using birth control, I remember inquiring with excite­ment, “So have you stopped taking the pill?” She assured me she had. “Great!” I remember thinking. “You’ll be pregnant soon.”

But those couple of days turned into a couple of months, and still no sign of pregnancy. I asked her about it — why it might be taking a while — and she told me that it would take time for the hormones completely to exit her system.

I had to be patient.

Around nine months went by.

“How long should this take?”

As much as I tried not to stress about it, I was worried that our use of contraception had left Jessica sterile. I was afraid to ask her the questions that haunted me: “What have I done? Is my wife barren now?”

From Jessica:

The likelihood of infertility and miscarriage tormented me. I placed my desire for children in God’s hands and continually had to remind myself to trust God. He could make fertile even a barren womb. He alone could bring forth a life — no one else could.

I had cried and prayed over so many of my friends and heard of their infertility struggles, the doctors, the injections, and the humiliating intrusion into the most intimate areas, with sex be­coming a chore and their hearts sinking at every negative preg­nancy test, month after month. Worst were the miscarriages.

Rather than worry, I made a plan. We would give it a year of trying, and I wouldn’t get my hopes up in that time. I plugged everything into an app, and we focused in on days it said we were fertile.

Shaun was due to go on a business trip over the time our app said I was next going to ovulate, so we set ourselves up to let it go for a month and a half. While he was gone, I had a lot of time to myself to think things through. I finally let myself feel it all: the fear, the disappointment, the hope I didn’t even realize had been building. I steeled myself for what would likely be a long road toward getting the family we wanted through fertility treatments or adoption, or both. I didn’t know how we would afford either, but we would figure it out.

I pulled myself together and was refreshed with a newfound trust that God’s plan was greater than mine: He would lead and provide for each step, and He would use the pain and disap­pointment for good somehow. I again handed Him my hopes and begged Him to return them in one way or another.

Shaun came home, and just over a week later I took my habitual pregnancy test before having a glass of wine.

It was positive!

My heart soared!

I couldn’t wait to tell Shaun we were going to be parents!

From Shaun:

While we were trying to conceive, I began considering the Cath­olic Church. For me, authority, morals, and sexuality were big stumbling blocks. “How could a group of people be free from doc­trinal and moral error?” The way I saw it, nobody could be free from error except for Christ Himself, and claiming to “know it all” smacked of blasphemy, equating a creature with the Creator.

As I began reading Catholic books, however, I often found myself thinking, “Well, that actually makes a lot of sense. I’d better keep reading to see where this argument falls apart.” Next thing you know, I’d be at the end of the book. “Better get out another book, because Catholic morality can’t be flawless.”

Next book, same result: arguments that were complete, chari­table, and satisfying. Not only did they thoroughly explain the Catholic Church’s position and the defense thereof; they re­vealed the terrible errors in my own logic, much of which was made up of what I had learned as a Protestant.

One thing helped me immensely as I drew closer to the Church: an understanding of her authority. Once I came to see that it came not from the Bible, but directly from Jesus by way of the apostles (who later wrote much of the New Testament), almost all of my issues with Catholic teachings evaporated.

Two of the Church’s moral stances continued to trouble me, however: her prohibition of abortion and of artificial contra­ception. I wanted to confess my sins of supporting pro-choice ideologies and using birth control, but I still did not understand why they were judged to be sinful.

I suffered from a classic case of relativism, a powerful, seductive, and deceptive heresy that denies all universal truths, holding that their truth or falsehood depends on how they are judged by any individual.

I had always been personally against abortion but thought that it should be a personal decision for a woman. I thought that if a woman truly believed abortion was right, then it was, in fact, right for her. Clearly, I was confused about the application of universal moral truths.

The answer to one question destroyed my relativism: “If the unborn child is truly a child, then how can killing him be wrong for me but licit for someone else?”

Overcoming my relativism brought healing, consolation, and reconciliation. Next, I had to decide how I would treat birth control.

Frankly, I had never given birth control much thought. The word contraception seemed more medical than anything else. Since my teen years I had heard stories from female friends about how their parents had them on birth control. These parents claimed that it was not that their teen was sexually active; rather, they said, the pill provided regularity in their menstrual cycle. So, from the onset, it seemed perfectly responsible to use birth control.

Any conversation I had with my wife or Christian friends about birth control mainly addressed the physical risks, rather than the moral questions. In the decades I had been an Evan­gelical, I never once heard a sermon about birth control. Not once.

Interestingly, this was one of the first things I learned about the Catholic Church; but I wasn’t impressed when I learned that many Catholics ignore the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception. So if I was going to become an obedient Catholic, which I wanted very much, I had to understand the immorality of contraception prior to making my first confession.

Although I didn’t realize it at first, my former opinion on abortion was related to my opinion on birth control. It seemed evident to me that birth control would reduce unwanted pregnancies and therefore would reduce abortions. So birth control seemed to be a force for good. I assumed that people on birth control were no more or less prone to promiscuity than those who didn’t use it. In fact, in repeated studies, birth control has been directly shown to promote sex outside marriage and with multiple partners. It has aided in the creation of a society that values the pleasures of sex over sexual responsibility.

I was wrong about artificial birth control as a positive force in society, but I still needed the Christian basis for saying it is immoral. Where was I to look? Naturally, I searched the Bible but nothing there directly referred to contraception.

Or did it?

Online, I came across a reference to the story of Onan. I thought to myself, “I know this story, but it has nothing to do with birth control. It’s about masturbation.”

But what did masturbation have to do with birth control? Everything.

Since Onan spilled his “seed” (semen) to avoid procreation, God’s condemnation of Onan shows His disapproval of sexual acts that are not open to life. When couples use withdrawal to avoid pregnancy, it is mutual masturbation. Absolutely preventing conception in this way — or any other way — is contrary to God’s law. Couples who use devices, techniques, or hormones to prevent conception violate the very nature of the act of intercourse.

I realized that my sins were equal to Onan’s, and I was in desperate need of God’s grace and forgiveness. To my relief, I was soon to become Catholic and could enter the Church with a clean conscience after my first confession.

In a matter of months, through my uncompromising search for the truth and my desire to follow Christ, I had gone from a pro-choice, birth control–endorsing relativist to a Christian in full communion with the social and moral teaching of the Catholic Church. I made my first confession on Good Friday 2012, and the next day I receive my first Eucharist and was confirmed.

From Jessica:

After telling Shaun I was pregnant, I set about to find doctors who would do everything in their power to protect our unborn baby in the womb. That led me to NaProTECHNOLOGY, which specializes in women’s reproductive care, especially in infertility and bringing high-risk pregnancies to term.

The NaPro medical staff treated me with a courtesy I had never experienced before and extended it to Shaun and to our baby as well. From the start, I was in their office every two weeks receiving the care I needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

After the baby was born, we began charting my cycles using the Creighton Model method. The longer we charted, the more trust I had in it. Not only did it teach us to manage our fertility, but we were encouraged to be mindful of all the various aspects of our relationship. As we learned to trust each other with our fertility, our trust in each other in general grew. I can honestly say that manag­ing our fertility and seeing the dignity it brought to my marriage and my family drew me to the Catholic Church. When we were expecting our second baby, our FertilityCare office approached me, offering me a scholarship to become a practitioner myself.

Charting was much more than a different form of contraception. I learned the actual effects of artificial contraception on women, on marriages, and on the culture as a whole. I learned that the pill is a class-one carcinogen, and that it also weakens the lining of the uterus to cause early miscarriage in cases where conception manages to occur. Moreover, some forms of artificial birth control also disguise the symptoms of curable diseases, caus­ing women not to get the treatment they need.

During my training, I fell in love with Humanae Vitae, the celebrated encyclical of Pope Paul VI. It explains God’s design for marriage and love, and presents responsible parenthood as a vocation we should take seriously and manage as good stewards. It promotes the dignity of all human life in a straightforward, no-nonsense way.

“Value of Self-Discipline” is one of my favorite paragraphs in Humanae Vitae. In it, periodic abstinence is not presented as easy. Instead, the encyclical encourages us to see the positive effects of periodic abstinence. Practicing self-control helps us to value ourselves and each other. A further benefit is the value children feel from growing up in a loving marriage that holds strongly to these truths. Says Humanae Vitae:

[Periodic abstinence] brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers. (no. 21)

This moral training was providential to me because, until then, I had a very contraceptive mind-set regarding natural family planning. Although I liked NFP better than the pill because I wasn’t altering my body, I didn’t see the fundamental difference between the pill and NFP. I had to ask myself, “Why is artificial contraception a sin, but NFP is not?”

Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI acknowledge that there are many pleasures in sex but remind us that it has only two fundamental purposes: unity and procreation. Obviously, sex is how babies are made, but our society sees babies as a risk of sex rather than the blessed fruit of sexual union.

When we don’t accept both purposes of sex, we rob ourselves and our spouse of its wholeness, its life-giving power, and its total unity. In fact, we rob our spouse of his inherent human dignity by saying, “I like everything about you — except the way your body is inconveniently fertile.”

In his encyclical Familiaris Consortio, John Paul II puts this well:

When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as “arbiters” of the divine plan and they “manipulate” and degrade human sexuality — and with it themselves and their married partner — by altering its value of “total” self-giving. . . . When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility, the couple respect the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as “ministers” of God’s plan and they “benefit from” their sexuality according to the original dynamism of “total” self-giving, without manipulation or alteration. (no. 32)

Sexuality is a gift we give and receive in totality, holding nothing back, never using one another as a means to an end, but always going back to the two purposes of this sexual aspect of our relationship. When Shaun and I began charting, I managed our fertility as a burden instead of the powerful gift it is. I robbed my marriage during that time. In a letter to the director of the Centre for Research and Study on the Natural Regulation of Fertility, John Paul II writes:

In the act that expresses their love, spouses are called to make a reciprocal gift of themselves to each other in the totality of their person: nothing that is part of their being can be excluded from this gift.

Denying oneself isn’t always pleasant, but when done for the correct reasons, a husband and wife say to each other, “I cherish you, everything about you, so much that I would deny myself on occasion rather than alter you in any way.”

Contraception and natural family planning are worlds apart, and I’m grateful to have come to understand this in my Faith and within my marriage. Since we began practicing self-control together, stopped holding back parts of our personhood from one another, and worked responsibly as a team without denying God’s ultimate control, the peace and unity we have achieved is unlike anything we experienced before. We have become more giving, more loving, more accepting, and we aren’t afraid of our own fertility or of a method “failing” us.

Today, Shaun and I have been blessed with three wonderful children who are among the greatest sources of joy in our lives: Gabriel, Tristan, and Dominic. We have healed from the negative effects of contraception in our marriage and are thrilled to encourage others to discover the same freedom found in practicing true, authentic love with the use of natural family planning.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Churchwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

Five Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:05

How much time and energy is exerted in obtaining a degree from some prestigious University?  How much blood, sweat and tears are expended to win a trophy from some sporting event? How much time and energy can even be consumed in preparing for a surprise Birthday party?   If we can expend so much time, money, emotional and physical energy for such natural pursuits, should we not at least expend more of our time and energy in what is the greatest of all arts, “The art of all arts” and that is learning the Practice of Prayer?

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, calls prayer the key to salvation and following are five short, clear and concrete steps we can undertake to improve our personal prayer life, grow in holiness, be a source of holiness to many others and experience a nearly constant peace and overflowing joy!

1.    Conviction. First, we must be convinced of the importance of prayer in our life and for our eternal salvation.  St. Alphonsus expresses it concisely: “He who prays will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned.” St. John Damascene defines prayer: “Lifting of the mind and heart to God.” St. Augustine has a catchy way of expressing the indispensable character of prayer: “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; and for he who dies well, all is well.”  A final easy analogy: as air is to the lungs, so must prayer be to our soul.  No air for the lungs, death arrives quickly. Likewise, the prayer-less person can easily fall prey to temptation and fall into mortal sin and lose out on God’s Friendship

2.     Confession.   If we are not at peace with God, if our conscience is reproaching us, if we have unforgiven and unconfessed sins we will find that talking face to face with God as friends will be all the more difficult. If we hurt our friend, we apologize, seek forgiveness, and then return to amicable relations.

3.    Set a time and a place to pray.  Man is a creature of habit. We do certain things every day at the same time and place.  Of capital importance should be to form the habit of prayer. This habit will result in our salvation and possibly the salvation of many others.  We can pray at any time and any place and in any circumstance. However, there are “Prime times” that we should pray. Morning prayer upon arising from sleep, grace before meals, before going on a trip, the family Rosary in the evening before dinner, and night prayers—these are traditional times for prayer.

4.    Mass and Holy Communion.  By far the greatest prayer in the world is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sunday Mass is obligatory, under pain of mortal sin. However, if we are truly in love with God, we should not aim for the minimum but rather the maximum!   The greatest action and gesture under the heavens that will lead us to eternal life in heaven is to assist at Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion fervently, humbly, and with great confidence.  The angels in heaven experience a holy envy towards us because even the greatest of angels cannot receive Jesus in Holy Communion. How privileged we really are!

5.     Seek Our Lady of the Rosary.  Our Lady of Fatima appeared in 1917 from May to October. In every one of the Apparitions she insisted on the praying of the Rosary. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary, also insisted that we pray the Rosary and for two specific important intentions: 1) for world peace, 2) for the sake of the family.   The Rosary priest, Father Patrick Peyton, coined these immortal proverbs: “The family that prays together, stays together….”  And “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”   The family should find a time and place and pray the Rosary every day. May the father who is the spiritual head of the family initiate this practice, bring the family together, and persevere in this prayer for the salvation of his entire family.

If we can implement these five concrete practices in our personal prayer life then we will bring forth fruit and fruit in abundance! May Our Lady of grace inspire us to undertake a daily growth in our prayer life.

Lying and Lifestyle

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:02

Dinosaurs were living at the city dump. Velociraptors, to be precise.

When I was nine and my sister was seven, I convinced her that this was the case. It didn’t take much persuading, either. The hard work had been done by Jurassic Park, the blockbuster movie we had already seen several times that summer. The city dump, which was visible from the highway, had this tall fencing stretching around the perimeter. To me the fence resembled the barricades meant to pen in the movie’s dinosaurs. So one day, on a drive to visit our grandparents, I leaned over to my sister as the dump came into view. In a hushed, conspiratorial tone, I pointed out the window and informed her, “You know that’s where they keep the velociraptors…” She looked concerned. “Really?”

The cover story in this month’s National Geographic explores the human propensity for lying. It is fascinating both for what it reports and how it reports it. In an age obsessed with each and every individual’s capacity—nay, “right”—to embrace the lifestyle of his or her choosing, the article is unabashed in its portrayal of lying as something that we don’t choose. In an age of particulars, lying remains a universal. It is a constitutive part of who we are as rational beings, the article suggests. “To lie is human,” the author states, and while “honesty may be the best policy,” as the blurb beneath the title reads, nevertheless “scheming and dishonesty are part of what makes us human.” “That human beings should universally possess a talent for deceiving one another shouldn’t surprise us,” the reader is assured. Why not? Because it is “a deeply ingrained human trait,” a behavior that, according to researchers, “arose not long after the emergence of language.”

If the ubiquity of dishonesty is a truth that fails to console, the article goes on to reassure us of the important role which learning to lie plays in child development. Apparently it is actually good for kids to lie:

“The truth comes naturally,” says psychologist Bruno Verschuere, “but lying takes effort and a sharp, flexible mind.” Lying is a part of the developmental process, like walking and talking. Children learn to lie between ages two and five, and lie the most when they are testing their independence.

Walking, talking, lying: which one of these is not like the others? To speak what is true is a good act, but to utter what is false is… just as good, developmentally speaking? As children age, another psychologist’s experiments have revealed, those individuals who are more adept at lying actually demonstrate a greater capacity to understand others and exhibit more self-control. So by this logic, my velociraptor fabrication was just part of my social and intellectual development. (Regardless of the nightmares it might have caused my poor kid sister during the week, I let this lie fester.)

There is a difference between developing and ascending, however. All humans may develop as liars, because of our fallen human nature, but only conformity to the truth, through grace, can truly elevate the mind. The accomplished liar, whether he fabricates for pleasure, gain, or pride, is simultaneously learning to live on an island. All alone. The mainland, on the other hand, is made up of that communion fostered by honest and just exchange. This terrain slopes ever higher, toward God. Indeed, the ascent is marked by assent—assenting to God, who is First Truth. To live in the world described in this National Geographic article, then, and develop the virtuous habit of truthfulness—now there’s an alternative lifestyle for you.

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

In the first reading Paul praises the

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading Paul praises the Corinthians for their generosity to help those in need and exhorts them to continue being generous, following the example of Christ: “You know well the generosity of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Although he was rich, he made himself poor to make you rich through his poverty.”

The generous person enriches others with his help but is himself also enriched by being open-handed; and of course, he is repaid by God.

In the Gospel reading we are enjoined to love our enemies. We have enemies because we may have offended them or others may be envious of our good fortune or the evil one may have provoked others to go against us. If, with God’s grace, we are able to do good to our enemies, they may

even be our staunchest supporters.

There may be others who are, for whatever reasons, simply evil and unjust, conceited and self-serving, who enjoy persecuting and destroying others: God calls us to love them and to pray for them. With God’s grace, they may soften their hearts and reform. For indeed, with God’s grace, nothing is impossible.

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.