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St. Pius V (Pope)

Sat, 04/29/2017 - 22:00

St. Pius V (1504-1572) was the pope entrusted with enforcing the decrees and reforms of the Council of Trent. Born in Italy as Michael Ghislieri, he came from a humble background, and as a youth entered the Dominican Order. Michael developed a reputation as a preacher and teacher; in 1556 he was appointed a bishop, and the following year, a cardinal.

Cardinal Ghislieri strongly supported the reforms of the Church enacted by the Council of Trent (1545-1563), and in 1566 he was elected pope (with the help of the reform-minded Cardinal St. Charles Borromeo). During his six-year reign, Pius ordered the establishment of seminaries for the training of priests, published a new missal (which remained in use for 400 years), and set up Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes (CCD) for the young. Pius sought, sometimes unsuccessfully, to uphold the Church’s political authority against various European nations. Queen Elizabeth’s interference with Church affairs in England led to her excommunication by Pius; the pope also struggled against the ambitions of the Holy Roman Emperor and King Philip II of Spain.

Pius’ greatest secular triumph was his sponsorship of the European fleet which defeated the Turkish navy in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, thus saving Europe from a Turkish invasion. Pius was unswerving in his efforts to improve the Church. Many people criticized his methods, but he had the respect of the Roman people, for he established hospitals to care for the sick and distributed food to the poor. In his own personal life Pius remained true to his Dominican origins; unlike some of his predecessors, he lived very simply and devoted much time to prayer.

Lessons

1. Because of human sinfulness, the Church is always in need of reform — just as are individual Christians. St. Pius responded by implementing Trent’s decrees and by promoting solid religious education.

2. Even saints acting in a just cause aren’t guaranteed worldly or political success; some of Pius’ efforts failed (as when his excommunication of Elizabeth I resulted in a persecution of English Catholics). However, in the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “God calls us not to be successful, but to be faithful.”

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Catherine of Siena (1380), Virgin, Doctor, Patroness of Italy and fire prevention

St. Catherine of Siena

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 22:00

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) was the youngest of twenty-five children, and her parents hoped she would marry a wealthy young man — but she had already dedicated her life to God. When her mother nagged her about making herself attractive, Catherine, in a gesture of defiance, cut off her beautiful hair so no one would want to marry her. She was punished by being given the hardest work and forced to wait on all the other family members; Catherine’s cheerful obedience led to her father’s decreeing that she be left in peace.

For some years Catherine lived as a recluse in her room, praying and meditating; then, at age eighteen, she entered the Dominican Third Order. Italy was touched by a plague, and Catherine spent much time caring for the poor and the sick. Her remarkable love and devotion attracted others, and gradually a group formed about her, including lay persons, priests, and religious.

In 1375 Catherine gained an international reputation by mediating the conflict between the papacy and the city of Florence, and then used her influence to advise kings and make political treaties. Catherine was influential in convincing the timid Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon in France (where the popes had resided for many years) and return to Rome, freeing the Church from excessive French influence. This success was short-lived, however, for in 1378 Gregory died, and the Great Schism — a division of allegiance between two rival popes — developed. Catherine steadfastly supported Pope Urban VI, the properly-elected successor to Gregory, but the schism was not resolved for almost forty years.

In 1380 St. Catherine died at the age of only thirty-three, surrounded by her followers; much of Europe mourned her passing. She was known as a visionary and mystic, and some of her writings are still widely used. In 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church — one of the few women to be so honored. St. Catherine was a member of the Dominican lay order, and is a patron saint of the laity.

Lessons

1. Catherine was “stubborn” as a child in pursuing her vocation, but also cheerful and obedient — and it was these qualities which convinced her father to give in to her wishes. We too must be firm in our faith — but in a way that attracts others, rather than condemning or alienating them.

2. In an era in which women were in many ways oppressed, St. Catherine found true “liberation” — not by political movements or activism, but by surrendering completely to Christ.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Peter of Verona (1252), Priest, Martyr

St. Hugh of Cluny (1109), Monk, advisor to nine popes

The Contradiction of “Pro-Choice but not Pro-Abortion”

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 22:07

Our beloved Holy Father calls us to let mercy temper our conversations about publicly sanctioned offenses against the 5th, 6th and 9th commandments, particularly abortion, and indeed there is great wisdom in this. This beautiful call should not be misinterpreted as a “softening” of Church teaching on this most vital and basic issue, but a shift in the tone, clarity and charity with which we speak to our opponents. With this in mind, we ought to clarify the moral and intellectual contradiction of claiming one is “pro-choice” but not “pro-abortion” as if this is a morally tenable position, for it is not. We must concede that emotionally this is a statement professed and held by many who have been confused by the bewildering rhetoric of these troubled times, but it would not be charitable to let our confused brethren sit in this contradiction.

The Position of the Enemy

The enemy of God and all His Saints is the bent one who has a vested interest in disorienting us by the misuse of speech. It is fashionable to hold the diabolical contradiction that one can be “pro-choice” but not “pro-abortion” but let it be known that this morally problematic stance proceeds from the father of lies. Human agents tricked into holding this contradiction are not the enemy, Satan is the enemy and our duty is found in charity committed to fraternal correction.

One who illustrates the morally untenable point well in all its illogical refinement is our former president who publically proclaimed that he is “pro-choice” and not pro-abortion. This is absurd coming from the single most pro-abortion president in this country’s history. He would go so far as to support an abortion for his own daughter rather than “see her punished with a baby” in the event of a “sexual mistake.” As abhorrent as this notion is, we must still remember that the human person is in the image and likeness of God and we are to combat the evil of these false notions, not the people themselves who hold them.

The rhetoric justifying abortion has been evolving at an alarming rate. Although “pro-choice” is a euphemism for “abortion” and “abortion” is a euphemism for murder in the womb, it is now impermissible to recognize and publically state that a “pro-choice” person is also one who is at least in some way supportive of abortion. The denial of this connection is due in part by the public assertion that abortion is an undesirable thing but still “rightfully” subordinated to a woman’s “choice.” So to soften the evil of the pro-choice position there is an artificial distinction invented to falsely suggest that pro-choice is a good thing while pro-abortion is a bad thing. The truth is that both are gravely immoral.

If we are going to explain the logical and moral flaws to our “pro-choice” brethren, we must do so on the grounds of truth and rightly ordered reason conveyed with charity. With that in mind, let us uncover the real distinction between the “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion” positions which will reveal a distinction that doesn’t really make much of a moral difference when it comes to moral and principled action.

A True Distinction

There is an objective moral difference between toleration and promotion of a vice. St. Thomas Aquinas said “many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man.” Thomas clarifies the principle that the state ought not to legislate against all viciousness and must be prudential in its law making. He clarifies the point in article 2 of question 96 as he states: “Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like.” It is legitimate to bring up this principle in discussions about whether or not there ought to be laws concerning alcohol usage or even such serious things as prostitution, but as Thomas mentioned, a thing like murder of innocents is inappropriate to tolerate or promote.

The Distinction without a Difference

Clearly there is a type of difference between the two positions of “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion” relative to the distinction between toleration and promotion. In general, it is indeed worse to promote a sin than it is tolerate a sin, but in the case of abortion there is an important qualification. Tolerating the sin of abortion is grave matter and promoting it is graver still. When it comes to grave matter that harms the fabric of society, it is not even licit to tolerate it. The fact that so many people believe that to tolerate abortion by a “pro-choice” stance is morally permissible is the result of generations of misuse of speech following the sexual revolution. Most reasonable people can be jarred out of this moral stupor by a simple thought experiment.

Take the “pro-choice” but not “pro-abortion” incongruity and substitute any other violent crime and a clear picture of the contradiction will emerge. Let’s say that when a person says “I am pro-choice” that the “choice” they are referring to is the choice of a man to rape a woman. The argument would go like this: “I don’t personally believe in rape, I would never rape a woman myself, but I believe every man has the right to choose whether or not he will rape a woman, it is his body and he can do with it what he wants, who am I to tell him he cannot rape a woman?, so I am “pro-choice” for a man, but I am not pro-rape.”

Would anyone in their right mind agree with this absurd and gravely immoral line of reasoning? Is it clear that toleration of rape is intolerable? Are there objections to be made by the analogy? In these confused times, of course there are. In the rape scenario the woman victim is analogous to the baby in the womb for the abortion scenario. Fair enough, but which deserves more protection, the woman victim? Or the child in the womb?

The modern world equivocates when it comes to what exactly is in the womb after conception, but this should be simple. When a sperm fertilizes an egg, conception produces an individuated being with his own unique DNA sequence. This is plainly a human person verifiable by science. Using Aristotle’s four causes, we can clearly see that a newly conceived life has a material cause, a formal cause, an efficient cause and a final cause whose substantial form is clearly a human soul. Using common sense we can know that a new born baby that had been in the womb for 9 months was indeed, from the moment of its conception, a human person. Theologically it is revealed to us that each human person is made in the image and likeness of God. So a grown woman is also a person in the image and likeness of God and if the child and woman don’t deserve equal protection, the more innocent and vulnerable of the two is the unborn child.

What is abortion really?

The confusion on the abortion issue is conceived in the collective mind by an abuse of language repeated nearly ad-nauseam in the public square by educators and mass media signaling not just our addiction to false freedom but our acquiescence to the dictatorship of relativism. It is no longer permissible to speak the truth on these matters in public without denigrating reprisals. Yet still, let us as Catholics at least try to continue to make our voices heard for the sake of the unborn souls sacrificed on the altar of free sex.

The word “pro-choice” is a euphemism. It is a dishonest contrivance to say that the unthinkable crime of a woman terminating the life of her unborn child is a right. The misuse of speech is akin to calling a Nazi gas chamber a beauty spa. We rightfully look upon the Aztec human sacrifices with horror and refer to the custom as barbaric, but far worse and more prolific is the western custom of convincing our women that they have a right to kill their own children. We are warned not to use the word “kill” when we talk about this issue because it causes offense, but even this word is too soft if we are going to really call abortion what it truly is.

There are even worse euphemisms for “pro-choice” like “women’s health.” There is nothing healthy or health related about an abortion which kills one patient and emotionally, physically and spiritually scars the other for life. “Pro-choice’s” antecedent is clearly the medical term abortion. The legal antecedent of the medical term is the legal termination of human life in the womb. The moral antecedent is murder in the womb. The ontological antecedent killing an innocent human person. The Biblical antecedent is spilling the blood of Abel, which we must all remember is one of the five sins that cries out to heaven for vengeance.

Heed the Call

The above reasoning is what we ought to teach our children and those closest to us, especially our brothers and sisters in the faith. Armed with the truth, those whom we teach can teach others closest to them. If we listen to our Holy Father we must not lead with the stark truth about what “pro-choice” really means. We must begin with the aim of evangelizing and preaching the Gospel of Life.

The most difficult hurdle in the pro-life discussion with souls accustomed to untruth and the place we must begin is the fact that an unborn child is a human person endowed with certain inalienable rights, most notably the right to life. After we establish the worth of the life of the unborn child, we must follow with the importance of the life and health of the mother. All of our arguments in the public square must flow from the truth about the dignity of all human persons.

We are called to display heroic virtue to protect all human life and especially innocent human life. May God grant us the courage and grace to speak more convincingly and charitably in public about the true nature of abortion. May it be that if we establish the building blocks of intelligibility concerning the dignity and worth of each and every human person, especially the unborn, then perhaps the morally incongruent position of “pro-choice” but not pro-abortion may be exposed for the fraudulent position it is. Let us become warriors for the light of truth by putting on the mind of Christ and the armor of God.

image: Paul Keeling / Shutterstock.com

Is Jesus the Only Way to Salvation?

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 22:05

It’s not politically incorrect to believe in God.  Just so long as you acknowledge that all are God’s children, and that there are many, equally honorable paths to the Most High.

After all, that’s only fair.  How conceited it would be to claim that your way is the only way.

There is nothing really new about this attitude.  In the days of the Roman Emperors, no one had any problems with people worshiping some carpenter from Galilee who they believed to be God’s son.  As long as they’d be broad-minded enough to worship the emperor and Jupiter, and the rest of the Pantheon as well.  But instead, they believed what Peter proclaimed in this Sunday’s first reading: that there is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4).  Not Caesar, or Jupiter, or Mohammed, or Buddha.  For such arrogant closed-mindedness they were thrown to the lions.

Does this mean that other creeds have nothing to offer but damnable lies?  Not in the least.  St. Justin Martyr (d. 165) said that there were “seeds of truth” scattered about in the teaching of the great philosophers.  St. Paul honored the Athenians for their pious worship of the “unknown” God (Acts 17).

But we are not talking here about bits and pieces of truth, but about eternal salvation.  Redemption required more than some good lectures or inspiring quotes–namely, a perfect sacrifice of a perfect life, a life of infinite value.  Buddha did not lay down his life for his followers.  Neither did Mohammed.  And even if they had, they weren’t “savior” qualified in terms of possessing a sinless life of infinite (read divine) value.

Only the Word made flesh was qualified, and only he dared do it.  He is, as Sunday’s gospel teaches us, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.  But he is not exclusivist–his sheep include anyone wants to be one of his sheep, even those who formerly drove the nails into his sacred hands.  One sacrifice for all people, for all time.

Does this mean that if people haven’t heard of Him and continue to follow Mohammed or Buddha that they are certainly hell bound?  Not exactly.  For we are told that there are “other sheep” who do not yet travel with the flock but who do belong to the Shepherd.  Responding to the hidden grace of the Holy Spirit, they’ve opened their heart to the truth, wherever it may be found, and seek to do what their conscience tells them is their duty.  They may be devotees of Mohammed or Buddha because their hearts have recognized some sparks of truth and goodness in the teaching of those men, and they are hungry for truth and righteousness.  If they die good Muslims or Buddhists and are saved, they are saved not by Mohammed or Buddha, but by the only savior, the one who died for them, the unknown God that they secretly sought as they eagerly read the Koran or contemplated the bliss of nirvana.

So we should just leave them alone since they’ll be saved anyway, right?  That’s not what the gospel says.  The fact that it is possible they’ll be saved doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing.  The Shepherd wants to feed his sheep with rich fare, with nourishment adequate for the long and arduous journey home.  And he wants to protect them from the thieves and robbers waiting to ambush the sheep as they make their way down the road.  He can only do this if he can gather them into one flock that he can lead to the green pastures of the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and the rich Tradition of the Catholic Church, the nourishment that makes for not just survival, but an abundant life (John 10:10).  So it’s our duty to do what we can to introduce them to the Shepherd and let them know where the best food is to be found.

Scripture Speaks: On the Road to Emmaus

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 22:02

A Scripture lesson by a mysterious Stranger on a dusty road prepares two disciples to recognize the Risen Jesus in the breaking of bread; what did they learn?

Gospel (Read Lk 24:13-35)

Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus appeared to two “downcast” (Lk 24:17) disciples on Resurrection Day, He didn’t do the very thing that would have broken into their despair—identify Himself?  Why were these men traveling away from Jerusalem?  Surely it was because Jesus’ death there had deeply disappointed them.  They had been “hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21), and that had fallen to dust and defeat.  What was the point of staying in Jerusalem any longer?

When Jesus appeared to them, He could have set all this right.  Keeping His identity from them, however, He chose a different way.  This should catch our attention immediately.  If Jesus had revealed His identity, would they have been able to focus on what followed?  Probably not.  As it turned out, they were riveted to what He had to say; He had their full attention.  He should have ours, too.

What did He teach them?  Beginning with the Book of Genesis, the first of the five books attributed to Moses, and then in all the rest of the Old Testament, Jesus revealed to the disciples that His horrific suffering, death, and Resurrection were part of a plan already written down, hundreds of years before.  What had the appearance of terrible failure and collapse was precisely how God intended to carry out His plan.  Can we imagine the impact of this lesson on the men who first heard it?  They were Jews who had known the Scriptures all their lives, yet neither they nor their teachers had ever perceived that the Messiah would be God’s Son, Who would enter the glory of His reign as King of Israel through suffering.  How had they missed that?  Actually, it wasn’t a case of “missing.”  Those Old Testament Scriptures were waiting to be revealed.  Their true meaning was not clear until the Incarnation, even though they were there on the page.  Until Gabriel appeared to Mary in Nazareth, they were muted, shadowy, and hidden.  Jesus wanted the Emmaus disciples to see for themselves that God had not lost control of His Creation, even in the disaster they had recently experienced in Jerusalem.  Sometimes this fact makes me wonder if we ourselves now read some parts of the New Testament without full understanding until Jesus returns.  St. Paul does suggest as much, when he writes that now we see “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12).  For example, when Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Mt 5:6), are we foolish and slow of heart to believe?  What are the surprises God has in store for us as we wait for the Lord’s Second Coming?

Once the Emmaus disciples had confidence in God’s plan to keep His promises, they were ready to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Here is where the Church learned that the Table of the Word prepares us for the Table of the Eucharist.  The lectionary readings help us to “see” God’s plan at work through many ages and authors and events in Scripture; the Eucharist enables us to encounter God’s plan, Jesus.

It was the fullness of knowledge of Jesus from both Scripture and the Eucharist that dazzled the disciples:  “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32)  This “holy heartburn” should be ours at every Mass.

Possible Response:  Father, teach me to have confidence in Your plan of goodness for Your Creation.  I need to remember that You know what You’re doing.

First Reading (Read Acts 2:14, 22-33)

We know from the Gospel reading that Jesus wanted to drive away the sadness of the Emmaus disciples not by simply appearing to them (as He eventually did), but by showing them from Scripture that God had always had a plan for His Creation, and that He chose to use suffering (a just punishment on sin) to accomplish this plan.

It should not surprise us, then, to see that on the Day of Pentecost, Peter boldly preached to the Jews of Jerusalem that Jesus’ death on the Cross came “by the set plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).  We understood from the Gospel reading how important it was to Jesus, after His Resurrection, that His disciples understand this.  While it was unfolding, the Passion looked like chaos and defeat.  Afterward, Jesus taught them that it had been His victory and glory.

They got it!  That is why Peter could preach so confidently about God’s plan on Pentecost.  He went on also to explain Psalm 16 to the crowd (and this from an uneducated fisherman!).  How was Peter able to do this?  Surely what Jesus began on the Emmaus road was continued with the apostles during the forty days between His Resurrection and the Ascension.  Jesus used that time to open the Scriptures to men who could now truly understand them.  That is the only explanation for Peter’s deep insight into Psalm 16.  He saw that it was a prophetic Messianic psalm written by David, king of Israel, hundreds of years earlier.  It actually described Jesus, because it spoke of one whom death could not hold (and Peter helpfully pointed out to the crowd that David’s tomb proved he had died).  All the early preaching of the Church to the Jews drew heavily on Old Testament Scriptures.  How the apostles savored this joy!  Peter wanted the world to know:  “God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses.  Exalted at the right hand of God, He received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured Him forth, as you see and hear” (Acts 2:33).  All the promises of God are “yes” in Jesus.

Possible response:  Lord, Peter helped the Jews understand a new meaning in words of Scripture they had known all their lives.  Please give me ears to hear what Your Word is actually saying.

Psalm (Read Ps 16: 1-2a, 5, 7-11)

This is the psalm Peter used in our first reading to help the Jews understand that the Resurrection of the Messiah was always part of God’s plan:  “You will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will You suffer Your faithful one to undergo corruption” (Ps 16:10).  At the time David wrote it, he spoke of himself.  He was in a difficult situation and expected God to preserve his life.  However, Peter helps us see that David was also writing prophetically about one of his descendants, Jesus.  Peter could only have learned this from Jesus Himself.   Our fuller understanding of the psalms now enables us to see them as primarily prayers of Jesus, the true King of Israel.  In this psalm, Jesus delights in God’s care of Him as His Son, trusting God to free Him from death.  Now, of course, the psalms become our prayers, too, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body.  We, along with David and Jesus, can rejoice over our own escape from death and corruption.  Their words become ours:  “Lord, You will show us the path of life” (Ps 16:11).

Possible response:  Lord, sometimes I’m not looking for “the path of life,” because I’m busy following my own path.  Help me have eyes to see the way in which I should walk.

Second Reading (Read 1 Pet 1:17-21)

In the Acts passage, we read a description of Peter’s preaching written by St. Luke.  In the epistle, we hear directly from Peter himself.  We find once more an emphasis on God’s eternal plan that cannot be thwarted:  “[Jesus] was known before the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you” (1 Pet 1:20).  Can we fathom the meaning of this?  “Known before the foundation of the world” takes us way, way back to the beginning of God’s plan.  His desire to love and bless us began outside of time and will continue after time has ended.  His plan is goodness itself, and nothing in all Creation can derail it.  What a help this can be to us, now and always, as we look around and sometimes see only chaos and defeat, as the apostles once did.  Jesus has been revealed for us.  What should be our response to this great gift from God?  “Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” (1 Pet 1:17).  Reverence comes when we truly believe God is present with us, in control of His plan, seeing it through to its glorious end.  As Peter says, our “faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:21).

Possible response:  Father, grant me a proper reverence for You in all the circumstances of my life.  Help me stay confident that nothing catches You by surprise.

St. Peter Chanel (Priest and Martyr)

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 22:00

The son of a French peasant, St. Peter Chanel (1803-1841) became a priest as a young man, and within three years brought about a spiritual renewal in his parish by showing great devotion to the sick. However, he desired to be a missionary, and at age twenty-eight joined the Society of Mary (the Marists).

For five years Peter taught in the Marist seminary; then he and several other missionaries were sent to the New Hebrides Islands in the Pacific. Peter, a Marist brother, and an English layman were assigned to the island of Futuna, whose ruler Niuliki had only recently stamped out cannibalism. At first the missionaries were well received, and Peter devoted himself to learning the local language and adjusting to life with whalers, traders, and warring native tribes. He remained gentle and calm in spite of great physical want and an apparent lack of success as a missionary. Eventually Peter won the confidence of many natives, and he began making converts. One of his catechumens said, “He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.” However, Niuliki became increasingly suspicious, and when his own son converted to Catholicism, he reacted violently.

In 1841, three years after his arrival on Futuna, St. Peter Chanel was seized by Niuliki’s warriors and clubbed to death, becoming the first martyr of the South Seas.

Lessons

1. Our Christian example is of vital importance in converting others or in bringing about a spiritual renewal; St. Peter Chanel’s personal example testified to the truth of the gospel he proclaimed.

2. As Niuliki’s reaction shows, some people are threatened by the gospel, and may react unfavorably or even violently, as Jesus foretold (Luke 21:12-17).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Louis Marie De Montfort (1716), Priest, Founder of Montfort Fathers

St. Paul of the Cross (1775), Priest, Founder of the Passionists

When I was much younger, my father

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 07:51

When I was much younger, my father brought me to the house of a very rich relative, a non-Catholic but a very religious man. While my father talked to him, I explored his mansion with my companions. On the second floor we found a big shrine with an enormous Buddha, images of some Chinese gods, statues of Mary and Jesus. There were food, drinks and burning incense, whose scent filled the room.

Back home I asked my father about what we saw. I remember that he said that my uncle was one who never left anything to chance. So, he practiced whatever religion suited him for each particular business situation.

That experience I had as a young person has made a lasting impression on me. It did not fit my belief in the one true God, that our God is not one of many gods.

I could not understand putting together a shrine with images of Jesus and Mary, of Buddha and various Chinese gods.

We could perhaps reflect on a few questions: Are there “other gods” which exist in my life and belief? How does belief in the Lord Jesus affect my daily life? Can people see my faith in Jesus in my actions? How do I share in the great mystery of the God-made-Man?

Preparing for Mass: Taking a Cue from A Prayer for Priests

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 02:35
Preparing for Mass: Taking A Cue from A Prayer for Priests

 

A little over five years have now passed since the new translation of the Roman Missal went into effect in the various English-speaking countries. In this wonderful new edition, if you turn to the latter part of Appendix VI, there are prayers that the priest is encouraged to say before and after Mass. And one of them – the “Formula of Intent” – is, I think, very important and worth sharing with you today. Here it is:

My intention is to celebrate Mass
and to consecrate the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ
according to the Rite of Holy Roman Church,
to the praise of almighty God
and all the Church triumphant,
for my good
and that of all the Church militant,
for all who have commended themselves to my prayers
in general and in particular,
and for the welfare of Holy Roman Church.
Amen.

Should a lay person pray this prayer as-written? No. He or she does not share in Christ’s ministerial priesthood. However, by virtue of his or her baptism, a lay person does share in the priesthood of the faithful. That is to say, baptism qualifies every lay person to make a pleasing offering to God and to offer him fitting worship. Perhaps this prayer could be adapted, then? I think so.

Let’s give it a try. What if you were to come to church a good 10 minutes before Mass, and in the process of quietly recollecting yourself, recited devoutly something like the following prayer (adapted from the one above)?

My intention is to participate in this Mass fully, consciously and actively,
and to worship the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ
made present on the altar by the priest according to the Rite of Holy Roman Church,
to the praise of almighty God
and all the Church triumphant,
for my good
and that of all the Church militant,
for all who have commended themselves to my prayers
in general and in particular,
and for the welfare of Holy Roman Church.
Amen.

Might such prayer change the way that you participate in Mass? I think it would. Saying this prayer each Sunday and Holy Day, and whatever other days you might be able to go to Mass, you would begin to see yourself as part of a larger scene, so to speak: as a soldier in the Church militant who has something to bring to the battle. You might more effectively remember to pray for the many intentions you accumulate throughout each week, by consciously offering them both generally and in particular. You may look upon your baptismal priesthood in a new way: you have something to offer to God as well!

It is so important that we make a fruitful preparation for Holy Mass. If the Eucharist is, as the Church teaches, the “source and summit” of our Christian life, then let us act as if that were the case! We have probably all seen Masses that were celebrated shabbily, by ministers who seemingly did not prepare themselves well for what they were about to do. Do we participate in Mass rather shabbily ourselves?

It surely is a struggle to stay recollected and to give it our all. But it’s easier when we have taken some time to prepare beforehand. The adapted “Formula of Intent” prayer above might help. Try it and see!

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Art for this post Preparing for Mass: Taking a Cue from a Prayer for Priests: Missale Romanum, photographed by Lima, 24 September 2006, CCA-SA 2.5 Generic, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. Bryan Jerabek

Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L. is a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, currently serving as Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Chancellor of the Diocese, and Judge on the Marriage Tribunal. He received his License in Canon Law from the Pontifical College of the Holy Cross in Rome. His personal blog is fatherjerabek.com. Besides his native English, Father also speaks Spanish and Italian. He enjoys traveling and so far has been to 18 countries. Father’s present favorite food is Spanish tortilla.


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

St. Catherine of Siena: Saint of the Eucharist

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 22:07

“O Catherine, Sweet Catherine” is what I call this very powerful saint. She has captured my heart like no other.  Born in 1347 in Siena, Italy she was the 25th of 26 children of Giacomo and Lapa di Benincasa.  Many of her siblings—including her twin, Giovanna, died at a few months old. Her father was a dyer of cloth; his business was on the ground floor of his great big house with his family and employees living upstairs.

From age six, Catherine began to receive many mystical graces and made a vow of virginity to her Beloved Jesus at age twelve. When her older sister Bonaventura died in childbirth, the sixteen-year-old Catherine greatly upset her parents’ plans for her to marry Bonaventura’s widow by cutting off her hair and staging a massive fast. She had been sent by her parents to meet with a male cousin whom they greatly liked but, unbeknownst to her parents, he was sympathetic to Catherine’s desire to belong only to Jesus—it was he who urged her to cut off her hair as a sign of her love for Jesus for such an act would make her undesirable to male suitors in those days.

Catherine became a Tertiary of the Order of St. Dominic after having been denied twice and bears the initials of T.O.S.D. after her name.  After a three-year self-imposed time spent almost entirely in her bedroom as a form of a “novitiate” (not her novitiate for the Dominicans but a private formation), she was sent out in the world by God to do good.  She was known for her great devotion to caring for the sick — she was born during the time of the great plague in Europe; she would go into homes and hospitals and care for others that no-one else would.  She would wash their hideous wounds and bandage them.  When they died, Catherine would bury them with her own hands.

Catherine’s greatest gift, however, was in her ability to teach and preach the Faith and her love of the Eucharist.  In Catherine’s day it was very unusual to receive the Eucharist on a daily basis — one really had to have permission in order to do so and most times it was denied.  Catherine, however, received very many mystical graces in the Eucharist — so great was her profound love of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Visions and ecstasies often lasting 3-4 hours took place at Communion…many priests later attested to it.  In fact, her spiritual director/confessor, Fr. Raymond of Capua, tells the following of this powerful and holy woman in his biography of her:

“Pope Gregory XI…to content this longing of hers, published a Bull that granted her the right to have a priest at her disposal to absolve her and administer Communion to her and also to have a portable altar, so that she could hear Mass and receive Communion whenever and wherever she liked” (Capua, the Life of St. Catherine of Siena, p. 284).

Additionally

“For the seven year period prior to her death, Saint Catherine of Siena took no food into her body other than the Eucharist. Her fasting did not affect her energy, however. She maintained a very active life during those seven years. As a matter of fact, most of her great accomplishments occurred during that period. Not only did her fasting not cause her to lose energy, but became a source of extraordinary strength, she becoming stronger in the afternoon, after having received our Lord in His Eucharist.

It was Catherine’s tremendous love of Jesus in the Eucharist that allowed her to go out to the poor and especially the very ill and to minister to them as she did.  Wasn’t this the Eucharistic spirituality that Mother Teresa of Calcutta lived out, too — so that she could pick up the dying from the gutters of the slums, carry them to one of her clinics and care for them until they either got better or died with dignity?  Love and devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist does that. They took very seriously the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me” (v. 40).

In The Dialog of St. Catherine of Siena Jesus tells her two things about love of neighbor:

“They love their neighbors with the same love with which they love me” — Dialog 60

and

“The soul, as soon as she comes to know Me, reaches out to love her neighbors” — Dialog 89

But it was the very heart of Christ that touched Catherine most deeply.  Catherine had a very powerful devotion to the Heart of Jesus — the wound in His side.  She used to long to spiritually drink of the graces that flowed freely from His side as a child suckled milk from its mother and she used this imagery as a wellspring to nourish and increase her devotion to him.

In her book The Secret of the Heart (A Theological Study of Catherine of Siena’s Teaching on the Heart of Jesus) author Sr. Mary Jeremiah, O.P. says, “Although Catherine of Siena lived in the 14th century she is still very relevant today”. Catherine herself once wrote a letter to a religious stating that the heart of Christ is “an open storehouse, full of spices with a wealth of mercy which bestows Grace” (p. 97).

We are called to live out our Baptism to love others with the heart of Christ who himself said “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34-35).  It is not enough to love others with a warm fuzzy kind of love but as He has loved us — that is, he loved us unconditionally and unto death. To love them is not just to have feelings for them.  Catherine and all of the great saints took this command of Christ to go forth and to do for others, often at the risk of their lives.  When Catherine volunteered at the local hospital to care for a woman named Tecca who was suffering from leprosy, Catherine’s mother Lapa had great concern that she, too, would catch the hideous disease.

Indeed Catherine’s hands did develop leprosy but love for this woman (who often had an ungrateful heart for Catherine’s care) did not stop the virgin from caring for her.  When at last the woman died, Catherine herself washed and dressed the disease-ridden body, prepared it for burial, placed it tenderly in a casket, said the prayers and covered the casket with her own hands.  Whereupon, Catherine’s hands were miraculously cured and her hands appeared as more youthful than they had been.  Such is the love and faith in God that the great saints had.

Our love for Jesus in others, too, is what brings us to Heaven.  The Eucharistic Prayer II of the Liturgy implores God to bring us to “the fullness of charity” for that is where heaven is.  St. Paul urges us in his Letter to the Romans (12:1) to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice”. It is what St. Catherine did when she cried out in prayer: “O Eternal God, accept the sacrifice of my life for the Mystical Body of Thy Holy Church.” For indeed we who are baptized “are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock” according to St. Justin Martyr (d. 165) in his Dialog With Trypho the Jew.

The graces of our baptism must be nourished as often as possible with the Holy Eucharist — True Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, along with frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and time spent in Holy Adoration contemplating the one who has loved us so.  We are called to bring hope to those among us whom society considers as spiritual lepers — not only by way of our words but in our deeds as well.

Let us rise, then and “be on our way” (Jn 14:31); let us “rise from our slumber” (Rm. 13:11) to do all the good we can to those whom the world despises and who “count for nothing” (1 Cor. 1: 27). Let us pray for the intercession of this great saint, Catherine of Siena who found more joy in ministering to the poor than in all of the heavenly ecstasies, visions, miracles and other mystical phenomena that Jesus was pleased to bestow on her. Let us show our love of Jesus and ask him to use us according to his mind and purpose for the poor and those who have hurt us.

Author’s note: For prayers, devotions and other information on Catherine go here: http://www.drawnbylove.com/.  To read the great encyclical of Pope Pius XII on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, go here.

Learn to Heal Painful Memories

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 22:05

Sometimes people get stuck when they try to get over their anger or to forgive. They can’t seem to erase the terrible memory. A key way to deal with this is called healing of memories. Dennis and Matthew Linn have studied the whole process of healing memories, and they suggest that there are five stages in healing a memory, similar to the five stages of facing death outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

  1. Denial: The person refuses to admit he was hurt.
  2. Anger: The person blames others for hurting him.
  3. Bargaining: The person puts conditions on his willingness to forgive. In other words, he decides what it would take for him to forgive. Although these conditions are usually unlikely to be met, the offended person at least allows that forgive­ness might be possible.
  4. Depression: The person is down on himself for allowing this hurt to paralyze him.
  5. Acceptance: The person seeks to grow from this hurt.

The authors propose four emotions to be worked through to become healed: anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt. They describe the case of a woman named Mar­garet who was deeply hurt by being refused reentry into India, where she had been teaching as a missionary for several years.

She identified her first stage, that of denial, in her dis­missing the feeling that she would not be asked to return to India after coming to the United States on a vacation. She chose not to face that possibility with her superior.

Her anger stemmed from the fact that her superiors had blamed their refusal to bring her back to India on the fear that she might catch malaria. Her health was excellent, and she had just passed her checkup with flying colors. It was a false excuse.

Next came bargaining, and the conditions she set for herself for forgiving the offending parties. She would for­give them only if they reversed their decision, realized the harm they had caused, and became committed never to do such a thing again. They did none of these, however, and they continued to harm others in the same way.

When she moved on to depression, to acknowledging her own failure in all of this, she realized it was not the offense that had caused her misery. It was her overreaction that had brought her down. Was her value tied only to this fulfilling mission in India or in her being a child of God, deeply loved by him? And now that she was a mission director, she was beginning to act just like her former boss, happy to refuse volunteers on flimsy pretexts.

When she arrived at stage 5, acceptance, she began to see the benefits she had gleaned from being turned away from the missionary work she loved. She saw how this experience had moved her to a closer relationship with God and with other people. She realized that her value stemmed not from her work or from the opinions of others, but from her Father in heaven.

This article is from a chapter in “Overcoming Sinful Anger.” Click image to preview or order.

She sought out a priest and went to confession. She confessed simply, “I’m sorry for being away so long, heav­enly Father.” She experienced a deep peace and became quite sensitive to others who were dealing with similar hurts. She warmly comforted a woman who had also been denied readmittance to India for the same mission. In fact, this was the same woman who had denied her reentry before!

At the peak of her misery she had contracted cancer. After being bedridden for two years with the disease, and then after healing her memories, she was able to take a full-time job counseling cancer patients — this, despite the opinion of six cancer doctors that she should have died several years before.

Two things helped Margaret to heal her memories: tell­ing her story to friends, particularly to one who had told her, “You’re angry”; and telling her story to Jesus. Having heard those words from her friend, she acknowledged her anger and spoke of it to Christ. She expressed to him her unwillingness to forgive her antagonist but then began to work through the other stages to final acceptance. It was suggested that had she simply said, “I forgive her” without engaging her deep anger, she might have remained at the denial stage and never achieved healing.

Margaret moved slowly through the five stages, because her friends and Jesus didn’t rush her. She was able to take time to move from stage to stage, and thus her healing was deep. The authors of this study, however, caution against insisting that each stage be formally experienced. It is pos­sible to skip certain stages, according to the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Guilt

Margaret had gone through many sleepless nights, anxious over her situation. This anxiety was an indicator that she was “emotionally overloaded.” She passed through her stage of denial to come to realize the source of her anxiety. What had made her anxious was the fact that she had to get a new job, find new friends, and pursue a whole new way of life.

Her anxiety began to subside when she spoke with Jesus and her friends about her fear, anger, and guilt over her situation. Her main fear was that she was going nowhere; her existence was without direction. Once she identified what she was afraid of, she was ready to deal with her anger and guilt.

Her anger was aimed at the boss who out of envy pre­vented her from returning to this job she loved in India. Her guilt stemmed from failing to act on her premonition that her missionary job might be terminated and for plac­ing too much importance on her India activities. Life is much more than a good job.

As she passed through her fear, anger, and guilt, she got to the bargaining stage. There she lowered her terms for forgiving her offending supervisor. She forgave the woman, despite the fact that she had not backpedaled at all regarding Margaret. Margaret reached the acceptance stage by seeing the good that could flow from her rejec­tion. She realized that her importance comes from God, not from persons or from a job. And she could use her own experience to become more sensitive to others, and even to her own petty treatment of missionary volunteers. By apologizing to those volunteers, she even developed many new friends.

The authors explain how the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus provides a pattern for healing. The disciples went through anxiety, anger, fear, and guilt, and then they experienced the unconditional love and kind­ness of Jesus. Once he had explained the Scriptures about himself, they felt forgiven and they appreciated all they had been through. They returned to Jerusalem with their hearts healed.

One final story of the many given by the Linn brothers involved a physical healing through the healing of memo­ries of a woman called Agnes. The vision in her right eye had been growing worse for fourteen years. Her left eye was beginning to fail as well. She attended a workshop for healing of memories, where the participants prayed over her. She needed to heal the memory of her father, who had cut off all communication with her forty-five years before, when she had entered a nursing career. She tried not to think of this memory since she saw it as the root of her sad life without her father’s love.

On day 1, Agnes expressed to God her anger at her father’s abandoning her. But she also expressed her own guilt at not having contacted her father. On day 2, she brought herself back forty-five years to the onset of the wound her father had caused and imagined God the Father embracing her in unconditional fatherly love. She felt her sadness fade as the Father continued to hold her. Then the Father held her hand and asked her to give that same lov­ing forgiveness to her father, deceased fifteen years already at that point.

On day 3, she tried to deepen her love for her father, and she tried to see what blessings she might have received from her difficult life without him. She took comfort in the way her separation had moved her to pursue a strong relationship with God through prayer and to serve patients in their loneliness for thirty-eight years.

As her memory began to be healed, so did her eye! It improved gradually each day, and by the end of the workshop, she was able to read to the other participants the passage in Mark 8:22–26 about the blind man who re­gained his sight gradually when Jesus laid hands on him.

Agnes later wrote to Fr. Linn to express her gratitude. She was very happy to have received her eyesight back, but she added, “Oh, the deep healing of memories I have had with my father is beyond any blessing I have ever experienced or expect to experience.”

You can use these same steps to heal your own painful memories.

  1. Consider whether you are in denial that you were hurt. If you are, admit this denial so that you may move to the second step.
  2. Get deeply in touch with the feeling resulting from the hurt.
  3. Decide on what terms you might forgive the of­fender. This bargaining, of course, is not terribly virtuous, but its value is that you concede that you might indeed forgive. It is an intermediate step, which is better than the initial position of completely refusing to forgive.
  4. Redirect your anger at yourself for allowing this wound to hold you back from living a productive, anger-free life.
  5. Acknowledge the hurt as an opportunity for growth, and identify how it has helped you de­velop virtue. Name the benefits you reaped from the event, especially the ability to be more sensi­tive to others who have been hurt.

By following these steps you will truly be able to forgive those who have hurt you, and you will find some peace about the past. In doing so, you will likely feel anxiety because this hurt has repercussions and will or could cause trouble in your life. You might go through a period of fear that you may be unable to forge ahead in your life. You might fear that this hurt will paralyze you and keep you from getting beyond this and living a productive life (es­pecially if the hurt involved a major disappointment). You must acknowledge your anger at the person who hurt you. To deny your anger while feeling it deeply within would only delay the healing.

A necessary emotion in the process of healing is guilt over the fact that you let this bother you so much. This is not the unhealthy guilt that you hang on to long after your reform, a guilt that stems from pride. This is the healthy guilt that leads to a change in behavior, analogous to that needed for a good confession. This guilt inspires you to pro­ceed in healing your memories and accepting that the event can be used to help you grow and become a better person.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Morrow’s Overcoming Sinful Angerwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

A Light in Darkness

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 22:01

At the Saint John Paul II Shrine, just up the road from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC, a series of exhibits chronicles the life of the holy Pontiff and his significance for the Church and the world. The first room, which gives an overview of the chronological tour from his birth in Poland (ninety-six years ago today) through his death in Rome, contains the inscription, “A Light in Darkness.” This title, a reference to the Scriptures about Jesus, shows how the saint brought the light of Christ to the darkened world of the past century.

First, the pope brought light to his native land of Poland. Born shortly after the nation of Poland regained its independence for the first time in over a century, Karol Wojtyła entered university studies as a literature major, but after the Nazis invaded the country and shut down the school, he found his vocation to the priesthood while working at a chemical plant. Continuing his studies at a clandestine seminary as the Nazis gave way to the Communists from the Soviet Union, the future Pontiff sought to restore the light of Christ to his afflicted nation. This was probably best seen years later when Wojtyła was a cardinal: in the Soviet-built “model town” of Nowa Huta, deliberately constructed without a church in sight, Wojtyła strove—and succeeded—to establish a Catholic parish.

Next, he was part of a movement in which Poland shone on the whole world. In an age that saw the earth ravaged by two world wars and several totalitarian regimes, the nation of Poland, caught directly in the crossfire, led the way spiritually for all nations. This article by Fr. Dwight Longenecker details how the fearless leadership of Pope John Paul II, along with the mystical insights on the mercy of God given to St. Faustina Kowalska (a nun whom the Pope would canonize), would remind the world of the saving and loving presence of the God who had become largely forgotten.

John Paul’s efforts were most strikingly displayed during his first visit back to Poland after being elected Pope. On the Vigil of Pentecost, during the dark of night, with many young people surrounding him in the town square of Krakow, the Pope exclaimed in prayer, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth—of this land!” The same Holy Spirit who raised Wojtyła to the papacy would work through him to encourage the Solidarity movement to oppose the atheistic Communist state set up in Poland, and ultimately bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain across Europe. Poland, and the whole world in turn, would be renewed by the consoling power of the Paraclete to heal a world broken by sin and its effects. The Pope would then write, thirty years ago today, of this same Spirit’s work through the sacrifice that reunites God with the human race:

One can say that the Holy Spirit is the “fire from heaven” which works in the depth of the mystery of the Cross. Proceeding from the Father, he directs toward the Father the sacrifice of the Son, bringing it into the divine reality of the Trinitarian communion. If sin caused suffering, now the pain of God in Christ crucified acquires through the Holy Spirit its full human expression. Thus there is a paradoxical mystery of love: in Christ there suffers a God who has been rejected by his own creature: “They do not believe in me!”; but at the same time, from the depth of this suffering—and indirectly from the depth of the very sin “of not having believed”—the Spirit draws a new measure of the gift made to man and to creation from the beginning. In the depth of the mystery of the Cross, love is at work, that love which brings man back again to share in the life that is in God himself. (Dominum et Vivificantem, 41)

This merciful love of God for His suffering people, all across the face of the earth, is therefore best seen in the sacrifice of the Cross, in which God the Son took on our weak, mortal human flesh and entered into our suffering. St. John Paul II definitely stayed close to the Cross: intellectually, through his studies and writing on spiritual theology; symbolically, with the humble metal crosier (adorned with a simple crucifix) that he always carried; and physically, not only in Poland’s time of affliction, but especially in the last days of his life.

Let us also embrace the Cross and find consolation whenever we find ourselves in a time of darkness.  Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the “Light of our hearts,” the Son and Light of the world reconciles us to the Father of lights, for “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

image: Pope John Paul II at old Yankee Stadium, New York City By Thomas J. O’Halloran, photographer, U.S. News & World Report magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

St. Zita

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 22:00

Zita lived in the thirteenth century near Lucca, in Tuscany. She was reared in a devout Catholic family and was a joyful person. When she was twelve years old she went to live with and serve the Fatinelli family of Lucca. Because Zita was so humble and sweet natured as well as very pious, she was well thought of by her employers. This did not make her popular with her fellow servants, however. Zita was not bothered by this though. She was not interested in pleasing man, but God; and by serving God, she naturally would be serving others in humility. She maintained her joyful character even when mistreated by her fellow workers and sometimes her employers as well. This did not go unnoticed and after a while, she gained their respect and even admiration. In fact, she was soon made the supervisor of all the household affairs and was in charge of the other servants.

Zita could easily have used her position of authority to seek revenge on those coworkers who in the past had persecuted her, but this was not her nature. Instead, she treated everyone with love and fairness. She was not tolerant of abuses or vices among the household staff and would rebuke them, but in a loving manner.

Zita ended up staying with the Fatinelli family for forty-eight years. She became like a member of the family to them. She was so trusted that she could take time to go to daily Mass and attend to the poor in the nearby villages. Her employers even allowed her to share food from their household with those who were poverty stricken. Zita came and went as she pleased, never neglecting her household chores or the needs of her employers, and still found time to help others. She not only helped the poor but also visited the sick and those in prison, giving all hope and spreading the gospel message. She became well known in the Lucca area for all her works of charity and her joyful nature. It is said that she also had heavenly visions.

Zita died on April 27, 1271. Numerous miracles were reported to have taken place by her intercession.

Lessons

Zita’s tomb was discovered in 1580 in the Church of San Frediano. The area of Lucca is now referred to as Santa Zita in her honor. St. Zita is known as the patron saint of domestic workers.

Prayer

Heavenly Redeemer, may we seek to serve You as St. Zita did, through service to her brothers and sisters on earth. We pray that we do not despise authority but in humility and love, seek to do Your Will by serving others. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Peter Canisius (1579), Priest, Doctor

 

How Sanctifying Grace Makes us Like God

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 02:35
How Sanctifying Grace Makes us Like God

With the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of supernatural grace makes one’s whole existence holy. This doctrine of deification, or divinization, involves a true sharing in God’s life that does not diminish our created dignity but raises our freedom above its natural capacities.

To be assimilated into the life of God in a way that perfects our humanity, the human person, as a creature, needs a gift that elevates, transforms, and unites it to the Holy Trinity. Sanctifying grace given through a new presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul is a participation in the life of God in the sense that it implicates and lifts up the very substance and nature of what it means to be a human being in the very life of God.

The theological tradition says that this sharing in divine life has a physical, formal, analogous, and accidental character. This seems odd to affirm and can easily be misunderstood. A proper understanding of these terms, however, opens up the mystery of sanctifying grace and protects it from dangerous and reductionist lines of reasoning.

We say that grace is an accidental participation in the life of God because even those who do not know God and who have rejected grace still have a soul and remain in the Divine Image. Whether or not someone has the gift of grace, his life is sacred and his dignity calls for respect. Furthermore, sanctifying grace does not physically change a human being into a wholly different creature. Human nature receives the life of God as a secondary reality, a second nature. This means that grace builds up and perfects humanity but does not replace it. This also means that as we accept the gift of grace, our frailty and inadequacy do not magically disappear. Instead, through grace we discover in our weaknesses that the power of God is brought to perfection (see 2 Cor. 12:9).

Why do we affirm that grace is an analogous participation in divine life? Analogous refers to the true relation, the harmony, the due proportion that grace establishes between creatures and God. Grace does not make us God by nature. If it did, we would cease to be human; we would cease to be at all. There would be no question of harmony or relation between humanity and divinity, between creation and creator.

To be analogous, to be in harmony, to be in due proportion requires that the soul who freely accepts sanctifying grace perfects its unique individuality before God. Affirming that grace is an analogous participation in the life of God is therefore essential for understanding justification. Grace, because it is analogous, gives real standing before God, because without standing there is no real relation. The gift of God is an analogous participation in the life of God insofar as it brings new and deeper meaning to the personal existence of the believer, establishing a real relation, while animating, healing, and perfecting the uniqueness of the individual before the Lord.

The more infused our humanity is with divine life, the greater our union with God and at the same time, the more fully human we become. Grace makes us like God to unite us to Him. This increased likeness does not diminish our humanity, and our union with God does not deprive us of our freedom. Instead the closer we draw to God, the greater freedom we enjoy, and the more we are like Him, the more the uniqueness of who we are delights His heart.

An analogous participation in God’s life opens up an understanding of relational mysticism that stands over and against various mysticisms of identity. Many systems propose an absolute being or absolute emptiness that either absorbs or annihilates the individual soul. In pantheistic systems, like that proposed by Hegel, the value of the individual is only its part in an overall process. Here, a measurable outcome yet to be realized surmounts the uniqueness of the individual: no soul is to be saved, but instead individual freedom must be overcome, made to conform. Our participation in God’s life, on the contrary, is not about mere compliance, but about a tender friendship with God, a sacred solidarity with the whole reality of heaven.

What do theologians mean by the term physical? In this context, physical does not mean simply something visible or bodily or material but instead refers to something invisible and spiritual. Grace works not extrinsic to the soul’s natural powers, but intrinsically through them, renewing the soul’s very substance. God’s nature does not impose itself from without but lifts up and expands the soul’s interiority so that the Divine Persons might dwell in it.

To participate physically in the life of God implies that the soul can be animated by a life infinitely deeper and fuller than the one that is its own by nature. It can have a second nature, a new nature within its nature, a life that is “not my own” (cf. Gal. 2:20). In the life of grace, frail human nature is physically caught up in and transformed by the immensity of divine life.

How is grace a formal participation in divine life? The form of grace is divine — it comes from God and is in God, not man. To say participation in divine life is formal affirms that the grace that makes us holy is a higher reality, above our human nature, capable of lifting our created nature into the very life of God. Divine life is a gift that is over the soul, above human existence, and its divine form lifts the soul above the limits of human nature without harming the integrity of our humanity. To say that grace is a physical and formal participation in the life of God is to say that all that is most noble, good, and true about being human is under the influence of this higher power.

This kind of participation in divine life subordinates everything that can be felt and touched, understood and imagined in human existence so that nothing can separate us from the love of God. New powers of faith, hope, and love, infused virtues, and an array of spiritual gifts lift merely human works above themselves. The grace that makes us holy elevates, transforms, and unites to God that part of us that is deeper than our bodily existence and even our psychological powers, so that through cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we can actually give praise to God. Thus, grace as a physical and formal sharing in God’s life refers to those depths and horizons of human existence and being that no science can adequately measure or examine.

Sanctifying grace involves the deepest center of the soul, reaching deeper into our human substance than any feeling, any enlightened state of consciousness, or any attitude, although it can influence all of this in the powers of the soul. This gift of holiness is an intrinsic principle at work within our nature: not an external force, not an extrinsic influence, not a power imposed over and against the natural greatness of humanity. In the very center of our being is where God physically implicates our frail human “I” with His omnipotent divine “Thou,” tenderly setting apart the very substance of who we are, subtly consecrating our very life-principle itself so that we can offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise.

In the form of heavenly things, the grace that makes us holy involves a sacrificial self-emptying of our humanity and a divinely humble lifting up of our frailties. Not limiting itself to the greatest and most powerful, the perfection of this eternal life is revealed in our weakness and failures. It is not the product of human effort or industry, but of trust and complete surrender. Only Uncreated Love can create this new life in the soul, but to do so, the soul must die to itself out of devotion to its crucified Master.

Through this blessing from above, God reveals His glory while protecting the integrity of human nature. Sanctifying grace raises the wonder of human dignity, helping man and woman see the greatness of each one’s created purpose. This gift from above commits the saint more deeply to promoting what is good and noble in the created order even as he is drawn closer to the Lord’s uncreated mystery.

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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 sanctifying grace: La Sainte Trinite (The Holy Trinity), Jean Bourdichon, 1503-1508, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Fire from Above, used with permission.

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.

236. The Lord Draws Near (Luke 24:13-35)

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 02:30

“This glorious son of the carpenter, who set up his cross above the all-consuming world of the dead, led the human race into the abode of life.” – St. Ephraem

Luke 24:13-35: That very same day, two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast. Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth,’ they answered, ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’

Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself. When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; but, he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’ They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him at the breaking of bread.

Christ the Lord Leaders know how to motivate, how to inspire. The greater their leadership capacity, the deeper the motivations they stir up. A great teacher not only knows the subject well but also spreads a passion for it among the students. A great statesman buoys up the hopes of citizens in times of trouble and inspires them to self-sacrifice for the common good. How much more in the case of Christ the Lord! These downcast disciples had given up. They had left everything to follow Jesus, but the events of Good Friday had dashed their hopes, and they were walking sadly back to their old lives. A few words from their Leader, however, an opening of their eyes to share his vision, and suddenly their heavy hearts were “burning” again, so much so that they retraced their seven-mile trek in the dark without complaint.

If we truly wish to follow Christ, he will lead us as no one ever could; if we attentively listen to him, he will stir up our hearts with a wisdom this world can never give.

Christ the Teacher The Risen One was recognized “at the breaking of the bread.” That was one of the names the early Church used to refer to the celebration of the Eucharist. The gestures of Christ at supper with these two disciples mirror those of the Last Supper and have been perpetuated in those of the Mass: “He took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” Do you want to find the Lord? Do you want to know him? Do you want to discover the inexhaustible riches of life in communion with him? He teaches us how: come to him in the Eucharist.

Our primary encounter with Christ in the Eucharist takes place through the sacrifice of the Mass, which makes Christ’s unique sacrifice offered on the cross at Calvary present for us in the here-and-now of our lives. Notice how closely the structure of the Mass follows the structure of this encounter between Christ and the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

  • Christ comes to meet them on the road; through the priest, Christ comes to meet us right where we are. In the midst of our sorrows and joys he is present, veiled behind the personality of the priest, but really there through the sacrament of Holy Orders.
  • Christ then explains the scriptures to them, showing how they point to him, and relating them to the disciples’ present needs; and what is the first part of Mass (the readings and the homily) if not a reenactment of this walk to Emmaus?
  • Finally, Christ joins them for the evening meal and breaks bread with them; here is the second part of Mass, the Eucharistic prayers, the consecration of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, and the reception of Holy Communion. To have the privilege of participating in the celebration of the Eucharist is to encounter the Crucified and Risen One, and to let him set our hearts on fire.

Christ the Friend “Jesus himself came up and walked by their side.” Christ continues to do this every day in the Blessed Sacrament. In every Mass, in every Tabernacle, he draws near to us and walks by our side. In Holy Communion, he continues to share his life with us. He is truly present, reaching out to us, speaking to our hearts, behind the thin veil of faith. If only we, like these two disciples, are honest and courageous enough to open our hearts to him and invite him into the secret places of our souls, we will see him anew, and his love will burn within us.

Jesus: I know when you are downcast and sad. I know when the shadow of the cross and Good Friday make you turn away from Jerusalem and head back to your old ways. I know, and I care, more than you can imagine. I am always drawing near to you. I speak in the quiet voice of your conscience, where only you can hear me. Sometimes I speak to you through the words of a friend or a verse from the Bible. Whenever you hear my voice, and you know when you do, you have only to welcome it, to make your prayer the same as these two disciples who pressed me to stay with them. Will I ever deny such a request, I who came all the way down from heaven just because I couldn’t stand being far away from you? This is why I came; this is why I died; this is why I rose again – to stay with you.

Christ in My Life I have chosen to follow you, Lord, and no one else. I know it’s only because you called me, but I have made the choice. You didn’t force me. And I want to be true to that choice. You are the Lord. You are the fount of wisdom, forgiveness, love, and life that fills the world with whatever goodness it has. Make me a channel of your grace, a riverbed for your flowing fountain…

The struggles of my life seem so irrelevant sometimes when I go to Mass. But how could they be? Do you not care about them? Dear Lord, it’s a mystery to me, this passing life, so busy but so out of focus. Help me to know in each moment what I should do and how I should be. I have only this life to live, and I want to live it well…

Stay with me, Lord. How I need a friend who knows me through and through and doesn’t judge me! How I need a coach who knows my strengths and weaknesses and who knows how to profit from the former and shore up the latter! I feel such a burning desire to do something worthwhile, to do more – you put that desire in my heart. Now show me what to do with it…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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Art for this post on Luke 24:13-35: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Jesus und der Gang nach Emmaus (Jesus and the Walk to Emmaus), Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939), turn of the 19th/20th century, PD-worldwide age, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.


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

Easter Joy: Eight Days Later

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 22:07

Christ is Risen!

Such joy we have known! “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25). Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life. Darkness and death and every sorrow have been extinguished by Christ our light and our life and our joy. Rising up from his tomb, Christ recreates us who were not created for death but for life.

We have come to today, the eighth day of Pascha – sometimes called Antipascha (not to be confused with antipasto) which means opposite of Pascha, that is, on the opposite side of Bright Week. Historically, those who were baptized on Pascha would wear their white baptismal robes for eight days, until today. For this reason, today was also once called White Sunday. So this day is connected to baptism.

We have come here through Holy Week, Pascha, and Bright Week. Our liturgical remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection reminds us also of our own death and resurrection, already accomplished in our baptism. It is by baptism that we die with Christ so that we might rise with Christ. Christ himself is our true, brilliant, radiant, and pure baptismal garment. It is with him that we are clothed. Clothed with the risen Christ, we live again and live forever with him and in him.

Baptized into Christ, we know true freedom and forgiveness.  He returns us to our first natural innocence. On Pascha, the holy doors – the gates of paradise – are flung open and they remain open all of Bright Week. During this time, we see the Lord more clearly and more familiarly. There is no locked door between us. It is as if he walks with us again in the garden. It is as if the Lord Jesus has come and stands among us as he did among his disciples even though the doors were locked. “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20) and we are filled with joy throughout Bright Week. Though, sadly, a child of my acquaintance said on Bright Wednesday, “All the excitement was on the first day, and the excitement is wearing off now.” Well, that’s one person’s experience.

Today, the holy doors – the gates of heaven – are closed again. What once closed the gates of paradise was sin. What opens them again is forgiveness. When Jesus stood among his disciples after his resurrection, “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:22-23). So Jesus Christ has given from his Father to his disciples – his Church – the life of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins that comes with that. So now, even though sins still shut the doors to paradise, forgiveness, especially through the holy mysteries of the Church, opens them again.

The holy mystery of baptism washes away our sins (Acts 22:16). We are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom 6:3-4) – into the life of Christ – and we are chrismated and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit – to live the life of the Spirit. The doors to heaven are wide open to the newly illuminated.

When we sin again after baptism, there is for us the necessary second baptism of holy repentance and confession. Go often to confession; it is a way to begin to see God in your life. When we receive the holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, as our newly illuminated soon will for the first time, it is “for the remission of our sins and for life everlasting.” Come often to holy communion; it is a way to begin to see God in your life.

There is also the mystery of holy anointing, which all who came and prepared for received on Holy Wednesday. It is for the healing of all the sicknesses of our souls and bodies and also for the forgiveness of sins. James asks us, “Is any among you sick?” The answer is, none of us is totally free of physical or spiritual illness in this life.  Therefore, “Let [us] call for the presbyters of the church, and let them pray over [us], anointing [us] with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save [us], and the Lord will raise [us] up; and if [we have] committed sins, [we] will be forgiven” (James 5:14-15).

All of these holy mysteries forgive our sins and unite us again to God. They open the holy doors and offer us a glimpse of God.

Now again we will close and open the holy doors as we did before – occasionally offering fleeting glimpses of the paradise from which we were once shut out. These glimpses present us with what really matters — an image of God in his heavens, into which he beckons us. To see God is to be with God. Θεωρία leads to Θέωσις – the vision of God to union with God.

Thomas wanted to see God. When the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” he said, “Unless I see…, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Eight days later, he does see and does believe. And, seeing the Lord, says, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Other men, seeing Jesus, failed to see God. But Thomas, seeing Jesus risen from the dead, sees God. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe,” says Jesus (John 20:29). What shall their blessing be? At least in part, I believe, it will be to see God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The Model of Perfect Motherhood—and we know so little about her

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 22:05

When I was working at an evangelical university, there were countless devotions and sermons about the Proverbs 31 woman. She was the source of inspiration for wives and mothers, while Mary was presented (if at all) simply as a woman that let God work through her, just as He does through us all.

Before coming to the faith, that made sense. My husband once suggested that Mary was more worthy of imitation, to which I responded, “But there’s almost nothing about her in the Bible.”

How can you venerate someone about whom you know so little? There’s nothing but the “yes,” the Magnificat, anxiety over losing Jesus, and “do whatever he tells you.” But how did she care for her husband? Her son? Did she make things and sell them? Did she rise before dawn? I wanted particulars.

After giving birth to a cantankerous baby, I really wanted particulars. At that point I did desire conversion, and found myself wishing I knew more about Mary. What would Mary do? Was Jesus a good sleeper? He must have been. What was her response to criticism, to people wondering why she didn’t have more children?

But we don’t know those particulars about her. She points always and only to God, to her Son.

Her “transparency” is probably for our own good, because particulars irritate. Knowing someone has money is different than finding out they buy $375 t-shirts. Just like the Pinterest mom with the made-from-scratch sunflower cupcakes and banners made of bunting: the details annoy us.

And certainly knowing the particulars of how God’s most perfect creature navigated her vocation would inspire nothing short of frustration and irritation in us imperfect, struggling mothers, with our equally imperfect children.

Instead, God has given us the aspects of the Virgin Mary’s life that we need to focus on: her fiat, and her constant obedience to God.

That is all we need, because that is more than enough to grapple with. It outshines anything the internet offers by way of perfectly imagined motherhood. And we know, through the life of her Son, exactly what that “yes” entailed. We can read His story, and know the incredible cost of her obedience, and of our own.

And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more. Luke 12:48

Blessings often come with a corresponding sacrifice, a reality we’re all too aware of—which is why it is so irritating when someone seems to have skipped out on the hard stuff of life and still received so much. But with Mary there is no question. Her perfection was necessary for her to accept her blessing—one that came with swords and left her standing at the foot of the Cross.

We are not jealous of her; we do not desire to be her. It’s enough to desire to be like her, in the smallest of ways, in our everyday moments of surrender to God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is loved and venerated because she accepted all of it, graciously, thankfully—an interior disposition that is elusive at best for most of us. It’s easy to imagine what we might do with money or fame, but nothing short of awe-inspiring to try—in the smallest of ways—to be like Our Lady, to imagine what it was like to be her.

Even while living in the world, the heart of Mary was so filled with motherly tenderness and compassion for men that no-one ever suffered so much for their own pains, as Mary suffered for the pains of her children.
—Saint Jerome

The Eucharist Calls to All of Us

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 22:02

I am a reluctant church-goer.  Even now, after all I’ve learned and come to believe about the nature of God, it is sometimes still a massive act of will to drag myself out of bed Sunday morning, and get my sorry self to Mass.  Add the daunting prospect of clothing six children and finding matching shoes for all of them- all of them!- and that, my friends, is a recipe for defeat.

When I was cobbling together my own DIY New Age spirituality, things were simple.  There was no church other than what I said was a church, and so Sunday mornings were spent sleeping in.  It wasn’t until God started leading me back down the path of Christianity that the church issue reared its head once again.

As a petulant teenager, I was dragged to our Presbyterian church by my mom, in a dance familiar to every mother of adolescents, no matter what religious creed.  I didn’t want to go, because I didn’t know why I should go.  It was part arrogance, part human nature;  we were designed to worship God with our intellect as well as our soul- if the “why should I go to church?” isn’t logically answered, we recoil from the experience.

So, as an adult, once again inching my way toward Christianity, I kept asking myself why bother going to church?  I lived in Mississippi at the time, and as any Southerner can tell you, church culture is a VERY BIG DEAL.  “I don’t go to church because I don’t wanna” is not exactly something you can say to your neighbors.  Not unless you want to become their pet project and suffer the full force of their spiritual search and rescue efforts.

I didn’t want the full court press of my well-meaning neighbors, but I was curious about why they were so keen on getting me to church.  What was the source of this mysterious ambition that got them up out of their Sunday morning beds and into a hard pew for a couple of their hard earned weekend hours?

It didn’t make sense to me.  Some people would talk about the spectacular “music ministry” at their church, which is a different way of saying their church had a Christian rock concert every Sunday.  But as far as I was concerned,  I could rock out to KLOVE in the privacy of my own car and belt out  worship music with a sincerity I never could in public.

Other people would heap praises on their pastor and the newest “sermon series” that was going on, but thanks to YouTube, I’ve got a wealth of rousing reverends at my fingertips and on my schedule.  Shoot, I could even listen in bed!

Reason after reason that I was given for church attendance fell flat.  There was nothing that was a big enough payoff to get my lazy self out of bed and into a brick-and-mortar building.  As far as I could see, the church experience with its music ministries and sermon series and fellowship groups was nothing more than an extension of the Church of Me, and I’d hoped to find something deeper in Christianity.

And then I came across the scandalous, weird, deeply shocking and utterly Catholic concept of the Eucharist.  The teaching that Jesus was really serious when He told us to eat of His Body and drink of His Blood and that Catholics took Him at His word was so profoundly, unflinchingly bold that it took my breath away.  Certainly it couldn’t be true, God Himself couldn’t possibly humiliate Himself by dwelling among us as a fragile wafer and wine.  It couldn’t be true, but at least it was, for the very first time, a valid reason for going to church.

Not for me, of course!  That would be absurd.  But for those Catholics, those oddballs who believed the Lord of the Universe was there, waiting for them, at Mass; well, for those people church suddenly made sense.  It was the one place in the whole wide world where they could have a physical encounter with the Divine, and if that wasn’t reason enough to get out of bed on a Sunday, then you weren’t really looking to meet Him anyway.

But I was looking for God.  I’d been desperately searching for Him for decades, and suddenly, here were people claiming to offer a face-to-face meeting.  The Eucharist.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I read everything I could about it.  I was floored when I realized that from the beginning of the Church, the faithful understood the Real Presence to be true.  That worship flowed from and through this Eucharist- the “source and summit” of the Christian faith.

You can guess the rest of the story.  Once I had a concrete reason for church attendance, it wasn’t long until I joined the one place that could grant me access to it.  And that reason has been enough for me ever since- no matter how  bad the music or dull the homily or hard the seats or soft the bed.  I think about how Christ Himself is waiting for me in that Tabernacle, offering Himself to me, and my heart softens and I want to go and worship Him- even if it means overcoming my selfish, lazy nature and tracking down matching shoes for six children to do so.

St. Ludger

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 22:00

Born in Friseland in the year 743, Ludger was part of a very noble family. At an early age Ludger went to stay in a monastery where he was taught by St. Gregory, a disciple of St. Boniface. Gregory’s piety made a great impression on the young Ludger and gave him the desire to follow in his footsteps. Because of Ludger’s progress in his spirituality and his studies, Gregory gave him the clerical tonsure.

Ludger then went to England where he continued his studies for the next four years under Alcuin, rector of a well-known and highly respected school at York. There Ludger applied himself to the study of Scriptures and the early Church Fathers. In 773, he returned home. Three years later St. Gregory died and his successor, Alberic, compelled Ludger to receive the holy order of priesthood. Ludger spent the next several years of his priesthood preaching and converting many pagans. He also founded many monasteries and built several churches.

When Saxons invaded the country Ludger was compelled to leave Friseland. He went to Rome and sought the advice of Pope Adrian. Discerning that God’s will was for him to retire, for the next three and a half years he did just that by going to Mount Cassino where he wore the habit and followed the rule of the Order, but did not make any religious vows. In 787, when Charlemagne conquered the Saxons and took back Friseland, Ludger returned and converted many Saxon pagans to the Catholic faith. Hildebald, archbishop of Cologne, ordained him bishop of Mimigard, a city that later became known as Munster, in the year 802.

Ludger was a Scripture scholar and read to his disciples every day from the Bible. He was very pious, always wearing a hair shirt concealed under his other clothing. He also fasted very often. He was generous to the poor, but held himself on a strict budget, never wasting his income and only allowing himself necessities. His principal care was to have a good and efficient clergy. To a great extent, he educated his students personally, and generally took some of them on his missionary tours. Since his sojourn at Monte Cassino, Ludger had entertained the idea of founding a Benedictine monastery. During the past years he had been looking for a suitable location and acquiring property. At length he decided upon Werden. It was only in 799 that building began in earnest, and in 804 that he consecrated the church.

On Passion Sunday, 809, Ludger heard Mass at Coesfeld (one of the churches he had had built), then went to Billerbeck, where at nine o’clock he again preached, and said his last Mass. That evening he expired peacefully and went to be with his Master.

Lessons

St. Ludger always put God above all else. When he was in prayer he refused to leave his meditation for anyone or anything. Once he was called to the court of the emperor, but told the chamberlain who came for him that he would have to wait until he finished his prayers. Several times the chamberlain returned for him but he was still at prayer. The courtiers considered this an act of contempt for his highness the emperor. Finally when Ludger appeared the emperor asked why he had taken so long to come. Ludger replied that while he held the emperor in the highest regard, God was in supreme authority and above even the emperor and thus was due the greater respect. He went on to say that while we are occupied with God, all else was to be erased from our minds and our total attention given to our Lord.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, may we learn from St. Ludger this great lesson of giving You our full attention while in prayer. Lord, forgive us for the times that we are easily distracted or so quickly leave you to answer a phone or talk to a friend. We thank you for your patience and mercy, dear Father, and pray that we are daily conformed to be more like your saints in heaven. In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Sts. Cletus and Marcellinus (304), Popes, Martyrs

Our Lady of Good Counsel

St. Alsa (Aldobrandesca) (1309), Widow

Evangelization and the Interior Life

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 02:35
Evangelization and the Interior Life

The Avila Institute offers courses in spiritual formation for the faithful from all sorts of different backgrounds. We aim to instruct the faithful in the rich mystical tradition of the Church so that they may grow closer to Jesus Christ, the source of their salvation, and share Him with others. An upcoming course on evangelization and the interior life is one of many courses we offer that investigate the richness of the mystical tradition. We think of our mission as our answer to Christ’s command to Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep.” 

What does the interior life have to do with evangelization? In short, everything. However, this truth is often missed by the faithful in the modern world. In today’s world focused on productivity and technology, it can be easy to believe that the active life is more important than the contemplative life. The world, especially in American culture, tells us that time spent not being productive is time wasted. From an economic point of view, leisure is good, but it is good only because it allows us to rest so that we may be productive again. In the eyes of the world, prayer is seen as unproductive. From a strictly economic viewpoint, it should only be something we do in order to rest from our productive activities. However, our faith tells us that the spiritual life is what we were created for, and thus our prayer lives become primary to anything else we do.

The culture of productivity can spill over into our spiritual lives. Sometimes we think that the spiritual life is about the service we do for Christ and His Church. We can get so caught up in the work of our apostolates that we forget about the necessity of the interior life. When we do this, we fall prey to forgetting about the person who is the basis of all our prayer and work: Jesus Christ. Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, in his book The Soul of the Apostolate, borrows from Cardinal Mermillod, who calls this line of thinking “the heresy of good works”. Chautard states that the heresy of good works is, practically speaking, a reliance on oneself over the grace of God.

The importance of the interior life is a major theme of Chautard’s book. He introduces the topic saying:

“May these humble pages go out to the soldiers of Christ, who, consumed as they are with zeal and ardor for their noble mission, might be exposed, because of the very activity they display, to the danger of not being, above all, men of interior life.”

He goes on to say that those apostles who do not remain men of interior life are subject to the danger of serious spiritual collapse. The interior life, says Chautard, is essential for an apostolate to bear fruit. If you were to ask any Doctor of the Church or other expert on the spiritual life, they would say the same thing.

If you want to serve the Church and win souls for Christ, you must first and foremost develop a rich interior life. It is from this rich interior life that the entire active life springs forth. It is from a rich interior life that we achieve organic unity in our active and contemplative lives and incorporate Christ into all that we think, say, and do. Evangelization and the interior life cannot be separated from each other.

We strive to live this out at the Avila Foundation where employees are expected to pray daily for the mission of the apostolate. The Avila Institute teaches the faithful to put the interior life first in their daily priorities. We cannot tell others about Christ if we do not truly know Him, and to truly know Him, we must spend time with Him. If we want to have a successful apostolate, we must put our prayer lives first.

Julie Enzler will be teaching the upcoming course on the relationship between evangelization and the interior life: Evangelization and the Spiritual Life.

In order to help the faithful grow in their understanding of the role of the interior life in evangelization, the Avila Institute is offering a course this May about the relationship between the interior life and evangelization. Taught by Julie Enzler, Evangelization and the Spiritual Life will examine the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on evangelization as well as the importance of the interior life in the work of evangelization.

This course will take place on Fridays from 7:00-9:00 PM Eastern starting on May 5th. The course dates will be May 5, 12, 26, June 2, 16, 23 (no class May 19 or June 9). If you have never taken a course at the Avila Institute before, you can apply by visiting our application page. The deadline to apply to join in time for May courses is this Thursday, April 27th. To see a full list of upcoming courses click here. If you have any questions about the school or the admissions process, you can contact Candace at inquiries@myavila.com.

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Photo of Julie Enzler, used with permission.

 

 

About Dylan Jedlovec

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


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

The Hope That Banishes Fear

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 22:07

Our frailty and our diffidence never cease to make objections. We are so inclined to mistrust. To be anx­ious seems to us so natural a thing that often we try to withdraw from the peace that God has given us. We wonder if it can be an illusion; we scrutinize to see whether we may not have reason to be disturbed. Perhaps it occurs to us to say, “How is it possible to live in peace, without uneasiness, in this sad exile, so far from our blessed Fatherland, exposed to the loss of our happiness forever? Could the Israelites live without worry when they were wandering over the desolate sands of the desert, so far from the Promised Land and so exposed to the possibility of never reaching that land overflowing with milk and honey?”

There are at least two justifiable motives for anxi­ety. First, will that happy day ever come in which the intense yearning of my soul for close union with God will be satisfied? Or shall I remain like Moses, contemplating the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, without ever setting foot thereon?”

A second apparently legitimate reason for anxiety is this: If God loves me, if I am in His arms, from this viewpoint I should have no fear; but my frailty and my malice, which daily become more evident to me, will they not draw me away from the holy security of di­vine love? It is true that Jesus carries me in His arms, but do I not have the unfortunate prerogative of extri­cating myself? Jesus certainly loves me, but shall I also love Him? Shall I be faithful?

This article is from a chapter in “When God is Silent.” Click image to preview or order.

Do both of these causes of anxiety exist in reality? No. At first sight, they seem warranted, but our Lord placed in our soul some gifts so rich (we might even say divine) that they of themselves establish us in peace.

One of these gifts is the divine virtue of hope, a heavenly virtue, yet a forgotten virtue. How few souls, even among those consecrated to God, give this neglected virtue the importance that it deserves! Practical-minded, we are preoccupied with more hu­man virtues, more in touch with earth: mortification, humility, obedience. Some persons look upon hope as an impractical virtue, almost useless; at least they know neither when nor how to practice it.

Nevertheless, hope is an eminently practical vir­tue; it is the virtue that drives far from our heart the specter of discouragement, the most frequent danger­ous temptation in the spiritual life. As the inseparable companion of suffering, it confirms and strengthens peace in our soul.

Another motive of uneasiness is the preoccupation with the question of our attaining the divine union in the world and everlasting happiness in the next. In support of our fears, we hasten to quote certain scrip­tural passages, such as St. Peter’s admonition to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Solicitude is not synonymous with fear, not even the fear of God. The gift of the fear of God, the beginning of wisdom, is not a servile fear; it is a filial fear, the fear of the soul lest it lose its Beloved; it is a form of love. Evidently, such a fear is perfectly compatible with peace; we may say that it is one of the foundations of peace.

We can be sure that we shall attain union with God and eternal happiness, because we have God’s promise, and the promises of God are realities.

Abraham received magnificent promises from God, and strange as it seems, none was to be fulfilled for four hundred years after the patriarch’s time. Nevertheless, those divine promises filled his life with peace and consolation; his strong faith and hope gave him to understand that a promise of God is a reality.

Aware of man’s insincerity and limitations, we do not always place credence in human promises. God’s promise is reality. I have absolute certainty that what God has promised me will be fulfilled, because Heaven and earth shall pass away but God’s word shall never pass, because His name, as Scripture states, is Faithful and True. God has promised us eternal happiness, and to enable us to support the divine weight of that promise, He placed in our hearts the virtue of hope.

Divine hope is not like earthly hope. The latter is subject to disappointment, for however strong our se­curity, it can either be realized or not realized. Who is the fortunate person who has seen all his hopes ful­filled in this world? But the theological virtue of hope is not subject to disappointment; it gives us the holy, invincible certainty that we shall obtain what God has promised.

St. Thomas, whose authority is indisputable in the Church, poses a problem when treating of this virtue of hope: If someone receives a revelation that he is to be condemned, what should he do? The saint does not hesitate to answer: Let him not believe it, be­cause such a revelation would be opposed to the virtue of hope, and even if an angel from Heaven brought the message, the certainty given me by the divine vir­tue of hope is above all the angels of Heaven.

God has promised me eternal blessedness; that promise is as good as actual possession, for I enclose it within the confines of my impregnable hope. I do not base my hope on my liberty, so weak and fickle, nor on my limited strength, but upon the promise of God, His omnipotence, and His goodness.

Yet, someone may object that God has promised beatitude under such and such conditions. The condi­tions may be reduced to a single one, which was pro­claimed by the angels at Bethlehem: “Peace on earth to men of good will.” They did not say “to men of char­acter,” nor “to men of genius,” nor “to men of good deeds,” nor “to men of great virtue,” but “to men of good will.” When St. Thomas Aquinas’s sister asked him how to obtain salvation, he answered her with one phrase: “Will it.” Nothing more is necessary. The promises of God demand from us only this one condition: Will it!

Do we not sometimes have inward experience of the good will the angels heralded in Bethlehem? It is true that our will is weak and vacillating, but the an­gels promised peace not to men of energetic, constant, or strong will, but to men of good will.

Believe me, it takes a lot for a man to be damned — so much so, that at times I cannot explain the mystery to myself. It is not because I have no experience of man’s malice and ingratitude, nor because sin seems to me a rare occurrence.

Therefore, hope gives us peace.

The virtue of hope has another important function in this life. Hope is the inseparable companion of suffering; suffering without hope is a bitter, insupportable burden. Suffering is sometimes debilitating, oppressive, crushing. It crushed Jesus Himself, the very strength of Heaven. Did He not feel overwhelmed that night in Gethsemane? Did He not sweat blood? Was He not in agony? Did He not feel the weariness and sadness of death? Did He not exclaim, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me”?

And if suffering overwhelmed Jesus, why should it not crush our frailty? In the midst of our sufferings, we need something that will succor us in our weakness mercy, which struggles with the sinner until the final instant of life and support us in our wretchedness — something that, without blunting the pain, will make us see joy and happiness in the future and thus make us capable of persevering endurance.

Jesus Christ, as St. Paul teaches, foresaw the divine joy of glorifying the Father and the joy of making us happy, and because that joy was set before Him, He en­dured the Cross. The Cross is so beautiful, so fruitful, so very precious! But no one can support just the Cross alone. We can endure present suffering only so far as we can foresee future joy. It was thus that Jesus endured the Cross: “Jesus . . . for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame.”

Therefore, hope, which holds out to us sweet joy and complete happiness, is the inseparable compan­ion of sorrow. Suffering without hope is a sad, deso­late experience; suffering with hope is a wonderful combination.

Permit me to make a comparison that, although rather prosaic, seems suitable for clarifying my thought. Just as physicians blend certain substances so that one may counteract the effect of the other in the resultant medicine, so Jesus has made a happy combination of pain and hope. Suffering is the potent medicine of the spiritual life, hope is added to pain, and, with this combination, we can travel in peace over the dismal desert of this world with eyes and heart fixed on the promised land of eternity. Let us note that hope gives us not only the assurance of beatitude, but also the certainty of all graces for our sanctification.

Sometimes we say to God, “Lord, I promise you such and such a thing, provided You give me Your grace.” Again, “If our Lord grants me His grace, I shall do this or that.” It seems to me a kind of spiri­tual pleonasm to place this condition, “If He gives me His grace,” because such a thing is not conditional but absolute. I have at hand the graces necessary for my salvation, because I have at hand the divine promise. Never will God’s grace be lacking to me, because God is faithful and has promised to give me all that I need for my soul’s salvation.

Of course, if I begin to desire something that God has not promised, I must include the condition, “If God wants it, if God gives me His grace.”

But shall I correspond with God’s grace? Shall I not be unfaithful? This is the last stand of the diffident and the discouraged. I am sure that God has promised me beatitude and that He has put into my hands the necessary graces, but shall I correspond? Shall I preserve until the end the good will that I now possess?

To destroy this last doubt of the mistrustful, I offer two invulnerable points.

The first point is that fidelity itself is a gift of God; He is able to give it to me, and Scripture assures me that He does. St. Paul declares that God gives “both the will to do it and the accomplishment of that will.” Since the will depends upon Him, it is not subject to the vicissitudes and the velleities of poor human frailty. Therefore, I hold fast to hope; I pos­sess my soul in peace.

Shall I persevere in the will to be faithful?

Lord, into Your hands I place both my will and my fidelity. I hope from You not only Your promised graces but also the will which that promise includes.

Still another objection may need to be settled. Although my frailty is great and my amazing gift of liberty may snatch me from God’s arms to cast me down the slope that leads to the abyss, I know that God loves me sufficiently either not to allow this or, if He should permit it, to come to look for me. He will descend with His love and His omnipo­tence along the slope that leads to destruction and He will take me in His arms, and like a good shep­herd, He will place me upon His shoulders and bring me back to the fold. No, I do not fear my weakness, for as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, “I know upon what I am relying in the love and the mercy of my Savior.”

If we understood these consoling truths, if we exer­cised and developed the virtue of hope within our own hearts, we would be established in peace, and the spec­ter of distrust would disappear.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Archbishop Martinez’s When God is Silentwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

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.