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The Sorrows of Jesus

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:07

September is the month traditionally dedicated to the Sorrows of Mary. But the life and ministry of Jesus is also punctuated with sorrows, including His final agony on the cross. So let us take the sorrows of Mary as an opportunity to also consider those of Jesus.

No place to lay His head. In Luke 9:58, someone proclaims his wish to become a follower of Jesus. Jesus responds: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” This sense of homelessness pervades the gospels. Think for a moment: where exactly is Jesus’ home base of operations? He really has none. He is constantly on the move with His disciples, counting on the hospitality of their families or others. If there is any geographical center of gravity to His ministry it is Jerusalem, where He is crucified.

For us, the homelessness of Jesus has three ramifications. First, we live in a society where it is increasingly difficult to have a sense of belonging—due to increasing technological isolation and a ‘culture of narcissism.’ Second, as Christians we are always called to be pilgrims—never too attached to our earthly home, always on a journey to heaven. Third, Christ’s own homelessness should instill in us a renewed commitment to comfort those who are physically homeless in our society.

No honor in His home. At one point in His ministry, Jesus is rebuffed by his hometown of Nazareth. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house,” Jesus remarks in Mark 6:4. Jesus’ rejection has a special relevance for us today as many faithful Catholics are facing increasing ostracism from so-called acceptable society—in large measure because of the Church’s prophetic voice on matters of sexuality.

Jesus wept. One of the more memorable expressions of Jesus’ human emotions comes in John 11:34-35. Jesus has just learned of the death of His friend Lazarus. “Where have you laid him?” He said. “They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’ And Jesus wept.” This reaction is all the more striking because Jesus then turns around and raises Lazarus from the dead. But He allowed Himself to experience human grief first. God saves us, but He does not necessarily spare us our griefs.

Lament over Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!” Jesus says in Luke 13:34. And again later, in Luke 19:41, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. The impenitence and faithlessness of our society is certainly a cause for lament among Christians in the United States today.

Gethsemane. Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is at the peak of His sorrows (Luke 22:39-46). On the cross he took on Himself the whole weight of man’s sin and suffering as a result of the Fall. It was at Gethsemane that the full dread of this event filled Jesus. His response is instructive for us when we are facing any kind of existential struggle.

First, Jesus prays that not His will but that the Father’s will be done. For us this has a twofold meaning. First, whatever grief or pain we are experience is part of God’s plan, His will for our lives. Accepting that is essential to enduring whatever we may be going through. Second, for those of us struggling with any kind of sin or temptation we ought to pray for healing of our will so that it might be aligned with His will and not our selfish desires.

Second, Jesus prays. He prays through the grief and pain that He is experiencing. He does not close Himself off from God.

Third, Jesus is in such deep agony that God sends an angel to comfort Him, according to the account in Luke. We should not be afraid to seek comfort from others. Jesus also asks the disciples to remain with Him—the traditional basis for spending a Holy Hour in Eucharistic Adoration. This suggests yet a further approach to dealing with whatever might be afflicting us.

Betrayal with a Kiss. It is striking that the agony is immediately followed by Jesus betrayal by Judas. The betrayal is of the deep piercing kind that comes when someone who was formerly an intimate friend turns against you. As Jesus puts it, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).

Jesus will go on to experience ever widening circles of betrayal by his own people. First, His disciples flee after Gethsemane. Their abandonment is driven home by the betrayal of Peter, which Jesus personally witnesses (Luke 22:61). Next, the chief priests and elders reject him. Then the crowd of Jews—standing in for the nation of Israel—does when they cry out for His crucifixion. Then, in a sense, the judgment of the whole Roman Empire is brought to bear on Jesus when He is crucified under its authority.

Every human relationship that Jesus experienced is severed—first, those of friend and follower. (Those of his local community, at Nazareth were long ago sundered.) Next, ties of nationality are severed. And His membership in the broader political community of Rome is terminated by His execution. In the end, Jesus even loses His own mother due to his death. (This is indicated in the scene where He entrusts Mary to John.)

Recall the biblical principles that ‘by His wounds we are healed’ (1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:5). What was broken in Jesus’ body, mind, and life, is healed in ours. Therefore there is no relationship that Jesus cannot heal because every type of relationship was broken in His life.

Abandonment on the Cross. Gethsemane does not break Jesus. But He is truly ‘broken’ on the cross (all the while never ceasing to be God or losing the fullness or innocence of His humanity). In terms of His interior distress, the decisive moment is when He cries out to God the Father, asking why He has been abandoned (see Matthew 27:46). To feel abandoned by God when one has known Him is certainly the worst imaginable spiritual torment. Many of us have experienced this to some degree as a result of sin or dryness in our devotions or an onslaught of doubt. Jesus too has been here. He is Emmanuel—God-with-us—with us even in those times of seemingly divine abandonment.

On the cross, Jesus experienced the deepest level of interior sorrow imaginable. This means that there is no sorrow we can suffer that is beyond Jesus’ reach. And if we can’t sense His touch, if the light of faith seems to falter, if we have passed our breaking point, if we can’t bring ourselves to pray our usual way, then just simply cry out to God.

Finding God’s Beauty in the Sock Drawer

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:05

Over the years I’ve tried a number of organizational systems. They’ve all promised to miraculously transform my home into a paradise of order and tranquility, to free me from the shackles of housework, so that I could spend more of my time doing what I wanted to do, whether needlepoint, quilting or just playing with the kids. They all sounded so wonderful–too good to be true.

All I needed to do was to create a 3 x 5 file system or fill in a highly structured calendar and “poof” like Mary Poppins everything would fall into place. To be fair, I have incorporated a number of helpful tips from the organizational experts into my household management, so it was never a complete waste of time to learn more.

However, for the most part, their overall concept didn’t work. Why? Some were too complicated, others too structured and still others too much information. “Would you just get to the point and tell me how to fix my problem!” I wondered, exasperated.

When a friend mentioned Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I added it to my reading list. After all, it had an intriguing title and I was always open to picking up a few tips on tidying up, especially since I have three little boys whose main task in life seems to be search out and destroy.

Even better yet, I was happy to see it listed in our library catalog, so I could read it for free. Naturally, the frugal person that I am, I requested it.

Little did I know how truly amazing this little book is.

Why do I like Marie Kondo’s book and how does it differ? It is a quick read for the busy mom, it is a simple system for the person who is easily overwhelmed and it is tailored to the individual. Three very good reasons! On top of that, she writes in an entertaining manner, which makes it easy to read, she respects the fact that I may want to hold on to some things that other authors (organizational experts) would say to trash and lastly she comes from a perspective of joy and gratitude.

This by no means explains her system of tidying. You will have to read her book to find out how tidying can really be life-changing and since I have only recently read it, I have a long way to go before I will have completed the task.

What I have noticed immediately is that the joy and beauty of order is highly infectious. After one area is transformed, I am eager to start with another area. I look forward to organizing the next drawer, closet, or shelf. I can say that I have rarely experienced the same joy and satisfaction after completing an organization project in the past. Why is that?

Marie Kondo uses the word “joy” repeatedly. She talks about only keeping things which bring you joy and if it doesn’t bring you joy, maybe it has a purpose and we should be grateful for the function it serves. For example, the knives in the kitchen don’t bring us joy like a vase of lovely flowers or a sentimental family portrait, but without them we couldn’t prepare our meals and we should be grateful for the job they do.

Although she doesn’t mention it, I have noticed that while creating order in a particular space, whether a bathroom cabinet, bedroom closet, or kitchen drawer, although the task is ultimately to create order, I naturally clean the area too. You may say, “So what?!” When the goal is to clean, at least for me, the mental image of a chore clutters my mind. When the idea of beauty in order is the goal, cleaning is a means to get there and it doesn’t appear as tedious. At the same time, while in the past as I was cleaning, I would move aside something that was no longer used, broken, or stained and continue cleaning. When I have a purpose of “joy” in order, I become keenly aware that there are some things that can be thrown out, disposed of properly or given away: medications expired, towels that are tattered, or clothes too small.

I would venture to say that in seeking joy in order, we are also striving for the beautiful. When we think of something beautiful, we describe it as delightful, charming, or lovely. I would add that something beautiful brings joy. If order for something to be truly beautiful, it possesses certain essential qualities: order, proportion, harmony, and symmetry. Without covering the philosophical constructs of beauty, Kondo continually strives for beauty in order, although she emphasizes, seeking joy. After achieving the beauty of order, a person desires to then maintain that order through tidying and cleaning. Once having glimpsed the joy of beauty in order, we desire more!

When we contemplate the goodness and greatness of God, who is Beauty, we see his magnificence in the order and beauty of creation. In some small way, when we bring order and beauty into our lives, that faint reflection of God’s order brings joy to our lives. As Rev. Aloysius Rother, S. J. says, “The closer a beautiful object approaches its Divine ideal, the more beautiful it is” (101, Beauty: A Study in Philosophy).

In his book, Rother concludes with the final statement, “Man lives then in a world of beauty, but this beauty is from above, from the infinite, uncreated Beauty of God, the All-Beautiful” (132).

When we imitate that beauty, even though it is a faint reflection in our homes through order and beauty, our lives are more joyful.

My home is not going to be seen any time soon on HGTV, but I am s-l-o-w-l-y working my way through the house to bring pockets of joy even behind the hidden doors and drawers.

Even in the little projects of our daily lives, we can contemplate the goodness and greatness of God and give thanks.

 

Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:02

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s newest book, Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness: Why the Modern Age Needs the Mass of Ages, is timely, necessary, and refreshing for traditional Catholics and those interested in the traditional teachings of the Church on liturgy in this ten-year anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu prorio Summorum Pontificum. The genius of the book is that it is not written for only one group of people. It is for the laity, for the ordained hierarchy, and for consecrated religious—even those who are new to the traditional movement can pick up this book and read it with understanding.

In a way, this book is a fulfillment of what Benedict wrote in the letter accompanying his motu proprio, that he sought to come “to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church.” Because of the damage done after the Second Vatican Council—even if it was not the Council Fathers’ original intention—with the insistence that the Mass of Paul VI was the only Mass that could be celebrated, many Catholics have been ostracized and even abused for their devotion to the Tridentine Rite. With Dr. Kwasniewski’s book, however, we find that, even if traditional Catholics are still in the minority, they have a voice and good reasons for holding to the traditional practices of the Catholic Church. Kwasniewski’s book affirms that the ancient Roman Rite is necessary for the Church, and he offers much-needed encouragement for traditional Catholics who may be feeling discouraged. The very fact that he writes this book from his personal experience in parishes and as a professor at Catholic schools should be enough to encourage traditional Catholics: the author himself is a living testament to the beauty and fruit of the ancient Rite.

This book consists of articles and essays surrounding the question, in the author’s words, “Why is the traditional understanding and practice of liturgical worship right in itself, and therefore crucial to recover in our day, when it has been largely abandoned?” In order to answer that question, Kwasniewski touches on a variety of subjects, including the Liturgical Movement for the New Evangelization, Marian attitudes in the Roman Rite, active participation in the liturgy, a comparison of the old and new calendars, and the way to move forward. Kwasniewski’s careful treatment of the history of the Mass and due attention to the mode of its celebration reveals not only his deep love for the Mass, but also the critical importance of the theology, spirituality, and culture embodied in the ancient Roman Rite. Each of these chapters in themselves are worth pondering over and meditating, in such a way that both our knowledge and our love increases for the ancient Rite.

First, how does Kwasniewski’s book increase our knowledge about the traditional Roman Rite? One of his great themes is that the ancient Roman Rite has slowly and organically developed over many centuries, whereas the Mass of Paul VI was a very quick change, and thus, we are now experiencing the problems associated with such a change. In the chapter entitled, “Different Visions, Contrary Paths,” on the differences between Benedictine and Jesuit theology of liturgy, Kwasniewski explains, “It is a fact of history that the liturgy changes over time, it develops, but this it usually does slowly, absorbing surrounding influences in an organic process” (p. 120). Furthermore,

The essence of the liturgy was there from the beginning, as the oak tree in the acorn, but the fullness of its expression, the richness of its meaning and beauty, took many centuries to unfold before the eyes of Christian man, until he could behold the tree in all its glory and majesty, and taste the sweetness of its fruits most abundantly (p. 121).

Liturgy is meant to develop slowly, and the Novus Ordo was a sudden change to a liturgy that remained practically unchanged for 500 years. This theme, which is spread throughout the book, helps readers to understand why it is so critical to the spiritual life to attend the ancient Roman Rite—not only because it offers the fullness of the Church’s liturgical tradition, but also because it is the Mass of Ages, for it is the Mass of the vast multitude of the saints.

Kwasniewski is not only concerned with increasing our knowledge about the liturgy. He also desires that our love for and commitment to the ancient Roman Rite increases. Citing what he calls “Mosebach’s Paradox,” he writes, “The more circumstances compel me to become an armchair expert in the nature, structure, and history of the sacred liturgy, the more inclined I am to become a spectator and critic when I assist at Mass” (p. 170). There are many traditionalists who have faced this problem before, most especially when attending the Novus Ordo Mass. For this reason, Kwasniewski says,

If we can do it, if the conditions of our life allow for it, we ought to make a decisive break with pluralism, excessive variety, options galore, speaking out of both sides of our mouths, juggling with both hands, and give ourselves simply, completely, and bravely to the traditional worship of the Catholic Church (p. 171).

If this prospect seemed frightening before reading Kwasniewski’s book, his words and wisdom reveal that it is certainly possible, and not just possible, but also the best option for a Catholic who desires to live in the fullness of the Church’s liturgical tradition.

What is the future of the traditional Roman Rite? Kwasniewski does not mince words when he writes,

As long as the Novus Ordo and the usus antiquior co-exist, they are a standing challenge to one another, and they could not not be…Either the philosophy of Summorum Pontificum will bridge the enormous abyss between the two forms by bringing the modern Roman Rite into a more obvious harmony with the preceding liturgical tradition, or we will see over time a dramatic intensification of internecine conflicts (p. 163).

Something that becomes obvious by reading Kwasniewski’s book is that there is a disconnect between the ancient Roman Rite and the Mass of Paul VI. These two forms cannot continue to exist as they are, and Kwasniewski is very much in favor of a return to the traditional liturgical practices of the Church—bringing back what we have lost. While in the final chapter he explains that we can never simply “go back,” but rather must continue to move forward, he firmly supports the revival of ancient Church practices in order to continue with the project of the New Evangelization. After all, if someone discovers he is walking in the wrong direction, the most sensible thing is for him to turn around, retrace his steps, and head in the right direction. Even since the publication of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio, the liturgy of the Church remains under attack—forces within the Church are insistent on driving people back to the celebration of the liturgy as it was in the 1970’s; they are even insistent on practices that are opposed to the Council Fathers themselves. With this continued attack on the liturgy, Kwasniewski’s words could not be timelier. We need to be constantly aware of the juxtaposition between the Old Rite and the New Rite, and how reconciliation and mutual enrichment of the two forms is still far from our reach.

In summary, Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s book is for those who are passionate about the ancient traditions of the Church and for those who are desiring to learn more about them in a Church that is being removed more and more from her traditional practices and teachings. This book offers nourishment and encouragement for those who are becoming discouraged by the onslaught of attacks and opposition. Fundamentally, this book is for the “remnant,” as described by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—the remnant of the Church that will adhere to her traditional teachings and continue to uphold them even when everyone else ignores them or persecutes those who adhere to them. May Kwasniewski’s book be a source of strength in continuing the fight for the Church’s ancient liturgy and in keeping the Faith.

“There are two spheres of

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:00

“There are two spheres of knowledge in which everyone who is endeavoring after any growth in the spiritual life must be making some advance: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self.” 

-Fr. Basil W. Maturin, Christian Self-Mastery

The light, in today’s gospel, is

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:00

The light, in today’s gospel, is likened to Christ who came to earth to lead the way, to show the path. When Jesus was to talking to his disciples, he was talking about himself and he was saying that soon this prophecy of the Messiah would be realized and the truth will be out. Those who listened and followed will learn to understand yet those who thought they knew what they knew will soon realize the fallacy of what they believed in. Thus, they will be stripped of their spiritual authority and those who followed Christ will be given more responsibilities in spreading the Word.

Blessed Herman the Cripple

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 22:00

Herman was born to a poor farm family in Althausen, Germany, in 1013. Afflicted with many infirmities — cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and a cleft palate — Herman was abandoned by his parents to a Benedictine monastery when he was just seven years old. It was here that he would live out his entire life.

Unaware of the mighty genius masked behind his frail and debilitated body, the monks, while generous in their care for him, left Herman to his own studies. By the age of twenty, it was obvious to all that Herman possessed wisdom greater than the most educated of men. He became a Benedictine monk in 1033 and continued to amaze his fellow brothers with his writings on theology, history, astronomy and mathematics. He became fluent in 4 languages, designed and fashioned musical instruments, and built tools to study the stars. As if he had some foreknowledge of his eventual blindness, Herman produced enough literature and academic writings to fill a small library.

In the secular world he is known as the most famous religious poet of the day. Within the Roman Catholic Church, he is known as the great author of one of her most beloved hymns, the Salve Regina.

He died in 1054 at the Abbey in Reichenau from causes relating to his afflictions. He was beatified in 1863.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Finbar (Barry) (633), Bishop

St. Cleophas (1st Century)

St. Pacific of San Severino

Sat, 09/23/2017 - 22:00

Pacificus Bruni never really got to know his parents, Antonio and Mariangela, both of whom died when he was three years old. He was born in 1653 in Severino and was raised by his uncle from age three until seventeen, when he decided to join the Franciscans.

He excelled in his studies and was ordained a priest when he was 25 years old. Pacificus became a professor of philosophy. He taught novices in his order and he gave parish missions.

When Pacificus (whose name means “peace”) was only 39 years old his health began to fail, so he had to spend his final 29 years of life lame, deaf, and blind. He therefore led a contemplative life filled with prayer, and — like St. Joseph of Cupertino — he received ecstacies. Pacificus also became known as a miracle worker.

He died on September 24, 1721, and was beatified 65 years later. Pope Gregory IX canonized him in 1839 and his feast day is September 24.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady of Ransom (1218)

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 22:00

For Catholics and non-Catholics alike, the spiritual and physical phenomena which surround the life of Padre Pio draws interest of great proportions. But for many others and certainly for the Church herself, it is the heroic virtue of this humble man that captivates and inspires. His life is one lived in full obedience to the virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice.

Born to a simple family in Pietrelcina, Italy in 1887, Francesco Forgione was put under the protection of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, at his baptism. He joined Francis’ order at the age of 15 and was ordained a priest in 1910. Shortly after his ordination, Padre Pio began to experience the invisible stigmata, which was soon followed by other unique gifts that amazed even the most skeptical of believers. Many lives were converted by the grace of these extraordinary charisms — bilocation, prophetic visions, healing, reading of consciences — and the stigmata, which he bore with a calm manner, yet endured with great interior and mystical suffering.

Three years to the day from receiving the invisible wounds of Christ, the deep, bloody, and painful marks of the stigmata became visible on his body and stayed with him until his death. Doctors estimated that he may have lost a cup of blood every day during the 50 years he bore the wounds. Millions of people came to see Padre Pio because of these visible manifestations of holiness on his hands, feet and side. But his real virtue resounded in his heart while listening to millions of confessions over his lifetime. From all over the world and from all walks of life, people sought him for direction. The poor, in particular, held a special place in his soul. His spiritual insight and his merciful guidance converted even the hardest of sinners.

His example of long hours in prayer and meditation, vigilant fasting, and a life of interior and exterior suffering reminds us of the Passion of Our Lord and the glory of the Cross. In Pope John Paul II’s homily at Padre Pio’s canonization, he said, “Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope. Throughout his [Padre Pio’s] life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.”

Wanting to be remembered as nothing more than a “poor friar who prayed,” Padre Pio died on September 23, 1968. Following his death, the tortuous wounds that were a part of his life for over half a century vanished from his flesh without even a scar. He was beatified on May 2, 1999, and canonized June 16, 2002. After Fatima and Lourdes, San Giovanni Rotondo, the location of the isolated monastery where St. Pio lived most of his life and where his tomb remains, is the most visited site for those in search of healing, hope, and renewal.

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

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

When a soul does everything possible and trusts divine mercy, why would Jesus reject such a spirit? If you have given and consecrated everything to God, why be afraid?

— From the writings of St. Padre Pio

The evil one seeks to discourage us through fear. But, as St. Pio reminds us, God calls us to trust. What one fear is the evil one sowing in my heart to discourage me? What does St. Pio recommend that I do? I will do it now and ask the intercession of St. Pio.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Linus (79), Pope, Martyr

St. Thecla (117). Virgin, Martyr, invoked for the dying

St. Constantius the Sacristan (1st Century)

image: villorejo / Shutterstock.com

Padre Pio on the Battle of Prayer

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:07

On my first pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo to pray at the tomb of Padre Pio in 1995, I discovered two little volumes of the saint’s writings in the shrine store. They comprise letters to and from his spiritual director, and his spiritual direction letters to directees. For this reflection, I have chosen practical lessons on the battle of prayer (cf. Catechism 2725) from these writings.

Padre Pio may not have been an official exorcist priest, but he cast out demons that attacked him and others by charism (confirmed by the Church). He was a priest chosen by God to share in the intimacy of divine love. He bore the Lord’s five wounds in his body and thus, his life is a proclamation of the power of the cross over Satan.

While diabolical possession remains relatively rare, the ordinary work of the devil is common and challenging for all who strive to live an intentional sacramental life. The enemies of our soul, Satan and his cohorts, are threatened when we draw closer to God, deepening our relationship of love. Love is the devil’s undoing; the quality of love that Jesus demonstrates vividly on the Cross.

As we read in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels, at the foot of the cross, a Roman soldier, the pawn of the devil, exclaimed to Jesus, “Save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (cf. Mark 15:29-30; Matthew 27:40-42). In my personal experience, and what I observe in cases of oppression, obsession and possession, this is a common demonic tactic: “Get off the cross! Save yourself!” His rebellion is consistently against the Redeemer’s perfect sacrifice on the cross.

Our attitude about the meaning and value of human suffering; about co-redemptive sacrifice; devotion to the cross of salvation, should align with Christ’s teaching. Throughout Padre Pio’s letters he demonstrates his belief in the power of the cross. He will not rebel against it.

Padre Pio’s Letters

1. Do not turn in on yourself as so often happens, unfortunately. In the midst of trials which may afflict you, just place your confidence in our Supreme Good in the knowledge that He takes more care of us than a mother takes of her child. (Pg. 260, Letter 36, Pietrelcina, 26-11-14)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I am tempted to self-reliance in the spiritual battle, please help me to refocus on your victory. When I resist being lifted onto the cross with you, graciously let your strong arms uphold me. Teach me sacrificial love by devotion to your cross. Kindly strengthen me in all trials so that my faith, hope and love prevail by grace.

2. Don’t allow any sadness to dwell in your soul, for sadness prevents the Holy Spirit from acting freely. If ever you insist on being sad, then let it be a holy sadness at the sight of the evil that is spreading more and more in society nowadays. How many poor are every day deserting God, our Supreme Good! (Pg. 260, Letter 36, Pietrelcina, 26-11-14)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are the reason for my joy, and will never abandon me to my enemies. When the oppressive darts of sadness, darkness, doubt, discouragement, or fear come at me, stir up the Holy Spirit within me that I may be filled with the light of love, prayer, praise, gratitude, and remembrance of the joy to which I am called with you.

3. To refuse to submit one’s own judgement to that of others, especially to those who are quite expert in the field in question, is a sign that we possess very little docility and an all too obvious sign of secret pride. (Pg. 260, Letter 36, Pietrelcina, 26-11-14)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, please help me to honor those people whom you have placed in authority. Protect me, Lord, from secret pride; make me sensitive to its poison. The height of pride is when my heart withdraws from you, my Maker. Kindly, preserve me Lord, from folly and vice.

4. The soul that is destined to reign with Jesus Christ in eternal glory, then, must be remodeled by the blows of hammer and chisel. But what are these blows of the hammer and chisel by which the divine Artist prepares the stone, the chosen soul? These strokes of the chisel are the shadows, fears, temptations, spiritual torments and agitation, with a dash of desolation and even physical pain. (Pg. 97, Letter 8, Pietrelcina, 19-5-14)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, grant that in tests of faith, and trials of love, I cling to you in faith because you are with me. I desire to entrust myself entirely to your goodness and protection. I ask only for the grace to never displease you. When I fall into temptation, I plead for the grace to get up and start again.

5. Never lie down to sleep without having first examined your conscience on the way you have spent the day and without first turning your thoughts to God. Then offer and consecrate your whole person and that of every Christian.

Offer, moreover, to the glory of His divine Majesty, the rest you are about to take and never forget your Guardian Angel who is always close to you, who never leaves you no matter how badly you treat him. O unspeakable excellence of this good angel of ours! How many times, alas, have I made him weep when I refused to comply with his wishes which were also God’s wishes! May this most faithful friend of our save from further unfaithfulness. (Pg. 292, Letter 41, Piertrelcina, 17-12-14)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is impossible for me to show enough gratitude for the gift of my Guardian Angel, my faithful life-long friend and protector. Please grant me spiritual sensitivity to hear the prompting of your holy angels. At the end of each day, help me to know how my actions honored or dishonored your Majesty.

6. Drive away what the enemy is whispering loudly in your when he wants you to believe you are almost on the point of being lost. Despite these evil insinuations, the Lord is with you as never before in your tribulations. God tells us. Take heart, then, and don’t be afraid, for it is quite certain that the one who fears to be lost will not be lost and the one who fights with his eyes fixed on God will cry victory and the triumphal hymn. There is nothing to be afraid, for the heavenly Father has promised us the necessary help to prevent us from being overcome by temptations. (Pg. 411, Letter 62, Piertelcina, 10-4-15)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when darkness descends upon my soul. and the evil spirits unrelentingly assail me, grant that I may turn to you with faith, hope and love. I desire to cry, “Victory!” and to praise you always. But, alas, I am weak! Therefore, I will rely on your mercy that never ceases.

7. May Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, enable you to understand all that is contained in the great secret of suffering borne with a Christian spirit. May she obtain for you all the strength you require to climb to the summit of Calvary loaded with your own cross. Great strength is needed, unfortunately, to follow this path, but take heart, for the Savior will never leave you alone or without his help. (Pg. 487, Letter 79, Pietrelcina, 4-8-1915)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have given me your Mother as my mother also. I desire to be always mindful of Mary’s great secret of suffering borne with a Christian spirit. O Mary, in my joys and sorrows, help me to echo your hymn of gratitude, the Magnificat. Please hold me hand at the foot of the Cross so I do not run away.

8. No matter how great the trial to which the Lord is to subject you, no matter how unbearable your spiritual desolation at certain moments of your life, never lose heart. Have recourse with more childlike trust to Jesus who will never be able to resist bestowing on you some little solace and comfort. Turn to Him at all times even when the devil tries to cast a pall over your life by showing you your sins lift up your voice loudly to Him and let it express your spiritual humility, your heartfelt contrition and your vocal prayer. It is true that God’s power triumphs over everything, but humble and suffering prayer prevails over God Himself. (Pg. 504, Letter 82, Pietrelcina, 7-9-1915.)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you lovingly prepared an eternal crown of glory for those who fight the good fight for love of you. I pray for the confidence to undergo whatever trial you see fit to form me into a soldier in your army. Lord, you are my strength and salvation. I believe that you will not abandon me to the netherworld. I am yours and you are mine. Be glorified in me, a poor sinner.

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

The Generosity of God

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:05

“But that’s not fair!”

Most parents have heard this phrase umpteen times.  The notion of fairness, also known as justice, is wired into us.  It makes us aware that each of us has certain rights that need to be respected.

But it also means that we each have duties.  If others have the right to be paid for their work, those who benefit from that work have the duty to pay them.  If others have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the duty not to let our pursuit of happiness infringe on their rights.

But we have to widen our perspective a bit.  God, the creator of all, is responsible for all the blessings we enjoy.  Life in this world was given to each of us as an undeserved, free gift.  We have unequal physical talents, features, and abilities, plus diverse spiritual and intellectual gifts as well.  They vary a lot from person to person, but what they all have in common is that they come as free gifts from God who didn’t have to create any of us.

This is the background necessary to fully understand a parable that at first shocks our sensibilities.  Matthew 20:1-16 records a story of an employer who hires workmen to harvest grapes.  He hires members of the crew at various times of the day, so that at the end of the day, some have only worked a few hours while others have worked all day long.  There’s grumbling when everyone is paid the same standard day’s wage, regardless of how long they worked. To add insult to injury, those who started last got paid first.   “No fair!”

Wait a minute.  The master paid those who worked all day exactly what he promised them.  He just decided to be generous and pay everybody, even the latecomers, a full day’s wage.  Justice does not preclude generosity.

The Pharisees thought that they had always done the will of God and deserved more than the rest, especially the rabble Jesus appeared to favor–including tax collectors and sinners.  It roiled them to think that these Johnny-come-latelies would sit alongside them in the Kingdom of God.

Truth be told, neither they, nor any of us, are really like the folks who consistently did the will of the Master, working uninterruptedly at the assigned task.  Our assigned job is to love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, and ALL of our strength (Deut 6:4-5) every day of our life.  This is only fair since we owe God absolutely everything.  But we’ve all unfairly walked off the job at various moments–thumbing our noses at him through our disobedience, pride, and selfishness.  Some have gone AWOL longer than others, and the sins of some are more spectacular than those of others.  But the bottom line is that, in terms of strict justice, God does not owe any of us anything except, perhaps, punishment.

But in his extraordinary generosity, the Lord has offered us a deal–if we will accept his beloved Son in faith as Savior and Lord, and through the power of the Spirit seek to do His will, and if we will repent each time we fail, he will give us what we do not deserve–friendship with Him here that opens out to eternal glory hereafter.  The first takers for this offer have typically been those most aware of their need for mercy.  And this is why the last have usually been first when it comes to the Kingdom of God.

Seems fair to me! 

This is offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Isaiah 55 6-9, Psalm 145, Phil 1:20-24, 27; Matthew 20:1-16).  It appears here with the permission of the author.

Scripture Speaks: “The First Will Be Last”

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:02

Jesus tells a parable that poses an interesting question:  Would we ever grumble about God’s generosity?

Gospel (Read Mt 20:1-16a)

In the verses preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus told the disciples “it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:23).  A “rich young man” had just gone away “sorrowful” from Jesus, because he could not detach from his possessions to follow Him.  When the disciples hear that even the rich, thought to be especially blessed by God, would have a hard time entering heaven, they ask, “Who, then, can be saved?” (Mt 19:25)  Jesus gives them an answer that He further elaborates in today’s reading:  “With men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

In our parable, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a scene in which a landowner hires helpers to work in his vineyard.  The landowner goes out early to the marketplace, where workers congregated, to look for laborers.  He was not obligated to do this, of course.  The vineyard belonged to him; he could have kept it a family affair, using only family members to do the work.  Instead, he reaches outside his family to those who would otherwise be “idle”—waiting for something meaningful to happen.  He enters an “agreement” (or “covenant”) with some laborers for the pay they will receive for their work, and off they go.  The landowner keeps returning to the marketplace, however, during all the “hours” of the day (Jews divided the time between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm into several “hours”), finding those who were “idle” and promising to give them “whatever is right” for their labor.  We have to wonder why he did this.  Was it for himself, or for the laborers?  Was he concerned that he needed more workers to get the work done, or was he concerned that men would be “idle” all day if he didn’t keep hiring them?

Finally, at the eleventh hour, he goes out again.  Realistically, these laborers would only be able to put in an hour’s work, at most, because Jewish law required that a laborer be paid at sundown (see Deut. 24:14-15).  By the time we get to this point in the parable, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the landowner simply wants to empty the marketplace of anyone still standing around, still waiting for something to happen.

When it comes time to pay the workers, payment begins with the last ones hired.  This is so contrary to what any of us would expect that it helps us identify the thrust of the parable right away.  Had the landowner paid the longest, hardest-working men first, they would not have witnessed what they considered to be an injustice.  Jesus uses this inverted order to call our attention to the point He is making.  The first laborers grumble when they discover that they are paid exactly the same as the latecomers, who hardly worked at all.  Can we blame them?  Would our reaction have been different?  The landowner reminds the grumblers that they have not been cheated.  They had agreed on the “usual daily wage.”  No injustice has been committed.  The landowner also reminds them that he is “free to do as I wish with my own money.”  The fact is, any wage coming to any of the laborers depended entirely on the grace and generosity of the landowner.  Apart from him repeatedly seeking laborers in the marketplace, none of them would have had anything meaningful to do.  They would all still have been waiting for something to happen.  We might be able to phrase it this way:  “With men, no wages are possible, but with a landowner looking for workers, all things are possible.”  That being the case, are the grumblers really justified in being envious of the landowner’s generosity?  It was this very generosity that gave them work in the first place.  Had they understood this at the start of the day, they would not have been surprised at how the day ended.

Jesus concludes the story with a familiar saying:  “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”  The Church has traditionally understood this as a parable foreshadowing the generosity of God to include the Gentiles in His covenant, at the “eleventh hour” in salvation history, blessing them with the same blessing first promised long ago to His Chosen People, the Jews.  In this, Jesus is warning His disciples (then and now) not to think of God’s blessings as a matter of record-keeping.  God’s generosity cannot be measured.  All of us, the “worthy” and the “unworthy,” are utterly dependent on it. When we see others with greater spiritual gifts than we have ourselves, do we rejoice in God’s generosity, or are we envious?  And, at the end of time, if we see God’s mercy extended to those whom we are sure don’t deserve it (we might even be picking those folks out now), will we look as small and stunted as the grumbling laborers in the parable?  These are questions worth asking.

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, help me to rejoice over Your generosity wherever it appears.

First Reading (Read Isa 55:6-9)

These verses from Isaiah are a perfect preparation for our Gospel reading, because they speak about God’s generosity (“generous in forgiving”) and about how differentGod’s way is from ours.  Recall the shock we felt in reading the parable and hearing that “the last will be first and the first will be last.”  Here, God tells us, through Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the LORD.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts.”  This difference between God’s way and ours is what keeps life interesting.  If we take it seriously, we might often be surprised by how He works, but we surely won’t become grumblers.

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, forgive me for the times I have not wanted to be surprised by the difference between Your way and mine.

Psalm (Read Ps 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18)

The psalmist tells us that God’s “greatness is unsearchable.”  That is exactly what both Isaiah and Jesus seek to tell us in our other readings.  Our imaginations are not vivid enough to be able to predict how God’s goodness and mercy will break out in His creation:  “The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all His works.”  Perhaps the most treasured characteristic of His immeasurable and unimaginable kindness is the one we will repeat in the responsorial:  “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him.”

In the end, isn’t this what matters most to us on our journey home to heaven?

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings.  Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read Phil 1:20c-24, 27a)

In this reading, St. Paul is an example of one who is completely at peace with whatever God does with him.  We would have liked the first group of laborers in the Gospel parable to be able to say that about the landowner.  How does a person get to that place of peace with God and confidence in whatever He does, no matter how different His ways are from ours?  “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.”  St. Paul understood that in becoming a servant of Christ, he had gained everything.   Even death, which we naturally fear and dread, posed no worry for him.  Death (which St. Paul faced on a nearly daily basis) would simply be the door through which he would walk into the loving arms of Jesus.  When we have this kind of relationship with the Lord, when He is everything to us, then we are truly free.  Knowing the power of His love and kindness, nothing can disturb us, nothing can turn us into grumblers.  All that should matter to us is to conduct ourselves “in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”  Then, truly, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, please teach me to trust You and to be at peace in all the events of my life.

St. Thomas of Villanova

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:00

St. Thomas (1488-1555) was from Castile in Spain and received his surname from the town where he was raised. He received a superior education at the University of Alcala and became a popular professor of philosophy there.
After joining the Augustinian friars at Salamanca he was ordained and resumed his teaching–despite a continuing absentmindedness and poor memory. He became prior and then provincial of the friars, sending the first Augustinians to the New World. He was nominated by the emperor to the archbishopric of Granada, but refused. When the see again became vacant he was pressured to accept. The money his cathedral chapter gave him to furnish his house was given to a hospital instead. His explanation to them was that “our Lord will be better served by your money being spent on the poor in the hospital. What does a poor friar like myself want with furniture?”

He wore the same habit that he had received in the novitiate, mending it himself. The canons and domestics were ashamed of him, but they could not convince him to change. Several hundred poor came to Thomas’s door each morning and received a meal, wine and money. When criticized because he was at times being taken advantage of, he replied, “If there are people who refuse to work, that is for the governor and the police to deal with. My duty is to assist and relieve those who come to my door.” He took in orphans and paid his servants for every deserted child they brought to him. He encouraged the wealthy to imitate his example and be richer in mercy and charity than they were in earthly possessions.

Criticized because he refused to be harsh or swift in correcting sinners, he said, “Let him (the complainer) inquire whether St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom used anathemas and excommunication to stop the drunkenness and blasphemy which were so common among the people under their care.”

As he lay dying, Thomas commanded that all the money he possessed be distributed to the poor. His material goods were to be given to the rector of his college. Mass was being said in his presence when after Communion he breathed his last, reciting the words: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Thomas of Villanova was already called in his lifetime “the almsgiver” and “the father of the poor.” He was canonized in 1658.

The first reading says that whoever

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:00

The first reading says that whoever desires to become rich could easily become a prey to temptation. Money, the root of all evil, should not be the end-all for a Christian. Riches could easily turn a person away from God because the devil uses it to make men greedy, worldly, pleasure-seeking and materialistic To be content with enough food and clothing is what St. Paul advises in his letter to Timothy.

Instead of going after money we are called to dedicate our lives to God. God gives us the true riches – eternal life, happiness in our dealings with others, love for poverty and simplicity. The man of God fights the good fight of faith desiring only to be filled with Christ-like patience and gentleness. Paul has a word for the rich Christians as well. He exhorts them to be rich in good deeds and to be generous with their riches.

The Gospel reading tells us about women who accompanied and supported Jesus and his disciples in their travels. From their own resources they provided for the needs of Jesus and his apostles. They used what they had to help in the preaching the Good News.

When Jesus sent out his disciples he instructed them to depend on the generosity of people to whom they preached the Good News.

Even in our time the Church and its workers depend on the generosity of the faithful for their support and livelihood, “The Lord ordered that those announcing the Gospel live from the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:14) for “how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who herald peace and happiness, who proclaim salvation.” (Is 52: 7)

“No one is dispensable, for every

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 22:00

“No one is dispensable, for every one exists only once, and God loves man so much that He wants to renew the mystery of the Incarnation in every one of us. To become a true believer means to receive the risen Christ within us. To live the life of faith is to make room for Him, so that He may express Himself and grow within oneself.”

-Romano Guardini, The Rosary of Our Lady

Why is Contemplative Prayer So Important?

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 02:35
Contemplative Prayer and the Angelic Doctor

 

What are the three types of prayer?

There are three types of prayer: vocal, meditative, and contemplative. Vocal prayer can include basic prayers such as the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, etc. and also the words in our mind that we share with God. However, vocal prayer is not enough to sustain a growing relationship with God because we actually need to speak with Him through another form of prayer, meditation. To reflect or think about God is to meditate. Our imaginations can be sparked when we focus on and listen to how God is speaking to us. This reflective prayer leads us to a conversation with God as we enter into a sacred time and space. Contemplative prayer is so important because it is the highest form of prayer. As we rest quietly in the presence of God, we spend time with Him in speechless silence. A fruitful time of silence starts with us having a calm spirit and seeking union with God in a sacred space. We can learn from the saints about the three types of prayer.

What is contemplative prayer?

St. Teresa answers: “Contemplative prayer [oración mental] in my opinion is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2709.  

According to the Catechism, “Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.” (CCC 2724). Prayer is more than just an activity on its own, but a way of living out one’s life with God. It is communicating with the Creator of the universe, expressed in a variety of ways. Our attentiveness to His Word is an act of obedience in faith. We can welcome the presence of the Holy Spirit with our whole being to be strengthened, purified, and transformed as we sit at the feet of Jesus.

Why is Saint Thomas Aquinas called the Angelic Doctor?

The Doctors of the Church are given titles that designate their characteristics of greatness. Saint Thomas Aquinas is known as the “Common Doctor” because of his great knowledge and learning in all areas of theology. Too often, our modern minds consider Aquinas to be something of a rigid and sterile academic, but nothing could be further from the truth. St. Thomas gained perfect purity after he struggled against a temptress who was forced on him, and he was girded with a mystical belt of purity by two angels. And so, he was named “Angelic Doctor” because of his great virtue and purity, his angelic wisdom, and his expertise in the area of angels. His piercing intellectual receptivity, his child-like purity, and his poetic intuition are just a few reasons the Church lifts him up as Her Common and Angelic Doctor. Known to levitate ecstatically before the Blessed Sacrament, Aquinas writes as a man deeply in love. As such, he serves as a model for our contemplative lives.

Taught by John Johnson, this course will survey a small sample of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ work on contemplation and the mystical union as well as present a humble program for that work’s practical application in the life of any Catholic seeking to have a relationship with the One who has loved us into being. Register here to take a Fall course at The Avila Institute called “Contemplative Prayer and the Angelic Doctor.” It will be given Fridays on Nov 10, 17, Dec 1, 15, 22, Jan 5 at 8:30 – 10:30 pm EST. Check out more information on another course called “Angels and Demons” here.

Apply for admission at avila-institute.com.

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Art for this post contemplative prayer: St. Thomas Aquinas detail of All Saints – The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, Fra Angelico, 15th century about 1423-24, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Thomas von Aquin, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), unknown date, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less; Wikimedia Commons. Quotes from Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Click here for more posts by Kristin Aebli.

About Kristin Aebli

Kristin Aebli is the Event Coordinator and Marketing Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Receiving the position was providential and in God’s perfect timing. Although cradle Catholic, in college she reverted and became confirmed in the Church. Kristin graduated with a degree in Communications from Samford University and she still enjoys ministering to college students through the Samford Catholic Student Association. Kristin is happy to be a part of the Firelight college ministry, is involved with Apostoli Viae and also a Young Professionals Bible study. For fun, Kristin enjoys discussing theology with friends, recording her podcast “Catholic After Dark”, dancing, singing, cooking, writing and painting. She hopes to continue growing in her faith through the sacraments and involvement with faithful community.

 

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

The Catholic Guide to Loneliness

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:07

Turn thou to me and be gracious to me;
for I am lonely and afflicted.

–Psalm 25:16

The Loneliness “Epidemic”: In Whom Shall We Confide?

A group of psychological researchers has recently opined: “Current evidence indicates that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than that from obesity…In a recent report, researchers have predicted the loneliness will reach epidemic proportions by 2030 unless action is taken.”[1]

Though loneliness has been with us since before the time of the Psalmist, the research into phenomenon of loneliness has snowballed in the Western world in recent decades.  In 2006, the American Sociological Review created quite a stir when it released the results of a 20-year-study from the University of Chicago comparing surveys of two samples of approximately 1,500 adults each, the first taken in 1985 and the second in 2004.[2]   This table provides is a summary of a few of the key findings regarding intimate relationships of close confidants, the lack of which can contribute to the loneliness of emotional isolation:

Modern Research Revealing an American Culture of Loneliness National Opinion Survey Year 1985 2004 Average number of people one can confide in about important matters 3 2 Modal number of confidants[3] 3 0 People with no close confidants 10% 25%

The researchers reported that “in spite of a large literature on declining civic engagement and neighbor involvement,” they expected that networks of close confidants would have remained stable.  When the updated survey results came in the researchers stated quite bluntly: “We were clearly wrong.”  So striking were these findings that shortly after, articles appeared in popular periodicals like USA Today, The New York Times, and The American Spectator, and many others, some headlining with the startling finding that one quarter of Americans have no one to confide in.

In 2010, the American Association of Retired People (AARP) published an extensive report that showed about one-third (35%) of their over 3,000 respondents reported significant loneliness. Other recent studies have estimated that up to 32% of adults experience loneliness and up to 7% describe intense feelings of loneliness. To get some sense of the magnitude of those percentages, with the current (2017) U.S. population of over 326 million people, around 142 million may be lonely and around 23 million may be lonely to an intense degree – truly a vast number of suffering souls.

Suffice it to say that the once relatively ignored subject of loneliness is clearly among the most important subjects of interest and concern to social scientists and medical practitioners in our time. Anyone at any age anywhere around the world can be subject to loneliness and the numbers are clearly climbing. The most common reasons given to explain the rise of loneliness in recent decades include increasing pressures of time and money, suburbanization, commuting and sprawl, electronic entertainment (especially television), and more recently the growth of the internet, cell phones, and even the emerging field of robotics.  There are also some reasons related to Christian faith.

This article is a preview of The Catholic Guide to Loneliness. Click image to learn more.

Psychiatrists (and spouses) Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz express concern that America’s primarily Protestant culture can overemphasize self-reliance and under-emphasize the need for interpersonal connection. They cite sociologist Robert Bellah, who warned of “the near exclusive focus on the relationship between Jesus and the individual, where accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior becomes almost the whole of piety.”[4] Further, based on interviews he conducted, Bellah noted: “If I may trace the downward spiral of this particular Protestant distortion, let me say that it begins with the statement, ‘If I’m all right with Jesus, then I don’t need the church.’ ”[5]

These points are not made to denigrate views held by some Protestants (and perhaps by some Catholics as well), but to point out that if we are to truly to become awakened as Christians, we will awaken to each other’s needs, including needs for community and interpersonal connections.

Clearly every thoughtful, caring person should ask him- or herself what can be done to stem this tide of loneliness. I would submit as well that he or she should also ask modern psychologists, ancient sages, and certainly Catholic saints!

Five Catholic Approaches to Understanding, Enduring, and Conquering Loneliness

I’ll provide here the briefest of highlights of the approaches provided in the first five chapters of my new Catholic Guide to Loneliness (Sophia Institute Press, 2017).

  1. The Catholic Church is also “small c” catholic, or universal, recognizing truth whatever be its source. The research on treating loneliness has shown that even more effective than training in social skills or forming social contacts or support systems is training in adaptive thinking methods of cognitive therapy that address “maladaptive social cognition,” the negative ways of thinking and talking to oneself that can come from extended loneliness, making the lonely unhappy and less likely to reconnect with others.
  2. Development of Catholic virtues, both the moral cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice, and prudence, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, as expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas, can better equip us to reach out and connect to God and neighbor in ways that diminish our own and their loneliness.
  3. Like the Desert Fathers, ancient Irish hermit saints, Russian spiritual startsy, and Church Doctors including Catherine of Sienna and John of Avila, we can purposefully embrace periods of solitude to grow in our relationship with God when alone that will enable us to more meaningfully reconnect with others when we venture back out into the world.
  4. Development of spiritual friendships centered in Christ, as expounded in the writings of Sts. Aelred of Rievaulx and Thomas Aquinas, can provide a most effective antidote to loneliness, even if friends most dear to us have been called to join Christ in heaven.
  5. Some theologians have said that Christ’s loneliness upon the cross outweighed even his physical agonies. Lessons derived from Christ’s loneliness, both his loneliness in the Garden of Gethsemane as expounded in the writings of St. Thomas More, and upon the cross as expounded in the tradition of “Jesus’ last seven words on the cross” drawn from all four gospels can help us unite our sufferings from loneliness with His.

We might consider these suggested balms and remedies, as well as possible treatments of our own, as we grow in awareness of our lonely brothers and sisters in Christ and reach out to them to lighten the load of their loneliness.

Editor’s note: This article is a preview of The Catholic Guide to Lonelinesswhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

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Notes

[1] Juliann Holt-Lundstad, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, & David Stephenson, Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review, Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, 2015, Vol. 10(2), 236. (In this statistical review of 70 prior studies with a cumulative total of 3,407, 134 mostly middle-aged and elderly adult participants, self-reported significant loneliness increased risk of death by 26%, which was not a statistically significant difference from the increased risk of death from social isolation (29%) or living alone (32%) at follow up an average of seven years later.)

[2] Miller McPherson, Lynn-Smith Lovin, Matthew E. Brashears, Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades, American Sociological Review, 2006, Vol. 71 (June 353-375).

[3]Of a range of 0 to 6 or more close confidants, the modal number is the number of confidants reported by the greatest number of respondents. In other words, by 2004 more people reported they had no close confidants than those who reported either 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6+ confidants, while 3 confidants was the most common response two decades before.

[4] Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century

(Boston: Beacon Press, 2009), 37.

[5] Ibid.

How is Mourning Blessed?

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:06

This week we will examine the second Beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This Beatitude may in fact be the hardest for Fallen human beings to understand. Suffering, pain, and affliction are aspects of the human condition. We have all experienced—or soon will—the devastation of losing someone we love. Mourning often comes with intense agony that is spiritual, psychological, and even physical. It shakes us to the core. It is in death that we come to see that this was not God’s original plan for us. He did not make us for death, but the Fall has made death a part of our existence. Even though Jesus conquered sin and death through the Paschal Mystery, we must all die and we must all bear the burden of losing people we love.

We must also keep in mind that mourning is not only related to death. It is also an essential aspect of the spiritual life. We must learn to mourn our sins. In coming closer to God, we come to see the horror of our sin and realize how weak we truly are and that we are wholly dependent on God. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the deep pain of our sins so that we may become repentant in order to turn back to God. It is this sorrow for our sins that pushes us to return to the Confessional regularly and to seek God more ardently. Why does Christ tell us that mourning is blessed?

We mourn in hope.

In looking at two types of mourning–that which arises from the death of a loved one and that which arises from sin—we can begin to understand that Christ’s message in this Beatitude is one of hope. The Paschal Mystery destroyed the despair of sin and death. We now have reason to hope. Death will not have the final say and our sins can be forgiven. We now live in the hope of Christ through the supernatural virtue of faith.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 5:1-11

Even as we continue on the arduous journey of this life, we can hope in Christ Jesus who has overcome sin and death. When we fall into sin, we are able to return to Christ through the Sacrament of Confession in order to be healed and strengthened for the road ahead. Christ turns the evil we commit into joy as we return to him with a contrite heart.  When a loved one dies, we feel the agony of the loss at the deepest level of our humanity, but in the midst of that suffering we can hope in the promise of eternal life for our loved one and for ourselves. Mourning is blessed because it is marked by hope in Christ.

Mourning teaches us fortitude.

This life is marked by challenges and tribulations. Some of those sufferings are our own and some of them are the sufferings of those we love or in our communities. There is not a person alive today, who has lived, or who will live, who will not have to endure great trials in this life. Affliction reveals to us that strength can only be found in God. This is true when we lose someone we love and when we battle sin. When we lose bodily health, a loved one dies, our job is lost, a spouse abandons us, our children won’t speak to us, we struggle with habitual sin, or any other form of suffering, the only option we have is to turn to Christ. These are situations largely outside of our control, in fact, suffering reveals to us what little control we actually have in life.  This is a “valley of tears” and life requires a great deal of courage. Servais Pinckaers points out that this Beatitude shows us how to be fully human so that we can learn to embrace whatever may come our way.

The third beatitude (second in the order I am using) invites us first of all to be fully human: not children, to be amused with pretty stories and shielded from painful and disturbing sights, but adults who dare to look reality in the face and accept “blood, sweat, and tears” if need be—to borrow the words of Churchill’s challenge to England in 1940—without running away. This is not depravity or contempt for life. On the contrary, it takes tremendous strength, for it is in struggling that life is most fully affirmed, lived, and completed. It is precisely the virtue of courage that defines the adult. According to the ancients the characteristic activity for courage is confrontation with death.

Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, 79.

When we confront suffering–even the intense suffering found in mourning—we are slowly transformed into the person Christ desires us to be. It is in learning to be courageous that we can fight the battles God asks us to fight each day. It is impossible to be a saint without fortitude. The more we progress in the spiritual life, the more battles we will face as God entrusts us with more struggles to continue to grow in holiness. We never learn courage if we don’t ever confront dragons (G.K. Chesterton).

We must learn to die to self.

The answer to our afflictions is the Cross. When we find ourselves in periods of mourning, the only satisfactory answer is Christ crucified. Christ shows us how we are to live. We are to die to self day-in-and-day-out. This is a constant struggle that will not end until we stand before the Beatific Vision. Mourning reveals this reality to us in the most tangible way possible. The loss of a loved one reveals to us the profound cost of love. Love requires everything of us and we cannot hide from this reality if we are to truly live and become saints. We must empty ourselves completely in loving God and our neighbor. Mourning is an inevitable aspect of love.

A constant battle with sin and the sorrow the Holy Spirit places within our souls, is another form of learning to die to self. When a temptation arises—regardless of the emotions, thoughts, or desires involved—we must learn to detach ourselves from sin in order to love God and our neighbor. Sin impedes our progress when we do not desire to abandon the sins that enslave us. This does not mean that our battle with sin is easy or quick. It is a life-long battle, but we must understand that part of overcoming sin is a constant dying to self. Many sins seem innocent enough or make us feel good, but in reality, all sin is evil and harmful. By God’s grace and help, we must learn to overcome ourselves in order to grow in holiness. The Cross shows us how to empty ourselves in love. We must give everything. We cannot hold anything back from the love of God.

Those who mourn are blessed because our hope is now in Christ. Sin and death have been defeated by the power of the Cross. We now have the means to return to Our Lord when we fall into sin. When we mourn the loss of a loved one, we can hope in the promise of eternal life. Our suffering is never wasted. God uses it to teach us courage and strength so that we can persevere through the battles we wage in our daily lives. The answer to our mourning is the Cross. We are to empty ourselves in love, so that we can serve God and others. In looking to Christ, we can enter into self-emptying love in order to grow in holiness. This Beatitude—like the others—reveals to us the path to holiness.

Forgiveness From the Heart: Why and How?

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:05

“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart.”

I thought that I had forgiven a lay faithful many years ago for some slanderous comment that he had made about me. I know for sure that I had even prayed for him fervently and sincerely. Well, I saw him a few years later as I was offering Mass and he was standing in line for Holy Communion. For a moment the memory of his wicked words shot through my mind as I placed Jesus into his hands and he said, “Amen.” The only thing that took the sting out of that painful memory there and then was another prayer for him again and a prayer to Jesus, “Lord, help me to see him through your eyes.”

We may have heard that cliché that definitely does not help any of us struggling with constantly forgiving others: “Forgive and forget!” Can we really forgive and just forget as if nothing ever happened? Is God asking us to pretend that we have amnesia? Doesn’t our painful memories keep coming back with all its hurtful images whether we like it or not? Isn’t it more painful when the offending party never shows any remorse but continue to be a source of pain?

St Peter seems to have the same struggle too with forgiveness. He asks Jesus in today’s Gospel how many times he was to forgive someone who sinned against him. Jesus replies with a parable about a forgiven but unforgiving servant and ends with this warning, “So will my heavenly do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from the heart.” The heart is the seat of our choices and decisions, the place where constancy is formed and nurtured. To forgive from the heart means that our forgiveness has to be a well thought out and deliberate decision that must be renewed frequently. Forgiveness from the heart is both unconditional and without limit, “I do not say to you seven times but seventy-seven times.” If our forgiveness is truly from the heart, it just cannot be a one-time thing but an ongoing decision to forgive continuously no matter what.

Today’s Gospel parable also shows us why we should make this decision to forgive from the heart as Jesus implies. The first reason why our forgiveness must come from the heart is that we are sinners who have been forgiven by God. Because God places no limits or conditions to His forgiveness, we have gratuitously received and still continue to receive today divine forgiveness of sins in our hearts. We forgive first out of gratitude to God for forgiving us so graciously.

The wicked servant in today’s parable experienced something of this divine forgiveness that cancels a debt that he could never pay, “Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.” He was set free from his debt without any condition or limit.

The second reason why we should make this decision to forgive from the heart is that we want to remain free and to grow in that freedom that we have received from God’s forgiving love. When we are growing in that freedom that Christ has won, we can recognize and pursue the good freely and avoid all forms of evil in all situations. We slowly lose our freedom and become enslaved to many things and attitudes when we do not forgive others as we have been forgiven.

The servant who experienced the forgiveness of a debt that he could not pay lost his precious freedom the very moment he refused to be patient with a fellow servant who owed him a trifle, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers (jailers) until he should pay back the whole debt.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must make a decision to forgive from the heart over and over again no matter the magnitude or frequency of the offenses and regardless of the lack of remorse of the offending party. We must do so simply because we have been forgiven by God in Jesus Christ and because we want to keep growing in that freedom. In Our Lord Jesus Christ, the divine choice to forgive us is made present to us and God will never go back on that decision. When we put conditions or limits on our forgiveness of others, we show ingratitude and we slowly lose our freedom and become slaves of what we should be masters. We become slaves of addictive behaviors like pornography, alcoholism, gambling, sex, drugs, etc. We cannot seem to get enough of material things, pleasures and possessions. We are slaves of human respect, praise, appreciation, affirmation, etc. By our lack of forgiveness, it becomes difficult for us to choose virtues and reject vices and we unknowingly and easily “hand our hearts over to torturers.”

The journey to forgive others from the heart begins with frequent and fervent celebrations of the Sacrament of Confession. For us to forgive from the heart, we must first experience divine forgiveness for our sins in the heart. In and through this sacrament, we acknowledge our past sins, confess that we have sinful tendencies now and open our hearts to that grace to overcome sin in the future. Having experienced this diving forgiveness, the only forgiveness that has no conditions or limits, we are then set free and enabled to reflect this same forgiveness to others.

God became man and came to this world to make us His own children and to share with us the freedom of His own divine life, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) We are called to that “glorious freedom of the children of God.”(Rom 8:21) It is definitely not the will of God that we lose our freedom, live as slaves of things, people and their judgement, and lose our power to choose the good and avoid evil. The only path to this freedom is through experiencing divine forgiveness and making an unwavering decision to reflect the same forgiveness to others from our hearts.

In this world where we are hurt frequently by our fellow sinners and “Forgive and Forget” just doesn’t do justice to our painful memories, the Eucharist we celebrate makes present the paschal mystery of Christ and reminds us why Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead, “For this is why Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” Jesus Christ has offered His spotless body to the Father, shed His last drop of blood for us, and gave His own Spirit to us so that we become free like He is as God’s own children and not slaves of hurt feelings, resentments and all the slavery that they bring. He definitely does not ask us to pretend to have amnesia but to open our hearts to His grace and forgive others continuously from the heart. If we experience His liberating forgiveness and still choose to put limits or conditions to our forgiveness of others for whatever reason, we will surely lose our freedom.

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

“Put simply: living today well

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:00
“Put simply: living today well means fulfilling life’s responsibilities, no matter what they are, in a way that strives for good in response to God’s grace.”

-Fr. Thomas F. Dailey, Live Today Well

Combating Loneliness with Dr. Kevin Vost

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 22:00

Loneliness affects millions of people throughout the world. As well as the spiritual and emotional pain, loneliness can actually lead to physical health complications. In today’s episode, Dr. Kevin Vost brings together the saints and psychology to discuss the problems and solutions to loneliness.

Dr. Vost has spent decades teaching and researching about psychology, as well as the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and his insights are invaluable as we begin to understand the great problem of loneliness. More than a discussion of the facts and data, Dr. Vost brinsg the full teachings of the Angelic Doctor, philosophy, and psychology to talk about how you can tackle loneliness in your own life as well as how we can help one another.

Resources 

Dr. Kevin Vost is the author of The Catholic Guide to Lonelinessas well as many other books. Learn more about him and his work on his website (drvost.com) and on Facebook or Twitter. You can also view his previous articles here on Catholic Exchange.

Dr. Vost has been on the CE Podcast before. His past episodes include:

Books we talked about in this episode:

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.