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Rejoicing in the Risen Christ

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 22:05

Saint Thomas Aquinas makes this very important assertion: every person is searching for happiness. This may appear to be a common sense statement. However, we must then ask, Why is it that so many people, today more than ever before, have long faces, open up their mouths to gossip and criticize and condemn, suffer despair and sadness?  Why? Why? Why?  There must be a response to the apparent “unhappiness” of so many.

The response to the above question might appear to many to be more than obvious, but it must be stated with the utmost simplicity. The unhappy people of the world, described above, are simply looking for happiness in the wrong places! There you have it!

Pleasure and Happiness

Many people think that pleasure is synonymous with happiness; nothing could be further from the truth! Indeed, a lot of money can buy a lot of pleasure, beyond the shadow of a doubt! Nonetheless, all the money in the world cannot buy true happiness of the heart. (Even the Beatles had it right in their classic song of the 60’s—Money can’t buy me love!) As a matter of fact, many very rich people suffer from depression. If this is the case, then where can we discover true happiness? Where is it to be found? In money? In pleasure? In wine and women? In the Casino and vino? In sex and porn? In power domination over others? In gambling and horses and winning the sweepstakes? In millionaire mansions, yachts, and exotic and expensive vacations? The response to all of the above is a resounding no! Then where and when and how can true happiness be found, if indeed it can be found at all?

True Happiness in God Alone

Until he was 31 years of age Augustine, one of the most brilliant saints and Fathers of the Latin Church, was searching for happiness in pleasure and ended up in total disillusionment. He tried sex, power and various philosophical thought systems. But none of these satisfied his deepest yearnings, the real and sincere cravings of his heart. Slavery to sexual pleasure had him bound in chains, so much so that one of his prayers was: “Lord, grant me chastity, but not yet!”  Young and passionate Augustine knew in the very depths of his heart that pursuing sex could not satisfy his deepest yearnings; only God could! Finally, after years of struggle and moral failures Augustine capitulated; he gave in to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and was baptized by Saint Ambrose in Milan, with his mother Saint Monica present. In his classic literary piece Confessions Augustine asserted what is the central core of this short article, “O Lord, you have made our hearts for thee, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”  There we have it! True and everlasting happiness can only be found in God and God alone.

Joy in the Lord

Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises, in contemplating the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, insists in these Easter contemplations that we beg for this fruit (virtue)—Joy!

However, Ignatius insists that not only do we beg for joy, but the most intense joy. Once again, we must emphasize this point: joy in Jesus! Our true joy can only be found and lived out in an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ! He has truly risen from the dead after having been nailed to the cross for the purification of our many sins. As we proclaim in Holy Mass immediately after the Consecration: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! The historical fact of the Risen Jesus, that He has truly risen from the dead, should result in an explosion of grace, light, peace and joy in the entire world. Jesus came to the world as Savior, not just for one people or one set of beliefs. On the contrary, Jesus died and rose from the dead for all of humanity and for each of us individually! The word Catholic means universal—open to all who open up their hearts to receive Him. May all of us who have had this true and transforming encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, not be shy in sharing this joy with the entire world. Jesus commands us: “Go out into the whole world and teach them what I taught you, and baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and behold I am with you always even until the end of the world.” (Mt 28:19-20)

Our Lady, Cause of our Joy

Finally, one of the most efficacious means by which we can really live out joy is by means of an encounter with Mary, Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Cause of our Joy. Not only do we pray the five Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, but also Our Lady in her canticle of praise, sometimes known as the Magnificat, expresses where and how and with whom we can truly discover joy and live it to the fullest extent possible. Read and pray over these words that exploded in a hymn of praise and joy from the Immaculate Heart of Mary: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Lk 1:46-55) How true are these words of Our Lady, Cause of our Joy! Only in God, only in knowing God, only in encountering God, only in communicating with God, only in loving God, only in surrendering our lives to God (in imitation of Our Lady) can we truly experience a true and abiding joy and happiness now and for all eternity! So with Saint Paul let us our lift our hearts to God: “Rejoice in the Lord; I say it again: rejoice in the Lord!” (Phil 4:4) and: “This is the day the Lord has made: let us be glad and rejoice in it!” (Ps 118:24)

The Measure of Success

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 22:02

Everyone who wants to be a failure, please raise your hand.

That’s what I thought.

We all want to be good at what we do, to be competent and respected and admired. We even spend large amounts of money on things we don’t need in order to show off just how successful we are.

But we don’t just like to be thought of as successful—we also judge others on their degree of success, naturally admiring those with high powered jobs and big bank accounts. We assume those with more accolades, or money, or possessions are better people. We admire a CEO more than a janitor simply because he brings home a huge paycheck and has lots of power. We shouldn’t, but we all too often do.

Bigger is better?

This success-oriented thinking also creeps in in other areas of life, especially when it comes to numbers. Men like big numbers. The bigger and more impressive the number, the more we think it matters. One million must be better than ten thousand, right?

Even within the Church, it is easy to judge success in terms of numbers. Is your parish growing? How many baptisms took place this year? How big was the collection this week? How many people are involved in your programs?

There’s nothing wrong with statistics, but all too easily it becomes an idolatry of sorts, the only measure of success we care about. Quantity replaces quality, the work of God is treated like a business, and numbers rule the day.

But here’s the thing: When it comes to God’s economy, outward, numerical success means exactly nothing.

We Follow a Failure

I say this with all due reverence, but humanly speaking, Jesus’ earthly life was a complete failure. He didn’t overthrow the Roman government and usher in a glorious earthly kingdom as so many had hoped. He didn’t make friends with the powerful and influential. He didn’t win many to the truth of the Gospel. Quite the opposite. He was despised and rejected almost everywhere he went.

The once adoring crowds that followed him later turned away from him because his teaching was too hard to hear. Those in his hometown sneered at him and tried to throw him off a cliff. The religious leaders hated him and considered him a demon possessed blasphemer. One of his closest friends betrayed him for money, and the rest of his friends disowned and abandoned him. He was mocked, laughed at, and considered a madman. And the zenith of his life? It was being unjustly condemned to death, stripped naked, humiliated, nailed to a cross with common criminals, and buried in a grave that wasn’t even his own.

Yet despite all this, Jesus is the most important man who ever lived or ever will. His life, death, and resurrection is the hinge upon which history turns. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways. His judgement is not our judgement. It is higher, and better.

The Spiritual Economy

God doesn’t assess value shallowly like we do. In the spiritual economy, the most successful human works—the big, glitzy stuff with big numbers that everyone praises as incredible achievements—are often worth zip, zilch, nada. The famous names, the best-selling books, the huge sums of money? They don’t impress the Ancient of Days.

That’s not to say that outward success is wrong by default. God very well might bless and multiply your efforts abundantly. There are many famous, respected, and wealthy people who are holy and righteous.

But the point is, it is not wealth or power or fame that makes these souls pleasing in God’s eyes. It is what is in their hearts.

The Greatest of These is Love

So what makes us successful in God’s economy? What makes us truly great men? What gives worth to our efforts if not numbers and statistics and outward fruit? Love. Love alone is what God desires of us. It alone gives our actions worth in his eyes. It was the widow, and not the wealthy, who won the heart of Jesus with her gift.

Fame means nothing. Money means nothing. Blog stats and social shares mean nothing. Human respect, book contracts, fat paychecks, power, praise and adulation—they all mean nothing in eternity. Even repeated frustration, mistakes, and failure mean nothing. Love alone will last forever. It alone unites us to God and floods our hearts with happiness.

So let me ask you this. What are you living for? Power, wealth, fame, the admiration of others? If so, you very well might get what you wish for, and you will have your reward. But it will be so much sound and fury signifying nothing. It will be so much vanity in the eyes of God.

There is only one way to be a truly great man—not just in time, but in eternity. And that is by becoming a man who loves the divine heart of Jesus deeply, by becoming a man who belongs wholly to God.

This is the summary of the matter: Now abides success, failure, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Catholic Gentlemanand is reprinted here with kind permission. 

image: Fotokon / Shutterstock.com

Today we say that we have a shortage of

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 22:00

Today we say that we have a shortage of “signs” of God: miracles and extraordinary cures and happenings.

True we do not have the signs and wonders which accompanied the ministry and preaching of Jesus and of the apostles in the early Church.

Though we may not have such miracles and wonders, we still see and hear about so many wonders and signs of God’s saving love. We see selfless missionaries, clerics, religious and lay, generously preaching the Good News not only in their ordinary lives but even in far-away mission territories. We see generous volunteers visiting the sick and the aged, those in prison and in the slums, providing needed help and bringing hope. We have very generous benefactors feeding the hungry, educating the youth and giving hope to victims of violence and abuse.

Indeed there are so many signs of the Lord God working and accompanying people and the world, if only we could read and see them.

We pray that the Good News be lived more and more even in our days and that we do our share of living and preaching the Good News of Christ’s salvation.

St. Mark (Evangelist)

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 22:00

Most of our knowledge about St. Mark, author of one of the four Gospels, comes directly from the New Testament. It is possible that the unnamed young man present at Jesus’ arrest (Mark 14:51-52) was the evangelist himself; Mark is mentioned directly in several places in the Acts of the Apostles. He was the son of a Christian woman in Jerusalem named Mary; it was to her house that St. Peter fled following his miraculous escape from prison (12:12).

Mark was a cousin of St. Barnabas, and he accompanied Barnabas and St. Paul on one of their missionary journeys. However, Mark turned back for some unknown reason (12:25; 13:13); this prompted an angry St. Paul to refuse to take him along on his next journey. Mark instead went with Barnabas to preach the Good News in Cyprus (15:37-39). Eventually Mark was reconciled with St. Paul, whom he visited when the latter was imprisoned in Rome.

Mark probably wrote his gospel while in Rome, perhaps around the year 60. An early tradition identifies Mark as the interpreter or secretary of St. Peter; the Apostle’s recollections may indeed have been one of the sources of the gospel.

Lessons

1. Jesus once said, “Whoever sets his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the Kingdom” (Luke 9:62) — but the Lord also gives a second chance to those who fail. St. Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey, but later succeeded in his efforts to share the Good News.

2. Mark’s Gospel is blunt in describing the weaknesses and failures of the Apostles (and if the young man in 14:51-52 is the evangelist, he also includes something that was personally embarrassing); being a Christian requires a commitment to the truth — even when it is painful or disconcerting.

Vocal Prayer

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 02:35
Vocal Prayer

Presence of God – Lord, teach me to pray!

MEDITATION

When one of His disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), He taught them a very simple vocal prayer: the Our Father. It is certainly the most sublime formula possible and contains the whole essence of the most elevated mental prayer. However, Jesus gave it as a formula for vocal prayer: “When you pray, say …” (Luke 11:2). This is enough to make us understand the value and importance of vocal prayer, which is within the reach of everyone—even children, the uneducated, the sick, the weary…. But we must realize that vocal prayer does not consist only in the repetition of a certain formula. If this were true, we should have a recitation but not a prayer, for prayer always requires a movement, an elevation of the soul toward God. In this sense, Jesus instructed His disciples: “When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret…. And when you are praying, speak not much as the heathens” (Matthew 6:6,7). It is interesting to note that in St. Matthew these prescriptions concerning the exterior and interior dispositions necessary for well-made prayer immediately precede the teaching of the Pater Noster.

Therefore, in order that our vocal prayer be real prayer, we must first recollect ourselves in the presence of God, approach Him, and make contact with Him. Only when we have such dispositions will the words we pronounce with our lips express our interior devotion and be able to sustain and nourish it. Unfortunately, inclined as we are to grasp the material part of things instead of the spiritual, it is only too easy in our vocal prayer to content ourselves with a mechanical recitation, without taking care to direct our heart to God; hence we should always be vigilant and alert. Vocal prayer made only by the lips dissipates and wearies the soul instead of recollecting it in God; it cannot be said that this is a means of uniting us more closely to Him.

COLLOQUY

“Never permit it to be thought right, my God, that those who come to speak with You do it with their lips alone.

“I must not be unmannerly because You are good, addressing You in the same careless way I might adopt in speaking to a peasant. If only to show You my gratitude for enduring my foul odor and allowing one like myself to come near You, it is well that I should try to realize who You are ….

“O my Emperor, Supreme Power, Supreme Goodness, Wisdom itself, without beginning, without end, and without measure in Your works; infinite are these and incomprehensible, a fathomless ocean of wonders, O Beauty, containing within Yourself all beauties. O very Strength. God help me. Would that I could command all the eloquence of mortals and all wisdom, so as to understand, as far as is possible here below, that to know nothing is everything, and thus to describe some of the many things on which we may meditate in order to learn something of Your nature, my Lord and my God.

“When we approach You, then, let us try to realize who You are with whom we are about to speak. If we had a thousand lives we should never fully understand what are Your merits, Lord, and how we should behave before You, before whom the angels tremble…. We cannot approach a prince and address him in a careless way. Shall less respect be paid then to You, my Spouse, than to men?… I cannot distinguish mental prayer from vocal prayer when faithfully recited with a realization that it is You, O Lord, that we are addressing. Further, are we not under the obligation of trying to pray attentively?” (Teresa of Jesus, Way of Perfection, 22-24).

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Note from Dan: These posts are provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contain one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.

Art for this post on vocal prayer: The Lord’s Prayer, James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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


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

Why are Peacocks Considered Symbols of the Resurrection?

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 02:30
Why are Peacocks Considered Symbols of the Resurrection?

 

Dear Father John, I was looking around the SpiritualDirection.com site and found a post from back in 2014 (Why are Holy Water Fonts at Church Doors? Why Bless Ourselves with Holy Water) in which you said that peacocks are considered signs of the Resurrection. I never knew that. Why are peacocks thought of in that way? Is it the same for peahens? One of our relatives has some peacocks and it would be nice to tell her.

Peacocks often appear in early Christian art as a symbol of the Resurrection and Eternal Life. There are various levels to this symbolism.

Pagan Roots The most obvious is a carry-over from ancient pagan religions, some of which held the belief that the peacock’s flesh never decayed, even after it died. Early Christians, therefore, adopted the bird as a symbol of the Resurrection, Christ’s eternal, glorious existence.
Medieval Theories

Birds of Gethsemane Detail from Christ on the Mount of Olives

In medieval times, it was also thought that peacocks molt (shed their feathers) every year, and the new ones that grow are more beautiful than the old ones. Along with this idea, medieval legends included the theory that the gorgeous colors of a peacock’s feathers came from a special diet: It was believed that peacocks could kill and eat poisonous serpents, ingesting the poison and transforming it into the colors of their feathers. This too contributed to their being an apt symbol of Christ’s Resurrection, since Christ “became sin” [cf 2 Corinthians 5:21] for us on the Cross, but then rose from the dead with his glorified body and wounds having conquered the powers of evil.

Regardless of the biological accuracy or inaccuracy of these traditions, they help explain why Christian artists often used peacocks as a symbol of the Resurrection and Eternal Life.
Hidden Splendor

Personally, however, I have always been moved even more deeply by another level of symbolism that we can discover in this intriguing bird.

During the normal activities of a normal day, peacocks are fairly normal looking animals. And yet, all the while they are pecking and clucking like your average fowl, a hidden splendor lies underneath. When they spread their tail-feathers, this magnificence shines forth, revealing their true beauty.

The symbolism here is clear. When you see a Christian walking along the street, you can’t tell the difference between him and someone who has never been baptized. From all external appearances, they are both just human beings making their way through the hustle and bustle of daily life. And yet, underneath that ordinary appearance, the Christian soul enjoys a hidden splendor through the transforming power of God’s grace. The Blessed Trinity actually dwells in the soul who lives in that grace. And the person living the life of grace has also received a plethora of spiritual gifts: the theological virtues and the other infused virtues; the gifts of the Holy Spirit; the sacramental seals coming from baptism and confirmation, etc.

These spiritual realities are habitually and dynamically present in every Christian who lives the life of grace, but they are not visible in the ordinary way. Their full splendor will only become visible when the Christian enters into eternal life and comes to share in Christ’s own glorious resurrection. At that point, the hidden magnificence of each Christian’s soul will be revealed, to the wonderment of all, similar to a sudden spreading of the peacock’s magnificent feathers.

It’s only an artistic symbol, so there isn’t a perfect correlation. But it’s a lovely one, in my opinion.

God bless you!

In Him, Fr John Bartunek, LC +

Art for this post on peacocks as a sign of the Resurrection: highlighted peacock detail of Leaf from Book of Hours, Master of Isabella di Chiaromonte, circa 1460, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; detail of Birds in Gethsemane detail of Christ on the Mount of Olives, 1510s, photographed by Wolfgang Sauber, 29 December 2010, own work, CCA-SA 3.0; Peacock, photographed by Mathias Appel, 24 April 2016 own work, CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain; all 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.

The Deep Biblical Roots of Confession

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:07

Confession is one of the sacraments that might seem to have a limited biblical foundation.

Just a few New Testament verses are most often cited to support it. Most often is John 20:23, where Jesus is speaking to the apostles: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (All quotes NAB, Rev. Ed. unless otherwise noted.) There’s also James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another.”

There are few sacraments in which faithful Catholics partake frequently. The Eucharist is one. Confession is the other. Is it really the case that the latter has its basis in just two Bible verses?

Let’s begin by noting that the sheer number of verses doesn’t correlate with importance, although some people some act as if that were the case. But it clearly isn’t. The three persons of the Trinity are mentioned together just 20 times in the New Testament, according to one estimate—and that’s the bedrock of our faith. Speaking of faith, more than 500 texts of the New Testament refer to it, while over a whopping 2,000 discuss money, according to one count.

Now to the answer: there are many more verses than just the above two that mention confession. Certainly, there are a number of Old Testament verses about confession and the forgiveness of sins being mediator through a priest or a priest-like figure. But Protestants will argue that the whole point of the New Testament is to end the priest-system of mediation, so those verses alone will only get us so far.

But there are plenty of other New Testament verses that discuss confession—a total of at least 14, according this exhaustive listing. (This estimate excludes the OT verses on that list.)

But counting verses, as we noted before, isn’t such a meaningful exercise. So let’s look at the quality of the evidence.

The example of Christ

The foundation for the Catholic view is the example of Christ Himself.

Now, the critic may step in and object that when Christ forgave sins in the gospels it is in virtue of His Humanity. There’s just one problem with this view: in several instances, it’s Jesus’ humanity that is emphasized.

Take Matthew 6, where Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic. The Pharisees regard Him as a blasphemer because they thought this was only something God could do. Jesus responds by then healing the paralytic. Notice what he says beforehand:

“But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”

Jesus here refers to Himself not as the ‘Son of God’ but as the ‘Son of Man,’ a term that highlighted His humanity. (Mark 2 and Luke 5, which also record the story, have the same terminology.)

Now perhaps such evidence may not be persuasive to skeptics. Jesus was fully human and fully divine, so conceivably one could argue that the power to forgive sins was limited to Him because He was God Incarnate. But this just does not make sense of the above verse. (True, Jesus’ preferred term of self-reference is ‘Son of Man,’ but the question still remains why the term ‘Son of God,’ which is uttered by others in the gospels, does not appear here.) Such an argument also woefully understates the radicalism of the Incarnation.

There really is a clash of two worldviews here. The Catholic one holds that the Incarnation extended outwards in space and time—through Mary, the sacraments, the formal priesthood, and the very existence of the visible Church itself. For Protestants on the other hand, particularly evangelicals and others in the Reformed tradition, the Incarnation is an event confined to history.

The power to forgive sins is extended to the apostles

So now the question becomes, in the context of confession, is there reason to believe that, through Christ, other man were granted authority to forgive sins?

This is exactly what John 20:23 says. It’s evident in the second clause, in which the apostles are given leeway to not only ‘forgive’ but ‘retain’ sins. (Significantly, the language is similar to the ‘binding and loosing’ authority granted to Peter in Matthew 18:18.)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, it’s clear the apostles exercise this special authority to forgive.

In 2 Corinthians 2:10 St. Paul states, “For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ.” One translation also reads in the ‘sight’ of Christ. In fact, the Greek word translated as presence is prosōpon (pronounced: pro’-sō-pon), which is the term for person, which is how many versions translate it. And it’s not just the Catholic Douay-Rheims version that does that, but also many Protestant versions. (Such as the King James Bible.)

So Paul is really saying that he is acting in the person of Christ in forgiving sins—which is quite an extraordinary biblical affirmation of the terminology the Catholic Church continues to use today to describe the role of priests in the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist.

Later, in 2 Corinthians 5:18 Paul states that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” ‘Reconciliation,’ of course, is the familiar post-Vatican II term for confession. Here again, Paul presents his role as more of a hierarchical one. The picture is developed a bit further in the following verses:

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (verses 19:21).

In isolation, the second verse, where we read about the ‘message of reconciliation’ might seem to support one Protestant critique of the Catholic position: that the apostles merely proclaimed the forgiveness of sins, rather than actually forgave them. But this does not comport as well with the context, which clearly indicates that just as God acted through Christ, so now Christ is acting through the apostles.

There are two additional New Testament verses that concern the practice of confession.

One, 1 Timothy 6:12, states, “Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses.” This is obviously describing a public act. Now, it is true that in the context, ‘confession’ could refer to confessing faith in Christ. But remember this also would have had to have been accompanied by an initial confession of sins. This interpretation is supported by the preceding verses, which emphasize sins to avoid (as this site notes).

Note here that the Greek word for witness is martys, from which we derive our word martyr. So we can infer that Timothy’s act of confession was done in the presence of authority figures within his local Church community—even not in the sense of ‘martyrs’ who died for their faith.

Another key verse is Acts 19:18, “Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices.” Again, the phrase ‘openly acknowledged’ is easy to overlook. Fortunately many other translations use the key word ‘confession.’ And again, the word appears in at least one Catholic version and several Protestant versions. (Examples include the Douay Rheims version and the King James Bible.)

Now Acts 19:18 does not directly involve an apostle or ‘witnesses’ but what it does describe is the practice of public confession and penance that was more the norm earlier in the history of the Church and that—significantly—is the basis for the contemporary practice of one-on-one confession in the Church.

And don’t forget that confession of sins was also a central element of John the Baptist’s ministry, as Matthew 3:6, for example, indicates.

Clearly, there is more evidence that at first meets the eye for the sacrament of confession. The record of the New Testament strongly indicates that confession was a public act committed in the presence of authority figures. In the case of the apostles we know explicitly that they actually forgave sins.

But could men after the apostles forgive sins too?

But there is one trump card Protestant critiques wield in response to all this: Well, they say, this was an extraordinary time in the history of the Church in which the apostles did many extraordinary things. But such things—like the forgiveness of sins—did not continue after the apostles.

This often-made claim is erroneous for several reasons.

In the first place, it contradicts the often-expressed biblical legalism of many Protestants, especially among evangelicals and fundamentalists. The basic idea of legalism is that only what is explicitly permitted in the Bible should be adopted in the Church today. But if the Bible is our sole source of guidance, then wouldn’t we be compelled to continue the tradition of confession as described in the New Testament?

Plus, it’s clear the ministry of the apostles was meant to continue. That’s why Peter convened the remaining 11 apostles to appoint a 12th in Acts 1. And it’s why Paul counts as an apostle even though he came even later in the timeline and never met Christ during His earthly ministry.

(As Paul puts it so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 15:8, in describing his encounter with the resurrected Christ, “And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (Douay-Rheims).)

There are two additional arguments from reason as well.

First, why was this extraordinary period necessary in the first century or so in which Christ lived but not after? The burden of proof is on those making the claim.

It is true that this period does correspond with the writing of the New Testament. So yes, one could argue that there was a special outpouring of the Spirit during this time. But this leads to the second point: Christians did not, as one priest puts it, suddenly stop sinning after the death of the last apostle. Where were those who had obtained forgiveness from the apostles supposed to seek relief afterwards?

We started out with two verses commonly seen as supportive of the sacrament of confession. A closer examination of Scripture has yielded a body of evidence that is compelling both in its quantity and quality.

In the process, we have ascertained two very important, indisputable facts. First, a particular man in history—that is Jesus Christ—had the power to forgive sins. Of course, this man was also fully divine. But He exercised His power of forgiveness in His humanity and he even extended it to other men. The question remained as to whether the men to whom this privilege was delegated, in turn, passed it down to others. Both reason and faith in the authority of Scriptures point toward a positive answer.

Of course, we Catholics also have the weight of tradition along with the enduring teaching authority of the Church. The Scriptural evidence not only underscores the truth of this teaching but ought to deepen our desire for confession by showing how deeply it is rooted it the life of Christ and the early Church.

7 Reasons to Return to Confession in Easter

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:05

Lent is a great time for Catholics to return to Confession, but it would be wrong to think that Easter is not. In fact, with a little reflection, we can find many reasons why Easter is a particularly graced time to go to Confession, even after a lackluster Lent. As a start, I propose seven reasons.

1. Confession is Christ’s Easter gift to the Church.

On the first Easter Sunday, the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples and gave them the power to forgive sins. Christ breathed on his disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22ff.). By this gesture, Christ instituted the Sacrament of Confession. Confession is His Easter gift.

2. The Risen Christ reconciled with two great saints: Peter and Paul.

The Risen Christ reconciled Peter to Himself, healing his threefold denial by a threefold confession of love (John 21:15-17). Later, the Risen Christ converted Paul (then called Saul) who was still plotting the murder of Christians (Acts 9). These examples of Peter and Paul show not only how freely Christ offers mercy after the Resurrection, but how this Easter mercy has the power to turn great sinners into great saints.

3. The preaching of both Peter and Paul united Christ’s Resurrection and man’s repentance.

After Pentecost, Peter’s first two sermons announce Christ’s Resurrection, but also our need for conversion: “Repent and be baptized!” (Acts 2:38) and “Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). Paul, in recounting his preaching, highlights the same focus: he preached that all men “should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance” (Acts 26:20). Resurrection and repentance are connected in the wondrous phrase: “repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). The Risen Christ offers us eternal life, and we enter into this through repentance. For the baptized, Confession is the privileged sacrament of repentance unto life.

4. Divine Mercy Sunday and Good Shepherd Sunday: mercy is increasing.

On the second and fourth Sundays of Easter, the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday and Good Shepherd Sunday, respectively. Both are reminders that the mercy of Good Friday flows with increasing might throughout Eastertide and beyond. The Divine Mercy beckons the sinner home. The Good Shepherd draws back the lost sheep. In the confessional, the Father embraces us like prodigal sons, clothing us in His grace and adorning us with unearned gifts.

5. The work of Lent continues into Easter.

The grace of Lent is often an increase of our self-knowledge. Maybe we realized that we commit a sin that we were unaware of before. Or maybe we see with greater clarity the depths of ours sins and the damage they cause. In such ways, Lent can show us where we need to grow, but such growth often demands much more than forty days. Whatever God began in us during Lent (even if we don’t sense it yet), the Divine Physician wants to continue in us throughout Eastertide. His graces of healing and strengthening await us in the confessional.

6. Penance is a virtue. Flex it.

How can you get more out of your Lenten confession? Follow it up with confession in Easter. St. Thomas Aquinas aligns the Sacrament of Penance with the virtue of penance. As a virtue, penance is like a muscle: the more we repent of our sins and frequent the Sacrament of Penance, the quicker and better we will be transformed by God’s mercy. If we wait too long for the next Confession, our virtue atrophies and we return to Confession with great difficulty. Easter is a good time to flex the muscle.

7. Easter is the turning point, but the war is not over.

The traditional icon of the Resurrection (i.e. the Anastasis icon) depicts Christ’s light breaking into a dark world. The icon shows the power of Christ’s light, but also the darkness lingering in the world. This ongoing battle between light and darkness will continue until Christ returns. For most of us, our call is mainly to conquer our vices and grow in virtue, all by the grace of God. In this battle between virtue and vice, Confession is indispensable: forgiving our sins and strengthening our union with Jesus Christ, our mighty God.

In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf makes a sort of Resurrection appearance to his comrades, returning after defeating an ancient evil in the earth’s depths. He tells them: “Be merry! We meet again. At the turn of the tide. The great storm is coming, but the tide has turned” (LOTR III.5). These words capture an important truth. Easter is a time to be merry, for Christ meets with us again and He has truly turned the tide of history. Yet, the great storm is coming. Christ assures His elect of victory, but also assures them of a real fight: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). No Christian is exempt from Christ’s call to arms—not even the hobbit-souled. Let us fight like Gospel men. Christ our hope has arisen.

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

image: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

Easter: A Pagan Holiday?

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:02

Q: A relative who left the Catholic Church and joined some Messianic-Jewish sect made the comment that Easter was originally a pagan holiday named after some German goddess, Eoster. We had a pretty good argument about that. Where would he get such a notion?

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I think your relative is confused to say the least. In accord with the Gospels, Easter is unequivocally the solemn feast celebrating Christ’s Resurrection. In the Church’s Western tradition Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the new full moon, which occurs on or immediately after the vernal or spring equinox. This dating was established by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. As such, Easter may range from March 22 to April 25. (The Orthodox Churches follow a different dating system and will thereby celebrate Easter one, four, or five weeks later.)

Your brother’s confusion lies in the etymology of the word itself. In the original language of the Gospels, the Greek word pascha is used for the Aramaic form of the Hebrew word pesach, which means Passover. During the first three centuries of the Church, Pasch referred specifically to the celebration of Christ’s Passion and death; by the end of the fourth century, it also included the Easter Vigil; and by the end of the fifth century, it referred to Easter itself. In all, the term signified Christ as the new Passover Lamb. Together, the mystery of the Last Supper, the sacrifice of Good Friday, and the resurrection of Easter form the new Passover — the new Pasch.

Latin used the Greek-Hebrew root for its word Pascha and other derivatives to signify Easter or the Easter mysteries: for instance, the Easter Vigil in Latin is Sabbato Sancto de Vigilia Paschali and in the First Preface of Easter, the priest prays, “Cum Pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus” (“When Christ our Pasch was sacrificed”). The Romance languages later used the Hebrew-Greek-Latin root for their words denoting Easter: Italian, Pasqua; Spanish, Pascua; and French, Pâques. Even some non-Romance languages employ the Hebrew-Greek-Latin root: Scotch, Pask; Dutch, Paschen; Swedish, Pask; and the German dialect along the lower Rhine, Paisken.

However, according to St. Bede (d. 735), the great historian of the Middle Ages, the title Easter seems to have originated in English around the eighth century A.D. The word Easter is derived from the word Eoster, the name of the Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and spring and the annual sacrifices associated with her. If this is the origin of our word Easter, then the Church “baptized” the name, using it to denote that first Easter Sunday morning when Christ, our Light, rose from the grave and when the women found the tomb empty just as dawn was breaking.

Another possibility which arises from more recent research suggests the early Church referred to Easter week as hebdomada alba (“white week”), from the white garments worn by the newly baptized. Some mistranslated the word to mean “the shining light of day” or “the shining dawn,” and therefore used the Teutonic root eostarun, the Old German plural for dawn, as the basis for the German Ostern and for the English equivalent Easter. In early English translations of the Bible made by Tyndale and Coverdale, the word Easter was substituted for the word Passover, in some verses.

Even though the etymological root of the word Easter may be linked to the name of a pagan goddess or pagan ceremonies, the feast which the word describes is Christian without question. Exactly why the English language did not utilize the Hebrew-Greek-Latin root is a mystery. Unlike Christmas which was set on December 25 and “baptized” the former Roman pagan feast of the sun, Easter is a unique celebration. Any confusion, therefore, rests with etymology, not theology.

This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

The first sacrament in the Church is

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:00

The first sacrament in the Church is baptism, the sacrament of initiation. In baptism we are freed from the sin of Adam, receive God’s gift of grace and become members of his Church; we receive the gift of faith, the Holy Spirit and the promise of eternal life. Without baptism we cannot receive the other sacraments.

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Baptism is a re-birth into God’s grace and life, through its cleansing waters. Baptism is also seen as dying to sin and death and rising to new life with and in Christ.

Let us thank God for his sharing of his divine life with us when we were baptized: “Given a new birth [in baptism] by water and the Holy Spirit, may we live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:00

St. Fidelis (1577-1622) was born in the German town of Sigmaringen as Mark Rey. He became a lawyer as a young man, and dedicated himself to upholding the rights of the poor and oppressed; in fact, he was nicknamed “the poor man’s lawyer.” Mark became disgusted by the widespread corruption he observed. His brother George was a Franciscan friar of the Capuchin Order, and Mark decided to join the Order himself and to become a priest. He gave his wealth to the poor and entered the Capuchins, choosing the religious name Fidelis (Latin for “faithful”). Fidelis combined a life of continued service to the poor with an austere lifestyle, spending many hours in prayer, penance, and all-night vigils.

Speaking of Fidelis, Pope Benedict XIV (d. 1758) once said:

With wealth collected from the powerful and from princes, he comforted widows and orphans in their loneliness. He was always helping prisoners in their spiritual and bodily needs. He showed constant zeal in visiting and comforting the sick whom he would win back to God and prepare for their last struggle.

The most outstanding example of this meritorious way of life occurred when the Austrian army, stationed in the area of Raetia, was almost totally destroyed by an epidemic. To show compassion he used to bring food for the weak and the dying.

Fidelis led a group of Capuchins to Switzerland, where they preached against the Calvinists and Zwinglians (followers of the Protestant leaders John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli). Their mission was quite dangerous, but was very successful in bringing people back to the Church. Even though his life was threatened, Fidelis went to preach at the town of Seewis; while there, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped harm. A sympathetic Protestant offered him shelter, but Fidelis declined, stating that his life was in God’s hands. Upon leaving town, he was attacked by a group of armed men and killed.

Lessons

1. The Christian response to social problems isn’t simply to complain about them, but to do something to help those who suffer. St. Fidelis tried to improve society — first as a lawyer, then as a priest.

2. Our Catholic faith is worth dying for; as St. Fidelis once wrote, “What is it that today makes true followers of Christ cast luxuries aside, leave pleasures behind, and endure difficulties and pain? It is living faith that expresses itself through love.”

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Euphrasia Pelletier (1868), Foundress of the Good Shepherd Sisters

Divine and Human Mercy (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

Sun, 04/23/2017 - 02:35
Divine and Human Mercy From a Sermon by Saint Caesarius of Arles, bishop
(Sermo 25m I: CCL 103, 111-112)

 

 Sobering words for our celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday today!

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
(Matthew 5:7)

My brothers and sisters, sweet is the thought of mercy, but even more so is mercy itself. It is what all men hope for, but unfortunately, not what all men deserve. For while all men wish to receive it, only a few are willing to give it.

How can a man ask for himself what he refuses to give to another? If he expects to receive any mercy in heaven, he should give mercy on earth. Do we all desire to receive mercy? Let us make mercy our patroness now, and she will free us in the world to come. Yes, there is mercy in heaven, but the road to it is paved by our merciful acts on earth. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven [cf Psalm 36:6].

There is, therefore, an earthly as well as heavenly mercy, that is to say, a human and a divine mercy. Human mercy has compassion on the miseries of the poor. Divine mercy grants forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy bestows here on earth, divine mercy will return to us in our homeland. In this life, God feels cold and hunger in all who are stricken with poverty; for, remember, he once said: What you have done to the least of my brothers you have done to me [cf Matthew 25:40]. Yes, God who sees fit to give his mercy in heaven wishes it to be a reality here on earth.

What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when he begs, we refuse to give. Remember, it was Christ who said: I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat [Matthew 25:42]. When the poor are starving, Christ too hungers. Do not neglect to improve the unhappy conditions of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my brethren; it is he who deigns to hunger and thirst in the persons of the poor. And what he will return in heaven tomorrow is what he receives here on earth today.

What do you wish for, what do you pray for, my dear brothers and sisters, when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else? Show mercy, then, while you are on earth, and mercy will be shown to you in heaven. A poor person asks you for something; you ask God for something. He begs for a morsel of food; you beg for eternal life. Give to the beggar so that you may merit to receive from Christ. For he it is who says: Give and it will be given to you [cf Luke 6:38]. It baffles me that you have the impudence to ask for what you do not want to give. Give when you come to church. Give to the poor. Give them whatever your resources will allow.

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Editor’s Note: To watch, and pray along with, a video of the Divine Mercy Chaplet set to music, click here for one of our previous posts: Divine Mercy Sunday, Sunday after Easter

Art for this post on Divine and Human Mercy by St. Caesarius of Arles, on this Sunday of Divine Mercy: Divine Mercy, Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, 1934 [Painting in Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius], PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Common

About Dan Burke

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


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

St. George (Martyr)

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 22:00

The martyr St. George is well known because of the many popular legends about him; the historical facts about his life, however, are less well known and much more prosaic than the myths suggest. George lived in the third or fourth century, and was probably martyred about 303 in the Palestinian city of Lydda. It was there that veneration of him as a soldier-saint began, though the Church initially recognized that it knew little about his actual life (as late as the sixth century he was referred to as merely a good man “whose deeds are known only to God”).

Unreliable legends about St. George developed in the Middle Ages; he was supposedly a knight from Cappadocia whose rescue of a maiden from a dragon in Libya prompted a large number of conversions. Other stories about him are also without factual basis, but St. George is nonetheless considered a patron saint of England, Portugal, Germany, Aragon, Genoa, and Venice.

Lessons

1. The legend of St. George fighting and overcoming the dragon (a traditional symbol of evil) reminds us of God’s care: “Under the Lord’s wings you shall take refuge; His faithfulness is a buckler and shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day” (Psalm 91:4-5).

2. People — including Christians — have a natural need for heroes, and stories about the saints — even if based on uncertain legends, as in the case of St. George — are a legitimate response to this need.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Adalbert (997), Bishop, Martyr

Sts. Epipodius and Alexander

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 22:00

These two young men, living in Lyons, became friends through the love of God they shared. Alexander was Grecian by birth. Both young men studied together in the same school, and encouraged each other in their acts of spirituality. Neither married, deciding to live their lives devoted to God. It was during this time, in the prime of their lives, that the persecution of Christians began under reign of Marcus Aurelius.

They were aware of the Savior’s words that when the tribulations come to flee to the hills, so they endeavored to hide themselves. Leaving the city, they went to a neighboring town where, for a time, a Christian widow gave them shelter. However, knowing their persecutors were pursuing them, they fled from her house to seek another place to hide. While fleeing, one of the young men lost his shoe which was picked up by a Christian woman who kept it. But they were soon captured and imprisoned. Three days later they were brought before the governor’s tribunal with their hands bound behind their backs. When they professed their Christian faith, there was a great outcry from the people. The judge then announced, “What purpose have all the preceding tortures and executions served, if there still remain any who dare profess the name of Christ?” He then separated the two friends.

He called Epipodius, the younger of the two and the one he felt was the weakest, to be brought alone before him. Pretending to be compassionate and understanding, he proceeded to try to get the young man to deny his faith, but Epipodius did not waiver in his resolve. Instead he answered that he could not be fooled by the judge’s pretended and cruel compassion. “Are you so ignorant as not to know that man is composed of two substances, a soul and a body? With us the soul commands, and the body obeys. The abominations you are guilty of in honor of your pretended deities, afford pleasure to the body, but kill the soul. We are engaged in a war against the body for the advantage of the soul. You, after having defiled yourselves with pleasures like brute beasts, find nothing at last but a sorrowful death; whereas we, when you destroy us, enter into eternal life.” Upon hearing these words, the judge had Epipodius struck in the mouth causing him to lose teeth. But through bleeding lips he continued to proclaim his faith saying, “I confess that Jesus Christ is God, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is but reasonable that I should resign my soul to Him who has created me and redeemed me. This is not losing my life, but changing it into a better.”

While he was still speaking, the judge ordered him to be stretched on the rack and his sides to be torn with iron hooks. The people watching were so enraged at his tranquility, that they pleaded for him to be handed over to them to crush him to death or tear him to pieces. The crowd became so frenzied, that the judge feared for his own life so he gave orders for the head of Epipodius to be immediately lopped off, which was done.

After two days, the judge had Alexander brought to the bar. He proceeded to tell him what had happened to his friend and others like him in hopes of frightening him into compliance. Instead, Alexander thanked the Lord for giving him the courageous examples of his friend and other Christians and then expressed to the judge his own desire to be put to death as well. The judge, truly enraged now, had the young man’s legs stretched as far apart as possible and then ordered him beaten by three executioners. This torture went on for quite a while but Alexander never uttered a word of complaint. He was then asked again if he still wanted to persist in his profession of Christianity to which he replied, “I do.”

The judge ordered Alexander to be crucified. He was already so horribly beaten that his entrails visible through his uncovered ribs and so as soon as he was nailed to the cross, he expired.

Lessons

Christians privately carried the bodies of Alexander and Epipodius to a hillside outside the city where they buried them. The place of their burial soon became famous and many miracles were said to have taken place there. St. Gregory of Tours later wrote that their bodies were deposited with that of St. Irenaeus in the sixth century in the Church of St. John which is now called St. Irenaeus.

Prayer

Dear Lord, may the lives of Your saints and martyrs never be forgotten by us. Strengthen us in our weaknesses, Lord, that we may not only live our lives in accordance with Your Will but be strong in the face of evil. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Saints Soter (175) and Caius (296), Popes, Martyrs

Defeating the Tempter by Trust in Divine Mercy

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 22:07

In the book of Job we read, “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, faultless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil? He holds fast to his innocence and although you incited me against him to ruin him without cause.’ And Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘Skin for skin! All that a man has will he give for his life. But now put forth your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face’,” (Job 2:3-5).

We know the trials and tribulation contained within the pages of the book of the Job. The Lord ordained that His good and faithful servant, endure diabolical vexation; He tested his love and fidelity. After Job’s longsuffering the Lord restored him and his household a hundredfold.

The words that Satan spoke to the Lord, “…surely he will blaspheme you to your face” represent a consistent goal of the Tempter—to cause us to blaspheme the Lord.

About blasphemy:

Blasphemy is directly opposed to the second commandment. It consists in uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance; in speaking ill of God; in failing in respect toward him in one’s speech; in misusing God’s name. St. James condemns those “who blaspheme that honorable name [of Jesus] by which you are called.” The prohibition of blasphemy extends to language against Christ’s Church, the saints, and sacred things. It is also blasphemous to make use of God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God’s name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion. Blasphemy is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin (CCC 2148).

The Tempter tries to incite us to reject God and His will for our life; to become angry with God; to blame the Lord for all that is wrong, tempting us to negativity, indifference and then blasphemy in thought and deed. Such temptations vary from subtle to strong. Like Job, the saints model how to resist the Tempter.

In her spiritual diary, St. Faustina records Satan’s temptations, how she responded and what Christ taught her.

When I went, in my thoughts, to the chapel, my spirit was plunged into even greater darkness. Total discouragement came over me. Then I head Satan’s voice: “See how contradictory everything is that Jesus gives to you: He tells you to found a convent, and the He gives you sickness. He tells you to set about establishing this Feast of Mercy while the whole world does not at all want such a feast. Why do you pray for this feast? It is so inopportune.” My soul remained silent and, by an act of the will, continued to pray without entering into conversation with the Spirit of Darkness. Nevertheless, such an extraordinary disgust with life came over me that I had to make a great act of the will to consent to go on living…(1497). (St. Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, Marian Press, Stockbridge, MA, 2014)

And again, I heard the tempter’s words: “Ask for death for yourself tomorrow after Holy Communion. God will hear you, for He has heard you so many times before and has given you that which you asked of Him.” (1497)

Here Satan tempts a saint against God’s will and entices her to ask God to end her life at the precise moment of Holy Communion, which is the Eucharistic bond of the love life between Creator and creature. Satan abhors the moment of Holy Communion and seeks to corrupt it with the desire for death instead of life. The Tempter knows this humble nun is a threat to his kingdom of darkness. Like Job, Faustina must engage with an act of her will to overcome such temptations.

The tempter went on: “Why should you bother about other souls? You ought to be praying only for yourself. As for sinners, they will be converted without your prayers. I see that you are suffering very much at this moment. I’m going to give you a piece of advice on which your happiness will depend: Never speak about God’s mercy and, in particular, do not encourage sinners to trust in God’s mercy, because they deserve a just punishment. Another very important thing: Do not tell your confessors, and especially this extraordinary confessor and the priest in Vilnius, about what goes on in your soul. I know them: I know who they are, and so I want you on guard against them. You see, to live as a good nun, it is sufficient to live like all the others. Why expose yourself to so many difficulties?” (1497)

Now Satan tempts a saint to cease praying for others and to pray only for herself. Intercessory prayer for others is so important that Satan is tempting Faustina to cease this type of prayer. Then Satan emphasizes her suffering and taunts her to happiness that he says depends upon “never speaking about God’s mercy”. He tempts her against the will of God and her mission. In particular Satan exhorts her to cease encouraging sinners to trust in God’s mercy and he emphasizes justice and punishment.

Finally, the last temptation recorded in this diary entry is one against honesty with her confessor and against the priest in Vilnius. Satan sows seeds of doubt and tries to intimidate her, “I know them.” Satan abhors priests, confessors, and our confession of sins. The sacrament of Reconciliation saves countless souls from perdition and heals our spiritual sicknesses.

In response to the above temptations, St. Faustina “remained silent, and by an act of will I dwelt in God, although a moan escaped from my heart. Finally, the tempter went away and I, exhausted, fell asleep immediately.” (1498) The next morning, after she received Holy Communion, she renewed her act of submission to God’s will, “Jesus, I ask You, give me the strength for battle. Let it be done to me according to Your most holy will.”

Variations of the temptations of Job and of the saints such as Faustina are unleashed upon us also. The ancient serpent of the Garden of Eden who enticed Adam and Eve still roams the earth seeking the ruin of souls. In the desert, during the threefold temptation of Jesus Christ, He modeled how to conquer the wiles of the Tempter (cf. Luke 1:1-13). We are called to imitate Christ’s wisdom, fidelity, virtue and faithfulness to the Father’s will for our life’s vocation. We do so for the sake of the greatest love, eternal beatitude.

After St. Faustina resisted the tempter and recommitted her will to God’s will, the Lord said:

Satan gained nothing by tempting you, because you did not enter into the conversation with him. Continue to act in this way. You gave Me great glory today by fighting so faithfully. Let it be confirmed and engraved on your heart that I am always with you, even if you don’t feel My presence at the time of the battle. (1409)

Recently a priest advanced in age who has been my spiritual father underwent open-heart surgery. Twice he nearly died during the first weeks after surgery. Father asked for prayers because he experienced temptations such as, “Your God is all about suffering. Suffer, suffer, suffer priest! That’s all God wills for you. You are alone and God has rejected you and you will suffer unto death and be mine.” Father made many acts of faith and fought valiantly against the Tempter. Then he somehow experienced the truth of divine mercy saying, “It’s all real!”

That God allows the Tempter to try us is a mystery not to be solved but to be believed. Before Job’s restoration he said to the Lord, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42: 1-6).

As one who, for the past fifteen years, has witnessed much deliverance from evil during major and minor exorcisms, the manifestations of the evil one are not nearly as impressive as are the manifestations of God’s mercy working in and through the priest and church.

Take heart when the Tempter assails you because you are not alone, Jesus defends you, choirs of good angels and the communion of saints engage on your behalf, and as a member of the Church, her goods are your spiritual armor.

If like Job, you suffer loss in the fray with the evil one, trust that the Lord will restore you in unimaginable good. He is preoccupied with your eternal salvation and His mercy is your covering and protection. Repay His mercy with your loving trust.

Editor’s note: For approved spiritual warfare prayers please visit www.foundationforpriests.org, under the spiritual warfare section. See also Kathleen Beckman’s God’s Healing Mercy: Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace, and Joywhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

image: Archangel Michael defeats the Devil, relief by Marcantonio Prestinari on the facade of Sant’Angelo church in Milan, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, April 11 2007 / Wikimedia Commons.

Humbled by Mercy

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 22:05

The Gospels tell an incredible story.  A virginal conception.  Miraculous healings.  Even people coming back from the dead.  How are we to know that it’s not all just a fanciful fabrication?

There is much evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, but here is one of the strongest bits of evidence I know.  Think for a minute.  If you were part of a group who decided to perpetrate an elaborate hoax, what would be your motive?  Wouldn’t you want to gain some significant benefits from such a risky business?  Maybe fortune, fame, and privilege?  And if you were to be prominent figures in this tall tale, wouldn’t you at least want the story to make you look good?

But in the story told by the apostles, virtually all of them look really bad. During Jesus public ministry they repeatedly fail to “get it.” In fact Jesus wears himself out trying to hammer the truth through their thick skulls.  After witnessing three years worth of miracles, one of them betrays Jesus and their leader denies him.  All but one run away when he’s crucified, and no one believes Mary Magdalene when she brings them the news of his resurrection.

But the episode recounted in John 20:19-31 takes the cake.  The Risen Christ appears to the twelve on Easter Sunday evening.  Or rather, I should say he appeared to the ten.  Judas, the traitor, had taken his own life.  And Thomas, the twin, missed the occasion.  When Thomas returns to the group, he refuses to believe them.  He demands empirical proof submitted personally to his lordship: “Unless I put my finger in the nail marks in his hands and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  This sound more like a pouting of a child than the words of an apostle.

In justice, Jesus could have just said “enough.”  Thomas had already seen so much.  Acts 1 tells us that Judas was replaced by Matthias.  This ungrateful skeptic could easily have been replaced as well.

But Jesus does not deal with us by virtue of strict justice.  God forbid!  No, he comes to us in mercy, giving us what we do not deserve.  And that’s how he dealt with this doubter.  A week later, he gives him what he asked for.  Imagine how badly Thomas yearned to eat his words as he put his hand into the sacred side of the New Adam.

Thomas can’t be said to come to true “faith” in the resurrection through all this.  Because faith is about believing what you can’t see.  Walking by faith means NOT walking by sight.  In heaven, we’ll see God face to face, so “faith” will be no more.  Blessed, says Jesus, are those who have not seen, and yet believe.

But Thomas does come to faith in something else that he can’t quite see.  He saw Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain plus the daughter of Jairus all raised from the dead.

Thomas now looks at yet another risen human being before him and says what he did not say to the prior three: “My Lord and My God.”  Thomas here professes what can only be seen by the eye of faith.  The resurrection of Jesus is not just a marvel for Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  Jesus is not just some first century Houdini.  No, his resurrection is a sign that he is the Messiah, the King, even the Eternal God, come in the flesh.

So this man, humbled by Christ’s mercy, is content to be known for all generations as “Doubting Thomas.”  He and the other apostles spread a story in which they look real bad.  And for it they receive not privilege but persecution and death.

So why do they spread the story?  Because it’s the truth.  And because it’s a proclamation of the mercy of God who does not reject the thick-headed, the weak, and the doubting but instead gives them the power to become strong, loving, and wise.  “Behold,” says Jesus, “I make all things new.”  (Rev 21:5)

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Scripture Speaks: Divine Mercy Sunday

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 22:02

Today’s Gospel records a post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus in which a flow of mercy to sinners starts that will not stop until we have all attained the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls, as St. Peter tells us in the epistle.

Gospel (Read Jn 20:19-31)

The celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday usually focuses on the sheer ecstasy of His victory over death.  All during Holy Week, we are absorbed with the details of His horrific Passion.  When we reach Easter, our hearts nearly burst with joy that Jesus is alive and vindicated as God’s Son.  In other words, it’s easy to dwell on the fact of the Resurrection and be so dazzled by it that we do not think much beyond that.  The mercy of Divine Mercy Sunday (yes, intended pun) is that now we begin to meditate on the meaning of the Resurrection.  Today’s Gospel gets us started.

When Jesus miraculously appears among the apostles, we find they are locked in a room “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19).  These fellows have not lately impressed us, have they?  His closest friends (Peter, James, and John) slept instead of keeping watch and praying in Gethsemane.  All the apostles except John fled the Crucifixion, and they were all reluctant to believe the witness of the women to whom Jesus first appeared.  Yet the word Jesus speaks to them is, “Peace” (Jn 20:19).  Then He commissions them to continue the work the Father sent Him to do.  If the Gospel reading stopped right here, we would still have enough information to knock us over backwards with joy:  Jesus loves sinners!  These men were feckless, shifty, unreliable, and self-absorbed, yet when He goes to them, He gives them peace and joy (Jn 20:20).  Can any scene in the Gospels demonstrate more clearly than this one the meaning of Easter?

Jesus then does something truly astounding.  “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained’” (Jn 20:22-23).  What??  Are we prepared to see this in the story?  Jesus breathed His own breath on the very people who failed Him in His hour of need.  This action reminds us of God breathing into Adam’s nostrils His own breath at Creation, confirming him in “the image and likeness of God.”  Jesus establishes the apostles as those who will continue His divine work on earth.  In them, God will forgive or retain sin.  What can explain Jesus building a Church that is both human and divine other than the boundless mercy of God?

We find that one of the apostles, Thomas, was missing from this momentous occasion.  When he gets the report of it, he refuses to believe it.  He must see and touch the wounds of Jesus to be convinced.  We don’t know why Thomas doubted the men with whom he’d spent the last three years and who, along with himself, had been chosen as Jesus’ closest intimates.  His refusal to believe makes us uncomfortable, doesn’t it?   His doubt and cynicism don’t seem to come from a good place, yet Jesus appears and gives him precisely what he needs for faith.  Mercy!  This river of mercy is starting to gain momentum.  Jesus then helps us to understand where the river is headed:  “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and believed” (Jn 20:29).  This happy river is coming our way.    It will flow out to everyone, everywhere, in all times.  Those who believe in Jesus without ever seeing Him are going to be swept up in the torrent of God’s mercy for sinners.

If we have been slow on the uptake, St. John puts it all together for us:  “These [signs of the Risen Jesus] are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief, you might have life in His Name” (Jn 20:31).  The meaning of the Resurrection is the triumph of mercy and new life for sinners.  Isn’t this a great Day?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I know myself to be as weak, fickle, and hard-hearted as the apostles sometimes were; thank You for the mercy You offered to them and to me.

First Reading (Read Acts 2:42-27)

This reading from Acts gives us a “snapshot” of what the triumph of mercy looked like when the apostles began to do the work to which Jesus commissioned them.  On the Day of Pentecost, St. Peter preached the Gospel to the very people responsible for Jesus’ death:  “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).  When they heard this, they repented and were baptized.  Look at the transformation!  They formed the infant Church, observing the same life we experience today:  the apostles’ teaching (the catechesis of the Church), fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers (the Mass).  There was great joy among them, and they made an impression on the surrounding community, leading to many more conversions.  Imagine if we could step into this scene and ask the Church’s first converts, many of whom had consented to the Lord’s death, “What is the meaning of the Resurrection?”  Do we think they would begin their answer with any word other than “mercy”?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, You offered mercy to Your murderers through the preaching of St. Peter.  Help me to be a channel of Your mercy to others, too.

Psalm (Read Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24)

This psalm is the same one we heard on Easter Sunday.  Why have we not moved on?  Surely it is because in today’s reading, slightly different from last week’s, we hear what is now becoming a familiar refrain:  “His mercy endures forever” (Ps 118:1-4).  Divine Mercy Sunday keeps us focused on the meaning of the Resurrection:  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).  We might ask, “The cornerstone of what?”  Jesus, the Rock, has become the cornerstone of the new Temple made without hands.  In Him, God’s mercy makes it possible for us to approach His throne of grace (cf. Heb 10:19-22).  If we understand this, we will want to declare with the psalmist:  “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love is everlasting.”

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

Second Reading (Read 1 Pet 1:3-9)

As is often the case, the epistle summarizes and elaborates on what we have seen in the other readings.  St. Peter immediately identifies the Resurrection of Jesus as the source of God’s mercy that gives “new birth to a living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3) for believers.  He helps us understand something else very important as well.  Just as the suffering of the Passion preceded the Lord’s rise to glory, suffering is to be part of our journey to glory, too.  We are to think of our sufferings as a refiner’s fire meant to purify, not destroy, us.  What a perfect moment this is for St. Peter to remind us of what he learned from Jesus in our Gospel reading—in our suffering, if we continue to believe and love Him, even though we can’t see Him, we will receive the blessing Jesus promised:  “the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9).  Mercy!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me know that suffering is also a part of God’s mercy to me, burning away the dross and making me ready for glory.  Help me stay steady in my love for You, even though I can’t “see” You.

image: Iryna Rasko / Shutterstock.com

In today’s Gospel reading we see

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 22:00

In today’s Gospel reading we see the risen Christ appearing for the third time to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee. The incident recalls the miraculous catch of fish by Peter and his fellow-fishermen at the instruction of Jesus before they were called to follow him and become his disciples. It also recalls the multiplication of loaves and fishes when Jesus fed thousands at a deserted place.

We see the sharp insight of the beloved disciple John who first recognized the Lord, “It is the Lord!” and the loving enthusiasm of Peter who could not wait but jumped into the water to be with the Lord on the shore.

We can reflect at the picnic-style breakfast at the lakeshore as Jesus fed and treated the seven disciples. Is it really the risen Lord? What is the risen Lord for me today? We ask Peter, John, Thomas and the other apostles to pray that we may know the Lord.

St. Anselm (Bishop and Doctor)

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 22:00

The English bishop and theologian St. Anselm (1033-1109) was one of the Church’s greatest medieval thinkers. Anselm was born of a noble family. At the age of fifteen he desired to enter a monastery, but his father forbade this. Anselm thereupon abandoned religion for a number of years and adopted a carefree lifestyle. He later repented of this, however, and in 1059 he entered the monastery of Bec in the French province of Normandy.

After three years, Anselm was elected prior (an important position within the community), and fifteen years after that, the monks unanimously chose him as abbot. Anselm devoted himself to scholarship and prayer during his thirty-four years in the monastery. He was one of the leading figures in Scholastic theology, which attempted to uncover religious truths through rational arguments and propositions (indeed, he became known as the Father of Scholasticism).

At the request of his community, he published his theological works, the best-known of which is Why God Became Man. Anselm is also known for a definition or “proof” of God (“God is that of which nothing greater can be conceived”). Anselm’s life entered a new phase in 1093 when he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury; from then on he was constantly defending the Church’s rights against the English monarchs William II and Henry I. Though Anselm was personally a kind and gentle person (and also, by that time, in frail health), he uncompromisingly upheld the Church’s position. His courage impressed many, but William had him exiled.

Anselm went to Rome for three years, returning to England upon William’s death. King Henry I, however, was also unfriendly to the Church, and Anselm ended up spending a further three years in exile. St. Anselm finally returned to England, and died at Canterbury in 1109; he was canonized in 1720 and declared a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. Parents have a duty of encouraging their children’s vocations; if they forbid a particular response to God, the children may abandon the faith entirely — and the parents will share the responsibility for this. Fortunately for Anselm’s father, his son later heard and answered God’s call.

2. Reason and logic, while not a substitute for faith, can help people become aware of God’s existence.

3. There are many ways of serving God; sometimes the same person may be called to two very different vocations — in which the earlier helps prepare him or her for the later. St. Anselm’s years of prayer and study helped “gird him for battle” in his defense of the Church’s rights against the English kings.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Conrad (1894), Religious

image: G.Hagedorn / Wikimedia Commons

Contemplating the Triumph of Mercy — Easter Week

Thu, 04/20/2017 - 02:35
Contemplating the Triumph of Mercy

The Resurrection is a mystery of the triumph of divine mercy over human misery. When the Father raised Christ Jesus from the dead, humble humanity was not overcome, surmounted or diminished. Instead, all that is good, holy and true about this life was rescued from futility and death. Christian contemplation beholds this victory and by faith allows the splendor of Easter morning to baptize the soul anew.

The prayer of faith sees the resurrection of Christ from the dead has the first fruits of an astonishing work of God. The Risen Lord animates this work of new creation as a fountain of grace, a boundless source of divine love flowing into our parched hearts. Those who drink from these living waters are no longer prisoners to the dying life we now live. Humble prayer drinks this in and discovers the hidden fruitfulness of God. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, Christian prayer rises up in faith. To believe that Jesus is risen from the dead is to lift up our hearts to the Lord and take our stand on the firm ground that knows evil is not the last word about our lives. This faith may well be tested by our mediocrity and repeated failures, but if we do not deny Christ, He will not deny us – instead His faithfulness to us is being revealed in our struggles to be faithful.

The Risen humanity of Christ is the very yeast of prayer so that even in the depths of our most bitter struggles, prayer rises to God. By His passion and death, Christ sewed into the mystery of sin, the mystery of grace. The mystery of grace makes all things new so that even when we fall short, turning to the mystery of mercy we can always make a new beginning. In this work of grace, it is God’s inexhaustible love and not our failures that define who we are. He continually lifts us up.

 

Prayer is all about grace, the grace that flows from the wounds of Christ. This sheer gift entrusted to humanity can only be welcomed in humble faith. It is the gift of the merciful love of God at work in us.

Prayer ponders the dimensions of merciful love, a suffering love pierced to the heart over the plight of another. God is pierced over the plight of each one of us. This is why He could not bear that we should suffer alone. To show us how much He has implicates Himself in our misery, He suffered death on the Cross for us.  So that we might know our dignity, our freedom, the saving truth about who He is and where we stand before Him, Christ drained to the dregs the cup of our misery, treasuring each drop because He treasures each of us even more. Prayer is the response of a heart that is moved with gratitude for this inestimable gift and, in this gratitude, opens the heart to be like God’s – pierced by love.

Christian contemplation takes all of this in by faith. In the dawning of the Third Day, we come to know how no sin, no addiction, no shortcoming, no weakness, and no other burden of guilt can overpower or exhaust the love of God at work in those who believe. This suffering love is the truth and this truth is what sets us free. Even when believers allow themselves to fall back into the slavery of sin, the very thought of this new freedom stirs a longing to return to the life of faith. This is a holy freedom filled with God’s ineffable freedom, a freedom to turn back, to reverse course, to rediscover the embrace of the Father. It is a freedom that is expressed in conversion from sin and renunciation of anything that threatens our dignity as sons and daughters of God. It is a freedom to seek the goodness and mercy of God yet again.

To pray in this freedom is to keep vigilance with the eyes of the heart so that with every breath, in every moment, we might gaze on a love so much stronger than any form of slavery or even death. A new life blood animates the spirits of those who live by such contemplative faith so that even when they suffer death, the life by which they live only becomes stronger. Here, precisely because they are more fully alive, their praise becomes all the more beautiful. Unfolding in all kinds of astonishing ways throughout space and time in the lives of those who put their trust in the Risen Lord, this illuminating work of love brings the only thing really new our old, tired existence has ever known. Here, prayer that lets itself be captivated by the freshness of merciful love ponders a true word of hope for a discouraged world.

Christian prayer extends through the vast horizons of love, pioneered by Christ, into human poverty. The mysterious prayer of the Lord, a prayer that implicates the whole of His sacred humanity in merciful love, effects radical vulnerability and complete trust in the goodness and wisdom of the Father’s plan in every situation, no matter how difficult. Here, the prayer of the Word made flesh is not merely an example for us to follow. His prayer is a new principle that animates the cry of recognition and love that lives in the Church and resounds throughout the cosmos in every trial, suffering, and joy.

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Art for this post on Contemplating the Triumph of Mercy: Detail of Templo Expiatorio del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús (León, Guanajuato) – Resurrection mural (The Sacred Heart of Jesus Expiation Temple in León, Guanajuato, México), artist not identified, photographed by Nheyob, 28 June 2016, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John’s Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and “Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux”. And, his book “Fire from Above” was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at BeginningtoPray.blogspot.com


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

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.