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Divine Providence

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 02:35
Divine Providence

Presence of God – O my God, You order and dispose everything according to Your own exalted purposes; teach me to trust fully in Your divine Providence.

MEDITATION

Divine Wisdom, says Holy Scripture, “reacheth … from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly” (Wisdom 8:1). Divine Wisdom is thus identified with divine Providence, which orders, disposes, and directs everything to the attainment of a well-defined end: the ultimate and supreme end which is the glory of God, the proximate and secondary end which is the good and happiness of creatures. Nothing exists without a reason, nothing in the world happens by chance; everything, everything without the least exception, is part of the magnificent plan of divine Providence. In this plan, every creature, even the lowest, has its definite place, its end, and its value; every event, even the most insignificant, has been foreseen from all eternity and regulated even to its slightest detail. In this plan, as vast as it is wonderful, all creatures, from the most sublime—such as the angels—to the humblest—like the dewdrops and the blades of grass—are called upon to contribute to the harmony and good of the whole.

If certain situations seem to us incomprehensible, if we cannot see the reason why particular circumstances and creatures make us suffer, it is because we do not see the place they occupy in the plan of divine Providence in which everything is ordered for our ultimate good. Yes, even suffering itself is ordered for our good, and God, who is infinite goodness, neither wills nor permits it except for this purpose. We believe all this in theory but we easily forget it in practice, so much so, that when we find ourselves in obscure, painful situations which upset or interfere with our plans and wishes, we are disturbed and our lips formulate the anguished question: “Why does God permit this?” However, the answer, as universal and infallible as divine Providence itself, is always the same: God permits it solely for our good. We need to be firmly convinced of this so that we may not be scandalized by the trials of life. “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:10); we can mistrust ourselves, our goodness and our faithfulness, but we cannot mistrust God who is infinite goodness and faithfulness.

COLLOQUY

“O God, having created the world, You govern it with admirable order. You give life to the plants and make them grow; the flowers bloom and the fruits ripen in their season. You control the sun, the moon, and the planets; You have created the universe in perfect order for the benefit of mankind. You have made man for Yourself alone, and Your desire is to live in him; You want him to find no rest or peace outside of You, You have no need of Your creature, yet in him You deign to seek Your rest, so that hereafter he may enjoy You eternally, seeing You face to face, with all the blessed in heaven.

“Your divine Providence, O God, takes care of all Your creatures as though they were but one, and it takes care of each one as though all others were contained in it. Oh! if Your Providence were only understood, everyone would forget the things of this world to be united to it” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

“Lord, You are good to all and Your tender mercies are over all Your works. Let all Your works praise You, O Lord! Let Your saints bless You…. The eyes of all hope in You, and You give them meat in due season. You open Your hand and fill with blessings every living creature, You execute judgment for them that suffer wrong and give food to the hungry. You loose them that are fettered and enlighten the blind. You lift up them that are cast down; You love the just, O Lord. You heal the broken of heart and bind up their bruises. You cover the heavens with clouds, and prepare rain for the earth; You make grass to grow on the mountains. You give to beasts their food and to the young ravens that call upon You. O Lord, at the remembrance of Your immense goodness, all creatures break forth in praise and acclaim Your liberality” (cf. Psalm 145 – 146 – 147).

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Note from Dan: This post on Divine Providence is provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contains 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 Divine Providence: Quintuplet Cluster, NASA, image feature 557, undated, PD. 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, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.

 

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

When Sinai Was Turned Upside Down

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 22:07

Among the more awe-inspiring spectacles of the Book of Revelation is the descent of the giant angel.

Then I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven wrapped in a cloud, with a halo around his head; his face was like the sun and his feet were like pillars of fire. In his hand he held a small scroll that had been opened. He placed his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and then he cried out in a loud voice as a lion roars. When he cried out, the seven thunders raised their voices, too (Revelation 10:1-3).

The angel goes on to tell John not to write down what the seven thunders have ‘said.’ And he foretells the fulfilling of ‘God’s mysterious plan.’ The encounter concludes with the angel handing John a small scroll, which he eats, in an act which prepares him to prophesy further.

Notice at the very beginning there are two images. There is the cloud enveloping the angel. And his feet are like fire. Together these two elements are among one of the most familiar signs of the divine presence in the Old Testament, especially at Mt. Sinai during the exodus and later in the vision of Ezekiel. The pillar-like contours of the fire also recalls the pillar of fire that led the Israelites by night, also during the exodus.

The connection with Sinai seems particularly key because of a third element: the scroll which the angel hands over. Here there seems to be a faint allusion to one of the central events of Sinai: the Ten Commandments. In both instances, we have the words of God, the divine decrees, delivered from heaven.

But one detail is strikingly discordant. In the case of the exodus, the cloud and the fire are distant from Israel. The pillar of fire leads from the front at night—notably never changing its position. And, at Sinai, the cloud of fire rests atop the mountain. But now in Revelation, the ‘fire’ is not remote. It’s at the angel’s feet.

This is significant when we probe deeper the symbolism of the Old Testament. In two of the above examples, the elements of the cloud and fire were both present when God’s presence was manifested. But sometimes only one was present. Job, for example, encountered God in the whirlwind. Elijah first saw the windstorm then the fire came afterwards.

And sometimes there is just the fire—as in the stories of the burning bush, the fire that devoured the sacrifice of Elijah, and the fire pot and torch that passed in between the animals sacrificed by Abraham.

There is a logic to these symbols. They are not just randomly alternated throughout the Old Testament. According to one scholar, the cloud should be conceived of as a sort of veil which covers the divine glory, which is represented as ‘a radiant, fiery substance.’ Thus the fire indicates the more immediate presence of God.

This distinction illuminates some of the differences in the Old Testament manifestations of God. For example, Moses—alone on the mountain—sees the burning bush. Later he communes with God atop the mountain while God’s fiery presence is veiled from the sinful Israelites by the cloud.

Now, in Revelation, there is a kind of inversion of the cloud and fire. The cloud is present, but rather than concealing the fire it uncovers it. The fire is not removed from the earth, but brought to it. It does not only dwell high above but descends below. What was foreshadowed in the Old Testament has now been brought to its completion and fulfillment: God’s presence has been fully manifested on earth. (On a related note, the traditional name for this book, the Apocalypse, means an unveiling.)

This is one reason that some commentators see the angel as representative of Christ, which is certainly possible. That the angel hands the words of God to John in the form of a scroll, which is then eaten, reinforces this interpretation. Christ is the Word of God Incarnate who is also eaten by believers in the Eucharistic bread.

Note that the giant angel straddles earth and water with one foot on each. Whereas the presence of God had been limited to a burning bush or the top of a mountain, it is now spreading out across the whole earth, the land and the sea.

The angel’s stand also unites the land and sea. This reverses another Old Testament pattern, in which the land and seas had been divided. It was one of the first acts of creation in Genesis. It was what Moses did at the Red Sea and Elijah later. (A complete list of related verses is here.)

Theologians sometimes speak about an exitus and reditus—all things flowing out from God and all things returning to Him. That fundamental dynamic seems to be at work here. In fact, there seems to be a twofold dynamic: not only the falling away of creation and its return, but the descent of God and His ascent that draws up creation with Him. (See John 12:32 and Ephesians 4:8-10.)

If the angel is uniting land and sea what is the focal point of this unity? As we look up we see the face of the angel, which is like the sun—an obvious reference to Christ in His divinity. And so it is to this that all creation is ultimately directed and drawn, the divine light that enlightens and enlivens all things.

(Note: Although not directly used as a source in this article, I would be remiss if I did not note that there is a further discussion of the Mt. Sinai-angel connection in my father, G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation.)  

Avoiding Envy & Learning Acceptance in Suffering

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 22:06

There is a propensity in our fallen state to look at the lives of the people around us and compare our lot to theirs. This struggle with comparison can become greater in periods of suffering. In doing so, we are led into a new form of suffering and must battle the deadly sin of envy. I have been reflecting on this propensity towards envy in the face of suffering in light of my own family’s suffering at present.

My nearly 6-year-old daughter—whose has an innocence and inability to reason through redemptive suffering at her tender age—cried out to me this morning, “Why aren’t other kids’ daddies sick?” “Why is my daddy the only one who is sick?” I have had similar thoughts myself and fight mightily to conquer them. They are the same thoughts I’ve had after experiencing four miscarriages when my daughter asked, “Why do other families have so many kids? Why can those mommies have babies and not you?” I will admit the questions cut me pretty deep. My daughter’s honesty about her struggles is a mirror to my own. We adults can work hard to suppress such thoughts, but in reality, we need to confront them or they will eat away at our spirits. The only way to attain victory over envy is by accepting God’s will.

Envy creates an incomplete picture

It is difficult for my daughter to understand that we do not know how other people are suffering around us until they tell us. When my husband became ill, most people were surprised to hear it because he hid it very well. Only those of us who live with him really see how much he suffers on certain days. The same is true of everyone we meet, even our closest friends. Unless someone chooses to tell us what they are battling, we remain in the dark. Many of us put up facades, partially as a survival mechanism and partially because we battle the sin of pride. We do not want to appear weak. Americans especially are prone to an unhealthy belief that weakness is a great evil. We Catholics should know better given the teaching Christ gave us in the Beatitudes. Weakness is strength when we give our pain and weakness over to Him.

When we stand in the middle of a raging sea during a time of suffering, it can be easy to take our eyes off of Christ and start comparing our lives to others. I have found myself doing it at times. This is another level of spiritual warfare and it can be difficult to battle when we are exhausted and emotionally drained after periods of physical or psychological suffering. It is important that we realize this danger and prepare for it. This envy can come not only by looking at others, but in looking to the past as well. I told my husband this morning that I wanted my life back. He pointed out that this is how God is calling us to live now. The past is done.

Acceptance in the face of suffering destroys envy

The single biggest cause of envy during suffering is our lack of acceptance. We still want control. We want God to do it our way. What we miss by fighting against the situation—even impossible situations—is the opportunity to grow in holiness. We cannot possibly mature in the spiritual life if we look suffering in the face and stomp our feet like a toddler. This is tempting. I’ve done it. Suffering is redemptive for Christians because of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. It is a tool God uses to help us grow spiritually. He prunes away the dead parts of us. Suffering forces us to move outside of ourselves so that we can love God and others on a deeper level of being.

To accept one’s destiny really means to accept oneself and to be true to oneself. This idea took the form of the amor fati in pagan skepticism, the “love” of one’s own fate, born of defiance. Its Christian form is the assent given to the way that is outlined for us by our own nature, because of our confidence that everything rests upon Divine Providence.

Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues that Lead You to God, 30.

Whether we like it or not, God is using my husband’s illness, my miscarriages, and all previous sufferings, to help my husband, daughter, and me grow into our truest selves. The same is true for all of us.

Each one of us has a different journey

Envy arises from a fear that God does not love us as much as others. It is the false idea that the more gifts God bestows on other people, the more He loves those people. It should be apparent that this is a Fallen human notion of love. This is prosperity gospel nonsense. In our weakness, we can be tempted to think that God is sitting on His throne in Heaven spinning a wheel of fortune and those of us who seem to suffer more than others at any given time landed on the torture space.

Suffering was not a part of God’s original plan for us. Instead, in light of the Fall, God uses suffering for our good. He wants us to be saints and some of us may need more trial under fire than others. We cannot compare our path to the path of our neighbor. This is even true of spouses. While we walk with our spouse towards Heaven, there are aspects of the journey that will differ. My husband is seriously ill at present, while I am not. That could of course change at any moment. God is asking each one of us to embrace and accept the journey he has laid out for each one of us. What will make me a saint may not be the same for you. We must overcome comparisons and fix our eyes back on Christ.

To have a destiny means to suffer; the more capable of suffering one is, the greater is the element of destiny in his life. What vistas of thought does this open to us! What a climax does the concept attain! The Son of God steps into history to atone for our sin and to lead us to new possibilities. He does this prepared for all that would happen to Him, without reservation, without evasion, without resorting to resistance or craft. Men, who have really no power over Him to whom is given “all power in Heaven and on earth,” inflict a bitter destiny upon Him. But this is the form of His Father’s will for Him. This will is His own will; to accomplish it is the “food” of His life.

Ibid, 33.

Christ shows us how to embrace our own destiny. Like Him, we are called to do the will of the Father. That means accepting periods of intense suffering and trial. The meaning of our lives is to become like Christ, to be conformed to the Blessed Trinity. When we accept God’s will for each one of us, we are able to move forward, mature, and grow in love. Envy can be a difficult battle to wage, especially when we are already weakened by suffering, but in reality, the battle helps us to grow in love. If we turn to God in love and accept His will for our lives, then He will give us the strength to conquer envy so that we can grow spiritually. In those moments, we must also remember to call on Our Heavenly Mother’s care and to ask St. Michael to defend us in battle.

image: By Alter Fritz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saints John Boste, George Swallowell, and John Ingram, Martyrs

Sun, 07/23/2017 - 22:00

These three servants of God all died for the Faith near Durham, England, in 1594 and are known as the Durham Martyrs.

John Boste was born about 1544, educated at Queen’s College, Oxford, and became a fellow there. At the age of 22 he joined the Catholic Church with the intention of becoming a priest. In 1580 he was ordained at Rheims, France, and returned to England the next year. He ministered to the Catholics of northern England with such zeal and success that the Earl of Huntington, then Lord President of the North, wanted to capture him more than any other priest in his jurisdiction.

Eventually he was betrayed and captured near Durham. He was sent to the Tower of London where he was tortured so severely on the rack that he was crippled for the rest of his life. Sent back to Durham for trial when he could not be induced to give any incriminating information, he showed himself throughout to be “resolute, bold, joyful, and pleasant.” He induced his fellow martyr, George Swallowell, a converted Protestant minister who had recanted the Faith through fear, to repent and once again profess his Faith, giving him absolution publicly in court.

Condemned to death, we have an eyewitness account that states John Boste recited the Angelus while mounting the ladder and was executed with great brutality: he was hanged only partially and then cut down so that, standing on his feet, he could be cruelly butchered alive. A few days later, George Swallowell was martyred at Darlington.

John Ingram was another priest who was condemned at the same time at Durham. Educated at New College, Oxford, he became a Catholic and went on to Rheims and Rome where he received the priesthood in 1589. In 1592, he was sent to minister to the Catholics in Scotland. At the end of 1593, he was arrested and transported to the Tower of London. Though undergoing excruciating tortures he steadfastly refused to betray his friends, even writing letters of encouragement to his fellow prisoners. Finally, two days after the death of John Boste, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Gateshead for his priesthood.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Charbel Makhlouf (1898), Priest, hermit

Vigil of St. James the Greater (42), Apostle, Patron of Spain

St. Christina of Bolsena (307), Virgin, Martyr, Patron of millers and archers

St. Christina the Admirable or “the Astonishing” (1224), Virgin

Blessed Cunegard (1292), Virgin, Queen, Abbess, Patron of Poland and Lithuania

St. Bridget of Sweden

Sat, 07/22/2017 - 22:00

Bridget was born in 1303, the daughter of a governor. Throughout her youth, she often heard the voices of Jesus and Mary. She was particularly sensitive to the sufferings of the crucified Lord and for most of her life meditated on His Passion and Death.

She married young, betrothed to a Swedish prince when she was an infant. Their marriage was happy and fruitful and they raised eight children, one of whom became a saint like her mother — Catherine of Sweden.

After her husband’s death, Bridget led an austere and celibate life. She received many prophecies from the Lord which led her to give counsel and stern warnings to several popes and kings about their worldly lives. Many saints visited her in visions providing her with guidance and revelation about the future. Despite her condemnations of the actions of both spiritual and state authorities, her pleading to return the papacy to Rome went unheeded.

She founded a monastery for women and men in which the women controlled the temporal matters of the order, while the men commanded the spiritual matters. This order became known as the Brigittines.

In a message from the pope to Mother Tekla Famiglietti, abbess general of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of St. Bridget, on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of the birth of the Swedish saint, the Holy Father expressed his gratitude to the religious for their “significant apostolic work in the service of unity among Christians, especially in Europe, following the footsteps of the saint from Sweden.”

John Paul II recalled that St. Bridget “was a master in accepting the Cross as a central experience of the faith; she was an exemplary disciple of the Church, professing complete Catholicism; she was a model of the contemplative and active life and a tireless apostle in the search for unity among Christians. She also had the gift of prophetic intuition when reading the history of the Gospel and the Gospel in history.”

In a time when humanity struggles to fulfill the moral good and eradicate the moral evils of the world, the words of St. Bridget echo through time, speaking to us from the visions from Christ that she shared. From one disturbing conversation she had with Him in 1372, she revealed these words:

“O my enemies, why do you so boldly commit such sins and do other things contrary to my will? Why have you neglected My Passion? Why do you not attend in your hearts to how I ‘stood’ naked on the cross and cried out, full of wounds and clothed in blood?

“But your eyes and heart forget and neglect all these things. And so you behave like prostitutes, who love the delight of the flesh, but not of its offspring. For when they feel a living infant in their womb, at once they procure an abortion so that without losing their fleshly pleasure, they may always engage in their foul intercourse.”

St. Bridget died before seeing the Holy See return from Avignon to Rome, but she died near the tomb of Peter on July 23, 1373.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Saints Sergius and Bacchus, Marcellus and Apuleius, (3rd Century), Martyrs

Our Lady of Good Remedy

St. Pelagia (5th Century), Penitent

St. Mary Magdalene

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 22:00

Our knowledge of St. Mary Magdalene, one of Christ’s most devoted followers, is based entirely on the Gospels, which portray her as a disciple of Jesus and as one of the women who followed and ministered to Him in Galilee (Luke 8:1-2). She was from Magdala, a small town on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. According to tradition, she may have been a prostitute; what is known is that she began following Jesus after He had cast out seven devils from her (this might indicate actual demonic possession, or perhaps refer to severe mental or psychological illness).

After her conversion, Mary Magdalene became a devoted follower of Christ. It is believed that she was the woman who anointed the Lord’s feet with costly perfume prior to His passion and death (John 12:1-8), and was present at His crucifixion. On Easter Sunday morning Mary Magdalene and two others discovered the Lord’s tomb to be empty. St. Mark’s Gospel states that it was to her that the risen Christ appeared (16:9), and St. John adds that she was given a message to deliver to the Apostles (20:11-18). Mary was not believed at first, but her persistence prompted Peter and another disciple to investigate for themselves, thus discovering the truth of the Resurrection.

#FultonFridays: Courage is the Virtue We Need

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 06:52

This post is part of the ongoing #FultonFridays series, in which I share the writings of Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen. 

Goodness, patriotism, honesty and loyalty are losing their battles not by conflict, but by default. Those who are called to be defenders of what is right are not wounded in the battle, they flee.

Courage has always been in the past the attribute of those who have faith; now the moral leaders become defenders only of the feeble. They are afraid to speak on vital truth to their troops, fearful that they may incite a revolt or be unloved. The result is “every man does what is right in his own eyes.” Actually, the troops are yearning for strong leaders who will challenge them and sound trumpets with clear notes. But seeing the shepherds uncertain and afraid of wolves, the sheep scatter.

Why are leaders in a nation, in education, in religion afraid to speak out with courage? Partly because they are not themselves practicing what they ask others to do; partly because they are afraid of being unloved or because running counter to the moods of the time and party because they do not rely on Divine strength to aid them in their defense of what is right and just.

When Peter and John were arrested and brought before judges for preaching Christianity, the judges were struck by first their “boldness” and secondly by the fact that they were unlearned. Their strong convictions came not from academic degrees, but from their being filled with the Spirit of God.

When David’s commander Joab “saw the battle was against him in front and rear” he and his brother Abishai pledged mutual support, shored up their moral courage, and left the final decision in the hands of God. “If the Aramaeans are too strong for me, then you shall help me, Joab said, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage and let us fight bravely for our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to Him.”

In the area of religion, the secret of courage is: “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Responsibilities are no longer burdensome if one realizes that the Divine works in us. Want of courage is want of Faith. If a bishop, for examples, is afraid to tell a minister in the sanctuary not to appear in patched overalls and leather jacket, it is because he is less in awesome concern for the glory of God than he is in dread of the cutting rejoinder of the hippie.

All the fears of life are expelled by a great love, and love is the only thing that can successfully cope with them. On the contrary, the fear of evil is essentially an unbelieving thing. All weakening anxieties have their roots in practical unbelief.

The tragedy in the loss of courage and boldness on the part of leaders is the latent courage in the young and their readiness to follow those who have a high ideal. The so-called generation gap does not exist; it is a spirit-gap—The distance between the leaders who are not on fire with the ideals and the followers who are unlighted torches waiting for the flame. The young are as quick to pick out phonies as they are anxious to be inspired by those who are unafraid of being unpopular once truth is at stake.

Our Democratic process sometimes makes for weakness than strength. A candidate for office keeps his finger on the pulse of the electorate; he finds out by survey what they want and then promises to give it to them, generally at the expense of the public treasury. His campaign is directed to the desires of the people, but never to their needs. The result is, the electorate is rarely offered a chance to vote for a real leader. It is worth recalling that the majority vote about the Israelites going into the promised Land was 10 to 2. Only Caleb and Joshua favored it. The masses would have killed the two of them if Moses had not interceded.

In religion and politics alike, leadership will return when a man will be not afraid to make enemies because he loves God above all things.

The Lewiston Daily Sun, July 14, 1973. 

The post #FultonFridays: Courage is the Virtue We Need appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

Your Spirit Finds Joy in Communion

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 22:07

God desired to nourish our spirit, so He gave it His Bread, the Eucharist, announced by Holy Scripture: “He will feed them with the Bread of life and understanding.”

Now, there are no greater joys on earth than the joys of the spirit. Contentment of heart is less lasting because it is based on feeling, and feeling is apt to be inconstant. True joy is of the spirit and consists in the quiet knowledge of the truth.

The light-minded and coarse of soul enjoy nothing spiritually. Even pious souls that lack recollection will never experience spiritual joys. Frivolity of spirit is the greatest obstacle to the reign of God in the soul. If you wish to taste the sweetness of God and enjoy His presence, you must lead a life of recollection and prayer. Even so, your meditations will never yield true happiness if they are not based on Communion, but will only leave you with the sense of perpetual sacrifice.

Jesus Christ exercised the prerogative that was His to give us experience of true joy through Himself alone. The soul that only seldom receives Communion gives God no opportunity to dwell in it in a completely efficacious way. The one, on the contrary, that receives Him frequently will be longer and more often in His presence and, seeing Him and contemplating Him freely, will learn to know Him well and will end by enjoying Him.

In Communion, we enjoy our Lord in our Lord Himself. It is then that we have our most intimate communion with Him — a communion from which we gain a true and profound knowledge of what He is. It is then that Jesus manifests Himself to us most clearly. Faith is a light; Communion is at once light and feeling.

This article is from a chapter in “How to Get More Out of Holy Communion.” Click image to preview or order.

This manifestation of Jesus through Communion enlightens the mind and gives it a special aptitude for discerning more and more clearly the things of God. Just as the elect receive the power to contemplate the being and the majesty of God without being blinded, likewise Jesus, in Communion, increases our ability to know Him, and to such an extent that there is a vast difference in a person before and after Communion.

Take a child before his First Communion; he understands his catechism in the literal sense, word for word. But after Communion, his mind is, as it were, transformed; the child understands then, and feels, and is eager to know more about Jesus Christ. He is fortified and disposed to hear whatever truths you teach.

Can you explain this phenomenon? Before Communion, you hear about Jesus Christ and you know Him; you are told of His Cross, of His suffering. Doubtless you are affected and are even touched with compassion. But let these same truths be presented to you after you have received Communion, and oh, how much more deeply your soul is moved! It cannot hear enough; it understands much more perfectly. Before Communion, you contemplate Jesus outside you; now you contemplate Him within you, with His own eyes!

It is the mystery of Emmaus re-enacted. When Jesus taught the two disciples along the way, explaining the Scriptures to them, their faith still wavered, although they felt inwardly some mysterious emotion. But by their participating in the breaking of the bread, immediately their eyes were opened, and their hearts were ready to burst with joy. The voice of Jesus had not sufficed to reveal His presence to them. They had to feel His Heart; they had to be fed with the Bread of understanding!

Second, this joy of spirit, this manifestation of Himself that Jesus gives us by Communion, awakens in us a hunger for God. This divine hunger draws us into the sweetness of His Heart, into the sanctuary of His Spirit. More by impression than by reason, it gives us knowledge of Him. It gives us a powerful attraction to the Eucharist and everything connected with it and enables us to enter with ease into Jesus Christ.

This ease, this attraction, mysterious to some extent, is the special grace of Communion. It is the spirit of kinship with God. From where, do you think, does that similarity of feeling, of acting, of morals in a family come, if not from family spirit, from family love, which unites all members in mutual affection? Such is the bond of earthly kinship.

Through Communion, we gain entrance into the love, into the Heart, of our Lord; we catch the spirit of His love, His own understanding, His own judgment. Is not the first grace of Communion, in fact, a grace of recollection that enables us to penetrate into Jesus Christ and commune intimately with Him? Yes, intimately. One who does not receive Communion knows, by faith, only the vesture, the outward appearance of our Lord. We can know Jesus Christ well only by receiving Him, just as we perceive the sweetness of honey only by tasting it. We can say, then, with a great saint, “I am more convinced of the truth of Jesus Christ, of His existence, of His perfections by a single Communion than I could be by all the reasoning in the world.”

Such is the brevity of this life that, if we had to arrive at the knowledge of truth in general, and of divine truth in particular, only by the proofs of reason, be well assured we would know very few truths. But it is God’s will that much of our knowledge should come by intuition. He has endowed us with an instinct by which, without the faculty of reason, we are able to distinguish good from evil, truth from falsehood. He has given us natural inclinations and antipathies. Thus, in our efforts to know our Lord, we first feel His goodness, and then we arrive at His other qualities, more by contemplation, by sight, and by instinct than by reason.

A great many people habitually make the mistake of talking too much in their thanksgiving after Communion, that highest of prayers. By overmuch speaking, they render their Communion ineffective.

Listen to our Lord a little after Communion. This is not the time to seek, but to enjoy. This is the time when God makes Himself known through Himself: “And they shall all be taught of God.” How does a mother teach her little child what endless love and tenderness she has for him? She is content to show by her devotion that she loves him. God does the same in Communion. Remember that one who does not receive Communion will never know the Heart of our Lord or the magnitude of His love. The heart makes itself known through itself alone; we must feel it beating.

Sometimes you have no experience of spiritual joy in Communion. Wait. Although the Sun is hidden, it is within you; you will feel it when you need to — be sure of that. What am I saying? Already you feel it! Are you not at peace? Are you not desirous of glorifying God more than ever? And what is that but the throbbing of the Heart of our Lord within you?

Lastly, the manifestation of our Lord in Communion makes His presence and His conversation indispensable to the soul. The soul that has known Jesus Christ and has enjoyed Him takes pleasure in nothing else. Creatures leave it cold and indifferent because it compares them with Him. God has left in the soul a need that no person, no creature, can ever satisfy.

Moreover, the soul feels a constant desire for Jesus and for His glory. Ever onward, without pausing to enjoy a moment’s rest: that is its motto. Its only longing is for Jesus, who leads it from clarity to clarity. Our Lord being inexhaustible, whoever receives Him can neither be sated nor exhaust Him, but desires only to plunge deeper and deeper into the abysses of His love.

Oh, come and enjoy our Lord often in Communion, if you wish truly to understand Him!

“Beware of abusing this privilege,” someone will say. Do the elect go to excess in their enjoyment of God? No! They never enjoy Him too much. Taste the Lord, and you will see. After you have received Communion, you will understand.

How sad that people will not believe us! They wish to judge of God only by faith. But taste first; afterward you shall judge. And if the incredulous would but prepare themselves to receive Jesus Christ worthily, they would understand sooner and better than by any amount of persuasion and reasoning. Besides, the ignorant person who receives well knows more about it than the savant, however learned, who does not go to Communion.

To summarize briefly, I say that the intelligence finds its supreme happiness in Communion and that, the more often one receives, the happier one is spiritually. God is the only source of happiness; happiness is in Him alone, and He has reserved the right to bestow it through Himself. And well it is for us that we must go to God Himself to find happiness! In this way, we do not devote ourselves to creatures or find in them our highest good. Happiness is not even in the bestowal of the priest. He gives you a share in the fruits of the Redemption, cleanses you from your sins, and gives you the peace of a clear conscience; but happiness and joy he cannot give you.

Mary herself, who is the Mother of Mercy, will lead you back to the right way and will appease the anger of her Son, whom you have offended; but God alone will give you joy and happiness. The angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good tidings of great joy: He who is its cause and its source, your Savior and God, is born to you.”

Oh, come, let us rejoice! This Savior is still on the altar waiting to flood our hearts, upon His entrance therein, with as much joy and happiness as we are able to bear, in anticipation of the unspeakable and everlasting delights of the homeland of Heaven.

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

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 22:05

At one time or another, we’ve all dreamed of a perfect world.  Imagine a company where everyone is productive, a government full of honest politicians, a church where all are saints.

Dreaming about such things is natural; expecting such things is dangerous.  Unrealistic expectations lead to discouragement, despair, even cynicism. That would be bad enough.  But the expectation that the Church is only for the holy has led people to embark on some very misguided projects throughout history.

Consider those who burned witches and heretics to cleanse the church of evil.  Or the Puritans who were so appalled by ecclesiastical corruption that they planted a purified Church of the saints in a new land, legislating piety and subjecting the lapsed to public humiliation.

Jesus’ own example should have prevented these errors.  First of all, Jesus himself was criticized by the Pharisees for dining with the unclean.  He accepted tax collectors and sinners as disciples.  He knew the flaws in Peter, Judas, and the others, but he chose them anyway.  And just in case his own actions weren’t enough to get his point across, he told the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Mat 13:24ff).

All this is not to say that Jesus was soft on sin.  He commanded the adulteress to go and sin no more and sharply rebuked the apostles numerous times for their pitiful lack of faith.  But he did not dismiss them after their numerous blunders.  He had come for the sick, not the healthy.  His church was to be a hospital for sinners, not a club just for saints.  Of course a hospital exists not to keep people sick, but get them well.  If patients want to be admitted, they must be willing to accept treatment, occasionally even severe treatment.  Harsh medicines must be used to fight deadly diseases such as cancer.  Other times cancerous organs even need to be cut out.  Electric shock therapy has even been employed to bring people out of depression.

This brings up an objection that has caused heated debate in recent years.  If the Church is meant to be inclusive as the parable of the wheat and tares suggests, then why do we still have the penalty of excommunication on the books?  Why do some clamor that Catholic politicians who vote for abortion rights should be denied holy communion?  Isn’t this just a mean-spirited sort of Puritanism?

Not in the least.  Withholding communion is done for two reasons.  One is that the reception of Holy Communion means not only that one wants personally to receive the sacramental body of Christ, but that one is in full, visible communion with the ecclesial body of Christ, which is the Church, fully accepting its teaching and submitting to the authority of its pastors.  To receive communion while living in a state of grave sin or brazen dissent from church teaching causes tremendous confusion.  It could mislead observers into concluding that the sin or error in question is not so serious after all and induce them to also indulge in it.  Secondly, it could also lead the communicant to the same conclusion–that his or her actions or opinions really are acceptable and fall within the boundaries of what is spiritually healthy.

Excommunication is not snotty Puritanism.  When employed, it is intended as a form of shock therapy.  The patient is delusional and needs to be woken up to reality.  If we don’t act to bring the patient back to his senses, he will likely do himself in and perhaps even take others with him.

When to employ such therapy is a matter for Pope and bishops to decide.  Our responsibility is not to worry about how to separate the evil tares from the wheat of the church, but how to uproot the seeds of wickedness from the field of our own hearts.  That task is big enough!

*

Marcellino D’Ambrosio, aka “Dr. Italy,” writes from Texas.  Connect with him at DrItaly.com or on social media @DrItaly.     

This was originally offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Wis 12:13, 16-19 Ps 86, Ro 8:26-7; Mt 13:24-43).  It appears here with the permission of the author.

image: By Unknown/Άγνωστος (Byzantine gospel. Paris, National Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scripture Speaks: The Kingdom of Heaven

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 22:02

Today, Jesus uses parables to teach about the kingdom of heaven.  What do all three of them have in common?

Gospel (Read Mt 13:24-43)

In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses parables to teach the large crowd gathered to hear Him at the seashore.  In the first one, He says, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field.”  However, during the cover of night, “while everyone was asleep,” an enemy came and sowed weeds all through his field.  The weed, sometimes called “darnel,” looks very much like wheat in its early growth.  If it gets ground up later with the wheat and made into flour, it can cause sickness.  In Jesus’ day, personal vengeance sometimes took the form of sowing this weed in an enemy’s wheat field, a punishable crime in Roman law.  In the parable, the slaves ask the landowner if they should pull up the weeds, but they are told, “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”  The plants will have to grow together until harvest time.  By then, the weed will be easily recognizable; no wheat will be pulled up by mistake.

In the explanation He later gives the disciples, Jesus explains that the Sower is Jesus, the field is the world, and the seeds are either children of the kingdom or children of the evil one.  In this, He makes it clear that goodness and wickedness will exist, side-by-side, until the end of time, when Jesus comes with His angels to execute justice.  We might wonder why it will take so long to rid the world of evil.  This question especially nags at us when we see evil in the Church, as well as the good.  How we itch to clean up the field, as the servants in the parable did.  The landowner cautions against this expediency, however, because he knows that sometimes it is hard to distinguish the good seed from the bad in its early growth.  The danger of uprooting the wrong growth in a freshly sown field is high.  Letting time lapse, waiting for the mature growth that signals harvest time, will avoid this danger.  Because this parable teaches us about the kingdom of heaven, think about the mercy of God this story represents.  How many of us have started out in life looking more like bad seed than good?  Repentance and conversion made all the difference.  Likewise, how many have started out looking like good seed but never bore good fruit?  It takes a long time to know who we are.  The great gift of time God gives to the world is to allow as many of us as possible an opportunity to be mature wheat.  At St. Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow about His promise [to return] as some count slowness, but He is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).  In the meantime, we should not be shocked by the presence of evil in the world.  We are assured of a future just judgment on it.  Our work now is to pray and work for repentance and conversion, which leads us to the other two parables.

Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven as being like a mustard seed, tiny as it goes into the ground, yet, in time, becoming “the largest of plants.”  Here He gives us a picture of the Church, inauspicious at the beginning (only Twleve men) but growing to become universal.  His reference to “birds of the sky” coming to rest in the mustard plant’s branches is not just nature talk.  In the Old Testament, large empires, including Israel, were often described as great trees (Ezek 31:1-13; 17:22-24; Dan 4:12).  There, “birds” represented the Gentiles.  So, Jesus is describing a Church that will need time to grow from a coterie of Jewish disciples into a Church that would someday be home to Gentiles, as well as Jews, all over the world.

Finally, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to the yeast a woman uses in baking bread.  It is small and hidden as it goes into the dough, but, in time, it has an effect on the whole batch, causing it to greatly increase in size and making it ready to bake.  This helps us understand how the work of the Church in the salvation of the world is often hidden, unseen.  Do we have the patience to wait for its ultimate effect?

We can’t miss the emphasis in these parables on time and on the danger of making judgments based on appearance, before the proper amount of time has passed.  What a wonderful corrective for people like us, who live in a culture that has nearly declared war on time.  Our technology has almost made an enemy out of time—fast is good, instant is better.  We need to let these parables sink in and renew our minds about time, about avoiding premature judgment, about letting God work out His plan of salvation for the world in His own time.  When we do this, we are better prepared to understand our other readings today.

Possible response:  Lord, I confess that waiting for Your work to unfold is often hard for me.  Please grant me patience.

First Reading (Read Wisdom 12:13, 16-19)

Here we have a beautiful description of why God is not in a hurry.  He takes His time with His Creation, including His judgment on it, because He is kind:  “…though You are the master of might, You judge with clemency, and with much lenience You govern us.”  God’s perfect justice makes Him perfectly patient.  As noted in St. Peter’s epistle, God’s “slowness” comes from His desire that all men repent and be saved.  We see that here in this reading, too:  “And You taught Your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and You gave Your children good ground for hope that You would permit repentance for their sins.”  Instant judgment of others (with the battle cry of “Let’s clear the field now!”) leaves little room for the kindness and mercy of God.

Possible response:  Father, help me learn from Your kindness to be kind to others, especially when I only care about being right, not kind.

Psalm (Read Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16)

It should not surprise us that our psalm response today is, “LORD, You are good and forgiving.”  The psalmist extols the kindness of God and so counts on the Him “to attend to the sound of my pleading.”  Interestingly, the psalmist prophetically declares, “All the nations You have made shall come and worship You, O Lord, and glorify Your Name.”  This is the very picture of a Church comprising “all the nations” that Jesus gave us in the parable of the mustard seed.  The psalmist shows us that God’s patience and slowness to anger should lead us to prayer for help when we really need it:  “Turn toward me, and have pity on me; give Your strength to Your servant.”  A merciful God is eager to do this, as we shall see in our next reading.

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to all the lectionary readings.  Read it again prayerfully as your own response to God’s Word.

Second Reading (Read Rom 8:26-27)

Can there be, anywhere, a more powerful statement of God’s kind mercy toward His people than what St. Paul writes here?  Not only can we pray to God in our time of need, as the psalmist teaches us, but St. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit “comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.”  The Spirit prays “for the holy ones according to God’s will.”  God invites us to prayer and then, by His Spirit, enables us to pray according to His will.  What a beautiful description of His tender care of the “field” of the Church!  He is like the Good Farmer, looking after the welfare of every tender shoot that springs up from the good seed He has sown.  No wonder God is not afraid of time.  St. Paul helps us see that God Himself is bringing His harvest to maturity, working in the hidden, unseen chambers of our hearts to unleash prayers that will save the world.  What a sublime subversion!

Possible response:  Holy Spirit, thank You for your prayers in me, wiser than my own.

The Gospel reading tells us of the

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 22:00

The Gospel reading tells us of the continuing controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees. Walking through a wheat field on the sabbath, his disciples in their hunger picked heads of wheat to eat: the Pharisees criticized them for violating the sabbath, doing forbidden work.

Jesus defends his disciples by reminding the Pharisees how David and his companions, when hungry, seemed to have ignored regulations by eating bread in the Temple reserved for the priests and how priests at the Temple did not violate the sabbath rest in their work.

In the parallel passage in Mark, Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. So the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.” (Mk 2:27)

What was the sabbath? “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you will labor and do your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for Yahweh, your God. Do no work on that day, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals, nor the stranger who is staying with you.” (Ex 20: 8 -10)

Jesus healed on the sabbath. At the cure of a man with a paralyzed hand, “What does the Law allow us to do on the sabbath? To do good or to do harm?” (Mk 3: 4) Curing a crippled woman, “Should she not be freed from her bonds on the sabbath?” (Lk 13: 16) At the cure of the man born blind, “How can a sinner perform such miraculous signs?” (Jn 9: 16)

What does it mean “to keep holy the sabbath day”?

“All Christians know that God

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 22:00

“All Christians know that God became man for us. Not all, however, realize that He did more than this. Not only did He become one of us; He willed also to make each one of us a part of Himself. In addition to the mystery of the In­carnation, there is the mystery of Incorporation. We are incorporated into the person of Christ.”

-Raoul Plus, How To Pray Well

St. Lawrence of Brindisi

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 22:00

St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619) was a Capuchin priest known for his great scholarship and powerful preaching. His parents died when he was a child, and his uncle arranged for him to study at the College of St. Mark in Venice. At the age of sixteen Lawrence joined the Capuchins (a branch of the Franciscan Order), and in his studies at the University of Padua he showed a remarkable facility for languages, becoming fluent in seven of them. Lawrence was ordained a priest at the age of twenty-three.

His linguistic abilities made it possible for him to study the Bible in the original texts, and he gained a reputation as a Scripture scholar. At the request of the pope, he spent much time preaching to the Jews in Italy, and his knowledge of Hebrew greatly impressed the Jewish rabbis. Though a scholar, Lawrence was also a man of action; he held a number of important positions in the Capuchin order, and was entrusted with various diplomatic and political missions. He preached throughout Europe, particularly to Jews and Lutherans; in 1601 Lawrence gave advice to European generals fighting the Turks in Hungary, and even led troops into battle, armed with a crucifix. However, Lawrence is better known as a peacemaker; he had a great sensitivity to the needs of others, and served as a papal emissary, attempting to negotiate peace treaties between warring kingdoms. While on such a mission to the king of Spain, St. Lawrence contracted a serious illness and died on his sixtieth birthday.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Praxedes (2nd Century): Virgin; assisted Christians during the persecution of the Church under Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180); sister of St. Pudentiana

The Color of Vestments

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:05

Q: Would you please explain the different colors used at Mass and the vestments? In my travels, I have even seen blue and black vestments which I have never seen before.

The Church’s liturgical norms do prescribe specific vestment colors for various celebrations. The purpose of utilizing different colors for vestments is twofold: first, the colors highlight the particular liturgical season and the faithful’s journey through these seasons. Second, the colors punctuate the liturgical season by highlighting a particular event or particular mystery of faith. The following explanation is based on the norms of The General Instruction on the Roman Missal.

White or gold, colors symbolizing rejoicing and purity of soul, are worn during the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Easter. White vestments are also used for feasts of our Lord (except those pertaining to His passion), the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels and the saints who were not martyrs. White vestments are also worn on the Solemnity of St. Joseph and the feasts of All Saints, St. John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, the Chair of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul. White may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial and Masses for the Dead to signify the resurrection of our Lord, when He triumphed over sin and death, sorrow and darkness.

Red has a dual imagery. On one hand, red symbolizes the shedding of blood and is therefore used on Palm Sunday (when Christ entered Jerusalem to prepare for His death), Good Friday, any other commemoration of the Lord’s passion, the votive Mass of the Precious Blood, the days marking the martyrdom of the apostles (except St. John who survived his martyrdom) and the feasts of other martyrs who offered their lives for the faith.

On the other hand, red also signifies the burning fire of God’s love. For this reason, red vestments are worn on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and tongues of fire rested on their heads; for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation and for the votive Masses of the Holy Spirit.

Green is used during the liturgical season called Ordinary Time. This season focuses on the three-year period of our Lord’s public ministry, and the Gospel passages, particularly on Sundays, recount His teachings, miracles, exorcisms and other deeds during this time. All of these teachings and events engender great hope in the mystery of salvation. We focus on the life He shared with mankind during His time on this earth, the life we share now with Him in the community of the Church and through His sacraments, and we look forward to sharing everlasting life with Him perfectly in Heaven. Green symbolizes this hope and life, just as the hint of green on barren trees in early spring arouses the hope of new life.

Violet or purple is used during Advent and Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice and preparation. At the midpoint of both of these seasons — Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) — rose-colored vestments are traditionally worn as a sign of joy. We rejoice at the midpoint because we are halfway through the preparation and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas or Easter. Some liturgists, particularly in the Episcopalian Church, have introduced the use of blue vestments during Advent as a way of distinguishing this season from Lent; however, no approval for blue vestments has been given for the Catholic Church. Purple vestments may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial or Masses for the Dead.

Although not seen very frequently in the United States today, black vestments may be worn for Masses of Christian Burial as a sign of death and mourning. Black may also be used on the Feast of All Souls or for any Mass of the Dead, such as on the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

In all, the colors of the vestments awaken us to the sense of sacred time. They are another visible way to make present the sacred mysteries we celebrate.

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

The Last Chapter

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:02

Aristotle and Tolkien agree, fairy tales should do far more than entertain us. They are also supposed to teach us. All good stories are composed with the artistic craft and genius of literature such that the reader can learn from the characters and events of the story about how to be brave, to endure suffering, and to pursue true love. In a particular way, I find the last chapter of a book to be especially powerful.

For example, I was pricked with a sudden twinge of sorrow as I concluded my reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Until last year I had only read one of the seven volumes in this fairytale masterpiece, so I decided to rectify this gap on my bookshelf. As I finally turned the page to the sixteenth and last chapter of The Last Battle, “Farewell to Shadowlands,” I thought to myself, ‘Finally, I’m almost done.’ And immediately my gut twisted.

I didn’t want to say goodbye.

I didn’t want to put away the characters and events with which Lewis had created the world of Narnia, a world into which I had been drawn like the Pevensies themselves. Part of me wanted to put the book down without reading the last pages in order to evade the sorrow of separation. I knew, on the other hand, that the conclusion of this epic narrative might actually provide a sort of resolution; Lewis did not disappoint. There was sorrow, but there was also joy. A good author is able to compose a story, even a fantasy, that still rings true and so provides a meaning that can satisfy and console the reader.

“The peculiar quality of the “joy” in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a “consolation” for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, “Is it true?” …. [In] the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater—it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.”

– JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

This summer I have been reading pages from a very different book, and it’s anything but fantasy. For the past month I have been helping at Rosary Hill Home, a palliative care facility for terminally-ill cancer patients run by the Hawthorne Dominican Sisters. In this ministry I have the opportunity to visit with the residents, to pray with them, and even to tend to certain physical needs. Part of making visits to these patients involves addressing the topic of death and dying. Diagnosed with incurable cancer, this home is the last chapter for the residents who come to die here.

As I walk into the rooms, I sometimes get an anxious feeling about discussing their illness or death, something like my feeling when beginning the last chapter of The Last Battle. But I have learned something from my reading: a happy ending can only come from perseverance. We need to say goodbye.

Discussions about death and dying can actually be a source of relief for persons as they prepare themselves. For many, coming to this home has given them a striking sense of peace. It offers them an opportunity to conclude their story with the joy and consolation Tolkien attributes to fantasy, the “far-off gleam or echo” of the Gospel in their own lives. The sorrow of death encounters the joy of hope, the joy of eternal life, the joy of the Gospel. The Author of Life is writing a tale of mercy in the lives of the patients. In the charity of the sisters and staff at Rosary Hill Home, their lives come to a close truly aware of the love of God. This joy doesn’t stop the pain or prevent death, but it strengthens them to be brave, to endure their suffering, and to pursue the one True Love.

For more information about the Dominicans Sisters of Hawthorne or Rosary Hill Home, visit their website or read the New York Times article, “Sisters Who Treat the Untreatable”.

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

Blesseds Rita Dolores Pujalte and Francisca Aldea

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:00

These two nuns, martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, were beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 10, 1998. The following is excerpted from L’Osservatore Romano, published on the day of their beatification:

Rita Dolores Pujalte Sanchez was born in Aspe, Spain, on February 19, 1853. Her parents, Antonio Pujalte and Luisa Sanchez, gave her and her four siblings a deeply Christian upbringing. As a young girl she was a model of piety and apostolic activity: she belonged to the Daughters of Mary, the Third Order of St. Francis, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and was a catechist as well.

In 1888 she entered the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and took her temporary vows two years later. Highly esteemed by her community, she was given positions of increasing responsibility; the foundress, before dying in 1899, recommended that Rita be elected Superior General, which the community did in 1900. Mother Rita served as Superior until 1928, when she retired to devote herself to prayer and contemplation at St. Susanna’s College in Madrid.

Francisca Aldea Araujo was born in Somolinos, Spain, on December 17, 1881. Orphaned at an early age, she was accepted as a boarding student at St. Susanna’s College. At the age of 18 she entered the institute’s novitiate and made her temporary vows in 1903. She was assigned to teaching and fulfilled this task with great dedication until 1916, when she was elected assistant and, later, general secretary. She was at St. Susanna’s College when the religious persecution of the Spanish Civil War began.

Their Martyrdom

On July 20, 1936, the revolutionaries attacked St. Susanna’s College, battering the doors and firing shots. All the sisters, aware of the danger, were praying in the chapel; they had recited the Rosary and were commending their souls to God. The superior asked the soldiers to allow Mother Rita, aged 83, blind and infirm, and Sr. Francisca, who was also ill, to leave. The two religious took refuge in a nearby apartment. Two hours later a group of armed revolutionaries dragged the two frail sisters down the stairs, put them in a car and took them to a Madrid suburb, near the town of Canillejas, where they made them get out of the car and then shot them.

The next day the doctors performing the autopsies were astonished that the bodies were not stiff and were emitting an indescribable perfume. When the bodies were exhumed in 1940 to be taken to the Almudena cemetery in Madrid, the doctors and other witnesses said that the bodies were still flexible and retained the color of a living person. Given their reputation for holiness, in 1954 their still-uncorrupted bodies were taken to Villaverde, near Madrid, and placed in a chapel of their institute’s college.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Apollonaris (of Ravenna) (79), Bishop and Martyr, disciple of St. Peter

St. Jerome Emiliani (1537) – Patron Saint of orphans and abandoned children

St. Margaret of Antioch (304) – Virgin and martyr; Patroness of those suffering from kidney disease

“The more you receive Communion,

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:00

“The more you receive Communion, the more will your love be will enkindled, your heart enlarged; your affection will become more ardent and tender as the intensity of this divine fire increases.”

-Peter Julian Eymard, How to Get More Out of Holy Communion

In the first reading, we see the

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, we see the majesty of God revealing himself to Moses in the burning bush, “I Am Who Am.” He reminds Moses of his past dealings with Israel through their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Through Moses he will perform many great deeds for them to free them from the slavery of Pharaoh in Egypt and to bring them to the promised land. In their long journey to the promised land God will establish a covenant with them in the Ten Commandments. I Am Who Am, the all powerful Creator God, will do great deeds for Israel. He is also the God who saves and also punishes.

In the short Gospel reading we see another face of God in his Son Jesus Christ: “Come to me, all you who work hard and who carry heavy burdens and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest. For my yoke is good and my burden is light.”

We see Jesus inviting his followers to come to him for rest, peace and re-assurance. We see Jesus telling us that, with him and his grace, our burdens will be light and bearable because we do not bear them by ourselves, but with Christ and his help.

I Am Who Am, before whom Moses stood in amazement and fear at the burning bush revelation, invites each one of us to the loving heart of Jesus, who is gentle and humble of heart, to ease our burdens and to give us quiet and rest.

When Women Pray: Satisfying Love’s Longing

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 22:07

In Cardinal Sarah’s great book, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, he quotes St. John Vianney on prayer, “See my children, A Christian’s treasure is not on earth. It is in heaven. Well, then! Our thoughts must go where our treasure is. Man has a fine function: to pray and to love. You pray, you love: that is man’s happiness on earth!” (p 151).

When Women Pray

Prayer is the way of knowing God the Father, Jesus, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The value we place on prayer amounts to a choice between wisdom or folly. It’s that simple. Prayer is a necessary, holy duty. Prayer is wise because it is the will of God. Prayer is worth the effort and brings fruitfulness. Prayer empowers the active apostolate and forms “contemplatives in action”. But for prayer we need courage (Catechism clearly states that prayer is a battle) and we need encouragement from others who practice the way of prayer.

For this reason, I invited ten women who are known in Catholic circles for their fruitful apostolates (activity or work) in and for the Church. I invited these leaders to write about the hidden part of their spirituality: their prayer lives. The Holy Spirit wove together a beautiful tapestry on prayer life that is altogether relatable, informative and inspiring.

Johnnette Benkovic penned, “For the Christian who is serious about who he really is, prayer is not optional. As lungs are to physical life, prayer is to spiritual life. Prayer informs, reforms, transforms, and conforms us to Christ.”

Dr. Ronda Chervin wrote, “The Holy Spirit led me to infuse prayer into the classroom, not just at the start and the end of each class, but as occasion arose. If a student mentioned being anxious about a sick relative and wondering how a God of love could let people suffer, I would stop the class and have us all pray for that person.”

This article is a preview of “When Women Pray.” Read more inspiring words by clicking on the image.

Dr. Pia de Solleni wrote, “St. John Paul II wrote, “Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts.” Could this not refer to the way in which a woman’s body disposes her to see and interact with human life in its very beginning?”

Dr. Mary Healy offered, “Throughout this time I found one kind of prayer to be more life-changing than any other (in fact, I think it is the best kept secret of the spiritual life): the power of praise. I first experienced this gift through the “festivals of praise” at Franciscan University-gatherings where the students would spend hours doing nothing but praising and worshipping God.”

Lisa Hendey wrote, “Being a mother for the first-time evoked emotions that drove me (often literally) to my knees. My begging pleas, amid the barrage of dirty diapers and sleepless nights, for the skills to be a worthy mom formed my lamentations.”

Joan Lewis penned, “Then I realized that I am not Teresa of Avila or Therese or John Paul II or a psalmist, those to whom God had given greater graces. I am Joan, created in God’s image and likeness and with my own gifts. Those gifts did not include soaring, powerful love phrases. Perhaps my gift is being able to talk, and sometimes cry and laugh with childlike simplicity, with my friend Jesus.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez offered, “When I pray, I feel the presence of some of these women I’ve mentioned—the saints whom Pope Benedict XVI helped me to know better. It’s often the events of the world that I cover as a commentator and editor that draw me deeper into prayer.”

Marilyn Quirk wrote, “The fruit of prayer: 1) We experience fellowship, 2) He changes us, 3) He teaches us, 4) He helps us to discern, 5) He strengthens use against temptations, 6) He uses our gifts.”

Vicki Thorn penned, “With Project Rachel, I’ve come to appreciate Jesus’ special relationship to wounded women. Often, we carry our wounds with us and hold God’s mercy at arm’s length because we feel unworthy, but we should not do this. Praying with the Gospel passages im which Jesus heals women can be very fruitful.”

Kelly Wahlquist offered, “In these times when I am struggling, I go to where I know Him to be… even if I don’t feel Him there. I take great comfort knowing that although I may not be able to find Him, He will always find me. Just pray.”

Excerpt from Foreword by Sr. Regina Marie Gorman, O.C.D.

Somewhere in the secret chambers of a woman’s heart there is a gentle, persistent longing for holiness. We use various words to describe this longing: a desire for depth, for wholeness; a hunger for something more meaningful than our daily routine, something greater than ourselves. Sometimes we become aware of this longing during those precious moments of peace and leisure. At other times the yearning makes itself known during barren days of angst or during crushing periods of darkness.

Why such a persistent longing in a woman’s heart? How does she satisfy the longing during all the fluctuating seasons of the soul? The answers to these two questions are intrinsically linked. If you understand the answer to the first question, you have already solved the problem of the second question.

The persistent longing was actually embedded in our DNA the moment we were conceived. We were made in Love, by Love, and for Love. God, who is total, infinite, unchanging Love, thought of you, and His Heart was flooded with love for you. He created you that He might carry you in His love, that you might be in intimate relationship with Him, talk with Him, allow Him to love you, to touch you, to speak with you. You didn’t do anything to deserve this love. You can’t do anything to lose His love. It is yours. Forever. No matter what. That is why we are never completely fulfilled except when we are close to God. That is why we experience the longing, that He might fill it as only He can.

How do we weather the seasons of the soul? As best we can. We are frail human beings. That is all we ever will be. Our frailty poses no obstacle whatsoever to God.

The Lord cannot take His eyes off us; it is impossible for Him to tear His Heart away from us. We are never alone. But so often we can feel alone and can become absorbed in our little world. That is because we can forget the unimaginable power and blessing that belongs to us: we are able to communicate with God.

In the Old Testament, we discover women who prayed, women whose influence continues throughout the centuries even to today: Esther and the power of one woman’s intercession; Judith’s audacious faith and unstoppable resolve; Deborah’s far-reaching influence as the only woman judge. In the New Testament, we come upon that unknown child whose simple trust in the Word of the Lord brought about her unconditional Fiat, and the world was changed forever. These women spoke with God, they listened to Him and responded in faith.

Our Lord does not need special people or extraordinary circumstances. Look at the people He chose: a Hebrew girl, a carpenter, a few fishermen, Magdalene, a group of women who accompanied Him. Holiness is integrated within the routine and commonplace, within the scheduled and unscheduled happenings during each day’s unfolding. In that unfolding, our individual paths are often fraught with suffering and pain, that is true, but they are also emblazoned with the re of love that overcomes and prevails.

We encounter joy and peace in the surrendered heart. A broken heart becomes the seedbed of new life. There is an unspoken confidence owing from the sure and certain knowledge that God accompanies us every step of the way.

In the early 1950s Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen made a compelling statement on his popular television program Life Is Worth Living.

“The level of any civilization is always the level of its womanhood.”
 The testimonies in this book are unique and personal. The authors share real struggles, tragic pain, palpable triumphs. These women have one thing in common: in the midst of their very human condition they learned to pray. It is that simple. Each woman emerges as a source of life to others. Each touches other hearts and raises the level of our civilization. This book is an invitation to step into your rightful place alongside women who have prayed through the centuries; women who have heard the beating Heart of God and changed the world forever.

Editor’s note: This article is a preview of When Women Pray: Eleven Catholic Women on the Power of Prayerwhich is available as ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press

The Diocese of Orange, CA Book Club chose, When Women Pray as a featured selection and will host an Author Event at Christ Cathedral on July 20. Visit: http://occatholic.com/oc-catholic-book-club/

image: By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

How We React to the Storms in Our Life

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 22:05

Every morning at Matins (morning prayer) our monastery prays Psalm 148.  Seven times a week we pray

“Give praise to the Lord from out of the earth,
you monsters, and all you depths!
Fire and hail, snow and ice,
Tempestuous wind, who obey his word;”
(Psalm 148 7:8)

Recently, however, I think all of us in the community individually prayed these two psalm verses at Vespers (evening prayer).

Why at Vespers?

Well, we had just started Vespers and Fr. Paiisi was reading Psalms.  At this point he was audible.  In a few minutes, he went from being audible to being completely drowned out by the hail outside.  Hail was pounding against the sides and roof of the Church and making the declaration that it was giving praise to the Lord as it says in Psalm 148.  A few seconds later the village tornado siren decided to partner up with the hail in a duet.  (The siren may have been loud, but the hail still maintained its position of singing lead.)

The overwhelming noise of the hail, the siren announcing a tornado warning, combined with the history of the building we live in made us realize that we should take cover.  In 2000, before we had moved into the building we are in, the village had been hit by a tornado. Part of the monastery roof had decided to run away with the whirlwind; we knew it was a possibility again.

We headed to the basement for safety.  Fr. Paiisi kept reading the Psalms as he processed to the basement.  Other monks brought all the books necessary for the rest of Vespers.  If the hail and tempestuous winds were going to give praise to the Lord, so were we.  As it turned out, there was an old crucifix on one of the walls which our Abbot turned towards to lead us in prayer.  We even found an extra light to turn on during the Lamp-Lighting Hymn.

While we were still listening to the hail slam into the monastery, albeit muffled since we were in the basement, we sang an ancient hymn dating back to the third or fourth century.  St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, who lived from 330-379 spoke of it and was unaware of its origins due to it already being considered an old hymn.

“O joyful light of the holy glory of the Father Immortal; heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ!  Since we have come to the setting of the sun and have seen the evening light, we praise God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It is proper for You to be praised at all times by fitting melodies.  O Son of God, Giver of Life, therefore the world glorifies You!”

We finished Vespers in the basement.

It was beautiful!

Sure, the aesthetic of the Church with the icons, iconostasis, candles and so forth is more inviting than the basement with shipping materials and other signs of our newly embarked upon venture of selling coffee.  Being reminded by the elements, of just a tiny bit of God’s power, helped to lift one’s mind up in prayer.  There was a palpable beauty in that.

It was a memorable Vespers.

One of the monks told me that he had heard that a tornado had formed over St. Nazianz but did not touch down.  The village had survived, and the monastery building survived.  There was a good amount of damage to windows, cars, roofs, and a few trees in the village even fell over.  Everyone’s roof, even if damaged, was still connected!

In the days after this event, I started reflecting on the storm.  It got me thinking about the different ways we react to the storms in our life.

The community here reacted to the storm by continuing our prayer.  We moved down into the basement for safety, but we did not give up our prayer.  The storm did not cause us to run away from prayer for our safety.  In some ways, it led us deeper into our prayer.  It made us aware of the elements of the earth obeying the Lord and giving Him praise.  This allowed us to enter more deeply into prayer.  It reminded us of God’s power which caused us to enter more deeply into our prayer.  It moved our location which caused us to break out of any routine we were in calling to mind and putting the emphasis on our prayer.

Is this what happens when we encounter storms?

Do I react the same way?

The honest answer is, unfortunately, sometimes.  Sometimes though, I run away from the storms.  When storms confront us, whether/weather (pun) they are storms of anger, frustration, anxiety, lust, loneliness, pride, covetousness, physical sickness, or anything else that can throw us around, where do we take shelter?

Often we take shelter in unhealthy ways.  Shelter can be taken in the form of watching television mindlessly, being a busy body, gossip, self-pity, abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex, and many other unhealthy ways.  These ways may shelter us from the immediate storm, but in reality, they leave us more open to being damaged by the elements.  They are self-defeating.  Instead of running towards God, we run towards the immediate ‘safety’ of not dealing with things.  We are running away from God. I’m as guilty as anyone of doing it.

During my life, I’ve probably tested all possible ways to run away from the storms besetting me.  In the monastery, I’ve noticed that I usually fall into one of two unhealthy ways of taking shelter from the storm.  One way is by talking out loud.  This usually happens when I’m feeling uncomfortable and scared to confront the storm.  I will just say a random phrase out loud hoping that it leads me to not thinking about what is bothering me.  It usually ends up with me laughing myself because I realize the ridiculousness of blurting out something about doorknobs or some random thing.  The second is more harmful.  I will find myself complaining as a way of not dealing with the storm.  Complaining turns my attention away from the issue and focuses negatively on something or someone else.  This negativity separates me from God and makes the storm worse.

How then should we react?

We should react just like the monks of the monastery reacted during Vespers.  Instead of going down into the basement we should go down into our hearts.  We should enter deep into the center of our hearts and begin to pray from there.  The deep heart is where we are both the most vulnerable and the safest.

We are the most vulnerable because the prayer leaves us open to change. It is this change, the confronting and rooting out of our ‘false-selves’ that is scary and makes us vulnerable.  In ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ Lucy asks if Aslan is safe.  Mr. Beaver replies, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Of course he isn’t safe, but, he’s good.”  Calling on Christ and entering into our hearts puts us face to face with He who will move us away from our comfortable stubbornness and out from our pseudo-shelters.

At the same time, however, we are the safest in our deep heart meeting with Christ because we then depend on God.  We are there calling on and depending on the God who wills our salvation.  We are calling on and depending on the God who desires what is good for us even if we do not in any way understand it.  Paradoxically, our safety is dangerous.

Storms allow us to cling to God.  They call us to grow closer to the God who loves mankind.  With God, even the darkest of places, and the most violent winds may serve to blow us closer to Him.  That is how we respond.  We run and cling to God.  We grow in love towards Him.  We allow Him to transform us. We praise Him.

“Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”  (Psalm 150:6)

Pray for me that I run to God instead of away from Him when storms beset me.

Pray for me.

I’ll pray for you.

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.