Catholic Exchange Articles

Syndicate content
Catholic News, Catholic Articles, Catholic Apologetics, Catholic Content, Catholic Information
Updated: 32 min 13 sec ago

St. Silverius (Pope and Martyr)

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 22:00

Born in Frosinone, Campania, Italy, Silverius was a subdeacon, when, on the death of Pope St. Agapetus, he was named pope in 536 by Ostrogoth King Theodehad of Italy. By the time he was consecrated, he had been formally accepted by the Roman clergy.

Silverius soon incurred the wrath of the Empress Theodora when he refused to accept the heretical monophysites Anthimus of Constantinople and Severus of Antioch who had already been excommunicated and deposed by the previous pope. (The monophysites denied the human nature of Christ.) Silverius knew what it meant to oppose the strong-willed empress and is said to have remarked that by signing the letter of refusal to her request, he was also signing his own death warrant.

In an attempt to save Rome from further destruction by the Ostrogoth General Vitiges, Silverius invited the Byzantine commander Belisaurus into the city. Unfortunately, Belisaurus’ wife Antonina was as much a scheming woman as Theodora, and in order to gain the Empress’s favor, Antonina urged Belisaurus to depose Silverius on the false accusation that he had conspired with the Goths. Silverius was kidnapped and taken to Patara in Lycia, Asia Minor, and Theodora’s favorite, the Archdeacon Vigilius, was wrongly named the new pope.

When the Emperor Justinian received a message from the bishop of Patara telling him what had happened, he immediately gave orders that Silverius be returned to Rome and reinstated in the Holy See. But soon after his return to Italy, Silverius was captured by Vigilius’s supporters and imprisoned on the island of Palmaria. He did not survive long in prison and was either murdered by one of Antonina’s hired assassins or was left to die of starvation. The year was 537, and Silverius had served less than two years in office.

On the death of Silverius, Vigilius was now legitimately named the new pope. But if the Empress Theodora had hopes for her monophysites, the Holy Spirit had other plans: once Vigilius became pope, he ceased to support the heresy and in fact became a strong defender of orthodoxy, condemning the heretics in letters to both the Emperor Justinian and to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Lessons

1. The life and death of Pope St. Silverius should encourage all Catholics in the truth of papal infallibility. Despite the irregularities regarding his election and the outright treachery that lead to his death and Vigilius’ subsequent election, both men became firm defenders of the Faith and condemned heresy, despite the cost to themselves. We are reminded of Christ’s words to St. Peter concerning the Church: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).

2. Silverius was described as a humble man, a “lamb among wolves” caught in the middle of political ploys and falsely accused of treason. When we find ourselves the victims of false accusations, may we, like St. Silverius, put our trust in the Lord and say with the psalmist: “When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes, they shall stumble and fall” (Psalm 27:2).

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady of Consolation

Mystery of Hope

Mon, 06/19/2017 - 02:35
Mystery of Hope

Presence of God – Let me hunger for You, O Bread of Angels, pledge of future glory.

MEDITATION

Jesus said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever, and the bread that I will give is My Flesh, for the life of the world.” The Jews disliked this speech; they began to question and dispute the Master’s words. But Jesus answered them still more forcefully: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, except you eat the Flesh of the Son of man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you” (John 6:51-54). These are definitive words which leave no room for doubt; if we wish to live, we must eat the Bread of Life. Jesus came to bring to the world the supernatural life of grace; and this life was given to our souls in Baptism, the Sacrament which grafted us into Christ. Thus it is a gift of His plenitude, but we must nourish it by a deeper penetration into Christ. To enable us to do so, He Himself willed to give us His complete substance as the God-Man, making Himself the Bread of our supernatural life, the Bread of our union with Him. St. John Chrysostom says, “Many mothers entrust the children they have borne to others to nurse them, but Jesus does not do that. He feeds us with His own Blood and incorporates us into Himself completely.” Baptism is the Sacrament which engrafts us into Christ; the Eucharist is the Sacrament which nourishes Christ’s life in us and makes our union with Him always more intimate, or rather, it transforms us into Him. “If into melted wax other wax is poured, it naturally follows that they will be completely mixed with each other; similarly, he who receives the Lord’s Flesh and Blood is so united with Him that Christ dwells in him and he in Christ” (St. Cyril of Jerusalem).

COLLOQUY

“O heavenly Father, You gave us Your Son and sent Him into the world by an act of Your own will. And You, O my Jesus, did not want to leave the world by Your own will but wanted to remain with us for the greater joy of Your friends. This is why, O heavenly Father, You gave us this most divine Bread, the manna of the sacred humanity of Jesus, to be our perpetual food. Now we can have it whenever we wish so that if we die of hunger, it will be our own fault.

“O my soul, you will always find in the Blessed Sacrament, under whatever aspect you consider it, great consolation and delight, and once you have begun to relish it, there will be no trials, persecutions, and difficulties which you cannot easily endure.

“Let him who wills ask for ordinary bread. For my part, O eternal Father, I ask to be permitted to receive the heavenly Bread with such dispositions that, if I have not the happiness of contemplating Jesus with the eyes of my body, I may at least contemplate Him with the eyes of my soul. This is Bread which contains all sweetness and delight and sustains our life” (Teresa of Jesus [Teresa of Avila], Way of Perfection, 34).

“All graces are contained in You, O Jesus in the Eucharist, our celestial Food! What more can a soul wish when it has within itself the One who contains everything? If I wish for charity, then I have within me Him who is perfect charity, I possess the perfection of charity. The same is true of faith, hope, purity, patience, humility, and meekness, for You form all virtues in our soul, O Christ, when You give us the grace of this Food. What more can I want or desire, if all the virtues, graces, and gifts for which I long, are found in You, O Lord, who are as truly present under the sacramental species as You are in heaven, at the right hand of the Father? Because I have and possess this great wonder, I do not long for, want, or desire, any other!” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

+

Note from Dan: This post on the mystery of hope is 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 the mystery of hope: Last Supper, Peter Paul Rubens, between 1631 and 1632, 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, 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.

 

|

|

 

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

How the Sacred Heart Transforms Us

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:07

There seem to be two types of icons of the Sacred Heart.

In one type, such as this one and this one, flames twist out of the top of the Sacred Heart, with a cross rising out of them. The heart is encircled with a crown of thorns and shines bright.

Note that the Heart is exposed and Jesus is pointing to it. Here then is the radical openness of His love. Normally a wound is something concealed and bandaged up—because an exposed wound continues to bleed and risks infection. But Jesus exposes His innermost of wounds from the cross to us. And He does so deliberately in directing our gaze to it.

The icon thus becomes an invitation.

The second type of icon, as exemplified here and here, extends the invitation. In this type, many of the features of the first are present—the fire of love, the cross and the crown. But there is one key difference. In this second series, Jesus is holding His heart, as if to offer it to us.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

So it was promised to us in Ezekiel 36:26.

In the Sacred Heart, this prophecy is profoundly fulfilled.

But how exactly do we receive the heart of Jesus?

The answer is rooted in the reasons for the prophecy in the first place.

In the Old Testament, those who worshipped idols became like them. As Psalm 115 explains,

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths but do not speak,
eyes but do not see.
They have ears but do not hear,
noses but do not smell.
They have hands but do not feel,
feet but do not walk;
they produce no sound from their throats.
Their makers will be like them,
and anyone who trusts in them (vv. 4-8).

As Isaiah 44:9 puts it, those who made idols—which are nothing but inert wood or stone—become like them, transforming themselves into nothingness. These texts point to an important biblical principle: “We become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration.” (This quote is adapted from the book, We Become What We Worship, by G.K. Beale, who happens to be the author’s father.)

In worshipping spiritless, material objects, idolaters become like them: unable to think, speak, see, or feel. Idolatry makes us less than ourselves.

It is in this context that we should understand what Ezekiel 36:26 says about new hearts. The language is clearly reminiscent of other Old Testament texts about the dehumanizing effects of idolatry. And the context of Ezekiel is clearly about idolatry as well. As the previous verse states, “I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”

Unlike the above texts, Ezekiel focuses just on the heart. Why?

In ancient Israel the heart was of cardinal significance. The greatest commandment of the Old Testament was “to love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” The Psalms constantly invoke the heart in describing our relationship with God. Joel 2:12 calls upon us to turn to God with all our heart.

But again, why the heart? In ancient Israel, the heart was regarded as the seat of one’s being. It was an organ of both desire and understanding that ultimately directed all of one’s thoughts and actions.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are in need of new hearts because their idolatry has turned them into stone: their hearts have become like what they worshipped.

Now if we really become what we worship then the converse must hold true. In worshipping the true God, we become our true selves, more human. And in being more human we also become closer to God, since we were created in His image. (The connection between image and worship is also explored in We Become What We Worship.)

However, we fail at the mission of worshipping God. Left to our own devices, in a postlapsarian world, we constantly fall into idolatry and our hearts harden into stone. Hence our need for the Incarnation and the Sacred Heart. In assuming our humanity, Christ renewed it. As Vatican II put it, “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” And in returning us to our original humanity, Christ is also pointing us towards God, which was our original calling.

In the cross, God took upon Himself the painful task of restoring humanity to itself. He was wounded so that we might be healed and His heart was pierced so that ours might be made whole again (to paraphrase 1 Peter 2:24).

But how do we accept the heart that is offered to us? Recall the principle—we become what we worship, either for ruin or restoration.

So, how do we let Jesus’ heart transform ours? Worship the Sacred Heart.

Against those who would dismiss the Sacred Heart as unnecessary or even a superstition, it is hoped the above demonstrates how crucial this devotion is. For Christ’s work of restoration to be complete, our entire humanity must be restored, down to our deepest core. For us to be able to love God with all our hearts, as Scripture commands us, we must have new hearts suited to this purpose. Do you want to accept Jesus into your heart? Then accept His Sacred Heart.

image: Sacred Heart of Jesus by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Symbols of the Spiritual Journey

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:05

Since the ninth century the rock cliffs of Metéora have towered, practically inaccessible, high above the plains of Thessaly, Greece. In order to escape the tumult of the world, intrepid monks have ascended the forbidding natural formations, resorting to a combination of folding ladders, ropes, baskets, and nets.

Hundreds of years passing, they built and inhabited up to 24 monasteries. Only six remain today.

Early last century, steps were cut into the rock and the government, after the Second World War, constructed roads all the way up to the very perimeter of the remaining monasteries. St. Stephen’s Monastery, for example, is accessible without any climbing at all. Motoring up the road, visitors have but to step across the concrete footbridge spanning a windy chasm to arrive at the monastery door.

Metéora illustrates the truism that there is more than one route to a single destination. It is a metaphor that invites us to visit historic conceptions of the spiritual journey from the standpoint of multiple routes. We will touch upon watershed conceptions—the ladder, the threefold way, the mountain, the interior castle.

The Ladder

A common image in monastic literature is that of the ladder. Jacob’s ladder is probably the origin of this image. “Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 29:13)

Ladder of Divine Ascent, 17th c. icon.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the most famous—and elaborate—exposition of the image of the ladder is found in Saint John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is a mature exposition of a long tradition. In this work Saint John divides progress in the spiritual life into 30 steps, organized into three major groupings. The first part describes the break with the world and the exile into the desert and consists of three steps. The second part, consisting of 23 steps, describes the practice of the virtues of the active life. They include virtues at the foundation of the monastic life, such as obedience or penance; virtues invoked in the struggle against the passions; and virtues of a higher attainment, such as simplicity or discernment. The third part consists of four steps describing the virtues of the contemplative life—stillness, prayer, dispassion, love.

The image of a ladder is also a central motif in the Rule of Saint Benedict, written about one century before The Ladder of Divine Ascent. The Father of Western monasticism describes the spiritual life as an ascent in twelve degrees of humility leading up to the “perfect love of God that casts out fear.”

Hence, brethren, if we wish to reach the very highest point of humility and to arrive speedily at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made through the humility of this present life, we must by our ascending actions erect the ladder Jacob saw in his dream, on which angels appeared to him descending and ascending.

By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility.

And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled.

In Concerning the Four Rungs of the Ladder of Monks, or The Ladder of Monks, for short, Guigo II, third prior of La Grande Chartreuse, originates the scheme of prayer in four steps—reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation. Lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio. It is a scheme that has long endured.

“This is a ladder for monks,” Guigo II says, “by means of which they are raised up from earth to heaven. It has only a few separate rungs, yet its length is immense and incredible: for its lower part stands on the earth while its higher part pierces the clouds and touches the secrets of heaven.”

The Threefold Way

One of the most influential schemes describing progress in the spiritual life originates in Pseudo-Dionysius, late fifth century, whose true identity is lost to history. Imbued with Neoplatonism, Pseudo-Dionysius divided the spiritual life into the threefold way of purgation, illumination, and perfection as an ascent à la Proclus back to God.

The threefold way of purification, illumination, and perfect is prominent in The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, where Pseudo-Dionysius assigns a different function of the threefold way to each of the three clerical orders of deacon, priest, and hierarch or bishop, respectively, (Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, translation by Colm Luibheid, pp. 235-37).

Pseudo-Dionysius holds the honor of originating “mystical theology” as a descriptive term and of advancing negative theology following the pioneering The Life of Moses by Saint Gregory of Nyssa.

The threefold way has been notably influential among spiritual writers.

The threefold way undergirds Saint Bonaventure’s The Life of Saint Francis, for example, where Saint Francis of Assisi’s life is described according to virtues corresponding to the three stages of purification, illumination, and union, culminating in the intimate identification of Saint Francis with the crucified Jesus, shown forth by the charism of the sacred stigmata.

Dominican Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Three Ages of the Interior Life is also based on the threefold way. He uses the threefold way as a framework to synthesize theological principles of the spiritual life according to the rich Roman Catholic tradition.

The Mountain

Another image of progress in the spiritual life is that of the mountain. This image of the spiritual life is very apt. Because God is transcendent, ruling over all creation, the soul must ascend, literally and metaphorically, to encounter God.

In the Bible, Mount Hebron, Mount Sinai, and Mount Tabor are all important symbols. They invoke the ascent to God, who is essentially unapproachable.

Sixteenth-century mystic Saint John of the Cross describes the spiritual life as the ascent of Mount Carmel. He assumes the threefold division of souls into beginners, proficients, and the perfect—a scheme which originates in the Carthusian Hugh of Balma—and uses the framework of scholastic theology throughout, bringing together important threads in Neoplatonism and Aristotelianism to accomplish a synthesis notable in the history of mystical theology.

Saint John of the Cross begins The Ascent to Mount Carmel by establishing a theme:

The following stanzas include all the doctrine I intend to discuss in this book, The Ascent to Mount Carmel. They describe the way that leads to the summit of the mount—that high state of perfection we here call union of a soul with God. Since these stanzas will serve as the basis for all I shall say, I want to cite them here in full that the reader may see in them a summary of the doctrine to be expounded, (The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. by Kieran Kavanaugh, p. 113).

He presents his poem describing the passage of the soul through the “dark night” of the purification of sense and spirit, arriving at the ecstatic union of love with God.

One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
—ah, the sheer grace!—
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.
(op. cit., p. 113)

The famous poem, The Dark Night of the Soul, eight stanzas long, is the basis for the exposition of The Ascent, which remains unfinished.

The Interior Castle

Saint John of the Cross’ spiritual confrere, Saint Teresa of Avila, in contrast, invokes the image of an interior castle. It maps out a journey not upward, but inward.

The image of an interior dwelling-place has antecedents, for example, the inner cell of the heart of Saint Catherine of Siena. However, Saint Teresa uniquely employs the metaphor of an interior castle in a highly developed manner. Her account is based on the extraordinary fullness of her mystical experience, so that her book has no precedent in the spiritual literature.

In the first chapter of The Interior Castle, Saint Teresa exclaims:

Today while beseeching our Lord to speak for me because I wasn’t able to think of anything to say nor did I know how to begin to carry out this obedience, there came to my mind what I shall now speak about, that which will provide us with a basis to begin with. It is that we consider soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.
(The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume II, trans. by Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. and Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D, p. 283).

She continues: “Well, let us consider that this castle has, as I said, many dwelling places: some up above, others down below, others to the sides; and in the center and middle is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place,” (Ibid., p. 284).

The way inside the castle, she explains, is through prayer: “Insofar as I can understand the door of entry to this castle is prayer and reflection,” (Ibid., p. 286).

The Desert

In all images—the ladder, the threefold way, the mountain, or the interior castle—the spiritual journey is always conceived as a progression and often as an ascent, so that some charting of progress in the spiritual life is inevitably entailed.

An alternative image of the spiritual life is suggested by the journey of Elijah the prophet to Mount Horeb when he fled from the murderous Jezebel.

Mortally afraid, Elijah flees a day’s journey into the desert until, overwhelmed by exhaustion, he lays himself down beneath a broom tree, praying, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Roused by an angel from sleep, he is refreshed by a hearth cake and a jug of water. Descending into sleep a second time, he is awakened by the angel, who exclaims, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” Afterwards, so fortified is he that at once he walks forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb. (1 Kings 19:1-8)

In this image of the desert the traveler is preoccupied—not with their progress upward or inward but with advancing in love toward their destination, often in darkness and struggle, but also as God wills resting in oases of light and peace.

The image offers the advantage that it is a spur to prayer and ascetical practice yet at the same time a check upon self-conscious introspection or prideful dwelling upon “spiritual progress.”

The image of a journey across a flat desert combines the images of the dark night of the soul of Saint John of the Cross and the desert oasis of Saint Bruno the Carthusian.

The dark night of the soul is a desert because it is a period of purification of the senses and the spirit—painful, mysterious, yet despite it all, ardent. Saint John of the Cross says it cannot be adequately described:

So numerous and burdensome are the pains of this night, and so many are the scriptural passages we could cite that we would have neither the time nor the energy to put it all in writing; and, doubtless, all that we can possibly say would fall short of expressing what this night really is, (St John of the Cross, “The Dark Night of the Soul,” II, 7, op. cit., p. 406).

Saint John compares it to a “dark dungeon” where a prisoner, “bound hands and feet,” is “able neither to move nor see nor feel any favor from heaven or earth.” The soul in this condition is “humbled, softened, and purified, until it becomes so delicate, simple, and refined that it can be one with the Spirit of God, according to the degree of union of love that God, in his mercy, desires to grant,” (Ibid., pp. 407-408).

Souls who endure this suffering “know that they love God and that they would give a thousand lives for him (they would indeed, for souls undergoing these trials love God very earnestly)” yet “they find no relief. This knowledge instead causes them deeper affliction,” (Ibid., p. 409).

In contrast, the desert oasis is the foretaste of the fruits of Paradise, the vision of God in purity of heart that for reasons entirely hidden to the soul and out of sheer gratuitousness God wishes to bestow upon the soul.

Saint Bruno’s letter to his friend, Raoul, offers us glimpses of this rarefied spiritual attainment. He writes, “In any case only those who have experienced them can know the benefits and divine exultation that the solitude and silence of the desert hold in store for those who love it.” They “enter into themselves,” “rest in quiet activity,” “eat the fruits of Paradise with joy,” even “see God himself.”

Of this divine exultation, Saint John speaks as well.

There are intervals in which, through God’s dispensation…the soul, like one who has been unshackled and released from a dungeon and who can enjoy the benefit of spaciousness and freedom, experiences great sweetness of peace and loving friendship with God in a ready abundance of spiritual communication, (Saint John of the Cross, op. cit., p. 408).

Thus the spiritual journey may be conceived and understood as a trek across the flats of Elijah’s desert.

image: Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas, Meteora / Dido3 (own work) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Mary as My Refuge

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:02

There are things about childhood that you relive in your dreams.  Maybe it’s therapeutic for the mental issues we all have.

For me, the long walks of my youth around the dikes of the camp where I grew up are a composite of long, friendly dreams.  When I am so lucky to have one of these dreams, I invariably awake in a sort of time-daze, not sure if I am still between 3 and 16, or if the sad truth is that I am “grown up” and here in “normal” central Ohio.

When the bird banders came in the spring, I helped them set up their nets. Sometimes I even got to help them band the warblers that come through in a swarm of yellow, hurrying to their nesting grounds in northern Canada.  My dad took me duck hunting a few times, and like any good daughter, I watched him skin at least a few hundred muskrats.

One of the best adventures of my childhood happened in junior high, at that gray hormonal point in every person’s life when nothing is right with the world.  No one understands you, strange things happen to your body, and in my case, my dad got remarried.  My new stepbrothers, in spite of being goons, were wonderful for expanding my creativity, especially when it came to seeking out havens for myself.

In our summer wanderings after sixth or seventh grade, we happened upon a fallen willow.  From the looks of it, lightning had struck it right down the middle.  Rather than just falling and rotting, the six-foot base of the fallen tree listed to the side and kept on growing.  It made a huge bridge, with nooks and crannies on the ground.

The tree house was hidden from view because of the overgrown path and brush.  We managed to clear a path, although it took at least a week of solid clearing.  We used the branches from the brush we cleared away to mask the booby-traps we built into the path…to keep people away, of course, and to lure our unsuspecting friends.

There was a kidney-U-shaped pond beside the tree.  The tree was at the closed end of the U, and though the pond often dried up in the summer (another great place to explore, with deep cracks and critters), it made for a much-need escape for me and my inevitable book.

I used to go there with books, with homework, with problems, and sit in the muted green.  When I visit it in my dreams, I always think of praying, though in my adolescence that never occurred to me.  I was pretty sure, back then, that God couldn’t hear me, or that if He could, that He was busier with more important stuff.

After a time, my stepbrothers tired of the tree, and so did I.  Before long, family situations changed, we moved, and the tree was forgotten in all but my infrequent dream visits.  I found other refuges as I got older: school activities, educational pursuits, romance.

Sometimes my refuges were hiding places — from the weight of my problems, from the stress of my life, from the things I didn’t understand.  Sometimes my refuges were places of comfort, places I went to let my hair down and be me, though I was often trying to figure out just who, exactly, “me” was.  And sometimes, in the flurry and bustle, my refuges were times of peace, sanctuaries of silence, places of rest.

I moved away and grew up, only to find that, in the loneliness of my soul, something was missing.  I didn’t know what it was, but it seemed to be linked to a young man and his Sunday morning habit.  As I sat with him in Mass, holding his hand and fighting back the overwhelming desire to cry (and losing most of the time), I sensed that same feeling I felt back in our fallen tree.  It was peace, and silence, and safety.  I could hide from the things that disturbed me and settle in to be myself.

Once upon a time, there was a refuge in the Garden of Eden.  It was Paradise, and it was perfect.  Before the loss of innocence, there was peace.  Now, living in the midst of our fallen world and my fallen self, I find my refuge is a glimpse of heaven.

I go to her, my refuge, and I snuggle in her lap.  Her cool hands brush my hair off my forehead, and she holds me.  She doesn’t talk.  She doesn’t distract me.  She lets me be.

When I’m ready, she points me to her Son, whose arms have always been open, waiting.  She understands that settling in, being myself, is not comfortable.  I don’t like what I see.  I have sinned and fallen short; I have fallen, just as Adam and Eve did, again and again.

I think of my early days of attending Mass and my childhood tree house when I hear Mary called Refuge of Sinners.  I think of how my children run to me first when they’re hurt, and I imagine Jesus running to Mary, to feel the solace of her strong embrace and the comfort of her soothing words.

Did Joseph go to Mary in his doubt too, to find refuge in her unwavering faith, her ongoing assent to the divine plan?  The disciples found her a refuge, from the three years of Jesus’ ministry to Pentecost to the present day.

Jesus took on our sin — my sin — and died.  What higher purpose could His mother have than to act as a refuge to the very ones he offered his life to save?  Jesus wants us to have His mom for comfort, just as He did throughout His life.

In my sin, I always expect a place like prison, dark and cold, gray and unwelcoming: a punishment.  Sinning makes me think of Hell, instead of repentance.  But through my repentance in Confession, I come closer to God.  When I cooperate with the great graces God has waiting for me — and which His mother so gently and often points me toward — I can grow past my sin, past my imperfection, past my faults.  Coming back to God, the ongoing conversion story of my life, makes me a better Christian.

And in being a better Christian, I am more like Mary, my refuge and the refuge of all sinners.  She stands there, offering comfort, encouragement, and peace.  She reminds me that it’s not about punishment or suffering; it’s about God’s will.

“Jesus revealed to us the

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:00
“Jesus revealed to us the divinity of God, making it possible for us to enter into a profound relationship with Him.”

-Fr. Maurice Emelu, Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith

The Scripture readings tell us that to

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:00

The Scripture readings tell us that to be a follower of Christ entails challenges such as avoiding evil and loving one’s enemies. One does not have to look so far to come across one’s “enemies”: they could be among family, among friends and co-workers. To love one’s enemies is to extend compassion and forgiveness on them, just as Jesus did. Jesus died on the cross for us, when we were his enemies.

Love is a choice, especially for those difficult to love. Choosing to use kind words instead of answering back, extending compassion instead of revenge and hatred can work wonders. We Christians are called to mirror Jesus’ unconditional love for others. Just as we seek and ask for God’s forgiveness for our failures, we should be ready to forgive others for their transgressions against us.

It is by the urging and grace of the Holy Spirit that we are able to accept and forgive those who have wronged us, to overcome our human tendencies of anger and pride, revenge and judgment of others. It is in choosing to love and forgive that we show our own repentance before God.

Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the strength to show compassion, forgiveness and love for all, especially those who are so difficult to love.

St. Romuald (Abbot)

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:00

The Italian monk and abbot St. Romuald (950?-1027) was very influential in reforming monastic life in the eleventh century. When, as a young man, Romuald witnessed his father kill a relative in a property dispute, he fled to a nearby monastery and adopted a life of penance and prayer. His example of piety, however, put the other monks to shame, and they forced him to leave — an event which helped convince him of the need for monastic reform.

Romuald spent the next thirty years traveling throughout Italy, establishing monasteries and promoting the virtues of a solitary life. He had a great desire to be a martyr, and, with the pope’s permission, set out to preach the gospel in Hungary, but was struck by a serious illness. This condition ended as soon as he halted his journey, but immediately returned every time he tried to continue.

Accepting this as a sign, Romuald returned to his efforts to reform monastic life, sometimes encountering great opposition. On one occasion he was falsely accused of a scandalous crime; his fellow monks believed the accusation, and Romuald humbly accepted the punishment he was given. When a prince gave him a fine horse, the monk exchanged it for a donkey, remarking that he would feel closer to Christ on such a mount.

Romuald’s own father eventually became a monk in one of his monasteries; when he later wavered in his vows, his son’s encouragement helped him remain faithful. St. Romuald died in 1027, and was canonized in 1595.

Lessons

1. Sometimes, as shown by St. Romuald’s mysterious illness, God gives us very clear signs that a proposed course of action — even a commendable one — is against His will for us.

2. Humility is not only essential for true holiness, but it can also help us influence others. St. Romuald’s humble nature aided his efforts to reform monasticism, and even encouraged his own father to repent.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Juliana Falconieri (1340), Virgin, “Saint of the Holy Eucharist”

Saints Gervase and Protase (165), brothers, Martyrs

Corpus Christi Sunday: A Symbolic Solemnity?

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 02:35
Corpus Christi Sunday:
A Symbolic Solemnity?


I wanted to share with you a conversation I found myself in a few weeks ago.* I found it relevant as these are the days we are reflecting into Corpus Christi.

Friend: “What gives you reason to believe the Eucharist is more than a symbol?”
Me: “What gives me reason to believe that it is not?”

Friend: “Because, nowhere in Sacred Scripture does Jesus Christ say that ‘I am the Eucharist.’”
Me: “Would you like to read John 6 with me?”

Friend: “No.”
Me: “Why not?”

Friend: “Because, I know Scripture, and he does not say: ‘I am the Eucharist.’”
Me: “Do you know what the word Eucharist means?”

Friend: “Does it matter?”
Me: “Only if you want your original question answered…as it relates to the Eucharist being a symbol or not.”

Friend: “Humor me.”
Me: “Thanksgiving”

Friend: “Where is that in the gospel?”
Me: “Can we read John 6 now (taking mental note at this point to be sure to go to 1 Corinthians 11 after we go through John 6)?”

Friend: “Sure.”
So it is, we carefully went through John 6, taking note of our Lord “giving thanks”, and its Greek eucharisteo (where we get the word Eucharist). As we were going through the “Bread of Life discourse” (John 6), my friend’s interest started to peak with Christ’s emphasis on the need to “eat” this bread come down from heaven. The conversation continued:

Me: “Take note of the evolution of our Lord’s language. John wants us to see something here.”
Friend: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Up to verse 54, John employed the Greek esthio, which is the more common Greek for eating. In verse 54, he uses the term trogo, which literally means “to chew, or gnaw”; Specifically, to chew or gnaw on animal stock such as mules, pigs, cattle, and so on. Recall that John has already set up his gospel to focus in on Christ as ‘the lamb of God’ (John 1:36). Strategically, John wants us to see that Christ is the new Passover lamb that we are to literally consume so as to be in covenant communion with Him.”

Friend: (with a growing curiosity) “Are you suggesting that Christ is establishing Himself as the one and final Passover sacrifice?”
Me: “No, Christ is!”

Pause, and then it happened with the simple request to read John 6:60.
Friend reading John 6:60-66:

“60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you that do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. 65 And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ 66 After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.”

Friend (with a sigh): “I suppose I have a rhetorical question. Why would they leave if it was just a symbol?”
Me: “Exactly. Consider, these are the same men that stood by and watched his mighty works, and yet they abandon their master for the sake of something merely symbolic? By your facial expression, I am concluding that, at the very least, you see this as illogical.”

Friend: “Yes, and  if I am going to be honest, that simply does not add up.”
Me: “Can I show you something else?”

Friend: “I feel like I need to sit on this for awhile, but go ahead, fire away.”
Me: “It is the passage concerning the only time Paul directly quotes Christ.”

Friend: (with a smile) “More symbol verses reality?”
Me (laughter): “I suppose, yes. The passage is 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.”

Friend: “Can I read?”
At this point, I am taking note that just five minutes ago he had no desire to read what he supposedly already knew, and now he wants to read (this is not uncommon).

Me: ‘Please!”
Friend (reading the passage):

23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Me: “What do you see in this passage?”
Friend: “A command: ‘do this’, and to be honest with you, I am still taken back that these are the only words that Paul chooses to directly quote Christ. I suppose that alone should have us rethinking the importance of these words.”

Me: “Yes…Paul knows the importance of this passage, this is why he goes back to the events in the upper room, because in the words, ‘this is…the new covenant in my blood’, he is in fact saying: “my flesh, my blood: this is the New Testament! This is why I came!”
And, after reminding my good friend that it is not so much about where the New Testament is in the Mass, but in light of Christ’s words, the Mass is the New Testament, I continued:

“…John 6 is the backdrop to this passage (along with Mark 14: 24), because once we understand that the Eucharist is Christ’s very flesh, we are then made to ask the question: “How does this take place?’ And for the sake of time,  let’s just say (quoting my old Professor, Dr. Hahn), ‘If the Mass is just another symbolic meal, then Christ’s death was just another execution.”

Friend: “So Christ’s sacrifice is inseparable from the Eucharist?
Me: “Amen! Exactly, and when we have more time, we would be well served to take up the Letter to the Hebrews on this matter.”

Friend:  “Why are not more people aware of these passages?”
Me: “This is a question, for everyone who knows such passages, to take up personally. In other words, as I have been made aware of them, I can never share them enough. I suppose I am challenging myself to ‘go forth’, and proclaim these verses more. Pray for me.”

Friend: “In saying that, let us pray.”
Me: “Ok, before we do, can I ask you one more thing?”

Friend: “Yes, please.”
Me: “Can I leave you with a homework assignment?”

Friend (with laughter): “Once a teacher, always a teacher…yes.”
Me: “Can you reflect into why the Eucharist is not a symbol, but a living reality as it relates to our personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Friend: “Hmmm…now you are talking my language—Yes!!!”
Me: “Well…it is the first language of God: that is intimate communion.”

Friend: “Yes, I am beginning to see that.”
“Our Father…”

+

Art: First two photographs courtesy Dr. Joseph Hollcraft, used with permission. Detail from Canonization ceremony of Brazilian Friar Frei Galvão celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI at the Campo de Marte, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Fabio Pozzebom/ABr, 11 May 2007, CCA 3.0 Brazil, Wikimedia Commons.

* This post was originally published on Dr. Hollcraft’s blog and used with permission.

About Joseph Hollcraft

Over the past thirteen years, Dr. Joseph Hollcraft has taught at the Middle School, High School, and University level. Founder of Seeds of Truth Ministries, Joseph is an Adjunct Professor to the Avila Institute and host to the Seeds of Truth Radio program. Seeds of Truth airs daily to the north state of California and can be found as an iTunes Podcast where it reaches thousands of listeners in over 40 countries. In his first book with Emmaus Road, A Heart for Evangelizing, Dr. Hollcraft reflects into the principles of spiritual and pastoral theology, and its impact upon the new evangelization. Joseph has also been published with the likes of The Catechetical Review and the Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Joseph earned his B.A. and M.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and received his Ph.D. from Graduate Theological Foundation with studies being completed at Oxford University. Most importantly, Joseph is a devoted husband and father. He lives in Chico, California with his beautiful wife Jackie, and their four children: Kolbe, Avila, Isaac, and Siena.

 

|

|

 

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

St. Gregory Barbarigo

Sat, 06/17/2017 - 22:00

Gregory was born in Venice to a noble family on September 16, 1625. At the age of 23, he accompanied the Venetian ambassador to Munster for the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, ending the Thirty Years’ War. While there, he met the apostolic nuncio, Fabio Chigi, who found Gregory to be an exceptional young man, and the two became friends.

In 1655, Gregory was ordained a priest and worked heroically during the plague of 1657. When Fabio Chigi was consecrated as Pope Alexander VII, he did not forget the favorable impression Gregory had made on him in Munster: he appointed him bishop of Bergamo, then three years later named him cardinal, and eventually transferred him to Padua, where Gregory remained for 33 years.

Gregory was famous for his charity. He encouraged learning and founded a seminary for priests, endowing it with an excellent library and its own printing press. Some of the works which were published on this press were sent to Christians in Islamic countries to encourage them in their faith. Gregory also worked diligently towards a reunion with the Greek church and towards carrying out the reforms set forth by the Council of Trent.

As a cardinal, Gregory participated in five conclaves and at one point was considered a serious candidate for the papacy. He died at Padua in 1697 and was canonized in 1960 by Pope John XXIII.

Lessons

1. Gregory was known for his charity and compassion for the poor. May we never forget the words of Sacred Scripture: “It is better to give alms than to treasure up gold. For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fullness of life” (Tobit 12:8-9).

2. Gregory used what means were available in his day for spreading the Word of God. Let us support and utilize the myriad means of communication that we have available today, using it to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to all parts of the world.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Harvey (Herve) (6th Century), Abbot, invoked against eye troubles

St. Botolph (680), Religious

St. Emily de Vialar

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 22:00

Emily, born in Gaillac, France, in 1797, was the daughter of Baron James de Vialar and Antoinette de Portal. She was educated in Paris, but returned home when she was 15 after the death of her mother. Life with her domineering father was extremely difficult, particularly when she refused to marry, and it is said that he even went so far as to throw a wine decanter at her when she persisted in her refusal. His anger and ill-temper were further fueled when she began to teach poor children and care for the sick from their home.

In 1832, when Emily was 35 years old, her grandfather died and left her his considerable fortune. With this money Emily purchased a large house in Gaillac, and with the help of her spiritual director, Abbé Mercier, she and three companions began the congregation which became known as the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition (Mt 1:18-20). By 1835, they numbered 18 and their rule was formally approved. They dedicated themselves to the care of the sick and the needy and to the education of young children.

Emily’s congregation soon spread to Algeria, Tunisia, Greece, Malta, Jerusalem, and the Balkans, although a jurisdictional dispute with the bishop of Algiers forced the closing of the house there. Traveling constantly among her new foundations, when she finally returned to Gaillac in 1845, she found the organization in chaos and its existence threatened by lawsuits and quarrels among the nuns. But by the time of her death in 1856, 22 years after she founded the order, she had established 40 houses around the world, from Europe to Burma to Australia. She was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1951.

Lessons

1. Mother Emily’s last words to her spiritual daughters were, “Love one another.” Love isn’t just a matter of thinking good thoughts or wishing good wishes: love requires action. As our Lord pointed out in Matthew 25:31-46 and as Emily illustrated with her own life, real love requires feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, welcoming the stranger. May we, like St. Emily de Vialar, spend our lives loving Christ in our neighbor.

2. “Quietly to trust in God is better than trying to safeguard material interests: I learned that by bitter experience.” Despite the great difficulties Mother Emily encountered in her life, she accepted all of it as God’s will and relied on Him to sustain her throughout. Let us pray to St. Emily for an increase in trust in God’s Divine Providence so that, despite the daily slings and arrows, our hearts will never be troubled.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Ephrem of Syria (373), Deacon, Doctor of the Church

Saints Mark and Marcellianus (286), twin brothers, Martyrs

How to Sanctify Your Daily Duties Through the Eucharist

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:07

There is a vast difference between spiritual and sacramental Communion. We receive Christ spiritually by an act of faith. We receive Him sacramentally when we partake of the Sacred Species.

Christ in Heaven is received by the children of the Church Triumphant under His proper species; that is, through perfect charity, or the most intimate union with Him. They receive Him neither sacramentally, by actually eating His Body and drinking His Blood, nor spiritually, by an ardent desire to do so, because the faith that motivates such a desire has become for them knowledge.

As the two modes of reception, spiritual and sacramental, differ, so does our conscious response to them. In receiving Christ spiritually, the soul experiences the sense of a gentle interchange of thought between itself and its God. Immeasurably stronger is the effect of sacramental Communion. The Infinite Lover appears to overpower the devout soul, and so conscious is it of His presence that it surrenders itself to His love. Such a soul feels that it is no longer its own, but under the sway of omnipotence.

Here, a question naturally suggests itself: How long does the fullness of the sacramental presence last? To assert that it perdures for life would be to deny that the Holy Eucharist is our daily bread, and would be inconsistent with our nature as finite, mutable mortals. If one Holy Communion sufficed for life, our time of trial would be an anticipation of Heaven, when our souls will be so transformed, so glorified in the rapturous consciousness of their eternal union with God, as to be invulnerable to change.

At the moment of Holy Communion, we have a very definite sense of the complete possession of Christ — a calm, heavenly absorption of His divine life quickens our souls. But if this condition continued, it would not accord with our spiritual development, which, because we are finite beings, is gradual; and the Holy Eucharist would not be the pledge of eternal life.

This article is from “Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharist.” Click image to preview other chapters.

In every worthy Communion, grace is increased in the soul; however, although we advance in virtue according to our cooperation with the sacramental Savior, on returning to the level of our ordinary duties, we experience a change from the full consciousness of closest union with Him to virtually the bare knowledge of having received Him. From this we are not to conclude that Christ has withdrawn from us. Even though we lack that feeling of fullness of grace that is ours when we receive Him, we are still one with Him. The flood-tide of grace has not ebbed from us, but only subsided within us, producing its salutary effects the more strongly, the more lovingly we correspond with it; but this grace works silently and in secret.

This consideration gives us a deeper insight into the meaning of Holy Communion. We may define Holy Communion either as the reception on the part of the finite creature of the infinite God, or as man so united with his God that he is lost in Him. We approach, as it were, to the very Godhead through the humanity of Christ. We feed on Christ and yet are changed into Him. We are united with the Father through the Divine Son, “the brightness of His glory, and the figure of His substance.”

In order that we may be able to receive Him, our Lord seems either to circumscribe His infiniteness or to enlarge our hearts. Both definitions conform to the mind of the sacred writer. In the eucharistic union, we may conceive ourselves as little children trying to empty the ocean into a tiny hole, or as souls launched upon its bosom, and intermingling with its vast and mighty life.

How poor, how inadequate, how impotent, are words to describe the union of Christ with ourselves, and of ourselves with Christ — the sacramental God entering into dust and ashes! The human mind cannot know God as He is. “No man hath seen God at any time.” “No one knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither doth anyone know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him.”

We cannot fathom the mystery of the true, real, and substantial Presence of Christ within us, now truly our own. The Eternal God, infinite in power, dwelling in His finite, helpless creature! Overwhelming thought! In every Holy Communion, we taste the supernal sweetness of the divinely communicated life as it pours itself out in tidal waves of supernatural strength and the limitless riches of Christ’s blessings.

To live our lives in the sustained consciousness of this transcendent union is a duty to which we should devote ourselves with increasing earnestness. The effect of the realization of the Divine Presence within us will purify our love of Christ, instill into us greater reverence for our indwelling God, inspire us with a wholesome fear that will quicken our sensitiveness to the least shadow of sin, develop a constant watchfulness over our feelings and their expression, enable us to wrestle unceasingly with our frailty and conquer our natural inclinations, discipline every power of the soul, mortify every sense of the body, and make us live to Him alone by dying to ourselves.

But to benefit most by the grace of this sacrament, that our lives may, however imperfectly, illustrate the divine life of the God of the altar, serious preparation for Holy Communion is indispensable. How tensely expectant we would be, how moved to recollection, dispelling every distraction, were we assured that when we entered the church to receive Christ, He would show Himself to us as He is! Yet can we question His word, which guarantees the reality of His Presence even though it is hidden from our eyes?

The fullness of divine glory is there as truly as in Heaven, but concealed under the earthly elements. If we are absolutely convinced of this truth, it will be the pivot around which our preparation will revolve. Burning with love, we will then exultingly exclaim, “Behold, Thou art present with me on Thine altar, my God, Saint of saints, Creator of men, and Lord of angels!”

The calm, joyous realization that we possess Christ will also animate our thanksgiving after receiving Communion. Even if we are not vividly conscious of the presence of our Divine Guest during the performance of our daily duties, it will influence us both interiorly and exteriorly, sanctifying the most trifling commonplace of our unobtrusive lives. It will urge us to imitate His eucharistic life, cost what it may, for the spirit of Christ will sustain us, and His light will not only illumine our own souls, but will also enlighten those “sitting in the darkness and shadow of death.”

Unless Holy Communion makes us one with Christ, the light of His sacramental presence in us cannot shine before our fellowmen. “My Beloved to me, and I to Him.” If we consciously bear Him about with us, His divine strength will overcome our inconstancy, which, pandering to the human in us, is the greatest hindrance to this union. “Who will grant unto me, Lord, to find Thee alone, and to open unto Thee my whole heart, and to enjoy Thee even as my soul desireth; and that henceforth none may look upon me, nor any creature move me, nor have any regard to me; but that Thou alone mayest speak to me, and I to Thee, as beloved is wont to speak to his beloved, and friend to feast with friend. This I beg, this I long for, that I may be wholly united with Thee.”

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Kane’s Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharistwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

The Eucharist: Corpus Christi?

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:05

The Catholic Church teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation, namely, that in the Eucharist, the communion wafer and the altar wine are transformed and really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  Have you ever met anyone who has found this Catholic doctrine to be a bit hard to take?

If so, you shouldn’t be surprised.  When Jesus spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood in John 6, his words met with less than an enthusiastic reception.  How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (V 52).  This is a hard saying who can listen to it? (V60).  In fact so many of his disciples abandoned him over this that Jesus had to ask the twelve if they also planned to quit.  It is interesting that Jesus did not run after his disciples saying, Don’t go, I was just speaking metaphorically!

How did the early Church interpret these challenging words of Jesus?  Interesting fact.  One charge the pagan Romans lodged against the Christians was cannibalism.  Why?  You guessed it.  They heard that this sect regularly met to eat and drink human blood.  Did the early Christians say: wait a minute, it’s only a symbol!?  Not at all.  When trying to explain the Eucharist to the Roman Emperor around 155 AD, St. Justin did not mince his words: “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Sav­ior being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him . . . is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

Not many Christians questioned the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist till the Middle Ages.  In trying to explain how bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ, several theologians went astray and needed to be corrected by Church authority.  Then St. Thomas Aquinas came along and offered an explanation that became classic.  In all change that we observe in this life, he teaches, appearances change, but deep down, the essence of a thing stays the same.  Example: if, in a fit of mid-life crisis, I traded my mini-van for a Ferrari, abandoned my wife and 5 kids to be beach bum, got tanned, bleached my hair blonde, spiked it, buffed up at the gym, and took a trip to the plastic surgeon, I’d look a lot different on the surface. But for all my trouble, deep down I’d still substantially be the same old baby boomer.

St. Thomas said the Eucharist is the one instance of change we encounter in this world that is exactly the opposite.  The appearances of bread and wine stay the same, but the very essence or substance of these realities, which can’t be detected by a microscope, is totally transformed.  What was once bread and wine are now Christ’s body and blood.   A handy word was coined to describe this unique change.  Transformation of the sub-stance, what stands-under the surface, came to be called transubstantiation.

What makes this happen?  The power of God’s Spirit and Word.  After praying for the Spirit to come (epiklesis), the priest, who stands in the place of Christ, repeats the words of the God-man: This is my Body, This is my Blood.  Sounds to me like Genesis 1: the mighty wind (read Spirit) whips over the surface of the water and God’s Word resounds. Let there be light and there was light.  It is no harder to believe in transubstantiation than to believe in Creation.

But why did Jesus arrange for this transformation of bread and wine?  Because he intended another kind of transformation.  The bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ which are, in turn, meant to transform us.  Ever hear the phrase: you are what you eat? The Lord desires us to be transformed from a motley crew of imperfect individuals into the Body of Christ, come to full stature.

Our evangelical brethren often speak of an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus.  But I ask you, how much more personal and intimate can you get?  We receive the Lord’s body into our physical bodies that we may become him whom we receive!

Such an awesome gift deserves its own feast. And that’s why, back in the days of Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope decided to institute the Feast of Corpus Christi.

image: Corpus Christi by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). To see more of his images and learn about his ministry, please visit his blog

Scripture Speaks: The Body and Blood of Christ

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:02

When Jesus ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to His followers to give them the divine life of the Trinity.  Why, then, did He also give them a meal of Bread and Wine to attain eternal life?

Gospel (Read Jn 6:51-58)

Our Easter lectionary readings moved us through Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  Last Sunday, we celebrated the Most Holy Trinity, because we understood, from all that history, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; from the beginning, all Three Persons have lovingly worked to restore us to the life for which we were designed.  We might, therefore, conclude that the history is now liturgically complete.  Yet today, the Church calls us to another solemnity.  In our readings, we are pondering the mystery of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist.  This meal raises a question:  If we now have the Holy Spirit to put God’s life in us, why do we need to “eat the Body” and “drink the Blood” of Christ?  What does that accomplish that the gift of the Holy Spirit doesn’t?

Our Gospel reading begins midway through a long conversation Jesus had with people who tracked Him down after His miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:25-50).  They were looking for more bread, but Jesus used their physical hunger to direct their thoughts to another kind of bread:  “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:33).  It worked:  “They said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always’” (Jn 6:34).

Seeing they were interested, Jesus explained that He is the bread of life, and He called the Jews to believe in Him.  In this part of the discussion, Jesus used imagery of bread and drink metaphorically:  “he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall not thirst” (Jn 6:35).  When the Jews began to murmur at the suggestion that Jesus is bread from heaven (“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”), He emphasized again that believing in Him is the source of eternal life:  “Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (Jn 6:47).

Had the conversation stopped there, we would conclude that believing in Jesus was all that was necessary to gain eternal life.  As we know from history, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to all those who believed in Him.  He planted God’s own life in them.  They were destined for heaven.  What more was necessary?  The “more” comes in the next part of the conversation, which we take up now:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.”  This bold statement caused an argument to break out:  “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Notice that no explanation is forthcoming.  Jesus simply keeps repeating, in ever increasing emphasis:  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.”  This truly baffled His hearers, and, as reported in verses not in today’s reading, many of His followers left him because of it.   Even the Twelve were hard-pressed to absorb it.  There was a strong prohibition in Jewish law against drinking the blood of animals (see Gn 9:4; Lev 17:10-13; Deut 12:16).  That kind of participation in an animal’s life, making a man “one” with the animal, was beneath the dignity of creatures made in the image and likeness of God. No one even thought of drinking human blood!

We can understand how objectionable Jesus’ words were to those who first heard them.  To remain with Him would require what Jesus had spoken about earlier in the conversation—belief.  His miraculous works and His authoritative teaching had caused many to have faith in Him.  That faith would have to sustain them as they digested this “hard saying.”  They would have to suspend judgment and simply ponder these words.  Eventually, of course, Jesus would explain.  At the Last Supper, the apostles learned that Jesus was leaving them a memorial sacrifice as the centerpiece of His Church’s life.  The bread and wine of the Old Passover meal were transformed into the meal of the New Covenant, the Eucharist.  They would become the Body and Blood of His glorified humanity.  That is how His call to “eat My flesh” and “drink My blood” would be accomplished.  Believing would lead to eating.

However, we may still be left wondering why God’s plan for His people included not only the gift of the Holy Spirit but also the celebration of the Eucharist.  How does this act of eating Jesus in the elements of bread and wine differ from receiving Him in our hearts through the Holy Spirit?  The rest of the readings can help answer this question.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, thank You for remaining with us as Bread and Wine, so that we may eat and drink and live forever.

First Reading (Read Dt 8:2-3; 14b-16a)

In this reading, the people of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land after their long sojourn in the wilderness with Moses, made longer than necessary by their disobedience and lack of faith in God.  Now, after forty years, they were ready.  In Deuteronomy, Moses gives the people three lengthy sermons, reminding them of what they had been through and warning them about what lay ahead.

Our reading contains one of the great themes of Moses’ parting exhortation:  “Do not forget the LORD your God.”  We might wonder how these people could ever “forget” the LORD, after all He had done for them.  Yet over and over, Moses exhorts Israel:  “You shall remember the LORD your God” (Dt 8:18).  He knew they were entering a land flowing with milk and honey; life there would be much easier than it had been in the desert.  He had already witnessed their short memories.  He never wanted them to forget that their lives in the Promised Land depended completely on God’s love for them.  As evidence of this love, Moses reminded the people that God had let them “be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”  The people had feared starvation when they first left Egypt, but God sent down manna for them to eat each day.  However, this was not simply a food supply.  God told them to gather only one day’s worth of manna at a time.   There was to be no stockpiling.  Anything more than one day’s worth of manna rotted, which prevented hoarding.  This bread from heaven taught Israel a lesson:  they were body and soul.  They needed bread for their bodies, but they also needed faith for their souls.  They would have to live one day at a time, gathering only enough manna for one day and trusting that tomorrow, God would again provide what they needed.  Every day, for forty years, they had to trust God for their daily bread (the historical antecedent for the request to “give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer).  This is why Moses said that the manna taught the people a spiritual lesson.  We need physical and spiritual bread to really live as God’s people, because we are (and always will be) body and soul.

When we understand this, we are on our way to understanding why Jesus gave us Eucharistic bread and wine.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is real but invisible, not open to the senses.  He is Spirit; we are spirit and body.   The worship of Israel always incorporated body and soul—invisible, unseen action in the heart and visible action in the body.  The worship of the New Covenant continues to keep body and soul together.  Nothing makes this clearer than the Eucharist!  The bread and wine become Body and Blood; we take them into our own bodies in the act of eating, the most basic of bodily functions (no eating, no life).  Just as the Passover meal was meant to help people with weak memories remember what God had done for Israel (and thus lead to worship), the Eucharistic meal helps us remember what Jesus has done for us (“Do this in memory of Me”), and thus becomes our worship.  The Holy Spirit puts God’s own life in us, invisibly and spiritually; eating Jesus in the elements of a meal gives us physical (our flesh and blood) communion with Jesus (His flesh and blood).  What a gift!

No wonder Jesus told His followers, in our Gospel reading, to believe (invisible, spiritual) and to eat (visible, corporeal).  We believe, and then we worship, although Jesus did not, at that time, explain that the eating and drinking meant worship.  Later, at the Last Supper, He instituted a meal of supernatural food and drink as our memorial act of worship in the Church.  In our second reading, St. Paul will help us think more about this mysterious and blessed meal.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I know You are manna for my journey home to Heaven; please strengthen that grace in me today.

Psalm (Read Ps 147:12-15, 19-20)

The psalmist exhorts Jerusalem to praise the LORD because of the loving care He has always shown to His people.  One verse in particular has prophetic joy embedded in it, and, on this day, we can sing it with special fervor:  “He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat He fills you” (vs. 14).  The “best of wheat” is the “bread of heaven,” Jesus.  God’s gift to the Church, the new Israel, is a unique gift.  We could say with the psalmist, “He has not done thus for any other nation” (vs. 20).  As we ponder this great gift in our readings today, let us heed the psalmist’s call to “Praise the Lord, Jerusalem!”

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 Cor 10:16-17)

The context of this reading (read 1 Cor 10:14-21) helps us understand that the Eucharist is the Church’s act of worship and that it is a sacrifice.  St. Paul is warning his readers in Corinth (a notoriously pagan city in which he had preached the Gospel and made many converts) against continuing to worship at the altars of pagan idols.  It may surprise us that the new converts needed this warning, but in the polytheistic cultures of the Greco-Roman world, people worshipped many different idols at the same time.  St. Paul says that drinking “the cup of blessing” (the wine of the Eucharist) and breaking the bread gives the believer a “participation” or “communion” in the Body and Blood of Christ.  This is an exceptionally clear description of what happens during the Eucharistic meal.  Far from the bread and wine being simply symbols of something that has happened or is true, the elements themselves cause the communion.  For that reason, St. Paul goes on to say, worship at the altars of idols is to be shunned, because any eating or drinking that happens at those altars makes the worshipper a “partner” with demons.  There are, of course, no real “gods.”  St. Paul considers demons to be the source of idol worship.  To further make his point about the communion that takes place at altars, St. Paul makes reference to the altars of Israel:  “Are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?” (1 Cor 14:18)  Sacrifices, or offerings, lay at the heart of Israel’s worship.  In the “peace” or “thank” offering, the worshipper and the priest ate a meal of a portion of the animal that had been sacrificed.  To eat a meal at the altar of God was to give thanks for some action of God on behalf of the worshipper; it expressed “peace” or “communion” between God and the worshipper.  In the Eucharist, our thank offering of bread and wine is, mysteriously, joined to the one offering made by Christ on the Cross (God is not bound by time, as we are).  We then we eat this sacrificial meal (as the Jews did at their altars) and have communion with God.  What the worship of Israel foreshadowed, the worship of the New Covenant fulfills.

This epistle, written about 56 A.D., shows us that right from the beginning of the Church’s life, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic sacrifice was an established belief and practice.  St. Paul makes another important point in these verses.  The Eucharist is the sign and source of unity in the Church:  “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”  This helps us understand that our unity in the Church is both organic and visible.  Our eating gives us a “participation” in Christ—we are all doing the same action (visible unity) and the “food” inside of us joins us to Christ (organic unity).  Thus, our public worship is the occasion for our unity to be established and expressed.  Our lives with God cannot be only private and individual (“Jesus and me”).  From the start, the Church made the Eucharistic offering the centerpiece of our worship, restoring our unity with God and man, visibly and invisibly, body and soul.  Blessed be the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I can barely comprehend all that You give us in Your Most Holy Body and Blood.  Help me to resist distraction, lukewarmness, and doubt when I received You at the altar.

In the Gospel reading Jesus clarifies

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:00

In the Gospel reading Jesus clarifies that adultery is committed not only in deed but also in thought and in the heart: “Do not commit adultery. But I tell you this: anyone who looks at a woman to satisfy his lust has in fact already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus also declares the indissolubility of Christian marriage. In the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus refers to the Old Testament, “Man has to leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one body. So they are no longer two but one body. Therefore let no one separate what God has joined.” (Mk 10: 7- 9)

In the Gospel reading Jesus says that we should prefer to lose our eye or whatever part of the body responsible for the sin, rather than risk damnation because of sin. If something or some place might cause us to sin, avoid it. If a show brings lustful thoughts and acts, avoid it. Do we have any real choice?

The following of Christ is not easy: Jesus speaks of the narrow path. Jesus says that his disciples, following a crucified Lord, should also be ready to carry their own crosses.

But if we love the Lord, nothing is difficult to give; with God’s grace, nothing is impossible.

“In Christ, even our failures

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:00

“In Christ, even our failures become a source of grace when we accept them in imitation of His humility and courage; even our anxieties become a path to holiness when we ally them with His sufferings. All that we do and say, if it is done and said in Christ, is done and said well, for true wellness is life in Christ.”

Clayton C. Barbeau, The Father of the Family

General Audience

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:00

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on Christian hope, we have found the source of that hope in God’s unconditional love, revealed for us in the coming of the Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. None of us can live without love. Happiness comes from the experience of knowing love, freely given and received. So much unhappiness in our world is born of the feeling of not being loved for our own sake. Faith teaches us that God loves us with an infinite love, not for any merit of our own, but out of his sheer goodness. Even when we stray from him, God seeks us out, like the merciful father in the parable of the prodigal son, offers us forgiveness, and restores us to his embrace. In the words of Saint Paul: “While we still were sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8), so that we might become beloved sons and daughters of our heavenly Father. Through the resurrection of Jesus and the grace of the Holy Spirit, we become sharers in God’s own life of love. May all of us find in God’s embrace the promise of new life and freedom. For in his love is the source of all our hope.

St. John Francis Regis, SJ

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 22:00

Born in Fontcouverte, France, on January 31, 1597,Jean-François Régis was the son of a rich merchant. He studied at the Jesuit college of Béziers, joined the order in 1615, and was ordained in 1631. He was assigned to missionary work in southeastern France and became renowned for his fervor, preaching ability, and as a confessor.

He brought thousands back to their faith, and everywhere he went he was followed by large crowds. He also ministered to the sick in hospitals and to prisoners, organized groups to help the needy, and founded a refuge for prostitutes called “Daughters of Refuge.” He performed numerous miracles, but humbly commented, “Every time that God converts a hardened sinner He is working a far greater miracle.”

In September 1640, John had a premonition of his death and spent the next three days in retreat, making a general confession. He continued on with his missionary work, however, and in December preached tirelessly in a remote mountain village throughout the Christmas season, despite the fact that he had developed pleurisy and pneumonia. He eventually collapsed after leaving the pulpit and died four days later, his last words being “Jesus, my Savior, I recommend my soul to You.”

On the occasion of a juridical deposition regarding two miracles St. John had performed, a man who had lodged with him declared before two bishops: “His whole behavior breathed sanctity. Men could neither see nor hear him without being inflamed with the love of God. He celebrated the divine mysteries with such devotion that he seemed like an angel at the altar. I have observed him in familiar intercourse become silent and recollected, and all on fire: then speaking of God with a fervor and rapidity that proved his heart to be carried away with an impulse from heaven.”

St. John’s tomb at La Louvesc became the site of many miracles, and remains to this day a popular site of pilgrimage.

Lessons

1. John’s enthusiastic zeal to help the poor and to save souls earned him the enmity and jealously of priests who had become lax in their duties. Despite their attempts to discredit him, John kept on unflaggingly. If in the exercise of charitable works we too find ourselves derided or under attack, let us pray to St. John Regis for the strength and courage to carry on, keeping our eyes always on Christ.

2. John’s delight was to help the poor, saying “the rich never lack confessors.” May we too be generous with our time, talent, and money, knowing that when we serve the least of our brethren, we serve Christ Himself.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Benno (1106), Bishop, Patron of Munich

Experiencing God: The History of Catholic Spirituality

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 02:35
Experiencing God: The History of Catholic Spirituality

Apply for the School of Spiritual Formation at the Avila Institute to take courses such as today’s featured course: “Experiencing God: The History of Catholic Spirituality”.

This summer at the Avila Institute, Professor Patrick Linbeck is teaching a new course in the School of Spiritual Formation titled “Experiencing God: The History of Catholic Spirituality”. This course is designed around Fr. Jordan Aumann’s book “Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition”. Professor Linbeck is an incredibly knowledgeable instructor with especially deep knowledge of the Franciscan tradition as well as the Catholic spiritual tradition as a whole. Professor Linbeck teaches his courses in a style that draws students into meditation on the truths being revealed through the course.

The Catholic Church is rich in tradition, and the mystical tradition of the Church has no shortage of diversity and depth. From the various different religious orders to the wide range of spiritual renewal movements throughout the centuries, we have a lot to learn from the various different traditions within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Despite their differences, the various different religious communities each bring different spiritualities to the table while remaining faithful to the unchangeable doctrines of Jesus Christ revealed to us through the Church. It is through coming to know the different spiritualties in the Church that we can come to appreciate the richness of tradition in the Church. The upcoming course, Experiencing God: The History of Catholic Spirituality, will help you to learn about the various different traditions that fall under the Tradition and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church.

“In an age that is unsympathetic to systematic theology but attracted to the experiential approach, perhaps the historical survey will be of great help in discerning what is of perennial value in Christian spirituality. And since there were heterodox tendencies and movements almost from the beginning, one can likewise learn from history the mistakes and errors of the past and thus perhaps avoid repeating them in the present.”

— Fr. Jordan Aumann

Experiencing God: The History of Catholic Spirituality is one of three courses being offered in the School of Spiritual Formation this summer. The other upcoming courses include Discernment of Spirits and The Theology of Christopher Nolan. Our most popular program, the School of Spiritual Formation, offers the faithful an opportunity to deepen their faith through encounter with the mystical tradition of the Church. Students often finish the courses having been transformed spiritually through them. You can apply here. The courses are all online, and you can take as many or as few courses as you like in the School of Spiritual Formation. For a full list of upcoming course offerings, visit the Avila Institute website.

About Dylan Jedlovec

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

 

 

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

Community: The Gift of Witness

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:07

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2

Recently, I shared some thoughts on what it means to live in community with one another and how that “communion” helps us express the truth of being made in the image and likeness of God. Regardless of our vocation or where we are in life, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot love if we do not have some level of relationship with others, providing us necessary opportunities to grow more like Christ through our interactions.

I cannot emphasize enough, the value of Christian witness. In heaven, we have the saints and their lives to draw inspiration from, their intercession to rely on but we also need contemporaries we know on some personal level, to walk with us on our journey.

The blessing of the community of believers I belong to has become immensely apparent to me as I better understand my own struggles. Because I worship with monks, I have an example of Christians who have given up many personal freedoms and who have committed their lives to strive after theosis (to be …partakers of the Divine Nature…2 Peter 1:4).

The usual monastic practices that they cultivate have been examples for me to follow. The spiritual life that I have is why I have been able to get through my darkest times. In the past year, as I have learned from secular sources how to handle anxiety attacks and process and heal from my trauma, I learned I had already been doing much of the best practices. The wisdom of the Church is very much alive and can help many of us who struggle.

An ancient and modern day ailment we all suffer from at one point in our lives, if not throughout, is despondency. Think of it as the spiritual struggle in depression, sometimes manifesting itself in our lives through feelings of hopelessness, lukewarmness, or even over-zealousness in our faith which leads to burn-out. I have found time and time again that community has been the answer for my despondency.

The witness of the Christians in my life has been an endless source of help to me, most especially at crucial times. The spiritual struggles that are bound to come along for all of us are made easier by the mutual bearing of one another’s burdens. When we share our lives with others we can be a blessing to them, often in ways we don’t even realize.

In the last few years, I have, at times, experienced overwhelming difficulty. This past year has been my hardest on many levels. Ironically, this has also been a time of self-knowledge and growth. I have come to understand that depression and anxiety have been companions along my journey since I was a kid. I have had periods of freedom from both, but they have never been too far away. Some of my hardest times are during pregnancy. I have had ten kids in the last twenty years and spent nearly half of the time battling severe depression regularly.

I have never discussed my issues at any real length with anyone but have found comfort and healing among my family and friends just the same. It is the friendly faces, familiar voices at prayer, a shared meal on a Sunday or feast day, laughing together–those are the little sources of light in the dark.

The times when it was evident something was wrong, light came from a kind word of assured prayers and a candle lit by someone who didn’t push or pry but simply made the gesture. It came as a reminder from my confessor that he is “here if you need to talk.” I find tremendous comfort in knowing such caring people that I can reach out to if needed.

Often it is the witness of others that helps me break through my despondency. About a year ago, Brother Isaac started a project involving the monastery’s patroness the Searcher for the Lost. He asked my husband and me to help him. During our working time together I saw Brother Isaac’s child-like excitement and love for the Theotokos. Add that to his infectious smile and laughter, and it was just the medicine I needed.

Another witness who was a lighthouse in a storm also came from the community. As I mentioned, the past year has been my darkest which left me questioning everything about my life and faith. I was often without hope. The most difficult situation of my life reached a turning point when I found hope in someone else’s dark time. Because I know the difficult trials this person has endured, I have been able to reflect on his experience which has helped me understand my own. Seeing this person whom I have a great love, respect, and admiration for, struggle and prevail, and seeing the monastic community endure and grow through his trials helped me move forward in my serious battles—Hope was encountered just when I needed it the most.

The important part of going through life together is in the little things that bring rays of hope and break through the darkness. The everyday grace that stems from commitment, mutual respect, genuine love, shared laughter and even tears now and then–these are the real graces of the shared journey.

Every last one of us needs the gift of witness from others struggling along the same journey of salvation as we are. Camaraderie is hard to come by these days, even for those of us who regularly attend church services–A symptom of the breakdown of family life. St. Pope John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” If we want to take seriously the calling to be icons of the Trinity, to be the one body of Christ, then we must understand the real work set before us.

A community-centered faith will not be a cure-all. We need to be careful in this discussion to not romanticize things or to make the task seem harder than it is. Moving across the country to be next to a monastery is not necessary for people to do. My family did this, but it was an organic move on our part. The monastery we are monastic associates (oblates) of had to move from California to Wisconsin. A year after they moved, my family also needed to make a move for financial reasons. We knew how important our community was and wanted to be in a more stable, committed one. For us, the move made perfect sense; we had already been a part of the monastery’s extended community for years.

However, we can each commit (as best we can) to the people we are already among at church. We can reach out and build friendships, start books studies, fast together, have meals together on Sundays and Feasts. The important thing is to intentionally strive to live out one’s faith, and that needs to include building relationships with fellow worshippers. These things take time and need to be organic, not forced or premature. If we want deep roots to grow, we must be patient.

In my journey, I have been blessed to know many wonderful people from so many different walks of life–Real people who struggle and fall but get up again. People whose love for God and others shines through their simple everyday actions. Christians who believe in the need to do the hard work of building community even when it feels like it doesn’t pay off.  Each of them sharing a different perspective and witness of the Christian faith.

We need to be witnesses of the Good News we have received in every aspect of our lives: in our families, amongst our friends, at work, school, on social media, in our neighborhoods, and in our churches. We must remember what our Lord told us, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We must be witnesses of this love, and we will do that in community.

image: Elzloy / Shutterstock.com

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.