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In the first reading we see Israelites

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 23:00

In the first reading we see Israelites faithful to their God willing even to give up their lives rather than violate God’s Law. Their example of faithfulness teaches us how to value our own faith in the midst of all our difficulties and challenges. As Christians we should know what tenets of our faith are inviolable because they come from God for our own good.

In the Gospel reading we see Jesus restore the sight of a blind man. We see Jesus’ mercy; we see Jesus’ concern for the blind beggar on the road. The blind man was persistent in his pleas to Jesus, despite the people trying to quiet him down. The blind man trusted that the miracle-worker Jesus could restore his sight: “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

Let us pray for similar persistence and faith when we pray to God for our needs and the needs of the world.

St. Bernward

Sun, 11/19/2017 - 23:00

Bernward was of a Saxon family and was raised by his uncle Bishop Volkmar of Utrecht when orphaned as a child. He studied at the cathedral school of Heidelburg and at Mainz, where he was ordained in 987. He became imperial chaplain and tutor to the child Emperor Otto III. He was elected bishop of Hildesheim in 993, built St. Michael’s Church and Monastery there, and administered his see capably. He was interested in architecture, art, and metal work and created several metalwork pieces. He was engaged in a dispute for years with Archbishop Willigis of Mainz over episcopal rights to the Gandersheim convent, and eventually Rome ruled in Bernward’s favor. He became a Benedictine in later life and died on November 20, 1021. He was canonized in 1193.

His long episcopate of nearly thirty years was prolific of great results for the Diocese of Hildesheim. Thangmar, his former tutor, who subsequently became his biographer, describes in eloquent terms how the saint, after performing his episcopal functions in the cathedral, would usually visit the various workshops connected with the cathedral school, and with his own hands manufactured gold and silver vessels for the enrichment of the altars. As evidence of his skill in the practice of the mechanical arts there are still preserved in Hildesheim a cross of rich and exquisite workmanship known as the “Bernward Cross,” the famous Bernward column, with winding reliefs representing scenes from the life of Christ, two bronze doors of the Cathedral of Hildesheim, showing scriptural scenes, and two candlesticks symbolic of Christ, the light of the world. A monument of his zeal and skill is St. Michael’s abbey church at Hildesheim — now Protestant — one of the most magnificent basilicas in Germany. His knowledge and practice of the arts were wholly employed in the service of the Church.

Prayer

Saint Bernward, you were a man of extraordinary piety, and were given to prayer and the practice of mortification while here on earth. You were gifted by God with many talents as well. Pray for us, dear saint, to use our talents to His Glory. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Felix of Valois (1212), Religious

St. Nerses the Great, martyr and bishop

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 23:00

St Nerses I was a Bishop,martyr, and Patriarch of the Armenian Church. The father of St. Isaac the Great. A native of Armenia, he studied in Cappadocia and wed a princess who gave birth to Isaac. After she died, he served as a chamber lain in the court of King Arshak of Armenia. In 353 he was made Catholicos (Patriarch) of the Armenians. Nerses devoted much effort to reforming the Armenian Church, including convening a synod in 365 based on the principles he had studied under St. Basil at Caesarea. Though he established hospitals and monasteries, his reforms and denunciation of King Arshak’s murder of the queen led to his exile. He returned after Arshak’s death in battle, but relations were not much better with the new Armenian ruler, Pap, whose dissolute lifestyle caused Nerses to refuse him admission into church. Nerses was invited to a royal banquet at Khakh, on the Euphrates River, and was assassinated by poison.

Prepare the Way of the Lord at Advent & Christmas

Sat, 11/18/2017 - 02:35
Prepare the Way of the Lord at Advent & Christmas

Christian life is one of preparation. In order to prepare to celebrate the sacred mystery of the Eucharist, we acknowledge our sins. In order to prepare to celebrate the birth of our God as a tiny baby, for us and for our salvation, the Church wisely celebrates the Advent season. Before we know it Advent will be here. So, how do we prepare for Advent, itself?

That’s the focus of this post: to get a little ahead of the calendar in order to equip us, first of all, for a peaceful and prayerful Advent, and then for a happy, holy and joy-filled Christmas season.

To that end, SpiritualDirection.com has a plethora of suggestions to assist in meaningful preparation and gift selection so as to make it easier to orient our souls to this holy time. Although this is lengthy, these recommendations are by no means exhaustive but are intended to help all of us focus on the conversion of heart that these holy seasons are meant to bring us to. There are some oldies but goodies on the list as well as some new ideas, too. Don’t pick or do everything, or you’ll drive yourself and others crazy and you will fail to enter into the peace and spirit of the season. Prayerfully, pick or do just a few, or even one of these suggestions you will really stick with, which will draw you closer to Christ…and to others for Christ. Click on the highlighted titles to access the links.

Advent Season: Christmas Season (Many Advent sites above are also applicable to the Christmas season).

Feel free to add your own suggestions/recommendations to the comments…which are faithful to the magisterium (we check all links…click here to read our FAQ–Frequently Asked Questions ).

God bless all as we anticipate these wonderful seasons of the liturgical year and prepare for the birthday of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us!

Please pray for us as we pray for you!
Love and blessings,
Liz Estler, Editor, SpiritualDirection.com, together with all the dedicated men and women of the Avila Team

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Art for this post Prepare the Way of the Lord at Advent & Christmas: Modified Adventkranz (liturgisch), Andrea Schaufler, 2 December 2006, CCA; Modified detail of Scenes of the Life of the Virgin-Adoration of the Child, Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1459), undated, Zyance, May 2007, CCA-SA; both Wikimedia Commons.

About Liz Estler

Editor, SpiritualDirection.com. Liz holds a Master of Arts in Ministry Degree (St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts), Graduate Certificate in Spiritual Theology (Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation), Liturgy Certificate (Boston Archdiocese), and a BS degree in Biology and Spanish (Nebraska Wesleyan University – Lincoln). She has served as hospital chaplain associate, sacristan, translator and in other parish ministries. She was a regular columnist for a military newspaper in Europe and has been published in a professional journal. She once waded in the Trevi Fountain!

 

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

St. Rose Philippine Duchesne

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 23:00

Rose was born on August 29, 1769, in Grenoble, France, the daughter of a wealthy merchant.  She was educated by the Visitation nuns of Sainte Marie d’en Haut.  When she was seventeen, despite the objections of her parents, who wanted her to marry, she left home and joined the Visitation nuns. When the nuns were expelled from France during the Reign of Terror in 1791, Rose returned home.  There she took care of the sick, and visited priest-prisoners of the revolution.

After the concordat of 1801 between Pope Pius VII and Napoleon, Rose attempted to rebuild the convent where she had been educated, but was unsuccessful. In 1804, however, she succeeded in persuading Mother Madeleine Sophie Barat to accept it for her recently founded Society of the Sacred Heart.  With four others, Rose became a postulant of the Society and was professed the following year.

In 1818, she was sent as superior with four nuns to the US and founded the first American Sacred Heart house  — a log cabin in Missouri.  These women started the first free school west of the Mississippi.  Despite numerous difficulties, the community flourished, and by 1828, it had six houses along the Mississippi River. At the request of Jesuit Father De Smet, at the age of seventy-one, Rose began a school for Indians in Sugar Creek, Kansas. Among the Indians she came to be known as “the woman who is always praying.” A year after starting this school, her health began to fail and she returned to St. Charles where she died on October 18, 1852.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Dedication of the Bascilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Rome (1626, 1854)

The Bridge Builder: Rediscovering Pope John Paul I

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:07

Blessed Pope Paul VI, eternally exhausted from one battle after another—the Herculean labor of implementing Vatican II, upheavals over Humanae Vitae, the tension with the Red Brigades, combating liturgical abuses, and a shockingly altered popular culture—welcomed death on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1978 after a fifteen year pontificate. Three weeks later, enter the unlikely 65-year-old Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani, taking the original name John Paul I.

A new book, Papa Luciani: Chronicle of a Death, was released this week intended to coincide with the cause for John Paul I’s sainthood moving forward. But how much do we know about this mysterious spiritual figure whose heart attack only a month into his papacy stunned the world?

Shortly after the election of Pope Francis in 2013, parallels were quickly drawn between the Argentine Jesuit and the pope of one month in 1978. Both have been credited for “humanizing the papacy,” personalizing a “culture of encounter” by making phone calls, letter writing, and impromptu chatter. Interestingly, John Paul I himself had planned to deliver a speech on September 30, 1978 to Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe and the Society of Jesus; such contents of the speech will never be known, as John Paul I was found dead on the morning of the 28th.

Was Pope John Paul I a failure? Though he did not have time to produce any epic encyclicals or embark on worldwide pilgrimages, he ultimately fulfilled his duty as what a “pontiff” really means: bridge builder (from the Latin pons) by bridging the old to the new. While perhaps his health and vigor were not prepared for the physical requirements of the office, with his simplicity and smile he dissolved the old perceptions of “stifling” Vatican protocol with a fresh, humbling, personal emphasis ripe for a new time. Indeed, Humilitas was his motto. In this way, he prepared the way for the “new evangelization.” “We wish to remind the entire Church,” he said in his only Urbi et Orbi message, “that its first duty is that of evangelization.”

“God has mysteriously arranged it so that the greatness of man is born of effort, responsibility, sacrifice, and mutual aid. We can tell a man’s worth by the way he reacts to misfortune. Is he crushed by sorrow? It means he is mediocre. Does he remain on his feet? He shows himself to be greater than if he were raised on a pedestal.”

“The world … knows well … the temptation of substituting for God one’s own decisions, decisions that would prescind from moral laws. The danger for modern man is that he would reduce the earth to a desert, the person to an automaton, brotherly love to planned collectivization, often introducing death where God wishes life.”

“St. Paul did not have faith; in fact, he persecuted believers. God is waiting for him on the road to Damascus. ‘Paul!’ He says to him. ‘Don’t even dream of rearing up, of kicking like a frisky horse. I am that Jesus whom you are persecuting. I have plans for you. You must change!’ Paul surrendered; he changed, he turned his own life upside down.”

These three quotes could easily be read from the respective canons of the three popes who came after John Paul I, yet they are all his own quotations from 1978. His understanding of the Church defined in contemporary culture is underestimated, simply because scant attention has been paid to him. “[E]ven if in the Church there are some defects and some failings, our affection for the Church must never fail,” he said in his General Audience of September 13, 1978.

He held four of those General Audiences, devoting three to the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love. His faith catechesis, from September 13, is particularly illuminating. Here his pastoral and teaching gifts are on display as he effortlessly weaves in references from a Roman poet, Trilussa, to John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra. “Lord, take me as I am,” he concludes, “with my defects and failings, but make me become what You want me to be.”

These virtues would be the subjects decades later of Benedict’s encyclicals Deus Caritas Est (2005) and Spe Salvi (2007) with the faith encyclical, Lumen Fidei, issued by Francis in July 2013. As it happened, John Paul I’s first letter, dated September 1, 1978, is addressed to none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. “Ostensus non datus: shown to us but not given” is how the then-archbishop of Munich-Freising, Joseph Ratzinger, described the brief pontificate of John Paul I in an October 6, 1978 homily memorializing the deceased pope.

But very soon into his pontificate a strange thing happened. A little more than a week after his inauguration, Pope John Paul I welcomed to the Vatican a Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of Leningrad, Nikodim, 49 years old. According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s obituary of Nikodim, he had survived five heart attacks prior to September 5, 1978, when in the middle of his audience with John Paul he slumped in his chair. It was the pope himself who administered last rites just before Nikodim died.

That John Paul I was already engaged in such ecumenical efforts as hosting the Russian Orthodox Archbishop of Leningrad and Novgorod was overshadowed by this sudden death, which itself would be overshadowed three weeks later when Sr. Vincenza Taffarel discovered John Paul in his bed on the morning of September 28, dead from a heart attack. Again the cardinals convened. A 33-day papacy was soon to give way to a near 27-year one.

“Progress in love” was the final phrase from John Paul I at the Wednesday September 27, 1978 General Audience. A day later, a worldwide church was stunned. But in just a short time Pope John Paul II, the man “from a far away country,” made it seem like he had always been the Bishop of Rome. Even in his first encyclical Redemptor Hominis, published six months after John Paul I’s death, he was already looking forward to shepherding the Church into the year 2000. Progress in love—the advice of a bridge builder.

Today, when anyone thinks of John Paul I, typically they talk of conspiracy and scandal. Most infamous is Francis Coppola’s The Godfather, Part III (1990), which features a newly elected Cardinal Lamberto taking the name John Paul I is soon assassinated by the Mafia. Novels along the lines of Dan Brown, In God’s Name and The Last Pope, a stage play, The Last Confession, or Malachi Martin’s Vatican, for example, also take up the assassination motif.

There are also those who believe John Paul I was the “bishop dressed in white” from the Fatima apparitions, intensified after Luciani met with the sole Fatima survivor, Sr. Lucia, in 1977. Albino Luciani’s own account of the meeting is not on apparitions and prophecies, but on tangible truths we can all learn from what happened in Portugal in 1917: repentance, the need for prayer and the rosary, the existence of Hell. His full account is contained in The Last Secret of Fatima. “If he were elected pope, I think he would make a good one,” Sr. Lucia is to have said.

The obsessive theories on conspiracy and prophecy detract from John Paul I’s rich, personalized teachings on the faith that we can read today in new light, especially in the context of the style of Francis. The Smiling Pope by Raymond and Lauretta Seabeck contains not only Luciani’s papal addresses such as the General Audiences, but also homilies, speeches and letters from his years as a bishop. The simple, humble pope who seemed crushed by the office is here shown as well read, acquainted with cultures from all over the world, effusive in wanting to share his joy to his flock. In a section entitled “The Theology of Joy,” he cites Andrew Carnegie, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and at least four others in expounding on the essence of Christian joy.

Most unique, perhaps, are the letters Cardinal Luciani wrote to famous historical people for a monthly magazine column. Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton, and Petrarch are a few of the names to whom Luciani writes. In his letter to St. Therese of Lisieux, which is entitled “Joy, Exquisite Love,” again Luciani picks up on the theme of joy. “Joy can become exquisite charity, if we communicate it to others, just as you did at Carmel,” he wrote. In these letters and his other writings, it is clear Albino Luciani’s vision was not of monumental policies or sprawling exhortations, but emphasis on the individual’s striving in everyday life to love thy neighbor just a little bit more than yesterday, and in doing so, “seek the face of Christ.”

The “full flowering of a renaissance in Catholic thought” as George Weigel defined the Wojtyla-Ratzinger years in 2011, could only have been made possible by the papacy of John Paul I, short-lived as it was. He was the one who unlocked the door of bringing the Church into the new millennium, a door opened and realized by Wojtyla and carried on by Ratzinger and Bergoglio—who remarkably, as Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis, are carrying it on together, at the same time. Who could have considered that in 1978?

“John XXIII and Paul VI are a stage to which I wish to refer directly as a threshold from which I intent to continue, in a certain sense together with John Paul I, into the future,” wrote John Paul II in Redemptor Hominis in 1979. “Letting myself be guided by unlimited trust in and obedience to the Spirit that Christ promised and sent to His Church.” Such a statement of deference and continuity shows the unbroken bond popes have forged from one to another all the way to Saint Peter, handed the keys from Christ Himself, the ultimate bridge builder to the divine and the human.

image: By Sentinelle del mattino International (Flickr: papa-albino-Luciani) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Parable of the Talents

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:05

I’ve seen it time and time again.  Someone decides to seek a better paying job, or pursue and investment strategy, or launch a new business.  Invariably some pious person in the parish objects that maybe this is too worldly, that it will be a distraction from Church and family priorities, that one should be satisfied with what one has.

You’d think from this that faith equals passivity.  That the only perfect Christian is the cloistered contemplative.  That mildness is the greatest of Christian virtues.

There are a number of Scripture texts that shatter this picture.  One is the image of the ideal wife in Proverbs 31.  The Blessed Virgin Mary read this passage and, as the most perfect of Israelite wives, most probably modeled herself after the woman portrayed here.  Does the Proverbs 31 woman sit around passively, praying a lot, and wearing beige?  No.  The first few verses of the chapter poetically tell how she is more valuable than pearls, a true prize.  The rest of the passage tell us why she is such a catch–she knows how to roll up her sleeves and hustle.  The passage tells of her side business ventures that increase the family’s wealth, which she shares with the poor.  Of course if she hadn’t worked so shrewdly and diligently, there would not be anything to share with the poor.

Another Scripture that shatters the picture of Christianity as passivity is the famous parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30).  Note that it is money (yes money!) that the master entrusts to his various servants, different amounts according to varying abilities.  Two servants realize that the master wants a return on his capital, so they invest it and each double it.  The master does not expect to get the same sum back from these two because they started with different amounts.  But they both received the exact same praise because they both gave him a hundred per cent return.

The servant of least ability, on the other hand, buried the money for fear of losing it.  Instead of praising him for being conservative, the master is outraged.  If you entrusted your retirement nest egg to a stockbroker, and years later it had not grown at all, would you be happy?

The master was angry because the servant had allowed fear to paralyze him.  So afraid was he of losing money that he did not even take the very modest risk of depositing the money in the bank (there was no FDIC insurance in those days).

The Lord has entrusted lots of things to us: money, natural talents, spiritual gifts, the saving truth of the Gospel.  He expects us not just to conserve these things but to grow them.  In the last supper discourse (John 15) he speaks of the disciples as bearing much fruit.  In the Parable of the Sower and the Seed he speaks of grain that bear 30, 60, and 100 fold.  Whatever labor we are involved in–economic, family, apostolic–the goal should be to develop, increase, and grow what God has given us, for his honor and glory.

This inevitably involves taking risks.  It means not letting the fear of failure and ridicule stop us from pursuing success.

One of the greatest Catholic thinkers of the 20th century was a Swiss priest named Hans Urs von Balthasar.  He once pointed out that one of the most frequently used words in the book of Acts was the Greek word parrhesia, meaning cheerful boldness in the face of danger or opposition.  Without such boldness, Christianity would have stalled in Palestine.  It never would have made it to Antioch, Greece, and Rome.

Faithfulness to God means having the courage to take bold initiatives, in pastoral life, family life, and business, to be creative, even entrepreneurial, to express our gratitude to God for all that He has given us by making it grow. 

This is offered as a reflection on the readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Proverbs 31:10-31), Psalm 128, I Thessalonians 5:1-6; Mattew 25:14-30) and appears here by permission of the author.

Scripture Speaks: Waiting with Our Talents

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:02

Jesus tells a parable about what His followers should be doing while they await His return.  Can we find ourselves in it?

Gospel (Read Mt 25:14-30)

From its context in St. Matthew’s Gospel, we know that today’s parable touches again on being prepared for the arrival of someone who has been gone a long time.  In the verses prior to our reading (Mt. 25:1-13) is a parable about the wise and foolish virgins who had to endure a “long delay” before the arrival of the bridegroom at a wedding.  In today’s reading, we learn of a master who went on a journey and entrusted his possessions to three servants.  The “talents” represent sums of money, and he distributed them unevenly to the servants, “each according to his ability.”  We are not completely sure what the word “ability” means, but, since it is clear that the master expected a return on the money he gave each servant, “ability” may refer more to “opportunity” than to skill.  Servants who had business that took them into the marketplace or gave them many contacts with money and goods would certainly have had more “ability” to make a good return on money than domestic servants, whose primary work was within the household  They would have much less ability to trade and make a profit.

We should note the trust that the master placed in his servants.  It was merciful of him not to give any one of them a greater responsibility than he could manage.  The money was his, from beginning to end.  Was the master interested in the volume of profit that would be his when he returned?  Was he a mercenary, greedy man, or was this distribution of his possessions for some other purpose?

We see that two of the servants sprang into action, doing exactly what the master asked of them, with great success.  Notice that the second servant, who had only received two talents, showed no jealousy, bitterness, or resentment over getting a smaller amount than the first servant.  He must have understood that the amount was well-suited to his “ability,” or opportunity, to trade.  The third servant, however, surprises us by his response.  He went off, “dug a hole in the ground and buried the master’s money.”  Before we find out any more about this fellow, what does his behavior suggest?  His response to receiving the master’s money and instruction is radically different from that of the other servants.  There is something inherently disrespectful and even mean-spirited in treating the master’s money this way.  What is happening here?

As Jesus finishes the parable, we discover that, indeed, the master’s distribution of his talents to his servants was not about the increase in money but about their faithfulness.  Even though he had been gone and could not see them, they did exactly what he asked of them.  The reward for both of the faithful servants was exactly the same, even though they had been working with different amounts of money:  “Come, share your master’s joy.”  Here we see more of the kind of man the master was—he used this investment task to elevate his servants into true fellowship with him.  He’s a fellow we have to love!

However, the third servant is now revealed to have had a troubled relationship with the master:  “I knew you were a demanding person…so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.  Here it is back.”  What a volume of venom spews out here.  The servant accuses the master of being unjust and expecting what he doesn’t deserve.  What did the servant “fear” in this master, who has given no signs of being anything other than just and generous?  Perhaps the servant feared that the master would get any return on the one talent in his charge, so, instead of putting it in the bank, where at least it would earn interest, he buried it in the ground, making it dead to the master.  It was an action of spite and bitterness against a master whom he perceived to ask too much and give too little.

We don’t blame the master for punishing this “wicked, lazy” servant.  Not only did he fail to do his required work, but he insulted and demeaned the master.  In the end, what he hoarded in the ground so that it wouldn’t produce bounty was turned into bounty for the servant who had the most bounty already.  He was left without the one coin in his hand with which he meant to offend his master.  He had become utterly “useless.”

What did Jesus mean by telling this parable?  If we think of Him as the good master Who has gone away and left us a portion of His possessions (graces), in accordance with our “ability” (our vocation in life), then the point for us is to make that grace as fruitful as it can be, no matter who we are, where we are, or what we are doing.  However, if, in our vocations, we resent the work He asks us to do, if we measure ourselves against others, and if we allow bitterness over our particular circumstances to blind us to our simple need to be faithful in our obedience to Jesus, we can end up as miserable and bereft as the servant who lost everything.  The key to this parable seems to be:  do we want to please our Master or ourselves?  Our vocations are given to us as our opportunity to invest and make fruitful the graces we have received in life.  May this parable serve to remind us never to think that the Lord is asking too much and giving too little in them.

Possible Response:  Lord Jesus, I need this reminder that my vocation is where I am meant to increase what You have given me.  Help me do this today.

First Reading (Read Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31)

This reading is a splendid example of a person who makes her vocation fruitful, as Jesus urged us to do in the Gospel.  In ancient Israel, when this proverb was written, a wife’s vocation usually meant that her activities were primarily domestic.  Yet look how completely this wife gives herself to the work at her hand.  Her husband is willing to entrust his heart to her.  She is a source of “good, and not evil” not only to her own household but to the poor and needy outside her home as well.  This woman’s beauty is not the kind that ever fades away, because it comes from her reverence of the LORD.  Her love of God enables her to do her domestic work without resentment, without regarding it as drudgery.  She will receive “a reward for her labors,” just as we will if we fulfill our vocations with the love and energy we see here.

Possible Response:  Heavenly Father, thank You for this picture of a fruitful vocation.  I long to bless others this way, too.

Psalm (Read Ps 128:1-5)

This psalm extols the reward of a man living his vocation as husband and father in the “fear of the LORD.”  It is yet another example of fruitfulness in one’s vocation.  For this man, who walks in the LORD’s ways, there is “the fruit of [his] handiwork,” as well as the fruitfulness of his wife (a “fruitful vine”) and his children (“like olive plants around [his] table”).  What is the source of all this fruitfulness?  We find it in our responsorial:  “Blessed are those who fear the LORD.”  Just as in the Gospel parable, here is a servant of the LORD who pleased his Master rather than himself.  He, too, can expect a reward:  “The LORD bless you from Zion:  may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.”

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 Thess 5:1-6)

St. Paul reminds us of the importance of staying “alert and sober” as we wait for the Lord, just as Jesus has been doing in the parables of St. Matthew’s Gospel.  How easy it is for us to be dulled to this reality.  It has been a long time since Jesus departed from earth, and our modern lives are usually long (and getting longer) because of healthy living and good medical care.  We don’t really expect Jesus to show up this afternoon, nor do we expect to die this afternoon.  We must make an effort to remember that we could be wrong.  St. Paul gives us excellent advice:  we are to live what we are, as “children of the light.”  Remember the “wicked, lazy” servant of the parable who was thrown into “the darkness outside.”  We are not like him if we make an effort (and it will take exactly that) to live as if each day is our last, to give ourselves completely to our vocations, and to eagerly await the return of the King.  Then we will hear His wonderful invitation:  “Come, share your Master’s joy.”

Possible Response:  Lord Jesus, I need Your supernatural help to live as if each day is my last, to be “alert and sober,” ready to see You.

image: Stained glass (detail) from the parable of the Talents, St Edward the Martyr’s Church, Corfe Castle, Dorset by Roman Hobler / Flickr

In the first reading from the book of

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:00

In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, we are told how the beauty and magnificence of God’s world and creation should lead us to its Author and Creator, “even greater and more magnificent.”

God’s creation is so beautiful that men have taken the great forces of nature and worshiped them as gods. “Fire, wind, air, the sphere of the stars, rushing water and
the lights in the sky were held as the rulers of the world.” (Wis 13: 2)

Not only is God’s creation so magnificent. He has made man in his image and likeness and given him dominion over the world: “Let us make man in our image, to our likeness. Let them rule over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle, over the wild animals and over all creeping things that crawl along the ground.” (Gn 1: 26)

Let us use the earth wisely. Let us preserve the earth not only for ourselves but for all future generations.

“It is you, O Mary, whose fruit

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:00

“It is you, O Mary, whose fruit will crush the head of the serpent. It is you, O Jesus, who are this blessed fruit in whom our victory is assured. I give you thanks, my God, for having thus brought me hope.”

-Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, Meditations for Advent

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 23:00

St. Elizabeth was born in 1207, the daughter of King Alexander II of Hungary. At the age of four she was sent for education to the court of the Landgrave of Thuringia, to whose infant son she was betrothed. As she grew in age, her piety also increased by leaps and bounds. In 1221, she married Louis of Thuringia, and in spite of her position at court began to lead an austerely simple life, practicing penance and devoting herself to works of charity.

Her husband — himself much inclined to religion — esteemed her virtue highly and encouraged her in her exemplary life. They had had three children together when tragedy struck: Louis was killed while fighting with the crusaders. After his death, Elizabeth left the court, made arrangements for the care of her children, and in 1228, renounced the world and became a tertiary of St. Francis. She built the Franciscan hospital at Marburg and devoted herself to the care of the sick until her death at the age of 24 in 1231.

St. Elizabeth is the patron saint of bakers, countesses, the death of children, the falsely accused, the homeless, nursing services, tertiaries, widows, and young brides. Her symbols are alms, flowers, bread, the poor, and a pitcher.

Lessons

After leaving court, Elizabeth lived in exceptional poverty and humility. Soon after her death, miracles were reported at her tomb. She was canonized by Pope Gregory IX in 1235.

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

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

I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman. When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvelously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun.

— From a letter of Conrad of Marburg, spiritual director of St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Johnnette’s Meditation
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one de­gree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). How does this passage explain the phenomena related in this quotation about St. Elizabeth? How does this encourage me?

Prayer

St. Elizabeth, you were able to give up a life of honor and wealth and live simply. Pray for us, that we will not be bound to the material things of this life, but always live our lives devoted to God. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (“The Wonder-Worker”) (270), Bishop

Differences in Demon possession, Mental illness, Depression

Thu, 11/16/2017 - 02:30

Dear Father John, What is the difference between demon possession and mental illness or depression as you discuss in unit 122 of The Better Part?

There is no cut-and-dried answer. Here are some basic principles:

Not all psychological difficulties can be classified as mental illness. Some are linked to changeable patterns of behavior or basic human maturity issues. These can be remedied by healthy living, sense of community, human and spiritual formation, the discovery of a mission in life, and other fruitful activities. For example, sometimes mild but persistent depression or problems with anger management are really rooted in patterns of sin that have torn apart a person’s interior balance.

It also must be said, however, that mental illness is a reality. Mental illness goes deeper; it is a dysfunction or disorder rooted in the structure of the personality. Mental illness in these cases is not always caused by direct demonic activity. Many (probably most) times, it is caused by traumatic physical or psychological experiences, or genetic/physiological imbalances, or a combination of any of these factors. In these cases, sometimes medication can help a person lead an almost normal life. Other times, good psychological counseling or treatment (“good” means in harmony with the Christian understanding of the human person) can help a person lead an almost normal life. In some cases, however, the illness is so deep that even medication and sound treatment can only help contain the problem, they cannot completely solve it. This is a life-long cross for the person and their family. Nevertheless, in all cases, from mild to extreme, a healthy spiritual life (prayer, sacraments, Catholic fellowship) should be developed. Discovering God’s love, and learning to live in its’ light, is the only path to full healing for all of us.

We also have to reiterate that demonic activity is real – the Church teaches this clearly, and it is obvious in the Gospels. The devil normally works by stirring up temptations in the areas of the seven deadly sins (greed, lust, anger, sloth, pride, envy, gluttony). Sometimes, the devil and his buddies work in more supernatural ways. This can be through “obsession,” by which a demon will bother a person from outside, causing chronic physical, physiological, or psychological pain. This can also be done through “possession,” by which a demon takes temporary control of a person’s physical and bodily capacities from within (but not their soul). Why God permits these demonic manifestations is a bit of a mystery. In either of these cases (obsession or possession), the devil has to work his damage by disrupting human nature, the normal functions of the human person. This is why mental illness (a natural disruption of human nature) often has characteristics that also appear in the case of demonic activity (supernatural disruption of human nature).

So the question arises, how can I tell if there is some demonic activity going on in the case of someone suffering some symptoms of mental illness? Usually (but not always), there will be something in the person’s past that could provide a clue – they or their family members (parents, siblings…) used to play around with the occult (pagan, new age, wiccan, and other such practices are making a comeback in many parts of modern secular society). Or, they react strangely to holy things – like blessed rosaries, other blessed items, holy water, priests, Mass, the other sacraments and sacramentals, etc… Sometimes, however, the only clue is that the illness is persistent and doctors seem unable to treat it effectively. If there are some yellow lights in this regard, it is a good idea to invite the person to see the diocesan exorcist (every diocese has one, or is supposed to). The exorcist will talk with the person, ask some questions about the origin and characteristics of the problem, and make a preliminary recommendation. Exorcists almost always also have some dependable psychologists that they work with, to help discern confusing situations. If it is reasonable to suspect that the person is obsessed or possessed, and if the person wants, an exorcism can be arranged. This sounds dramatic, but it is actually normal practice for the Church – every since Christ’s own day.

More distinctions could be made, and a lot more could be said, but maybe those ideas will help clarify some concerns for you. If you like to read, there is an excellent book on the subject called “An Exorcist Tells His Story” by Fr Gabriel Amorth, who was the head exorcist in Rome for decades. He gives examples and helps explain a lot of the confusing issues involved.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, SThD

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Art for this post on demon possession, mental illness, depression: Partial restoration of The Temptation of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Tuscan School, early 16th century, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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

 

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

Justice League & Humanity’s Longing for a Savior

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 23:07

For many people, the familiar Marvel and DC superheroes are the most obvious Christ figures because they are, in their essence, saviors. Countless comic-book protagonists exist on a spectrum from the merely human to the virtually omnipotent, and therefore they provide us with a convenient map of the different ways of thinking about savior figures. In fact, they can be used to talk about the different ways in which people have historically understood Christ Himself.

Superhero stories tend to be a blend of science fiction and fantasy. This is the nature of the serial comic, and it’s arguably necessary to keep the story going. In other words, in a story based on the archetype of the hero’s journey, we would normally expect there is an overall story arc that ends with the antagonist or the source of evil fully and completely vanquished once and for all. But you can’t do that in a comic book if you want to be able to keep publishing future volumes.

So, instead of the more linear hero’s journey, we get a seemingly endless cycle of what Timothy Peters calls an “essentially ‘pagan’ cosmology” of purge and conflagration, very much like the Anakin-Darth-Anakin cycle in Star Wars. Within this context, the situations, villains, and explanations in the superhero stories apparently have to become increasingly “fabulous” — in the literal sense of being the stuff of fables. But the real problem is that evil is never fully conquered, and it necessarily becomes more like the equal opposite of good, fighting in an endless battle in which balance is maintained as long as neither one wins once and for all.

Therefore, the heroes battle evil, not to conquer it, but to keep it at bay, to keep the balance and prevent evil from taking over. That’s not a bad thing, but in the big picture it can seem to be an exercise in futility. And even the superheroes can become discouraged. But, of course, they can’t quit (though some have tried) because, as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben has famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is reminiscent of Luke 12:48, in which Jesus said, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Whether or not a superhero has chosen to become a hero (most have not), the fact is that every superhero is in some way, “super,” that is, enhanced. And that enhancement obligates the hero to use his powers for the greater good.

This article is a preview of “From Star Wars to Superman.” Click image to learn more or preview other chapters.

So it’s very interesting (and seems like too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence) that both of the “civil war” films released in 2016 were, on one level, about collateral damage and the backlash that is caused when innocent people die on the fringes of the superheroes’ epic battles. Both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Captain America: Civil War (2016) begin with popular fear and anger rising against the superheroes, even to the point of referring to them collectively as weapons of mass destruction.

In Batman v Superman, a woman grieving over the destruction of her village and the loss of family members in the aftermath of Superman’s rescue of Lois Lane, says of him, “He answers to no one — not even, I think, God.” As in other stories, superheroes are scapegoated, turned into “the other,” and subsequently dehumanized — but isn’t this the point? In their lack of trust, the common people (the unenhanced) were pointing out exactly the ways in which the superhuman are not human. Anti-Superman protesters are depicted carrying signs that say “no aliens” and burning his effigy.

Even among the superheroes there was distrust. Superman worried that Batman could drift even further outside the law than he already is. Batman (and Lex Luthor) worried that Superman could become a dictator. Batman proposes a preemptive strike against Superman, saying, “If there’s even a 1 percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” In other words, while we’ve got some kryptonite to work with, let’s use it, because we might not get another chance. The parallels to the Cold War are obvious, when it was feared that our enemies might apply the same logic to their nuclear weapons. But in the context of the film, the idea that Batman would advocate for a preemptive attack on Superman just didn’t ring true.

Both Civil War and Batman v Superman highlight the coming together of groups of superheroes into teams: in the Marvel world, it’s the Avengers; in the DC universe, it’s the Justice League. And in both cases, it’s implied that if superheroes are dangerous individually, they are even more dangerous as a group. The conclusion is that these teams of superheroes need oversight: a higher authority (presumably an international governing agency) that would provide supervision (super vision). In a scene in Batman v Superman, during their fight there is a graffito on the wall of a broken-down building: the Latin slogan Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? which means, “Who watches the watchmen?” It’s application here is a kind of theme for the film. Given that superheroes — especially when they team up — are virtually omnipotent (unless, of course, you are a supervillain), should the people of Gotham and Metropolis be worried that the superheroes are their own highest authority? Or should there be another higher authority to which they must answer, especially if their decisions and their actions have unexpected consequences?

The point is that there are two kinds of limitation proposed in the story: limitation by an outside force, a higher authority, and self-limitation. Iron Man argues, “If we can’t accept limitations, we’re boundary-less; we’re no better than the bad guys.” But ultimately the solution is not to give up free will to another, but to use free will to choose to limit oneself based on a higher moral code. Thus, the superheroes choose to refrain from killing for revenge. In fact, it could be said that morality is self-limitation. But to be truly moral, it has to be chosen by free will, for limitation without free will is simply coercion.

Jesus Christ, though He is eternally equal to God the Father (“though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped”), was willing to limit Him­self in the Incarnation and take on the human condition (“he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness”) (Phil. 2:6–7). In other words, although His divine nature meant that He did not have to accept any limitations, He voluntarily limited Himself in the Incarnation, so that He could become one of us, come to live among us, and be our Savior. And this limitation itself is in many ways the very definition of what it means to be human.

Anthropology

In Batman v Superman, Clark Kent’s adoptive father tells him a story that becomes a parable for the theme of collateral damage. In saving their farm from a flood, they unknowingly diverted the water to another farm, and that farm was ruined. The flood waters, representing evil in the analogy, were going to go somewhere. No matter how good people are, or how hard they work, they cannot stop evil; they can only divert it. But in diverting it, they unintentionally unleash it on someone else who is equally innocent and helpless to stop it.

In all superhero stories, mere humans cannot save themselves (not even with nukes). Some superhuman is required. Over the years, the threats have changed, from Nazis, to Communists, to terrorists. For example, the Christian Bale Batman films, beginning with Batman Begins (2005), and especially The Dark Knight (2008), were dealing with the fear of terrorism: a seemingly unsolvable problem. The point is that salvation (however defined) requires some kind of intervention from someone who is not a mere human, but is at least an enhanced human, if not superhuman. That necessarily makes that super savior an outsider to humanity, at least on some level.

It is a pessimistic anthropology that assumes humans cannot solve their own problems. Then again, the Christian faith is based on just that kind of anthropology. We need a savior because, left to our own devices, we tend toward selfishness, and so we are powerless to save ourselves, as sin only escalates. In Batman v Superman, Batman says, “Criminals are like weeds, Alfred. Pull one up, and another grows in its place.” Of course, Bruce Wayne is pessimistic about humanity because of the tragic and meaningless death of his parents. Nevertheless, Batman still wants to protect people. (I am reminded of Abraham’s negotiation with God over Sodom and Gomorrah: “What if there are at least ten [innocent people] there?” [see Genesis 18:16–32].) Batman sees his mission as protecting the innocent from the criminal element. At the end of the day, people are still worth saving — even the guilty.

So Batman avoids killing whenever he can. In Batman Begins, Batman chooses not to kill Ra’s al Ghul (though he does let him die, which is arguably the same thing). Even Superman, ever the optimist, goes through a transformation in which he loses his optimism about humanity, and he doesn’t seem to have the same aversion to killing the bad guys that Batman has. In Man of Steel, it’s only because of Lois Lane’s trust in him that he comes to trust humanity again.

Both Batman and Superman ultimately conclude that saving people is worth the effort, though I think the difference between Batman and Superman is that Batman does what he does because he hates the guilty, while Superman does what he does because he loves the innocent.

Like Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor is also struggling with the apparent meaninglessness of the human condition. Luthor is angry with God because God didn’t protect him from his father’s abuse (a misuse of free will). This led him to stumble into the classic problem of evil. If God is great and God is good, why is there evil in the world? The assumption is that if God can eradicate evil, and God wants a world without evil, then God would eradicate evil. Since there is evil in the world, Lex Luthor reasons (as others have before him) that God is either incapable of doing away with evil or doesn’t want to. Regardless of which one he decides, in his mind God becomes responsible for evil. Luthor’s solution to the problem is to manipulate Bruce Wayne to begin a war between Superman and Batman — “god versus man” — in which Superman will be killed, and thus Luthor will have succeeded in judging God and exacting retribution.

Of course, this logic fails to recognize the necessity of free will. The reason that there is evil in the world is not because God isn’t powerful enough to get rid of it or because He doesn’t want to, but because He gives humans free will. Presumably, God wants people to love their neighbor voluntarily, because if love is not voluntary, it isn’t real love. But that means that in order for free will to truly be free, people have to have the freedom to choose evil. The man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents (in the Tim Burton films, it’s the Joker) chose to do so by the free will that God gave him. Lex Luthor’s father chose to abuse him by the free will that God gave him. But this does not mean that God is responsible for these acts. It only means that God lets fallen people choose.

It’s interesting to note that in Man of Steel (2013), we find out that on Krypton, children were told what job they would have when they grew up — a kind of communism that takes away their freedom to act — and this is part of the reason Krypton fell. So taking away people’s freedom doesn’t solve the problem, because then the question becomes: Who will make a person’s choices for him? If not the individual, then who?  If oversight takes away the freedom of a superhero, then that superhero is no longer morally responsible. Take away moral responsibility, and all hell breaks loose.

No, the solution to the problem does not lie in controlling the will of others, because that leads only to fascism or communism. The solution must be in an individual’s free choice to be morally responsible. But this brings us back to the pessimistic anthropology, for mere humans cannot be trusted to choose well. Therefore, our hope is placed in a moral agent who is superhuman — literally above humanity in the sense of being above reproach. The solution to the problem of evil must be a form of divine intervention.

Evil is just too big a problem for human solutions. We need more than a great human, more than a good example to follow: we need someone who has superhuman power and is (theoretically) immune to temptation. And so the superheroes come to be the saviors of (mere) humanity. In the DC universe, we are introduced to “The Metahuman Thesis” that “gods among men” live on earth, walk among us, and often remain anonymous until they are needed to save the day. Ironically, though, the existence of the metahuman makes some ordinary humans feel less than special, and some react to this by hating and resenting the superheroes. In Man of Steel, Superman says, “My father believed that if the world found out who I really was they would reject me out of fear.” One can’t help but be reminded of the apostle John’s comments about Jesus: “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him” (John 1:10–11).

So into our world come the superhumans, to save the ordinary humans who cannot save themselves. The exotic (and sometimes alien) stranger comes to live in the ordinary world of ordinary people and, when called upon, does extraordinary things. Someone of great significance comes, often to an insignificant place like Smallville (or Bethlehem) — and often his significance is not revealed until a time of great need.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in From Star Wars to Superman: Christ Figures in Science Fiction and Superhero Filmswhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

image: Justice League poster by Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Responding to the Painful Reality of Death

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 23:05

It is fitting that my daughter came to me on a dark November night. It is the month the Church remembers the dead and prays ardently for the poor souls in Purgatory. The days are cold while the trees shake off the last remnants of autumnal glory to enter into the silent deep of winter. November here is always gray, almost maddeningly so. It seems strange to go from the mountains set aflame with the burning colors of October to end up gray and stark in November. In this time of year the Church and the natural cycle of the seasons invite us to enter into the quiet, dark, and hidden places. This time of year naturally lends itself to the contemplation of mortality and death.

My daughter came and sat on my lap two nights ago and began to sob. Like every other November evening, it was pitch black at dinner time and I was sitting on the couch when she came to me. She nestled close to my heart as I wrapped my arms around her trying to understand what was wrong. She finally sat up looked at me and through sobs she blurted out: “I don’t want to die.” I think every parent feels a dagger to the heart when their child comes to them about death, even those of us who are Catholic. It is true that we are a Resurrection people, but like anyone else, we must confront the reality of death.

Death is something that our culture ignores on the surface, but is obsessed with underneath. It is apparent through our country’s “sacred calf” of abortion and the ever-increasing calls for the elderly, handicapped, depressed, and any other “useless” persons to end their own life with “dignity”.  We attempt to ignore it in our daily lives by focusing on material comforts and a false sense of control over our bodies. We hide the elderly away and we bury people in lonely cemeteries, which are seldom visited; except by the occasional grieving family member or the “strange” Catholic praying Rosaries for the dead in November.

My daughter has had to confront the hard realities of death at 6 years of age. Death—even violent death—is a reality for many cultures, but we are largely insulated here in the West; although, a cursory reading of the latest headlines makes us wonder how long that will be the case. It is in watching her father suffer from a rare and dangerous illness that she has been led to confront death face-to-face. We spent this past summer planning for the worst. Thanks be to God my husband did not die and is doing much better now. Regardless, she now sees the realities of death. She has entered into the existential struggle that we all face when confronted with the fact that we will die one day.

I told her our hope is in Jesus and the Resurrection at the end of time.  We talked of the joy and bliss of being in Heaven with the Blessed Trinity, but I know that she has to work her way through this hard truth. We were not made for death. It goes against our human nature to die. It is a result of the Fall. We rebel against death and shrink in the face of its horror. That is why we ignore it so much. Death is a fear we must confront. For some of us this confrontation comes at a very young age when reason is still fresh, new, and developing. She has seen her father suffer and she has seen the tears streaming down my face and heard the sobs coming from my wounded heart at the prospect of losing my husband. She’s lost four siblings to miscarriage. She’s experienced the pain of death in those losses and in the fear of losing her father. She knows death comes with suffering, pain and separation, and she quite naturally wants no to part of it.

Motherhood—and fatherhood—has a way of peeling back layer upon layer within ourselves. We too are forced to confront the hard realities of life with our children. No parent wants to contemplate the untimely death of their child and no child wants to contemplate the death of their parents or their own death, but we must nonetheless. As her mother, I know that she needs to know my great love for her, for God, and to see the vulnerability of what it means to be human. That night, I held her close and told her I understood why she doesn’t want to die, because I do understand.

I want to enter into communion with the Blessed Trinity forever in Heaven, but I too must take the voyage that can only come after the death of this body; a body I have known my entire life. It will be given back to me in the Resurrection at the end of time in its new glorified state, but death is the ultimate self-emptying. It is to leave this life and commend ourselves to God’s mercy and justice.

It can be easy in a culture like ours to avoid such discussions or falsely tell our children not to worry about death. This isn’t the Catholic understanding of death. This life is a long—or short—preparation for death and our entry into eternity, whether it be cleansing in Purgatory, the immediate saintliness of Heaven, or the damnation of Hell. We are sojourners here on earth and our ultimate journey begins at our death.

In order to help our children confront the pain of death, we must be willing to enter into their existential grief and pain at the prospect of their own death or the death of a loved one. This means confronting our own fears about death and asking God to give us the courage and peace only He can provide. My daughter has been living this struggle since the first morning my husband coughed up blood in the bathroom sink months ago. She now wonders when the next hospital visit will occur, and even though my husband’s disease is well controlled at present, she still fears the worst when I have to run her next door to our friends’ house so I can race him to the Emergency Room when his symptoms worsen. She also wonders why all four of her siblings had to die; an answer I cannot give her and a question that I struggle with myself.

The day before my daughter came to me with her struggles about death, I read a quote by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in an article at Dappled Things that explains why suffering is necessary in this life:

Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain. When we know that the way of love—this exodus, this going out of oneself—is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

To love is to suffer. It is to relinquish ourselves for the good of another. It is in entering into suffering that we can come to accept it as God’s means of our sanctification. It leads us to say along with Job: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21)!” Through my daughter’s grappling with death, I too may enter into her sufferings, but also my own. We can walk together in confronting the reality of death, but remain steadfast in hope.

During this month of November, let us enter more meditatively into the reality of death and prepare ourselves to wait in joyful hope at Advent. We must pray fervently for the poor souls in Purgatory and those who are dying. It is our Christian duty to pray for the dead. We must remember that one day soon we too will rely on the prayers of the Church Militant when our sojourn ends here and begins in eternity.

Andre Louf And The Way of Humility

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 23:02

It’s no coincidence that Jesus began his most famous sermon with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Humility is the gateway to God, Abba John the Dwarf said, and it is only when we have acknowledged our moral and spiritual poverty that we are ready for a Savior and Sanctifier to redeem our lives; only when we have, like the wedding at Cana, run out of wine (John 2:1-12), that we are ready to receive his life-giving Spirit.

What’s sometimes overlooked is that humility is not only the gateway to kingdom of God but also undergirds and infuses everything we do in the Christian life from beginning to end. T.S. Eliot summed it up well in his poetry: “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire/ Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

For the practicing Catholic, humility begins and leads to conversion, Baptism, and regeneration and ends with the believer prostrate before the King of Kings throughout eternity in the Beatific Vision. In between these two events are multitudinous acts of humility during our earthly sojourn in our prayers, participation in Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, trips to Confession, etc., all culminating in our Last Rites.

The wisdom of humility of the Lamb of God is endless. He is the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world (I Peter 1:18-20) and yet he is seen as a lamb freshly slain in the eternity to come (Revelation 5) who was the only one worthy to open the scroll and the seven seals. In between eternity past and eternity future, he humbled himself in descending from heaven, becoming Man, being born in a manger, submitting himself to his parents, being baptized by John, washing the feet of his disciples, suffering affliction after affliction, all culminating in a most ignominious death.

Cultivating the wisdom of humility can only be enhanced by such books as The Way of Humility (Cistercian Publications), by Andre Louf, OCSO. Dom Louf served as abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Mont des Cats in northern France from 1963 to 1997 and then lived as a solitary near the provincial village of Simiane-Collongue until he died in 2010.

Andre Louf | By Il s’agit d’un vieux portrait (année 1960) d’un religieux décédé en 2010 (Abbaye du Mont des Cats) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

His little book has two parts: a twenty-page essay followed by several selected quotations on humility starting in the New Testament and ending with St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). These quotations alone are worth the price of the book, connecting the reader with the august, early tradition of the endless wisdom of humility.

It’s a book that conceivably could be read in one sitting but I wouldn’t recommend rushing this little gem. Subsequent readings glean new insights and refresh old ones. I’m on my fourth time through and don’t plan on loaning it out anytime soon.

If the book was a wine, it could be described as initially having scholarly notes followed by a strong experiential and devotional finish. In the beginning of his essay, Dom Louf grapples with a major issue in the history of Christian spirituality: Is humility merely one of the virtues (or a by-product of one of the virtues: e.g., see Aquinas and temperance) or does it have a more eminent place in the development of the believer’s sanctification.

In looking at the New Testament usage of the word for virtue (arete) and examining the failed efforts in patristic literature to harmonize biblical concepts of humility with Greek philosophy, Louf clearly sides with Cassian who called it “the mother and mistress of all the virtues,” and Isaac the Syrian, who said that “What salt is to food, humility is to the virtues…”

St. Basil went so far as to call humility the all-encompassing virtue because it contains within itself all the others. This makes sense because, if pride is at the root of the Seven Deadly Sins, then it follows that humility undergirds and infuses their opposite, life-giving virtues.

After making the case for the eminent place of humility, Dom Louf leaves the scholarly realm and begins to navigate more experiential waters. This section hearkens back to very first paragraph of the book where he quotes St. Anthony who said, “Without temptation, no one can be saved.”

Louf claims that God abases us and puts us in the crucible of diverse trials. We often feel overwhelmed with temptations, but, in our repeated calling out to God for grace in a time of need, humility is born. This humility is the key in overcoming in our hour of future testing, because God gives grace to the humble and opposes the proud.

Saint Anthony came out of his hermitage in the Egyptian desert and looked out and saw the many snares of the devil spread out over the entire world. He cried out to heaven: “My God! How can anyone be saved?” A voice responds from heaven: “Humility.”

We learn how weak we are and that “…apart from me [Christ], you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We learn that the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak and hence heed Christ’s command to “watch and pray” amidst the vicissitudes of life.

Dom Louf calls humility a “salvific journey,” and, on that journey, one is likely to get their heart broken. Hence, in Scripture (Psalm 50:19) and in monastic literature (e.g., Cassian), we read about having “a humble and contrite heart.”

An Egyptian text attributed to Macarius the Great (“A Letter to His Sons”) talks about repeated and severe trials and temptations, and how, “from this difficult combat that humility, that broken heart, goodness and mercy issue forth.” We have treasure in earthen vessels (II Corinthians 4:7) and those vessels must be cracked by many afflictions for the treasure to be revealed.

The kernel of wheat must fall into the ground and die (be broken open) before it can bear much fruit. Louf says that a broken heart “takes us into the very heart of the gospel as well as the nodal point of asceticism and all Christian mysticism. According to Pseudo-Macarius it is the very foundation of the Christian faith: ‘to have a heart wholly broken.’”

In choosing a life of asceticism, Dom Louf says, the monk is moving towards temptation on purpose. Humility can emerge out of this process unless the monk obtains a good opinion of himself because of his successes.

As Isaac the Syrian says, “When humility is lacking, asceticism and virtues are in vain.” God may want to send the monk (or lay person) a plentitude of consolations and diversions, but must instead send him more trials and temptations to bring him to brokenness.

But even if the believer should fall into grave and frequent sin, God can redeem and bring something good out of it. Our sin becomes a “happy fault” (felix culpa).

The apostle that denied Christ three times becomes the rock that the Church was built on. The woman with the bad reputation cleans his feet with her tears and hair and anoints them with an expensive perfume (Luke 7: 36-50): her many sins have led to a brokenness that is symbolized in the breaking open of the alabaster flask and filling the room with the fragrance of her devotion.

This is why the believer must not give into despair, even after many stumbles. Louf says: “It is possible that the most perfidious sin is not the one which precedes sin but rather the one which follows sin: the temptation to despair from which humility-once learned-will allow one to escape.”

Dom Louf closes his essay with a long quote from philosopher and Christian, Jean Guitton, near his death at the age of 100. An excerpt: “Even one’s sins become for us a source of humility and love…To be plunged into humility is to be plunged into God, for God is the foundation of that abyss…humility obtains for us things that are too lofty to be taught or explained; humility attains and possesses what even speech cannot.”

In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches us

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In the Gospel reading Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is already within us. It is in every person who believes in the Lord, in his Church and its sacraments and in the world. God reveals himself to us in countless ways. The Kingdom is where God and his values are. The Kingdom of God is in all the good people in the world.

To bring about the Kingdom of God the Son of God came into the world as man, suffered and died for all. Through God’s call and grace, his followers are tasked to continue his mission of bringing God’s love and mercy to the world. At the same time we all await the coming and fulfillment of the Kingdom of God when Our Lord appears at his second coming at the end of time.

Let us seek the Kingdom of God, making it grow within us and throughout the world until its final realization at the end of time.

“Changed by the working of grace

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“Changed by the working of grace into a new creature, the Christian thus sets himself to follow Christ and learns more and more within the Church to think like Him, to judge like Him, to act in conformity with His commandments, and to hope as He invites us to.” 

-St. John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae

St. Margaret of Scotland

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Margaret was probably born in Hungary and raised at Stephen’s Court, where her father, Prince Edward d’Outremer, was in exile. When she was 12 years old she was taken to the court of King Edward the Confessor in England, but was forced to flee England with her siblings and her mother, Agatha, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The family was given refuge at the court of King Malcolm III of Scotland and soon Margaret and Malcolm fell in love. They were married in 1070 at Dunfermline Castle and subsequently had eight children.

Margaret was known for her great piety. She prayed and fasted constantly and showed much concern for the poor. She supported synods that reformed abuses that were so prevalent at the time, such as simony and usury. She also encouraged arts and education, acted as adviser in state matters, and with her husband, Malcolm, founded Holy Trinity Church at Dunfermline. Margaret died at Edinburgh Castle on November 15, soon after finding out that rebels attacking Alnwick Castle had killed her husband and one of her sons. She was canonized in 1250 and declared patroness of Scotland in 1673.

Lessons

Queen Margaret had a great influence on her husband and his court. With her refined ways and intellect, she was able to bring about many changes for the good. Malcolm, while a good man, tended to be quick-tempered and “rough around the edges.” Many of the people were ignorant and unrefined. Margaret was able to bring out the best in her husband and others, however. She obtained good teachers, took measures to rid the court of all evil practices, and had new churches built. Margaret herself embroidered the priest’s vestments.

Malcolm was very pleased with the changes that Margaret brought about in his court. Soon the men showed better manners and the ladies, following Margaret’s example, became gentler and more devout. Queen Margaret and King Malcolm also were a wonderful example to others in their piety. They prayed together and also personally took food to the crowds of needy people. God blessed this royal couple with eight children, two daughters and six sons. Margaret was a wonderful mother as well and her youngest son became St. David.

Prayer

Father, help us to learn from the pious example of this great queen. When Margaret learned of the death of her beloved husband and son, rather than despair, she prayed and thanked You for sending her such a great sorrow to purify her of her sins. Like St. Margaret, help us to be a good and pious influence on the people in our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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

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

Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home, and within my family. Amen.

— Prayer given to St. Gertrude by Jesus

Johnnette’s Meditation
Jesus promised that every time this prayer is said, a thousand souls will be released from Purgatory and allowed into God’s presence. Am I willing to incorporate this prayer into my daily life? I will show my sincerity of heart by praying it again right now.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Gertude the Great (1302), Virgin, Benedictine nun and mystic

St. Mechtilde of Helfta (1298), Virgin, friend/St. Gertrude the Great

St. Albert the Great

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Thorough Theologian

Albert’s greatest love of all was his love for God.

Albert so loved the natural sciences, waxing eloquent in his writings on everything from flowers to insects to fish to the squirrelly daily habits of the squirrels, because they all in small, diverse ways reflected the unspeakable, simple goodness and majesty of the Creator, from whom all creation flows. Albert knew so well how God speaks to us through creation, but he also knew that God has spoken to us directly too, in His revelation, and most directly of all through the words and the deeds of His Son incarnate.

Albert’s love for God is seen in his extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, of Church history, of the liturgy, and of the Eucharist. Albert left extensive commentaries on the Scriptures, among the most prominent being his Commentary on Saint Luke’s Gospel. He wrote beautifully about the Eucharist and offered practical advice on mastering the art of prayer to express our love for God.

Perhaps Albert’s most significant purely spiritual work, De Adherendo Deo (On Cleaving to God), is one that he might have not written in its entirety. The beautifully simple, although profoundly moving book, which has been called a worthy companion to Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, is about “cleaving freely, confidently, nakedly, and firmly to God alone . . . since the goal of Christian perfection is the love by which we cleave to God.”

Charging Champion

The virtue of fortitude comes from the Latin fortis, “strength.” Saints Albert and Thomas would write a great deal about the nature of virtues, including fortitude, and Albert clearly not only knew of this spiritual strength but did not shy away from living it.

Fortitude employs the irascible appetite and can raise our ire to fight back to defend the good, even when this means facing difficult obstacles. We saw that Albert was happy bravely to champion the cause of the rights of the Dominicans and Franciscans when challenged by the secular professors of the University of Paris. We saw too a flicker of Albertian ire when he railed at those even within his order who tried to squelch the study of philosophy. Perhaps the most poignant and powerful example of Albertian fortitude, though, is how he defended his own greatest student not long after that student’s death.

On March 7, 1277, three years to the day after the death of Thomas Aquinas, Bishop Steven Tempier of Paris, having solicited input from various theologians, produced 218 propositions that were said to be contrary to the Catholic Faith. Among that list, sixteen propositions were clearly compatible with the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Some reports indicate that the elderly Albert traveled the three hundred miles to Paris on foot to meet Tempier’s challenge and champion his brilliant student’s thought. He began his speech to the learned professors by stating, “What glory it is for one who is living to be praised by those who are dead.” He went on to portray Saint Thomas as the one who truly lived, while his accusers of unorthodoxy were covered in shades of death through their ignorance and ill will. He defended the orthodoxy of Thomas’s writings, along with Thomas’s personal sanctity, offering to defend them both before an assemblage of competent men. He returned to Cologne and poured over Thomas’s writings, declaring to an assemblage of Dominicans that Thomas’s works were so masterful that he had “labored for all to the end of the world, and that henceforth all others would work in vain.”

Of course, the writings of Saint Thomas did not put an end to works in theology but would stimulate an endless stream of new work inspired by his brilliance as the Dominican Order and countless popes across the centuries have sung the praises for his works of theology. Thomas’s philosophical and theological sons and daughters would come to be called Thomists, and Albert himself is the first and the foremost among them.

Cherished Child

For many decades Albert the Great shone as one of the brightest lights in one of the greatest of centuries. His learning was unequalled, and he was known far and wide as a man who could get things done. The bark of his preaching and teaching had inflamed the hearts of countless students, friars, nuns, and parishioners who had heard and seen him. Recall, though, the legend that Blessed Mary had foretold that at the end of his days he would be bereft of his vast knowledge. A poignant tale records that Archbishop Sigfried had come to the Dominican convent to visit the elderly Albert one day and, knocking at the door of his cell, called out, “Albert, are you there?” The venerable master did not open the door, but merely answered: “Albert is no longer here; he was here once upon a time.”

It is said that the greatest encyclopedic mind of the century, the medieval memory master, began to lose his memory in the last weeks of his life. He retained the ability to say Mass, as he had done for so many years, but he removed himself ever more from the world, content to pray in his garden and his cell. The boots that had taken him all across Europe carried him daily to the site he had selected as the resting place of his body, as he prayerfully and peacefully prepared for the inevitable day of his death. His spirit strove solely to cleave closer to God.

In the twilight hours of November 15, 1280, clothed in the habit of the Order of Preachers, seated in a large wooden chair in his cell and surrounded by his brother friars in Christ, Saint Albert whispered that it had been a good thing to be a Dominican, and then, like a cherished child, his soul left to meet his heavenly Father and Mother.

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This article is adapted from a chapter in Hounds of the Lord: Great Dominican Saints Every Catholic Should Know by Kevin Vost which is available from Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on St. Albert the Great: Detail of Albertus Magnus auf dem Frankfurter Dominikanerstammbaum (Albertus Magnus on the Frankfurt Dominican family tree), Hans Holbein der Ältere, 1501, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Hounds of the Lord used with permission.

To read about another great Dominican saint, click HERE.

About Charlie McKinney

Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers, CatholicExchange.com, CrisisMagazine.com, and EpicPew.com. Charlie is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is a regular guest on Catholic radio and television. He and his wife have four children and they reside in New Hampshire.

 

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

78. Talents in Trust (Matthew 25:14-30)

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“We preach not one coming only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the first. The first revealed the meaning of his patient endurance; the second brings with it the crown of the divine kingdom.” – St. Cyril of Jerusalem

Matthew 25:14-30: ‘It is like a man on his way abroad who summoned his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to a third is one; each in proportion to his ability. Then he set out. The man who had received the five talents promptly went and traded with them and made five more. The man who had received two made two more in the same way. But the man who had received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now a long time after, the master of those servants came back and went through his accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents came forward bringing five more. Sir, he said you entrusted me with five talents; here are five more that I have made. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness. Next the man with the two talents came forward. Sir, he said you entrusted me with two talents; here are two more that I have made. His master said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness. Last came forward the man who had the one talent. Sir, said he I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered; so I was afraid, and I went off and hid your talent in the ground. Here it is; it was yours, you have it back. But his master answered him, You wicked and lazy servant! So you knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered? Well then, you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have recovered my capital with interest. So now, take the talent from him and give it to the man who has the five talents. For to everyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away. As for this good-for-nothing servant, throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’

Christ the Lord  Christ is the king of the parable, and we are the servants. Do you think of yourself as a servant? God has given each of us a certain number of “talents.” (By a fortuitous linguistic quirk, the word that in the original language refers to a large sum of money refers in our language to a much broader category of skills and abilities.) Christ’s return in the context of this discourse means three things:

  1. when destruction comes upon Jerusalem sometime after Jesus’ ascension,
  2. when he comes again at the end of history – which could be tomorrow or could be in another thousand years –
  3. and when he comes individually to each of us at the end of our lives, another mysterious moment.

And so, we have an unknown amount of time in which to invest those talents and to make them increase the wealth of the Kingdom – or not. Our eternal destiny depends directly upon how much our talents have contributed to the growth of the Kingdom. There will be no room for excuses: if we have tried to invest our talents, we will be welcomed into the Kingdom forever: if not, we will be thrown into the darkness.

Perhaps at first glance the most striking aspect of this parable is how definitive it is. Jesus speaks so unambiguously, even graphically, about heaven and hell. Since he is Lord of life, death, and history, nothing about them is hidden from him. Yet, another glance will show something even more striking: he desires all of us to come and be with him in heaven.

Christ the Teacher  Note first of all that our talents are to be invested on behalf of the king, since we will have to give them back to the king in the end. They must increase the wealth of Christ’s Kingdom. We are called to use our talents to extend and defend the Kingdom of God, to promote true human values (justice, life, beauty, and peace), to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, to bring as many people as possible into this Kingdom (which here on earth subsists in the Church), to overtake the remaining bastions of sin and greed, and dismantle every work of the devil. To the extent that I use my talents for these purposes, I will achieve the purpose of my life, please the king, and prove myself his worthy subject, one who has responsibly administered the great gifts I have received. And as a result, I will be rewarded accordingly; the reward will be proportionate to my diligence. (Christ was always talking about rewards.)

Note secondly what the Church has always understood by talents: every gift we have received from God, starting with the gift of existence, including all the capabilities of our bodies and minds, extending to education, culture, faith, the sacraments, vocation, and every opportunity and resource within our personal sphere of influence – from money to artistic sensibility, from creative genius to physical prowess, from freedom of speech to the elusive entity of time itself. In other words, we have received everything from God, and we are free either to take all our gifts and squander them, burying them in the hole of self-indulgence, fear, laziness, and greed (as did the prodigal son, for instance, in addition to the hapless fellow of the current parable), or to give them back to God by putting them to work for his Kingdom. Nothing escapes the eternal reckoning, so everything is a chance to build up or tear down our relationship with God. In this parable, Christ implores us: “Live for the things that last! Strive for true human and Christian values! Don’t be afraid to lay everything on the line for me and for the Church! For others, time is money; for you, time is Kingdom.”

Christ the Friend How clearly Christ speaks to us in the Gospels! He does not disguise his saving truth in complicated theological costumes; he does not distort it for fear of offending our over-sensitive egocentrism; he does not greedily hoard it. God wants to save us and teach us the path of a fulfilling life; Christ is the generous agent of that salvation.

The lazy servant of the parable failed precisely because he had a different concept of the master. He feared him like a slave, maybe even resented him (for only giving him one talent and giving more to the other servants). He thought of his lord as a hard taskmaster; the mission with which he was entrusted seemed too demanding, too unreasonable. We can fall into the same deception. We are exceedingly vulnerable to it, because it gives us an easy excuse for wallowing in our laziness and self-pity. Jesus has proved that he is thoroughly trustworthy, but since trusting him means breaking out of our comfort zone, sometimes we prefer to stay suspicious. Few things pain his heart more.

Jesus: I created you to know me and love me, to live in my friendship now and for all eternity. I have limited my omnipotence in giving you this possibility, because friendship requires freedom, and freedom necessitates the possibility that you will reject my friendship. But you have nothing to fear from me, nothing to lose in following me. You gain everything by accepting my invitation. Enjoy the life and talents I have given you, invest them for eternity, and trust that I will never demand from you more than you are capable of giving.

Christ in My Life My life is a mission. You have given me real responsibility; what I do matters, for me and for others. Sometimes this makes me feel pressured – but that’s not what you want. You want me to launch out into the deep with utter confidence in you. Enlarge my heart! Increase my faith! You are worthy of all trust, of all love, of any sacrifice. Thank you for giving me a few talents. Help me to put them to work…

How many people squander their lives, Lord! Just as I was doing before you came to my rescue…. You are so patient with me. You give me plenty of time. And all you ask is that I try my best to serve you, please you, and glorify you by fulfilling my potential and helping as many others as I can fulfill theirs. Through me, may your Kingdom come…

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

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Art for this post on Matthew 25:14-30: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Detail The Parable of the Talents or Minas, Willem de Poorter, 17th century, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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

 

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

The 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.