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The Power of Spiritual Fatherhood

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:05

In recent years, the hashtag #NotAllFathersWearTies has become increasingly popular. Its purpose is to honor priests, and their call to spiritual fatherhood of the Church.

In a society that not only misunderstands fatherhood, but especially misunderstands the call to celibacy, this is a powerful message. Fecundity is not limited to biological fathers. In a very real way, the call to spiritual fatherhood bears much fruit.

For the past three years, my husband has been a professor at our diocesan seminary. With a disclosure of full bias, I truly believe that this particular seminary is one of the finest in the country. The faculty is comprised of both lay men and women, as well as priests, and there is a recognition that the seminarians benefit from the time spent with lay people and their families. After all, this is the very population that a diocesan priest is called to serve.

What results is a mutually beneficial relationship. The priests and seminarians befriend and accompany the lay faculty and staff on their faith journey. All are invited to Mass at the seminary, to seminary events, and even to occasional meals at the seminary, and the seminarians and priests go out of their way to make families and their children feel welcomed.

What has resulted is beautiful – a microcosm of the church and a witness of the mutual benefit of the vocation of marriage and the vocation of the priesthood to each other.

Another beautiful aspect of this experience has been seeing men grow into the call of spiritual fatherhood. Brand new seminarians, many fresh out of high school, are still growing into that vocation. A man in his final year is comfortable and confident in that role, knowing how to pray for and support the families he encounters. In watching them, I have learned so much about what a spiritual father is– what that sacrifice, made from love for God, looks like.

The priests and seminarians I know, wear this vocation of spiritual fatherhood with immense joy. In addition to those who I have gotten to know from the seminary community, I have also known many other remarkable priest spiritual fathers throughout my life. I have had pastors who have guided me through times of grief or transition. I was blessed to know many fun-loving priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross during my college years – men who would walk the campus, black cassocks blowing in the breeze, ready with a smile and greeting to the students they passed. These same men lived in resident halls, available for Confession, spiritual guidance, or just a quick, “Hi, Father!” thrown in passing. They weren’t above sitting with a flummoxed freshman trying to figure out the game of “Snaps,” or being amused at her delight when she finally figured out the trick. (Thanks, Fr. Dan.) They would happily say late night Mass for college undergrads, and then wake up early the next morning to do it all over again.

As a married woman and mother, I have experienced some remarkable experiences of this spiritual fatherhood. I have had priests who stood beside me and embraced me when I miscarried my third child. I have had a priest shout in absolute joy in a Confessional, upon finding out that I was pregnant with a long prayed for baby. I have had priests bring Jesus in the Eucharist to me in the most unexpected places – a priest who said Mass in my hospital room after I gave birth to my second child, and another who said Mass in my living room when I was pregnant with my fourth child and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum. I have had priests anoint me in times of sickness during my pregnancies. I have seen a bishop friend delight in the antics of my children, and have had my joy and gratitude for my children renewed by it. I have had a priest give me a hanky during an emotional Confession, and others who have heard my Confession at a moment’s notice. I have had a priest friend come to our home for dinner, and spend the time after dinner helping my husband repair a leaky sink. I have had a priest come to a baby shower type party, to bless my unborn daughter and me. I have had a different priest friend doing manual labor alongside my husband, sharing in that friendship and helping doing much needed repairs in our home. I have had kind, gentle priests who con-celebrated my miscarried son’s funeral Mass, and other priests who baptized my living children with much joy.

I was blessed during childhood to grow up with a father who truly loved me, comforted me in times of anxiety, prayed for me daily, and rejoiced in my triumphs. Throughout my life, I have been blessed with spiritual fathers who have done the same.

Recently, my husband and I have been watching the BBC version of Chesterton’s “Fr. Brown Mysteries” on Netflix. Although the media and TV shows often portray the priesthood in a negative light, this particular series shows off spiritual fatherhood in an accurate and beautiful way. Fr. Brown knows his parishioners, and he genuinely cares for each one. He will go to great lengths to bring a lost sheep back to the Good Shepherd, and more than he is concerned with solving each mystery (which he does successfully, every time!) he is concerned with the redemption of each soul he encounters. “It is never too late!” he counsels, again and again. His fatherhood, if summarized in one word, would be characterized as one of “mercy.”

However, Fr. Brown is also down to earth and humorous. He is a human being, with quirks that are endearing and reassuring to his parishioners and to viewers.

A similar portrayal of the priesthood as spiritual fatherhood would be the beloved Fr. O’Malley in The Bells of St. Mary’s. Fr. O’Malley embodies joy. He is quick to laugh and joke with religious sisters and children alike, genuinely desires the good of each, and humbly repents of his mistakes.

Thankfully, there are real Fr. Browns and Fr. O’Malleys out there. There are real men who have laid down their lives for the sake of spiritually fathering the Church. They are men with joy, a sense of humor, a desire for growth in humility, genuine concern and love for the faithful, total devotion to Christ, and eager to work tirelessly for their spiritual children. They are men of every generation – from the youngest of priests to the oldest on his death bed. Like the work of biological fathers, their work is often misunderstood and hidden. But like biological fathers, their work is not in vain, and the world is better for having benefited from their spiritual fatherhood.

This Father’s Day, remember the priests in your life. Send them a Father’s Day card, or offer them thanks on the day. (And if you know a newly ordained priest, enjoy his delighted expression when you wish him a, “Happy first Father’s Day!”) Take time to let these dear men know that we love them, too.

image: Thoom / Shutterstock.com

A Heart of Flame: Four Reasons to Love the Sacred Heart

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:02

We are well into the month of June, and many of us are are celebrating warm weather and clear skies with barbecues, vacations, and time outdoors. But there is another aspect of this month that is often forgotten: Holy Church has dedicated June to the veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sadly, devotion to the Sacred Heart has been all but abandoned in recent decades. It is deemed by many who disdain tradition to be an outmoded devotion—a relic of a distant past that they would rather forget. But devotion to the Sacred Heart is not a devotion specific to one time or place. It is always relevant to us, and now more than ever. I want to give you four reasons to love and honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

1. It is the heart of a real man

It is hard for us to understand just how profound a mystery it is for God to have taken on human flesh. It is the central mystery of our Faith. The Most High God, the Ineffable One, the Lord whom angels worship with veiled faces…became a man. He embraced our weakness and our frailty. He sweat. He bled. He cried. He labored and loved and suffered. He knew the paralyzing grip of fear, he felt anger, and he knew what it meant to be exhausted.

In the Sacred Heart, we see a heart both human and Divine, but most of all a heart of flesh. The Sacred Heart reminds that Christ didn’t just embrace some of our humanity, but all of it. This should bring us comfort, “for we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4:15).

2. It is a heart on fire with love

The Sacred Heart is a burning heart. It is a heart consumed with love for humanity—but not an abstract humanity. Christ loves each of us as if we were the only soul he ever created. He would have carried out the entire drama of redemption for you alone. The Sacred Heart is a reminder and a promise that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” and that “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

In our moments of weakness and failure, it is easy to grow discouraged and to lose hope. It is so easy to believe that God must hate us, that he has rejected us and condemned us to the fires of hell. In such moments, we should gaze upon the Sacred Heart, for there we will not see judgement and anger, but rather we will see the inexhaustible love of our God and Savior who loves us and gave himself for us.

3. It is a wounded heart 

Suffering is a part of the human condition. All of us, at some point, will suffer. The Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us that our God knows what it means to suffer. His Sacred Heart is pierced, it is surrounded by thorns. His was a heart that knew the pain of betrayal, of physical suffering, and of being abandoned by all.

Sometimes we are tempted to believe that Christ didn’t really suffer like we did; that perhaps it was all play acting and going through the motions. We assume he possessed some Divine advantage that made his suffering different and somehow less painful. But this is not the case. The only advantage Christ’s Divinity gave him was the ability to suffer more than any other human could have. His suffering was so great that it would have killed you and I.

Never believe for a moment that Christ cannot identify with your pain, however grave it may be. The Sacred Heart is wounded and pierced. It is a suffering and bleeding heart, and it reminds us that “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

4. It is a strong heart 

Our society sees in both love and suffering a display of weakness. Accordingly, we fear to suffer and we are afraid of love. But though it is consumed by love and pierced by suffering, the Sacred Heart is not a weak heart. It is the heart of a lion—the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It is a fierce heart, a courageous heart, the heart of a triumphant king. This pierced and bleeding heart? It is the heart of a warrior: “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name” (Exodus 15:3). “Who is the King of Glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!” (Psalm 24:8).

I believe the weak and sentimental pictures of the Sacred Heart do a great disservice to our Lord. Love and suffering are not equivalent to weakness. Rather, it was the very strength and courage of Christ’s manly and holy heart that enabled him to suffer more than any other human has ever suffered and survive. It is with all the strength of his heart that he loves us. When we gaze on the Sacred Heart, let us never forget that, far from being weak, the heart of Christ is “a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

Conclusion 

During this month of June, I would encourage you to meditate on the heart of Christ. Ponder his goodness, his mercy, his justice, his courage, and his sufferings. Contemplate what he loves, what he hates, and what he desires. And most of all, consider his self-emptying and self-sacrificing love for you.

Then, ask him humbly to make your heart like his own.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Catholic Gentleman and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

image: Verkhovynets Taras / Shutterstock.com

In our own lives, how many times have

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:00

In our own lives, how many times have we let our temper and anger get the better of us? How many times have we gotten into arguments where our ears were closed to all reason, though the other side may have had valid points? How often have we insisted on having the last word in an argument or disagreement because of our pride and stubbornness?

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us to always take the higher ground. He teaches us to listen and to look the other with eyes of love and understanding. No argument is really won if it does not end in a reconciliation.

And so, if up to now you still harbor ill feelings towards someone, go and make the first move to make peace with him/her. We hope that we are willing to say “sorry” even if the other side has refused to apologize. Indeed life is not about proving we are always right.

Oftentimes we need to reach out and dialogue, even if it means we swallow our pride. Only when we let love and humility prevail will we arrive at lasting peace and reconciliation.

Be ready to throw out pride and grudges out of the window if we wish to be true disciples of Christ. We will find out that this is truly liberating.

St. Germaine Cousin

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:00

From the time of her birth in 1579 until her death at the age of 22 in 1601, Germaine Cousin’s life was filled with sickness and suffering. She was born with a deformed hand and later suffered from scrofula, a disease similar to tuberculosis that causes swelling of the lymph glands in the neck as well as inflammation of the joints. Her mother died when she was still an infant, and her father’s second wife constantly mistreated her while her father did nothing to protect her. She was forced to sleep in the stable, supposedly in order to shield her stepbrothers and sisters from her various illnesses, and her siblings soon learned to follow their mother’s example in mistreating her. From the age of nine, she was relegated to tending sheep in the area of Toulouse, France, and was practically forbidden to come into contact with the rest of the family.

Germaine, however, was extremely devout and became advanced in the virtues of humility and patience, as well as love of neighbor. She refused to miss daily Mass and would set her crook in the ground and leave her sheep in the care of her guardian angel while she attended Mass. Not once were any of her sheep lost, even though the meadow where they grazed was bordered by a forest full of ravenous wolves. The story is also told that one day she actually walked over flood waters in order to reach the church in time for Mass.

Even though her stepmother only gave her crusts of bread, Germaine would share what little she had with the village children whom she would gather around herself to teach what she knew of the catechism. The neighbors often treated her with derision, but eventually they and her parents came to realize that God was indeed favoring her, and she became an object of reverence and awe. One of the incidents that awoke them to her holiness took place on a winter’s day when her stepmother angrily accused Germaine of stealing bread and hiding it in her apron: when she forced Germaine to open her apron, out fell a bunch of beautiful summer flowers.

Her parents finally invited Germaine back into the house, but she begged to be allowed to continue living as before. At the age of 22, she was found dead on her straw pallet, worn out by a life of illness and suffering. About half a century after her death, her body was found to be still incorrupt and was exposed for a year, becoming an object of great veneration and the source of countless miracles.

Lessons

1. St. Germaine is considered by many to be the patron of abused children. May those of us who have suffered any kind of abuse look to St. Germaine for strength and charity towards our abusers, praying for healing and the grace to forgive.

2. In the same way, may we who find ourselves in the role of step-parent find it in ourselves to treat all the children in our care with love and tenderness, taking as our model St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

3. Germaine’s neighbors thought she was a hypocrite and called her “the little bigot.” Very often those who do not practice their faith are made uncomfortable by those who do and so feel they must deride any signs of devotion or piety. If we find ourselves being scorned for the practice of our faith, let us pray to St. Germaine for the courage and true humility to love God and practice our faith without fear of how we look to others.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Saints Vitus, Modestus, and Crescentia , (300) Martyrs, S. Vitus is the Patron against nervous diseases and epilepsy (St. Vitus’ dance)

Blessed Jolenta (Helena) (1299), Widow, Religious, Foundress

Love and Kind Deeds

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 02:35
Love and Kind Deeds

Love is the heart and soul of religion. God is love, and every kind deed is a step toward God. Life is a school in which you acquire knowledge regarding the means of making your life and the lives of your fellowmen happy. That education is founded on love. You cannot live without love, any more than a flower can bloom without sunshine.

There is no power in the world so great as that of love which never loses its strength, never knows its age, and always renews it­self. Filial love, fraternal love, conjugal love, patriotism: all are the offshoots of the divine love, rooted in the heart of Jesus, which broke in death so that it might bring love to the world.

Love seeks to assert itself by deeds. Love, a very real force, is not content with fair words. The effect of love is an eagerness to be up and doing, to heal, to serve, to give, to shelter, and to console. A love that remains inactive, a force that is asleep, is a dying love. If you do not wish to cease to love, you must never cease to do good.

Because a kind thought inspires a kind deed, it is a real blessing. A kind word spoken or a harsh word withheld has spelled happiness for many a burdened soul. To have acquired the ability not to think and speak uncharitably of others is a great achievement. The habit of interpreting the conduct of others favorably is one of the finer qualities of charity, but the highest charity is evidenced by doing good to others. Greater than a kind thought, more refreshing than a kind word, is the union of thought and word in action. St. Augustine says, “We are what our works are. According as our works are good or bad, we are good or bad; for we are the trees, and our works the fruit. It is by the fruit that one judges of the quality of the tree.”

The highest perfection of charity consists in laying down one’s life for another, just as Christ offered His life as a sacrifice for mankind.

The Savior once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” And the heavenly Father expressed His will in the great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Our Lord wants your life to be love in action, even as His was, for He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter summarizes His life in the words: “He went about doing good.”

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, “It is not enough that I should give to whosoever may ask of me; I must forestall their desires and show that I feel much gratified, much honored, in rendering service; and if they take a thing that I use, I must seem as though glad to be relieved of it…. To let our thoughts dwell upon self renders the soul sterile; we must quickly turn to labors of love.”

Love is the heart and soul of kind deeds. Just as there is no charity without works, so there may be works of charity without love. St. Paul expressed it this way: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Some people use charity as an effective cloak to hide their human weaknesses. Cowardice, for instance, is being afraid of what people will say. Some people will do a certain amount of good out of sheer cowardice, while in the meantime their avarice covers it­self with the cloak of charity.

Self-interest, greed, and vanity also borrow the cloak of charity. Since charitable works draw popular attention, they are bound to prove an excellent advertisement. If a man’s past hinders his social success, he hastens to put on the cloak of charity which literally “covers a multitude of sins.”

Pride and the love of power sometimes put on the cloak of charity, for it gives a man a noble appearance. The demon of pride once was willing to give all his possessions to Christ if, falling down, He would adore him.

Others take up the practice of charity as a kind of sport. They look for the exhilarating feeling of having done a good deed. Later there will be material for selfish conversation.

God is not content with the cloak of charity, or mere kind deeds. He looks for genuine goodness and love. The day will come when He will take away the borrowed cloak of kindness.

God does not so much desire that we should cooperate with Him in His works of mercy as that we should participate in His sincere and ever-active love. His law of social duty is not “Thou shalt give to thy neighbor,” but “Thou shalt love thy neighbor.”

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This article is from a chapter in The Hidden Power of Kindness, which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on love and kind deeds: Cover of The Hidden Power of Kindness, used with permission. Die Rückkehr des verlorenen Sohns (The Return of the Prodigal Son), Otto Mengelberg, 1848, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; all Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Pruning Leads to Proliferation

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 22:07

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (Jn. 15: 1-2).

Nearly ten years ago, Ben and I celebrated our Nuptial Mass with a host of family and friends who shared in our joy. The Gospel reading we chose was from John 15 – the Vine and the Branches – not because it was a popular gospel or because we found the message to be typical for weddings. We chose it, because we knew that life wouldn’t be easy. It was to serve as a reminder to us both that we must remain rooted in our faith, tethered to the Cross, in order for our marriage to be fruitful.

Bearing fruit doesn’t come quickly, I learned. In fact, bearing fruit often appears to the contrary: dull, lifeless, nothing moving forward. There is a period of our lives when we do not see growth, so we misinterpret it to be stagnancy. In turn, we become impatient and force something – anything – to happen, to move forward.

When we do this, however, we are moving against the gift of pruning. What happens to a plant when it remains untouched year after year? It may produce fruit or flowers, but its potential is never realized. Only when it is clipped of its branches, sometimes down to the vine or trunk itself, will it eventually proliferate even more than it ever had before the pruning.

Ben and I bought a grapevine shortly after we purchased our first home as a symbol of the Vine and the Branches story we selected in our wedding. The landscape owner who sold it to us promised it would bear grapes within three years of planting, and that was with no work done to it, except sunshine and water. We watched. We waited. Sure enough, three years later, we noticed two fat bunches of Concord grapes hanging on the vine! It was a delight, to be sure, but we wondered what was next.

Ben read about how to care for grapevines so that they would be overflowing with grapes for a full harvest. That fall, he chopped almost every branch off of the vine. It looked sickly and paltry, withered and left for dead. I trusted his judgment but wondered if our little vine would ever recover. The following spring, we were delighted to see abundant new growth! It truly appeared to be a minor miracle, considering how desolate the vine appeared only months prior. And, sure enough, late that summer, I had harvested enough grapes to make homemade grape jelly that we preserved for the winter and enjoyed with Felicity on toast for a taste of summer now and then.

I thought about the metaphor of the grapevine and what it meant for my own life. So much of my life has been spent waiting and wondering about “what’s next.” When will I complete college? When will I find the right job? How long will it take me to meet my future husband? Will we ever have children, or is infertility going to plague our dream? How long do I wait to hear back from a publisher about a book that took me a year to write? When will we be called into the exam room? How long will it take to hear about Sarah’s surgery?

Each of us can relate our own particular stories of waiting and wondering. We anticipate that something will change, a breakthrough perhaps, but when it does not happen immediately, we wonder all sorts of damaging thoughts that threaten our hope and foster discouragement.

Only recently, when the Lord called me back into another desert experience in my interior life, did I revisit the Vine and the Branches story. For months, it has perplexed me that God began something beautiful in my life last year and then seemingly left it unfinished. But then I read again, “To those who bear fruit, He prunes to bear more fruit.”

Could it be that I was like our little grapevine? In my spiritual infancy, maybe I could only see the measly two bunches of grapes that God produced through me. Maybe that’s all I’ve ever believed was possible in my life. Yet here I am, undergoing a fairly intense spiritual purgation that hurts and gnaws at my heart on a daily basis, and I can only see the desolation. There is no consolation on the horizon – none, that is, except the unfulfilled promise that He will bear more fruit in me.

We tend to see only as far as our senses permit us to see, and we get caught up in their limitations. To see with the eyes of the eternal, to view with the lens of our hearts united to His Sacred Heart, requires obscure faith. This is faith that does not rely upon visions or signs. It is a faith that walks in a particular darkness, one that appears entirely lifeless. To rise within that darkness means that we must grapple with our weaknesses, constantly uniting them to Jesus and thanking Him for all that He has done, is doing, and will do in our lives.

Obscure faith is a radical faith. It is the type of faith manifested through God’s creation. Like the grapevine that does not give up on its life even when it is painfully scourged by way of snipping away its lovely leaves and branches, so must we cling evermore to God when we experience the pain of pruning. The promise we have is that one day we will bear even more than what we could have imagined. All we must do is remain in Him, remain solidly rooted in the faith that walks by way of this unclear, but certain, path.

In Sophia Institute’s new release by Mother Angelica, On Suffering and Burnout, she writes:

Jesus wants us to trust Him to take care of all our yesterdays and tomorrows. He looks for souls who are willing to see the Father in every happening, then give that circumstance to Him to solve, justify, make right, or straighten out. It is not easy but it is peaceful, for we are bearing good fruit. God is bearing fruit within us… (p. 155).

I look in retrospect on ten years of marriage. These ten years have been filled with shock, heartache, uncertainty, and tension, yet also joy and blessings beyond measure. The pain has led to the proliferation of our family’s witness of hope in the midst of ongoing trials. That’s the message of the Vine and the Branches: that we do not attempt to foresee what is to come, nor nostalgically grip the past, but rather that we remain connected to the One who silently works in and through us until all things come to blossom and flourish in His time.

Do I Really Know the True God?

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 22:05

The Islamic Maute terrorist group besieged the Mindanao city of Marawi here in the Philippines for the last two weeks destroying lives and property of innocent citizens. A young man walked into a casino in Manila a few weeks ago and killed close to forty people. A few weeks ago, some men mowed down, killed and maimed innocent pedestrians with a truck along London bridge before going on a stabbing spree that left many dead and wounded.

Whatever the reasons for this carnage in our world today, whether they are committed in the name of religion or ideologies, one thing is clear from such destruction of lives and property – the true God is not known as He should be known in our world today. We betray our wrong view of the true God by our actions. Jesus Himself linked senseless violence in the world with a wrong idea of the true God, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me.”(Jn 16:3)

Today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity invites us to contemplate the true God as revealed to us by Jesus Christ. The true God is not a single person, loving Himself in an egotistic way and ruling over His creatures like a blood thirsty tyrant and dictator. Neither is the true God two persons in constant competition and fighting, compelled to settle and coexist for the sake of peace. The true God is communion of three equal divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, equal in dignity, power and majesty, loving each other in a way that is complete and life giving. The eternal and mutual love of the Father and the Son is the eternal source of the Spirit of Life and Love. This God of loving communion graciously goes out of Himself on a mission to share His own love and life with His creatures.

Today’s Gospel gives us a clear image of the true God. Our God loves His creatures so much that He is willing to give us His only begotten Son so that “everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” The true God loves in a life-giving way, giving Himself to us not to get something from us but so that we might have not death but His life in us. The Son, Jesus Christ, accepts His Father’s mission and comes into the world “not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” Jesus Christ lived first and foremost for His Fathers glory: “Christ did not please Himself: ‘The reproaches they uttered against you fell on me.’” (Rom 15:3) Jesus also lived for our own benefit, praying for us and obtaining for us the Spirit of Life to be with us always, “It is better for you that I go, because if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you…I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.”(Jn 16:7, Jn 14:16) The true God is a God of personal loving communion who is on a gracious mission of communicating to us nothing but His love and life, not death.

We are created in the very image and likeness of this true God and this call to communion and mission is stamped into our very being. Today’s Solemnity invites us to ask ourselves the question, “Do we truly know the true God as we should? How do we show that we really know the true God as we should?” We know the true God when we are also humbly living in communion with God and with others and ready to make sacrifices to bring this divine life to others whom we see as having equal dignity with us.

Moses’ encounter with God in today’s First Reading led him to humble worship and to beg for the grace to have God in their company, “If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company.” He longed for a union with God that is deeper than what the Ten Commandments alone can give. Before the true God, Moses also realizes his own sinfulness as well as those of the others, “This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.” Knowing the true God as we should, we realize our own sinfulness, our need to know and love God more, and our common bond with other sinners. We also realize our need to pray and sacrifice for others so that they too know and love God as they should.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do we know the true God as we should? Are we living in deep communion with God today? Do we know the true God to the point that we do not let our sins or sufferings separate us from God? Is our knowledge of God true enough to move us to grow in our knowledge, love and service of God? Do we live with that conviction that Jesus, who alone offers us communion with God, will never reject those who come to Him (Cf. Jn 6:37)? Are we on a mission to make others know and love the true God more? Knowing the true God, are we ready to make sacrifices to bring others to share in this life that we have received as a gift from God? How deep is our sense of solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world? How do we acknowledge our equal dignity with all people despite our religions, color, race, sex, education, wealth, etc.? Are we on a mission to bring life to others and not death? The answer to these questions will show how true we know the true God.

We cannot say we know the true God when our communion with God is shaky and our sense of mission to make Him known and loved by others is dead. We cannot claim to know the true God if we are not filled with His life and love, longing to grow in this communion, and ready to bring this life and love, and not death, to others. We cannot claim to know the true God when we choose to kill, destroy and condemn instead of building others up in the love and life of God.

The true God offers us deep joy, the joy of being in communion with the divine persons and with each other. Our joy cannot come from having things our way all the time because we are living out of our individualistic view of God. Neither can our joy come when we choose to merely coexist with others and tolerate evil in our lives and in our world. Our inner joy comes when we know God to the extent that we begin to imitate the mystery of the Triune God that we celebrate today, when we are determined to know, love and serve God more and ready to make sacrifices so as to build others up by our words, prayers and good examples.

Mary, Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, embodies this true knowledge of God because she is the beloved daughter of the Father, the admirable Mother of the Son, and the faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit who found her joy by receiving and bring Christ to us. She will be the cause of our joy too if we take her as our own model of truly knowing God and sharing His life to others even if it means sharing intimately in the suffering of Christ like she did at the foot of the cross.

Our communion with Christ today is a communion with the Triune God and a deeper participation in the very life and love of the Triune God. Christ has died and risen from the dead so that we may know Him and that His life will be in us. If our loving communion with the true God is as true and deep as it should be, our mission to bring this life into a world of death will be so strong and selfless, and our hearts will be filled with the joy of the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and forever!!! Amen.

image: GlebStock / Shutterstock.com

Why Catholics Should Embrace Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 22:02

For most readers, J.R.R. Tolkien’s name evokes his two classic Bilbo and Frodo novels: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. By some estimates, The Lord of the Rings was the 20th century’s best-selling novel, and Peter Jackson’s blockbuster films have only served to enshrine the place of hobbits and Middle-earth in the popular imagination.

For many who, upon finishing the hobbit stories, thirst for more Middle-earth adventure, The Silmarillion seems to be the next logical step. However, in comparison to the other two works, The Silmarillion is an exceptionally difficult read. Though it was his life’s passion, Tolkien understood that it would probably not be received as well as The Lord of the Rings: “Though I do not think it would have the appeal of the L.R. – no hobbits!” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). Indeed, The Silmarillion is the story of Middle-earth’s First Age, a sort of Old Testament to the gospel of Bilbo and Frodo. It’s a collection of seemingly obtuse mythologies, a cosmic web of angelic beings and wrathful Elves, and it is difficult upon setting out to discern a unifying plot.

I too experienced difficulty with The Silmarillion. I tried and failed twice to “get into it.” Finally, on my third attempt, I managed by sheer willpower to make it all the way to Chapter 19, the tale of Beren and Lúthien. What I discovered in that chapter was a revelation. Though the story of Beren and Lúthien comes late in the history of Middle-earth’s First Age, it works on a standalone basis and interweaves a number of The Silmarillion‘s disparate threads. For that reason, I often recommend that readers new to The Silmarillion begin with Chapter 19. From there, they can go back to the beginning and begin to better understand the entirety of the book.

Like other Tolkien devotees, I was delighted to hear last Fall that a novel-length treatment of Beren and Lúthien was to be published in 2017. I believe the time is right for the story of Beren and Lúthien to become known as the third great Tolkien story, and I hope it receives the notice it deserves. In particular, I hope to see Catholics embrace this story, just as they have rightfully embraced The Lord of the Rings (which Tolkien called “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”) (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien). Here’s why Catholics should embrace the story of Beren and Lúthien:

The Power of Weakness

For when I am weak, I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:10

Though lacking hobbits (like the rest of The Silmarillion), Tolkien believed the story of Beren and Lúthien was the most “hobbit-like” of his First-Age tales. In a 1950 letter to publisher Milton Waldman, Tolkien said “Here we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak…” (The Silmarillion) One of the most wonderful aspects of Tolkien’s hobbits stories is the fatal error of the great powers (Sauron and Saruman) in overlooking the seemingly insignificant hobbits. This same theme is present in the story of Beren and Lúthien. Though Beren is a great warrior, an Aragorn figure of sorts, he is vastly outnumbered, and it is only by the aid of Lúthien, a seemingly helpless elf-maiden, that he is able to complete his quest to wrest one of the holy Silmarils from the Iron Crown of the satanic king Morgoth. For Catholics, it’s a clear parallel to the story of Christ, who triumphed not by the strength of the world but by humbly embracing humanity’s weakness and frailty. Beren and Lúthien succeed in accomplishing what great armies and warriors before them had failed to do. Where the ways of the world had failed the mighty, the meek triumph through great courage, faith, and perseverance.

The Power of True Love

Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
– John 15:13

We live in a world where “self-interest” masquerades as love, but Catholics know better. Christ and the saints bear witness that true love consists not in pursuing one’s own desires, but in the total giving of one’s self for the sake of others. So too, Beren and Lúthien must give all for one another in order to complete their mission. In fact, not only does their sacrifice succeed in accomplishing a great victory over Morgoth, but it also serves to soften the hardened hearts of warring factions and unite them in common cause against Morgoth. It’s a sacramental love, a love whose goodness and significance overflows with great power and effect.

New Life Beyond Sorrow

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
– Revelation 21:4

The story of Beren and Lúthien isn’t exactly a “feel good” story about an underdog triumphing against great odds. No, it reads as more of a tragedy than a comedy. Still, it is not strictly tragic, and like The Lord of the Rings, it hints at joy and peace beyond the sorrows of this world. In our time, as tragedy and grief seem to be mounting against us, we need to be reminded that sorrow and pain do not have the final say in our lives, even though it is so tempting to believe that they do. The “final word” on Beren and Lúthien is both harrowing and wonderful. It is the stuff, as Tolkien said, of “Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief” (Tree and Leaf 69).

For all of these things, it should also be noted that “Beren and Lúthien” could also be called Tolkien’s most personal story. After all, the grave shared by Tolkien and his beloved wife Edith bears only the simple epitaph of “Beren” for him and “Lúthien” for her. Indeed, he frequently referred to Edith as his own “Lúthien” in his letters. It is as if it was the most hopeful final word that Tolkien could say in the face of death, to connect their lives with these two great characters.

Like The Lord of the Rings, the story of Beren and Lúthien is overwhelmingly rich with wonder and significance. It seems to rise to a level befitting the description “sacramental.” It’s an utterly captivating tale, and one I feel that Catholics in particular must become familiar with, for Tolkien is of course one of our own. In a world increasingly dominated by Morgothic figures, pridefully hungry to dominate all the lower beings they survey, the story of Beren and Lúthien reminds us that true love, the love of total self-giving, has the power to triumph over the Lords and Governors of this age. It’s time that Catholics embrace Beren and Lúthien; it is a story we need now more than ever.

image: By Stojanoski Slave (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Jesus wants us to trust Him to

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 22:00

“Jesus wants us to trust Him to take care of all our yesterdays and tomorrows. He looks for souls who are willing to see the Father in every happening, then give that circumstance to Him to solve, justify, make right, or straighten out. It is not easy but it is peaceful, for we are bearing good fruit. God is bearing fruit within us.”

Mother Angelica on Suffering and Burnout

In the Old Testament, Israel received

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 22:00

In the Old Testament, Israel received the Law from Yahweh through Moses. In the New Testament, Jesus was sent by Yahweh to fulfill the Law in its entirety. By his death on the cross, he destroyed the curse of the Law which is death for the sinner. Now he offers to us the possibility of fulfilling the Law by believing in him and asking for the Holy Spirit. Therefore Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

But we must not think that belief in God’s saving power is enough to be saved. The saving power of God enables us to behave as sons of God, to do what God wants – to obey the commandments. And to do so means to have eternal life in us. So we must not only have faith but also perform good deeds. When Jesus fulfilled the Law in his person, he raised it to a higher place through the spirit of the gospel. Therefore Christians do not see the commandments as a burden or a set of regulations but a way of life which brings about goodness and peace to one’s life. The Christian understands that to love is the underlying spirit of Jesus’ actions, and when he loves like Jesus, he discovers that it becomes easier to fulfill the Law. He is not afraid of the commandments but embraces them and makes Jesus his shining example of Christian love.

St. Basil the Great

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 22:00

Basil was born in Caesarea, Cappadocia — part of modern-day Turkey. An intellectual, Basil was initially led into the secular world as a young man. Through the influence of his sister St. Macrina, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, Basil left a promising law career to devote his life to the service of Christ. He began a monastic community in 364 which became the model of monastic living for centuries.

A good model of fidelity for today’s current crisis, Basil was a man of great personal holiness who fought against the heresies creeping through the Church during his time. Ordained a bishop in 370, he enabled the reform of priests and other religious, including a commitment to orthodoxy and a strong religious discipline among the clergy. He was responsible for the promulgation of the Nicene Creed to the faithful and the victory over Arianism at the Council of Constantinople.

Basil is the author of a great number of works left to the care of the Church, including a beautiful discourse on the Holy Spirit which helped form Catholic doctrine. His deep spirituality was signified in his great acts of charity including work with the poor, sick, hungry, and homeless.

He died in 379 and is the patron of hospital administrators. St. Basil earned the title of “Great” during his lifetime and was made a Doctor of the Church after his death.

Lessons

1. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once remarked that God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful. Although a career as a lawyer may have brought Basil worldly success, he was able to discern his calling to serve Christ as a “faithful” success not measured by earthly standards.

2. Basil, who loved the priesthood and sought to preserve the Church from heresy, was passionate about bringing those who left the faith back home. His desire for their communion was balanced with a fraternal judgment for their offenses — a balance not easily understood nor achieved in modern evangelization efforts.

3. In our current political responsibilities, it is important to keep mindful of what our Lord expects of us: As St. Basil wrote, “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God would not be violated.”

How Social Media is Killing Your Attention Span

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 07:43

Recently, I wrote about the nature of technology and how digital devices are designed to fragment our attention. It’s a very real challenge to manage. I sat down with Matt Fradd yesterday to continue the conversation. We had an excellent discussion on the Integrity Restored podcast about the nature of technology and what we can do to reclaim our attention. Here’s a few of the things you’ll learn:

  • How social media trains us to give in to our impulses
  • How digital devices change our conversations
  • Practical tips for managing technology more effectively
  • And more!

Listen to the podcast using the player below.

The post How Social Media is Killing Your Attention Span appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

The Primacy of Peter in the Pontificate of Benedict XVI

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:07
The Petrine ministry as a personal commission

All the words commissioning and sending Simon Peter that Jesus spoke during His earthly life and work are spoken personally in each era to the successors of the first of the apostles on the Chair of Peter. Simon, the fisherman from the Sea of Gennesaret, was a historical man, not an ideal artistic figure. This concrete, individual man with his heritage and life history, with human strengths and weaknesses, becomes the instrument of grace, the servant of the Word, and the eyewitness of the crucified and risen Lord, who promised to remain always with the Church until the end of the world.

Once near Caesarea Philippi, Peter summarized the Church’s profession of faith, which is derived from the revelation by the Father, as follows: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Thereupon he hears for himself and for his successors the promise and the commission: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:16, 18–19). Jesus asks the whole company of disciples who they think He is, and Peter answers in his person for all of them. And Jesus addresses the whole Church in the person of Peter.

In the Cenacle on the night before His death, as the ultimate fate of all mankind is being decided, Je­sus says to Peter: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32). He, the Son, has prayed to the Father with infallible efficacy that Peter’s faith might not fail and consequently that Peter, after his conversion, might strengthen his brothers and sisters in their faith in Christ, the Son of the living God, the Word of God made flesh.

The risen Lord reveals Himself to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. Three times he asks Peter whether he loves Him more than these do. Peter is sad to be reminded in this way of his failure and denial in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. But this relationship to Jesus in unconditional trust and unlimited love, even unto martyrium — witness by his word and by his life — bestows on Peter a unique authority for the Universal Church. Jesus says to him three times: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).

In Peter the popes carry out the pastoral ministry of Christ, who came to lay down His life for His sheep. Vatican I, in keeping with the entire Tradition, formulates it as follows: “Therefore, whoever succeeds Peter in this chair, according to the institution of Christ himself, holds Peter’s primacy over the whole Church” (DH 3057).

All three ecclesiological munera, or offices, that describe the nature of Peter’s primacy are accompanied by references to the human limits of Simon Peter, whether the fact that he tries to separate Jesus’ Messiahship from His suffering in the form of a slave, or the fact that when his life and reputation are at risk he publicly evades professing his faith in Jesus, the Son of the living God.

Again and again, non-Catholic exegesis has tried to see a relativization of the promise of primacy in the rebuke of Peter and of his denial, or else in the incident in Antioch when Paul opposed Peter because the latter was wrong about the practical consequences of the fellowship of the circumcised and the uncircumcised (cf. Gal. 2:11). If that were the case, one would also have to assume that Christ had allowed Himself to be deceived in His choice of His apostles or that reality had caught up with His ideal notions, as though He had failed miserably in founding a Church as God’s house for all nations.

“But why did Christ in his divine power and omniscience not choose the wise, the strong, the highly regarded to be his apostles, bishops, and popes?” we of little faith ask all too humanly, and we get the answer from Paul: “So that no flesh might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:29). But in keeping with God’s grace, the apostles are like master builders of God’s house, which once and for all has its foundation on Christ. Those who come after the apostles should take care how they continue to build upon it — with gold and silver, precious stones, or with wood, hay, and straw (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10ff.). The last word about another person, and even about a pope, belongs to no one but God, for He alone judges rightly and justly. Everyone should collaborate in building up the kingdom of God, each according to the measure of the grace and natural talent he has received. Only in God’s tribunal is judgment passed on our work as “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9) and “fellow workers in the truth” (3 John 8).

Thus we can understand every pontificate of a pope as a stretch of Church history, as a specific realization of the permanent Petrine primacy — mediated through the personality of him who has been called by God Himself to build up His house.

Religiously and theologically speaking, it makes little sense to compare the individual persons on the Chair of Peter and their pontificates with one another according to worldly criteria. The decisive thing is the relation to the primacy of Peter, which must be the measure and guide of every pope. For, strictly speak­ing, every pope is the successor of Peter and not just of his chronological predecessor.

Joseph Ratzinger — Pope Benedict XVI

One important characteristic of the pontificate of Benedict XVI was his extraordinary theological talent. By this I mean not simply skills resulting from his professorial activity, but the great originality of his theology on the most important themes of the doctrine of the Faith. What is true of every Christian in general is true also about popes in particular: the most varied charisms are given by the Spirit of God so that they might benefit others, and thus the Body of Christ is built up in the knowledge and love of God. Thus, in the collaboration of its members, the whole Body grows toward the fullness of Christ, so as to become the perfect man. Let him who has received the gift of teaching teach! — “in proportion to our faith” (Rom. 12:6–7).

This article is from Benedict and Francis. Click image to order as a paperback or ebook.

This analogy of faith, the insight into the inner connection between revealed truth and the goal of salvation for every person, is based on the analogy of being, that is, on the truth-capability of created reason also, which recognizes in what really exists in the world the esse, verum, et bonum [being, the true, and the good], which in turn are the mirror and likeness of God’s reason and love. On the basis of the analogia entis, theology is possible as the science of revealed faith according to the analogia fidei.

Theological knowledge does not cater to the intellectual curiosity that preens in the private club of a few specialists and delights in its own intelligence. Without the constant exchange with theology, as it has been developed by the Fathers of the Church and by the great theologians of the Middle Ages and the modern era in a wide variety of schools, the Magisterium could not live up to its responsibility. For the Church’s Magisterium testifies to the revealed Faith of the Church in the Creed, the auditus fidei [the hearing of the faith], whereas the intellectual presentation thereof is accomplished rationally and conceptually, so that the intrinsic reasonableness of the entire depositum fidei comes to light in theological reflection and becomes fruitful in preaching and pastoral care.

Certainly, in its authority the Magisterium, as an authentic witness to revelation by virtue of the assistance of the promised Holy Spirit, is superior to academic theology, but at the same time it makes use of the latter out of an inner necessity. The Pope and bishops can correctly and completely teach and present for belief only those things and all those things that are contained in God’s historical revelation. As for the linguistic and conceptual form, however: “The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, by reason of their office and the seriousness of the matter, apply themselves with zeal to the work of enquiring by every suitable means into this revelation and of giving apt expression to its contents; they do not, however, admit any new public revelation as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith” (LG 25). For the Pope and the bishops, unlike Peter and the other apostles, are not personally bearers of revelation. Nor do they receive any inspiration, as the authors of Sacred Scripture did; rather, they are bound by the testimony of the word of God in Scrip­ture and Tradition. In truly handing on the Faith in their teaching office, however, they enjoy the assistance of the Holy Spirit (assistentia Spiritus Sancti).

Even Peter in his first letter, an “Encyclical,” exhorted Christians and especially priests and bishops to have an answer ready for anyone who asks about the “Logos of hope” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15) that is ours through faith in Christ the Lord, “the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pet. 2:25).

A major theme of Joseph Ratzinger, not only as a theologian but also as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as the Pope, with different responsibilities in each instance, was to point out the intrinsic connection between faith as hearing and as understanding, between the auditus fidei and the intellectus fidei. Here the faith is not measured by an external standard and subjected to a criterion that is foreign to it, as in the rationalistic concept of reason that is reduced to feasibility. One cannot study philosophy, history and the social sciences more geometrico [in a geometric fashion]. Faith as enlightenment by the light of Christ (lumen fidei) is, instead, reasonable in itself, in keeping with the Logos of God — a rationabile obsequium [rational wor­ship] (cf. Rom. 12:1). To academic theology belongs the task of mediating between the knowledge of God in faith and the knowledge of the world through natu­ral reason (lumen naturale), as it is presented in the natural sciences and the humanities, so that in the consciousness of believers the truths of the faith and natural knowledge do not fall apart but, rather, form a new synthesis in every age.

Of course one cannot reduce the entire work of a pontificate to a single priority, and anyway it is reserved to God alone to judge the fruitfulness of it. But the theological elaboration of the intrinsic unity and interdependence of faith and reason is nevertheless one aspect that lends a particular character to the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Faith and reason are not mutually limiting or mutually exclusive but rather serve the perfection of man in God and in His Word, which assumed our flesh, and in His Spirit, who reveals the most profound being and life of God: God is love, as the great Encyclical Deus caritas est explains.

So we can say: Benedict XVI was one of the great theologians on the Chair of Peter. In the long series of his predecessors a comparison suggests itself with the outstanding scholarly figure of the eighteenth century, Pope Benedict XIV (1740–1758). Likewise one will think of Pope Leo the Great (440–461), who formulated the decisive insight for the Christological profession of the Council of Chalcedon (451). In the long years of his academic work as a professor of fundamental and dogmatic theology, Benedict XVI accomplished independent theological work that places him in the ranks of the most important theologians of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. For more than fifty years the name Joseph Ratzinger has stood for an original comprehensive outline of systematic theology. His writings combine scholarly knowledge of theology with the living form of the Faith. As a science that has its genuine place within the Church, theology can show us the special destiny of man as God’s creature and image.

In his scholarly works, Benedict XVI could always fall back on a marvelous knowledge of theological and dogmatic history, which he conveyed in such a way that God’s vision of man, which supports everything, comes to light. This is made accessible to many people by Joseph Ratzinger’s use of [Umgang mit] words and language. Complex subjects are not made incomprehensible to the average reader by a complicated presentation; instead these matters are made transparent, revealing their inner simplicity. The point is always that God wants to speak to every person, and His Word becomes a light that enlightens every man (cf. John 1:9).

Faith and reason

To point out only one of the groundbreaking theological speeches of the Pope, I would like to mention the Regensburg Lecture from the year 2006. In it Benedict XVI once again emphasized the intrinsic connection between faith and reason. Neither reason nor faith can be thought of independently of the other and still achieve its real purpose. Reason and faith are protected from dangerous pathologies by mutual correction and purification. Benedict XVI thereby connects with the great tradition of the theological sciences, which, in the overall structure of the university, can prove to be the element that binds everything together.

The encyclical Fides et ratio by John Paul II comes to mind whenever there is a discussion of the tragic developments in European intellectual life. In nomi­nalism a voluntaristic picture of God had developed. In order to remove God entirely from the reach of our metaphysical reason, He was thought of as sheer will, which man must accept in blind obedience, without any possibility of understanding Him rationally. In opposition to Him, man had to declare his autonomy so as to ensure his freedom. Modern atheism as humanism without or against God has one of its roots in a theological aberration. But if God Himself is reason and will, word and love, then the knowledge of God and our understanding of the world, nature and grace, reason and freedom do not come into conflict but rather prove to be the expression of the personal communion of God and man in Jesus Christ, the God-man. God is not man’s rival, but rather the fulfillment of all searching for truth and for the perfection of man in freedom as love and self-gift [Hingabe].

The figure of Jesus of Nazareth

The fortunate combination of the Pope as the universal teacher of the Faith with the theological thinker Joseph Ratzinger probably appears most convincingly in his three-volume work, Jesus of Nazareth.

As the successor of Peter, the Pope professes the revealed truth, which goes beyond natural reason, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The theologian Ratzinger, based on his lifelong study of the question of Jesus in historical criticism, has at his disposal the intellectual means of making very clear, that is, of communicating intellectually the consistency and inner truth of the fact, that the Jesus of history is identical with the Divine Word made flesh who is recognized in faith.

Joseph Ratzinger’s lifework culminates in his book on Jesus. With his three volumes on Jesus he has stimulated a vigorous discussion about Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians profess as the universal Savior and the sole Mediator between God and mankind. In this individual man, Jesus of Nazareth, God definitively and irreversibly made the historical coincidence of divine revelation and human self-surrender to the Father become a concrete event. Hence we profess with the Church that Jesus is the Christ, in whom it becomes possible for mankind to experience the historical salvific presence of God. He is the one who accomplishes the Father’s will and wishes to lead all mankind along the way to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4–5).

In the New Testament we find the formation of the apostolic Church’s profession of faith, which is achieved in the living faith of the disciples; this faith originated in the encounter with Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person, with the words of His preaching of the kingdom of God, and in the experience of His death and Resurrection from the dead. In the event on Easter morning and in light of God’s self-reve­lation in His Son, the believer meets with a person who is his Creator and Perfecter: Jesus Christ is the Lord whom we profess in faith, the Lord and Head of His Church.

In its epilogue, the Gospel of John mentions the justification for its composition and for the Church’s entire witness to the Faith in Scripture and Tradition, so as to oppose all attempts to read the Gospel as a simple historical biography. The purpose is not merely to give information about a person, but rather it was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

This look at the six decades of intensive intellectual and scholarly penetration of the various themes of Christology in the theological work of Joseph Ratzinger brings to light the continuity of his thought. His long wrestling with the figure of Jesus, which he himself formulates in the first volume of the trilogy on Jesus can be traced through his writings. From the very beginning he asks himself the question: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth” — for men, for the world?

He decisively opposes an attitude of skepticism that considers God incapable of revealing himself definitively, and he shows a fine sense of the ideological constraints that may monopolize people’s attention.

With the clarity that can be derived from the Church’s profession of faith, he develops from histori­cal findings and the Gospel accounts an inviting over­all view of Jesus of Nazareth that stimulates further reflection. On the basis of the historically consoli­dated formulations of the Christological dogmas, as they were formulated in the great ecumenical councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Joseph Ratzinger devel­ops his approaches to Christology and to Catholic theology as a whole, which now are being presented synoptically in the sixteen volumes of his Collected Works in German [Gesammelte Schriften].

Finally, in looking to the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, man finds his ultimate fulfillment in the one “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). Until the second coming of Christ, Peter unites the many disciples in their profession of the one Faith: You are Christ, the Son of the living God. This is the mission of the papacy for the Church and for the world.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Cardinal Muller’s Benedict and Francis: Their Ministry as Successors to Peterwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

image: Frippitaun / Shutterstock.com

Our Lady is a Real Wonder Woman

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:05

If you follow Catholic social media, you probably already saw the recent meme replacing Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) with an image of the Blessed Virgin on the movie poster for Wonder Woman. A quick Google search will lead you to discover a few essays pertaining to the topic of Mary and Wonder Woman. The connection was not one I made personally, having been an outsider to Wonder Woman and all things DC Comics. A few months ago, I was asked to give a talk on Our Lady of Fatima by an outside group that already had titled my talk, “Celebrating Our Lady, A Wonder Woman for our Times.”  I didn’t put two and two together until I was at the Post Office and saw a recent stamp release featuring Wonder Woman. It all began to make sense.

The Virgin Mary I have studied and come to know can truly be called a “Wonder Woman.”  After all, there are few individuals who can say they were visited by an angel, conceived a child miraculously by the Holy Spirit, and gave birth to the son of God. The emergence of the superheroine Wonder Woman came at a time of feminist empowerment. In Catholicism, feminists renounced the example of Mary as an ideal for women. Paul VI hinted at such in his 1974 apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (paragraphs 34-39). In more recent years, John Paul II reflected On the Dignity of Women (Mulieris Dignitatem), specifically highlighting a recovery of Mary in the new feminine genius movement.

Inspired by what I had seen about Wonder Woman, I chose to go and see the film. In speaking to one of my friends before going, I asked, “Do you think I will be able to write a piece on Mary and Wonder Woman?”  He told me, “Without a doubt.”  From the opening to the film to its end, I found Marian imagery throughout. While the film at hand dealt with stories of Greek Mythology, when viewed through the lens of Catholicism, one could truly discover a Marian connection. If you read on, please be aware of potential spoilers.

Tota Pulchra Es

This Latin phrase, meaning “You Are All Beautiful,” captures the character of Wonder Woman. The beauty of the character herself was referenced by many characters in the movie, and at one point, one even stated she was the most beautiful woman. The Blessed Virgin Mary was the most beautiful of God’s creation, because she was born without original sin. Throughout her life, that beauty remained, as Christian writers have always spoken of Mary as being without spot, wrinkle, or blemish. Oftentimes we refer only to physical beauty, but there is also an inner beauty, and Wonder Woman surely possessed that quality. I do not know how anyone could not have been touched by the concern of Wonder Woman for those who were sick and wounded. In such scenes, her inner beauty exuded forth.

Queen of Peace

Diana, the alias of Wonder Woman, would more rightly be called a princess, nonetheless, in her character her desire for peace is paramount.  After a chance encounter with Chris Pine, a pilot who crashes into the clandestine Amazon island, Wonder Woman is made aware of the lack of peace in the world. Determined to take on the god of war, Ares, Wonder Woman journeys with Chris into the world on a quest to slay evil and facilitate peace in the world. She strongly believed that peace could not happen without her cooperation.

The Virgin Mary has been hailed as Queen of Peace, a title inserted into the Litany of Loreto by Pope Benedict XV. Mary made her desire for peace known through various apparitions, most notably in Fatima, where she encouraged the three Fatima children to pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world. In another series of apparitions in Kibeho, Rwanda, the Virgin Mary forewarned about conflict and war if people did not convert. Just as Wonder Woman believed she could be an instrument of peace, Mary has revealed herself as a messenger of peace.

New Eve

One of the earliest reflections on Mary by the early Church pertained to Marian typology, seeing Mary as the New Eve. Three early thinkers reflected on the topic: Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus of Lyons. If Jesus was the New Adam, it naturally followed that there must be a New Eve, who was determined to be Mary. It would be a stretch to associate Eve with Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman’s mother recounted how Diana came to be: sculpted from clay. For me, this calls my attention to the creation story of Adam who was formed from the dust of the earth. The creation of Wonder Woman differs slightly from the biblical account since Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, nevertheless, it hearkens us back to the origins of mankind. At the end of the film, Wonder Woman’s temptation arises when Ares tries to persuade her to kill Dr. Maru. Unlike Eve, who fell prey to the tempter, Wonder Woman stands strong in her conviction.

The final minutes of the film, Chris Pine, shows himself to be like the New Adam in the film, becoming a Christ-like figure as he takes command of the plane containing the deadly gases and sacrifices his own life, so that others might live. Similar to the crucifixion, when Mary stands as witness to the sacrificial action of Christ, Wonder Woman witnesses Chris’s death and like Mary, is left in the world for many years thereafter.

A Battle Between Good and Evil

One of the major themes of Wonder Woman is the battle, which becomes a battle between Good and Evil, between peace and destruction. Wonder Woman believed that if she found Ares and slayed him, peace would be an immediate result. In the film’s penultimate battle between Ludendorff and Wonder Woman, we are led to believe he is Ares. As the battle neared its end, the Marian image evoked in my mind was Mary’s foot crushing the head of Satan. With that battle ended, Wonder Woman quickly realizes that Ares was still out there, but as Satan always does, Ares reared his ugly face, and the battle between the two ensued.

There is a battle going on right now in the world, a battle between the forces of good and evil. Satan wants to snatch us from God. But we have a powerful mother in Heaven who intercedes, and who also is participating in the battle for our soul. When temptation comes our way, call on Mary, and ask her to crush the head of evil one. The movie portrayed the forces of evil as liars. The same is true in our spiritual battle. The devil is the Father of Lies, and as soon as we know that, we will be better equipped for spiritual warfare. Wonder Woman was told that the battle was futile, that she could not win. That’s a lie the devil wants us to think. That he cannot be vanquished. Don’t lose hope. Keep fighting. And you will ultimately win the battle.

Love is my Mission Now

As a way of ending the film in the same way it started, we meet again Diana Prince holding the picture of her and Chris. In a sense, we could say the entire film was Diana, treasuring the past in her heart, re-living it, as we watched the story of her life unfold. In the final sentences of the film, Diana reflects that she has come to realize that only love can save the world and that is her mission now. And isn’t that the mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary?  Isn’t that why she has appeared to so many people throughout the centuries?  To remind us to that love of God and neighbor must be our mission?  Mary’s mission of love continues from her throne in Heaven, as she intercedes and prays for us before the True God, her son, Jesus Christ.

image: Vladimir Volodin / Shutterstock.com

Grow Close to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:02

May is the month of Mary; July is the month of the Precious Blood of Jesus; October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary; November, traditionally, we pray for the dead. Finally, our focal point of this essay, is who we honor in the most special way in the month of June, and that is The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

We will encourage our readers to cultivate a deeper devotion to the most Sacred of Jesus by offering ten concrete suggestions. The clearest and most tangible symbol of God’s love for us is the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Burning Furnace of Charity. Draw close with great confidence and allow His Sacred Heart burning with love for you to set your heart on fire with love for Him and for the salvation of the whole world!

1. Bible resources. First and foremost, we should be keenly aware of the many passages where we can encounter the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Bible, the Word of God. A few passages that can encourage your meditation:

  • a) Lk. Chapter 1. The most Sacred Heart of Jesus was being formed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the course of her pregnancy, which lasted about nine months. By honoring the most pure womb of Mary we are indirectly honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus and promoting respect for human life from conception until natural death.
  • b) Mt. 11: 28-30. Jesus Himself describes His own Heart with two words:meek and humble.Let us often pray this short prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Jesus meek and humble of Heart make my heart like unto thine.”
  • c) Mt.26: 26-28—The Last Supper. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the most Holy Eucharist which is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Of course, the most noble organ in the human person is the heart. Therefore, when we receive Holy Communion we also receive the most Sacred Heart of Jesus; in a real sense, we can assert that every time we receive Holy Communion we receive a kind of heart transplant!
  • d) Jn. 19—The Piercing of the Sacred Heart. After Jesus died, breathing forth His spirit into the hands of the eternal Father, the soldier with the lance, thrust the sword which pierced the side and the Heart of Jesus, the Savior. From this open side and open Heart came gushing forth both blood and water.

Therefore, above are four Gospel passages that point to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus for your meditation and contemplation. Dig deep into the treasures of Sacred Scripture in which can encounter the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

2. Image and Enthronement. A practice most pleasing to God is purchasing an attractive image of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and enthroning this image in a prominent place in your home. By doing this you are stating publicly that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Lord Jesus is the Heart and center of your home and family.

3. Formal Enthronement. Invite a priest into your home with the Book of Blessings in which he can formally bless your home by enthroning the image of most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The ritual consists of a Biblical passage, prayers, the use of holy water and the formal enthronement prayer. Enormous blessings flow from honoring the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, especially by means of a formal enthronement.

4. The Litany of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Get into the habit of praying the Litany of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The mystical, Biblical and poetic beauty of this Litany indeed is most inspiring and uplifting to our spiritual life.

5. Visit the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration. When you go to visit the most Blessed Sacrament in the Church—exposed or in the Tabernacle—then you are truly visiting the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Saint Pope John Paul II asserted that the Tabernacle is indeed the living Heartbeat of the Catholic Church. The more people we have visiting the Blessed Sacrament—the most Sacred Heart of Jesus—the more healthy that Parish is!

6. Holy Communion and the Sacred Heart. As mentioned earlier, Holy Communion is the total Christ. Therefore, we receive in Holy Communion the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Receive Jesus often, but never in a routine or mechanical fashion, but rather with burning love and devotion!

7. June, the Month of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We should honor, praise, and worship the most Sacred Heart of Jesus always. However, the month of June is the month most specifically dedicated to honoring the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all of my trust in you.

8. Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Within the context of the month of June the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This sublime and glorious Solemnity is celebrated on the Friday after the Sunday in which Corpus Christi is celebrated. On this day, in Holy Mass, we thank God for His infinite love that He has given to us in the Person of Jesus, but most especially in His Most Sacred Heart. As we contemplate the open Sacred Heart of Jesus that was pierced with the lance Good Friday, we come to a keen awareness of how much Jesus really loves each and every one of us, having died for us and allowing His Sacred Heart to be pierced for us.

9. Imitate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Knowledge generates love, and love generates imitation, and imitation eventually generates transformation. Saint Paul could assert with utmost sincerity: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The virtues manifested in the Sacred Heart of Jesus are many: humility, compassion, patience, courage, purity, obedience, penance, meekness, and most especially that of charity—supernatural love. By striving to imitate these virtues you will most surely be on the highway to holiness and the highway to heaven.

10. Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception. It would be incomplete if we did not encourage all of those growing in love for the most Sacred Heart of Jesus to cultivate devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As stated at the start of this essay, the most Sacred Heart of Jesus was formed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary for nine months. For this reason, why not enthrone the most Sacred Heart of Jesus in union with enthronement of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; they are indeed inseparable!

In conclusion, as we struggle in our daily pilgrimage towards heaven in this valley of tears, in this spiritual war-zone, striving to carry our cross and burdens patiently, let us seek refuge frequently in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and in the Sacred Heart of Jesus—the two most safe refuges! Trustfully heed the words that issued from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus: Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest; for I am meek and humble of Heart; my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Mt 11:28-30) If we seek refuge in His Sacred Heart in life, then we will be able to rest on His Sacred Heart in heaven for all eternity!

In the first reading Paul reminds us

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading Paul reminds us that his preaching and that of his co-followers of Christ were all centered on Christ himself and strengthened by God’s grace and Spirit.

In the Gospel reading Jesus reminds his followers of their lofty calling, to be “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” But in order to be “salt,” his disciples must be ready to die for others, that Jesus may be born in them. And to be “light,” the disciples must publicly bear true witness to Christ in word and in deed. As needed, followers of Christ should be ready to stand against and speak up against injustice and oppression.

There are countless ways of being salt and light: we should implore God to help us discern every day how we can be salt and light to our fellows. God’s help will help us to be effective salt and bright light for others; God’s help will also teach us to give glory to God through our lives.

“Each of us has a personal

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:00

“Each of us has a personal calling from God, which is our unique part to play in the building of an earthly liturgical city that is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgical city.”

-David Clayton and Leila Lawler, The Little Oratory

St. Anthony of Padua

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 22:00

St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) was a Portuguese priest famous for his gifted preaching. He originally planned to join the Augustinian Order, but when he saw the bodies of the first Franciscans to be martyred for their faith, he was filled with an intense desire to become a missionary — and, he hoped, a martyr — himself.

After joining the Franciscans, he preached to the Moslems of North Africa for a time, but a serious illness forced his return to Europe. Anthony attended an ordination at a monastery; through an oversight, no one had been assigned to preach. When it was hurriedly suggested that Anthony do so, he humbly but hesitantly obeyed — with amazing results. Anthony’s years of prayer, study of Scripture, and poverty allowed God’s Spirit to speak through him in a very powerful way. His unprepared sermon was a sensation, and for the remaining nine years of his life, Anthony traveled about preaching, correcting errors, and upholding the Church’s true teachings. His words had an impact on both the learned and the simple, and helped many return to the faith.

A great Scripture scholar and theologian, Anthony was the first Franciscan to teach theology to the other friars. He died while still young, and was buried at Padua. St. Anthony was canonized the year after his death in 1231, and was later declared a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. God does not promise to fulfill all our desires, even our noble ones; St. Anthony’s vocation involved neither missionary work nor martyrdom, for God had something different in mind for him.

2. Anthony, who is revered as a helper in finding lost objects, discovered his own vocation of preaching by accident; things have a way of “turning up” for those who make a point of trusting in God.

3. It may take time to discover our true vocations; as St. Anthony wrote, “In His providence Christ conceals the saints in a hidden place that they may not shine before others when they might wish to do so. Yet they are always ready to exchange the quiet of contemplation for the works of mercy as soon as they perceive in their heart the invitation of Christ.”

The Virtues and the Gifts

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 02:35
The Virtues and the Gifts

Presence of God – Teach me, O Holy Spirit, to remain in an attitude of continual attention to Your inspirations, and of perpetual dependence upon Your impulses.

MEDITATION

St. Thomas teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us as a help to the virtues: “dona sunt in adjutorium virtutum.” This is a very meaningful expression: note that we receive the gifts to help the virtues, not to substitute for them. If the soul does its best, seriously applying itself to the practice of the virtues, the Holy Spirit, by means of the gifts, will complete the soul’s work. To make the gifts operative then, personal activity and application are essential. The whole Catholic tradition places them at the starting point, for “if a soul is seeking God, its Beloved is seeking it much more…. He attracts the soul and causes it to run after Him” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 3,28).

Although the assiduous practice of the virtues will not suffice to bring the soul to God, the manifestation of goodwill implied by this practice is very necessary. The sailor who is anxious to reach the port does not lazily wait for a favorable wind, but begins at once to row vigorously; similarly, the soul who seeks God, while waiting for Him to attract it, does not abandon itself to indolence; on the contrary, it searches fervently on its own initiative: making efforts to overcome its faults, to be detached from creatures, to practice the virtues and to apply itself to interior recollection. The Holy Spirit perfects these efforts by activating His gifts. Thus we see how erroneous is the attitude of certain souls who remain too passive in the spiritual life, failing to exert their own initiative to advance in holiness and to meet God. These souls are wasting their time and easily exposing themselves to deception. It is necessary to take up the task vigorously, especially at the beginning of the spiritual life. Only by so doing can one hope to have the aid of the Holy Spirit.

COLLOQUY

“O Holy Spirit, God of love, bond of love of the Blessed Trinity, You remain with the children of men and find Your delight in them, in that holy chastity which, under the influence of Your power and attraction, flourishes on earth like the rose among thorns. Holy Spirit! Love! Show me the way that leads to this delightful goal, that path of life that ends in the field made fertile by the divine dew, where hearts burning with thirst may find refreshment. O Love, You alone know this road which leads to life and truth. In You is consummated the wonderful union of the three divine Persons of the Holy Trinity. The most precious gifts are diffused in us by You, O Holy Spirit. From You come the fertile seeds which produce the fruits of life. From You flows the sweet honey of the delights which are found only in God. Through You descend upon us the fertilizing waters of the divine blessings, the precious gifts of the Spirit.

“O Holy Spirit, You are the Font for which I sigh, the desire of my heart. O overflowing ocean, absorb this stray little drop which wishes to leave itself and enter You. You are the only real substance of my heart, and I cling to You with all my might. Oh! what a wonderful union! Truly, this intimacy with You is more precious than life itself; Your perfume is a balm of propitiation and of peace.

“O Holy Spirit of love, You are the most sweet kiss of the Blessed Trinity, uniting the Father and the Son. You are that blessed kiss which royal divinity gave to humanity by means of the Son of God. O sweet embrace, clasp me, a poor little speck of dust; hold me tight in Your embrace, that I may become completely united with God. Let me experience what delights are in You, O living God. O my sweet Love, let me embrace You and unite myself to You! O God of love, You are my dearest possession, and I hope for nothing, want and desire nothing in heaven or on earth but You” (St. Gertrude).

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

Art for this post on the virtues and the gifts: Saint Gertrude, Miguel Cabrera, 1763, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

The Holy Spirit and the Breath of Jesus

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 22:07

You can’t feel someone’s breath unless you are very close to their body. It might happen when you might lean in to hear an ailing relative whisper their last words. It could be the immediate aftermath of a kiss between lovers—or in some cultures, a peck on the cheek among friends. Or it could be the experience of a mother cradling her newborn child.

To feel someone’s breath is a basic experience of intimacy that is grounded in our bodily senses.

We sometimes forgot the sheer physicality of breath in reading the story of Jesus breathing on his disciples in John 16. Listen again to the gospel account with this aspect in mind:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:19-23, all translations NAB Rev. Ed. unless otherwise noted).

Think about how close the disciples must have been to Jesus to feel His breath upon them. This encounter, while seemingly understated in contrast to the dramatic display at Pentecost, illustrates a profound truth: our experience of the Holy Spirit is dependent on our nearness to Christ.

Augustine recognized this. “Let them become the body of Christ, if they wish to live by the Spirit of Christ. None lives by the Spirit of Christ but the body of Christ,” he declared in a sermon on the Bread of Life discourse in John 6.

Here Augustine is cautioning against those Christians who would be spiritual but not religious—that is, those who proclaim to follow Christ but do not want to belong to His Church. As Bishop Robert Barron once said, “It’s like saying, ‘I like you, but I just don’t want to be around your body.’”

Augustine is relying on an analogy with the human person. Each of us, he says, is a soul and body. The body lives by virtue of the soul, which is an invisible spirit, according to Augustine. So also with the Body of Christ: “Would you then also live by the Spirit of Christ. Be in the body of Christ. For surely my body does not live by your spirit. My body lives by my spirit, and your body by your spirit. The body of Christ cannot live but by the Spirit of Christ.”

Here Augustine has taken us to the converse point: just as we must be in the Body of Christ to receive the Spirit of Christ, so also, the Spirit helps us to be in the Body. Recall, after all, that God Incarnate was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Likewise with his mystical body: it is the Holy Spirit that causes us to be reborn in baptism and it is the Holy Spirit that makes Christ present to us in the Eucharist.

Again, it is the Holy Spirit that brings us to faith in Christ and fills us with grace. In the words of the catechism:

The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with His grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls His word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of His Death and Resurrection.

The biblical image of the Holy Spirit as the breath of Christ is connected to the Incarnation in a special way. In the Incarnation, God, who is eternal, took upon Himself our mortal nature, down to our hair skin and bones, all of which, under normal circumstances, are subject to death and decay. Of course, that’s not what happened with God Incarnate. His bodily resurrection therefore gives comfort to use that our perishable flesh will one day see eternity.

This promise is extended and reinforced through the Holy Spirit. Again, it is most striking that the Spirit is depicted as breath. Because what could be more indicative of the passing, ephemeral nature of a human being then his breath? As Psalm 39:6 puts it, “My life is as nothing before you. Every man is but a breath.” And Psalm 144:4, “Man is but a breath, his days are like a passing shadow.”

In the Holy Spirit then, an emblem of our mortality is transformed into one of eternity, just as the Holy Spirit Himself will transform our human existence so that we become partakers of the divine life.

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

The mission of St. Mary’s Parish is to proclaim and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ,our pilgrimage to the Father’s Kingdom enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Our Catholic faith community is nourished by our sacramental life, especially the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. With Mother Mary as our model, we demonstrate our faith through worship, education, vocations and service.