Catholic Exchange Articles
Not only to possess us does the Holy Spirit live in us, but also to be possessed by us, to be ours. For love must possess, as well as be possessed. He is the Gift of God Most High — Donum Dei Altissimi. Now, the gift that belonged to the giver becomes the possession of the one who receives it. The Gift of God is ours through the stupendous prodigy of love.
Almost every time that Sacred Scripture speaks of the mission of the Holy Spirit in our souls, we find the word give. “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate”; “In this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit”; “For the Spirit had not yet been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified”; “. . . giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us.”
The word give has a meaning proper to the Holy Spirit. The Father gave us His Son because He loves us: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son”; “Through [Him] He has granted us the very great and precious promises.” It is characteristic of love to give gifts, but the first gift, the gift par excellence, is love itself. The Holy Spirit is the Love of God; therefore He is the Gift of God. God gave His Son to us through love; consequently, that inexpressible gift is through the first Gift, through the Gift of all gifts.
Now, to the giving on the part of God corresponds possession on our part. We have what God has given us. The Holy Spirit is, then, something of our own, and we can call Him, according to St. Thomas, “the spirit of man, or a gift bestowed on man.”
Have we thought of what possession of the Gift of God means in our souls? Have we thought of the divine significance of that rigorously exact phrase: “The Holy Spirit is ours”? Possession is proper to love. In its first stage, it is a desire of possession; perfect love is the joy of possession, and love that is consummated is the abyss of possession.
In earthly love, how imperfect, how ephemeral, how inconstant our possession is! In divine love, however, the one who is loved is necessarily possessed and with a more profound intimacy than we know, and so unchangingly — on God’s part always, and on ours when love attains its perfection — that St. Paul exclaims, “I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The soul in grace has this ineffable intimacy with the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity. But the first intimacy is with the Holy Spirit, because He is the first Gift. Charity, on which this close intimacy is founded, is a disposition for receiving the Holy Spirit and assimilation with Him.
Undoubtedly, the root of our intimacy with God is grace, as St. Thomas teaches: “By the gift of sanctifying grace the rational creature is perfected so that it can freely use not only the created gift itself, but enjoy also the divine Person Himself; and so the invisible mission takes place according to the gift of sanctifying grace; and yet the divine Person Himself is given.”
But grace is only the root. The immediate reason why any of the divine Persons gives Himself to us is a gift which emanates from grace and which our soul assimilates with the Person we possess. “The soul is made like to God by grace. Hence, for a divine Person to be sent to anyone by grace, there must needs be a likening of the soul to the divine Person who is sent, by some gift of grace.” And as the Holy Spirit is Love, the soul is assimilated to the Holy Spirit by charity. We possess God because He gives Himself to us, but His first Gift is the Holy Spirit.
Our first intimacy, then, is with the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that we can possess one divine Person without possessing the others, for They are inseparable; but, according to the order of appropriation, we possess the Father and the Son because we possess the Holy Spirit, who is the first Gift of God. But let us note the just-quoted teaching of St. Thomas, whose austere precision, entirely free from the exaggerations of enthusiasm, gives to his words an admirably profound meaning: through grace, the soul not only can use the created gift freely, but can also enjoy the divine Person. And this is not a light phrase that escaped the holy Doctor without his measuring its profundity. It is a doctrine that he sets forth fully when he explains the term gift as applied to the Holy Spirit:
“The word gift imports an aptitude for being given. And what is given has an aptitude or relation both to the giver and to that to which it is given. For it would not be given by anyone unless it was his to give; and it is given to someone to be his. Now, a divine Person is said to belong to another, either by origin, as the Son belongs to the Father, or as possessed by another. But we are said to possess what we can freely use or enjoy as we please: and in this way a divine Person cannot be possessed, except by a rational creature united to God. Other creatures can be moved by a divine Person, not, however, in such a way as to be able to enjoy the divine Person, and to use the effect thereof. The rational creature does sometimes attain thereto, as when it is made partaker of the divine Word and of the Love proceeding, so as freely to know God truly and to love God rightly. Hence the rational creature alone can possess the divine Person. Nevertheless, in order that it may possess him in this manner, its own power avails nothing: hence, this must be given it from above; for that is said to be given to us which we have from another source.”
What profound and consoling truths! The Holy Spirit is ours. We can enjoy Him and use His effects. It is in our power to use Him; we can enjoy Him when we wish. Each one of these truths deserves to be extensively and lovingly meditated upon.
We have said that possession is the ideal of love: mutual, perfect, enduring possession. God, in loving us and permitting us to love Him, divinely satisfied this exigency of love: He wished to be ours, and He wished us to be His. But this possession is not superficial and transient, as in human love. It is something very serious, very profound and lasting. God gives Himself to us with ardor and vehemence, with the deep truth of His infinite love. He does not live with us, but in us. He does not wish to come only at our call to satisfy our desires, like those who love each other on earth; He gives Himself to us, delivers Himself to us, makes us the Gift of Himself, so that we may use it according to our pleasure.
To use that Gift is to enjoy it, for it is the supreme end of our being, our life’s happiness; and no other use can be made of happiness than to enjoy it. We are able to make use of His other gifts, the effects of His love; we can only enjoy His Gift.
It is in our power to enjoy that happiness which we carry within our souls whenever we wish to, for what is ours is ours to dispose of. The Gift that has been given to us, which we possess, is ours, and we may freely make use of God. The sweet familiarity with which the saints treat God, as well as their confident boldness in drawing near to Him, attracts our attention. There is nothing strange about it. The wonderful, the amazing, thing is that God loves us and that He wants to be loved by us. The rest is the logical consequence of that love, because, as Lacordaire has so profoundly said, “For in Heaven and on earth, love has but one name, one essence, one law. . . .” From the moment in which God determined to love, He became ours. What is strange about our using freely and trustingly that which belongs to us?
Heaven itself is a natural consequence of this love. There our joy will be perfect and complete, while the joy that we have in our exile is imperfect, mixed with pain and hope. For the same gift is enjoyed in a different manner when conditions change, and especially when the capacity of the one who possesses it changes. But the root of both joys, that of Heaven and that of earth, is the same. It is the Gift of love.
To enjoy God is to know Him and to love Him. But it is not just any sort of knowledge or any sort of love that gives this joy. It is the intimate knowledge that penetrates His truth and the profound love that unites us with His sovereign goodness. For us to attain such a knowledge and such a love, our own strength is not sufficient; we need to receive from God Himself His gifts: participation in the divine Word and personal Love.
To enjoy the Holy Spirit is to love; to enjoy the Word is to know. But just as the divine Persons are inseparable, those divine joys are also intimately bound together. Intimate knowledge produces love; profound love is a source of light. Whoever enjoys the Son and the Holy Spirit attains to the joy of the Father, plunging himself, so to speak, into the bosom of immense tenderness, into the ocean from which all good proceeds.
“If thou didst know the Gift of God!” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman. If only we knew the treasures that are hidden in the higher life of the soul, the riches of that divine world into which the Gift of God introduces us! The world cannot receive these holy realities, nor does it even suspect them, because “it neither sees nor knows” the Gift of God. But from how many souls that could know the divine Gift are God’s wonders hidden!
Undoubtedly, that full participation in the Word and in the Holy Spirit that makes us know Him intimately and love Him profoundly, is sanctity, is union. But hardly does the life of grace begin in souls when God gives His gifts to them and they begin to find their joy in Him. The spiritual life is always substantially the same from the beginning until the magnificence of its full flowering.
Before the soul reaches the maturity of union, it possesses the Gift of God, but as one possessing a treasure whose value is unknown and whose advantages cannot be fully enjoyed immediately. This imperfect spiritual life is the true life, but it does not yet have full consciousness nor full possession of itself. There are such heavy shadows in the understanding! There is still such a mixture of earthly affections in the heart! The soul is so bound to creatures! It does not know what it possesses, nor has it the holy liberty of the children of God to lift its wings and soar aloft to the enjoyment of Him.
This is precisely the work of the Holy Spirit in souls: to bring to holy maturity, to happy plenitude, that seed of life which He Himself deposited in them.
The spiritual life is the mutual possession of God and the soul, because it is essentially their mutual love. When the Holy Spirit possesses a soul completely, and the soul attains the full possession of the Gift of God, this is union, perfection, sanctity.
Then the soul participates in such a way in the divine Word, and in the Love that proceeds from the Word, that it can freely know God with an intimate and true knowledge, and love Him with a true and profound love. Then the soul belongs wholly to God, and God to the soul. Then God works in the soul as one would work in that which belongs to him completely, and the soul enjoys God with confidence, with liberty, with the sweet intimacy that we use with our own.
If only we knew the Gift of God! If only we knew the goodness and love of God, and the happiness and riches that are contained for us in this profound invocation of the Church: Gift of God Most High!
I thought life was too short not to do it all, so I was willing to try anything once. I was always up to something new: apartments, jobs, travel plans, degrees, beliefs. I had long lists of things I wanted to try and places I wanted to visit. But then I converted to the Catholic Faith, had my first baby, and became a stay-at-home mom. I don’t really do a whole lot anymore.
No one calls my parents to say, “You’ll never guess what she did now!” about the soup I made for dinner. No one cheers from the sidelines: “Do it now, while you still can!” when I seize some free time to read. And I don’t send postcards from my adventures in the Land of Croup.
There is still movement aplenty in the form of toddler mischief, blocks flying past my head, and children standing on things they shouldn’t be standing on.
But for the most part, any changes, any “movement,” comes not from doing something exciting in the greater world but from an interior movement of the heart, mind, and will. I’m not crossing borders, but experiencing the slow and often painful movement of the soul toward God.
Our culture is all about the externals. We cultivate bodies and bucket lists as if there will be a crown in heaven for those who looked the best while trekking at Machu Picchu. But in heaven, joy will be found in those quiet fruits of practicing the faith: contemplation, prayer, and adoration.
The inner life isn’t flashy, it’s not exciting, and no one is going to be jealous of the time spent on your knees in prayer. But it’s the real stuff, the good stuff. The hard stuff.
More determination is required to subdue the interior man than to mortify the body; and to break one’s will than to break one’s bones.
— St. Ignatius of Loyola
In seizing freedom and making lists there was little bending of the will, little in the way of sacrifice beyond saving money for the next adventure. And very little stillness.
Now I live on a much smaller, more intimate scale. There are no big trips planned, no promotions, nothing exciting—only the day-to-day attempt at joyful sacrifice and surrender of self. This is harder than the worst of flights, bedbugs, and food poisoning all in one. It doesn’t sparkle with novelty either: the battle against the flesh is an old one.
But this interior movement is everything, even when I am perfectly still, kneeling—not even “standing on my own two feet.” As the spiritual life has grown, the bucket list has shrunk. Sometimes that feels good and right, other times a backpack and a one-way ticket sound pretty appealing.
And those times I remind myself that the real destination sells no postcards, and no one’s clamoring that you should go now before it’s discovered. The crown offered there is sought in the smallest of moments, in privacy and prayer, in the constant and quiet pursuit of what is good and holy and true—and in the denial of self.
“Lord what wilt Thou have me do? Behold the true sign of a totally perfect soul: when one has reached the point of giving up his will so completely that he no longer seeks, expects or desires to do ought but that which God wills.”
—St. Bernard of Clairvaux
image: Mikhail Markovskiy / Shutterstock.com
Q: I have a very old crucifix which has a skull and crossbones at the bottom of the cross. What does that mean? Also, what does INRI mean? I have heard people pronounce it as though it were one word.
Both the INRI and the skull and crossbones are mentioned in the passion accounts of our Lord. First, INRI is an abbreviation for the Latin Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum, meaning “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews.” In sentencing our Lord to death, Pontius Pilate had this inscription written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (Jn 19:20) placed on the Cross above the head of our Lord.
Each of the Gospels testifies to this inscription, although with slight variations: St. John’s Gospel, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews”; St. Matthew’s Gospel, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews”; St. Mark’s Gospel, “The King of the Jews”; and St. Luke’s Gospel, “This is the King of the Jews.” Since St. John stood with the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, his Gospel is the most accurate, although all of the Gospels agree in substance as to what was written.
Another interesting point arises in artwork depicting the Crucifixion. Sometimes the inscription will be fully spelled-out (not simply INRI), but spelled backward. The artists are mindful that Hebrew is read from right to left, not left to right as in English.
Finally, the use of all three languages — Hebrew, Latin and Greek — served a dual purpose. First, these were the languages that would have been spoken in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion. Secondly, Hebrew was the language of the chosen people, the people of the Old Covenant; Latin and Greek were the languages of the Gentiles and Imperial Rome. Jesus came to save not just the Jew but also the Gentile, so the proclamation reminds us that the sacrifice is for all mankind. While the powers of this world labeled Him as an earthly king, Jesus, crucified and risen, is the King who conquered sin and death, and whose kingdom will not end.
Next, the skull and the crossbones has a dual significance. First, Jesus was crucified just outside the old city of Jerusalem at Golgotha, meaning “Skull Place” in Hebrew. The four Gospels all attest to this fact: Matthew 27:33, Mark 16:22, Luke 23:33, and John 19:17. The word “golgotha” is an Aramaic form of the Hebrew word “gulgoleth“, meaning “skull.” The Latin word “calva“, also meaning “skull,” is the root for “Calvary.”
Secondly, an ancient tradition relates that this spot was also where Adam was buried, hence the depiction of both the skull and crossbones. Today, at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox have a chapel built over the rock of Calvary itself, and the place where the Cross was erected is marked by a silver disk right below the altar. To the right of the altar, there is a crack in the rock. The Gospel of St. Matthew states that when Christ died on the Cross, “the earth quaked, boulders split, tombs opened” (Mt 27:52). The crack continues down to the Chapel of Adam (in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) where tradition holds Adam was buried and where the Precious Blood of our Lord dripped upon his bones and his skull. Here the blood of Christ flowing from the Sacred Heart of our Lord would have been a stream of redemption, touching all, even Adam himself.
Christ, the new Adam, obedient to the Heavenly Father’s will unto to death, conquered the sin committed when the first Adam disobeyed God. The gates of heaven closed by the sin of Adam were now opened by the sacrifice of our Lord.
These two symbols placed on the crucifix help us to remember that our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross is the greatest act of love God has shown to us. Therefore, each time we gaze upon our crucified Lord we should be moved to say as did St. Francis of Assisi, “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, for by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.”
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
The two disciples on the way to Emmaus told the Eleven their experience with Jesus earlier that evening. The Eleven and other followers believed in the Lord’s resurrection from the dead as more of their group saw the risen Jesus.
The risen Jesus appeared only to the Eleven and some chosen followers and friends. He did not appear to the general public and the leaders of the Jews who had condemned him to death on the cross.
While he confirmed the faith of those to whom he showed himself, he blessed all others who have faith in him, “You believe because you see me, don’t you? Happy are those who have not seen and believe.” (Jn 20:29) We love to tell stories; we love to recall past events embellished at times and not too faithful to the facts. What stories do we love to tell?
Do we love to tell Gospel stories to others, especially to children? How do we incorporate Gospel values into our daily lives? What stories about Jesus do we love to tell?
When only a small child in Montepulciano in Tuscany, Agnes would spend hours reciting the Our Father and the Hail Mary on her knees. Her parents realized that she was a very special child, totally dedicated to God, so when she was nine years old they placed her in a Franciscan convent known as Sackins, so called because their habits or scapulars were made of sackcloth. The child, Agnes, was such a model of virtue that she was an inspiration of holiness to those around her. At the age of fifteen she was sent to a new foundation, which was Dominican, at Proceno in the county of Orvieto. There, at the tender age of fifteen, Pope Nicholas IV made her abbess.
As an act of mortification Agnes would sleep on the ground with a stone under her head as her pillow. Until she was thirty years old she fasted on only bread and water. At the age of thirty, however, because of poor health, her spiritual director instructed her to eat other foods.
The people of Montepulciano in Tuscany wanted so much for her to return to them that they destroyed a house of ill repute and in its place built a convent for Agnes. This was an inspiration for her to return to her hometown where she established in this house nuns of the order of St. Dominic. Agnes continued to be a great example of piety, humility, and charity to all for the remainder of her life. Through a long illness she showed great patience and grace, offering her sufferings up to God for the redemption of souls. Agnes died at the age of forty-three at Montepulciano on April 20, 1317.
Agnes’ body was moved to the Dominicans’ church of Orvieto in 1435, where it remains to this day. In 1724 she was canonized by Benedict XIII.
Heavenly Father, St. Agnes never faltered in her deep devotion and love for You. Dear Father, may we also appreciate the spiritual things more than the things of this world and give to You our greatest devotion. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Marcellinus (374) Bishop
For the past twenty years, I’ve been doing my best to commit to daily spiritual reading. Some days have gone better than others. In fact, some years have gone better than others. But I have done my best to stay the course. In that time, I’ve learned a few things about the process. I’ve learned some basic things, such as how hard it is to make the time for spiritual reading, but how good it makes me feel when I’ve done it — kind of like jogging for the soul. I’ve also noticed that spiritual reading is better for my psyche than any motivational book. It helps me to grow in faith and to deepen my relationship with God, which in turn has strengthened every other area of my life. And although at first I thought that my spiritual growth would come mostly by studying theology, I’ve found that there is also a great intellectually and emotionally challenging component to reading other spiritual material, such as biographies of saints and books on prayer.
But in addition to these basic lessons, I’ve learned a few other things that run a little deeper than the obvious. We’ll look at those here and in the pages ahead.
Life in the Trenches
One need only watch the news for five minutes to know that this world has become a bastion of paganism more and more emboldened in its persecution of those who choose to follow Christ. Everywhere we turn, secularism is the new religion. Worse, the world is fast becoming, not merely secular, but anti-God — and not only anti-God, but anti-everything-that-even-remotely-relates-to-God.
Daily we are bombarded from every angle with messages that are clearly designed to remove us one step further from our Faith or to cripple us within it. Whether social situations at work or school, the news, television shows, movies, books, advertising, or — the ultimate temptation — social media, the influences on our daily lives do virtually nothing to draw us closer to our calling as Christians to live the life of Christ.
The only way to shield our hearts and minds from the lies of a hostile culture is to fill them with reinforcements before we head out to battle each day. Additionally, the more we fill our hearts with the love of Christ, the greater the light we bring to the darkness around us. Spiritual reading arms us for all those daily battles with negativity, temptation, and sin, filling our minds, hearts, and souls with truth, building us in Christ, and strengthening us for combat.
Spiritual reading brings us closer to Christ and provides a peace and joy that the world can never offer. Of course, prayer and the sacraments are also critical to our interior life. Unfortunately, although time in prayer is wisely spent, many claim that they spend hour after hour in prayer and it does no good. They may attend Mass, pray the Rosary, offer up many rote prayers, and even speak from their heart to our Lord; but they often complain that their efforts are to no avail, and they still feel alone in the world.
Sitting (or kneeling) in a room, praying our hearts out, while laudable, can be like sitting on one end of a telephone just talking away, with no input from the other side. But couple that time with spiritual reading from some solid books, and our faith and joy will improve exponentially.
Spiritual reading offers God’s perspective. This is obviously true with regard to Sacred Scripture; but, it is also true when we read from any of the countless books written by those with great wisdom and grace whose hearts and minds are united with the Magisterium of the Church.
Spiritual reading provides us with a Person to know; a Person with whom to communicate; a Person to whom we can listen in prayer because, with a better understanding of who He is, we can actually hear His voice when he speaks to us. Saint Alphonsus Liguori, in his On Spiritual Reading, quotes Saint Jerome as saying, “When we pray we speak to God, but when we read, God speaks to us.” And Saint Isaac the Syrian asserts, “From reading the soul is enlightened in prayer.”
Spiritual reading helps us to build a relationship with Christ. Reading Sacred Scripture and the classics helps us to know and to love a God who actually trod the ground we tread, who suffered the things we suffer, who ate and slept just as we do.
We know that spiritual reading can keep us grounded because we have many brothers and sisters in Christ who have been through what we’re going through, fought the same battles we face, and would recommend to us the same solution I’m here to recommend: spiritual reading. Although we have neither time nor room to discuss every friend of Christ who endured an environment hostile to his faith, it seems fitting to examine the lives of two such individuals, one who lived far from us in time, but perhaps not so far in spirit; and another who, like many Catholics today, endured hostility toward her faith even in the sanctuary of her home.
Both of these amazing people would credit their perseverance to God’s grace and the openness of their hearts and minds to the wisdom offered through spiritual reading.
St. John Chrysostom
We live in a world where Christ is ridiculed and laughed at, even despised and spat upon. Often, we wonder how our Judeo-Christian heritage could have fallen so far. But ours isn’t the only era to experience such derision. Saint John Chrysostom lived in the fourth century, shortly after Constantine converted and turned Rome into a Christian nation. John’s father died when he was only an infant; devoted to her only child, his mother “felt she was called of God to devote herself wholly in the training of her son and to shield him from the contaminating influences of the pagan city of Antioch.” As a young boy, her son received the best education available. As a young man, he lived as a hermit, separating himself from the secular hostility of his culture. He spent this time committing the entire New Testament to memory. This practice served him well throughout his life. Eventually, he returned to society and was ordained a priest. Shortly after his ordination in Antioch, he gave a series of eloquent sermons to fearful crowds who worried about the possibility of retribution from Emperor Theodosius after they had demonstrated against a new tax. John’s popularity grew, but so did the alliances forming against him.
After twelve years in Antioch, where he gained great popularity because of his speaking ability and his command of Sacred Scripture, John was appointed bishop of Constantinople, enduring great opposition from the powers that be. He was continually the victim of intrigue, lies, and defamation of character. He was accused of supporting one side of feuding clergy over another and was eventually exiled from Constantinople by the emperor Arcadius. His banishment was short-lived, however, as the public threatened to burn the royal palace down unless he was allowed to return.
But John faced exile again for denouncing pagan practices among the ruling class, including the wife of the emperor. In fact, much of his world was affected by pagan practices, against which he preached repeatedly in his homilies.
Throughout his service, John continued to preach that people needed to know the Faith and to practice it. In Eastern Orthodoxy, he is called the Great Ecumenical Teacher because he spoke so profoundly on both the Old and New Testaments while thundering against pagan practices and pastimes. He is known as the Father of Catechesis because he spent much time teaching people the Faith and guiding them to practice spiritual reading, so that they might ward off temptations, particularly those temptations encountered by Christians in a pagan culture.
Here are just a couple of his admonitions:
Moreover, if the Devil does not dare to enter into the house where the Gospel lies, much less will he ever seize upon the soul which contains such thoughts as these, and no evil spirit will approach it, nor will the nature of sin come near. Well, then, sanctify your soul, sanctify your body by having these thoughts always in your heart and on your tongue. For if foul language is defiling and evokes evil spirits, it is evident that spiritual reading sanctifies the reader and attracts the grace of the Spirit. (Homily 32 on John)
This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how are we to come off safe? (Homily 9 on Colossians)
This advice should be applicable to each and every one of us, struggling to keep our bearings as we face a pagan culture day after day.
Unlike John Chrysostom, Elisabeth Leseur did not benefit from a high-class education. She came from an upper-middle-class family and had a moderately Catholic upbringing, having attended Catholic school and received the sacraments as a girl. As a young lady, she married Felix Leseur, a well-educated, well-to-do doctor, in 1889 after a brief engagement. Shortly before their marriage, Elisabeth learned that Felix was no longer a practicing Catholic. In fact, he was a self-proclaimed atheist and became well known in Paris as the editor of a newsletter that promoted atheist and anticlerical beliefs.
Although he promised that he would respect Elisabeth’s Faith, Felix set about almost immediately to destroy it, and he nearly succeeded. For a time, Elisabeth even stopped attending Mass. Fortunately, at the height of his influence against her Faith, Felix handed his wife a book that made her think twice about the arguments it offered. Rather than be influenced by the poverty of such a book, Elisabeth turned to masters of Catholic thought. Here is what her husband says of her in his “In Memoriam”:
To counterbalance my anti-Christian library, she gathered together one composed of the works of the great masters of Catholic thought: Fathers, Doctors, mystics, St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila and many more. Above all she read and reread the New Testament, the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles; she never passed a day without meditating upon some passage from it. She thus acquired a reasoned and substantial faith. Knowing the opposing arguments, possessing her own replies to them, and strengthening perpetually the foundations of her belief, by the grace of God she established her faith indestructibly.
More than just reading books, Elisabeth took great pains to apply what she read to her life. She never spoke to her husband about her Catholic Faith. She did not try to convince him of the truth. Rather, she offered all to God, who helped her to live the truth. The beauty within her became evident to everyone she met.
That is exactly what we desire to do: to live our Faith. To experience the peace of knowing that we are not of this world but are to spend this life sharing the light of Christ with others. Elisabeth was so successful in that vein that, after years of offering up her suffering silently and making sacrifices for her husband, she offered her very life to God for his salvation. Upon her death, her husband not only returned to Catholicism but also became a Dominican priest!
Elisabeth armed herself each day to do battle in her own home — not with arguments or smugness, but with love. There was no more effective weapon she could have found to help her win the war.
Arming for Battle: The Church Militant
We may not feel called to memorize the entire New Testament like St. John Chrysostom, but meditating daily on Sacred Scripture will provide us with the strength we need to face the enemy. Saint Paul tells us:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:11-17).
We need to be armed for battle. At all times, and especially during these crazy times in this vale of tears, we need to lay our foundation in Christ Jesus. I pray that spiritual reading plays a part in helping you build and strengthen that foundation.+
This article is from a chapter in How to Read Your Way to Heaven, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on Spiritual Reading Arms Us for Battle: Detail of The Magdalen Reading by Rogier van der Weyden, before 1438, National Gallery, London, United Kingdom, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of How to Read Your Way to Heaven used with permission.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.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
Christ is risen! Alleluia! We have entered into the great and joyful season of Easter. It is a time of re-birth and hope as we live the Resurrection. We rest in the truth and wonder that sin and death are conquered by Jesus Christ and that all things are being made new. Even in this great joy, there are many of us who are still in a period of waiting. While God renews the face of the earth, we must still live in a Fallen world. Our joy is often tinged with uncertainty and suffering. It is indeed possible to feel joy and sorrow at the same time. Joy contains within it the sting of homesickness as God reminds us that this is not our final home. Beauty is often mingled with heart-break as our souls soar towards Heaven, but still await the Beatific Vision. How do we live our joy and our waiting?Rest in the Word of God.
Many of us are waiting on the Lord to act or respond in a certain area of our lives. It may be a cancer diagnosis, desire for a child or parent to return to or enter the Church, a new job, a relationship, infertility, or any other number of situations. My husband and I are waiting, patiently and not so patiently, on God’s will in adoption. The joy of the Easter season can contain within it, periods of the Cross. We can rest assured in this period of waiting that God is conforming us to Himself and drawing us close.
Since it is Easter and the celebration of the reason for our hope, meditating on the Word of God is critical. Take time to read the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Imagine being at the tomb on that first Easter morning. Walk with the Apostles as they meet the risen Lord. Hear the Lord call you by name, as He did St. Mary Magdalene. We must allow the Word of God to permeate our souls as we wait for answers. Meditating on the Resurrection allows God to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter.
We are called to trust in God. Remember that we killed God and nailed Him to the Cross and He came back in forgiving love to redeem each one of us. He loves each one of us and everything He does is for our own good and sanctification. Keeping this truth in mind allows us to turn to Him in every aspect of our daily lives. We must learn to breathe out prayers every moment of the day. It can be as simple as speaking the name of Jesus or offering up the dishes for our prayer intention or the needs of others. In moments when our waiting seems overwhelming, we need to turn to Our Lord in prayer. He knows the needs and wants deep within our hearts, but He wants us to ask for them. We can speak openly with Him, even in our struggles and frustrations. He wants to draw close to us and to fill our hearts with the joy of Easter, even in our waiting.Attend Mass as much as possible.
Daily Mass can transform our lives. Busy schedules make it difficult to get to Mass every single day, but adding in a Mass or two each week will help strengthen us in our waiting and enkindle the joy of the Easter season in our hearts. In periods of waiting, the best place to be is before the Real Presence. If Mass is not an option–except on Sundays—stop by a Catholic Church near your work or home and pray before the Tabernacle. Sit in silence for a few minutes with Our Lord, so that He can minister to you through the Blessed Sacrament.Read the lives of the saints.
The lives of the saints provide a cornucopia of spiritual insights and wisdom. Each saint is a unique person who was conformed to the Blessed Trinity. They had their struggles, their periods of waiting, and the joy of the risen Lord in their hearts. Reading the lives of the saints helps strengthen us on the way. In reading about their lives and their written works, we are able to turn to these friends for guidance. They walked the path before us and now they intercede for us in Heaven. They are cheering us on as we grow in holiness. We need good and holy friends as we wait in joyful hope. Oftentimes their struggles are similar to our own. God has given us these special friends to strengthen us on the journey.
Easter is the season of intense joy and celebration. It is the Cross in light of the Resurrection that has set us free from sin and death. Even in this joy, many of us continue to wait on Our Lord. We must find ways to unite our own struggles with the joy of this season. The Church provides invaluable resources to us on our journey. The Word of God, the Sacraments, prayer, and the lives the holy men and women who have gone before us can provide refuge and strengthen us in this period of waiting in the light of the Resurrection. We can rest assured that God is sanctifying each one of us and drawing us close to Him as we wait in joyful hope.
Behold, I make all things new.
image: jorisvo / Shutterstock.com
In today’s America, as in other countries like it, people of faith are facing a question of critical importance: How should they respond to a dominant secular culture that’s not just hostile to their beliefs but bent on forcing them to conform to its values and, not incidentally, winning the allegiance of their children?
Fresh attention to this question has lately been stimulated by the publication of of three much-discussed books: Strangers in a Strange Land by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia (Henry Holt), The Benedict Option by conservative writer Rod Dreher (Sentinel), and Out of the Ashes by Providence College professor Anthony Esolen (Regnery).
In fact, the problem has been waiting to explode for years.
As far back as 1870 ornery Orestes Brownson, the leading American Catholic public intellectual of the 19th century, grumbled prophetically: “Instead of regarding the Church as having advantages here [in America] which she has nowhere else….I think the Church has never encountered a social & political order so hostile to her.”
Time passed, and as change set in, other farsighted individuals began to share Brownson’s dark vision. Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., saw the problem taking shape in his 1960 classic We Hold These Truths. Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre dissected it at length in his seminal volume After Virtue, first published in 1981. Since then others, the present writer among them, have discussed it many times.
Now, it seems, recognition of the problem has become all but unavoidable. Hence the note of urgency in the Chaput, Dreher, and Esolen books. Particularly alarming has been the fallout from the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell decision which came as a belated wakeup call alerting people of faith to the precariousness of their situation.
It’s not just that in Obergefell the court redefined marriage while legalizing same-sex marriage. Even worse, a majority of Americans appeared to welcome the arrival of gay marriage, even as the secular state demonstrated its determination to quash dissent, starting with wedding cake bakers and florists but in time likely moving on to the rest of us.
Next on the agenda are transgender rights, now being promoted by media like the New York Times and Washington Post with the same ideological fervor they brought to selling gay marriage before Obergefell.
All this is happening, furthermore, at a time when religious practice and church affiliation are in decline in America. As of last September, 23% of U.S. adults called themselves atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” in religious terms, double the number in the 1980s..
Confronted with this state of affairs, religious Americans have limited options. One of these is cultural assimilation: abandoning the fight and adopting the secular world view. Large numbers of Catholics, to speak only of them, have done that and others are moving in the same direction. That unhappily includes very many young people.
The positive options are overlapping and must be pursued simultaneously. Continuing to fight the culture war is one, since this is a war that must be fought as a matter or principle. Creating a new subculture grounded in religious values and organized around faith-based institutions is another, and this already can be seen happening here and there. The third option is to make the new subculture a source and setting for a serious effort to form the faithful for the evangelization of secular culture by the witness of their lives.
Archbishop Chaput writes; “That work belongs to all of us equally: clergy, laity, and religious.” So it does. It’s the Christian vocation..
As a fellow Catholic educator (a veteran theology teacher at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland), as well as a periodic contributor to the National Catholic Educational Association’s blog NCEATalk, I recently had the opportunity to independently interview famed Catholic personality Jonathan Doyle, in the midst of his busy schedule. Doyle is a native of Australia, has spoken globally regarding focusing on the foundations of Catholic education, and is the founder of the internationally popular web-based program Going Deeper: Online Formation for Catholic Teachers. For this interview, I asked Doyle some questions about his Catholic faith, Catholic education broadly, and how those entrusted with passing along the Good News of Jesus Christ in an instructional (particularly catechetical) setting can have hope in the future. Due to my family commitments, I was unfortunately unable to be in attendance at the NCEA’s Convention and Expo 2017 in Saint Louis, Missouri, April 17-20, to hear Jonathan Doyle’s keynote address, “Finding Purpose in the Education Vocation.” Nevertheless, I have been inspired and enthused by Doyle’s words here, and hope that you will be as well.
McClain: What role does the Catholic faith play in you and your family’s life?
Doyle: It is the basis of all we do and value as a family. We fail and get it wrong a lot of the time, but it is the center of our lives.
McClain: What is your teaching experience in the field of Catholic education?
Doyle: I taught for several years in Catholic high schools before completing post-graduate studies in education and theology, and then we founded our own business working in the area.
McClain: What makes Catholic education different from other educational settings?
Doyle: A Catholic school can do three key things that other schools can’t:
- It can focus upon presenting Jesus Christ in a compelling way to young people, so that they want to be in relationships with him and his Church for the rest of their lives. A Catholic school must be essentially a missionary arm of the Church where Christ is central.
- It educates the whole person. This is referred to in Church documents as “integral formation,” and is explained like this: “The integral formation of the human person, which is the purpose of education, includes the development of all the human faculties of the students, together with preparation for professional life, formation of ethical and social awareness, becoming aware of the transcendental, and religious education” (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, “Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith” , 17).
- A great Catholic school will have a rock-solid philosophical anthropology. This is simply a clear and consistent focus upon the value and dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God. This deep attitude affects all aspects of school life. It affects how teachers treat students and how teachers treat other teachers. It shapes the whole experience of the school community.
McClain: What is your perception of how Catholic schools operate in Australia, as compared to the United States and other areas of the world that you have visited?
Doyle: It’s complex. In Australia, our schools are massively government-funded. In the United States, the lack of government funding makes things much harder on one level, but it also seems to make your schools more committed to and passionate about their Catholic identity. I often say to American teachers that you should be careful what you wish for. When you have to really survive because of your Catholic identity, that can be a good thing. I find in the United States an energy and positivity that is missing in most other countries. I feel I belong here.
McClain: The topic for your keynote address at NCEA 2017 is “Finding Purpose in the Education Vocation.” In light of teaching in a Catholic school being a vocation, what are some gifts that all Catholic school teachers should possess?
Doyle: The Holy Spirit is awesome and gives all of us different talents and gifts. Some teachers can be funny, warm, and deeply pastoral; some may be more serious, but deeply committed to their subject areas and in seeing young people flourish. God loves variety, so every teacher brings something unique. However, at the macro level, to become a great Catholic teacher requires a deep love for Jesus and a desire for him to be the very center of life. A relationship with Jesus will eventually shape all other aspects of his or her teaching practice. Therefore, it’s the one essential thing.
McClain: What does it mean for Catholic schools to be centered on the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ?
Doyle: It means they are doing exactly what they are meant to do. There is no other focus. So many schools in many countries have become factories for the college system. They fear enrollment decline, so they assume they are some kind of business that has to impress parents with high-grade scores. Once you go there, it’s over. The irony is that a deeply Christ-centered school ends up being a place of excellence anyway, because it is driven by a love for Christ and a deep desire to serve young people. The Catholic Church does not have a mission; she is a mission. Catholic schools are not some satellite business of the Catholic Church – they are part of the only mission that the Church has, which is to bring people home to the Father. My life’s work is simply to help schools find the courage to become what they truly are meant to become. Once Jesus is the center, the rest of it works out.
McClain: What is Catholic identity, and what does it mean to you?
Doyle: To be Catholic is to hold as true all that the Church proposes for us to believe. As Cardinal Newman said in his 1865 poem “The Dream of Gerontius”: “And I hold in veneration, for the love of him alone, holy Church as his creation, and her teachings are his own.” I also like Chesterton’s concept of “the democracy of the dead,” from the fourth chapter of his 1908 book Orthodoxy: “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.” I love the tradition of the Church, her saints, and the incredible men and women who have served, suffered, and died with her throughout the ages. I love the mass and the beauty of the sacraments, and I love how she survives through the ages, always outlasting her many opponents.
McClain: The last three popes (Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis) have dedicated a great deal of their respective pontificates to countering the vast secularization that has increasingly overwhelmed various facets of Western society. In the midst of this barren worldliness, how does an institution’s strong Catholic identity serve as a haven for students who are longing for the true hope and peace that Christ alone brings?
Doyle: I’ve been travelling heavily this year in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. What I have begun to notice is that secularization essentially atomizes faith. When you live in a secular world, there are so few reminders of your faith that it struggles to survive. It’s like a flower being overwhelmed by smog or a cloud; it can’t thrive. This is just the impact of an immersion in a consumerist, secular world. I am not even referring to the more aggressive and militant forms of anti-Christian bias we are seeing more often. First, I am not advocating a return to the caves. Modernity and technology have many wonderful aspects, but by their nature they obscure the transcendent. What’s required is a more rigorous practice of the faith. We need to be more conscious and deliberate and actually practicing our Catholic faith. I am a road cyclist at a pretty high level. I do a huge amount of training – I practice a lot, because it matters to me. My Catholic faith is vastly more important, so I make a huge effort to practice it every day. It’s a very simple truth, but many people are missing it. They think being Catholic at this moment in history is maybe turning up to the occasional mass and ticking the religious affiliation box on a survey. We need to seek Christ more passionately in the heart of his Church. One of the crucial things a Catholic school can do is to become a center of truth, beauty, and goodness. These are what we refer to as the transcendentals. In a secular culture, we need to give young people real encounters with the sublime, the beautiful, and the holy. For years, we tried to make the mass “relevant” for young people… and look at the exodus. I teach people that you need to stop trying to be one more entertainment option in the most entertained culture in world history. Let the beauty of the liturgy speak. Let the beauty of our best churches speak. Give students encounters with silence, prayer, the sacraments, and Eucharistic adoration. This requires partnerships with good priests, but it can happen.
McClain: What is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?
Doyle: John 15:5 – “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” For me, there is no greater verse. It utterly captures the truth of what I have learned in my own life, and what I am trying to teach as many Catholic school educators as I can.
McClain: Do you have any additional words of encouragement for the extensive Catholic school community in the United States in the midst of your appearance at the NCEA Conference in Saint Louis, April 17-20, 2017?
Doyle: My one great mantra is always this: “You cannot do a supernatural task with only natural resources.” The fundamental mistake in Catholic schools is to drift from Christology into some form of neo-Pelagian humanism. We cannot simply try harder and work our way out of this. We need to truly seek the real and living and risen Lord Jesus Christ. He has all the power we need to transform our schools. I recently read Archbishop Chaput’s latest book [Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World], and he makes a point that I teach everywhere I go – it’s simply that what we really need is saints. It’s only, always, and ever been the case that saints transform the Church and the world. In my keynote, I will be sharing that message. My prayer for the wonderful, committed Catholic educators in this country is that they would seek to become saints and allow God to transform their ministry. Teachers are special. May God bless them all.
With the release of Rod Dreher’s highly-anticipated book, The Benedict Option, many Catholics are having a conversation about how best to raise their families and form healthy communities. What may surprise many is that such a project has been underway in the Catholic world for decades. Today, Michael welcome back Sam Guzman of the Catholic Gentleman to discuss his family life in a growing village around Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma and what such a community might look like. If you are wondering how to raise your kids in a secular culture or how to solve the issue of loneliness, listen in today.Resources
Mr. Guzman is the editor of The Catholic Gentleman, and you can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Sam is the author of Be Not Afraid: A Book of Quotes for Catholic Men, which is available in paperback or ebook.
To learn more about Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey, visit their website. You can learn more about their conference, “The Idea of a Village,” by seeing this site where you can purchase tickets and learn more about the speakers.
Books and sites mentioned on the podcast:
- Holy Resurrection Monastery
- In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity by Josef Pieper
- Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper
- The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580 by Eamon Duffy
- The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher
The Gospel reading is about the two despondent disciples on their way to Emmaus. Though they did not recognize him, the risen Jesus joins them on their journey and explains to them what the Scriptures said about the Messiah. At their destination, they recognize Jesus “when he broke bread with them.”
In the first reading Peter and John cure the man crippled from birth who begged at the “Beautiful” gate of the Temple, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, walk!”
In both readings we see the reality and the power of the risen Lord, of Jesus the Messiah. We believe that the risen Lord, God and man, sits in power at the Father’s right hand ready to listen to us and to intercede with the Father for us. May we know and recognize him in our lives; may his grace and assistance be with us.
Elphege, also known as Alphege was born in the year 954. When he was just a young man he became a Benedictine monk at Deerhurst monastery in Gloucestershire, England. After a few years, he left to become a hermit at Bath where he later became the abbot. As abbot, he enforced a strict rule. In the year 984, he became Bishop of Winchester. While bishop he did much to help the poor and eliminated most of the poverty in his diocese. In 1006, he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury. During this time England was much harassed by the Danes and in September of 1011, after sacking and burning Canterbury, the Danes captured Elphege. In April his captors, being drunk and angry that their ransom demands had not been met, after pelting Elphege with oxen bones, finished him off with an axe.
Elphege’s body was kept at St. Paul’s Church in London, England, for eleven years. It was transferred to Canterbury by order of King Canute. In art, St. Elphege is often represented with an axe cleaving his skull.
Lord Jesus, help us to remember your martyrs in our times of tribulation, that we may imitate their holy lives, living our lives to serve others and willing to die for our friends and our faith. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Leo IX (1012), Bishop, Martyr
Growing in prayer is one of the most important things we can do in our spiritual lives. In fact, our entire spiritual life is dependent on the state of our prayer life, the foundation of our relationship with God. The Avila Institute provides a place for the faithful to make progress in the spiritual life by taking courses designed to help bring their minds and hearts closer to God.
“Prayer is difficult, challenging, and life-changing. The journey into prayer, into the heart of God, is the reason we were made; it is the reason God brought us into existence.” These words from Matthew Kelley, found in the forward of Into the Deep: Finding Peace through Prayer, remind us of how essential prayer is in our lives. Take a minute to reflect on these words:
“Prayer is difficult, challenging, and life-changing. The journey into prayer, into the heart of God, is the reason we were made; it is the reason God brought us into existence.”
If prayer is the reason God brought us into existence, wouldn’t it be important that we get it right? Although prayer is the most important thing in our lives, we get it wrong far too often. We get it wrong by not praying enough, by quitting when it gets tough, and by listening to the voice of the world more often than we listen to the voice of God. All of these things keep us from growing in prayer. If we truly believed that prayer was the thing for which we were created, we would spend a lot more time in prayer seeking to grow in union with our Creator. If we truly believed that growing in prayer was the most important thing, then we would not quit when we encounter difficulties or get busy with the work of our day-to-day lives.
Even when we want to improve our prayer lives, sometimes it is hard. Sometimes we feel like we do not know how to pray. While this can be a frustrating realization, it is necessary to understand this. The first step in prayer is accepting that we do not know how to pray. Recognizing our insufficiency makes us receptive to grace from the One who is sufficient to fulfill us. When we acknowledge we cannot do anything, even pray, without the grace of the Holy Spirit, we open ourselves to receiving the grace of God. The fact of the matter is that we are incompetent in the spiritual life on our own. Fortunately, God gave us many tools to help us in our journey. He gave us the sacraments and the Church. Within the Church, He gave us great saints who have written down their experiences to help us when we feel like we are helpless. The saints were people who were successful in prayer. Through them, we can learn how to persevere and grow in union with God.
Growing in Prayer with the Avila Institute: If you want to learn how to overcome difficulties in your prayer life, a great place to start is at the Avila Institute, where you can take courses like “Foundations of Prayer” that help you to grow in your own personal spiritual formation. Foundations of Prayer will be offered this Spring beginning on May 4th. The course is filling up quickly, so apply soon to ensure a spot. If you are admitted to the school, you can sign up for any of the courses we offer in any of our four quarters. You can see a full list of our upcoming courses and dates offered by visiting the webpage for the School of Spiritual Formation. You can take as few or as many classes as you would like.
Applying for the School of Spiritual Formation is easy and free, and all of our courses are offered online. Students testify time and time again about how our courses help them overcome barriers in their spiritual life. Each course costs $150, and full and partial scholarships are available on a need-basis. Below is more information about the upcoming Foundations of Prayer course.
Foundations of Prayer and Union with God:
Taught by Dan Burke, this course reveals a panoramic view of the breadth and beauty of the Catholic mental prayer tradition from the inception of prayer to the heights of contemplation. The course will cover the following:
- How to know God and His love in prayer.
- How to grow deeper in prayer and relationship with God.
- How to overcome obstacles to growth in prayer.
- How to identify and avoid false teachings on prayer.
- Forms of prayer in the Catholic Tradition.
- All course meetings are online.
- Start Date: Thursday, May 4, 2017.
- End Date: Thursday, June 8, 2017.
- Day/Time: Thursdays 8:30 – 10:30 PM (Eastern US).
- Class Dates: May 4, 11, 15 (Monday), 25, June 1, 8.
Apply today in order to sign up for Foundations of Prayer and Union with God this May. If you have any questions about how we can serve you, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: In addition to the Foundations of Prayer Course, we will also be offering Evangelization and the Spiritual Life taught by Julie Enzler. This course will be offered from 7:00-9:00 PM Eastern on Fridays in May through early June. See a full list of course dates here.+
Art: A Hermit Praying, Gerrit Dou, between 1645 and 1675, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Book cover for Into the Deep: Finding Peace through Prayer courtesy of Dan Burke and used with permission. Photography of Dan Burke used with permission.About Dylan Jedlovec
Dylan Jedlovec is an Operations Administrative Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Finishing up an undergraduate degree in Marketing and Economics from Samford University, Dylan is first and foremost a disciple of Christ and a son of the Church. Dylan has a heart for evangelization on college campuses, and has worked closely with FOCUS as a student missionary and served as President of the Catholic Student Association at Samford. As a member of the University Fellows Program at Samford, Dylan developed a love for the writings of the Saints, particularly the Doctors of the Church, through his studies of the core texts of the Western Intellectual Tradition. This love for the rich intellectual tradition of the faith brought him to the Avila Foundation, where he seeks to further the kingdom through feeding Christ’s sheep. In his free time, Dylan enjoys watching baseball, reading, hiking, running, and lifting weights (although you can’t really tell).
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
The literature on millennials is extensive. And I have not read it. But as a college professor, I have lived and worked with them day in and day out for many years. More and more I realize that I face the same challenges they do.
I offer no precise diagnosis of the problems millennials face. It is obvious that the current cultural climate has serious consequences for all of us—though often more serious for those who have known nothing else. We experience disintegration and disconnection; we are distracted and bored. We form addictions. We are often not at peace.
For years I have suggested to my students that they start a garden over the summer. This year I am going to be more insistent. Gardening is not, in my judgment, just one healthy hobby among many others. Rather, I am convinced that this is the strong medicine directly fitted to address our worsening ailment.WE NEED THE EARTH
We need to turn to the earth from which we were formed, and which we were commanded to tend. There we can seek reintegration and reconnection; we can seek healing.
At risk of oversimplifying, I think there are three things that make this medicine so fit for all of us suffering, in varying ways, from the challenges of contemporary culture. Gardening calls us to work, to wait, and to worship.
One does not have to look far to find an employer who says: I am just trying to find people who are actually willing to work. In one of those deep ironies in the demise of a human culture, the general rejection of the non-work realities in life, such as true leisure and worship, has led to the demise of work itself. Now work, often both over-emphasized and under-appreciated, has lost its rightful place in human life. A lack of the habits of good, hard work is one of the most glaring features of the millennial generation. Indeed many of us suffer from a dearth of good work, the kind of work that can strengthen the body, nourish the spirit, and connect people to one another, even while producing things useful for life.THE VALUE OF WORK
Gardening invites and even beckons us to good, hard work. And it always rewards it—sometimes even with edible fruits. But first of all the work itself is a reward. The pleasure of this work is palpable: the scents of soil and plants, the visual pleasingness of tilled rows, the fresh air and sunshine, and sometimes the comradery of the person or persons working next to you. I cannot think of another work that is both so wonderfully solitary and so profoundly communal.
The plants are not unreasonably demanding, but simply insistent: they will need regular tending. A visual check serves both as a reminder of what needs be done and as a proof that your work is having an effect. While short cuts are not rewarded, ingenuity is. Gardening is an art, and the attentive gardener grows in knowledge, skill and satisfaction even as his plants are growing.
And he learns to wait. It really seems as if the earth knows just how to time things, for our sake. If the plants took much longer, we might despair; if they came much quicker, we wouldn’t learn to hope. Putting seeds in the almost-cold spring earth can seem like folly, as the brisk wind blows. It is hard to picture this effort bearing fruit; warmer days and their fruits seem so far off. But the sun rises and it sets, rises and sets, as we go about our other daily labors. Then from causes unknown—unknown but not unaided by our own necessary labor—plants of wondrous beauty appear.
To learn to wait is to learn to be human. What else in life today so gently, so firmly, and so invitingly teaches us to wait? On the other hand technologies of labor-reduction and of immediate gratification are constantly placed before us. Press this button, or use this app, we are invited, and be amazed at what happens right away. Why wait, if you don’t have to, we are told in countless ways and contexts. And if you can skip the work, by all means do so.
Meanwhile seeds grow at their own pace, requiring patience, and on-going work. Indeed, even if we are patient and persevering in our work, sometimes the much anticipated fruits do not come. Contrary forces intervene: bad weather, insects, disease, roving rodents, and the list goes on. The art of the gardener is subject to so many factors beyond our control.CULT AND CULTIVATION
With good reason agri-culture has always been closely connected to the cult of the divine. Cultivators of fields experience a need to worship. “Sensible farmers, I can assure you,” writes Xenophon, “worship and pray to the gods about their fruits and grain…” Cato prescribes: “Offer a sow to Ceres before harvesting…and address a prayer, with incense and wine, to Janus, Jupiter, and Juno, before offering the sow.” And of course the Psalmist writes, “Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth.”
Growing food acts as a constant reminder that the most basic things in life are simultaneously the work of human hands and a gift from super-human hands. So gardening acts as a call to worship, to turn out eyes upward, whence comes our help.
I do not mean to imply that gardening is an automatic cure-all. It might be a cure-all, but it is not automatic. Indeed, it is not a push-button solution to our pushing-buttons problem. But it is a very potent medicine, the instructions for which are very straightforward: self-application with patience and perseverance. And this medicine has neither a foul taste, nor a phony cherry flavor. It tastes like real food, for it is real food. It is the food which has nourished the human body, psyche, character and community for as long as there has been human life. It is never just a fad, though remarkably it can go out of style.
But it is never out of reach; you cannot possibly be very far from soil. The simplest of tools will suffice. And the connection that we perhaps didn’t know had been sundered, though we felt it, can even now be restored.
Sacred Scripture, including the book of Proverbs, has much to say about wealth and poverty. The sages were especially concerned with the treatment of the poor by the powerful, as well as with the wise use of possessions for their authentic purposes. Today we’ll consider a prayer and three proverbs that shed light on the ways of thinking about excess and want, both in our lives and in the society around us.
Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the LORD?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God. (Prov. 30:7–9)
Chapter 30 in the book of Proverbs is known as the “Words of Agur.” Agur, son of Jakeh, may have been a foreigner to the land of Israel, but his wisdom was renowned and has been passed down through this Israelite book. Proverbs 30:7–9 is known as “Agur’s Prayer,” in which he asks two things of the Lord: that he not fall into the world of falsehood, and that he be neither rich nor poor. We will focus on the second petition.
In our culture, enough is never enough. We’re supposed to always want more than we have. It’s like Lake Wobegon from Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, where “all the children are above average.” No one wants to be just average because it is considered a failure of competence or ambition. Our commercials tell us that we need and deserve luxuries, fantastic cars, strong trucks, and sexy clothing. They do not merely assert that we need these things; they help to invent a need for them.
The prayer of Agur expresses the spiritual dangers of having more than enough, as well as of not having enough. Both material plenty and material poverty are challenges to our relationship with the Lord. On the one hand, when we are surrounded by goodies, we can easily become self-indulgent and self-satisfied, forgetting our reliance on the Lord. Not only are we tempted to forget Him because we no longer have to ask Him for sustenance — that is, “our daily bread” — but we also forget that what we have was ultimately given to us by Him. We want to believe that our riches all come from our own work and cleverness and diligence, rather than from the Lord. After all, who invented silver and gold: humans or God? All that humans know how to do is find gold, smelt it, and fashion it into something beautiful or useful.
Poverty, however, comes with spiritual challenges as well. Agur says that if he were poor, he would be tempted to “profane the name of my God” by breaking the commandment that forbids stealing. Furthermore, the difficulties of poverty might drive him into despair and cursing the Lord for his troubles. Poverty is not romantic, as can be seen in the sickness, hunger, and other deprivations suffered by the poor. The Lord has a special love for the poor, but that does not mean that poverty is always spiritually uplifting. It comes with as many temptations as riches do, just different and less expensive ones.
Therefore, Agur prays, as we should as well, just to have enough. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, also asks us to seek neither riches nor poverty, neither long life nor short life, neither health nor sickness; rather pray for the strength to seek only what God wants and to ask only what He would have us do for His “greater glory.” The best way to avoid the temptations that come with various material situations of riches or poverty is to maintain a prayerful relationship with the Lord and seek His guidance to reach His glory.
Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans, for their redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you. (Prov. 23:10–11)
This proverb requires a bit of explanation. The ancient Israelites believed that the land of Israel literally belonged to God. It was His hereditary portion of the earth. In the book of Joshua (chapters 13–21), the Lord instructed Joshua to set up boundaries for parcels of land for each tribe, clan, and family; the boundaries were marked with piles of stones as landmarks. The Israelites accepted these parcels of land as gifts given to them directly by the Lord, and they passed them down through the generations so that each family could have enough land to grow their food and raise their cattle.
In that light, the first part of this proverb forbids any attempt to adjust the land distribution or take for oneself the land that God had apportioned for other families. Moving a landmark, whether to add more land to one’s own portion or to take land away from a hated enemy, was forbidden. Adjusting other people’s heritage was a serious interference in the Lord’s plan for His people and an infringement of the covenantal promise to grant them the Promised Land. Some people might try to reason that God’s plan seems unfair, but their judgment of the matter does not permit them to apply their own, often selfish, reasoning to justify stealing another person’s heritage in contravention of His will.
The second part of the proverb is the more relevant to our consideration of the rich and the poor. If the father of a family died before his children had grown up, which was not uncommon in times past, the land and the other property of the orphans would be vulnerable to confiscation by the more powerful members of the community. In ancient societies, having an adult man as the protector of the family was absolutely necessary. Without such strong protectors, wealthier and more powerful landholders could swoop in and take the land of families who were helpless, as was frequently condemned by the Law, the prophets, and the sages:
You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. (Exod. 22:22–24)
Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. (Mal. 3:5)
Still, the final message of the proverb is that the poor and the unfortunate are not ultimately helpless: the Lord is their protector or “redeemer.” The Lord considers the violation of the dignity and the rights of the helpless so severe that He Himself will intervene as their counselor. This statement is echoed in those sins that the Church traditionally teaches “cry to heaven” for vengeance: “the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan [and] injustice to the wage earner” (CCC 1867). The Lord personally intervenes on behalf of the most helpless, whether in this life or in the next, because He takes oppression of the poor very seriously.
Today there are many ways in which the poor are victimized by various parts of society. Although a college education is necessary to do well in the contemporary economy, society fails to provide the excellent or even adequate primary and secondary education for the poor that make college a real possibility. Predatory loan companies squeeze high interest rates out of those who struggle from paycheck to paycheck, making it impossible for such borrowers ever to get out of debt. Unjust employers often do not pay full-time workers enough for survival. Politicians take bribes and kickbacks that affect their willingness to help the urban poor, while at the same time taking their votes for granted. All of these evils fall within the message of this proverb, so everyone should beware: as helpless as the poor may seem, the Lord “will plead their cause” on Judgment Day. On the Day of Judgment we all want to be among the “sheep,” who came to the aid of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, and the sick, finding Jesus Christ in each of them, rather than be counted among the “goats,” who missed Christ in the poor and ended in Hell (see Matt. 25:31–46).
Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend. (Prov. 19:4)
Many stories about people who win the lottery tell of the ways they are bombarded with requests from distant relatives and from people they met once many years ago asking to “reconnect.” One has less a sense of newfound familial love than the same old greed among those who simply want a piece of those winnings. The sages recognized this phenomenon long ago: when you are rich, everyone wants to be your friend.
But no one gets much benefit from befriending the poor — at least nothing material. All too often, one of the terrible conditions that accompanies poverty is loneliness. In the book of Job we read of Job’s friends abandoning him when his fortunes are destroyed by catastrophes and he is afflicted with a foul sickness. The three friends who do come to console him actually cause him more grief by blaming him for his troubles. Even his wife speaks like the foolish women by telling him to “curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). Why does this happen?
Frequently, the friendless poor do not have a support network to help them get by. The people around them worry that the poverty will never end, especially if the person is sick or old. All too often they end up poor not just in material things, but in healthy relationships with people who love them for themselves and just as they are. Loneliness and abandonment only add to the temptation to despair.
The frequency of such phenomena should encourage us to reflect: How do I think of my relationships? Are they ways to get things for myself, or do I really care about the good of my friends more than myself? How can I improve my relationships? How can I be a true friend to others in need — especially those poor in both money and in friendship? There is, for instance, an all-too-common pattern by which people give things or do things to get people to love them. (In their early years the Beatles warned the world: “Can’t buy me love.”) The person who tries to purchase love through gifts or actions eventually runs out of things to give away. If the love of others is given in response to gifts, big or small, the takers will leave the givers alone and lonely because they knew that the gifts were dependent on neediness rather than on love. Once the gifts are gone, so are the takers.
How do we become wise in regard to loving the poor? Since the 1960s, the federal government has distributed trillions of dollars in programs to the poor and some of that has resulted in certain financial improvements — for instance, the availability of electricity, water, sanitation, and other services increased dramatically in the rural South during the 1960s. On the other hand, the percentage of poor city dwellers has not improved nearly enough. Partly in response to the present structure of government welfare programs, too many people remain stuck in government housing with little economic opportunity, either for work or for development of their own businesses.
Where is the path of wisdom in helping the poor? Obviously it takes money, but it is not to be found only in giving money. Giving time and attention to the poor — tending to their deeper needs and concerns — is key. The poor understand much about their own environment, whether it is rural or urban, and they have much to teach those who would help them. They have important insights on ways to handle a life radically different from what most middle-class Americans have known.
Furthermore, the experiences and connections of the wealthier members of society, along with some governmental aid, can be brought to bear to improve the situations of poverty in more lasting ways. Too often government programs are designed primarily to elect politicians. How can the poor find economic independence and security, freed from governmental limitations, such as maximum incomes for public-housing residents. The wise will seek the deeper needs for strengthening family bonds so that the children know that their father and mother are irreplaceable, and that they, as children, are unique, dignified, and irreplaceable in the eyes of their parents. The wise will go beyond giving things to the poor but will make possible the development of business, opportunity, education, and skill development that make the poor independent enough to care for themselves and their families.
When the wise seek these and other thoughtful developments, truly the poor will end up having taught them more than they taught the poor.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full. (Prov. 19:17)
A perfect way to close out this chapter is with a reflection on the Lord’s involvement in the process of improving the lives of the poor. Just as the Lord will ultimately vindicate the rights of the poor when they are victimized, so also will He reward those who are wise and generous to the poor. This promise may make it easier for people of means to become emotionally and spiritually detached from their money and other possessions. Instead of thinking that the things around us are ours to use in any way that we please, we can see that all the money and possessions we have are given to our care. These things will not be ours forever, one way or another. I have never seen a hearse with a luggage rack or a trailer hitch.
This ought to remind us that all the things around us pass on to others — whether to the trash heap, to one’s heirs (or the government), or to the people who surround us, including the poor. Again, generous distribution of one’s goods should be done wisely, with an aim to the greater good and the deeper human needs of the poor. Generosity is not primarily oriented to making the giver feel good about himself but is concerned with the good of the receiver.
At the same time, the perspective of the sage in this proverb is that one’s gifts to the poor are not a loss but rather a kind of loan to the Lord. Even this perspective omits the sense that the Lord gave everyone on earth all the gifts that they have in their possession. Therefore, generosity to those in need, whether through time or material gifts, is actually a return back to the original Giver — the Lord God Himself. This proverb teaches us that the Lord’s repayment to the generous giver is ensured, whether in this life or in the next. Along these same lines our Lord Jesus taught us:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matt. 6:19–21)
Of course, there are many stories of people whose generosity with the poor has been repaid in this life. Unpredictable things happen — gifts, inheritances, raises in wages, and so on — that replace the things individuals had given away. However, the lesson is not to stop and count the newfound wealth, but to see it as a new opportunity to become more generous in ever cleverer and wiser ways.
Like any other virtue, generosity to the poor is a habit, and the most difficult part of any good habit is to begin living it. Today is the day everyone can decide to start (or to continue) the hard work of developing a habit of generosity. The joy of giving overcomes any fear of losing, and ultimately it draws one closer to God our Lord, who promises to be infinitely more generous than any of us could know how to be.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Pacwa’s The Proverbs Explained: A Blueprint for Christian Living, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Jesus came to save sinners. The primary purpose of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery—the Passion, suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, the Lord, was to save us from eternal perdition and to bring us to heaven. By the completion of Jesus’ Paschal mystery—Passion, suffering, death on the cross, and Resurrection from the dead three days later, the gates of heaven flew open, and all of us have access to union with the Blessed Trinity forever. All of us can be saved if this is the most ardent desire and yearning of our hearts.
True and as easy as this may sound, salvation depends principally on one condition, the primary, indispensable, and immutable disposition of our heart—and that is trusting fully and totally in the mercy that Jesus offers us in every time, every place, every culture, and to every individual person
By way of example, imagine this scene: A rich man has a fruit orchard in which there are luscious fruits of all kinds, sizes, and shapes. This rich man happens to be your friend. One day he says to you: “Listen, at any time of the day you are free to go into the orchard and take and eat any of the fruit your heart desires. The only condition is that you have to provide your own means of transportation to arrive at the orchard. Then pick and eat to your heart’s delight!” God has a garden and that is the Sacred Heart of His Son Jesus. He invites all to visit that Sacred Heart and eat and drink from it in abundance. The food and drink from Jesus’ Heart is His Mercy!Confession and Mercy
Reading and reflecting upon this message, the next question that might surface in your mind is the following: Well, if that is the case, how can I reach this orchard where can I attain this precious and free fruit? The response is amazingly simple: the Sacrament of Confession. Jesus is waiting for all of us, present in the ordained priest, in the confessional. When we receive the Sacrament of Confession and receive absolution—that means, the forgiveness of our sins—then it is not so much the priest who is forgiving our sins—but rather, it is Jesus who truly forgives. The priest is the mere instrument and Jesus, the Son of the living God, is the one who forgives.The Promise of Mercy Sunday
Now is the time, in a very special way, that we want to take advantage of the Infinite Mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Sunday following Easter is Mercy Sunday. Saint Pope John Paul II admitted that Mercy Sunday 2000 was the happiest day in his life for two specific reasons: 1) The first reason was that the saintly pontiff proclaimed that day to be solemnly celebrated as Mercy Sunday— actually the crowning moment of Easter, the Easter Octave. 2) This same day Saint Pope John Paul II canonized St Faustina Kowalska—known as the Secretary of Divine Mercy. With these two pontifical actions, Saint Pope John Paul II was filled with immense and overflowing joy. Incidentally, Saint Faustina was the first saint to be canonized in the new millennium.Content of the Promise of Divine Mercy
By making a well-prepared and sincere Confession in the Season of Lent, and then participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday and of course the most important element in the Mass, receiving fervently Holy Communion, then the great gift or promise is received! This means that after having received Holy Communion—the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, the Merciful Savior—your soul becomes absolutely pure, white as the snow, innocent as a dove, bright and resplendent as the midday sun, precious as the most valuable of all diamonds. Another means of expressing this: it is as if you were baptized a second time. By the way, the Sacrament of Baptism, even for adults, washes away all of your sins and the temporal punishment due them. This also means that if you were to die in the moment you would not have to spend an instant in Purgatory, but you would fly like an eagle to Heaven to be with the Blessed Trinity, Mary, the angels and the saints for all eternity.Take Advantage of the Moment
This being the case, why not take advantage of the Infinite Mercy that Jesus, through His Mystical Body the Church, is offering you right now. Remember the rich man and the orchard analogy! God is the rich man who is infinitely rich; the orchard and the abundant fruits symbolize His Mercy, which is the greatest of all of His attributes. It is up to you to make the effort to make it to confession, and confess honestly and sincerely your sins to the priest who represents Jesus. This results in forgiveness. Then on Mercy Sunday, with fervent reception of Holy Communion, total forgiveness of your sins and the temporal punishment due for your sins!
With the Psalmist let us praise with all of our hearts, minds, and souls, God and His Infinite Mercy: GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD FOR HE IS GOOD AND HIS MERCY ENDURES FOREVER.
Pope Benedict XVI describes the Resurrection of Jesus as an “evolutionary leap” in which a new dimension of human existence emerges. This new dimension “affects all of us and opens up for us a new space of life, a new space of being in union with God.” That means we’re all capable of undergoing this evolutionary leap.
How’s that possible? I’ve heard this new dimension called “resurrection-life.” Jesus founded the Church and instituted the sacraments for the purpose of pouring that same resurrection-life into us. At baptism he gives us our initial influx of it. By baptizing people at the Easter Vigil, the Church is reminding us that, because of our own baptism, we participate in the same divine life that raised Jesus from the dead and that spiritually restores us after the death of sin.
For the entire week after Easter Sunday, the Church celebrates what is called an octave. The Resurrection is so important that one day isn’t enough to celebrate it. So for eight whole days, it is still actually Easter Day. The Church’s liturgy wants us to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection in such a festive manner because it has created the possibility for our own resurrection. Baptism was our admission ticket for this resurrection; now we’re in the eight-day-long party.
The Easter Octave has its origins in celebrating the new resurrection-life of those who were baptized at the Easter Vigil. These neophytes, from the Greek for “newly planted,” remained in a kind of joyful retreat for all the seven days following the baptism. During that time they were attending daily Mass and the Divine Office, making pilgrimages to the font of their baptism, and receiving catechesis on the connection of their baptism with the Resurrection of Christ. Throughout this whole week, they continued to wear their white baptismal robes all day and every day to celebrate their having been “washed white in the blood of the lamb.” The early Latin Christians, therefore, referred to Easter Week as hebdomada alba (“white week”) from these white garments.
But the octave wasn’t just about the neophytes. Dom Gueranger points out that, early on, Easter Monday was fixed as the anniversary of baptism for the previous year’s neophytes. The Church, through her liturgy, was continuing to remind them—and us!—of the importance of remembering their baptism.
Over the centuries adult baptism became less common. But the Church still maintained the rich baptismal imagery of the Easter Octave, which included processions to the baptismal font and to the depiction of an empty tomb set up in the church building. Additionally, there were readings, antiphons, and prayers about baptism and the Resurrection. Dom Gueranger suggests that we can learn an important lesson from this liturgical organization. Celebrating the anniversary of our baptism as a feast day, he says, should be a Christian instinct. Our baptism was the day when we were born into supernatural life—thus it should even take precedence over the celebration of our natural birthday!
But these festivities can’t go on forever. On the Saturday of Easter Week, the neophytes participated in a ceremony at which they took off the white garments they had been wearing all week. After laying aside these outward symbols of purity, the neophytes made a solemn promise to maintain inward purity of soul—that is, to keep the resurrection-life alive and flowing within them (particularly by frequenting the sacraments and performing charitable works). By this public ceremony, “the Church returned the newly baptized to the duties of their ordinary station of life: they must now return to the world and comport themselves as Christians—disciples of Christ—for this is what they are.”
St. Augustine, sensitive to the danger that faced the newly baptized, cautioned his neophytes:
These Festival Days are now at an end, and the days that follow are given over to daily meetings, demands, disputes. Be careful, brethren, how you pass your life amid these things. From the quiet life of these past days you should take in gentleness of spirit.
In other words, take in the meekness that characterizes God’s mercy. The joy that the Christian has had this past week must now flow over into a life of serving his neighbor. Right before His passion Jesus gave us the “new commandment” to “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s the whole point of having His resurrection-life planted in our souls—that we become like Him.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is reprinted here with kind permission.
“If you were able to stir your heart a little more deeply to the practice of meekness and true humility, you would be courageous. But you must frequently think of it. Prepare yourself to do so first thing each morning, and God will send you a thousand consolations.”
-St. Francis de Sales, Roses Among Thorns
The center of Easter is the resurrection and not the empty tomb. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ.
At times, especially in previous ages, we focused too much on the death of Christ. Today we are told to focus both on his death and subsequent triumphant resurrection.
Our faith is based on the resurrection of Christ: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is empty and our belief comes to nothing, (1 Cor 15: 14)
To support the faith of his apostles and close friends, Jesus made appearances after his resurrection.
In today’s reading he appeared to Mary of Magdala. He then appeared to various women and to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. He appeared a few times to the apostles at the upper room behind closed doors and at the Sea of Galilee. He said farewell to them with his final instructions at his ascension into heaven.
Jesus is risen! Alleluia!
St. Apollonius is also known as Apollonius of Ephesus. He was a Roman senator who lived in the second century. He is thought to come from Ephesus because he was so well acquainted with the Christian history of that area. One early author stated that Apollonius was the bishop of Ephesus; however, since there are no other written accounts of this, it is doubtful that this is true. He certainly was known as a great defender of the faith, which earned him the name Apollonius the Apologist.
In the second century there was an apocalyptic and charismatic movement within the Church which was a threat to Tradition, the Holy Scriptures, and the office of the bishop. A man named Montanus claimed to be directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. He had many followers, including two prophetesses, Maximilla and Priscilla. They were prophesying the end of the world and the need to restore rigorous ascetic practices to Christianity. Although most of their writings have been lost or destroyed, written records of Eusebius and Epiphanius indicate that the Montanist doctrines were not readily susceptible to attack on matters of dogma. Therefore, the Church stressed traditional sources of authority and raised character issues in order to combat the Montanists. This is where the writings of Apollonius were so effective. Although many of his writings have been lost, according to others he showed the errors in the Montanist prophecies, and reported the unedifying lives of Montanus and his prophetesses. He also shed light on some of those in the sect, such as the apostate Themison and Alexander. Alexander was a notorious thief who was publicly condemned at Ephesus and had himself adored as a god.
Apollonius was denounced as a Christian by his slave to the Roman Prefect, Sextus Tigidius Perennis, who arrested him and had his slave put to death. Perennis then demanded that Apollonius denounce Christianity. When Apollonius refused to do so he had his case put before the Roman senate. A debate then took place in which Apollonius defended the faith eloquently, but he was still condemned and beheaded.
Apollonius recalls in some of his writings the tradition that Jesus advised His Apostles not to go far from Jerusalem during the twelve years immediately following His Ascension. This is also a tradition known to Clement of Alexandria, as written in the apocryphal “Praedicatio Petri.” Apollonius also tells about a time when St. John the Apostle resurrected a dead man at Ephesus. Apollonius knew St. John’s Apocalypse and quoted from it often.
Lord Jesus, may we, as Saint Peter advised, always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us. Help us to speak eloquently of our faith, as St. Apollonius did, remembering also to be charitable. We pray that through our words, many will come to know the truth. Amen.
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.