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Prayer Takes Practice: Five Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 07:42

How much time and energy is exerted in obtaining a degree from some prestigious University?  How much blood, sweat and tears are expended to win a trophy

from some sporting event? How much time and energy can even be consumed in preparing for a surprise Birthday party?   If we can expend so much time, money, emotional and physical energy for such natural pursuits, should we not at least expend more of our time and energy in what is the greatest of all arts, “The art of all arts” and that is learning the Practice of Prayer?

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church, calls prayer the key to salvation and following are five short, clear and concrete steps we can undertake to improve our personal prayer life, grow in holiness, be a source of holiness to many others and experience a nearly constant peace and overflowing joy!

1.    Conviction. First, we must be convinced of the importance of prayer in our life and for our eternal salvation.  St. Alphonsus expresses it concisely: “He who prays will be saved; he who does not pray will be damned.” St. John Damascene defines prayer: “Lifting of the mind and heart to God.” St. Augustine has a catchy way of expressing the indispensable character of prayer: “He who prays well lives well; he who lives well dies well; and for he who dies well, all is well.”  A final easy analogy: as air is to the lungs, so must prayer be to our soul.  No air for the lungs, death arrives quickly. Likewise, the prayer-less person can easily fall prey to temptation and fall into mortal sin and lose out on God’s Friendship

2.     Confession.   If we are not at peace with God, if our conscience is reproaching us, if we have unforgiven and unconfessed sins we will find that talking face to face with God as friends will be all the more difficult. If we hurt our friend, we apologize, seek forgiveness, and then return to amicable relations.

3.    Set a time and a place to pray.  Man is a creature of habit. We do certain things every day at the same time and place.  Of capital importance should be to form the habit of prayer. This habit will result in our salvation and possibly the salvation of many others.  We can pray at any time and any place and in any circumstance. However, there are “Prime times” that we should pray. Morning prayer upon arising from sleep, grace before meals, before going on a trip, the family Rosary in the evening before dinner, and night prayers—these are traditional times for prayer.

4.    Mass and Holy Communion.  By far the greatest prayer in the world is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Sunday Mass is obligatory, under pain of mortal sin. However, if we are truly in love with God, we should not aim for the minimum but rather the maximum!   The greatest action and gesture under the heavens that will lead us to eternal life in heaven is to assist at Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion fervently, humbly, and with great confidence.  The angels in heaven experience a holy envy towards us because even the greatest of angels cannot receive Jesus in Holy Communion. How privileged we really are!

5.     Seek Our Lady of the Rosary.  Our Lady of Fatima appeared in 1917 from May to October. In every one of the Apparitions she insisted on the praying of the Rosary. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary, also insisted that we pray the Rosary and for two specific important intentions: 1) for world peace, 2) for the sake of the family.  The Rosary priest, Father Patrick Peyton, coined these immortal proverbs: “The family that prays together, stays together….”  And “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”   The family should find a time and place and pray the Rosary every day. May the father who is the spiritual head of the family initiate this practice, bring the family together, and persevere in this prayer for the salvation of his entire family.

If we can implement these five concrete practices in our personal prayer life then we will bring forth fruit and fruit in abundance! May Our Lady of grace inspire us to undertake a daily growth in our prayer life.

The post Prayer Takes Practice: Five Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

4 Ways to Increase Patience

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 02:35
4 Ways to Increase Patience

 

Patience is so important that Jesus Christ, our model in all virtues, said: “In your patience you shall possess your souls” (Luke 21:19, Douay-Rheims). One pious soul prayed in desperation: “Lord, give me patience right now!” Maybe this has been your prayer for the last few years.

Our patience can be tested by various circumstances: the failure of health, economic setbacks, family members who could put the holy Job to the test, weather extremes, failed and broken relationships, and even God — when it seems as if he is distant, that he does not hear our prayers or at least seems indifferent to our pleadings.

How, then, can we acquire the all-important virtue of patience that, as Jesus reminds us, is necessary for the salvation of our immortal souls? Here are four ways to increase patience.

Persevere in Begging for Help.

St. Ignatius of Loyola insists that we must beg for grace, and St. Augustine humbly reminds us that we are all beggars before God. God is willing to give if we simply persevere in asking him. Remember the persistent widow who gained the favor of the callous and cold-hearted judge for the simple reason that she kept begging for his help (see Luke 18:1–8)? “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).

Follow Jesus’ Example.

There is a saying: “Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are.” Reading the Gospels and meditating on the words, gestures, and actions of Jesus can help us to become like him. Spend time with Jesus in the Gospels and associate with him more and more. You will start to imitate Jesus, especially in the virtue of patience.

Meditate on the Passion of Christ.

When trials descend on you, call to mind some element of the passion of Christ, either from the Gospels or from the works of writers such as Anne Catherine Emmerich. This will put your trials into a broader and supernatural perspective: the trials you suffer might indeed be very painful, but compared with what our Lord has gone through, they are a mere trifle. Also, we suffer trials partially as a result of our own sinfulness, but Jesus suffered the most excruciating pains even as the epitome of innocence. Choose one element or detail of the passion that strikes you most, and recall this scene when your patience is put to the bitter test. The love of Jesus can move you to carry patiently the most burdensome crosses. As St. Paul states: “The love of Christ urges us on” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14).

Pray to Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows.

One essential element in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the film. The intensity of Mary’s suffering was second only to Jesus’.

The film portrays Our Lady of Sorrows along the way of Calvary accompanying Jesus in his most bitter trial. Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, patient to a heroic degree. She practiced patience her whole life: traveling to Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt, seeking out her lost son for three long days, losing her beloved husband, St. Joseph, to death, and accompanying Jesus, seeing him crucified, and staying with him until he drew his last breath. When our patience is put to the test, then, we should lift our minds, hearts, and souls to our Lady, and she will acquire for us heroic patience.

We all struggle to be patient with others, with ourselves, with circumstances, and at times even with God. Let us use the weapons we have in our arsenal to attain the all-important virtue of patience. Let us pray as beggars to the most generous giver, God. Let us follow the example of Jesus. Let us meditate on his passion and, when opportunities to practice patience surface, call to mind all that Jesus suffered for us. Finally, let us ask Our Lady of Sorrows to obtain for us meek, humble, and patient hearts.

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This article is an excerpt from From Humdrum to Holy by Fr. Ed Broom, O.M.V. and is available from Sophia Institute Press 

Art for this post on how to increase patience: Christus Und Die Samariterin Am Brunnen (Christ And The Samaritan Woman At The Well), Angelika Kauffmann, 1796, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of From Humdrum to Holy 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.

 

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

Suffering, Suicide, and the Light of Hope

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:07

I was thirteen years old when Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Grunge was making its debut into pop culture, but I, a blithe and somewhat naïve adolescent, knew very little about suicide or pop culture. Life, to me, was breathtaking and fragile—human life even more so. I couldn’t fathom someone wanting to end such a gift, to take into his own hands the miracle that was his every heartbeat, every breath, every thought.

I believed this, despite the fact that I was keenly aware of the problem of suffering. I write problem, not because suffering is a real hindrance, but rather because it is complex and multifaceted. Suffering is difficult to comprehend and even more of a struggle to live well. It’s a problem to most of us on a very rudimentary level, because we are wired to disdain it. To human nature, suffering is punishment. It’s consequence of sin or perhaps unfortunate circumstances.

Suffering appears to us as a specter of disappointment. We chase it only to attempt capture, only to control or subdue it. We do not allow suffering to befall us in unforeseen or unpredictable ways. And when it does, we plunge into the depths of discouragement and even despair.

It’s the despair that led me to take a deeper look into the spirituality of suicide. I’ve been seeing news of the tragic final days of legendary rock musicians that I followed in the heights of the alternative music era: Chris Cornell and subsequently his protégé, Chester Bennington. Initially, I thought that many people might dismiss the end of their lives as romantic punctuation in a volatile and intense drama.

But what about otherwise “ordinary” people who commit suicide? What can possibly be surmised from their stories? We’ll never know for certain, of course, but I’d like to posit a very foundational theory based on what I do know and understand about both suicide and suffering.

When suffering is viewed as something that should be avoided at all costs, people no longer see the merit in it. And when there is nothing that can be gained from our suffering – if it is always senseless and pointless – then we do not learn how to cope with it when life becomes unbearable. Life, if not lived in full happiness, becomes impossible. We cannot fathom going on.

This is where suffering becomes an impetus for change, either positive or negative. When we reach the crossroads of decision, we realize that all we’ve ever believed about suffering comes down to one thing: does it have value? If we accept what society implies, we will despair. If we cling to a fragment of frail hope, however, we have a chance to reframe our pain into something purposeful. And that is where the spirituality of suicide seems to converge with the cultural climate.

In a world that devalues humanity, why would we expect a message of mercy and hope? Suicide is a microcosmic symptom of a macrocosmic problem.  A person who is deeply, perhaps irrevocably suffering (as in the case of mental illness) may not view his or her life as worthwhile. Through the lens of darkness, what can possibly be ascertained as good or worthy of love? One feels abandoned, alone, forsaken and at times, above all by God. Hope is fragile and distant, and at some point may be extinguished altogether.

The messages we received from the world is that suffering is symptomatic of what is bad, wrong, and disordered with life. It’s true that suffering is a consequence of original sin, and we see evidence of innocent suffering everywhere – the baby with leukemia, the woman with lung cancer who has never smoked, the young man with schizophrenia, the mother whose child died in a car accident. These forms of suffering aren’t necessarily indicative of personal sin. They are a form of suffering brought on by natural causes and disasters that result from the sin of Adam and Eve.

Does this seem overly simplistic? Perhaps it does. But if we dig deeply enough into the principle behind the statement, we see that God never intended for suffering to afflict humanity. Mankind chose suffering as a consequence of pride when that first sin occurred thousands of generations ago.

It might be tempting to dismiss this and turn our anger toward God. Anger, when unchecked, turns inward as depression or outward as rage and resentment. We cry. We curse. We blame. All of these, if done in a spirit of open dialogue with God, remains a line of communication that keeps our eyes and hearts aligned with Him. We should not shy away from God in shame when we are in pain. Instead, we can engage in the battle between hope and despair, praying that hope will win.

Hope tells us to cling to faith, to believe in what we cannot see. Hope says we are afflicted but not cast down, defeated but not destroyed, scourged but not dead. Hope beckons us to move forward, to live in our vulnerable spaces, to embrace difficulty and offer them back to Jesus as wounds of love.

Despair deceives. It says we’re worthless, that life will never change. Nothing will improve. We’ll never be happy. We’ve been abandoned and our loneliness will forever be our solitary companion.

Suicide believes the internal tapes of despair. Suicide is the only way out of despair, it claims. But hope is the antidote. Hope, however tiny a voice it may be competing with the bellowing of despair, is strong and powerful. If we accept it, listen to it, we begin – little by little – to rise above our challenges. And someday we’ll discover our pain is met with tenacious resolve and resilience to live and love not in spite of, but because of pain.

Why We Worship On Sunday

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:05
Answering Seventh-Day Adventists and Other Sabbatarians

Have you been asked yet — either by a Seventh-Day Adventist or a member of other Seventh-Day Sabbatarian groups (and there are many) — why Christians changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday? Quick answer — the Sabbath is still on Saturday. But most (not all) Christians including Catholics, Orthodox and many Protestants observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Sabbath Day…Lord’s Day. There’s a difference. Let’s look at this.

Keep It Holy

When God had completed his creation of the world, he rested on the seventh day. The Hebrew word for “rest” is “Sabbath” or “Shabbat”. But since God is Almighty and has no need to actually rest, we can properly say that God simply ceased all of his work.

Was the World Created in Six Literal Days?

Some fundamentalist communities will make the argument that God created the world in six literal 24-hour days and thus the seventh day is Saturday. However, a closer look at the creation narrative in Genesis finds something very interesting. In Ch. 1:11 we see God command, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation,” (italics mine) and in v. 24, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature”. This means that God allowed the earth to bring forth her great gifts at its own natural pace over time rather than everything coming forth all at once, instantly. We must remember that God created natural law as well as supernatural law.

If the world was not created in six 24-hour days, how then, is it determined that the seventh day was on a Saturday? The Jews (even to this day) have no names for their days of the week. Rather they are simply enumerated and go by First Day, Second Day, Third Day, etc. until they get to Shabbat, the only day with a name. It is thought that when the Jews were exile in Babylon in roughly 597/6 until 538 B.C. they had adopted the calendar of the Babylonians for that is what they had used throughout their exile. Likewise, the Jewish months of the year were also enumerated and not actually named until during the Babylonian captivity. In fact, the months of Nisan, Sivan, Elul, Kislev, Tevet, Shevat, and Adar on the Jewish calendar are Babylonian in origin: “The Jews adopted not only Babylonian month names but also the entire Babylonian calendar.” At the end of the Babylonian exile, King Cyrus of Persia (who had conquered the Babylonians) allowed and even encouraged the Jews to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple. However, a good number of them opted to stay. It was also in Babylonia where the Jews wrote down and codified the Talmud (known as the Talmud Bavli).

Moses and The Law

Centuries after the creation of the world, God raised up Moses (a type of savior) to go (return) to Egypt to “set my people free”. As they journeyed through the desert toward the Promised Land, God gave to Moses two tablets containing what Christians call the Ten Commandments (and what Jews simply call The Ten Words). Among these is the commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s day” (Ex. 20:8). With this commandment God gives instruction as to how this shall be done:  “You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates” (v. 10).  It was the only way that slaves and their owners and beasts of burden could also have rest. In Cecil B. DeMille’s great epic movie The Ten Commandments, Moses is accused of giving the slaves one day’s rest per week from building Pharaoh’s glorious city. Moses says to Pharaoh in response to his brother Rameses’ accusation: “A city is made of brick. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none”. Thus the Sabbath prohibits work.

Going a step further, God gives two reasons for resting on the Sabbath:

  1. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (v. 11; Ex. 31:15-17).
  2. Remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deut. 5:15)
No Mandate to Worship on the Sabbath

There is not a mandate to worship on the Sabbath because there was as of yet no place to worship; they were still in the desert and, according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, “…Communal prayer—that is, liturgy—is hardly found prior to the separation of Israel and Judah”. Further, “there is no mention of the Synagogue in the “Written Torah” (i.e., the Five Books of Moses). The institution of the synagogue is of later, Rabbinic origin”.

Sabbath Worship Optional for Gentiles

The Lord God makes it clear that keeping the Sabbath is optional for gentiles as he himself says through the great prophet Isaiah: For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose (italics mine) what pleases me, and who hold fast to my covenant…” (56:4).

One resource I found about non-Jews and the covenant says this: “God did not require the Gentiles to obey laws they did not have. They were required to obey the law written on their hearts, but they were not required to obey the ritual laws, for such laws have to be specially revealed, and God revealed them only to Israel, and they applied only to Israel”. In fact the rabbis of the various the Jewish sites I reviewed on the internet pertaining to the commandment of the Sabbath insist that the Ten Commandments do not apply to Christians or any other non-Jews.

Jesus and the Sabbath

But didn’t Jesus tell the rich young man to “keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17; Mk 10:19)? Yes, he did…but Jesus was speaking to him as a fellow Jew.

Another objection that Seventh Day Sabbatarians raise is the fact that Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath “as was his custom” (Lk 4:16) and so they insist that Saturday Sabbath is the day for worship.  But Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day (Lk 2:21); he was “presented to the Lord, according to the law of Moses” (italics mine) (Lk 2:22); he wore the prescribed prayer shawl/tallit with its fringes (Deut. 22:12, Mt. 9:20); he followed the custom of praying three times per day; he observed Hanukkah and he offered animals for sacrifice. None of these have been retained in the Christian faith. The requirement for circumcision is direct from the law of Moses, but it finds its fulfillment in baptism. “For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now…” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho).

The Council of Jerusalem

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles speaks of a group of Judaizers who were insisting that Greeks/gentiles who wished to come into the Church must first be circumcised and live as a Jew for awhile: “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved” (v. 1). A council was held in Jerusalem (around A.D. 51) with all of the Church leaders including Peter, James and Paul (to name a few) to discuss the issue. The outcome of the council that was reached is this: ‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit (italics mine) and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right” (v. 28-29).  Nothing at all about mandating them to “keep holy the Sabbath”.

The Sabbath Was Made For Man Not Man For the Sabbath

In performing miracles on the Sabbath, Jesus made it clear that the well-being of people and even animals always took precedence. While the Jews saw them as unlawful works, Jesus took pity upon those who were suffering and refused that they should remain in their suffering even for one more day. As important as the Sabbath was in that no work should be done, Jews allowed for circumcisions to be performed on the Sabbath. Not only was temple sacrifice to be done even on the Sabbath but three sacrifices rather than the two that were required on a daily basis were to be offered on that day — one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The twelve loaves of the bread of (perpetual) Presence (Lev. 24:8) in the temple sanctuary was to be replaced on the Sabbath. It was bread that was hot and so baking was done on the Sabbath. Even carrying on the Sabbath is considered a prohibition…but the bread of Presence was indeed carried into the temple every Sabbath.

The Sabbath is Not a Moral Law

The Jews maintain that the command to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy does not make it a moral law but a ceremonial one for “the Sabbath is to be ‘ot berit’ (a Hebrew term) — “a sign (italics mine) between me and you throughout your generations” (Ex. 31:13).

Jesus as The Fulfillment of All

Catholics, Orthodox and most Protestants observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day and therefore worship on that day. It was — and is — fitting that they (we) should do so.

The Passover is always celebrated on the 14th of Nisan according to the Jewish calendar. It was the day on which Jesus was put to death…slaughtered like the sacrificial lamb. He became our sacrifice…the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) — a term every Jew at that time would have recognized).

We know that Jesus was in the tomb the entire next day…Saturday, the day of rest. What most people are unaware of is that the 15th of Nisan is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was the day that Jesus “our bread” “rested” in the tomb on that Sabbath.

On the third day, the 16th of Nisan is known as the Feast of the First Fruits — the day when Jews went to the temple to offer the barley harvest as a wave offering. Barley was the first of the many crops grown in the area and thus it was brought in sheaves to the temple as the first grain offering to God. St. Paul calls Jesus the “first fruits” from the ground (tomb) and offered back to God. He then calls us the first fruits of the dead (1 Cor. 15:23)…”we who belong to Christ”.

Jesus’ resurrection took place on Sunday, the first day of the week which is also known as the Eighth Day. It is from this that we get the Greek term Kairos. It is God’s time. Even with the creation of the world, there is no mention of “evening came” for the Sabbath…leaving one to think perhaps of the rest “in” God. It is the day of new creation because Jesus is the new creation…all is fulfilled in him.

New Testament and the Resurrection

After Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to the twelve on “the first day of the week”. Jesus breathed on the twelve on that day and gave them power to forgive sins (see Jn 20:22); the apostle John was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day (Rev. 1:10).

Luke speaks of gathering on the first day of the week to break bread (Acts 1:6). St. Paul — in his First Letter to the  Corinthians (16:2) — speaks of taking up collections on the first day of the week. Hence, worship on Sundays was already a happening thing.

Some people “accuse” Rome of making the change but Rome was not yet the center of the Church back then…it was still Jerusalem. Most of the change was done because of the Resurrection on Sunday and due to the various sightings of Jesus on the first day of the week — mentioned in a previous paragraph. At first Christians kept both the seventh-day Sabbath worship and the first day of the week was for the breaking of the bread — the Eucharist. But as more God-fearing gentiles were admitted into the Christian community, they were not allowed into the temple for prayers and sacrifices because of their un-circumcision. In fact, this is why St. Paul was arrested…he was accused of bringing uncircumcised men into the temple and thus causing it to become defiled. Then in A.D. 90 Christianity was declared illegal and the Jews added a malediction into one of the daily prayers (the Amidah) of which no Christian would be comfortable praying against himself as a heretic. Thus they gave up temple worship and sacrifice and kept to just Sunday.

The Church Fathers on the Lord’s Day

Here are three quotes from a few of the Church fathers on worshipping on the first day of the week:

St. Ignatius of Antioch:

“Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner…. But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, and rejoicing after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days.”

Barnabas (2nd Century A.D. 120):

“We keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”

Justin Martyr (2nd Century A.D. 140):

“But Sunday is the day which we all hold our common assembly, because Jesus Christ, our Saviour, on the same day rose from the dead,” (Justin, I Apol. 67:PG 6,429 and 432).

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC):

#2174 — Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” Because it is the “first day,” the day of Christ’s Resurrection recalls the first creation. Because it is the “eighth day” following the Sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday.

Interlinear note for 2174 — “We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish Sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead”9.

#2175 — Sunday is expressly distinguished from the Sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the Sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish Sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ.

#2178 — This practice of the Christian assembly dates from the beginnings of the apostolic age…

Therefore the First Day of the week…Sunday…the Eighth Day…is indeed the queen and chief of all the days. It is truly first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day.

The Transfiguration and our Christian Identity

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:02

I was initially confused about what to do with my life shortly after I arrived in the United States from my native country of Nigeria. I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Geophysics. My dad suggested that I go into Information Technology instead. My uncle was of the opinion that I should get an MBA and pursue a business career. My childhood friends suggested that I ignored my dad and uncle and play soccer instead because it was both profitable and more fun! They were all good options but what was I to do?

Clarity came only when I came to realize that God loved me as His Son in Jesus Christ just as I was no matter what my past has been and He had a mission for me despite my weakness. I came to embrace my priestly and religious vocation only after I realized that Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, has won for me the right to be a son of God with great privileges and responsibilities. In Christ Jesus and through Christ Jesus, I have access to divine grace, mercy, forgiveness, faith, hope, love, etc., a gratuitous share in the mission of Christ as well as all that I needed to fulfill this mission.

We are usually confused about what we are to do in life because we easily focus on the issue of what to do without first answering the fundamental question, “Who am I?” Unless we first grasp our true identity in Christ, i.e. knowing who we truly are in the eyes of God, we can never know what we are called to do. When our true identity is blurred, faulty or built on shaky ground, we find ourselves both confused and weakened to act as we should act in this world.

Jesus fulfilled the mission for which the Father sent Him because He never forgot that His fundamental identity was as His Father’s only begotten Son. Being fully aware and conscious of both His rights and responsibilities as the beloved Son of the Father, Jesus knew exactly what to do at each moment of His life no matter what it cost Him or His loved ones.

When He was found in the temple at the age of twelve by His parents He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” He had no doubts about His Father’s love for Him and His union with the Father, “I and the Father are one.” He resolutely embraced the responsibilities that come with being the Father’s beloved Son, “I must complete the work of Him who sent me.” In addition, Jesus “did not seek to please Himself but the Father,” submitting to His Father’s will in His agony in the Garden, “Father, take this chalice away from me but not my will but yours be done.” On the cross, He never doubted that He was the Father’s beloved Son as He gave His last breath as an offering to the Father, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

The Father repeatedly affirmed this fundamental identity of Jesus throughout His earthly life. When Jesus began His public ministry at His baptism in the Jordan, the Father exclaimed, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” In today’s Gospel passage the Father again exclaimed about the transfigured Christ, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” In both instances, the voice of the Father is not to remind Jesus that He is first and foremost the Father’s beloved Son. But this voice is primarily for us, to point us to Jesus as the source of our true identity as children of God. It is Jesus Christ alone who reveals to us our true identity as God’s beloved children, makes us truly God’s children and gives us the grace to truly live as such. Unless we learn to look at and listen to Jesus alone, we will never know our true identity as God’s beloved children, we will live our lives without faith in the rights that Christ has won for us and we will be helpless to fulfill our duties as God’s beloved children, “To those who believe in His (Jesus’) name, He has given power to become sons of God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, where do we get our sense of identity from today? Is our identity rooted in our wealth, job, achievement, fame, success, popularity, or our acceptability by others? How would each of us answer the question, “Who am I?” Are we looking to the world or to others to tell us who we really are? How sad to see many people today who would reduce their fundamental identity to their sexual orientation or to current ideologies or movements within our outside the Church. Whether we call ourselves liberals or conservatives, homosexual or straight, pro-life or pro-abortion, we must never forget our fundamental identity as God’s beloved Children in Christ. In Christ Jesus, we have access to God as His beloved children and the grace that triumphs over the devil, all sin and the grave. It is in Christ Jesus alone that we can also fulfill our responsibilities to live lives of ongoing conversion, loving God and others selflessly, seeking to please God in all things and fulfill the mission for which we were created.

One clear sign that we are truly rooted in our identity as God’s children is that we become like Jesus, constantly in touch with the continuously affirming words of the Father, “You are my beloved son/daughter with whom I am well pleased.” When we are firmly grounded on this truth as our fundamental identity, our predominant desire will be to do all things to please the Father and not ourselves. This way, nothing can stop us from fulfilling our mission in life.

If we are going to live our Christian life with conviction and overcome all confusion and weakness, we must look to Jesus Christ and Him alone and listen to His words as He speaks to us in prayer, in the Sacraments, in His written words to us, in our well-formed consciences and in the Catholic Church. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of Man takes on light.” St. Paul echoes this same message when he says to us in today’s Second Reading, “You will do well to be attentive to it (prophetic message) as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Our world is indeed a dark place because it offers us so many tempting suggestions about who we are. Our fallen human nature and the devil are constantly proposing for us false images of who are. The light continues to shine in the dark world because, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, never ceases to come to us as in today’s Eucharist to reveal Himself to us and to reveal to us who we truly are. Mary, the Mother of God, is also reminding us of our rights and duties as God’s children as she whispers in our hearts, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you.”

Let us fix our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ so that we grasp deeply who we truly are as God’s beloved children even in our sins and struggles. Doing so we will find both light and strength to be and to do what God wants for us in this world and please Him by fulfilling our mission in life so that for all eternity, we will echo the words of St. Peter before the face of the transfigured Christ in today’s Gospel, “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Though the Canaanite woman was a

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:00

Though the Canaanite woman was a Gentile, looked down upon by the Jews as second class, this did not deter her from seeking Jesus’ help for the healing of her daughter. The woman’s faith, praised by Jesus, was truly admirable in its humility and persistence.

Oftentimes we are discouraged and become over anxious due to our problems and concerns, making us forget that we have a loving heavenly Father looking over us. In our distress we try to figure out and solve our problems on our own, at times even disregarding our Christian values: we feel the easier way is less troublesome, not realizing that it could lead to more serious problems.

Lord Jesus, make us constantly aware of your loving presence in our hearts. Make us not forget that we always have you as a Friend with unequalled power caring for us. Make our faith in you grow stronger, our hope firmer and our dependence on you more complete.

“God created us out of love for

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:00

“God created us out of love for Himself and out of love for His creatures… He did not create us out of necessity; He did not need us. He did not create us out of justice; He owed us nothing. No, it is to His sheer love that we owe our existence.” 

-Fr. Jean C. J. D’Elbee, I Believe in Love

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 22:00

Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany, (now Wroclaw, Poland) on 12 October 1891, the youngest of eleven children of a devout Jewish family. She died in the Auschwitz gas chamber on 9 August 1942, having been sent to the death camp when she refused to deny her Jewish heritage.

In 1916 she completed her doctoral dissertation in philosophy at the University of Gottingen, under the mentorship of the famed founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl. On January 1, 1922, Edith Stein was baptized Catholic, taking the name Teresa.

On 14 October 1933, at age 42, Edith Stein entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne and took the religious name, Teresa Benedicta a Cruce — Teresa, Blessed of the Cross — reflecting her special devotion to the Passion of Christ, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross.

In 1933, she sought help from the Vatican for her Jewish community. Her life and writings focused on the mystery of joy in suffering, of victory in failure, and of dying and rising with Christ.

In July of 1942, Sister Teresa, along with her sister Rosa, were sent to the concentration camp at Theresianstadt, Germany, where she died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on 9 August 1942 and was proclaimed a saint on 11 October 1998 by Pope John Paul II:

For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the fostering of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayers for the divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of our brother bishops, we declare and define that Bl. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, is a saint and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated in the whole Church as one of the saints. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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

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

“When night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much that one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as is, lay it in God’s hands, and offer it up to Him. In this way we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest and to begin the new day like a new life.”

— St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,

“Verses for a Pentecost Novena”

Thank you, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross! What may I now lay in God’s hands and offer up to Him, that I might “rest and begin the new day like a new life”?

Other Saints We Remember Today

Vigil of St. Lawrence

St. Romanus (258), Martyr, Roman soldier converted by St. Lawrence

St. Marcellinus, Priest, and St. Peter, Exorcist (304), Martyrs

 

image: Johann Brunner / Wikimedia Commons

Edith Stein’s Journey to Sainthood

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 22:07

At the end of her life, Edith Stein considered herself one of the countless “hidden souls” who are part of the invisible Church and who regularly remain hidden from the whole world. She was a contemplative nun, a member of the Discalced Carmelite Order.

Yet, as Edith herself pointed out, throughout the history of humankind the visible Church has grown out of this invisible one. In the Old Testament, as the patriarchs allowed themselves to be used as God’s pliant instruments, “[God] established them in an external visible efficacy as bearers of historical development.” And every one of the events and persons who intertwined in the mystery of the Incarnation — Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the kings, Simeon, and Anna — had behind them “a solitary life with God and were prepared for their special tasks before they found themselves together in those awesome encounters and events.” To most hidden souls, their impact and affinity can remain hidden even from themselves and others for their entire lives, Edith wrote the year before her death.

But it is also possible for some of this to become visible in the external world. . . . The deeper a soul is bound to God, the more completely surrendered to grace, the stronger will be its influence on the form of the church. Conversely, the more an era is engulfed in the night of sin and estrangement from God, the more it needs souls united to God. And God does not permit a deficiency. The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. . . . Certainly the decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.

During one of the darkest periods of our human history, deeply rooted in this “estrangement from God” and “the night of sin” and death that she describes, Edith Stein chose to take on the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and to unite her soul to God fully and completely as a contemplative nun. Surely, this is no coincidence.

This article is from “Edith Stein: The Life and Death of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.” Click image to preview or order.

This is Edith Stein’s legacy.

Long before Pope John Paul II proclaimed Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross a saint in the Catholic Church in 1998, the “hidden life” of Edith Stein had become known and remembered in faith communities, mostly throughout Europe. This hidden soul and her complete trust in divine grace became slowly visible to the external world, as Catholics throughout that continent recognized the unparalleled, deliberate, and brilliant legacy left behind by the interior life of this woman of Jewish descent who fell in love with Truth and transformed her entire life because of that encounter with Jesus Christ. Her surrender to grace is all the more visible because of the dark night that enveloped the period of history in which she lived — and died — years when millions of men and women were systematically murdered by the Nazi regime in the name of diligent ethnic cleansing.

Edith Stein was passionate, purposeful, faithful, and committed. She was a brilliant philosopher who lived and thrived in the intellectual university community of 1910s Germany. She was also a young Jewish woman who shocked her intellectual community when she fell in love with Jesus Christ and became a Roman Catholic, being baptized in 1922. More shocking still, eleven years later, Edith entered the cloistered Carmelite order in Cologne, Germany, to follow a life of mystic and contemplative prayer in the cloister under the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Today, as the meaning of feminism is lost in a world of relativism, Edith Stein provides a model for a true feminist — a woman who authentically integrates faith, family, and work.

In 1942, Edith and her sister Rosa, a lay Carmelite living with her at the monastery in Echt, Holland, were forcefully taken by the Gestapo and transported by train to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were both murdered in the gas chamber on August 9. Edith Stein’s profound spirituality, however, had left a mark not only on those who had personally known her as a philosopher, a teacher, and a speaker, but also on all who learned of her through her many writings, essays, articles, letters, and stories.

“Today we live again in a time that urgently needs to be renewed at the hidden springs of God-fearing souls,” Edith wrote for the feast of the Epiphany, 1941, a meditation requested by the Echt Prioress. “Many people, too, place their last hope in these hidden springs of salvation. This is a serious warning cry: Surrender without reservation to the Lord who has called us. This is required of us so that the face of the earth may be renewed. In faithful trust, we must abandon our souls to the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. . . . We may live in confident certainty that what the Spirit of God secretly effects in us bears fruits in the kingdom of God. We will see them in eternity.”

Not in spite of, but because of, Edith’s hidden life, one can easily paraphrase what G. K. Chesterton wrote of Thomas More: if there had not been that particular woman at that particular moment, the whole of history would have been different. Not only is Edith Stein the first recognized saint in the Catholic Church since the end of the apostolic age to have been born and raised in a practicing Jewish family, but, even more significant, because of her legacy of faith and philosophy, our understanding of Catholicism is richer, deeper, and more profound.

Much like the spread of the Christian message in the early Church, the story of the Discalced Carmelite nun named Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, traveled swiftly by word of mouth. And through ordeals that sound like an episode of Mission Impossible, Edith’s original manuscripts were stashed away, concealed, and even literally buried underground during the Second World War, in an effort to preserve her unique and insightful work from the Nazi death machine. It is amazing and outright miraculous that so much of Edith’s work was ultimately preserved — in spite of the gruesome persecution and physical devastation left behind by the war.

It is not hard to see, therefore, how the story of such a radical and orthodox Catholic woman could not only grab the attention of the community of believers, but also inspire them to follow the way to Christ. A short twenty years after her death, the official process of beatification and canonization for Edith Stein was set in motion. Whether through reading her numerous writings, which are now translated into several languages, or through hearing her story, it became natural to anticipate that Edith would one day be formally honored because of her faith. On May 1, 1987, she was beatified in Cologne by Pope John Paul II, in a ceremony attended by seventy thousand people, including some of her Jewish relatives and Carmelite Sisters who had known and lived with her.

Eleven years later (the same number of years that Edith waited between her baptism and her entry into Carmel) Edith Stein — the philosopher, convert to the Catholic Faith, Carmel­ite nun, and martyr at Auschwitz — was declared a saint in the Catholic Church. At a Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, October 11, 1998, Pope John Paul II presented “this eminent daughter of Israel and faithful daughter of the Church as a saint to the whole world.” At the liturgy attended by nearly one hundred members of the Stein family, many who remain devout Jews, the Holy Father declared, “The spiritual experience of Edith Stein is an eloquent example of this extraordinary interior renewal. A young woman in search of the truth has become a saint and martyr through the silent workings of divine grace: Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who from heaven repeats to us today all the words that marked her life: Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ ” the Pope continued, echoing the words of St. Paul to the Galatians (6:14).

Edith Stein died a follower of Jesus Christ, “offering her martyrdom for her fellow Jews,” wrote Priors General Father Camilo Maccise, O.C.D., and Father Joseph Chalmers, O.Carm., in 1998 in a circular to Carmelite men and women around the world on the occasion of Edith Stein’s canonization. “The canonization of Edith Stein is a new plea that God makes to the Church, to Carmelites in particular, on the eve of the Third Millennium. The life of this great Jewish woman, who sought the truth and followed Jesus, offers a timely message for relations between faith and science, for ecumenical dialogue, for consecrated life and for spirituality, speaking, as it does, to the members of the Church and those outside it.”

Even as we continue the process of “getting to know” Edith, as more of her theological works, letters, and philosophical essays are translated into English, it is my hope that we never lose sight of the loving teacher and friend Edith Stein, who is still remembered by many of her students and colleagues in Europe. I echo the words of Carmel­ite Sister Josephine Koeppel, who recommended in a published interview: “Get to know her as a person with a heart that really can be touched. First, get to know her as that. Then respect her brilliance.”

Ultimately, it is my hope and my prayer that you be inspired not simply by this holy woman’s death but by her remarkable and heroic life. “Pure spirits are like rays of light through which the eternal light communes with creation,” Edith once said. “To believe in saints, means only to sense in them God’s presence.”

Carmelite Prayer

Lord, God of our ancestors, You brought St. Teresa Benedicta to the fullness of the science of the Cross at the hour of her martyrdom. Fill us with that same knowledge; and, through her intercession, allow us always to seek after You, the supreme Truth; and to remain faithful until death to the covenant of love ratified in the blood of Your Son for the salvation of all. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Editor’s note: This article is from the introduction to Edith Stein: The Life and Legacy of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Crosswhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

image: Statue of St. Edith Stein, Brockton by WBUR Boston / Flickr / (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Five Ways the Devil Attacks Marriage

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 22:05

Many of us will go on some type of vacation, but there is somebody who never goes on vacation and, for that matter, will never go on vacation. Can you guess who that might be? The devil! That is right, the devil! He works 25 hours a day, eight days a week, and 366 days every year. Indeed, he is one of the hardest workers in town! Father of lies and murderer from the beginning, Prince of this world, ancient serpent, Lucifer, Satan, demon, devil—all are names for the devil found in the Sacred Texts of Scripture.

The saints have coined other names highlighting different aspects of his evil intent; here are a few. Saint Thomas Aquinas calls the devil The Tempter; Saint Augustine calls him an angry dog on a leash—better keep your distance! Saint Ignatius, who gave us the Spiritual Exercises and the Rules for Discernment of Spirits (in part explaining the work of the devil in our lives), calls the devil The Enemy of human nature. Then on the Liturgical Feast Day of Saint Martin of Tours, this saint calls the devil You bloody brute! Finally, Saint Peter, in one of his letters calls the devil a Roaring Lion seeking to devour whom he can. We are called to resist him!

One of the primary attacks of the devil in modern society is launching his missiles against the oldest institution established by God, the family. As God willed and designed it from the start, marriage is the union between man and woman, husband and wife, united in a Sacrament that we call Holy Matrimony, open to having children and raising them in the love and fear of the Lord.

The devil knows clearly that if he can work to destroy the institution of the family he can help to unravel and destroy the whole fabric of society. Historians tell us that once the family comes unraveled the society quickly decomposes! This being the case then what are some typical temptations that the devil launches against couples so as to weaken and eventually destroy the family? In this short essay we will present five of the most insidious but common temptations that the Father of lies and murderer from the beginning—the devil—launches against the family.

1. Living Together/Free Union/Cohabitation/Trial Marriage

We have listed various titles for the many couples agreements that work against the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Two generations ago, a Catholic couple who chose one of the living arrangements stated above would be viewed as radicals and a blatant scandal far and wide.

Today, if a couple starts to live together in a so called Trial Marriage and it is almost universally seen as normal. Many young people state: “We’ve got to try it out first, see whether or not we’ve got chemistry. We have to see if we jive, if we’re compatible!” In the meantime they are willing to live outside of the state of grace, and thereby place in jeopardy their eternal salvation, not to mention the bad example given to children born to them. Couples living in this state are becoming a real epidemic; worse yet, the society is desensitized into believing that this is normal and OK!  Behind the scenes in this scenario is none other than the devil, the Liar!

2. Same-Sex Unions

Even though same-sex unions have been legalized, that does not mean that it is right. As in the case of abortion, which was legalized in the United States in 1973, same-sex unions being legalized does not mean that it is moral. What is legal is not always moral. Sacred Scripture teaches us going back to the Book of Genesis that God created man and woman, Adam and Eve, and said that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. What God has united—between man and woman—let no man rent asunder (Gen 3).

3. Pornography Consumption

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus raised love, faithfulness, and purity to a much higher level. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”(Mt. 5:27-28)

One of the modern interpretations of this passage, as related to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, is that even though a married man may not commit the act of physical adultery with another woman, still he can commit adultery in other ways—through his eyes, in his mind, and in the depths of his heart. Of course, one of the most common forms of modern adultery is that of married men (and sometimes women) who are viewing pornography. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this is becoming more and more common, wreaking havoc in families and destroying families.

Once again, behind much of the porn industry is not simply one devil, but a huge multitude of demons! One of the most common phrases that tries to downplay the gravity of viewing pornography—especially in men—is the following: “Well, boys will be boys; men will be men.” At the same time families are being destroyed and children severely wounded and scarred by this all their lives!

4. Lack of Openness to Life

Years ago, couples would marry and long for children to come as soon as possible. This was the case even if, economically, the couple did not have an abundance, to say the least. Nowadays it is the opposite. Many couples get married and their mentality is to see how to avoid having children.

For many the philosophy is as such: let us get our home, our new car, our big-screen television, our yacht, our vacation resort, and after all of these material commodities are purchased, then it is time to have a child or two—at most! In a society saturated by materialism, hedonism, egocentrism, and utilitarianism, having the material things and false sense of security prevails over bringing into the world a new entity with a soul and an immortal existence that we call a human person. This contraceptive, anti-life atmosphere is promoted and cultivated by the devil. Our God is a God of life. The devil is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.

5. Poor Communication 

It must be said on a social level that many couples, from the very start of their marriage, never really learned to dialogue; they never learned the all-important art of communication. Communication is an art that none of us is born with; it must be learned. Therefore, before arriving at the day of pronouncing faithfulness in good times and in bad, in health and in sickness, in riches and in poverty, until death do we part, couples should be aware of the dire need to communicate, to grow in the art of communication, and to do all in their power to never give up striving to improve in their communication skills.

Even in this process, the devil can insidiously worm his way into the lives of couples to block communication in the following ways:

  • 1) The devil can convince a couple simply not to speak so as to avoid conflict.
  • 2) The devil can tempt a couple to utter hurtful words that are like bee-stings!
  • 3) The devil can work in such a way that one does all the talking and the other says nothing.
  • 4) The devil can convince a couple to avoid talking to God. In sum, God helps couples to communicate well.
  • 5) Finally, the devil can move a couple to talk more to another person (past boyfriend/girl-friend or even a new “friend” of the opposite sex) than to their own spouse, to the great detriment of their marriage.

In conclusion, it is incumbent upon all Christians to be keenly aware of the work of the devil who is bent on destroying humanity. One of his first attacks is on the Institution of the Family, the cradle of the child, the Domestic Church, and the future of humanity. Let us turn to the Holy Family—Saint Joseph, Mary and Jesus and beg for their intercession in helping us become aware of the cunning attempts of the devil, reject his temptations, and foster all that is pure, noble, and worthy of praise!

Love Your Stranger As Yourself

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 22:02

Imagine you’ve discovered the cure for cancer. Just you. So of course every news agency is begging to meet with you. On a given Monday evening you agree to a sit-down with a journalist from the New York Times. She’s arranged to meet you at, say, the Boathouse restaurant in San Diego. Or maybe she’ll meet you at your apartment. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter who she is. She can be a well-mannered British intern, or instead a fidgety brunette, with thick-rimmed glasses, a gray blazer, and a tart attitude. What does matter is that whatever you say to her will be published everywhere. It will be printed and published to the ends of the earth, then frozen in the archives of the internet forever. She may ask you technical questions about your lab experiments, or she may grow poetic and pose questions like, “So what does this mean for us?” And all that you say will be heard by all. When you invite that one person over, you’re inviting the world.

If journalism is a modern phenomenon, where words with one person are published to the world, the exact opposite is true of Jesus: “Whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Instead of one to many, now we have many to one. Whatever we say or do to anyone at all, we do to Christ.

In many of her letters, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta would remind her followers, “Remember the five fingers.” What she meant by this is explained well by a Dominican priest of the Irish province. In a memoir he recounts how on many occasions she asked him to hold his hand, and touching each finger one-by-one, she said, “You did it to me.” This was the secret of her whole spirituality. It’s a simple and sustainable model lifted from the pages of Scripture, and lived out by perhaps the greatest saint of our times. Mother Teresa knew that in loving the most unlovable in our midst – the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger – we love Christ himself.

This immediately strikes us in two ways: It’s beautiful. It also seems entirely too vague and mystical to apply practically in our lives. Why should I go outside of my circle of friends and family to love strange and difficult people? Why does Jesus want to make me uncomfortable?

Because that’s just how it is. Take the Church, for instance. The Church is a rather large and diverse Body of people, and if we were baptized into it, we must deal with it.

This is the classic teaching of the Mystical Body. It simply means that all those baptized into Christ are connected together in one common life. We asked, why is it that the way we treat anyone else is also the way we treat Christ? Because all of us Christians belong in some way to Christ now. We have received the Holy Spirit and now share life together “in” him. Even all unbaptized people are called to the Church and must be shown similar love. The sacrifices I make affect the lives of other people – ones I know and ones I will never meet in this life. The joys I have may be the fruit of my own good decision making, or they may be a gift won for me by the sacrifice of another brother or sister across the world. That’s why praying for each other never gets old, because we don’t do it to just see quick results or only to beg for miracles. We do it also to stay connected and help win grace and strength for each other. The whole image of the Church as a “body” is a grasping sort of analogy for a much greater thing – the reality of a network of grace connecting our lives together!

It may sound like an elaborate fairy tale, but it’s not. It’s grace. Ask anyone, and they can tell stories of how God connects our lives together. Here’s one from my own life: Years back my older brother was working a job in Virginia and got into a late-night car accident. He was cut off by a drunk driver at high speeds, and hit the median wall. All passengers walked away without injury. The next day our elderly neighbor in Ohio called my parents to say she’d been woken up in mid-sleep (about an hour before the accident), filled with a strong sense that she had to “pray for one of the Danaher boys.” So she did. And it worked. What does this mean? Nothing more than that God includes us in the lives of those around us. He could easily save us all alone, but He doesn’t want to. Instead, He wants us to pray for one another, to build one another up, to help each other grow.

So the saying remains true: In spending time with anyone at all – your same old parents, or brothers and sisters, or classmates, the poor or homeless, the depressed, the lonely, simply everyone – what you say to them, you say to more than just the whole world. You say it to Christ. And any good act He receives from us, He in turn can share its merit with others in need. In this life we won’t see where much of our prayers and good deeds go, or who they support and help. But we know that they all go to Christ, and for now that’s enough for us.

image: Nheyob / Wikimedia Commons

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

In the first reading, Yahweh punishes

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, Yahweh punishes Miriam with leprosy for speaking against Moses. This reminds us to be respectful towards our leaders. Leaders have great difficulties doing their work if their groups are hardheaded and always complaining. So let us love and support our leaders so that they will perform their responsibilities joyfully rather than in a burdensome manner.

Hopefully our leaders would not be like the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. If they teach us wrong values or teach us to go against God’s will, we may have to disobey, even denounce them. Let us be supportive and at the same time watchful of our leaders.

St. Dominic

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 22:00

The founder of the Dominican Order, St. Dominic (1170-1221), was born in Spain, where he was well educated in preparation for the priesthood. Dominic was ordained in 1206, and when his bishop, Diego, was appointed a papal emissary to the Albigensians, Dominic was chosen to accompany him. The Albigensians were a heretical group in southern France who believed that all created matter is evil; they rejected Church teachings and lived simple, ascetical lives. Their lifestyle won them the sympathy of the common people, and the Church’s efforts to counteract their influence had previously been unsuccessful.

Bishop Diego and Dominic took a new approach; they prepared carefully for their debates with Albigensians, and themselves lived very simply. Upon Diego’s death, Dominic became the leader of an effort to convert the heretics through preaching, even though the Church had previously relied on the exercise of military force by the authorities to overcome the Albigensians.

In 1215 Dominic organized the Order of Preachers: a religious body of men living a simple lifestyle and dedicated to combating heresy by preaching a message of love and forgiveness. The Order was approved by Rome in 1216, several years after the establishment of the Franciscans. (St. Dominic and St. Francis of Assisi are closely united in a number of legends, and their Orders have often cooperated closely.) St. Dominic continued traveling, preaching, and working to strengthen his Order until his death in 1221.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. John Vianney (the Cure of Ars) (1859), Priest, Patron of parish priests

Sts. Cyriacus, Deacon, Patron against eye diseases, Largus & Smaragdus (4th Century)

The Fourteen Holy Helpers

The Precept of Charity

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 02:35
The Precept of Charity

Presence of God – O Lord, teach me to love You truly, with my whole heart, my whole soul, and with all my strength.

MEDITATION

“Virtue lies in the golden mean.” This maxim which is so exact for the moral virtues, cannot be applied to the theological virtues, which, having an infinite object, can have no limit. The measure of our faith, hope, and charity is to believe, to hope, and to love without measure. However much we love God, we can never love Him too much, nor can we love Him as much as He is lovable. By its very nature then, the precept of charity admits of no limit and we could never say, “I shall love God up to a certain point and that will be enough,” for by doing so, we would renounce tending toward the perfection of charity, which consists in loving God in a way that is as nearly proportionate as possible to His infinite lovableness. This is why it is necessary never to stop in the practice of charity, employing all our strength that it may continually increase in our soul. Because the precept of charity concerns the love of God—the infinite, supreme Good—it possesses an absolute character: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” (Mark 12:30). If we, so little and so limited, do not employ in the love of God all the little that we have and are, how can we truly tend toward the perfection of charity? If it is not in our power to love God as much as He deserves to be loved, it is, however, possible for us to strive to love Him with our whole strength, and this is exactly the perfection of love which God asks of us.

Furthermore, even human love is by its nature “totalitarian.” The more intimate and intense a friendship, the more it demands the exclusive gift of the heart; and when a friend begins to make reservations or to give his affection to others, the friendship loses its vigor, grows cold, and may even vanish. Therefore, we must guard against any coldness in our friendship with God, being careful to keep for Him alone the first fruits of our heart and to employ ourself wholly in loving Him with all our strength. It is true that only in heaven will we be able to love God with all our strength and in such a way that our love tends always and actually toward Him. Although this absolute totality and stability in love is not possible to us here on earth, it is possible for us to make an act of love each time that we will to do so. It is always in our power to unite our whole being—heart, affections, will, and desires—to God by an act of love.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord God, was it not enough to permit us to love You without its being necessary to invite us to do so by exhortations, even obliging us to do so by commanding it? Yes, O divine Goodness, in order that neither Your greatness nor our lowliness, nor any other pretext could prevent us from loving You, You have commanded us to do so. O my God, if we could only comprehend the happiness and honor of being able to love You, how indebted we should feel to You, who not only permit but command us to love You! O my God, I do not know whether I should love more Your infinite beauty which Your divine goodness commands me to love or this goodness of Yours which commands me to love such infinite beauty! O beauty of my God, how lovable you are, being revealed to me by Your immense goodness! O goodness, how lovable you are, communicating to me such eminent beauty!

“O Lord, how sweet is this commandment. If it were given to the damned, they would be instantly freed from their sufferings and supreme misfortune, for the blessed enjoy beatitude only by complying with it. O, celestial Love! how amiable You are to our souls! O divine Goodness, may You be blessed eternally, You who so urgently command us to love You, although Your love is so desirable and necessary for our happiness that, without it, we could only be unhappy!

“O Lord, in heaven we shall need no commandment to love You, for our hearts, attracted and ravished by the vision of Your sovereign beauty and goodness, will necessarily love You eternally. There our hearts will be wholly free of passions, our souls will be completely delivered from distractions, our minds will have no anxieties, our powers will have no repugnances, and therefore we shall love You with a perpetual, uninterrupted love. But in this mortal life, we cannot achieve such a perfect degree of love, because, as yet, we do not have the heart, the soul, the mind, or the powers of the blessed. Nevertheless, You desire us to do in this life everything that depends on ourselves to love You with all our heart and all the strength we have; this is not only possible but very easy, for to love You, O God, is a sovereignly lovable thing” (cf. St. Francis de Sales).

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

Art for this post on the precept of charity: Saint François de Sales, statue de l’église Saint-Germain de Paris, Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac, Dordogne, France, photographed by Père Igor, 19 September 2010, own work, CC, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

The Apocalypse as a Key to Devotion

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 22:07

Of all the books in the New Testament, Revelation, with its many monsters, wonders, and sheer weirdness may seem the most remote from our lived experience as Christians. And yet this book provides the most solid biblical foundation for many of the devotional practices of Catholics today.

Consider the two pillars of the devotional life: the Eucharist and Mary.

Both are represented in Revelation in profound ways.

First, the Eucharist is alluded to in the very beginning as the ‘hidden manna.’ This alludes back to the manna of the Old Testament, which itself foreshadowed the Bread of Life Jesus offered in John 6. After this initial instance, the Eucharist continually recurs throughout. There is the small scroll that is eaten by John, reminding us that the Eucharist is the Word of God. There is the wine press that churns out blood. And there are also the bowls of blood and cup of wine near the end of the book.

The significance of these Eucharistic references is reinforced by the liturgical structure of Revelation, which many commentators have noted parallels the Mass—from the frequent appearance of the altar to the chanting of the Sanctus. (Here is one comprehensive list.)

What is particularly interesting about the above examples, however, is that they are not obviously situated in liturgical contexts. Likewise, today, we experience the Eucharist not only in the Mass but also through Eucharist adoration, processions, and any time we choose to pray where the host is reserved. The liturgy is meant to be lived outside the four walls of a church.

Revelation has also given us one of the most memorable images of Mary as Queen of Heaven:

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Rev. 12:1).

And the book also confirms one of the great biblical themes of Marian theology: that she is the new ark of the covenant. This is subtly hinted at in the infancy narrative of Luke. But it is only here in the Book of ‘Revelation’ that the connected is plainly manifested.

This is significant for Marian theology for numerous reasons. Most notably, in the Old Testament the ark was vested with certain powers and it was object of worship. This provides a biblical basis for Catholic for veneration—not adoration—of Mary as a power Mediatrix on our behalf.

But that’s just the beginning of the many connections between Revelation and Catholic devotion today. Consider also these parallels:

The Sign of the Cross: In Revelation 7, those saved from a storm on earth and sea are marked with a sign. Later, John sees the saints with the ‘name’ of God on their forehead (Rev. 14:1, 22:4).

Devotion to the saints: Revelation 5:8 and 8:4 refer to the prayers of the saints. Although the passage is somewhat vague it is reasonable to infer that these are prayers on our behalf, given that the saints seemingly no longer have any needs of their own to offer up.

Patron saints of parishes: One of the many things that distinguishes Catholic churches from many evangelical Protestant ones is that parishes have a patron saint. One of my local parishes is named St. Joseph’s. Another is St. Sebastian’s. This may seem like a very late medieval accretion but it has roots in the beginning of Revelation, when John addresses letters not to the churches but to the angels who were patrons of the churches. (See Rev. 1 and 2.)

Lighting candles: Lampstands are mentioned throughout Revelation. Although these can be associated with the traditional candles on the altar, the texts could also generally point to the custom of lighting votive candles. (See Rev. 1, 2, and 11:4; one source on this is this writer.)

Why is Revelation so steeped in the images and acts of devotion?

Revelation so often comes across as otherworldly and far removed from the world of the gospels.

I think that’s whole point of the book.

Remember, Revelation was the last or nearly the last book written in the Old Testament, penned just years before 100 AD (see this timeline). It had been nearly 70 years since Christ had walked the earth. The point of Revelation is to show that the truth of the Incarnation would extend over time and space—spanning all history and encompassing the heavens and earth. He is, as Revelation puts it, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

Christ had ascended but He remained with us, drawing us towards Himself as the end of all history. The Mass plays the pre-eminent role in making Christ’s climactic self-offering present to us, which is Revelation has so many liturgical motifs.

Our devotional acts also serve this same purpose making Christ present to us anew. Devotional practices such as praying the rosary, making the sign of the cross, and lighting a candle are the mystical cords that connect us to Christ across time and space.

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Note: For further reading I recommend All Things Made New by Stratford Caldecott, to whom I credit my understanding of the relationship between Revelation and the Incarnation.

image: Worthy is the Lamb / Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

Europe’s Christian Identity

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 22:05

Looking at things from this side of the Atlantic, it is easy to think of Europe as a single, united entity. Seen up close it’s not so clear. National identity keeps getting in the way.

French, German, Italian, Polish, and so on—those ancient identities still matter to many people. As arguably they should.

National identity bestows a sense of rootedness and continuity that the new European institutions apparently haven’t been able to supply up to now. A case in point: last year’s Brexit vote in Great Britain, shocking to the pundits, which took the country out of the European Union (or, more precisely, set that process in motion). Being English, it seems, still counts for more with the English than being European does.

Religious identity is also part of the equation—today, a disputed one. This relationship once seemed overwhelmingly clear to someone like the Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc, who famously wrote:  “Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.”

Today’s secularized Europeans obviously aren’t buying that. Yet if they’re honest, many would agree that it’s a species of historical blindness to ignore the role played by Christianity in shaping Europe—both the Europe of the nations and Europe as a whole—not only in the past but also now.

Yet ignore it some do. An institution that opened its doors in Brussels last spring stands as a kind of monument to that.

It’s called the House of European History. Situated in a former dental museum close to the European parliament (of which it’s a project) and other European institutions, the House of European History offers an account of Europe described by one writer as “both typically modern and emphatically French and socialist.”

Here, reports Arnold Huijgen, writing at Acton Institute online, “the French Revolution seems to be the birthplace of Europe; and there is little  room for anything that may have preceded it.” In this narrative, the European Union itself is “the high point of European history,” he notes.

But, says Huijgen, a professor at a Reformed Church theological school in The Netherlands, what’s most striking about the House of European History’s vision of European history is that “religion does not exist….No longer is European secularism fighting the Christian religion; it simply ignores every religious aspect in life altogether.”

This is hardly new. On the contrary, it’s been taking shape for many years. The erasure of religion from a museum of European history reminds me of a telling observation by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian whom the Nazis executed shortly before the end of the war for his involvement in a plot against Hitler.

In his unfinished, fragmentary, powerful Ethics, he identified the “new unity” introduced into Europe by the French Revolution in place of the old Christian unity shattered by the events surrounding the Reformation as a unity in “western godlessness.”

“It is not the theoretical denial of the existence of a God. It is itself a religion, a religion of hostility to God,” Bonhoeffer wrote, adding that this modern godlessness “ranges from the religion of Bolshevism to the midst of the Christian churches.”

No more can secular Europe ignore the formative role of religion than it can ignore the national identities within it. Pope Francis speaks of Europe as having a “spiritual patrimony” that needs communicating to Europeans themselves with “passion and a renewed freshness.” He was right. But where is that happening now? Not in Brussels, unfortunately.

Break this Heart of Mine

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 22:02

You should never judge the will of man in anything that you may see done or said by any creature whatsoever, either to yourself or to others. My will alone should you consider, both in them and in yourself.

The Dialogue, 91

As much as we long for autonomy and control, one of the best things that can happen to us is to realize that we are dependent and can no more control our own life than we can control whether the sun rises in the east.

In Jeremiah 27, the prophet Jeremiah has to warn the people that it is God’s will that the nations oppress His chosen people on account of their many sins.  The people cannot understand.  As Children of the promise, they thought that God would make everything go right for them—that their crops would flourish, their children grow strong, and their enemies always flee before them.  But now, as the exile to Babylon draws near, it seems more and more likely that God has other plans.

Sound familiar?  When things are going well for us, we tend to get complacent.  In our riches, we grow foolish, like the psalmist says, thinking that our wealth will last, the bull market will never fail, our political candidate will surely win, and nothing will ever go wrong.  In these moments, our pious prayers turn into little more than requests that God might preserve us in His special favor.

The problem is that God does not will the limited and often incomplete good that we perceive—health, wealth, power, beauty, fame, or what have you.  These goods, though truly good, are not sufficient to make us fully happy.

Instead, God wills our ultimate good, which is, simply put, his Divine Good brought to fruition in us.  If we are kept from our true Good by perfect weather (an opportunity for some sin, perhaps) or an ever growing stock portfolio (perhaps an encouragement to greed) or impeccable health of the body (maybe leading to seeing ourselves as our own strength), neither does God will it.  He wills our happiness, our ultimate happiness, and He wills whatever will lead us to that perfect happiness.

This is not to say that God wants us to get sick, but he might permit it.  God does not directly will the moral evil that one man may do to another, but He can be at work despite this sinful evil.  He wills the good that can piece back together this shattering of His moral law.  Whatever can lead us to heaven and leads us back to Him, He wills or permits.

His ways are above our ways. His thoughts are above our thoughts. And we are not in control.  God is.  He knows us better than we know ourselves, and the Good that He wills for us will make us truly happy.

So when we pray, we should pray not that God might conform His will to our great ideas—my will be done on earth and with You in heaven—but that He might gradually conform our wills to His Divinity, so that in good times and in bad, we might praise His goodness.  And at the hour of our death, that we might be ready to say wholeheartedly, “Thy will be done in heaven as it has been in my life on earth.”

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

St. Sixtus II and Companions (Martyrs)

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 22:00

Many early Christians were martyred by the Roman Empire, including the third-century Pope St. Sixtus and several other members of the Church of Rome. Sixtus was elected Bishop of Rome (Pope) in 257; that same year the Emperor Valerian issued a decree forbidding Christians to hold assemblies (thereby making it impossible for them to celebrate Mass legally).

Twelve months after his election, Sixtus was arrested while addressing a gathering of Christians in a cemetery outside Rome (for the early Church could not yet legally possess its own buildings). Four deacons were also arrested, including St. Lawrence (August 10).

Sixtus and his companions were put to death by the sword; Roman Christians buried him in the nearby cemetery of St. Callistus (named after another Bishop of Rome who was himself martyred in 222). St. Sixtus was one of the most venerated martyrs of the early Roman Church.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Cajetan (1547), Priest, Founder of the Theatines

St. Donatus (362), Bishop, Martyr

“Remember that, each time you

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 22:00

“Remember that, each time you pick yourself up after a fall, the feast of the prodigal son is renewed. Your Father in Heaven clothes you again in His most beautiful cloak, puts a ring on your finger, and tells you to dance with joy. In a living faith, you will not approach the confessional with dragging feet, but as if you were going to a feast.”

~Fr Jean C.J. d’Elbée, I Believe in Love

In the first reading, we hear the

Sun, 08/06/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, we hear the Israelites complaining about the tasteless manna which God had given them to eat in their long tiresome journey. In the Gospel reading Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand men, not counting women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fishes, with twelve baskets-full of left-overs. God fed his people fleeing from Egypt on their forty­ year journey to the promised land. In the Gospel reading, Jesus was concerned that the crowds listening to him had not eaten for days: “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.”

The feeding with manna, and later with quail, and the multiplication of loaves and fishes are seen as pre-figures of the Eucharist. God takes care of his people. We thank him for such care.

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.