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Oil Lamps and Life in the Spirit

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:05

At my church, we burn oil lamps in front of the icons on the icon screen. We used to burn votive candles, but some time ago – more than a year ago – we replaced these with oil lamps, which is more traditional for us. I had not had very much experience working with oil lamps of this kind. They tried to introduce them at the seminary while I was there, but they kept smoldering and going out. We couldn’t figure out the problem, so they were soon abandoned in favor of more user-friendly, enclosed, disposable oil lamps. Then we got the oil lamps at Saint Athanasius and, at the beginning, I kept having the same problem with them. But, eventually, through a process of trial and error, I figured out what was necessary to keep them burning.

At first, I mistakenly assumed that all that was necessary was that they have oil in them, that the wick be submerged in the oil, and that the wick be extended far enough to burn brightly. Eventually I learned, however, that this is not enough. In fact, it is necessary not only that there be oil in the lamps, but that the oil be sufficiently deep – because the oil does not want to travel very far up the wick before it reaches the flame. If it has to travel too far it goes out much more quickly.

Secondly, it is much more important that the wick has been recently trimmed than that it is extended very far. If you have the wick extended like a half an inch, but you haven’t trimmed it and the oil is not very deep it will still smolder rather than properly burning. Also, if it’s extended that far but the oil is deep enough, the flame will flicker and produce black smoke causing a lot of soot to a build up at the top of the lamp. It’s better for the wick to be extended just a little – like a quarter inch is enough or even less – be recently trimmed, and have sufficiently deep oil. If the lamp is prepared this way, it will burn long and brightly.

But what does all of this have to do with this great feast of Pentecost? The fiftieth and final day of Pascha, the feast of weeks (Ex 34:22), the seven times seven plus one day, the last and greatest day of the feast (John 7:37), the day of the first fruits (Num 28:26), the day Torah is given to Moses on Sinai, the day the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the apostles (Acts 2:1-4)? On this day, why am I wasting time with a tutorial about oil lamps?

Well, remember that when the Lord descended upon the holy mountain to give the Law to Moses, he descended upon it in fire (Ex 19:18). And when the Holy Spirit filled the holy apostles, “there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributed and resting on each one of them” (Acts 2:3). And remember when our Lord Jesus said, “I have come to cast fire on the earth and would that it were already burning” (Luke 12:49). And do not forget that “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:24). The image of fire is worthy of our meditation, especially on this day of Pentecost.

It is not without reason that we burn the oil lamps in front of the holy images of Jesus Christ, his mother, and his saints. His mother, the Theotokos, herself is like the burning bush in the desert, always burning but never consumed, through which Moses encounters to the Lord. Through her, God becomes man, so through her all people can encounter God. She and all the deified saints are themselves become all fire – a consuming fire, like God – one with God. The lamps burning before them remind us of the tongues of fire that rest upon all those filled with the Holy Spirit – and of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire they have all received, has prophesied by John the Baptist.

So I think these lamps are a good symbol and a good image of the Spirit-filled life we are to live. And I even think that the mundane task of tending these lamps can teach us something about the spiritual life.

I am reminded of one of the sayings of Amma Syncletica. She says,

“In the beginning, there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek, as it is said: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Heb.12:24): so we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.”[i]

When we begin to move toward God – to live the life of the Spirit – we are at first very often frustrated. At the beginning, there is struggle and suffering. When I first tried to tend the oil lamps, I couldn’t keep them lit. Amma Syncletica says that when we first try to light a fire we end up choked by the smoke. The smoke gets in our eyes causing them to tear up – causing us to cry. This is how the life of the spirit must begin – with tears.

Well, it’s interesting the way that this works with these oil lamps. You get that black smoke pouring out of the lamp when your wick is too high. Now, the wick is the external part of the lamp. It’s the part that burns – that gives light. Without it, you’ve got nothing. But with too much of it, you’ve got black smoke. The smoke which brings tears. The black smoke is our folly and our sin, over which we should weep. One way to raise a stink and lots of smoke is with too much focus on the externals – with too much wick and not enough oil.

The oil is the internal part of the lamp. And it’s like our spiritual center. Remember we are chrismated with oil – with chrism that is the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s more important for the oil to be deep than for the wick to be long. If all we do is make a show of our faith and our religion and we have in our hearts no real loving relationship with God and our neighbor, it is like we have long wicks and shallow oil. We may burn brightly, but – if so – briefly and soon we smolder and go out.

If we really are filled with zeal for the house of the Lord but we often misdirect that zeal and turn people away from God’s house and scare them off with our judgmentalism or our excessive pharisaical concern for external details, then perhaps we are like a lamp with deep oil and a long wick. We burn long and brightly but at the same time make more smoke and heat than light.

Now if we’re like those who get scared off or for whatever reason reject the Church and true religion and avoid the liturgical services and the holy mysteries. Or, if we claim to be spiritual but not religious, then it is like we have no wick at all. Our oil may be deep or it may be shallow, but it cannot burn.

The way to stop the flicker and the smoke is not to get rid of the wick, but to trim the wick. Weep and confess our sins. Cast off our own excesses. And after this do the hard work of tending the lamp – of constantly checking and refilling the oil – of constantly trimming the wick and extending it neither too much nor too little.

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I  purify my thoughts.  What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched  his hands towards  heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’”[ii]

Our vocation is nothing less than this: By the power of the Holy Spirit to become all flame – like a consuming fire – like God

[i] as quoted by Laura Swan in The Forgotten Desert Mothers (Paulist Press, 2001).

[ii] from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Eternal Wedding Plan

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:02

Wedding season hath begun.

Which means every Saturday evening from now through the early autumn many a soul will go home . . . sad.

Not because the bakery dropped the cake during the delivery, or the best man botched his speech, or the weather wasn’t perfect.

I’m talking about the sadness that follows upon sincere joys. As children, the dam breaks on Christmas night, with the recognition that there are no more gifts left to look forward to. In high school, my female friends called it PDD, short for “Post-Dance Depression.” After all the buildup and anticipation, the dance itself was but a fleeting joy, while the PDD seemed to cling to them for days. Something similar happens with weddings, for participants and guests alike.

Why? There are plenty of factors to consider, but ultimately one answer perdures: while He gives us abundant worldly joys, God did not make us for the sake of such temporary delights. They are all fleeting. We are not. And because of this reality, dictated as it is by the terms of our fallenness, we hurt. We long. Sometimes in small ways, other times with deep, existential aches.

The fact that we experience such longing is telling. Ours is a wedding-obsessed culture (even though we’re doing an historically bad job at staying married, to say nothing of the increasing confusion over what marriage is and what it’s meant for). We live not as if a wedding were for the sake of a marriage but rather as if a wedding simply is the marriage. But this is not the problem—it’s actually the right instinct. It’s just misapplied, insofar as it is being applied to this earthy life.

Only in heaven will the marriage be the wedding feast.

If we operate according to any other principle, we will either be disappointed or will dull our natural desire for something greater, something infinite we can’t help but ache for. Our hunger proves the existence of food, the thing that satisfies our hunger (otherwise hunger would be inherently unnatural, and nature doesn’t behave that way; it acts for an end). The same applies to our hunger for something infinite, some unending happiness.

You see, we should be obsessed with weddings. We were made for the sake of a wedding feast—an eternal one. As a result, all forms of authentic human fulfillment are but heavenly foretastes. That is why they don’t, and can’t, fully satisfy.

In a letter of spiritual consolation, the Dominican friar Bl. Jordan of Saxony appeals to this dynamic. To the Dominican sister Bl. Diana of Andalo he writes, drawing on festive imagery from the Psalms and Revelation 19:7-9,

For soon now the time will come for the wedding-feast of the Lamb whose right hand is filled with gifts to console those who weep with longing for their true country and to give drink to those whose souls are bitter with the thirst of love: he will wipe away the tearful waters of this present time, and turn their sad insipidity into the wine of the saints, the noble wine which rejoices the heart of man and inebriates with its sweetness the beloved of God, the wine of everlasting gladness, the splendid new wine which at the banqueting-table of the court of heaven is poured out for his chosen ones by the Son of God who is blessed for ever and ever.

When I’m at Mass, I think about what heavenly worship will be like. When you’re at your next wedding, at some particularly moving moment, think on the everlasting moment of the heavenly wedding feast. On true light and total fulfillment. On exquisite delight and gladness without end. Such thoughts can move us to recognize more of heaven—that is, God Himself—already present to us, in a certain sense.

He is present in our very longing for perfect happiness. God alone is our perfect happiness, and through our desire for happiness He draws us to Himself, He who is our final end. He wishes to abide in us now (cf. Jn 14:23, 2 Cor 13:5), and does so through the sanctifying grace He makes available to us through the Church and her sacraments. By means of this grace, we will abide in the sweet fullness of His presence when we behold the beatific vision (CCC 1028).

So thanks to God’s grace, the spiritual wedding has already begun, and unlike this year’s wedding season, it will have no end.

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

“When praying to God, we can only

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:00

“When praying to God, we can only ask for God, since He is everything, and in giving Himself, He gives us all. In asking for Him, we ask for all. When we possess Him, we can wish and ask for nothing more.”

-Dom Augustin Guillerand, The Prayer of the Presence of God

In the first reading, Tobias is married

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, Tobias is married to Sara, whose first seven husbands have all died on their wedding night. So after the festivities and upon entering the bridal chamber, Tobias and Sara pray to God for protection and to bless their union. God protects them and the demon troubling Sara is vanquished.

There are some things in life which only God can overcome for us. It could be a serious weakness, a dangerous vice, a tragedy which we cannot get over with, a past mistake which we regret, etc. Only God can raise us from the defeat and depression we may be experiencing. He is the God of the impossible. So we must pray to him for deliverance as Tobias and Sara did.

In the Gospel, Jesus praises the scribe who understood what he was saying. He was saying that love of God and neighbor come before the offering of an oblation or sacrifice. Man is flesh and blood and his love for God must be visible and tangible. Therefore any deed, whether good or bad, done to our neighbor, is also done to God. The dwelling place of God is not only in the heavens but also in the hearts of men.

Jesus showed his love for the Father when he offered his body on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. So when we forgive others, we are manifesting God’s love and forgiveness. Every religious cult has its sacrifices and oblations to their deity. But to love in the measure of the cross belongs only to Christ and to the Christians. Each time we love and forgive others, the kingdom of heaven is in our midst.

St. William of York (Bishop)

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:00

Also known as William of Thwayt, William Fitzherbert was the son of Count Herbert, treasurer to Henry I, and to Emma, half sister of King Stephen. Perhaps because of his royal connections, he became canon and treasurer of York Minster and, in 1140, he was elected Archbishop of York. But Archdeacon Walter of York and the diocese’s Cistercian monks accused him of unchastity and simony, claiming that he had paid to be elevated to the archbishopric. The opposition by the Cistercians was no doubt influenced by the fact that the other candidate for the office had been Henry Murdac, the abbot of the Cistercian Fountains Abbey. (See June 7, Robert of Newminster.)

Because of the controversy surrounding the election, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to consecrate William, pending an appeal to Rome. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian, exercised his powerful influence against William in favor of Murdac, going so far as to say that William was, “rotten from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.” But in 1143, William proved his innocence so conclusively that he was finally consecrated as archbishop.

William set himself at once to carry out reforms in his diocese, and his gentleness and charity soon won him popularity. Unfortunately, through procrastination, he failed to receive the official pallium — the symbol of the pope’s authority — before the pope who sent it had died, and the papal legate took the pallium back to Rome. When William went to Rome to retrieve it, the new pope, Eugenius III, who was a Cistercian and who had sided with the archbishop’s opponents, suspended him. When a group of William’s followers violently attacked some of the monks of Fountains Abbey and set fire to the monastery farms, the pope then deposed William in 1147 and named Murdac archbishop of York.

William then retired to Winchester where he spent the next six years of his life living as a simple monk, spending his time in prayer and mortification. In 1153, after the pope, St. Bernard, and Henry Murdac all had died, he then appealed to the new pope, Anastasius IV, for restoration to his see, which was granted.

After now properly receiving the pallium, William returned to York, where he showed great kindness to the Cistercians who had opposed him, and promised full restitution to Fountains Abbey. But within only a few weeks he was dead.

William’s death on June 8, 1154 followed such a sudden attack of violent pain that many felt he had been poisoned. Some blamed Osbert, the new Archdeacon of York, but their suspicions were never proved. Miracles took place at his tomb, and in 1227 he was canonized by Pope Honorius III.


1. We sometimes forget that saints are humans beings with faults and failings. It seems that William of York may have been something of a procrastinator, and it’s very possible that his first appointments were due to his royal connections. We can also see that St. Bernard of Clairvaux was extremely prejudiced against William and — dare we say it? — somewhat uncharitable in his language. But the true saint isn’t someone who is perfect, it is the person who keeps trying and who “endures to the end” (Mark 13:13).

2. Being falsely accused is probably one of the hardest trials to endure, and William certainly had to contend with much ill will, even by otherwise holy people. But William no doubt drew strength and courage from the example of our Lord, and so was able to freely forgive his enemies, just as Christ did from the cross.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces

St. Medard and Gildard (560), Bishops

Mystical Contemplation and the Gift of Knowledge

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 02:35
Mystical Contemplation and the Gift of Knowledge

In mystical contemplation, the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding move the soul in delightful ways that it does not understand. Divine light and warmth enkindle the depths of the soul and completely captivate the mind. Reason does not lead the way but is led to silent surrender with great spiritual fruitfulness. Here, the limits of human intelligence are not surmounted, but the power of reason is bowed down in adoration.

When this fire from above enkindles the mind, something is communicated that is not merely informative, but transformative. Souls baptized in this hidden radiance often wonder whether they are wasting their time. And yet, mysteriously, their confidence and devotion are set ablaze with a love they cannot explain. This transformation is not limited to one’s life but is extended throughout one’s culture and continues to extend into the future.

The saints who make this prayer their own became a source of life for others because they draw from the source of life Himself. This can happen again today for those willing to take up the discipline of withdrawing into silent adoration through what we study. Being drawn to wonder-filled silence is the beginning of spiritual maturity.

The mind is vaguely aware of everything in relation to God all at once (the gift of knowledge) and is confirmed in all manners of judgment about what God is not (the gift of understanding). These supernatural moments of understanding and knowledge mediate a transforming personal encounter with God in ways that purify and intensify our lives. The expanse and depth of these life-giving mysteries in the soul avail it to a sense of the whole (the gift of wisdom).

Entering the prayerful silence of Christian spirituality is like being lifted to a peak to gaze on vast horizons of life otherwise inaccessible to created reason. This is the complete opposite of mindlessness in prayer. Yet this conscious awareness leaves the soul in speechless adoration, humbled before the glory of divine life that shines forth in the world. The more this glory humbles us in this sacred silence, the more it generates in us and through us.

According to the experts on prayerful silence and this knowledge: The Word proceeds from Silence, and we strive to find Him in his Source. This is because the Silence here in question is not a void or a negation but, on the contrary, Being at Its fullest and most fruitful plenitude. That is why it generates; and that is why we keep silent.

This statement is pregnant with spiritual theology, at least in its original sense as theology flowing from a living encounter with God. While some thinkers believe that progress has been made in bringing sanctity and theology together again, contemporary theology yearns to be filled with such mystical knowing. This is why theologians should be men and women of prayer.

Saint Teresa of Ávila describes mystical knowing as a gaze into the eyes of the One who was wounded for our sakes. It is a loving awareness of God’s presence. She uses images of water, fire, and silk to convey the new life, love, and industry it establishes within.

For Catherine of Siena this knowledge is a conversation with the Father about one’s life and the life of the Church. It advances by venerating His Son with kisses from His feet to His lips — the bridge from our misery to the Father’s mercy. It leads to a deep plunge into the wounds of Christ for the sake of the Church.

For Elizabeth of the Trinity, this knowledge is musical. It is the praise of glory. Those who possess it are able to sing in their hearts the same song of praise Jesus offered to the Father on the Cross. It has the dimensions of redemptive and glorifying love of God and man.

All these saints are agreed that such knowledge is a sheer gift that we can fully receive only by spending time in prayer and by taking our own crosses. Even after two thousand years of great saints, theologians, and mystics, theological contemplation remains a vast, barely known frontier of human existence, for most of the inexhaustible riches of Christ are still waiting to be discovered.

This knowledge is theological contemplation, the most demanding and life changing of all human knowledge. It is mystagogical in character because it helps those who already are initiated into the life of the Church to acquire an even-deeper relationship with the Lord. The world needs Catholics to grow in this kind of contemplation.


This article is from a chapter in Fire from Above, which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on Mystical Contemplation: Modification and partial restoration of Saint Jérôme en prière dans une grotte (Saint Jerome in Prayer in the Cave), Pieter Cornelisz van Slingelandt, 1656, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Fire from Above, used with permission.

About Charlie McKinney

Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers,,, and 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.

247. God’s Game Plan (John 3:16-21)

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 02:30

“How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he gained so great a Redeemer, and if God ‘gave his only Son’ in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life.’” – Saint John Paul II

John 3:16-21: ‘Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son. On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil. And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed; but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’

Christ the Lord  You never really know someone until you know what’s in their heart – what motivates them, what they’re looking for, why they do what they do. In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus lays bare the heart of God.

The history of salvation, from the fall of Adam and Eve until the final judgment, revolves around the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Son of God. Why did he come? Because the Father sent him. Why did the Father send him? Because he “loved the world so much.” He simply couldn’t bear to see us perish in our sins; he longed to share with us his everlasting life. God cares. And Jesus Christ is the definitive proof that he cares. He cares so much that he is willing to sacrifice his only Son to atone for the sins that have separated man from God, the source of all good things. We need look no further to find the very core of the gospel: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” No hidden agenda, no selfish undertones – pure generosity. This is the heart of God, of the Lord who longs for our friendship.

Only when a Christian internalizes this fundamental and overarching motive of God does Christian discipleship really begin to mature. This is Christ’s revolution. That disinterested, self-forgetful love has the power to overcome all evil and renew every human heart and the human race as a whole. The rules and rituals of Christianity are not its core, but its leaves. Joy, the kind of joy that none of life’s contrarieties can diminish, as the lives of countless saints from every walk of life so powerfully attest to, is its flower. But its root is God’s love, and its fruit is God’s love lived out in the humdrum routine of daily life by the followers of Christ.

Christ the Teacher With these few sentences, Jesus lifts the veil of heaven and gives us a brief glimpse into the life of God himself.

The conversation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that led to the Incarnation and the salvation of sinful mankind was one of love. Love spoke to Love, and Love answered, and Love himself came to earth to teach us love. God is a relationship of eternal love between the Three Divine Persons.

Theologians reflecting on the Trinity see its image in the human family. The love of husband and wife in an embrace of complete and mutual self-giving yield a child. It is love that brings them together and love that brings new life. Similarly, but in an even more marvelous way, the Father and the Son look upon each other with such love that the love itself is another Person, another source of love, the Holy Spirit.

Christ the Friend  Jesus has proven his love by coming to earth “for our sake and for our salvation.” He invites us to believe so that we might not perish but have eternal life. He did not come for his own sake, but for ours. This is the epitome of friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). But in his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus once again points out that we remain free to accept or reject his offer of friendship, his offer of salvation. He makes it starkly clear: “Whoever does not believe in him has already been condemned.” Salvation depends on God and on us; God has done his part, now we must do ours.

Nicodemus: I remember the tone of the Lord’s voice that night. We were talking quietly, almost alone. Only one of his young disciples was there with us. We were sitting outside near a fire on a hillside under the stars. How could I forget this, my first conversation with the Master? His voice resonated with the very love of which he spoke. His eyes glimmered in the firelight with eager enthusiasm. I knew even then that it was the enthusiasm that had been at the origin of his mission to earth. As he spoke of those who believed in him, he grew joyful and glad. Then his words trembled with sadness and disappointment when he spoke of those who did not believe. How could I not be convinced by his wisdom, brighter and hotter than the fire between us? It was a risk for me to come to him that night, but I am ever grateful that I took it.

Christ in My Life I am so glad to be loved, Lord, and yet I am so slow to love. My heart is so inconstant. If I like someone, I treat them the way you would have me treat them, but if they rub me the wrong way, I bristle and gripe. Teach me to be a mature Christian. Teach me to love in word and deed, in thought and action. Teach me to love everyone the way you love…

I praise you, Father all-powerful, Christ, Lord and Savior, Holy Spirit of love. You have revealed yourself to me, and you have drawn me to share in your life and your love. Stay near to me, God. You have created me in your image and you have given life to this world because of your love. In your goodness make me an instrument of your mercy…

Lead me, Lord, to the pinnacle of love. I don’t ask to be taken to new places or given new tasks. I ask you to unveil your beauty here where I live and work, where you have placed me. I ask you to infuse me with your love in the tasks you have already given me to do. I believe in you, Lord. Thy will be done…

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


Art for this post on God’s Game Plan: John 3:16-21: Partial restoration of Christ Talking with Nicodemus at Night, Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijen, 1616-1645, PD-US published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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






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

What Mountain Does God Want You to Climb?

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 22:07

I recently interviewed a transitional deacon in our diocese who will be soon ordained into the priesthood, and a large part of his vocation story involved the metaphor of a mountain. Describing his journey toward a wholehearted yes to God, he said, “It was like I was running away from the mountain God wanted me to climb. I started off making the ascent, but then I stumbled and fell upon the rocks of earthly pleasures. Eventually I hit rock bottom,” which led him to realize he was running away from his vocation.

I’m no mountain climber, but the spiritual allegory was not lost on me. Don’t we all show a bit of resistance, at least initially, when God invites us to ascend the mountain of holiness? Thinking back to Sanjuanist (St. John of the Cross) theology, his book, Ascent to Mount Carmel, describes that arduous climb we avoid because of its appearance and mystery.

To many of us, the mountain seems ominous, overbearing, and unwelcome. We are so small in light of its grandeur. It may beckon us, or we may be allured by curiosity, but in the end, we accept the reality that climbing it will be painful, difficult, and at times treacherous. Who wants to take that risk? In the interior life, making the climb to holiness at times entails intense mortifications, at other times development of virtues and uprooting vices, and still other times the stillness of waiting on God to move in and through us.

Still, we cannot achieve Heaven without the difficult ascent. While on the mountain, we don’t often feel as if we are closer to reaching the apex. Instead, we occasionally fall or falter. We encounter unexpected squalls and predators. We grow weary and weak, hungry and cold. The elements may shatter our once vibrant zeal that led us to accept this ascent to holiness without question. Now we question.

That is the purgation of the dark night, as St. John of the Cross tells us. Very few people accept the gift of holy darkness, though many are invited to enter into it. There are some souls who are able to bypass it, but most of us will, at some time in our lives, experience the difficulty of the work of sanctification. Like the mountain climber, we must persevere through the dryness and missional loneliness.

I’ve been reading a new release by Sophia Institute called On Suffering and Burnout. Mother Angelica writes about this spiritual ascent:

[There is] one phenomenon during our climb and that is a certain kind of loneliness. The further up the mountain we travel, the fewer companions we have. There comes a time when all things seem to drop behind and we find ourselves alone. When we finally arrive on top, the loneliness is gone, for we see things differently. We see all our former companions and possessions as they really are, with no illusions, no regrets, and no attachments (p. 90).

It seems that, as we climb higher – or are more purified in our interior disposition – we understand that this journey is specific to us and no one else. Our particular call, whether it is a vocation to the religious life or married life, or maybe a “call within a call” to an apostolate, missionary life, or particular talent, is one that can only be fulfilled through our continual yes to God. The higher we ascend, the more difficult it becomes to persevere, because we find ourselves alone – with little to no support from family and friends, and likely no spiritual consolations that we are, in fact, pursuing the path that God wills for us.

There comes a time when we must choose to forsake our former way of life, including our attachments to relationships and the consolations we receive from affirmations and accolades. During the purgation of our souls, the spiritual aridity can consume us. Some of us will abandon our quest, while few others will press onward by sheer will.

I can attest to the challenge of such a journey. About seven years ago, before Ben and I had our children, I was sitting in our house studying St. John of the Cross’s description of the ascent, and I noticed a painting we’d had for years. Through that image I realized that God was calling me to something new, a different path than what I had been following. He made it clear to me that it would be painful and difficult at times, but that it would produce goodness beyond measure.

I saw the image of His outstretched arms, beckoning me to come to Him in the midst of an ocean tempest, and I hesitated. It was evident that this journey would involve suffering I could not foresee, and that terrified me. But I saw His hands, which were extended in an invitation. He did not prophesy everything that would happen in my life, only invited me to come closer to Him. And that’s what I really wanted – union with Jesus. So I said yes, not knowing what that yes would encompass.

We have to renew our yes to God on that ascent up the mountain, sometimes daily. It must be deliberate and intentional as we make our way towards Heaven. It cannot be reluctant, but wholehearted. We can say yes to God as He continues to invite us to come closer to the pinnacle. Though we don’t see what lies ahead or beyond, though we may never know in this life what we are striving for, we know that once we have begun the climb, to turn back would be a grave mistake. We can only keep moving forward in faith.

The Catacombs Remind Us of the Courage of Early Christians

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 22:05

Going to Mass last Friday, the feast of St Philip Neri, I read that he had “a mystical experience in the catacombs in 1544, when he ‘felt himself divinely filled with the power of the Spirit’, causing his heart to dilate.”

Seemingly this incident wasn’t known to Fr James Spencer Northcote, author of The Roman Catacombs, who relates in his fascinating book that “From the middle of the ninth century till nearly the end of the sixteenth, the Roman Catacombs had no history and were practically unknown.” Then, in 1578, some labourers accidentally broke into a gallery of ancient graves. Unfortunately, this led to many precious relics and memorials being destroyed or vandalised.

First published in 1877 and republished this year by Sophia Institute Press, Fr Northcote’s book reminds us of the lives and often heroic deaths of our Christian forefathers in Rome many centuries ago. He mentions that there at least 40 or 50 catacombs in the hills around Rome. Originally built by designated Christian “fossors” (diggers) to bury their dead, their use lasted for 300 years, until the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. By AD 410, burials had ceased for good.

 It seems that the Roman government did not interfere with the catacombs before the middle of the third century and not even then as places of burial: only when they came to be used as places of worship and assembly for their outlawed religion did they attract the severity of the pagan administration. For instance, the Emperor Numerian, learning that Christian families were secretly assembling for Mass in a catacomb on the Via Salara, deliberately had the entrance blocked off by a huge mound of rubble, thus burying the worshippers alive. The sacred vessels for Mass and the skeletons of men, women and children were only rediscovered during the pontificate of Pope Damasus in AD 370.

Fr Northcote’s book includes illustrations and descriptions of the famous symbols found in the catacombs, such as the Good Shepherd, the anchor, the dove and the fish. The fish symbol in particular was “in universal use throughout the Church during its first 300 years…it became as it were a part of the very catechism – every baptised Christian seems to have been familiar with it.”

Also, in contrast to pagan memorials, the Christian ones did not record the status of the dead, such as “freedman” or “slave”; baptism had made such distinctions irrelevant.

A visit to Rome is incomplete without a pilgrimage to some of these holy places, sacred to the memory of Christians who were prepared to die for their faith. We are reminded of their courage and steadfastness when we hear in the news of Christians martyred by Islamist terrorists.

In my missal I have a holy picture honouring the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians working in Libya who were captured and beheaded by ISIS in February 2015. The inscription states that “They were offered the chance to save their lives by embracing Islam and all of them refused, confessing Christ and dying for him as true Christian martyrs.”

image: By Dnalor 01 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

St. Robert of Newminster (Abbot)

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 22:00

St. Robert was born at Gargrave, England, at the beginning of the 12th century. He studied at the University of Paris, was ordained a priest, and served as a parish priest in his native town. Later, he became a Benedictine and joined a band of monks in establishing a Cistercian monastery in which the strict Benedictine rule would be revived. In the winter of 1132, they founded Fountains Abbey on land given to them by Archbishop Thurston. In 1138, Robert went on to found the Cistercian Abbey of Newminster at Morpeth, Northumberland, which became a place of pilgrimage.

As abbot, Robert provided a fine example leading his monks to sanctity: he recited the entire Psalter of 150 psalms daily and he ate sparingly to maintain his self-denial. He is said to have had supernatural gifts, particularly with special power over evil spirits, and he cured many people possessed by demons.

Robert was a close friend of the hermit Saint Godric and often visited him in his hermitage at Finchale, where they would discuss the things of heaven. The night Robert died, June 7, 1159, Godric is said to have seen his soul ascending to heaven like a ball of fire.

St. Robert’s relics were translated to the church at Newminster. Miracles were reported at his tomb, and it became a center of pilgrimage.


1. St. Robert’s love of the psalms lead him to write a commentary on them, which has since been lost. Let us take a lesson from St. Robert and turn to the psalms for comfort, instruction, and praise of our mighty God.

2. In a time when exorcisms are on the rise, let us pray to St. Robert for protection against the devil and all evil spirits. We should not be overly fearful; however, as St. Robert knew, the only power Satan has is allowed by “divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history” (Catechism of the Catholic Church ).

Avoiding Bitterness in Suffering: How Our Heroes in Faith Found Peace Amid Sorrow

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 02:35

Show Notes: When faced with tragedy, loss, failure, illness, or any difficulty in life, how can we learn to suffer well? Author Dr. Ronda Chervin uses the lives of the saints to help us cope with suffering in her book Avoiding Bitterness in Suffering: How Our Heroes in Faith Found Peace Amid Sorrow.

Topics/Questions covered in the show:

  • What was the motivation for this book?
  • How did the saints handle suffering?
  • Which saint helped the most through the suffering associated with the tragic loss of a loved one?
  • How did St. Thérèse of Lisieux cope with suffering associated with doubt and attacks from the evil one?
  • Who is St. Marie of the Incarnation and why is she influential in coping with suffering?
  • St. Teresa of Calcutta said that suffering is like a kiss from Jesus on the cross.

Resources for today’s show:

What is Divine Intimacy Radio?

The Divine Intimacy Radio Show is a haven of rest and wellspring of spiritual life for those seeking intimacy with God and the enlightened path of Catholic mystical and ascetical wisdom.

Twice a week, Dan Burke and Melissa Elson explore topics related to the interior life and Catholic teaching. On Tuesdays, they interview various authors about their spiritual books and about the authors’ own insights on those books. On Fridays, they get specific on subjects which, primarily include prayer, spiritual direction, meditation, contemplation, and holiness.

Please click on the arrow below to listen to today’s show! Don’t forget to tell your friends about the show and help us get the word out. Click HERE for mobile devices or on the arrow below to listen to the show:

About Dan Burke

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





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

Making a Solemn Commitment to Prayer

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 02:30


Making a Solemn Commitment to Prayer Into the Deep (Week 3 of 4)

When we buy a many thousand-dollar vehicle, we don’t hesitate to get the extended warranty.

When we buy a couple of hundred dollar phone (which is more of a pocket computer), we don’t bat an eye at the $50-70 case that will keep it protected from drops and spills.

And yet, many of us expect to just turn on the prayer faucet and have it function…never mind that we don’t have a drain pipe installed or even a working nozzle.

(And that’s where my metaphor stops working so well…I’m not inclined toward plumbing…)

In Part 3, Burke outlines three aspects of prayer that are essential. They’re not optional if we want to succeed.

He writes:

Just like a church is not a church without an altar, a few essential elements are required for your progress in prayer. These elements embody the universal secrets of success in prayer that you will find in the lives of every person who has been serious about growing spiritually. In modern business terms, these are called “best practices.” […] [T]hese three essential elements reflect the very best practices of those who have known profound success in their spiritual lives.

They’re not that hard to remember, either.

Sacred time, sacred space, and sacred attention.

It’s a trinity! A trifecta! A trio!

But don’t let the catchiness of it all fool you: I don’t think anyone (least of all Dan Burke) would tell you any of it is easy.

And that leads us to Part 4, where we’re given another insight that, in the business world, could well be called game-changing.

“Now that you understand the basic steps and the essential elements of prayer,” writes Burke, “it is time to make an informed, purposeful, and meaningful commitment to God.”

This is the spiritual equivalent of signing your name to an agreement…

…but it’s with God, the Creator of the Universe.

Talk about bringing it into perspective!

These two sections are a blueprint to help any of us get beyond started, to actually succeed.

As we finish the book, we’ll learn the specific steps for Discovery Prayer and winning the battle (because it surely is a battle!).

Reading Assignment:

Part 5-End

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you have a time and/or space set aside for prayer? If not, make time this week to set a time and make a space.

2. Have you promised prayer time to God? If so, revisit that promise: are you being faithful to it? If not, make one.

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read More:

For More Information on the Book Club:

About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She’s online at and is the author of a number of books for families.









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

How Faith Relates to Hope and Charity

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:07

There is a legendary account of a mother and her three beautiful daughters who suffered martyrdom during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. It was claimed that the mother, the Roman matron Sophia (Wisdom), and her three daughters, Pistis, Elpis, and Agape (Faith, Hope, and Charity), underwent martyrdom for the sake of their Christian faith and were interred on the Aure­lian Way. Although we don’t know much beyond scanty pieces of information alleged to be about them, I am inspired by their names to think about how the grace of martyrdom flows from faith, hope, and charity. In this chapter we will consider the connection between faith, hope, and charity in our Christian journey.

St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, describes the gradations of these virtues and concludes by emphasizing that love is the greatest of them all: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). The blessed apostle gave several examples clarifying that faith without charity is nonsalvific, but he did not explicitly talk about the connection among the three virtues. That will be our project here, in order to help us to appreciate that Christian faith and spirituality is based on the mystery of the Incarnation and connects us with one another.

Christian faith is incarnate faith. There is no faith in the abstract; rather, every person is called to participate in the mystery of the Incarnation and to live it out daily. It takes two to have faith: God and a human being. It takes two to have Christian faith: Jesus Christ and the Christian. Jesus is our hope, our salvation.

An incarnate faith is grounded in the mystery of the Incarna­tion — that in the fullness of time God became man in order to save us (Gal. 4:4). Jesus revealed to us the divinity of God, making it possible for us to enter into a profound relationship with Him. Jesus’ incarnate nature builds us up not only as individuals but also as a community — the Mystici Corporis, “the Mystical Body of Christ” — making it authentically and distinctly Christian.

Christian faith does not work in isolation. Christian faith means identification with and incorporation into Jesus Christ. In addi­tion to the choice of accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become Christians when we are incorporated into Christ and His Body, the Church, through baptism, which is rightly called the first sacrament of initiation. In this sacrament we are brought into Trinitarian belonging as Christ commanded His apostles to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Through this incorporation, what is personal becomes ecclesial.

Christian faith is personal because it is the individual who makes a personal commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. As Pope Benedict XVI put it, “The act of faith is an eminently personal act that takes place in the most intimate depths of our being and signals a change in direction, a personal conversion. It is my life that is marked by a turning point and receives a new orientation.” Continuing, the pope states, “My belief is not the result of my own personal reflection, nor the product of my own thoughts. Rather, it is the fruit of a relationship, of a dialogue that involves listening, receiving and a response.” The personal aspect of the Christian faith relates to its subjective dimension.

This article is from “Our Journey to God.” Click image to order in paperback or as an ebook.

But the Faith is also ecclesial. To paraphrase Pope Benedict again: Every Sunday, we individually recite the Creed as the summary of “our Faith,” not just my Faith. It is therefore the Faith of the community of believers. All through the early Church, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, those who accepted Jesus in their lives also became members of the way through baptism. They were faithful to the teaching of the apostles and fellow-shipped together, united in the breaking of bread and also in the life of prayer (Acts 2:41–42).

Consider the progression of the lives of the early Christians as illustrated above: There is the personal acceptance of the Word, the Trinitarian baptism, then apostolicity, communion (Eucharist), and prayer. In other words, the believers lived a sacramental life, which by its very nature is ecclesial. Thus, Christian faith is not my exclusive project or altogether built on a private conversation with Jesus. The claim to be able to “accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior” without belonging to the Church under the belief that “no one needs the Church to be saved as a Christian” is theological nonsense and unbiblical. To the contrary, “faith is given to me by God through the community of believers, which is the Church. It numbers me among the multitude of believers in a communion which is not merely sociological but, rather, which is rooted in the eternal love of God, who in himself is the communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — who is Trinitarian Love. Our faith is truly personal only if it is also communal. It can be my faith only if it lives and moves in the ‘we’ of the Church, only if it is our faith, the common faith of the one Church.”

The ecclesial nature of faith is beautifully described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “ ‘Believing’ is an ecclesial act. The Church’s faith precedes, engenders, supports and nourishes our faith. The Church is the mother of all believers. ‘No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother’ (St. Cyprian, De unit. 6: PL 4, 519)” (no. 181).

Christian faith is therefore essentially communal. It neither ig­nores nor excludes the ecclesiae — the Church — whose head is Christ. Individualistic faith isolates itself and thus loses the core ingredient of its Christian identity. This is why true faith is essentially communal. Christian faith connects us with God and with each other. It is Christ centered and at the same time charity oriented. It inspires us to love and to relate with others as children of God. Christian faith in action is charity.

Similarly, Christian faith is teleological; it will not find its consummation until it reaches its object, God’s Truth, and its ultimate goal, eternal life. This teleological aspect of the Chris­tian faith — that is, the idea that faith is ordered to some end or goal — makes it intricately connected with hope. Just as the work of faith is charity, its expectation is in hope.

About the teleological aspect of faith, St. Paul explains that he strives to reach the goal of the Beatific Vision:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12–14)

Faith possesses in a limited form that which is hoped for; it looks up to the final consummation in the life to come. It is like the kingdom of God, which is both now and not yet. The ultimate goal of faith — the Beatific Vision, eternal life — is not to be reached unless faith is sustained to the end. Faith alone, although it originates from God, is not sufficient in itself to reach this goal. But its foundational value is not to be ignored, for without faith, no one can please God (Heb. 11:6), and the righteous is “justified by faith” (Rom. 3:28). How then is it that faith, in itself, is not sufficient to reach the goal of the Beatific Vision?

The answer is found in Scripture, which exposes the communal and teleological dimensions of the Christian faith.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. . . . When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:1–3, 11–13)

Trying to separate faith from the other two theological virtues is like choosing between the lyrics and the music of the Christian journey. James went right to the point: “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). And St. Thomas Aquinas’s teaching that “faith may be without charity, but not as a perfect virtue” expresses the same idea.

When Mother Teresa of Calcutta culminated her faith journey in India, her exceptional acts of love and works of faith on behalf of the people became proofs of her faith. When Charles Lwanga and his companions in Uganda graciously accepted death for their faith by extending a hand of welcome and prayer of forgiveness for their executioners, they were not only confessing their faith, but showing its connection with hope and love.

Think of the Christian missionaries from Poland, Portugal, Ireland, England, Spain, and America, who traveled to differ­ent parts of Africa during the most volatile and vulnerable days of evangelization. They were not deterred by mosquito-borne diseases and other dangers. They could not have been motivated by faith alone in exclusion of hope and love. They believed in God; they hoped in the future glory; and therefore they loved unto death.

How Faith Relates to Hope and Charity

What is hope? Our Catholic definition from the Catechism is comprehensive:

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. (no. 1817)

Pope Benedict XVI’s exegesis of Hebrews 11:1 — the classical biblical definition of faith — is relevant here. Hebrews tells us: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It shows, in unmistakable terms, the nexus between faith and hope. The key insight, as the pope reveals, is in the Greek word hypostasis, which is rendered in Latin as substantia and here as “assurance.” But this isn’t the best translation; “substance” is a better English word. The Holy Father stressed this when he wrote:

The concept of “substance” is therefore modified in the sense that through faith, in a tentative way, or as we might say “in embryo” — and thus according to the “substance” — there are already present in us the things that are hoped for: the whole, true life. And precisely because the thing itself is already present, this presence of what is to come also creates certainty: this “thing” which must come is not yet visible in the external world (it does not “appear”), but because of the fact that, as an initial and dynamic reality, we carry it within us, a certain perception of it has even now come into existence.

Correspondingly, Christian faith, like Christian hope, is not faith in progress, whose goal is the triumph of reason over religion. Faith in progress is a purely mechanical and materialistic notion of faith that evolved in response to the rise of Marxism and communism. In our age it is intertwined with economic liberalism and the prosperity gospel.

Christian faith is interwoven with hope and love. Hope sustains it, and charity makes it incarnate. Charity is “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822).

St. Thomas Aquinas showed how the three theological virtues are related in the order of precedence and the order of perfection. In the order of precedence, faith comes first, followed by hope and then charity. In Thomas’s view, a man loves a thing because he apprehends it as his good. When we believe a person to be good, we develop hope in that person and then proceed to love him or her. But in the order of perfection, charity precedes faith and hope, for it is through charity that they reach their fullness as virtues. Hence, charity is the “mother and the root of all the virtues.”

Aquinas’s view is grounded in Scripture. St. Paul taught that of all the theological virtues the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13). Love, here called charity and understood in this context as Chris­tian love, never fails, because the goal of our faith and what we hope for is the presence of God — and God is Love (1 John 4:8). Thus, although faith and hope can exist without charity, they are not perfect and Christian without charity.

On the other hand, charity is impossible without faith and hope because you have to have faith in God and hope in Him in order to commit your total self in love to Him. As St. Thomas stated:

Wherefore just as friendship with a person would be impossible, if one disbelieved in, or despaired of, the possibility of their fellowship or familiar colloquy; so too, friendship with God, which is charity, is impossible without faith, so as to believe in this fellowship and col­loquy with God, and to hope to attain to this fellowship.

Faith dovetails with hope and matures in charity. The life of faith is truly redemptive if there is hope for a future glory and a true friendship with God, which is charity. The work of Christian faith is charity, and the eternal expectation connected with it is hope. The journey of faith means growing in all three of these essential virtues.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith from Abraham to You, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
image: Faith, Hope and Charity by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pentecost: The Church’s Birthday

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:05

Birthdays are times to do two things – offer thanks to God for the grace to turn one year older and reflect on the past year to see what we could do better in the future. Having offered thanks to God for past blessings, we “press on to what lies ahead – God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.”(Phil 3:13,14)

Allow me to wish you all Happy Birthday today as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, the day that the risen Christ fulfilled His promise and sent the new life of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and brought the Church to life. This birthday of the Church calls us to deep gratitude for the abiding presence and guidance of the Spirit in the Church. It is also a time to reflect deeply on the past and ask ourselves the questions, “What are the signs of the new life of the Spirit in my own life? What signs show that I am really living the life of the Spirit?”

Let us reflect on four sure signs of the Spirit in our lives.

First, a life of ongoing conversion from sin and selfishness towards God as our loving Father. The Spirit of God will never let us become comfortable with sin or complacent in the struggle against sin. Our First Reading shows us the disciples united and boldly speaking of “the mighty acts of God.” They are no longer the self-seeking men who struggled for the first place or the timid men who could not witness to Jesus before a little maid during the Passion of Christ. They have learned to forget themselves and unite in giving bold witness to Jesus no matter the cost.

The Spirit moves us to conversion in our thoughts, words and actions. We begin to see God as our loving Father and His laws are no longer rules to kill our joy but paths to deep freedom. We are not afraid to return to God with confidence when we fall into sin and beg for forgiveness. This constant and ongoing conversion to God in love is the first sign of the Spirit in our lives.

Secondly, a live of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of all aspects of my life. St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” If Jesus Christ is truly our Lord, then we expect all things from Jesus with confidence and we do and endure all things for Jesus Christ alone. With the Spirit in our lives, we are not self-seeking but we serve Christ Jesus alone with all that we have, “There are different forms of service but the same Lord…To each individual is given the manifestation of the Spirit for some benefit.” With the Spirit, we share in Christ’s own attitude to the Father, ready to express our needs with trusting prayer but also with complete abandonment to His holy will as Jesus prayed in His agony in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me; yet not what I will but what thou wilt.”(Mk 14:36)

Thirdly, we become instruments of the Spirit in fostering unity between Christ Jesus and other souls. Jesus Christ is the vine and we are the attached branches only because we have a share in His own Spirit and we are ready to bring other souls to Jesus. In the words of St. Paul, “Though many, we are one body in Christ.” When the Spirit makes us His instruments of unity, we remain united with Christ no matter what and we are ready to sacrifice all for the sake of growing in this unity with Christ and to bring other souls to Christ by our words and actions.

Fourthly, we have deep peace in our hearts, a peace that comes from being reconciled with God and not just from our situation in this life. The Resurrected Christ in today’s Gospel gives His peace and Spirit to the disciples. He offers peace first, “Peace be with you,” before He offers them the means to this peace, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” as well as what they are to do with this forgiveness that they have received, “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, these signs of the Spirit’s presence exist together: we cannot pick and choose which we want and do not want. The Spirit in us will continuously move us to exhibit all these signs at different moments of our lives. We must ask how the Spirit is moving us today to ongoing conversion out of love for a God who has loved us first. How is the Spirit moving us to bring our lives completely under the lordship of Jesus Christ? How is the Spirit moving us to bring souls to Jesus Christ by our prayers, sufferings, actions and words? How is the Spirit moving us to keep the peace of heart that Christ won for us on the cross and bring it to others?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ, rich in Spirit, gives His Spirit generously and immediately to His disciples who abandoned Him. This Spirit is good and gentle in us and He will never force us to respond to His inspirations and movements. Let us respond promptly and generously to His promptings so that these signs may be visible in our lives.

It is hard for us to respond to the Spirit’s movements in our lives. Our affection for sin is so strong sometimes, our weakness is great, it is so hard for us to pray, “Jesus, your will be done,” our selfishness does not allow us to see others as brothers and sisters to be brought to Christ and inner peace remains elusive. We can then do what many of the saints have done before us with remarkable results – turn to Mary. Mama Mary is the faithful and sinless spouse of the Spirit who did not hesitate to give herself completely to God when the Angel Gabriel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Her faith in Jesus Christ as Lord did not waver even when she stood under the cross with Him dying in agony. She was a faithful instrument of the Spirit in bringing Jesus to Elizabeth, she made Jesus known at the wedding of Cana through her prayers and example, she did not hesitate to take the beloved disciple as her son on the commands of the dying Jesus and she freely consented to the sacrifice of her own son Jesus so that we too may be one in Jesus.

Every Eucharist is a Pentecost experience because the Holy Spirit is poured into our hearts and we experience His new life in us. It is a continuous birthday experience for us that demands that we thank God sincerely for this continuous gift of new life. It is also a time for us to reflect and strive with the help of the grace of the Spirit and the support of His faithful bride Mary to live lives of ongoing conversion and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, freely becoming the Spirit’s instruments of unity of all with Christ so that the peace of the Holy Spirit will be in us always.

Happy birthday!!!

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

image: Zvonimir Atletic /

Five Ways Parents Can Engage Children in the Faith

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:02

The primary obligation of parents towards their children is to pave the way for the salvation of their immortal souls. Jesus pointed this out very clearly: “What would it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world and lose his soul in the process. What can a man exchange for his very soul?” This Biblical passage was instrumental in the conversion of the great missionary, Saint Francis Xavier.

In this short essay, we would like to pinpoint five concrete decisions and practices that parents can undertake so as to pave the way to heaven for their children. Never forget parents: your primary obligation is to bring every family member to heaven, to be with God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels and saints for all eternity.

1. Baptism  

Provide for the Baptism of your child as soon as possible. During the course of the pregnancy good parents can do all the prior preparations so as to have the child baptized rapidly. Baptismal talks, papers, godparents, etc. can be prepared and ready even before the child is born. Remember the words of Jesus, referring to the small child; “Let the little children come to me because as such is the kingdom of heaven.”

2. Pray Immediately!

A child can be compared to a sponge. The nature of a sponge is to absorb, especially liquids and usually water. However, if one puts dirty water into the sponge, then dirty water will be wrung out; clean, then clean water will be wrung out.  A three year-old child can watch TV and repeat dumb, offensive and vulgar words or songs. If this is the case, why should parents not fill the mind, heart and lips of the child with prayers to the Guardian Angel, to Mary, to the Trinity, to the Heavenly Father.  Why allow the child to be filled with junk, better, to fill him/her with beautiful prayers!

3. Offer it Up  

Parents, we invite you to teach your children the short but all important phrase:  “Offer it up!” What this really means is to take advantage of daily sufferings and crosses that God sends to adults as well as to children. Much suffering is wasted because it is not offered up to God. Why not teach children, even when they are small, to offer up the headache, toothache, hot or cold weather, the fall and bruise and the cut, so that these sufferings will have infinite value. Mom and Dad, you are the first teachers, especially in the area of faith.  Be faithful to your marriage vocation!

4. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The Last and greatest commandment of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was that of love—to love all as he loved us. Parents who are blessed by God to have more than one child should make a concerted effort on their part to love all their children and their immortal souls. However, the devil always seeks to sow the seed of discord, confusion, jealously, rivalry, comparisons, and suspicions. Parents must strive with all of the energy of their wills to foster mutual respect, humility, love and harmony among their siblings.

At all costs parents must avoid the “Cain-complex”. What is the “Cain-complex”? The Cain-complex consists in pitting one sibling against the other. It results in the ugly fruits of comparisons, rivalries, jealousy often leading to envy and fights and hatred and killing, if not physically at least in the heart. How can the “Cain-complex” be avoided? A simple remedy! It is all related to union with God in prayer, the three dimensions of family prayer. Parents should pray for their children; parents should teach their children to pray; finally, parents should pray with their children.  If done, this will prove to be one of the most efficacious remedies to avoid the ugly, but all too prevalent “Cain-complex.”

5. The Real Presence. 

Good Catholic parents, we warmly exhort you to teach your children, as soon as possible, the meaning of the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Mass, Consecration, Holy Communion. Furthermore, parents should teach their children, even the little ones, where Jesus is truly present in the Church.  How is this to be done successfully by parents? Various suggestions!

  • 1) Parents work on growing in your own faith in Jesus present in the Eucharist—nobody can give what he does not possess personally.
  • 2) Explain to your children that the most important event every week is attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday, but also participating fully, consciously and actively.
  • 3) Reverence.The modern world has lost the sense of the sacred in the churches today. Parents must teach their children that the Church is the House of God and a sacred and holy environment. Therefore, in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, there should be cultivated silence, that fosters both prayer and reverence.
  • 4) Genuflection. Parents should execute the genuflection properly, right knee to the ground with hands folded over heart, and explain why this is done. Simply!  It is done to adore the Lord of Lord and King of Kings who is residing in His little Palace or Castle in the Blessed Sacrament.  The Kings prostrated themselves before the Child Jesus in Bethlehem; we prostrate ourselves by a reverential genuflection. Remember that Jesus, now present in the Blessed Sacrament, is still Lord of Lords and King of Kings and still worthy of worship and praise. This is done by the genuflection.
  • 5) Visits to the blessed Sacrament. One of the first little poems I remembered learning as a child was the following related to Eucharistic visits:  “Whenever I see a Church, I stop to make a visit, so that when I die the Lord will not say, who is it?”  Parents should form the habit of now and then stopping to visit Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Even though the visit might last five minutes, this is very pleasing to Jesus whose Sacred Heart rejoices every time we visit Him and remember Him!

In conclusion, if parents can take seriously their obligation to be a Saint John the Baptist and point the way to Jesus and the Highway to heaven, then the parents will strive to implement these five practical points of advice: 1) The graces of early Baptism; 2) Prayer which is the key to heaven; 3) The value of offering up and suffering for a purpose; 4) Love, living out love in family; 5) The Eucharistic Lord, growing in faith, knowledge and love for Jesus the Bread of Life, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

May Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church and our Heavenly Mother attain for us extraordinary graces through her all-powerful prayers!

“When you take the leap to look

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:00

“When you take the leap to look at the world through the eyes of faith, you start seeing God’s fingerprints everywhere, creating connections so subtle, so delicate, they might pass unseen.”

-Cari Donaldson, Pope Awesome & Other Stories

Holy Mass on the Solemnity of Pentecost

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:00

Vatican Basilica
Sunday, 4 June 2017

Today concludes the Easter season, the fifty days that, from Jesus’ resurrection to Pentecost, are marked in a particular way by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is in fact the Easter Gift par excellence. He is the Creator Spirit, who constantly brings about new things. Today’s readings show us two of those new things. In the first reading, the Spirit makes of the disciples a new people; in the Gospel, he creates in the disciples a new heart.

A new people. On the day of Pentecost, the Spirit came down from heaven, in the form of “divided tongues, as of fire… [that] rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages” (Acts 2:3-4). This is how the word of God describes the working of the Spirit: first he rests on each and then brings all of them together in fellowship. To each he gives a gift, and then gathers them all into unity. In other words, the same Spirit creates diversity and unity, and in this way forms a new, diverse and unified people: the universal Church. First, in a way both creative and unexpected, he generates diversity, for in every age he causes new and varied charisms to blossom. Then he brings about unity: he joins together, gathers and restores harmony: “By his presence and his activity, the Spirit draws into unity spirits that are distinct and separate among themselves” (CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, Commentary on the Gospel of John, XI, 11). He does so in a way that effects true union, according to God’s will, a union that is not uniformity, but unity in difference.

For this to happen, we need to avoid two recurrent temptations. The first temptation seeks diversity without unity. This happens when we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things, perhaps even thinking that we are better than others, or always in the right, when we become so-called “guardians of the truth”. When this happens, we choose the part over the whole, belonging to this or that group before belonging to the Church. We become avid supporters for one side, rather than brothers and sisters in the one Spirit. We become Christians of the “right” or the “left”, before being on the side of Jesus, unbending guardians of the past or the avant-garde of the future before being humble and grateful children of the Church. The result is diversity without unity. The opposite temptation is that of seeking unity without diversity. Here, unity becomes uniformity, where everyone has to do everything together and in the same way, always thinking alike. Unity ends up being homogeneity and no longer freedom. But, as Saint Paul says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17).

So the prayer we make to the Holy Spirit is for the grace to receive his unity, a glance that, leaving personal preferences aside, embraces and loves his Church, our Church. It is to accept responsibility for unity among all, to wipe out the gossip that sows the darnel of discord and the poison of envy, since to be men and women of the Church means being men and women of communion. It is also to ask for a heart that feels that the Church is our Mother and our home, an open and welcoming home where the manifold joy of the Holy Spirit is shared.

Now we come to the second new thing brought by the Spirit: a new heart. When the risen Jesus first appears to his disciples, he says to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (Jn 20:22-23). Jesus does not condemn them for having denied and abandoned him during his passion, but instead grants them the spirit of forgiveness. The Spirit is the first gift of the risen Lord, and is given above all for the forgiveness of sins. Here we see the beginning of the Church, the glue that holds us together, the cement that binds the bricks of the house: forgiveness. Because forgiveness is gift to the highest degree; it is the greatest love of all. It preserves unity despite everything, prevents collapse, and consolidates and strengthens. Forgiveness sets our hearts free and enables us to start afresh. Forgiveness gives hope; without forgiveness, the Church is not built up.

The spirit of forgiveness resolves everything in harmony, and leads us to reject every other way: the way of hasty judgement, the cul-de-sac of closing every door, the one-way street criticizing others. Instead, the Spirit bids us take the two-way street of forgiveness received and forgiveness given, of divine mercy that becomes love of neighbour, of charity as “the sole criterion by which everything must be done or not done, changed or not changed” (ISAAC OF STELLA, Or. 31). Let us ask for the grace to make more beautiful the countenance of our Mother the Church, letting ourselves be renewed by forgiveness and self-correction. Only then will we be able to correct others in charity.

The Holy Spirit is the fire of love burning in the Church and in our hearts, even though we often cover him with the ash of our sins. Let us ask him: “Spirit of God, Lord, who dwell in my heart and in the heart of the Church, guiding and shaping her in diversity, come! Like water, we need you to live. Come down upon us anew, teach us unity, renew our hearts and teach us to love as you love us, to forgive as you forgive us. Amen”.

In today’s Gospel reading, the

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:00

In today’s Gospel reading, the questions that the Pharisees and the Sadducees asked Jesus were another unfair attempt or plot to entrap Jesus in theological disputes so they could accuse him of heresy of even sedition.

Jesus refutes them head-on with precise replies which are not only theologically and scripturally sound but which also expose the supposed truth-seeking Sadducees for what they really are. When we allow situations and particular instances to determine truths for ourselves, like trying to justify lying and not telling the truth to protect our own feelings or those of others, we are acting like the Sadducees and are indeed rejecting God’s truth.
Jesus’ replies confirm that truth is not variable and that, with a clear understanding of God built through strong relationships, we would not fall into the same trap as the Pharisees and Sadducees. If all our actions and intentions are truly directed to God and his greater glory, we would not to worry about misunderstandings or trivia presented but instead truly acknowledge the power of God as the God of the living and of truth. We would know the truth not merely through speech but have that knowledge deeply imprinted in our minds and hearts, which the Pharisees and Sadducees missed.

God’s truth teaches us to understand and respect the many different and complicated spheres and relationships in our lives: “Return to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

St. Norbert (Bishop)

Mon, 06/05/2017 - 22:00

St. Norbert (1080?-1134) was born of a noble Rhineland family, and until about age thirty-five led the life of a courtier at various princely courts. Then, following a narrow escape from death, he underwent a conversion and dedicated his life to God. Norbert was ordained a priest, but his new enthusiasm antagonized many of the local clergy. Their opposition prompted him to sell all his goods and give the proceeds to the poor; he then went to visit the pope.

Pope Gelasius II gave Norbert permission to travel and preach wherever he wished. Norbert went to northern France, and was very effective in rekindling the faith of lukewarm Catholics. He and a young priest, Hugh of Fosses, established a religious order known as the Premonstratensian Canons, dedicated to the correction of heresies and to fostering a greater respect for the Blessed Sacrament.

Norbert continued his itinerant preaching until 1126, when he was chosen as archbishop of Magdeburg in Germany. The diocese was badly in need of reform, and Norbert undertook his duties with customary enthusiasm. He reformed local abuses, renewed sacramental life in the diocese, and reconciled enemies — though he made enemies himself by trying to recover territory stolen from the Church (and this led to several attempts on his life).

In 1130 Norbert supported Pope Innocent II in his struggle against an antipope, and just before his death was appointed chancellor for Italy. St. Norbert had a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist (his emblem is a monstrance, or “display case” for the Host); he died in 1134.


1. A close call with death is often an invitation from God to change one’s life; St. Norbert realized this, and allowed his narrow escape to set him on the path to holiness.

2. As St. Norbert recognized, the Holy Eucharist is a great spiritual treasure, and deserves our profound gratitude and respect.

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.