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The Catholic Church: God’s Rehabilitation Center

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 22:07

In No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, I recounted how as a teenager I was a total pothead. I started using drugs and viewing pornography when I was a pre-teen in southern California, got deported from Japan when I was 15, ended up being thrown in jail in Louisiana when I was 18, and entered two rehabilitation centers in Pennsylvania all before I was 20. But neither of the rehabilitation centers worked. Sadly, the statistics regarding the effectiveness of drug and alcohol rehab centers are discouraging. The reality is that the percentage of people who are successfully rehabilitated is very low, with relapse rates ranging as high as 90 percent.

In my opinion, most of the secular rehabs don’t work because they only offer a band-aid approach; that is, they fail to get to the root of the problem and eradicate it. The root of the problem is sin and the failure to conform to objective truth. So many people today are addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling, etc., and they are in need of real help and real answers. They are crying out for healing, but they are not being offered true and lasting medicine.

The true and lasting way out of addiction and vice is the Catholic Church!

The Catholic Church has the power to turn people who have been marred by horrible addictions and sinful criminal pasts into saints. She, the Catholic Church, offers the best medicine, the best counseling, the best of everything to heal the wounded soul. And it’s all free! The greatest “intervention” we can ever do is to help a person get into the rehabilitation center that is the Catholic Church. They might go kicking and screaming, as is usually the case, but I guarantee it is the only true way to heal the wounded human person.

Yet sadly, because there is a media-fueled hatred for the Catholic Church, some people don’t see the Church this way. Many people think that the Church is a lunatic asylum — that only crazy people belong to the Catholic Church. There is a certain bit of truth to that, I suppose, in that we are fools for Christ (cf. 1 Cor 4:10). In the eyes of the world, Catholics seem strange and out-of-step with society. But a transformation takes place in this divine rehabilitation center that changes people from the inside out; it gets to the root of the problem. The secular world can’t understand this because it’s not truly interested in transforming the human person or offering them anything more than a mundane pacifier. The world is only interested in pushing its ideology of religious pluralism, secular atheism, and self-deification. Even many “professional” counselors, psychiatrists, and mental health care providers subscribe to the notion that the Church is full of nonsense and myth. They believe that it has been created by men to oppress people and lead them into an endless cycle of moral codes. And these are the people who have been “educated” at prestigious universities and are supposed to be helping others find healing and human freedom!

So let me explain how I have come to understand why it is that so many people hate the Church and abandon her today.

God is the landowner, the farmer, if you will (cf. Mt 13:24- 30; 1 Cor 3:9; Jas 5:7). The Catholic Church is his field. Naturally, a farmer wants to make his field grow abundantly fruitful and produce a rich harvest. Every farmer desires this for his field. But what does a farmer put on the field to make this happen? There are many words I could use, but let’s stick with manure. Manure stinks. It has a horrible smell, and people try and avoid it. But the farmer and the truly wise know that it’s there for a reason.

Today, however, a lot of people view the Catholic Church as being the pile of manure, and they want to get as far away from it as they can. On one level, it’s understandable; if you are driving down the highway and smell a farm with “fresh” manure on it, you roll up the window and speed up. However, if you want to reap the fruit of an abundant harvest, you must endure the manure on the field and know that underneath all the nasty stuff is something wonderful. It doesn’t mean you have to like the manure, but you do have to endure it.

This is why a deep prayer life is so important for understanding the mystery of what God is doing in his field. The Catholic Church is not the manure, but it does have a lot of manure in it. The Catholic Church is filled with “stinkers.” But if a person doesn’t go deep in prayer, they are not going to get past the stench to understand and trust the “manure principle” of how the divine farmer produces fruit in his field. God puts manure on his field so that it can grow and, in its time, produce a rich harvest. For a while it may seem horrible, and it might be difficult at times even to breathe. But God knows what he is doing, and we have to trust him.

In my opinion, the manure in the Catholic Church today is thick and deep — at various other times throughout history, it has been very thick, too. But this doesn’t mean we flee or think any less of the farmer (God) or his field (the Catholic Church). God is doing something deeply mysterious in our days, but only those who pray will stick around during the stench and reap the benefits of the field.

Anyone who gardens might see it from this perspective: If you want a beautiful rose bush, then you have to be willing to prune it and make it into something ugly and unattractive. It’s the “pruning principle.” You don’t prune a rose bush so it remains ugly forever. If you want beautiful roses, you’ve got to prune it down to an ugly little shrub so that, in its time, it will become so beautiful and lovely that everyone comes and takes delight in its beautiful fragrance. It’s the same thing with the Catholic Church. From a distance, to a person who doesn’t have a deep prayer life, it may look like a pile of dung or an ugly, little shrub. But if you’re a person of prayer and trust, you understand that it is God’s mysterious work. Even Jesus talks about the principle of pruning with regard to how our heavenly Father makes us fruitful (cf. Jn 15:2).

So while many people believe that the Church is a pile of manure and a poison for society, it’s actually the antidote — to get the stuff that is making us sick out of our systems. That sickness is our sin and vice. The Catholic Church doesn’t apply a band-aid to our problems. It isn’t like many of the rehabilitation centers in the world today where people gather in small groups, sit around a campfire in a circle, and share sympathy stories while making s’mores, singing “Kumbaya,” and affirming each other. Such “therapy” may be “nice,” but it isn’t the answer to what really ails the person. It’s a band-aid solution to a spiritual problem.

If you want true healing, there has to be a deeper truth involved. Sin has to be acknowledged, and the full truth about life must be offered to the human person. The truth will often seem like salt on a wound, but it will heal you. The truth will set your soul, emotions, and mind free — not just free you from an addiction and make you sober. So, for example, if you still believe that you’re a monkey when you leave a rehab center, big whoop if you’re sober. After all, a sober monkey is still a monkey.

We are called to greater things as the children of God. The ultimate goal in our life is holiness! Sobriety is a fruit of holiness. If you seek first the kingdom of God, you get everything else (cf. Mt 6:33). But if you seek first the things of the world, you get nothing, not even the world.

The Catholic Church invites everyone in and helps each person participate in God’s rehabilitation center. In the Catholic Church, God offers divine detoxification where we literally get our heads checked out, receive a blood transfusion, and undergo a heart transplant. We are truly transformed in this hospital because the Divine Physician is Jesus and the heavenly nurse is Mary. But we have to be willing to submit to Jesus and trust his plan. It’s much the same process as going to a medical doctor, where you need to have the humility to let the doctor guide you.

Of course, as the Divine Physician, God knows everything that’s wrong with us. But we’ve got to tell him what we’ve done as an act of humility so that the Divine Physician (who is not going to do things against our will) is given permission to operate on us and work his wonders in our souls. Divine detox is the only way to get the poison of the world out of our systems.

Unlike the prescriptions of the world, where they go up in price, are always changing, and do not heal the soul, the prescription of Jesus never changes. Jesus is both our physician and our prescription (medication), and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Heb 13:8). He offers us himself: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). Both Jesus and his sacred teachings are offered to us through the Catholic Church, and they set us free. Catholicism gets the poison out of us!

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This article was taken from Fr. Calloway’s book Under the Mantle: Marian Thoughts from a 21st Century Priest.  Used with permission.

The Double Message of the Parable of the Sower and the Seed

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 22:05

I’ve always loved gardening.  Seeds I’ve planted include carrot, cucumber, and of course, zucchini.  In each case, I’ve planted seeds in neat rows, expecting nearly all of them to sprout and yield fruit.

But the farmer in Jesus’ parable (Mat 13:1-23) uses the broadcast method.  Lots of seed cast everywhere.  And predictably, many of these seeds do not produce.  Some get eaten by birds.  Some sprout but then wither. Some seedlings get choked out by weeds.  Finally a few yield varying amounts of grain.

At the end of the story, Jesus says “they who have ears, let them hear.”  In other words, he wants us to learn something and take some action steps.

To respond to this parable adequately, we must view it from two different angles.  The first is to look at the story as if we are the seed. Many who hear the gospel never seem to “get it.”  The message is stolen before it ever takes root. Then there are the 50% of Catholic kids who receive the sacraments but disappear somewhere between age 18 and 25.  Shallow roots fail to equip them to take the heat of our pagan culture.  Then there are the 89% of lifelong, regular churchgoers who, according to George Gallup, have values and lifestyles identical to those of their pagan neighbors.  Their faith has been neutralized by bad theology and worldliness so though they look like wheat plants, their religion is fruitless.  Then there are those who stay out of serious sin, manage to do some good for some people, but all in all produce a mediocre harvest  Finally come the few who are not satisfied with just getting by. They sink their roots deep into Scripture, Tradition, prayer and the sacraments, and produce a bumper crop. We call these people saints.

In speaking to us as seed, Jesus is saying: “be careful. If you don’t make the effort to get thoroughly rooted in your Catholic faith, you just might not make it. If do you manage to survive, you might produce absolutely nothing. But you are called to bear much fruit (John 15), to yield 100 fold, to be a saint, to leave a mark on the lives of many that will last forever.  Don’t settle for anything less!”

On the other hand, we can look at the parable as if we were the farmer. Vatican II and all the Popes since have stately unequivocally that each of us is called to be an evangelizer, to tell others that Jesus Christ changes lives eternally and that the place to encounter him most fully is within the Catholic Church. “But,” you may protest, “I tried it a few times and got nowhere. I just don’t have the personality, don’t have the gift.”

Jesus, the Son of God, indisputably had both the personality and the gift.  Yet when he sowed seed, much of it still ended up as bird food. Consider the thousands he fed with loaves and fishes, the multitude that heard his sermon on the mount, the throngs that welcomed him on Palm Sunday.  Yet on the day of Pentecost, there were only 120 left in the cenacle, awaiting the Holy Spirit. Notice, though, that the fruit borne by these 120 plants eventually filled the whole world!

To get the few that bear fruit, lots of seed must be sown by lots of people.  So regardless of whether or not we think we have green thumbs, we are being commanded through this parable to get the seed out there, sowing it everywhere we go, undeterred by the birds, the weeds, and the scorching sun.

The parable of the sower has a twofold message: as seed, our job is to get busy growing.  As farmers, our job is to get busy sowing.

Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas.  Connect with him at dritaly.com or on social media @DrItaly.

This essay is offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Is 55:10-11, Ro 8:18-23; Mt 13:1-23).  It appears here with the permission of the author.

image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scripture Speaks: Sowing the Seeds of Faith

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 22:02

In today’s Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus, “Why do You speak in parables?”  Good question!

Gospel (Read Mt 13:1-23)

Our Gospel opens with a picturesque scene of Jesus sitting “by the sea” and drawing such a large crowd that He had to get into a boat and go offshore a bit so the people could hear Him.  If we were reading Matthew’s Gospel from its beginning, we would see that the reason Jesus had such a big following was that “He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.  So His fame spread…” (Mt 4:23-24a).  We would notice, too, that the first great teaching by Jesus recorded in this Gospel is the Sermon on the Mount.  Here we find several chapters of straight talk about how men ought to live.  Noticeable is the lack of any parables.  After that, we get many more accounts of Jesus’ miracles.   Then, in chapter twelve, we find the beginning of strong opposition to Him.  He healed a man on the Sabbath, and “the Pharisees went out and took counsel against Him, how to destroy Him” (Mt 12:14).

Knowing this background adds something to our understanding of today’s Gospel.  Here we see Jesus addressing an enormous crowd, but instead of straight talk, He teaches them in a parable, the first of many in this chapter.  The disciples are puzzled by the parable—not just its meaning, but why Jesus is now using this new teaching technique.  Fortunately, He answers both questions.

First, Jesus tells a simple story of a sower, his seed, and what happens to the seed in different kinds of soil.  People who grew their own food and knew the challenges of a good harvest would have easily understood this story.  After telling the parable, Jesus marks its significance by announcing, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  This was another way of saying, “This is important.  Pay attention.”  He left it at that!  The disciples’ curiosity was aroused.  “Why do You speak to them in parables?”  Jesus’ answer suggests that the parable was meant to be difficult to understand; why, then, would He use it?  Apparently, He sensed something in the crowd that reminded Him of a prophecy from Isaiah:  “They look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand.”  Why had these people followed Jesus to the seashore?  Were they looking for the sensationalism of more miracles?  Were they looking for a chance to turn Him in to the authorities?  Were they simply there to find out why the mob scene had gathered to listen to Him?  Jesus decided to speak in a parable to sift out the serious seekers from all the others.  A parable requires thought, reflection, and, above all, humility.  If one is not able to admit, “I don’t get this,” he will not take the time to pursue its meaning.  Serious seekers in the crowd would have decided to keep listening, keep following, keep watching this Jesus.  Jesus promised that a person with a desire for understanding would get it, in abundance.  Likewise, a person who, upon hearing the simple story, had little curiosity about its deeper meaning would go away with nothing, letting go of the little curiosity he had when he arrived.  “For to him who has will more be given, and he will have in abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Now, to those who followed Jesus for the right reason, His disciples, Jesus was glad to explain the meaning of the parable.  “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.”  Jesus knew that many righteous people in Israel’s history had longed for the privilege now enjoyed by these disciples.  He explained to them that the “seed” is God’s Word.  Those who hear it “without understanding it” are those in whom the Word takes no root at all.  It is like a seed that simply sits on top of the soil.  Birds, the wind, or insects can easily remove it.  In the case of God’s Word lying inert in a man, finding no reception at all, it is the evil one who will come to remove it, and there will be no resistance to the theft.

When the seed actually begins to take root and puts down an anchor in the soil, it still faces challenges.  If the soil is rocky, the root will be compromised.  This represents one who “hears the word and receives it at once with joy.”  However, difficulties from the outside (tribulation, persecution) make him “fall away.”  He has no endurance; he bears no fruit.  If the seed is sown among thorns, its life can get choked off; it also is fruitless.  Here, although the Word takes root in a man’s heart, difficulties from the inside (anxiety, love of riches) make the Word sterile.  Rich soil (not rocky, no weeds) will yield a wonderful harvest.  This represents the one who hears and understands the Word, and his perseverance means abundant fruit.

This parable is simple enough to grasp.  It presents a clear picture of the Church’s teaching on our need to cooperate with the grace God gladly gives to all men.  Fruitfulness is not automatic.  We will need to clear the rocks from the soil of our hearts and kept it free from weeds.  If we are honest, we know that sometimes we do this with energy, sometimes not.  Fortunately, God wills to keep sowing His seed in our lives, year in and year out.  He does this through His Church, especially in the Mass.  Over and over we hear Scripture readings, homilies, and the words of the liturgy.  Over and over we receive Jesus in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation.  The Sower never gives up on us!  He’s always looking for rich soil.  He always wants our fruitfulness.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, sometimes the soil of my heart has been rocky and weedy.  Help me to be good soil for Your Word today.

First Reading (Read Isa 55:10-11)

In this passage, the LORD describes, through the prophet, Isaiah, the power of His Word.  These verses come in the second half of the Book of Isaiah, sometimes called “The Book of Comfort.”  The first half of the book announces a coming judgment on the covenant unfaithfulness of God’s people.  They will undergo chastisement for their sin, but they will also experience restoration by God’s hand.  Isaiah calls out, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have mercy on him…” (Isa 55:6-7)  In our Gospel reading, Jesus is looking for just such people.  In the form of a parable, He, too, describes the great power of God’s Word to bring forth fruitfulness, “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  The Word of God, as Isaiah tells us, is never impotent in the soul of one who seeks the LORD:  “My Word shall not return to Me void, but shall do My will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”  Think about God speaking the universe into existence in the first chapter of Genesis, beginning with “Let there be light!”   Our job is to prepare the soil of our hearts to receive His Word.  It is God Who provides the growth.

These verses remind us of the remarkable value of reading Scripture (as you are doing now).  Any time we put ourselves in contact with God’s Word, with a willing and generous heart, we “are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18), as St. Paul wondrously wrote.  We may not see or feel it, but the transformation is taking place, for God’s Word never returns to Him void.  What a beautiful promise!

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, thank You for the promise of power in Your Word.  Help me seek it like the pearl of great price.

Psalm (Read Ps 65:10-14)

The psalmist gives us a remarkably beautiful prophetic poem describing God’s work in making His Creation fruitful.  He sees the good, wise, and loving hand of God everywhere bringing life to the earth, making all things prosper.  This is a wonderful metaphor of the Word of God in action.  God is like an artist, painting robust color and meaning into His majestic handiwork.  What is Creation’s response to this tender care from God?  “The fields are garmented with flocks and the valleys blanketed with grain.  They shout and sing for joy.”  This is heartbreakingly poignant!  The “fields” and the “valleys,” having received the seed of God’s Word, rejoice in their fruitfulness and cannot still their praise:  “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”

Possible response:  The psalm is, itself, a response to our other lectionary readings.  Read it again as your own prayerful response to God’s Word.

Second Reading (Read Rom 8:18-23)

St. Paul gives us a vision of Creation somewhere between the sowing of God’s Word in the hearts of men described in the Gospel and the prophetic paean of praise in the psalm, a joyous picture of the earth bursting with life and fruitfulness.  As we know, seeds take time to mature and bear fruit.  Before the coming of Christ, as a result of man’s Fall in the Garden, St. Paul says that “Creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the One Who subjected it.”  In Eden, a dark shadow fell across man and the earth he was meant to subdue and govern.  The shadow was not to be permanent, however.  It fell “in hope that Creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  Fairy stories have often featured this kind of “spell” being cast over a kingdom as it waits for Someone to appear and break it.  In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis describes Narnia, just such a benighted kingdom, as being a place where it was “always winter but never Christmas.”  How perfectly that describes the earth’s wait for the Savior to appear in human

history.  In Lewis’ story, Aslan, the lion, represents Jesus.  When he appears in Narnia, the ice and snow quickly begin to melt and the earth bursts forth into magnificent bloom, as springs and rivers gush again with water.  Help has arrived.

That is precisely what happened in the Incarnation.  God’s Word—Jesus—was planted in the earth in death, but He rose victorious to bring new life to the dark, chilled world.  Ever since, God has been sowing that Word into the rich soil of men’s hearts.  Has that brought the total overthrow of the blight of “futility” in the world?  St. Paul says not yet, BUT we ourselves, although we wait for the fulfillment of the psalmist’s vision, are the “firstfruits of the Spirit.”  The “firstfruits” of a harvest are exactly that—the first growth of the hoped-for harvest that gives confidence for what is to follow.  We who have the Spirit of Christ in us are the early evidence of the earth’s complete transformation yet to come.  Don’t we all, with St. Paul, “groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”?  When Jesus returns to draw history to a close, the work of redemption will finally be complete.  Meanwhile, the fruitfulness we experience now—the changes in us that we know can only be from God—give hope to all Creation that the spell of sin and death has been broken.  The harvest is secure.  Rejoice!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me have the patient perseverance it takes to wait for the fullness of redemption, both for myself and all Creation.  Thank You for the gift of Your Spirit, Who makes the harvest sure.

image: Herrad of Landsberg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the Gospel reading Jesus forewarns

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 22:00

In the Gospel reading Jesus forewarns his disciples about the cost of discipleship: As followers of Jesus and witnesses to Christ and his message, they would be hated, arrested, brought to trial, persecuted and even put to death because they were followers of and believers in Jesus. Jesus assured them of God’s help.

Indeed from the beginning the Apostles and the Christians were hated, arrested and persecuted and even put to death because they were Christians.

The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6: 8- 15; 7: 1 -60) tells us about St. Stephen, the first martyr for Christ, who died in witness of his faith in the Lord Jesus. The Greek word martyr originally meant witness: today we call martyrs those who suffered or died for what they believed or stood for. All of us are called to be “martyrs,” witnesses to Jesus. As witnesses we should be ready to be ridiculed and hated, persecuted and even put to death: with God’s grace and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, may we remain faithful witnesses, “martyrs.”

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 22:00

Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” the American Indian Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) was born near the banks of the Mohawk River in modern-day New York State (close to the spot where the French Jesuit missionaries Saints René Goupil, Isaac Jogues, and Jean de la Lande had been martyred a few years earlier). When Kateri was four, her parents and brother died from smallpox; she survived the disease, but it left her with a pock-marked face and partial blindness. Kateri became skilled at sewing and decorating leather moccasins and clothing, but the relatives who raised her treated her little better than a slave girl.

When three Jesuit missionaries visited her village, Kateri was assigned to care for one of them. She herself was too shy to ask for religious instruction, but one of the priests, noticing her piety, came to her and spoke of Jesus. Kateri was delighted; she took instruction, and was baptized in 1676. Because she thereafter refused to work on Sundays, her relatives accused her of laziness and disrespect, and treated her severely. This, and the harsh penances she practiced, seriously affected Kateri’s health, but she responded to every difficulty with love and patience.

In 1677, helped by other sympathetic Indians, she escaped to a Catholic settlement near Montreal; two years later she made a vow of perpetual virginity — something unheard of for an Indian maiden. Though only twenty-four, Kateri became very weak, and died on April 17, 1680 during Holy Week. Immediately afterwards, her pock-marked face took on a new beauty, and she was buried on Holy Thursday.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter’s Basilica on October 21, 2012.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Francis Solano (1610), Priest, Franciscan Missionary

image: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 02:35
Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience

Religious orders take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. But did you know that the laity can live out these virtues in their own way? In fact, living out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience can be a great way to grow in holiness.

The evangelical counsels are proposed by the Church as means by which we may avail ourselves to a conversation with the Risen Lord that takes up our whole manner of life. In today’s world, they are radically counter-cultural, a sign of contradiction. If lived by faith and prudently applied to each one’s manner of life, poverty, chastity and obedience open up the mystery of the beatitudes to all the baptized whether one is single, married or consecrated to the Lord. In his Theology of Body as well as other writings, John Paul II sheds light on the relationship of beatitudes and the evangelical counsels through his own reflections on “the Great Mystery”, the love of Christ for the Church. Chastity, purity of heart and contemplation converge on this Mystery of the Bridegroom and the Bride to reveal the salvific mission of sacramental marriage and the vital importance for those in consecrated life to bear themselves as living icons of the life of heaven and the end of time.

Religious orders embrace the evangelical counsels as a sign that we are created for something more than this world has to offer us. But even the laity are called to live radically different from the secular world, and thus they should also embrace the evangelical counsels in accord with their state in life.

To learn more about the evangelical counsels, the beatitudes, and how to live them out in your life, consider applying for the Avila Institute Graduate Program in Spiritual Theology. Dr. Ben Nguyen will be teaching this course in the Fall in the Graduate Program. The Graduate Program is a Master’s level certification in spiritual theology that equips students to better serve as catechists, evangelists, and spiritual directors. The Graduate Program courses are also offered in a less-academically rigorous format as personal enrichment and continuing education courses.

The Fall Quarter begins in September and registration is now open. For more information, and to see a list of all the courses offered, visit avila-institute.com.

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Art for this post on poverty, chastity, and obedience:  Detail of The Sermon of Jesus on the Mount, Franz Xaver Kirchebner, late 18th century, PD-worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

About Dylan Jedlovec

Dylan Jedlovec is an Operations Administrative Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Finishing up an undergraduate degree in Marketing and Economics from Samford University, Dylan is first and foremost a disciple of Christ and a son of the Church. Dylan has a heart for evangelization on college campuses, and has worked closely with FOCUS as a student missionary and served as President of the Catholic Student Association at Samford. As a member of the University Fellows Program at Samford, Dylan developed a love for the writings of the Saints, particularly the Doctors of the Church, through his studies of the core texts of the Western Intellectual Tradition. This love for the rich intellectual tradition of the faith brought him to the Avila Foundation, where he seeks to further the kingdom through feeding Christ’s sheep. In his free time, Dylan enjoys watching baseball, reading, hiking, running, and lifting weights (although you can’t really tell).

 

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

Why We Need Fatima’s Message Today

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 22:07

From May 2017 through October 2017, Catholics throughout the world are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mary’s message to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.  Mary appeared each month, on the thirteenth, with the exception of August, when the apparition occurred on a later date due to the imprisonment of the children.  Our world needs the Fatima message 100 years later.  In fact, many people, including popes and theologians, have said we need the message of Fatima more today than ever before.

What part of the Fatima message do we need most?  I’d like to propose five pertinent messages for the third millennium.

1. Lack of Belief, Adoration, Hope and Love

In titling this essay, I was very intentional, by calling it “Why we need Fatima’s Message Today.”  The reason for this is there were two phases of the Fatima apparitions.  In 1916, three apparitions of the Angel of Portugal, the Angel of Peace, preceded the 1917 Marian apparitions.  Not only is Our Lady’s message pertinent 100 years later, but the angelic message is also important.  This leads me to the first point:  We need Fatima’s message because today we lack belief, adoration, hope, and love.

During the three angelic apparitions, the children were taught different prayers.  The angel taught the following prayer during the first apparition:

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon of you for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.

We live in a time of rampant atheism and in an age where many of our young people are abandoning their faith the moment they step onto their college campus.  Through higher education, they claim to have been enlightened, and no longer need Christian belief.

We need Fatima’s message today to call us to pray for those who do not believe, or adore, or hope, or love our God.  Not only should we pray for them, but the angel taught the children to pray that they may be pardoned.  Hopefully by our prayers, belief, adoration, hope, and love might be restored in our broken and troubled world.

2. To Enhance our Eucharistic Devotion

MOST Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore Thee profoundly. 
I offer Thee the Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity
of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world,
in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference
by which He is offended.  And through the infinite merit
of His Most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I beg of Thee the conversion of poor sinners.

The final two apparitions of the Angel focused on the Eucharist.  Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia were taught the above referenced prayer during the second apparition.  And during the third apparition, the children received the Eucharist from the hand of the angel.  In the above prayer that the angel taught, we are reminded of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, (body, blood, soul, and divinity), that Jesus is present in all the tabernacles of the world, and lastly that we must make reparation for offenses against the Holy Eucharist.

The angelic apparition emphasizes the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  We live in a time where many polls suggest that most Catholics do not believe in the real presence or they misunderstand the Church’s teaching—believing the Eucharist is only a symbol.  How often do you hear extraordinary ministers refer to the “bread and wine” they distribute, rather than the Body and Blood of Christ?  The message also reminds us that Christ is present in all the tabernacles of the world.  When we enter our local Church, we acknowledge Christ’s presence by genuflecting, but how quickly some forget this fact, when we begin to converse with our neighbor, or congregate in the nave after Mass, instead of praying to the God of the Universe.  Lastly, when the Fatima children received the Eucharist, the angel told them: “Take and drink the body and blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men.  Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”  The message calls us to a worthy reception of Holy Communion.  As one person once retorted, “The communion lines are long, but confession lines are short.”  Before approaching for Holy Communion, we ought to do an examination of conscience, and if we are conscious of grave sin, make a sacramental confession.  After all, the angel tells us Jesus is outraged by ungrateful men and their crimes.  The next time you receive Holy Communion, be sure to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus, thanking him for coming to dwell within you.  Be a grateful believer, not an ungrateful one.

3. Renew the Rosary Devotion

Each of the six apparitions from May-October 1917 contained a call from Our Lady to pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world.  After all, the world was at that time in a major world war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars.  As Our Lady predicted, if we did not heed her request, a second war did break out, and many more after that.  We do not know the peace that God wants us to have.

I am certain that in the years following Fatima and its message of praying the rosary, many people sought to fulfill this request of Our Lady.  Fatima organizations emerged as a way to promote this message.  Prior to Vatican II, it was fairly common for the faithful to recite the rosary before, during, or after the Mass.  In the years following the Council, through no fault of the Council itself, there seemed to have been a decline in this devotion.  While some have called the period a time of “Marian silence” by the Church, it surely was not; evidenced by Paul VI’s promotion of the rosary in 1974 in Marialis Cultus.

The rosary has seen a momentum gain since St. John Paul II declared the Year of the Rosary October 2002-2003 and added the fourth set of mysteries—the Luminous mysteries.  But the rosary has not been embraced by the entirety of the faithful.  After the publication of my rosary devotional A Rosary Litany and the popularity it saw, I encountered some rosary nay-sayers. Yet, there is a sign of a budding rosary renewal, explained in this earlier piece for Catholic Exchange, and also with the recent release of Gretchen Crowe’s book Why the Rosary? Why Now? (Our Sunday Visitor).  In a time where peace is needed more than ever; with the looming threat of nuclear war with North Korea, we need the message of Fatima more today than ever before.  If we want peace in our world, have we committed ourselves to praying the rosary every day for this intention?  This is what Mary asked us to do.  As the title of one book put it, Fatima is the “peace plan for the world.”

4. Reminds Us of the Four Last Things

The Fatima message deals with topics that make us uncomfortable, I know that was the case for me.  The topics I have in mind are the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell.  The apparitions of Fatima remind us of the afterlife.  During the first apparition, the shepherd children asked Our Lady about some people who recently died.  Lucia asked, “Is Maria das Neves in Heaven?”  Mary said yes.  She also asked about Amelia, to which Our Lady responded that she would be in purgatory until the end of the world.  (For me, this was one of the most troubling aspects of the Fatima message.  I’m still trying to understand it.) We need the Fatima message to remind us that purgatory is real, and for many of us, we will need to be purified of our sins before going to Heaven.  In our funeral liturgies today, we have a tendency to canonize the deceased, and assume they are already in Heaven. This has led to fewer and fewer people offering Masses for their beloved dead.  Don’t stop praying for your loved ones who have gone before you.  If they are already in Heaven, your prayers will help their intercessory efficacy. (Cf: Answering Eight Questions About Purgatory: An Interview with Susan Tassone).

The Fatima message also reminds of the reality of Hell.  Permit me to ask a serious question: when is the last time you heard a homily about Hell?  Today even, some theologians have suggested that no one is in Hell, saying that we can “dare to hope that all can be saved.”  Yet, the Fatima apparition talks about hell in three distinct ways.  First, if you pray the rosary you might add a prayer after each decade of the rosary, commonly called the Fatima prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell.  Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those who are most in need.  Mary had such great concern for her children, that she wanted us to pray often that we might be saved from the fire of hell.  That us, being universal, includes ourselves.  If Our Lady tells us we should pray to be saved from the fire of hell, then Hell is real, and should be something we talk about in a serious, non-sensational manner.  Secondly, during the July 13th apparition, the children saw Hell, and they saw people in it.  Sr. Lucia graphically describes her experience in the book Fatima in Lucia’s Words.  Look up her experience.  And when you do, you will know there are souls in Hell.  Thirdly, in the August apparition, Mary said that “Many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.”  Maybe this is why in July, Our Lady already taught the children a prayer, “O Jesus it is love of you, for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”  If we offer sacrifices, if we pray for the conversion of sinners, if we make reparation, then perhaps a sinner’s hardened heart might be converted in the last minutes of their life.  The vision granted to Sister Lucia of Hell reminds of its reality, and the consequence of sin.  The call to conversion is apparent.  Knowing about Hell, should make us desire Heaven all the more.

5. To Help Us Understand Marian Devotion

During the July 13th apparition, Mary mentioned the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays (specifically five first Saturdays), but it wasn’t until December 10, 1925 that the First Saturday devotions was further expounded on during another apparition to Lucia in her Spanish convent.  Our Lady told Sr. Lucia she was to console her for the blasphemies and ingratitude that pierces her heart.  To observe the First Five Saturdays, a person needs to have the intention of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by:

  1. going to Confession,
  2. receiving Holy Communion,
  3. praying five decades of the rosary, and
  4. keeping Mary company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the rosary.

Jesus further clarified the devotion in May of 1930 during an apparition, when Sr. Lucia asked, “why five First Saturdays?”  The answer was in reparation for the five general categories of offenses committed against his Mother’s most Immaculate Heart: 1) Blasphemies against the IC; 2) blasphemies against her virginity; 3) Blasphemies against her divine motherhood, refusing at the same time to knowledge her as mother of men; 4) those who publicly attempt to instill in the hearts of children indifference, contempt, or even hatred of her Immaculate Heart; 5) those who insult her directly in her venerated statues and images.

During this 100th anniversary of Fatima, we need the message more today than ever before, in order to properly honor the mother of God, and to make reparation for the dishonor that many people show towards her.  A lot of Catholics do not understand the Immaculate Conception, thinking it was the conception of Jesus, and not Mary’s.  In the 1950’s a major debate ensued in theological journals following the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Albert Mitterer, who questioned the virginity of Mary during the birthing process.  The debates which followed prompted the Holy See to issue a monitum in 1960, halting the debate.  In the early 2000s, two scholars hashed out the perpetual virginity in partu question in the pages of the Journal for the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.  In most recent months, a religious sister in Spain made headlines when she questioned and publicly denied Mary’s perpetual virginity.  The dogma isn’t something questioned and denied by just our protestant brothers and sisters, but now also in the Church.  Many Christians reject the motherhood of God, especially of her maternity of all believers, a role given to her by Christ from the cross. And at times, disdain for Mary is fostered by believers.  If you’ve ever seen a Jack Chick tract, you know what I am talking about.  Lastly, recently in social media, I’ve come across stories on my feed, seeing statues of Mary being desecrated and smashed, especially in the Middle East by ISIS.

We need the Fatima message, today, in order to foster devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and make reparation for offenses against her Immaculate Heart.  The devotion of the First Five Saturdays was confirmed and recommended by the apparitions of Jesus; the devotion directly comes from her Son.  Just as Jesus was devoted to Mary in this life, he wants us to love His mother too.  Through the later apparition of Jesus to Sr. Lucia, He reveals how much he loves his mother Mary, and encourages us to that same love, wanting us to make up for any hatred or indifference people have towards her.  We need Fatima’s message today because many people still do not love Our Lady.

Conclusion

In this essay, I’ve outlined just a few of the reasons why we need Fatima’s message today, both the angelic and Marian apparitions received by the three shepherd children.  This centennial year affords us an opportunity to re-learn the story of Fatima and to recommit ourselves to living the message.  The Church needs Fatima’s message today.  Our Lady told the children that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph.  Her heart will triumph through each one of us, when we begin to live the message more intently.  Allow the Fatima message to become a part of who you are, and strive to live the message every day.

image: Our Lady of Fatima by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr

Where Is Your Treasure?

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 22:05

For years I lived a life that wasn’t very healthy.

I’m not talking about bad food and little exercise. I mean, sure, there is that, but that’s not where I’m going with this.

What I am talking about is that I was leading a life that wasn’t very conducive to maintaining a healthy soul.

Although, we can use as a comparison, consuming unhealthy food and drink. When we tend to over-indulge in too much red meat, too much sugar, or too much alcohol, the negative side effects creep up on us, and soon enough, start to take their toll.

Likewise, other things we put into our minds and into our hearts also tend to take their toll on our interior.

Treasure that isn’t perhaps real treasure.

We Become What We Consume

We basically become what we consume on a daily basis.

Just how we tend to become unhealthy, if we eat too much unhealthy food, this is also true in regards to the shows we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, and the Internet we often spend countless hours on. Our supposed treasure.

Each of these things, often without our direct knowledge, will begin to shape our minds and our hearts.

And this is very important.

Perhaps just as we often in life make a decision to eat healthier, or go for a walk more often, perhaps we should also take a time out to determine if what we’re feeding ourselves on a daily basis, the non-food type of consuming, is what is best for us.

Is playing video games for a couple hours each day serving us well?

Is spending over an hour each day reading status updates on Facebook helping us to be a better person?

Is watching and reading the mainstream news creating negativity in our lives without our permission?

Is caring about which celebrity is dating which other celebrity doing anything to improve our lives?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I can speak from my personal experience.

About 12 years ago when I moved into my current home, because I spent so much time in front of the television in my previous apartment, I decided for my new life – no television. After a couple of months without it, a surprised friend of mine asked me if I missed watching TV.

The answer was no.

Treasures Realized

I realized my life had drastically improved without it. Instead of staring at a box all morning and evening, watching shows that had no positive impact on my life, I was actually doing things that did have a positive impact.

I was reading more. I was spending time with friends and family. I was outside planting a garden. I was learning more about my faith.

I was living.

And broadcast television has never made an appearance back into my home since.

I also unsubscribed to many of the magazines I was receiving, especially those filled with news (world and entertainment), and those that promoted superficiality.

I stopped caring about trends – what other people thought was important, and started caring about what was good for me.

I developed a “less-is-more” way of thinking (except for my garden perhaps!).

And with all these time-consuming things now removed from my life, I have attempted to give more time to things that matter, especially my relationship with God.

Now, with that said, that doesn’t mean I have given my heart perfectly over to things that truly matter.

I’m still a work in progress.

I fully admit I allow too much social media into my life.

And I’m not exactly sure why. Unless finding out what burger my friend had for lunch (and snapped a picture of it too) is somehow beneficial to my life.

And I am working on this. I’m purposely spending far less time on Facebook and Instagram. I’m rarely on Twitter anymore, and I’m about 90% ready to shut down my Twitter account entirely. And as for all the other social this-or-that apps out there, I have made a promise to myself to never start using them.

But everyone is different.

Some people may not even use social media, or are great at limiting themselves to only perusing social sites for a few minutes a day.

An Honest Assessment of our Treasure

Each person must ask themselves, what am I giving my time to? My heart to? My soul to?

And the most important part of this evaluation – you have to be honest with yourself.

As human beings, we were created to worship. Everyone has chosen his own path. Those who choose to worship God give their hearts to Him and let everything else take a second, third, etc. place. Those who choose not to worship God will worship something – always. It could be their car, sports, a person, a pet – the list goes on.

Where your treasure is, there also will be your heart.

What are you giving your heart to?

Where is your treasure?

If you immediately start to defend the time you spend on certain aspects of your life, the exercise is futile. Just as I was initially defensive when I was asked if I watched too much television, or read too many entertainment magazines.

You must go deep into your heart for the answer.

And by doing this, you can bring about positive changes into your life that you never imagined, or even thought possible.

Always choose carefully what you surround yourself with.

The changes you make might just change your life.

The Holy Name of Jesus

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 22:02

Q: I attend Mass during the week, and I was surprised when on Jan. 3 the priest announced that it was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. The parish where I grew up had a Holy Name Society. What is the origin of this feast day?

Reverence for the Holy Name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, arose in the apostolic times. St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians wrote, “So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord” (2:10-11). Just as a name gives identity to a person and also reflects a person’s life, the name of Jesus reminds the hearer of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. Keep in mind that the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.”

In invoking Our Lord’s name with reverential faith, one is turning to Him and imploring His divine assistance. An old spiritual manual cited four special rewards of invoking the Holy Name: First, the name of Jesus brings help in bodily needs. Jesus Himself promised at the Ascension, “In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them, they will lay their hands on the sick and they will recover” (Mk 16:17-19). After Pentecost, St. Peter and St. John went to the Temple to preach and encountered a cripple begging; St. Peter commanded, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I have I give you! In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazorean, walk!” and the crippled began to walk (Acts 3:1-10). Invoking Jesus’ name, St. Peter also cured Aeneas (Acts 9:32ff).

Second, the name of Jesus gives help in spiritual trials. Jesus forgave sins, and through the invocation of His Holy Name, sins continue to be forgiven. At Pentecost, St. Peter echoed the prophecy of Joel, “Then shall everyone be saved who calls on the name of the Lord” (Acts 2:21), a teaching echoed by St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans (10:13). As St. Stephen, the first martyr, was being stoned, he called upon the name of the Lord and prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). St. Thomas More, the patron saint of our diocese, as he awaited execution wrote to his daughter Margaret, “I will not mistrust Him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to Him for help. And then I trust He shall place His holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.”

Third, the name of Jesus protects the person against Satan and his temptations. Jesus on His own authority exorcized demons (e.g. the expulsion of the demons of Gadara (Mt 8:28-34)). Through the invocation of His Holy Name, Satan is still conquered.

Finally, we receive every grace and blessing through the Holy Name of Jesus. Jesus said, “I give you my assurance, whatever you ask the Father, He will give you in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:23-24 ). In summary, St. Paul said, “Whatever you do, in whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17).

Both St. Bernardine of Sienna (1380-1444) and his student St. John of Capistrano (1386-1456) promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. In their preaching missions throughout Italy, they carried a monogram of the Holy Name surrounded by rays. In its origin, the monogram IHS is an abbreviation of the name Jesus in Greek: I and H representing an Iota and Eta respectively, the first two letters of the name; to which later was added S, a Sigma, the final letter. (A later tradition holds that IHS represents the Latin Iesus Hominum Salvator, meaning “Jesus Savior of Mankind.”) St. Bernardine and St. John blessed the faithful with this monogram, invoking the name of Jesus, and many miracles were reported. They also encouraged people to have the monogram placed over the city gates and the doorways of their homes. Dispelling the objections of some who considered this veneration superstitious, Pope Martin V in 1427 approved the proper veneration to the Holy Name and asked that the cross be included in the monogram IHS. Later in 1455, Pope Callistus III asked St. John to preach a crusade invoking the Holy Name of Jesus against the vicious Turkish Moslems who were ravaging Eastern Europe; victory came in their defeat at the Battle of Belgrade in 1456.

In 1597, Pope Sixtus V granted an indulgence to anyone reverently saying, “Praised be Jesus Christ!” Pope Cement VII in 1530 allowed the Franciscans to celebrate a feast day in honor of the Holy Name, and Pope Innocent XIII extended this to the universal Church in 1721; the feast day was celebrated on the Sunday between Jan. 1 and 6, or otherwise on Jan. 2. (Unfortunately, the feast day was dropped with the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.) Pope Pius IX in 1862 approved a Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus, which Pope Leo XIII later endorsed for the whole Church because he was “…desirous of seeing an increase in the devotion toward this glorious name of Jesus among the faithful, especially in a period when this august name is shamelessly scoffed at.”

Pope John Paul II has reinstituted the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus to be celebrated on Jan. 3. Moreover, the reverential invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus as part of prayer or work, and the recitation of the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus still convey a partial indulgence for the reparation of sin. Also, the Holy Name Society, first organized in 1274 and granted the status of a confraternity in 1564, continues to promote at the parish and diocesan levels an increased reverence for the name of Jesus, reparation for the sins of profanity and blasphemy against the Holy Name, and the personal sanctification of its members.

Editor’s note: this article first appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

In the first reading, Joseph, who was

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, Joseph, who was sold as a slave to Egypt by his brothers, finally reveals himself to them now that he was the chief minister of Egypt. He understood that God’s designs included his being sold as a slave and his subsequent sufferings which eventually led to his vindication and exaltation. He forgave his brothers because he loved them.

In the Gospel reading we see Jesus missioning the Twelve to proclaim the Good News to the various towns and communities of Israel: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” As witness to their message they are given powers to “heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons.” They are to exercise these gifts and powers freely; they are to depend upon the hospitality and generosity of the communities they visit.

In his infinite wisdom and power, God had decreed that the Good News is to be preached to Israel and the world then and for all time by men and women invited by God.

The 120 martyrs of China, 87 Chinese and 33 missionaries from Europe. priests and lay people, whose memorial is celebrated today, like the Twelve, have been missioned by the Church to preach the Good News to the people of China at various times and places from the mid-seventeenth century to the nineteenth century. Like our Lord whom they loved and followed, they gave their lives in witness to the Good News they preached.

St. Henry II (Emperor)

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 22:00

The son of the Duke of Bavaria (a region of southern Germany), St. Henry (973-1024) was educated by the Bishop of Ratisbon, St. Wolfgang, and in 995 he succeeded his father as duke. Otto III, the Holy Roman Emperor (ruler of Germany and northern Italy), was his cousin, and upon Otto’s death in 1002, Henry was elected to succeed him (though he wasn’t officially crowned as emperor by the pope until 1014).

Throughout his reign Henry sought to strengthen the German monarchy and to help reform and reorganize the Church. He built a cathedral in Bamberg, which later became an important religious site; he established monasteries, arranged for the care of the poor, and supported the religious reforms of his friend St. Odilo of Cluny and the other monks of the monastery at Cluny in France. Henry was particularly active in promoting Benedictine monasticism following his miraculous cure from illness at the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino in Italy. In all these activities Henry was supported by his wife, St. Cunegund. St. Henry was a great ruler and an example of a Christian statesman and soldier; he died in 1024, and was canonized in 1146.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Mildred (700), Abbess

“Since it is through Jesus that

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 22:00

“Since it is through Jesus that everything must be accomplished, the more I let Him do, the more the work of grace will be beautiful and perfect.”

—Fr. D’Elbee, I Believe in Love

Abandonment to Jesus

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 02:35
Abandonment to Jesus


Per ipsum et cum ipso et in ipso
: through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus.

“Without me, you can do nothing.”

“With You, Jesus, I can do all things.”

Renew these thoughts which bind you to Him and which plunge you into the abyss of love which is His Heart. The logical and necessary consequence of the complete confidence which I have preached to you until now is total abandonment.

Since it is through Jesus that everything must be accomplished, the more I let Him do, the more the work of grace will be beautiful and perfect.

What is this work of grace? The transformation of our souls into Jesus through love. St. Thomas shows us, after St. Augustine, that the Eucharist transforms our souls into Jesus through love. It is there that I find the definition of sanctity, the final word, if I may put it that way, of our divine predestination.

Jesus transforms us into Himself. Our intelligence is no longer our intelligence, but His: we see things as He sees them. Our will is no longer our will but His: we will what He wills, and we reject what He rejects. Our heart is no lon­ger our heart, but the Heart of Jesus: we love what He loves, and we detest what He detests.

“And I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.” Mihi vivere Christus est: “For me, to live is Christ.”

Perhaps you will say to me, “You claim that we are continually transformed more and more into Him, but I do not notice it; I cannot put my finger on it. And even, some days, seeing myself so miserable, I am tempted to believe the contrary.”

Yet, do you not see things more than ever as He does? Of course, you do. Do you not want what He wants, more every day? Of course, you do. I am sure that today, more than ever, you want to love Him and make Him loved, with a will even more sincere, even more profound, with a desire even more sure than ever, although perhaps not felt. You would not say, “I have less desire to love Him and make Him loved than yesterday.”

What trips us up is that we mistake sensible fervor for sanctity. But it is not. Sanctity is a disposition of soul, ani­mated by grace, which is the life of the soul, under the ac­tion of infused virtues and under the influence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; a disposition to belong to Jesus more than ever, to accomplish His will, to know Him and make Him known, to love Him and make Him loved more.

He looks much more at what we are than at what we do; and we are, in His eyes, what we sincerely want to be for Him.

We understand now why so many Communions — those Communions which transform us into Him — do not bring us all the supernatural fruits they could. We open our arms to Him, yet we close the doors of our intelligence, of our will, of our heart, by not living in this abandonment. We bid Him come, but we do not permit Him to enter. But if, in receiving Him, we grant Him, by perfect abandonment, all the controls, all the keys to the house, that He may be Master in us with full liberty to act, then, oh! what marvels will His omnipotence not accomplish in our souls in the service of His love!

Rightly Understood

Abandonment, rightly understood, includes everything. It requires a great humility, since it is submission of ourselves to creatures and events, seeing Jesus Himself in them. It requires an immense faith, confidence every moment, to tear open the veil of secondary causes, to break through the screen of creatures which too often prevents us from seeing Jesus behind them, who governs everything, since nothing — nothing — happens without His having willed or permitted it.

Abandonment is nothing but obedience pushed to its extreme, since it consists of submission to everything within the limits of the possible and the reasonable, in order to obey God, who has foreseen and willed it all.

Finally, it is in abandonment that our great desires find their perfect fulfillment. I spoke to you of the splendid pas­sage from little Thérèse where she says that she would have liked to “enlighten souls as did the prophets and doctors, to encircle the earth and announce the Gospel unto the remot­est islands, to have been a missionary since the creation of the world and to be one until the consummation of the world, to have suffered all martyrdoms.”

She finds the means to realize all that by being the love in the heart of the Church, her Mother. And how was she the love in the heart of the holy Church? By living in com­plete conformity with the will of God, who is nothing but Love.

To live with abandonment is to rediscover a perfect har­mony in God; for, after all, it is God, it is Jesus, who writes all the lines, all the words, and all the letters of our lives. It is striking to see how the sanctity of all the saints is con­summated in total abandonment. All their efforts, all their prayers, all the lights which they have received from Heaven, have led them to this.

When our Lord makes some reproach to the saints, to St. Gertrude, to St. Margaret Mary, for example, it is most often their lack of abandonment which He laments.

St. Margaret Mary, shortly before her death, wrote that she had finally understood what He expected of her when He said to her, “Let me do it.” “His Sacred Heart,” she wrote, “will do everything for me if I let Him. He shall will, He shall love, He shall desire for me and make up for all my faults.”

Like St. Margaret Mary, you may hear Jesus a hundred times a day, saying to you, “Let me do it.” In your difficulties, in your problems, in all those things in your daily life which are sometimes so difficult, so distressing, when you ask your­self, “What shall I do? How shall I do it?” listen to Him say­ing to you, “Let me do it.” And then answer Him, “O Jesus, I thank You for all things.” And it will be the most beautiful dialogue of love between a soul and the all-powerful and all-loving God!

Little Thérèse came in this way to the point of no longer having any other desire than to love Jesus to the point of “foolishness”:

I desire neither suffering nor death, yet I love both; but it is love alone which attracts me. Now it is aban­donment alone which guides me. I have no other compass.

My heart is full of the will of Jesus. Ah, if my soul were not already filled with His will, if it had to be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness which follow each other so quickly, it would be a tide of very bitter sorrow. But these alternatives do nothing but brush across my soul. I always remain in a profound peace which nothing can trouble. If the Lord offered me the choice, I would not choose anything: I want nothing but what He wants. It is what He does that I love. I acknowledge that it took me a long time to bring myself to this degree of abandonment. Now I have reached it, for the Lord took me and put me there.

Yes, I ask the Lord to take you, also, and to put you there, in the depths of His Heart!

This simple abandonment is the peak of holiness, the peak of love. When St. Teresa of Avila, in the Interior Castle, speaks of the spiritual marriage, the culminating point of the mystical life, she depicts it as a union of likeness in charity. “Such is the ineffable ardor with which the souls desire that the will of God be accomplished in them that they are equally satisfied with anything which it pleases the Divine Spouse to command.”

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This article is from a chapter in I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée which is available from Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on Abandonment to Jesus: Cover of I Believe in Love used with permission. Photograph of St. Thérèse: Detail of Gravure deSainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, Histoire d’une âme écrite par elle-même, Lisieux, Office central de Lisieux (Calvados), & Bar-le-Duc, Imprimerie Saint-Paul, 1937, édition 1940”, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Charlie McKinney

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

 

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

Jesus and “The Impossibles”

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 22:07

Ben and I have created a holy habit in our home to pray at least part of a Rosary with our girls each night before bed; if we’re lucky and everyone is compliant and participating, we will be able to complete an entire Rosary. One such rare occasion included a moment I will never forget.

As I announced the Third Glorious Mystery: The Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, Sarah proudly and innocently added, “It’s upon the impossibles, mom!” We all shared a family chuckle, then moved on with our prayers. But that word stuck with me, if only for its charm coming from a four-year-old.

The impossibles. Maybe the apostles were the “impossibles,” as Sarah proclaimed. Maybe we all are impossible. In fact, I know we are. At least I am.

I am an impossible, because I cannot do any good on my own: “For man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). The apostles, too, knew their weaknesses. Each of them at times exhibited strong character flaws that only endeared them to Jesus all the more, I am sure. It is because Jesus is drawn to our misery. What is impossible for us because of our concupiscence makes us candidates for greatness.

Whenever I read about the apostles and saints, I am reminded that God chooses the weak and small to do wondrous things in this world for His glory. It’s easy to get caught up in the modern hype that more accolades, awards, bonuses, and promotions are what make us somebody important and worth knowing. Renown on its own does not reveal greatness, however. It is only when our weaknesses become apparent to others that God’s glory is fully revealed in our lives.

I say this, because there are many people who approach me – nearly all of whom I do not know well – and state plainly that they admire our family for the witness of faith we display. This is following Mass when Sarah is crawling under the pew and I have to scold her to stand up straight; Felicity is wiggling and looking behind her constantly instead of participating with the responses and singing the hymns; and Veronica has just spent the last five minutes fussing off and on for no apparent reason.

These comments also follow exchanged looks of exasperation and irritation between Ben and me, all precipitated by total sleep deprivation. They follow the harried hellos I manage to squeak out before dashing out of the pew while corralling my kids, desperately hoping we’ll make it to the van without a tantrum or squabble.

And that is when people I hardly know stop by momentarily with a tap on the shoulder to tell Ben and me that they are moved by the witness of faith we demonstrate. Sometimes they say they have been inspired by our family or touched profoundly in some permanent and meaningful way.

Ben and I are polite, albeit puzzled, in our reply to them. We scratch our heads, ponder in confusion about how this could be true when all we see are the public displays of our human weakness in all their grandeur.

I think it’s because people are more inclined to see God shining through our lives when they can no longer see us. They see past us. We, like the apostles in the Upper Room at Pentecost, are the “impossibles.” We’re impossible, because we are incapable of greatness without God. Of all our human efforts to appear put together, poised, and perfect, we still fall short and fail miserably.

But as we wrapped up that decade of the Rosary, I realized that being an “impossible” is what makes me a real ambassador of Christ. My miseries and mistakes become the blueprint upon which God makes His marks, gentle and persuasive, in my heart. He molds me, prunes me, and perfects me in a way that seems futile to the world. His marks can be painful. They often involve innumerable opportunities for humility by way of humiliation, and they make me hidden and invisible to the world.

I become rejected at times. I am scorned, mocked much like the early apostles were. I am a laughingstock. But there will be some who see past all of that muck and, beyond me, they will see God working in and through me. That is how God makes a masterpiece out of ordinary matter. He chooses me precisely because I am nothing without Him. And if He chooses to do great things in me when I am an “impossible” person, then others will necessarily see Him rather than me.

Living as an “impossible” to the fullest extent is the fulfillment of the gospel message from St. John the Baptist: “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn. 3: 30).

I glanced over at Sarah as we completed all five decades of the Glorious Mysteries, and I was humbled by her profound revelation. When I saw her, I no longer saw her imperfections. As I smiled at Felicity, I didn’t notice her mood swings and dramatic flair. And I caught Ben’s gaze with a twinkle in my eyes as he returned a smile with his. In that moment, becoming like the “impossibles” seemed like a pretty useful way to bring God to the world.

Mary and the Intolerable Gift of Waiting

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 22:05

The Church has an entire season dedicated to waiting: Advent. This season not only reflects the waiting for the coming of Our Savior and the hope of the Paschal Mystery, but the reality that much of this life contains periods of waiting. This waiting may be something joyful, such as waiting for the birth of a child or a marriage. The waiting may be a period of intense trial and suffering as we wait to see if a loved one is going to die or recover from an illness. This waiting may feel agonizing, especially for those of us still crawling down the path to holiness.

Mary our guide

As frequent readers know, I am in a period of waiting. There are days it is agonizing and days that I sense God’s presence and love. It dawned on me in my impatience for answers about my husband, that God uses waiting to allow us to enter more deeply into communion with Him. If we focus on the anxiety and fear of the unknown, we will be robbed of the serenity and comfort of our God who walks with us during these trials. I realized this truth when I looked out my window and saw the sunflowers blooming in the garden. Their stillness and beauty in the morning light reminded me to enter into God’s love while I wait. It is not easy, but it is necessary. It is not a journey we walk alone. Lumen Gentium tells us rightly that Mary is our guide and a guide for the Church. St. John Paul II furthers this teaching in Redemptoris Mater 5:

Mary “has gone before,” becoming “a model of the Church in the matter of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.” This “going before” as a figure or model is in reference to the intimate mystery of the Church, as she actuates and accomplishes her own saving mission by uniting in herself-as Mary did-the qualities of mother and virgin. She is a virgin who “keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse” and “becomes herself a mother,” for “she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.”

Mary at the foot of the Cross

If there is one person we can look to during periods of waiting it is Our Heavenly Mother. She knows the depths of suffering in waiting. She walked this pilgrim journey. She stood at the foot of the Cross, watching her beloved Son die an agonizing and brutal death, and she waited. She trusted in Him and waited for the glory of God to reveal itself. Scripture tells us that she “pondered these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19) as she discovered more about her Son.

We also need to ponder how God is working in our own lives during periods of intense trial and waiting. This Friday morning my husband will have a lung biopsy, which more-than-likely will now turn into lung surgery. The thoracic surgeon informed him that his right lower lobe is “trashed” and no longer functioning. He wants to try to save it, but more-than-likely, it will need to be removed. This means that my husband will lose half of his right lung and we don’t even know the identity of the disease.  I will be sitting in the hospital waiting to see him again after the surgery. It will be a time to ponder the Cross and consider how God is using this sickness to help my husband and me grow in holiness. I will admit that it is deeply painful, but also a blessing. The Church tells us to look to Our Heavenly Mother in hope. Again from St. John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater 11:

Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word, is placed at the very center of that enmity, that struggle which accompanies the history of humanity on earth and the history of salvation itself. In this central place, she who belongs to the “weak and poor of the Lord” bears in herself, like no other member of the human race, that “glory of grace” which the Father “has bestowed on us in his beloved Son,” and this grace determines the extraordinary greatness and beauty of her whole being. Mary thus remains before God, and also before the whole of humanity, as the unchangeable and inviolable sign of God’s election, spoken of in Paul’s letter: “in Christ…he chose us…before the foundation of the world,…he destined us…to be his sons” (Eph. 1:4, 5). This election is more powerful than any experience of evil and sin, than all that “enmity” which marks the history of man. In this history Mary remains a sign of sure hope.

In trials, Mary serves as a reminder of our election and of the hope of salvation. As we suffer, we do so in joyful hope.

Mary teaches us to abandon ourselves to God

In periods of suffering and waiting, it can be difficult to give everything over to God. In our Fallen state, we often want to cling to a false sense of control over things we in principle have no control over. I cannot stop my husband from dying if it is God’s will. In fact, this experience has taught me to relinquish this sinful sense of a need for control, so that I can fully turn to God in my pain, weakness, and need. As Mary stood at the foot of the Cross, she demonstrated a complete abandonment and trust in God.

And now, standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary is the witness, humanly speaking, of the complete negation of these words. On that wood of the Cross her Son hangs in agony as one condemned. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows…he was despised, and we esteemed him not”: as one destroyed (cf. Is. 53:3- 5). How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God’s “unsearchable judgments”! How completely she “abandons herself to God” without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will”39 to him whose “ways are inscrutable” (cf. Rom. 11:33)! And how powerful too is the action of grace in her soul, how all-pervading is the influence of the Holy Spirit and of his light and power!

Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self- emptying.

Redemptoris Mater 18

The last line is also true for us. It is in suffering that we realize the need to unite ourselves fully to Christ and to empty ourselves completely so that He can make us fully human, so that He can make us saints. In uniting our own suffering to the Cross, we too are able to love as Christ loves, and as Our Heavenly Mother loved at the foot of the Cross. In our trials and waiting, we are conformed to Christ. Waiting and suffering seem to be intolerable gifts, but in reality, they transform us. The path of suffering is the path we must walk to become saints.

image: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Spiritual Weapons: The St. Benedict Medal

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 22:02

In Scripture, St. Peter tells us to be sober and watchful because, “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil is real, and he wants to destroy you and me through any means possible. That’s why it’s so important that we fight back with the spiritual weapons of prayer and faith.

One of the powerful weapons in spiritual combat is the St. Benedict medal. Honored and employed for centuries, this medal has been associated with many miracles, as well as with powers of exorcism.

Origins

The exact origins of the St. Benedict medal are uncertain, although it is said that the first medal was worn by the 11th century Pope, Leo IX, who attributed his miraculous recovery from a snake bite to it. St. Benedict medals of various types have been in use ever since, but the medal in its current form, known as the Jubilee medal, was not struck until 1880, when it was created to honor the 1,400th anniversary of St. Benedict’s birth.

Meaning

The St. Benedict medal is rich in meaning. The front contains an image of St. Benedict holding a cross and his famous monastic rule. On his left and right are words meaning, “The cross of our holy father, St. Benedict.” The outer edge contains the words in Latin, “May we at our death be fortified by his presence.”

The back of the medal is even more interesting. It contains a series of initials that stand for a Latin exorcism prayer, as well as a prayer for guidance.

Emblazoned on the prominently placed cross are the letters C S S M L – N D S M D, which stand for the Latin prayer:

Crux sacra sit mihi lux!
Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!

Translated, it means:

The Holy Cross be my light;
Let not the dragon be my guide.

Surrounding the outer rim of the back are the letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B. These letters stand for an exorcism prayer based on an incident from St. Benedict’s life.

After St. Benedict had been a hermit for three years, and his reputation for holiness had spread far and wide, he was asked by a group of monks to be their abbot. St. Benedict agreed, but some rebellious monks in the community really disliked this idea, and they decided to kill St. Benedict by poisoning his bread and wine. As St. Benedict made the sign of the cross over his food, as was his custom, he immediately knew that they had been poisoned. He threw the wine on the ground, saying:

Vade retro Satana!
Nunquam suade mihi vana!
Sunt mala quae libas.
Ipse venena bibas!

This means:

Begone, Satan,
Do not suggest to me thy vanities!
Evil are the things thou offerest,
Drink thou thy own poison!

It is this prayer that is represented by the initials surrounding the back of the medal.

Use

St. Benedict medals are used in many ways, but always as a protection against evil. Some people bury them in the foundations of new buildings to keep them free from evil influences, while others attach them to rosaries or hang them on the wall in their homes. But the most common way to use the St. Benedict medal is to wear it. The medal can be worn by itself or embedded in a crucifix, like the one pictured.

Regardless of how it is used, the medal should always be blessed using the prayer found here. While, in former times, only Benedictines could bless the medal, now any priest can.

If you don’t have a St. Benedict medal, you can get them anywhere Catholic goods are sold. I personally like this one, as it is affordable and rugged. Also, the awesome combat rosaries, created by Fr. Richard Heilman to be the ultimate spiritual weapons, come with a St. Benedict medal attached (these rosaries should be in every man’s arsenal).

If you don’t own a St. Benedict medal, I highly recommend you get one. It’s basic protection, like the bullet proof vest of sacramentals!

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

St. John Gualbert

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 22:00

John Gualbert (or Gualberto) was born in Florence around the year 993. Born into a noble family, John lived a life of leisure and amusement while he trained to be a soldier. Tragedy struck while he was still a young man: His older brother Hugo was murdered, and John made it his mission to avenge the murder. His chance came on a Good Friday when he came face to face with the man he had been seeking. He drew his sword to cut him down, but the murderer threw himself on his knees and begged for mercy in the name of our Lord’s passion. As John hesitated, he was reminded of the forgiveness our Lord showed to His enemies. He sheathed his sword, embraced the man, and forgave him.

After this life-changing incident, John continued to the Benedictine monastery of San Miniato del Monte to pray. While praying before a crucifix, he was suddenly filled with divine grace, and asked the abbot for permission to enter. Despite the abbot’s misgivings over the anger of John’s parents, he allowed John to enter the order, and soon John was making great progress in virtue.

After a few years, however, John left the monastery to become a hermit at Camaldoli, later founding his own order, the Vallumbrosans, following the primitive rule of St. Benedict. He stressed charity and poverty, and for the first time a monastic order admitted lay brothers to take on the manual labor and free the choir monks for contemplation and prayer.

John never became a priest or even took minor orders. He founded several more monasteries, reformed others, and succeeded in eradicating the vice of simony from his part of the country. He died July 12, 1073, at around 80 years of age. He is considered the patron of park rangers because the land on which the original monastery was located had been barren and wild until John and his monks turned it into a veritable parkland by planting numerous trees and shrubs.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Saints Nabor and Felix (303), Martyrs

St. Veronica of the Veil (1st Century)

“Any Tree in my Path Seems to have More Power than He…”

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 02:50

 

“Any Tree in my Path Seems to have More Power than He…” The Lord (Week 4 of 23)

God counts only when people permit him to, when they and their demands leave me time for him. God rules only in spite of people; when under their influence I am not too strongly tempted to feel that he does not exist at all. He reigns inasmuch as consciousness of his presence is able to force itself upon me, to coexist with the people in my life…Things also rule in me: things I desire, by the power of that desire; things that bother me, by their bothersomeness; things I encounter wherever I go, by the attraction they have for me or by the attention which they demand.Things in general, by their very existence, fill the spiritual ‘space’ both within and around me, not God. God is present in me only when the crowding, all-absorbing things of my world leave room for him — either in or through them, or somewhere on the periphery of their existence. No, God certainly does not dominate my life. Any tree in my path seems to have more power than he, if only because it forces me to walk around it. What would life be like if God did rule in me? — The Lord (Part 1: Chapter VII, Paragraph 8)

We often tell ourselves that “tomorrow” we will set the demands of life aside and make time for God. That “tomorrow,” when this project is complete, when this event has passed, when the demands of life wane, then we will make time for God. And yet, those who have found the most peace and happiness have found it within the chaos and challenges that confront them from day to day. They have mastered the practice of finding God “in or through them, or somewhere in the periphery…” God is there. And His presence enables those peaceful souls to find an abundance of joy in the demands, struggles, and the regular hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Guardini is so right when he claims that any tree is more powerful than God, if only because it forces me to walk around it. God is both demanding and at the same time very quiet. Objectively we know that He desires our all, for the Greatest Commandment leaves no room for doubt:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. — Matthew 22:37

He demands that we give Him our all; but in reality, He waits patiently for us to include him. He is the polite dinner guest who will not barge into a conversation uninvited. He is the kind neighbor who never borrows your tools or demands that you keep your dog out of his yard. Rather than wave or shout or stomp his feet and jump up and down, God merely sits in quiet companionship, pleased to be in our midst, willing to step in at our first effort to invite him into our lives.

He is patient and kind; He is not jealous or boastful; He is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on His own way; He is not irritable or resentful…  (God is Love; quote borrowed with editorial license from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

How do we make a guest feel welcome? How do we practice hospitality? We take pains to make Him feel at home. We acknowledge His presence in the midst of our appointments, commitments, struggles, chores. We offer our thoughts to Him; our words as loving expressions chosen especially for Him; our actions for His Glory. We direct our thoughts toward Him. We say only those things that would please Him. We plan activities that would make Him feel at home as He engages in them with us.

The devil loves to keep us wrapped up in our daily struggles, feeling as though somehow God stands outside of our “regular” lives, and that we can encounter Him only to the extent that we can get past all the obstacles that stand in our way. It’s so easy to forget that those “obstacles” are often opportunities for us to serve God in the moment, through the people He places in our path. It’s often easy to forget the importance of serving daily in love the most important people in our lives. This is true of those we love most on earth; but it seems so much more challenging to give our undying devotion for a Love whom we can’t see. A love who doesn’t stand before us in full color every moment of every day.

Thankfully, Christ offers the Second Greatest Commandment as practical instruction on how to manifest the first:

Love your neighbor as yourself. — Matthew 22:39

In fact, God offers specific examples of how that love might manifest itself – through the Corporal Works of Mercy:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’“— Matthew 25:34-40

Let us take the pains necessary to keep a fallen tree from having more power in our lives than The All-Powerful God. The demands of life will not step aside, that we might spend time acknowledging Our Lord. True, it is important that we take time for the Sacraments, for prayer and spiritual reading; but let that not be all. Let us seek him amidst all the cares of the world. Within our relationships. As part of each contact we make with every soul we meet.

When it comes to our relationship with God, we must acknowledge His Kingship over every thought, word or action every moment of every day. Particularly in those moments involving contact with other souls along our journey through this earthly life. For in serving others, we are truly acknowledging and loving Him. Not after our day’s work is done, but in the midst of it. For if God doesn’t feel welcome at our dinner table, how can we possibly expect to feel welcome at His?

Reading Assignment:

Part II: Chapter 1-4

Discussion Questions:

1. How do you make time for God on a day to day basis?

2. NOTE: Somehow I pulled my above discussion quote from last week’s assignment. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice until I  finished writing, so I’m going with it – sorry about the oversight! I think in 5+ years, this may be the first time I’ve done this – oops! Please forgive me – I’m coming off hosting a 4th of July celebration and then throwing a huge surprise 50th birthday party for my husband this past weekend!

As next week’s discussion will continue to move forward, please feel free to comment on anything from this week – there was definitely a lot to contemplate!

Read More: http://spiritualdirection.com/topics/book-club

For More Information on the Book Club:  http://spiritualdirection.com/csd-book-club

About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the SpiritualDirection.com book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven – A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at pelicansbreast.com

 

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

Burying Mom: Grief, Temptation, Grace

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 22:07

Shocked, cheeks wet with tears, thoroughly pierced with grief, I drove in the late night to my parent’s home. I tried to imagine that my younger brother’s words spoken on the phone, “Mom is gone”, did not necessarily mean that she had died.

Two hours prior, mom and I spoke by phone to plan the next day. We had a good plan. I’d pick her up and we’d go to the hospital to visit my father who was awaiting admission for a serious infection (in 84 years of life, he’d never been in a hospital). For the past few years, he was my mother’s caregiver.

My attention went to the rosary hanging from my rear-view mirror. I grabbed it and began to pray. The Holy Spirit descended upon me with understanding: my mother had died that night.

Grief-Stricken

As I turned onto the familiar street where mom and dad lived for 64 years, my eyes met the glare of flashing red lights from Fire and Police Department vehicles parked in front of the home. I wedged my vehicle onto their driveway, ran past paramedics and police standing silently on the front porch, holding clipboards and filling out paperwork. Their eyes met mine; their glance sorrowful; no words were exchanged. I entered the home where I was raised from my birth to marriage; the home my mother cherished as the family home.

My father (pulled from the hospital), three younger brothers, a sister in law and young niece where in the room. My mother was on the floor, covered in a blanket. I fell to the floor and uncovered her face so that I could kiss her goodbye. She was still warm. I was comforted by her familiar maternal warmth. I stroked her 83-year-old face, now frozen in an expression of peace. From the depths of my soul, I wailed with tortuous cries of grief as my cheek rested on hers. Looking at me, my brother said, “We should pray the rosary for mom now. She’d like that.” We surrounded her lifeless body and prayed as we awaited the mortuary to remove her body.

Death visited suddenly; a heart attack. I was told that paramedics heroically tried to revive her for a long time. Another brother shared that when he found her, there was no sign of life, but he tried CPR. Mom was rarely left alone; my dad, siblings and a religious sister accompanied her and enabled her to live in the home that she filled with love.

It was the Feast of the Visitation of Mary (May 31, 2017) a liturgical feast that has great depth of meaning to me. Many good things have come to me on this Marian feast, such as receiving the letter from the Vatican that began the apostolate, “Foundation of Prayer for Priests”. This day, I had just finished an EWTN “Women of Grace” webinar on, “Spiritual Mothers: God’s Special Weapon Against Evil.” I never imagined that my foremost spiritual mother would die on this Marian feast. Rarely has a woman mastered the art of motherhood as she did for her five children, ten grandchildren, and four great grandkids.

Immediately following the webinar, mom phoned to share about my dad’s hospitalization, and we made our plans as mentioned above. She seemed happy but worried about my father. Her final words, “I’m fine. Take care of dad.”

Intellectually, I anticipated my mother’s death due to heart and lung disease. Emotionally however, nothing could prepare me for the loss. Mother suffered physically over many years but she loved life and cheerfully fought for it. God’s plan to call mom into eternal life when she was alone at home, was quite different than ours. The family understood it was mother’s gain and our loss. We were left longing for one more conversation that we all enjoyed with a mother full of wisdom.

Temptation

I like to consider myself a person of deep faith. God has carried me through many tribulations. I know the Lord to be faithful, and grace, superabundant. However, I admit that as I kissed my lifeless mother good-bye, a strong and sudden temptation arose.

What if this is it; what if there is no eternal life? What if Catholic teaching is wrong about this? Faith and disbelief seemed to be working in me at the same time! It was horrifying to consider that we live a few years and then perish forever. Many non-believers and/or different faiths hold this to be true. What if my faith is a fantasy to console myself in the face of this gut-wrenching parting that is death?

Belief and disbelief persisted to dance inside my mind (the battlefield) in the days following my mother’s death. To die suddenly seemed to be a blessing; but, also cruel. That her prayer to die at home was granted was consoling; but that she died alone was not. Having recourse to the St. Ignatius discernment process helped me a great deal in this trial of faith. Lesson learned: while the death of a loved one sometimes presents a test of faith, grace triumphs. Scripture is certain, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:55-57).

Grace

My mother’s funeral mass was celebrated twelve days following her death. The liturgy of Christian burial is rich in heavenly symbolism; elegant in beauty; and full of grace for the deceased and their family.

“At the death of a Christian, whose life of faith was begun in the waters of Baptism and strengthened at the Eucharistic table, the Church intercedes on behalf of the deceased because of its confident belief that death is not the end, nor does it break the bonds forged in life. The Church also ministers to the sorrowing and consoles them in the funeral rites with the comforting Word of God and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” (Order of Christian Funerals, no. 4).

In experiencing the death of my mother, our extended family and friends were indeed consoled by the Church during the three parts of Christian burial: vigil service, funeral liturgy and rite of committal. The consolation I experienced at the funeral mass was profoundly deep.

At the end of mom’s burial day, my father tenderly said to me, “Promise that you will have the same beautiful Mass offered when my death comes, please. I especially loved the Mass and the priests.” The Mass was celebrated by six priests dearly beloved of our family. As the grandchildren carried mom’s casket out of the Church, the six priests spontaneously sang “Salve Regina” to my mother. My heart soared. Many people were awe-struck.

The beauty of the liturgy with depth of meaning in each word and gesture, lifted our hearts toward Heaven. When I ceased to look only at the death and separation, I could raise my eyes to Heaven to remember God’s promises. Previous temptations to unbelief are overcome by the grace of faith that is real, not imagined.

Allow me to share the urgent prompting that I received following mother’s death—to pray and have Masses offered for her soul and for the souls in Purgatory. Not of my doing, but of the Holy Spirit, my prayer life is newly focused on praying for the Holy Souls. Please note the awesome privilege that is ours in obtaining indulgences for them. The Catechism states (1479), “Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.”

How can we help the deceased through indulgences? Just as it is because of the Communion of Saints within the Body of Christ that the Church can grant an indulgence to someone, it is likewise because of the Communion of Saints that one person can obtain an indulgence for someone who has died to reduce his or her temporal punishment in Purgatory. We the living are not separated from the faithful departed by death and can still do things for their benefit. As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, “the truth about the communion of saints which unites believers to Christ and to one another, reveals how much each of us can help others, living or dead, to become ever more intimately united with the Father in heaven.” (http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/popular-devotional-practices-basic-questions-and-answers.cfm)

A few years ago, my mother shared that she had a dream that took away her fear of death. In the dream, she experienced that when Jesus came for her, it would be as natural as stepping out of her house, over the threshold, into His house. Rest in peace, beloved mother. Fiat!

Enrich Your Spiritual Life with Thanksgiving

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 22:05

It is time to ask ourselves the important question: what has been our own practice with regard to the duty of thanksgiving in general? What is our habitual feeling about God’s numberless blessings to us? How long a time have we ever spent in summing up God’s blessings to us, even when we have been on retreat?

St. Ignatius wisely tells us to commence our examination of conscience every day with counting up the mercies of God and thanking Him for them. Have we so much as kept faithfully to this little practice? Many have regular times in the day for different spiritual duties; have we any time especially set apart for thanksgiving?

Many, again, keep in their prayer books a little note of the things and persons to pray for; have we any similar memento of the blessings for which we desire daily to thank our Heavenly Father? How often have we besieged the throne of grace for weeks and weeks with Our Fathers, Hail Marys, Misereres, Memorares, Rosaries, Communions, and even penances, for something we desired; and when at last our dear Lord condescended to our importunity, what proportion did our thanksgiving bear to our supplication? How long did it last? In what did it consist? With what fervor and increase of love was it accompanied?

Alas! We have all great need to take shame to ourselves in this respect. So far from having an abiding spirit of thanksgiving, or a keen, lifelong recollection of God’s mercies, or a loving regularity in the worship and sacrifice of thanksgiving, we go on letting the Holy Spirit Himself touch our hearts with an intimate sense of our obligations to God and our dependence on Him, waiting until He does do so and then feebly responding to His call; so that we let Him, as it were, ask for our thanks rather than pay them with a free heart and out of an abounding love.

Where we fail is that we do not correspond to His touch; we need His pressure. We would be quick enough to see the wretchedness of all this if a fellow creature did it to us.

This article is from “The Little Book of Holy Gratitude.” Click image to order.

But answer these questions honestly to your guardian angels, and then say if you think I exaggerated when I said that the disproportion of thanksgiving to prayer is one of the wonders of the world, and one of its saddest wonders, too.

But what is the cause of all this? It comes from your perverse refusal to look at God as your Father.

Independent of open sin, there is scarcely a misery that does not come from these hard, dry, churlish views of God. That is the root of the evil. You must lay the axe there, if you really desire to be other than you are. No schemes for self-improvement will stand in the stead of it.

You may meditate, and examine your conscience, and tell your beads, and little enough will come of it, as you have so often found already. How wonderfully people can be regular in making their daily meditation without its ever melting into them! Not a passion is subdued, not an unloveliness smoothed away! They have the custom of prayer without the gift of it. You may do penances, and they will rather harden your heart in a delusion of vainglorious humility than melt into simple, genuine love. The very sacraments will work only like machines out of order.

Whether it is stunted growth in the spiritual life that you deplore, or the absence of all sensible devotion, or in­capacity to make and keep generous resolutions, or teasing relapses into unworthy imperfections, or want of reverence in prayer, or lack of sweetness with others, in almost every case the mischief may be traced to an unaffectionate view of God.

You must get clear of this. You must cultivate a filial feeling toward Him. You must pray to the Holy Spirit for His gift of piety, whose special office it is to produce this feeling.

Your most prominent idea of God must be as the God “of whom all paternity is named in heaven and on earth.” You must remember that the Spirit of Jesus is the one true Spirit and that He is the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father!”

You will never be right until your view of God as your Father swallows up all your other views of Him, or at least until they are brought into harmonious subordination to that view, which is the sweet soul of the gospel and the life of our Blessed Savior’s teaching.

A man could not do better than devote his whole life to be the apostle of this one idea, the compassionate pa­ternity of God.

In matters of spiritual progress, our interests are identi­cal with God’s glory. This is another of His loving contriv­ances. Hence we may still further persuade ourselves to the practice of thanksgiving by reflecting from a spiritual point of view on the benefits to ourselves that result from it.

Growth in holiness is nothing but the continual de­scent upon us of those fresh graces, which crown every act of correspondence on our part to graces already received; and there is nothing, as we know, that so multiplies graces upon us, or causes God to throw the doors of His treasury so wide open, as the devotion of thanksgiving.

But it is not only in this way that it helps us on in holiness. Its effects on our mind must also be taken into account. Many persons try to advance in spirituality and are held back, as it were, by some invisible hand. The fact is, and they do not realize it, they have never been thor­oughly converted to God. They have stayed too short a time in the purgative way of the spiritual life, or they have bargained with God and kept back some attachment, or wished to loosen themselves from unworthy habits gently and gradually, so as to be spared the pain of conversion.

Now, thanksgiving swiftly but imperceptibly turns our religion into a service of love; it draws us to take God’s views of things, to range ourselves on His side even against ourselves, and to identify ourselves with His interests even when they seem to be in opposition to our own. Hence we are led to break more effectually with the world and not to trail its clouds and mists along with us on our road to heaven.

Hence, also, we come to root and ground ourselves more effectually in the sense of our own vileness and worse than nothingness before God; and what is all this but to make our conversion more thorough and complete?

Neither is the effect of thanksgiving less upon our growth than it is upon our conversion. All growth comes of love; and love is at once both the cause and effect of thanksgiving.

What light and air are to plants, that is the sense of God’s presence to the virtues; and thanksgiving makes this sensible presence of God almost a habit in our souls. For it leads us continually to see mercies that we should not otherwise have perceived, and it enables us far more worthily to appreciate their value, and in some degree to sound the abyss of divine condescension out of which they come.

Moreover, the practice of thanksgiving in ourselves leads us to be distressed at the absence of it in others; and this keeps our love of God delicate and sensitive and breeds in us a spirit of reparation, which is especially con­genial to the growth of holiness.

Our hearts are enlarged while we are magnifying God; and when our hearts are enlarged, we run the way of His commandments, where we have only walked or crept before. We feel a secret force in overcoming obstacles and in despising fears, and altogether a liberty in well-doing, which we used not to feel before; and all because thanksgiving has made us measure the height of God’s goodness and the depth of our vileness; and so nothing looks too much or too hard where the glory of God is concerned. Like Areuna in the time of the pestilence, we give to the King as kings ourselves, and in the spirit of kings. Our hearts are crowned with thanksgiving.

It is a great mistake to think lightly of happiness in religion, of enjoyment in religious services, of sweetness in prayer, of gladness in mortification, and of sensible devotion. True it is that when God subtracts them, it is not necessarily in anger or as a chastisement; and whatever be the cause, our plain duty is to submit ourselves to His sweet, though inscrutable, will. But this does not hinder all these things from being mighty aids in the spiritual life, and therefore to be desired and coveted with earnestness, although in a submissive spirit.

Who does not know cases in which everything seems to go wrong because a person has no happiness in religion? Even at Mass and Benediction a veil is over their hearts, which neither music nor brightness, nor yet the divine presence, can penetrate.

God’s blessings are as dull to such people as His chastisements are to the generality of men. Prayer is a penance; confession a torture; Communion a very rack. What God blesses for them irritates like a sore. What He fills with peace troubles them with disquietude. They have no light but the gloom of their own perverse moodiness, and they have no song but peevishness. Inquire if such persons have ever had a spirit of thanksgiving, and you will find you have hit exactly on the characteristic omission of their lives.

Perhaps they have been converts to the holy Faith. They have obeyed grace grudgingly. When they were safe in the Church, they would see difficulties everywhere, from the Pope and Roman manners downward. Imaginary evils surrounded every step. There was temporal unhappiness, and was the Faith worth it? There was the annoyance of learning a new religion, and new ceremonies, and this made them snappish. Then preachers said such strong things, and they must complain to a score of people of this, as if everything was to be suited to them.

It was the Assumption, and the dear, good Irish wanted to hear of their Mother’s Coronation; but then this impor­tant convert was at church and had brought an important Protestant friend with him and should have been con­sulted, or forewarned. It was so unkind, so injurious, in his presence, to say our Lady had twelve stars on her head. Were they planets or fixed stars? The whole matter is full of difficulties. Really, preachers should be more careful!

Then, in the confessional, it was all so uncomfortable, so coarse, and vulgar, and matter of fact. There was so little smooth talking, and yet much that was so dreadfully to the point.

Thus, from one cause or another, the poor convert has been miserable ever since conversion; and why? Immersed in self, and magnifying self, seeking consolations, and hun­gering after sympathy, such persons have hardly once fallen like children on their knees to thank God for the miracle of love that brought them where they are.

A thankful heart would have taken joyously all the incipient difficulties of its new position, as a penance for the hard-heartedness that had given grace so much trouble and cost it so many efforts in the process of conversion. But these persons were not thankful, and so they are not happy. Let us thank God that their numbers are so few.

This, however, is another point to be made much of: that happiness in religion comes from the spirit of thanksgiving.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Fr. Faber’s The Little Book of Holy Gratitudewhich is available from Sophia Institute Press as a paperback or ebook. 

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.