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Prepare for a Prayerful Lent

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:07

During Lent the Church calls on us in a special way to prepare our hearts and to purify our souls so that we can be ready to commemorate the most important events in all of human history: the Passion, death, and Resurrec­tion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our eternal des­tiny — whether we spend eternity with God or without Him, in happiness or in misery, in Heaven or in Hell — de­pends on how we respond to those events!

Let us use this season of Lent to get closer to God, maybe closer than ever before, so that you can be what God created you to be: living signs, living witnesses, living instruments of His infinite love to the world.

Lent is a time when there should be one thing at the forefront of our minds — the salvation of our immortal souls. We must ask ourselves: Do I really believe that only God can totally satisfy the desires of my heart? It is, has been, and forever will be the case that only God can give us the kind of true peace and joy and happiness that we are searching for. Material goods cannot do that. Money cannot do that. Human relationships cannot do that. Only God can do it! God wants us to experience His infinite love and mercy and to respond to Him in a spirit of Christian joy.

We live in a time of great uncertainty. In fact, a great deal of the instability we see in the news and in our own communities finds its source in the moral and spiritual confusion of our culture. Our civilization needs a spiritual revival.

This spiritual renewal, however, cannot be imposed from above: It has to begin with us. It has to begin in our humble and contrite hearts because the world is never going to change unless there is first a change in the human heart. The world is never going to change for the better unless we are good. More precisely, the world is never going to be good unless we are holy. That was the central message of the Second Vatican Council more than five decades ago, and it’s a lesson that has been lost by many Catholics today.

What is the best way to begin this process of individual spiritual renewal? If you haven’t done so already in the season of Lent, the best way to begin is by making a good examination of conscience and a good Confession. The state of grace, to which we are restored by the grace of the sacrament, is the starting point for any personal renewal — and therefore is the starting point for the renewal of the world.

How is your prayer life?

There’s no way any of us can reach our full spiritual potential as Christian men and women without a strong, deep life of daily personal prayer. True love demands union. True union with God comes only through the life of prayer.

This article is from Making a Holy Lent. Click image to preview or order.

I would be willing to bet that most Catholics could sum up their daily prayer life in half a minute or less. You might be one of them, and there would be nothing unusual about that. You might say a short prayer or two when you get up in the morning, then Grace before meals, then a few short prayers before bedtime. In the spirit of challenging you during this Lenten season, let me tell you: That is not good enough in the sight of Almighty God! God’s love is constantly searching and thirsting and craving for more and more of our love in return! He is not going to fully satisfy your spiritual needs, and you are not going to be entirely pleasing to Him, unless you make the time and the effort to have a strong, deep life of daily personal prayer.

God told the prophet Jeremiah something that He intends for all of us to hear, understand, and never forget: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer. 1:5). Think about that for a moment. Our coming into this world was not an accident but an act of the Will of God. God in His infinite knowledge and wisdom has known each and every one of us from before time began. God created us out of nothing because He wanted us to have life. He wanted us to know the joy of being because ultimately He wants all of us to share perfect eternal happiness with Him in His heavenly kingdom.

It was not by accident, but by the creative Will of God that each one of us came into this world at a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain way, and in a certain family. God did not bring us into this world to abandon us. We know this because in the Gospel He has revealed Himself to us. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is also in the book of the prophet Jeremiah:

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes. (Jer. 29:11–14)

God has a plan for your life that is going to end in eternal glory — if only you will cooperate with the graces He wants to give you. The Apostle St. Paul said, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). And who are the ones who love God? Four times at the Last Supper Jesus said to the Apostles, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21).

But Jesus also said:

Not every one who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 7:21)

Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I tell you? (Luke 6:46)

For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14)

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those

who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13–14)

The Lord is clear that, contrary to popular belief, it is not quite as easy to get into Heaven as we’ve often been led to believe. This points us to three very basic truths of the spiritual life. First, no one can be saved without conform­ing his or her life to God’s Will. There is only one way to get to Heaven and that is by loving God, and the only way we can definitively demonstrate that we love God is through our obedience to His holy wisdom and Will. All of us are called to holiness of life. Jesus said, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Holiness, which is that alignment of the human will with the Will of Almighty God, is not an option, but a command from Our Savior.

Second, it is impossible for any of us to do God’s Will without the help of God’s grace. Human nature is weak, having been wounded by Original Sin. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). All of us feel the attractive power of sin in our lives in many ways. We cannot make it alone.

Third, God’s grace comes to us first through the sacraments, but most often through the life of prayer. Therefore, no one can be saved without prayer. Prayer is the key to salvation. The whole mystery of human salvation — your whole future, your whole relationship with God — depends entirely on how much and how well you are willing to pray. The saints became saints because they understood the incomparable power of prayer! They knew that prayer has the power to change our lives and the lives of others — and they proved it with their lives.

God is a loving Father, Who always wants to share the endless treasures of His grace with us and with the people we love. But the question is this: If prayer has this kind of power; if God uses prayer to direct the course of events in our lives; if prayer is absolutely essential to our well­being both now and for all eternity, then why do we pray so little? How is it that so many of us always seem to have time for everything but prayer? If we can sit for hours in front of the television watching a movie or a ball game and think nothing of it, how can it be that even five or ten minutes of personal prayer each day is too much of a burden? God gives us so much! Why do we give Him so little of ourselves in return?

There are many reasons prayer ends up being a low priority in our lives. Sometimes it’s simply because we don’t have enough faith. We don’t really believe that God is going to hear and answer our prayers. We don’t really believe that God is infinitely wise and infinitely in love with each and every one of us, and that He hears and answers our prayers in the way He knows is truly best for us.

Sometimes we fail to pray because we aren’t willing to wait for God to give an answer, and we don’t have the pa­tience to persevere. In our society, people want and expect and demand instant gratification. We think life ought to be like a fast-food restaurant! We want what we want when we want it. We don’t want to persevere in prayer like the widow in Jesus’ parable who pestered the unjust judge until the judge ruled in her favor (Luke 18:1–8).

And then sometimes we don’t pray because we are just too proud to admit we need God’s help. We think we can make it alone, but we’re always kidding ourselves. We often hear that the American spirit is characterized by rugged individualism, fierce independence, and self-sufficiency — and in many ways those can be admirable traits. But when those ideas get carried over into one’s relationship with God, nothing good can come of it. That kind of “individualism” cuts us off from Christ, and our relationship with Him wastes away. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. . . . Apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers” (John 15:5–6).

But I think that most of the time we neglect prayer because we think we are just too busy. We’re too preoccu­pied with the cares of the world and the hectic pace of our lives, so we don’t make the time or the effort to pray the way we should. We can always think of a million excuses not to pray. But let’s take Our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount and turn them around. Think of them in the negative. “Don’t ask and you won’t receive. Don’t seek and you won’t find. Don’t knock and it won’t be opened to you” (see Matt. 7:7). The cost of neglecting prayer is much higher than the cost of putting off that housework or project or television show.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that most people look at prayer like a parachute. Think of the way a pilot looks on a parachute: He always keeps it with him, but he hopes he’ll never have to use it. He’ll use it in an emergency, of course, but other than that, he’ll ignore it. That’s the way most people look at prayer. Many people, tragically, turn to God only when they want something for themselves or when some crisis comes up in their lives. They pray only when they feel like it — and rarely do they feel like it. And once they get what they want and their troubles blow over, they stop praying altogether, and God won’t hear from them until the next time a problem arises.

God is not a parachute. He is not like roadside assistance, always waiting for your call and ready to leap into action. He is not obligated to make instant miracles for you. Indeed, He is under no obligation to hear or to answer the prayers of those who have made themselves strangers to Him.

Prayer and suffering

We are living in a world filled with suffering souls desperately in need of God’s grace. Just log on to the Internet or scroll through social media, and you’ll see how many lives and souls are hanging in the balance at every moment. How many could still be saved if only more people like us would pray in charity for them? Our Lady of Fatima said, “Pray, pray very much. Make sacrifices for sinners. Many souls go to hell, because no one is willing to help them with sacrifice.”

Prayer is essential for salvation, but that does not mean it will make our lives perfect in this world. It’s easy to think that, once we begin to make time for daily prayer and practice the spiritual life in earnest, everything in our lives ought to go beautifully. But anyone who has read the lives of the saints knows how false that is. God invariably permitted the saints to be tried like gold in the fire of suffering, tribulation, and persecution; by these means He gave them the opportunity to practice heroic virtue. They bore the heaviest crosses until the day, the hour, and often the moment they died. If you read the Bible from cover to cover, nowhere will you find God promising anyone perfect contentment and fulfillment here and now. He makes that promise to us only in the life to come — and then only for those who are faithful, who keep the Commandments, who pray.

Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). And we have to pray for the grace to bear that cross with patience and a spirit of self-sacrifice and Christian love. God will never permit a cross to come into our lives that is too heavy for us to bear. Further, when we offer our daily sufferings in the form of prayer — when we unite our daily crosses with the suffering of Christ on Calvary — our sufferings take on a tremendous redemptive value. These prayers obtain for us and for others many special graces. Therefore, when we offer our daily burdens to God, nothing that we suffer will ever be in vain. All of it is turned into a most powerful prayer.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Making a Holy Lent: 40 Meditations to Prepare You for the Church’s Holiest Seasonwhich is available through Sophia Institute Press

Is Technology Disconnecting Us?

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:03

Technology Moves so Fast!

Our society is continually and rapidly advancing in technology. We can get information and communicate with others literally in seconds. No more having to go down to the library, hopeful to find the right book in the card catalog, and hoping that someone hasn’t already checked it out.

No longer do we have to take the tedious time of writing letters to our loved ones, because now we have email, text and chat and can correspond with them, again, literally in seconds. We now have instant conversations in “real time”.

Because of these amazing advancements, we are more connected with each other than we ever have been. We can be connected all across the globe with a touch of our fingers, or the click of a mouse button.

Isn’t this just wonderful?

I think if we can be honest with ourselves, technology is in many circumstances actually removing us more and more from each other.

Let me explain.

The rapid boom of technology, specifically in the last 10 years, has everyone totally interconnected. This technology also makes it all too easy to commit or over-commit to our work and personal lives.

Specifically, things like social media, emailing and texting is replacing what little time we have that could perhaps be spent in a more meaningful way.

It seems that there is this need to always be “connected” with everyone and everything around us.

But is all of this so-called “connecting” even real communication? It may seem real, mostly because we’ve convinced ourselves it feels real. But is it really?

The Rise of Social Media

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Flickr, Pinterest, or whatever new social gem that will probably be invented before I hit publish on this article – it’s very possible that we actually are very “over-connected”.

But wait! Again, this is a good thing, right? … right?

Well…maybe not.

Recently I was at a restaurant, and I noticed a young couple sitting together. As I was enjoying my meal, I happened to notice that neither one was talking to the other. No small talk, no “how was your day?” no, “can you please pass me the salt”… nothing.

For their entire meal together, they barely even acknowledged each other’s existence. Instead, they both (in unison) stared at their phones, occasionally smiling or laughing, but not with or at each other. They were both completely absorbed in whatever “communication” was happening on their phones.  Were they connected? Perhaps, but definitely not with each other.

This left me feeling very sad.

These two people, who were out sharing a meal together, were completely ignoring each other, finding whatever bleeps and bloops that were happening on their phones to be more important than engaging in real conversation with each other.

And it’s not just about how we communicate with each other.

It’s often how we give these technologies priority over fellow human beings in our immediate presence. And how we also often give these technologies priority over our faith, and even the precious time we need to spend in the presence of God.

Bleep, Bloop, Bleep…

How many times has someone been talking to you, but you didn’t fully hear what they were saying because you were texting or surfing the internet on your phone or other devices, instead of giving that person your full attention?

How many times has your phone rang, and you felt it necessary (or even mandatory) to answer it immediately, instead of letting it go into voicemail, so you can focus on the person or task you are presently entertaining?

How many times have you committed yourself to daily prayer or spiritual reading, only to find yourself perusing your Twitter, Instagram or Facebook feed instead?

Having said this, I’m not saying that social media is evil, or that you should dump your Facebook or Twitter accounts. Even I admit there can be benefits to these technologies. Personally for me, I am able to keep in contact with my family members who live abroad much more easily. Before Facebook, we didn’t call, or write.

And now with my smart phone, I can quickly text someone a message like, “be there soon,” or instantly record ideas that pop into my head, before they fall into the abyss of my bad memory.

But even with these good aspects to technology, I believe the key is moderation. And I also believe that we need to remember that these technologies should never be chosen or favored over real personal conversation and communication.

I think we need to remember what is real – things like spending real, quality time with our true friends and family. And quality time spent quietly alone, whether it is reading a book, working with your hands, praying or conversing with God.

And when we’re enjoying this quality time, we should put down our phones and tablets!

How about only checking your social media accounts in the morning or evening, or limiting yourself to 20 minutes a day?

It’s my belief that technology, if not kept in check, will actually begin to wear us down, making us a bit numb to what is real. And often what started as a fun or entertaining way to pass time, slowly begins to take us hostage.

Hostage to what we might miss on our screens.

But if we can break the habit and become more attentive to the actual people and life that is going on around us, we can focus on living a real life that is more meaningful. A life not led by “likes” and “tweets”.

Try having more real connections – with friends, with family, with God.

And try carrying the load of your cell phone and other technology less.

Perhaps you’ll begin to notice that it’s often the things we reduce or even leave behind that help to define and shape us, even more so than the things that we carry.

10 Tips for the Best Lent

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:02

God gives in abundance, always, in all times and in all places! His goodness manifests itself most abundantly in His Mystical Body, the Church and concretely in the Church Liturgical Year.

The two strong times of the year are Advent, which culminates in Christmas, and Lent which culminates in Holy Week and in the Risen Lord Jesus. To experience the fullness of the Paschal Mystery—the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus—we must live with generous heart and openness of spirit the season of Lent. Lent is both a gift and a Season of abundant graces.

Why not decide right now to live this Lent with total generosity of heart, mind, soul, body, and emotions? Let us live out these forty days of graces and blessings as if it were to be the last Lent in our lives!  Our life is short and time flies by and the clock never ticks backwards.

We will offer ten simple Lenten practices so that indeed this Lent will be the best Lent in our lives. “If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts…”

1. Prayer  

Instead of being Martha this Lent, why not try to imitate Mary of Bethany? What did Mary do, as Martha nervously and frenetically rushed to and fro? Mary simply sat at the feet of Jesus, looked at Jesus intently, listened attentively to His words, carried on a friendly and loving conversation, and simply loved Jesus. In Lent why not make the proposal- in imitation of Mary of Bethany—to pray a little bit more and better! Prayer delights the Heart of Jesus!

2. Reconciliation and Peace

If it is such that there is some person in your life that you have bitterness towards, resentment, maybe even hatred, then Lent is a most propitious time to reconcile. Build a bridge and knock down the barrier!  In marriage homilies I often say to those about to be married that the three most important shorts phrases that couples should learn are: “I love you!”  “I am sorry!” and “I forgive you!”  Lent is time to throw out the old and rotting yeast and to be renewed in our social relationships!

3. Penance

Jesus said unequivocally:  “Unless you do penance you will perish.” Give up something you like for love of God and for the salvation of souls.  By saying “No” to self, we say “yes” to the invasion of God in our hearts! Beg the Holy Spirit for light to give up what is most pleasing to God!

4. The Bible,The Word of God

In the holy seasons of Advent and Lent the Church warmly exhorts us to have a real hunger for the Word of God. Jesus in response to the first temptation of the devil responded:  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”  May this Lenten season be motivated by a daily meditation of the Word of God! Use a prayer method suggested by Pope Benedict XVI called Lectio Divina: read, meditate, contemplate, pray, and action—put into practice the good insights you have received. This will result in a transformation of life; as St. Paul asserted:  “It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”

5. Almsgiving

Lent is a time to give, especially to the poor, sick, marginalized and the rejected of society. Remember Pope Francis’ many gestures of loving the poor, kissing the repulsive and rejected of the world. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do to me.”

6. The Three T’s  

Following up on almsgiving why not examine your life in these three areas and see where and how you can give, as Blessed Mother Teresa said: “Give until it hurts!”  Time! Give of your time to others. Start at home because charity begins at home. Talents!  We all have talents. Lent is time to conquer our laziness and work diligently to cultivate our God-given talents.  “Better to wear out then rust out!” Treasures! If you have an excess of food, clothing, money and material possessions, give and give. You are giving to Jesus in the poor!

7. Joy

Be joyful!  Try to implement this acronym: J. O. Y.   J—stands for Jesus!  O—stands for others; Y—stands for you! If we put Jesus first, then others second and finally ourselves as last then we will experience the joy of the Holy Spirit and it will overflow on the others we meet!

8. Daily Mass and Communion

By far the best way we could possibly live out the Holy Season of Lent is by drawing close to Jesus as possible. In Holy Mass and Holy Communion, not only do we draw close to Jesus, but we actually receive Him into the very depths of our being, our inner sanctuary which is our soul. However, go to Mass and Holy Communion with intentions, especially to repair for sin and prevent sin. Why did Jesus suffer so much in His bitter Passion?

St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us the two fundamental reasons: 1) To show us the malice and evil of the reality of sin; 2) to show us the depths of His love for all of humanity and for each one of us individually.   Offer your Mass and Holy Communion in reparation for your past sins as well as in reparation for the sins of your family. Morally speaking also our Holy Mass and Communion could and should be offered in reparation for the sins of abortion—shedding the  blood of the most innocent and vulnerable and then in reparation for the widespread practice of homosexuality which tears apart the basic building block of society—the family!

9. Conquer Your Own Devil 

All of us have our own kryptonite — our weak point where we easily fall. But also we all have our own devil that attacks us— often going for our weak point.  Check out where the devil attacks most. You might just go through the Capital sins and see where the devil has an opening.  Gluttony? Lust? Greed? Sloth/Laziness? Anger? Envy? Pride?  In Lent we are soldiers enlisted in the arm of Christ the King. Time to fight against our personal devil with the strength of Jesus the King. We are weak, but God is strong. Nothing is impossible for God!

10. Mary and Lent

Try to live a strongly Marian Lent. Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as well as the Rosary dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. View the movie of Mel Gibson, “The Passion of the Christ” where Mary’s role is significant. Make the Way of the Cross, walking with Our Lady of Sorrows. Strive in Lent to live these holy days through the eyes of Mary and with the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In conclusion, my friends, if we can choose to live out these proposals with generosity of spirit, this will be the most holy of all our Lents. We will be able to live out the fullness of the Paschal Mystery—to suffer and die with Jesus so that we will rise with Him in the glory of the Resurrection!

image: Gary Bridgman/Wikimedia Commons

“Let us, then, without further

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:00

“Let us, then, without further delay open our eyes, the eyes of our body and the eyes of our intelligence, with Jesus Christ. As we ‘put on’ Jesus Christ let us wed ourselves to His mind and His heart.”

A.G. Sertillanges, What Jesus Saw from the Cross

In the first reading King Solomon

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:00

In the first reading King Solomon thanks Yahweh for his kindness and generosity to him in leading his people wisely.

In the Gospel reading Jesus castigates the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their narrow and selfish interpretation of the law of Moses, leading to destruction and nullification of the spirit of the law: “You have a fine way of disregarding the commandment of God in order to implant your own tradition”; “You nullify the word of God through the tradition you have handed on.”

We can ask ourselves, “What is true worship and service of God?”

In service to my Christian community through music, I have seen thousands of people with eyes closed and hands upraised to heaven singing their praises to God and have begun to realize how being a musician can be true missionary work for the preaching of the Good News.

How can I serve God in my parish?

St. Paul Miki and Companions (Martyrs)

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 23:00

St. Paul Miki (1565?-1597) and his companions were martyred in Japan at the end of the sixteenth century. A native Japanese, Paul entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) as a young man. He worked as a missionary brother, along with St. Leo Karasuma (a Korean layman), and six Franciscan missionaries from Europe, led by St. Peter Baptist of Spain.

Building on the earlier work of St. Francis Xavier (December 3), the missionaries preached the Gospel around the city of Nagasaki, and were initially very successful. However, the captain of a visiting Spanish ship foolishly (and falsely) boasted that the missionaries’ efforts were paving the way for a Spanish and Portuguese invasion of Japan.

The Japanese shogun (warlord) Hideyoshi, already envious of the missionaries’ success, used this as an excuse to begin a severe attack on all foreign influences, including Christianity. Many Christians were martyred, including Paul Miki, John Goto, and James Kisai of Japan; Peter Baptist, Martin de Aguirre, Francis Blanco, and Francis-of-St. Michael of Spain; Philip de las Casas of Mexico; Gonsola Garcia of India, and seventeen Japanese lay people. These were all crucified and pierced with a lance. While hanging on the cross, Paul Miki spoke to the Japanese gathered below: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: There is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.”

Lessons

1. Human boasting and political maneuvering can seem to complicate the Church’s mission, as happened with the Spanish captain and the Japanese warlord; however, the example of the Christian martyrs inspired and sustained the Japanese Catholics (and when Christian missionaries returned to Japan in the nineteenth century, they found a secret community of several thousand Christians still in existence).

2. As St. Paul Miki stated while on his cross, we are called to forgive our enemies; our willingness to do this is a powerful testimony to the truth of our faith.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Dorothy (303) Virgin, Martyr, Patroness of Florists

St. Titus (96), Bishop

Correspondence to Vocation

Mon, 02/05/2018 - 02:35
Correspondence to Vocation

Presence of God – O Lord, You call me unceasingly, drawing me to Yourself; grant that I may respond to Your call with ever-increasing generosity.

MEDITATION

God calls us but He does not constrain us. He grants man full liberty to accept or to refuse His divine invitation. “If thou wilt be perfect … come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21), says the Lord to every soul that He chooses, but as with the young man in the Gospel, He leaves to each soul the responsibility of answering or rejecting His call. However, when God calls us, it would be rash to close our heart to His voice and spurn His invitation. Who would dare turn away from the glance of predilection which the Most High casts on one whom He calls to follow Him?

We ought to answer God’s call with great humility and joy, with gratitude and readiness, saying with all our heart, Ecce venio, “Behold, I come … that I should do Thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7). The creature should respond to God’s eternal choice of its soul, by choosing God to be its only good, its only love, by rising above all creatures and earthly affections. “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). God, our Creator and absolute Ruler, has the full right to ask of us the renunciation of even the holiest affections and to exact that, for love of Him, we abandon father and mother, brothers and sisters, home, and all our possessions. Furthermore, if God has decreed that “a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife” (Genesis 2:24), would it be extravagant to do the same thing when we give ourselves, not to another creature, but to the Creator Himself?

The first duty one who has received the divine call, is therefore to renounce all earthly affections, possessions, and joys, so that freed from all ties, he may follow the Lord. Actually, what is to be given up will not be the same for all; more is required of the religious than of the secular priest, of the nun than of a person consecrated to God in the world. But from the point of view of affection, the renunciation, or rather the detachment of the heart, must be the same for all; it attains its full measure when it is complete, with no reservation.

COLLOQUY

“My love holdeth Thee, O loving Jesus, nor will I let Thee go. O Love, who art Life, Thou art also the living Word of God; kindle anew Thy life within me; make amends for all the losses my love has suffered. O God who art love, who hast created me, create me anew in love. O Love who hast redeemed me, redeem and give back to me all that I have lost of Thy love through my negligence. O Love who hast purchased me for Thyself with Thy precious Blood, sanctify me in charity. O God who art Love, who hast adopted me as Thy child, train and fashion me according to Thine own heart. O Love, who hast chosen me for Thyself, and not for another, grant that I may be wholly Thine, Thine alone. O God who art Love, Thou hast loved me freely, gratuitously; grant that I may love Thee with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my strength.

“O Jesus, my Brother and my Spouse, supreme King, set Thy mark on the face of my soul, and engrave it so deeply, that no creature may attract my choice, nor excite my desire, nor possess my love. Thou art dearer to me than all that is dearest; deign that I may ever be Thy true and faithful spouse in that love which is stronger than death.

“O Love, Thou art dear to me above all things; oh, let Thy love teach me always to be faithful to my promises.

“Grant that I may have a place among the wise virgins. There will I await the heavenly Bridegroom, having my lamp lighted and filled with oil. So I shall not be confounded at the sudden coming of my King; but all peaceful and clothed with light, I shall join with songs of gladness the choirs of virgins who have gone before me. O Lamb without spot, grant that I may not be excluded with the foolish virgins, but in humble confidence, may enter the banquet hall of the great King, where in virtue of my patient and persevering fidelity, I shall dwell forever with the heavenly Lamb” (St. Gertrude).

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

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

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

What Happens When God Questions Us

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 23:07

As Christians, we turn to God, through prayer and by reading Scripture, seeking answers on everything from the choices we should make in our daily lives to the fundamental questions of human existence — why there is evil, how we can know God, what is our true purpose in this earthly life.

Of the great surprises of Scripture is that God, in turn, often questions us. Not only do we not get the answers we wanted, but the tables are turned and we are asked to provide those very answers.

The most famous instance of this may be in the Book of Job, in which the main character’s quest for God is also a yearning for wisdom, to understand why his life has ended up in the sorry state that it is. Near the end of the book, it seems like we might finally get some resolution, when God appears to Job out of a storm cloud. But instead, God responds this way:

Who is this who darkens counsel
with words of ignorance?
Gird up your loins now, like a man;
I will question you, and you tell me the answers!
Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it? (Job 38:2-5)

This style of questioning persists for many more verses, continuing into the next chapter. As we follow the divine monologue a sort of answer emerges, veiled as it is in a question. No, we do not have firsthand knowledge of how the land was formed out of the sea nor were we there when the first birds lifted into the air or the first predators prowled the landscape below them. But God does know these things and, indirectly, by knowing that God is Creator, we have a kind of knowledge.

In questioning us, as He does through the words of Job, God calls us to radical humility and trust. Our knowledge is limited and as much as we would like it, we cannot know the thoughts of God. Rather than knowing, we are called to trust in the One who truly knows.

The questioning of Job serves another function as well. Throughout his long dialogues, Job had been constantly demanding the opportunity to press his case in court, proving his innocence before God. This is particularly apparent in the whole of Job 13, especially verses 18-23:

Behold, I have prepared my case,
I know that I am in the right.
If anyone can make a case against me,
then I shall be silent and expire.
Two things only do not use against me,
then from your presence I need not hide:
Withdraw your hand far from me,
do not let the terror of you frighten me.
Then call me, and I will respond;
or let me speak first, and answer me.
What are my faults and my sins?
My misdeed, my sin make known to me!

The divine questioning that eventually comes creates something of the desired courtroom atmosphere. Except Job never really has a chance to make his case. He is on trial, with no one to advocate for him. At the end of the divine monologue Job realizes that there is nothing he can say before God. His proper response is one of silent awe.

Job’s encounter also affirms that God is perfect justice: there is no standard of justice by which He might be judged and therefore to which He must submit. (Otherwise, God would not be God because there would be something more powerful and more knowledgeable than Him.) Who can argue with Justice itself?  As God Himself tells Job, “Would you refuse to acknowledge my right? Would you condemn me that you may be justified?” (Job 40:8).

This is one of the themes of the whole book. Look back to the very beginning, when Job has lost everything. What does He do? He prays this: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). When He has lost everything Job realizes that the only thing left for him to do—in the face of One who possesses everything—is to kneel before Him in radical humility.

God’s questioning points to one more reality. The God who is Justice itself is also personal. God is not like the Fate or Fortune of ancient Greece and Rome—impersonal forces that decree what happens in our lives with no input or participation from us. God, on the other hand, is a personal reality that talks back to us, that draws us into a personal encounter with Him.

In our society today you will hear a lot of people talking about having a personal relationship with Jesus. But the way some preachers talk about such a relationship seems to diminish the reverence we should have for His divinity. Sometimes they talk about Jesus the way one might talk about your jogging buddy, your fraternity brother, or some long-distance BFF who is never there but always responds to your texts.

Job has the antidote to these overly sentimental and saccharine depictions of what our relationship with God is or should be like. What does a personal relationship with God really look like? Something like being asked hard questions by an angry voice bellowing out of a storm-cloud. To be sure, this is one of many images of our relationship with God that is presented to us in the Bible. But, in this moment, our culture would do well to better contemplate the God of the storm-cloud.

image: The Last Judgment at the Arena Chapel (Cappella Scrovegni) Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Healing Power of Tears

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 23:05

“Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists.”
~ Judith Orloff, M.D.

“Jesus wept” (Jn 11.35). It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, as every junior high kid who’s ever been near a Sunday school or youth group can tell you.

Of course, it’s only the “shortest verse” in English translation, but let us not dither about such piddling details. The point is its brevity and reputation make it the Mother of All Memory Verses, and that has implications. As Christians, we’re literally “little Christs,” right? We’re obliged to imitate him as much as possible — to even become him in the Body of Christ, in carrying our crosses and serving others, and especially in receiving the Eucharist. So, if Jesus wept (as everyone knows), so we ought to weep. He even hammers this idea home in the Sermon on the Plain. “Blessed are you that weep now,” he tells the crowd, “for you shall laugh” (Lk 6.21).

Note the cause and effect here. It would’ve been especially important to the original audience. As Luke reports, that crowd on the plain included many who’d come “to be healed of their diseases” and unclean spirits. They had plenty to cry about, and Jesus not only gave them leave to do so, but also indicated that the tears themselves were part of the healing process.

And to the surprise of no one who’s ever enjoyed a good cry, science bears out Jesus’ prescription. “Emotional tears have special health benefits,” writes Judith Orloff in Psychology Today, because they “contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying.” Orloff further notes that crying also seems to stimulate “the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and ‘feel-good’ hormones.” Recall that the famous “Jesus wept” verse occurs in the context of Jesus finding out about the death of Lazarus, his good friend. It was stressful; it was painful; it was just the kind of situation that calls for a shot of endorphins. Our incarnate savior benefited from his tears just like we do.

Yet we tend to get fidgety in the presence of weeping – both others’ and our own. My kids and my students make fun of me because I’m so easily moved to tears. If I read a stirring Gospel passage before class? Snuffles. Recite the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V for my son on his namesake’s feast day? Sobs. Heck, I even cried during Ice Age IV, if you can believe that – Ice Age IV! If you’ve seen it, you probably know the dad-daughter scene that got me going. My kids certainly picked up on it in the theater when we went to see it together. They all looked away from the screen and stared at me in anticipation of the flood.

They weren’t disappointed.

Let ‘em stare, I say. We should all cry more, not less. There’s lots to cry about in the world these days, not to mention all the terrible and terrifying challenges we might personally face. But only trained thespians can conjure up tears on cue, and Ice Age IV will only do the trick for softies like me.

So here’s a surefire lacrimal remedy for you: Nine-year old Amira Willighagen’s performance of “O Mio Babbino Caro” on Holland’s Got Talent. Not long ago I was sitting at our home computer with 11-year-old Katharine by my side. We were searching for a particular musical video she wanted to show me, and Willighagen’s showed up in the sidebar – 34 million views! I shrugged, clicked on it, and said, “Let’s check this out.”

The set-up draws you in immediately. Young Amira walks confidently to the center of the stage and takes questions from the three judges. They’re impressed by her youthful fearlessness, which is only confirmed when she tells them that she’s there to sing an operatic number.

“O Mio Babbino Caro” is an aria from an opera by Puccini, but I wouldn’t have known that at the time – and it didn’t matter at all. Nor did it matter that the sub-titles, which had been providing English translations of the Dutch preliminaries, disappeared when Amira started singing in Italian. In fact, I think that my ignorance of what the girl was singing about only added to my emotional response.

And that response was a strong one. Almost from the very first note, my eyes welled up. The absolute purity of her voice and her gentle gesticulations in accord with the flow of Italian lyrics were mesmerizing. Astounding. It’s disarming to witness such a coupling of sheer innocence and profound artistic depth. “You can’t believe this,” one of the judges comments. “It’s not normal.” Look at his colleagues and the audience behind him, mouths agape, eyes wide.

Within seconds, I was a mess of heaving tears. Just like at Ice Age IV, my daughter leaned in and looked at my face. “Why are you crying?” she asked.

I couldn’t explain. I still can’t. Maybe it has something to do with the thought that this young girl is already feeling something that most of don’t feel until much later into our rattling lives. “An old soul,” that same judge remarks of Amira’s amazing performance. I prefer the language of grace – like, “She’s touched by grace.” And grace means suffering; grace means the cross. Why should this 9-year-old be so primed to endure so much?

But maybe it’s just my own pain. Whatever it is, I have the same reaction every time I watch Amira surrender herself to that aria. It’s a gift. It’s a balm. Try it. You just might find the release you’re seeking.

The Meeting of Time and Eternity

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 23:02

Forty days ago, Christ is born! So now it is time for him and his mother to go to Jerusalem — to the temple — according to the law of Moses (Luke 2:22). The book of Leviticus states that when the forty days of purification are complete after the birth of a son, the mother is to bring a yearling lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:2-6). Mary doesn’t do this, but rather brings a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:24) — because Leviticus goes on to state that if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons – one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:8). The Lord’s Christ and his mother come to the temple in Jerusalem in some measure of poverty — unable to afford a lamb — but also with an unseen poverty greater than this poverty which would have been apparent to all. For here is the giver of the law subjecting himself to the law — “him who as God is the legislator, [is seen now] as subject to his own decrees.”[ii]  Here is God coming now as a baby boy. Here is an incomprehensible self-emptying – a giving up of everything for us – the creator become a creature – the divine made human – the infinite made finite – the eternal made temporal. Such impoverishment!

We call this feast, the Meeting. Here eternity is meeting time. Here an old man is meeting a baby boy. Simeon is meeting Jesus.

Simeon has been waiting a long time to meet the Lord’s Christ at this intersection of time and eternity in the temple in Jerusalem – in the house of the Lord. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death before he sees the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26).

Listen to some of what he says when finally lays his eyes on Christ. We hear these words so often – at every vespers and at other services – that maybe sometimes we forget to listen to them as they wash over us day after passing day, night after passing night. Simeon says that his eyes have seen the Lord’s salvation, so now he is ready to depart in peace (Luke 2:29-30).

How does the Lord Jesus Christ save us? How can Simeon say he has seen our salvation? As if it is already accomplished here in this baby boy – this baby who has not yet spoken a word, though he is already and from eternity the word of God. Yet, he has not yet preached a single word of the Gospel to the world. He has not yet died for us so that he may rise for us and by his death trample death. Yet here is Simeon saying he has seen the salvation prepared by the Lord before the face of all people (Luke 2:30-31). How can this be?

For one thing, Simeon is a prophet of the Lord and he speaks of what is coming as well as of what is present before him and what has been (eg. Luke 2:34-35). Nonetheless, his eyes have already seen this salvation. And the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus even as a baby can truly be understood and expressed as already accomplishing our salvation by uniting the divinity with our humanity. But does this mean that what was to follow – his life, his preaching, his teachings, his healings, his transfiguration, his death, his resurrection, his ascension – are all superfluous addenda to our salvation already accomplished in this baby boy? No! This is not what it means.

Rather, this reveals to us something of the prophetic mind – the mind we ought to yearn to acquire for ourselves. We ought to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that [we] may prophesy” (1 Cor14:1). And we must seek to acquire the mind of Christ (cf. Phil 2:5). When a prophet speaks, the Lord speaks through him. When a prophet thinks, the Lord also thinks in him. When a prophet sees, he sees with the eyes of the Lord. This is the way to be – more and more configured to the Lord – more and more like him in every way, each and every day. Then we can begin to see things as he sees them.

And the Lord’s understanding is not confined by our chronology. This is a point we often forget, being so limited in our understanding, but which is greatly helpful to remember as often as possible: God is not confined by our chronology.

In the Divine Liturgy, after the epiklesis, we offer the spiritual sacrifice for the Theotokos and all the saints. Now, what need have they of our prayers? – You may well ask. Their salvation is accomplished. We have need of their prayers more than they do of ours, it seems to us. While from a chronological perspective, this question makes sense, it forgets what the Divine Liturgy is and it forgets that we are in the house of the Lord who is not confined by our chronology.

In the house of the Lord, Simeon looks upon the baby Jesus and sees our salvation already accomplished. In this house of the Lord here today, if we look with prophetic eyes, we will see our salvation already accomplished.

Does this mean our salvation does not require us to work it out in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)? Or that we don’t need what remains of our lives, filled – as they doubtless will be – with many sufferings and blessings? Or that we need not die? Or that the Lord need not come again in glory? Or that we need not rise again to live eternally in Christ? No! That’s not what it means. But at every Divine Liturgy we remember the second coming in glory, in the same breath as we remember the cross the tomb the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the sitting at the right hand. We remember these things as already accomplished – for our Lord is not confined by our chronology and today on this Feast of Meeting, our time meets with eternity.

[i] Inspired by Nicole M. Roccas, “Meeting Vulnerability in the Presentation of Our Lord,” (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/meeting-vulnerability-presentation-lord/).

[ii] Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 3.

image: See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

“God never costs too dear,

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 23:00

“God never costs too dear, however much we pay for Him. Rejoice in the hope of possessing Him, for He is one day to be Yours.”

St. John of Avila, Finding Confidence in times of Trial 

Jesus preached the coming of the

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 23:00

Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom not only through his teaching and parables but also through healing the sick and expelling evil spirits. Towards the beginning of his public ministry he had proclaimed his task as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and announce the Lord’s year of mercy.’ Then he said to them, ‘Today these prophetic words come true even as you listen.'” (Lk 4: 18 – 21)

We see all the people with illnesses crowding to be with him, “to touch just the fringe of his cloak” and be cured. “And all who touched him were cured.”

People came in crowds to listen to him; the Pharisees and the Jewish teachers of the Law came to find fault with him: “Who is this but Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4: 22) “How did this come to him? What kind of wisdom has been given to him that he also performs such miracles?” (Mk 6:2)

When he “violated” the sabbath, “the ruler of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had performed this healing on the sabbath day and he said to the people, ‘There are six days in which to work; come on those days to be healed and not on the sabbath.'” (Lk 13: 14)

When Jesus seemed friendly to a public sinner, the Pharisee Simon was scandalized, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him; isn’t this woman a sinner?” (Lk 7: 35) When he forgave sinners, “How can he speak like this insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?” (Mk 2: 6)

Where do we encounter Jesus in our lives? Where do we hear him? Where do we see him?

St. Agatha

Sun, 02/04/2018 - 23:00

Agatha was born in Sicily, although the date her of birth is unknown. However, there are records of her veneration that go back as far as the sixth century. Apparently, Agatha was a member of a wealthy and noble family, and she decided at an early age to dedicate her life to God. Because of her deep love and devotion, she also consecrated her virginity to the Lord, deciding to remain unmarried and chaste for life.

Agatha lived during a time of great persecution of Christians. Unfortunately, she caught the attention of a man by the name of Quintan, who was a pagan. When advances by Quintan were thwarted by Agatha, he was so enraged that he sent her to a house of prostitution. When this failed to change her mind, it is said that he went about torturing her by racking, mutilating and rolling her over hot coals. When Quintan denied her any medical assistance, God is said to have sent her a vision of St. Peter to console her. She then offered up her soul to God and died.

Saint Agatha is often depicted in art as holding a pair of pincers or holding her severed breasts on a platter. Later, some mistakenly thought these were loaves of bread, which led to the practice of blessing bread on her feast day. Saint Agatha is the patron saint of nurses.

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

She wore the glow of a pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb’s blood for her cosmetics…. Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ.

—From a homily of St. Methodius on St. Agatha

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

Johnnette’s Meditation

To what extent is my conscience pure? To what extent do I gratefully bear the blood of the Lamb in and through my struggles and trials? Would someone regard me as a faithful witness to Christ? Why or why not?

Prayer

Dear Father, what a brave and wonderful martyr Saint Agatha was! It is easy to say we would give our lives for You, but no one actually desires such suffering. But just as our Lord Jesus suffered for us, we, like Saint Agatha, offer our suffering to You, confident that You will send us consolation as You did for Agatha. Amen.

St. Joan of Valois

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 23:00

Joan, or Jane, the physically deformed daughter of King Louis XI of France, was endowed with wonderful gifts of mind and heart. Although she suffered much throughout her life, she accepted her disabilities with patience and spent many of her days in prayer and meditation.
Under the guidance of her spiritual director, a Franciscan priest from whom she received the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis, young Joan prepared to give her life in service to God as a member of a religious community.

But her father had other plans. He announced that Joan would marry the Duke of Orleans, and no objections were to be voiced. Joan dutifully obliged, though her marriage was not a happy one. When the duke ascended the throne as King Louis XII, his first act was to divorce the queen on the grounds that he had only agreed to the marriage to escape the anger of the king, his predecessor. The pope agreed that compulsion had been involved, and declared the marriage null and void.

Joan felt an immediate sense of relief and made her way to Bourges. There she lived a secluded life of prayer and, in 1501, founded a contemplative order of nuns—the Sisters of the Annunciation. God called Joan home only a few years later.

She was canonized in 1950.

Lesson

Life dealt Joan a bad hand from the beginning. Born with deformities, she yearned to seek the arms of the only Lover who could see her real beauty, but her royal father had other plans for her. Only when she was at last ejected from her unhappy marriage was she free to devote herself to conversation with God. Life doesn’t always deal us the cards we want either but like Joan, we can play them with grace.

Repentance and the Religion of Beginning Again

Sat, 02/03/2018 - 13:29

As human beings, we possess real freedom as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and with this freedom comes true creative potential. That is, through an act of the will, we can bring into being new thoughts, words, and acts that have never existed before. In a real way, we can create an as yet nonexistent future through our choices.

Moreover, there is something about each human act that is irrevocable. Every word uttered, every action undertaken inevitably leaves an impression on the course of history. No action, no matter how badly one may desire it, can be undone or erased. And even deeds done in secret and hidden from the eyes of men, those acts seemingly without consequence, are seen by God and are present to him. Our choices have echoes both in time and eternity. The past cannot be undone.

This truth is at once comforting and terrifying. It is a hopeful thought in that every act of charity and mercy, even if unseen by men, is recorded forever in the mind of God. Love possess an eternal weight and significance; it is permanent in its effects. But likewise, it is a disquieting thought in that every evil thought or intention, every sinful action, every hurtful word, no matter how fleeting or insignificant, is likewise irrevocable. Scripture itself says we will give account for every idle word, a truth that should give us great pause.

The Secret of Repentance

What I’ve said to this point is true enough in the order of nature. Each act of the will is permanent and irrevocable. And yet it is not true in the order of grace. By grace, we can really change the past.

How? Through repentance. Through true repentance, we really can erase our sins. We can remove their blot from the record of history and begin again as a new creation. This is the miracle of Christ’s mercy.

Someone once said that, “he who excuses himself, accuses himself.” To the Christian, however, the opposite is true. He who accuses himself, excuses himself. When we acknowledge our guilt before God, he removes that guilt forever. He blots out our sins from the record of eternity.

The confessional used to be described as a sort of courtroom, but the strangest courtroom ever conceived. For it is the only courtroom in which a guilty plea is always met with complete pardon and the prisoner set free.

The Religion of Beginning Again

The Christian faith is the religion of beginning again, for it is the religion of the repentance and restoration. Even more, it is the religion of the resurrection. Never can we say definitively that we are finished, that there is no hope for us, for we serve the one who rose from the grave.

The power of the resurrection is ours when we repent, when we return to our Father and receive his mercy and pardon. No matter how many times we have fallen into spiritual death, we can be resurrected. In the confessional, we are born again and made new—a miracle as great as the first day of creation.

G.K. Chesterton once captured the miracle that is confession:

“[W]hen a Catholic comes from Confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world…. He believes that in that dim corner, and in that brief ritual, God has really remade him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.” (Autobiography, 229–30)

Never despair. Never lose hope. Repentance restores all things. For we serve the God who makes all things new.

The post Repentance and the Religion of Beginning Again appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

St. Blaise

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 23:00

As a child, I remember having my throat blessed on the feast of St. Blaise. I was never too sure who he was or why we did this. Also, it seems like the practice has been forgotten. Would you please help me?

Unfortunately, what is known about the life of St. Blaise derives from various traditions. His feast day is celebrated in the East on February 11 and in the West on February 3 (although it was observed on February 15 until the 11th century). All sources agree that St. Blaise was the Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia who suffered martyrdom under Licinius about AD 316. (Remember that Emperor Constantine had legalized the practice of Christianity in 313, but Licinius, his ally and co-emperor who had concurred in legalizing Christianity, betrayed him and began persecuting the Church. Constantine defeated Licinius in 324.) From here, we rely on the tradition which has been associated with our liturgical celebrations over the centuries, which does not necessarily demean their veracity or accuracy.

In accord with various traditions, St. Blaise was born to rich and noble parents and received a Christian education. He was a physician before being consecrated a bishop at a young age. Although such a statement seems terse, keep in mind that at that time the local community usually nominated a man to be a bishop based on his outstanding holiness and leadership qualities; he in turn was then examined and consecrated by other bishops with the approval of the Holy Father. Therefore, St. Blaise must have been a great witness of our faith to say the least.

During the persecution of Licinius, St. Blaise, receiving a divine command, moved from the town and lived as a hermit in a cave. Wild animals visited him and he healed any that were sick and wounded. One day, a group of hunters gathering wild beasts for the games in the amphitheater discovered St. Blaise and seized him. As he was being taken to the governor Agricolaus, the governor of Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia, St. Blaise encountered a woman whose pig was being seized by a wolf; St. Blaise commanded the wolf to release the pig and it was freed unhurt.

While in prison, he miraculously cured a small boy who was choking to death on a fishbone lodged in his throat. Also, the woman whose pig had been saved brought St. Blaise candles so that his cell would have light and he could read the sacred Scriptures.

Eventually, Agricolaus condemned St. Blaise for upholding his Christian faith rather than apostatizing. He was tortured with an iron comb (an instrument designed for combing wool but was used here for shredding the skin) and finally beheaded.

By the sixth century, St. Blaise’s intercession was invoked in the East for diseases of the throat. As early as the eighth century, records attest to the veneration of St. Blaise in Europe, and he became one of the most popular saints in the spiritual life of the Middle Ages. Many altars were dedicated to his honor. The Abbey of St. Blaise in southern Germany even claimed to have some of his relics.

St. Blaise is also venerated as one of the “Fourteen Holy Helpers,” a group of saints invoked as early as the 12th century in Germany and who are honored on August 8: St. Denis of Paris (headache and rabies); St. Erasmus or Elmo (colic and cramp); St. Blaise (throat ailments); St. Barbara (lightning, fire, explosion, and sudden and unprepared death); St. Margaret (possession and pregnancy); St. Catherine of Alexandria (philosophers and students, and wheelwrights); St. George (protector of soldiers); Sts. Achatius and Eustace (hunters); St. Pantaleon (tuberculosis); St. Giles (epilepsy, insanity and sterility); St. Cyriac (demonic possession); St. Vitus (epilepsy); and St. Christopher (travelers). The German Dominicans promoted this veneration, particularly at the Church of St. Blaise in Regensburg (c. 1320).

One reason for St. Blaise’s popularity arose from the fact he was a physician who cured, even performing miraculous cures. Thereby, those who were sick, especially with throat ailments, invoked his intercession. Eventually the custom of the blessing of throats arose, whereby the priest held two crossed candles over the heads of the faithful or touched their throats with them while he invoked the prayer of the saint and imparted God’s blessing. In our present Roman Ritual, the priest prays, “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” This practice continues in many parishes on St. Blaise’s feast day.

While we invoke St. Blaise for his protection against any physical ailment of the throat, we should also ask his protection against any spiritual ailment — profanity, cursing, unkind remarks, detraction or gossip. St. James reminds us, “If a man who does not control his tongue imagines that he is devout, he is self-deceived; his worship is pointless” (1:26); and later, “We use [the tongue] to say, ‘Praised be the Lord and Father’; then we use it to curse men, though they are made in the likeness of God. Blessing and curse come out of the same mouth. This ought not to be, my brothers!” (3:9-10). Therefore, may St. Blaise protect us from all evil, physical and spiritual, which may attack the throat.

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

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

O God, deliver us through the intercession of Thy holy bishop and martyr Blase, from all evil of soul and body, especially from all ills of the throat; and grant us the grace to make a good confession in the confident hope of obtaining Thy pardon, and ever to praise with worthy lips Thy most holy name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

—From the Novena Prayer to St. Blasé.

Johnette’s Meditation

What “evil of soul and body” do I specifically wish to entrust to the intercession of St. Blase today?

The Presentation and Mary’s Ordinary Time

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 23:07

A friend of mine asked a simple question on her Facebook page, “When do you take your Christmas lights down?” Some people insisted on waiting until the Feast of the Presentation (February 2), others until Epiphany, and others, “Until I can’t stand to have them up anymore!” (One of our first years of marriage, we fell into the most relaxed of categories, “Shoot! Ash Wednesday is tomorrow! We better put this stuff away!”)

But her question calls to mind a different conversation I had recently, with a seminarian friend. He shared how he and our priest friend were once giving a retreat for families after Christmas and, “Father’s whole homily was on breastfeeding!” Intrigued, I turned to my priest friend (a kind, Italian man) and asked him what the story behind that homily was.

“It was the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and I thought, ‘What was Mary doing eight days after giving birth? She was feeding the baby!” He went on to explain a beautiful theological reflection on us coming to Mary for nourishment, too. It was that initial comment that stood out to me, though.

Christmas is an all too fleeting season. Already, it is done for this liturgical year. What are we left with in the time between the Baptism of the Lord and the Presentation? We’re left with Mary, feeding the baby.

I recently came across an article talking about Our Lady of La Leche, and was reminded of how much I love Mary under that title. Thankfully, I have been able to breastfeed my babies, so I relate to the images of Our Lady of La Leche from that perspective. But even mothers who are unable to breastfeed can relate to these images. Whether you breastfeed or bottlefeed, every mother is familiar with the Focused Feeder vs. the Conversational Eater vs. the Twisting Tot vs. Oh-my-goodness-child-just-eat-already!

When you take that to prayer you realize how amazing it was that Mary and Jesus were such an ordinary mother and baby, doing ordinary things. Jesus was an ordinary baby, and he did ordinary baby things. Most of Jesus’s life, actually, was hidden and ordinary.

Anyone who has ever had a newborn knows how crazy those first forty days after birth are. The poor baby has no idea what he or she is doing. The poor parents have no idea what they’re doing. It’s exhausting and beautiful and filled with basic, ordinary activity. The diapers — those endless diapers! — are changed. The baby feeds and tries to feed and spits everything up. Sleep is snatched wherever it can be found.

Then, right around forty days postpartum, the family begins to emerge from the fog of the newborn days. They begin to get used to each other, to their new pattern of life. The proud parents, who have been pouring themselves out for their tiny child, are ready to show their little one off to the world. After all, every parent believes their child to be the cutest and the sweetest infant ever.

I remember praying a lot with the fourth Joyful Mystery of the rosary after having my first baby. In my insecurity as a new mother (mixed with actual post-partum depression), I needed the affirmation that the work I was pouring into my precious baby mattered. When she was baptized, it all seemed worth it. It was with joy that my husband and I carried our beautiful daughter into the church and saw her embraced and adored by the body of Christ.  On the one hand, there was the ordinary pleasure of seeing her fawned over (because, after all, she was a very cute baby). On the other hand, there was a reminder that this child, this beautiful child of ours, was not ours. Ultimately, she belonged to God.

Mary is, of course, holier than I. I’m sure that, even in the haze of new motherhood, she didn’t lose sight of who Jesus was. I’m sure that, as much as she fell in love with him as her baby, she also always held in sight that he was also the Son of God, meant for all of humanity. (I’m reminded of this beautiful scene from The Nativity Story, starting at 1:06.) Even so, the Presentation in the Temple must have served as a powerful reminder of who her baby was (which is evidenced by the fact that we are reminded, again and again in the Gospels, how Mary “pondered these things in her heart”).

And even in the story of the Presentation in the Temple, we see the ordinary woven seamlessly with the extraordinary. Mary was, most likely, purified (as was the post-partum custom). She and Joseph came to present her firstborn son, and to offer the customary sacrifice for him. No doubt the endless stream of sleeping and wailing newborn boys was met with indulgent smiles by all in the Temple, a reminder of God’s ongoing promise of fruitfulness to his people. There must have been such a simple joy in that ordinary experience, mingled with Mary and Joseph’s awareness that this child was far from ordinary.

And then, the ordinary is shattered. “…and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

There, wedged in Mary’s ordinary motherhood, was the cross. From the very beginning, there was the cross. It is no coincidence that the day after Christmas, we celebrate the feastday of the first martyr of the Church, St. Stephen. From the very beginning, the cross was a part of the story.

So it is, too, with us. There is no such thing as perfect parenthood. Being faced with suffering is not a sign of failure, but a sign of the cross. For so many parents, parenthood is filled with suffering of one kind or another – with the absence of extended family, with an ill child, with miscarriage, with post-partum or antenatal depression, or even with the ordinary struggles and exhaustion of parenthood.

Like Mary, the ordinary and the extraordinariness of the cross are inextricably joined in parenthood. So it is, too, with those in all stages of life. There is the ordinary, and there is real opportunity for holiness in that ordinary. Then, in the midst of our ordinary lives, we are met with the extraordinary – the cross. Suffering is not an extraordinary thing, but the cross is, because unlike ordinary suffering, the suffering of the cross is a suffering of love.

Like Mary, we are called to suffer in love. We are called to carry those crosses in love, in the midst of our ordinary lives. The little crosses, the big crosses, they are all opportunities to find God. They are all opportunities to be united to the truest, most perfect love that ever was.

image: 11th century folio depicting The Presentation in the Temple by Unknown illuminator [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Called to Mission

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 23:05

The Bible is not just for Churches and Synagogues. Portions of it are read as literature, even in secular university classrooms.  Invariably, when you look at the syllabus of such courses, you find Job.

It’s not hard to see why.  Job poignantly expresses what all human beings experience at one time or another–the feeling that life is a burden, that our daily routine is drudgery, that our suffering is meaningless, that there’s not much hope for our future (Job 7:1-7).

Things are tough all over–in Job’s day, in ours, in Peter’s.  It’s all about trying to earn a living and raise a family with taxes, government, disease, and unexpected tragedies yapping at our heels.

The Gospel (Mark 1:29-39) shows us such a world that is suddenly turned upside down by someone who breaks all the rules.  Demons that normally inspire terror themselves run away in fear.  Fevers flee.  Incurable illnesses yield.  Instead of talk about the burden of the law with its innumerable regulations, Good News is announced that gives people hope again.  The Good News is that God is on the move, that he, not the Emperor, is King, and he is not slave-master but Father. The someone responsible for all this commotion happens to look like one of them, and indeed is one of them, but does things that only God can do.  As He speaks, they begin to feel as is the world may have meaning, that life may actually be worth living. They want to be with him, to hear his electric words and see his astonishing deeds.  So they won’t leave him alone.  Crowds gather outside the door of the humble place where he is staying.

What happens next is instructive.  Knowing his need for communion with his Heavenly Father, he rises early next morning to seek solitude and a few moments in prayer.  But they need him.  So they send the apostles to track him down.  When they find him, he is not annoyed.  He does not protest that it is his day off, tell them to come back tomorrow or sometime next week.  He has come to bring Good News, to bring light to those in darkness, healing to the suffering.  Many are desperate, so his mission is urgent.  He gets up, but doesn’t return to Capernaum.  Instead, he moves on to other towns.  Those who wish to enjoy the excitement of his company must join him in his mission.

St. Paul has the same sense of urgency as his master (I Cor. 9:16-19).  He is aware of being entrusted with an awesome responsibility.  It is not an option for him to share the gospel.  What he has received as a gift, the most precious gift imaginable, he must give as a gift.  And he must give it not only to those he likes, or those with whom he has some natural bond.  He must not do it only when it suits him, when it is convenient.  No, he must exert himself.  He must seek common ground with all, Jew, Greek, weak, strong, educated, uneducated–so as to express the gospel to them in a way that they can understand.  And this mission led him to cover more ground than even his master–not just Judea and Galilee, but what is now Turkey, Greece, and Italy.

Not all are called to be traveling preachers like our Lord and St. Paul.  But the Church teaches unequivocally that membership in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church is not just about being saved and enjoying God’s company.  There is a suffering world out there that desperately needs the saving truth and healing touch of Christ.  Notice that immediately upon being healed, Peter’s mother-in-law began working.   Baptism is completed by confirmation, an anointing to serve.  You can’t be fully a member of the apostolic church without participating in the apostolic mission. 

This is offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle B (Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147, I Cor. 9:16-19; Mark 1:29-39).  It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

image: Apostle Paul Preaching on the Ruins by Giovanni Paolo Panini

Scripture Speaks: Looking for Jesus

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 23:02

When Jesus met the first of His disciples, He asked, “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38). Today, Simon tells Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” What happened in between?

Gospel (Read Mk 1:29-39)

As we continue in St. Mark’s Gospel, we see that after Jesus left the synagogue in Capernaum, where He had taught and exorcised demons with great authority and power, He “entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.” Simon’s mother-in-law was quite sick. When He was told about it, Jesus “approached, grasped her by the hand, and helped her up.” She was healed.

By the end of the Sabbath rest, when Jews were able to move around carrying sick and troubled people, they “brought to Him all who were ill or possessed by demons.” The buzz about Jesus developed and spread quickly. St. Mark describes this most eloquently: “The whole town was gathered at the door.” Are we able to “see” this picture? What a dramatic demonstration of how eagerly people wanted to be near Jesus, to have His help for all the enormous problems of their loved ones or friends. Aren’t we all, today, still taking people to Jesus this way, in our prayers and care for them? So many (actually, most) of Jesus’ miracles of healing and exorcism in the Gospels were done as the result of an intercessory request.

It must have been a long and exhausting day for Jesus. However, “rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed.” Do we wonder what He prayed about? What had it been like for Jesus to see so many sick and burdened people? How did His human heart react to such a scene of suffering? He turned to His Father. They communed alone.

The solitude came to an end when “Simon and those with him” found Jesus. “Everyone is looking for You.” In such a simple statement, with only five words, Simon summed up the entire human condition, from the Garden of Eden until now. When the townspeople of Capernaum heard Jesus’ authoritative teaching, when they saw Him heal the sick and cast out demons, they knew that somehow He answered life’s deepest needs. Whether men are conscious of seeking God or not, they know they long for someone to put all the messes of life, both public and private, right. We all wish someone would show up and break the curse of evil, suffering, and death. Someone did.

Jesus was willing to leave what must have been a time of solace for Him to take up again the work He was given by the Father to do: “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose I have come.” Isn’t it interesting that God chose this particular method, preaching, as His way to alert the world that it was about to be turned upside down? Being God, He could have done it in a million different ways—Jesus could have dictated a book, printed newspapers, even written on the sky. Instead, He preached. It would be a man’s voice that would proclaim God’s truth and redemption. Jesus gave Himself fully to this work. He knew everyone was looking for Him.

Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me remember that somehow You are the answer to all that troubles me.

First Reading (Read Job 7:1-4, 6-7)

If our powers of imagination were not able to envision why “the whole town was gathered at the door” of the home in Capernaum, the poetry of Job will surely do it. The Book of Job, written about 600-400 B.C., is a long, powerful poem about the mystery of suffering. Job, a righteous man, was accused by Satan of having a cheap love of God. Satan told God that Job only loved Him because his life was so blessed. “But put forth Your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face” (see Job 1:6-11). Job suffered waves of loss and catastrophe. He felt, all at once, the full brunt of everything we suffer in this fallen world: the drudgery of life, months of misery, troubled nights, false friends, restlessness. He painfully summed it up: “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

Never has the human condition, which experiences such great helplessness over the forces that appear and disappear, been more aptly described. Now can we understand why “everyone” was looking for Jesus?

Possible response: Heavenly Father, I have tasted the misery of Job. Thank You for sending Your Son to rescue all of us from it.

Psalm (Read Ps 147:1-6)

When we reflect on the pain of our fallen human condition (as we did in the First Reading), this psalm becomes an expression of the impact of the Incarnation on that reality. When Jesus appeared teaching, healing, and breaking the forces of darkness, He turned the mourning of Job into the song of the psalmist. “The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem” reminds us that Jesus came to rebuild the promise that life in Eden held for us. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” This was what the brokenhearted standing outside Simon’s door were hoping Jesus would do for them. “The LORD sustains the lowly; the wicked He casts to the ground.” When Jesus did this in Capernaum, “everyone” looked for Him. All of us who find Him can sing with the psalmist: “Praise the LORD, who heals the brokenhearted.”

Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23)

Here we find St. Paul describing the fire in his bones that led him all over the Greco-Roman world, several times, to preach the Gospel: “Woe to me if I do not preach it!” St. Paul understood that God has chosen the preaching of a human voice to spread the Good News of His love and provision for man. He explains here that, in order to make his preaching available to people without the burden to them of supporting his material needs, he offered “the Gospel free of charge.” Jesus Himself said that laborers in His harvest were worthy of their hire (see Lk 10:7), but St. Paul willingly forfeited that right (he earned his living making tents). He was a man convinced that preaching God’s message was the source of renewal for the whole of Creation. He urged other evangelists to do the same. To Timothy, bishop in Ephesus, he wrote: “Preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:1-2).

St. Paul made it his goal to fit himself in wherever he went—to the Jews, to the Gentile pagans, to the Greek philosophers in Athens—so that as many as possible could hear him without unnecessary stumbling stones in the path: “I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” This is the same zeal we saw in Jesus when He desired to go to all the “nearby villages” and preach His Good News. Bishops and priests through the centuries have done the same. Of them can the words of Isaiah, quoted by St. Paul in Rom 10:14-17, be used: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News!”

Possible response: St. Paul, please pray that God would raise up evangelists, especially among the clergy, to preach the saving message you preached so effectively. Our world needs conversion.

Every individual God puts in our lives

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 23:00

Every individual God puts in our lives has a definite purpose. In the Gospel about the Presentation of Jesus God gives such specific roles to key people.

Through the pious man Simeon and the prophetess Anna God makes clear that Jesus indeed is the promised Messiah. Simeon and Anna also remind us of the value of silence and prayer: they devote their lives to prayer before God.

In our fast-paced world, we have little time for quiet and prayer. In their prayer God promised Simeon and Anna that they would see the Messiah. They were richly rewarded, “Now, O Lord, you can dismiss your servant in peace, for you have fulfilled your word and my eyes have seen your salvation.” (Lk 2: 29)

The Gospel tells us that in silence and prayer we find God.

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.