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Stay with Us — Easter Monday

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 02:35
Stay with Us Easter Monday

 

Presence of God – Do not leave me, O Jesus, gentle Pilgrim; I have need of You.

MEDITATION

God has made us for Himself, and we cannot live without Him; we need Him, we hunger and thirst for Him; He is the only One who can satisfy our hearts. The Easter liturgy is impregnated with this longing for God, for Him who is from on high; it even makes it the distinctive sign of our participation in the Paschal mystery. “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The more the soul revives itself in the Resurrection of Christ, the more it feels the need of God and of heavenly truths; it detaches itself more and more from earthly things to turn toward those of heaven.

Just as physical hunger is an indication of a living, healthy organism, so spiritual hunger is a sign of a robust spirit, one that is active and continually developing. The soul which feels no hunger for God, no need to seek Him and to find Him, and which does not vibrate or suffer with anxiety in its search, does not bear within itself the signs of the Resurrection. It is a dead soul or at least one which has been weakened and rendered insensible by lukewarmness. The Paschal alleluia is a cry of triumph at Christ’s Resurrection, but at the same time, it is an urgent invitation for us to rise also. Like the sound of reveille, it calls us to the battles of the spirit and invites us to rouse and renew ourselves, to participate ever more profoundly in Christ’s Resurrection. Who can say, however advanced he may be in the ways of the spirit, that he has wholly attained to his resurrection?

COLLOQUY

“O my hope, my Father, my Creator, true God and Brother, when I think of what You said—that Your delights are to be with the children of men—my soul rejoices greatly. O Lord of heaven and earth, how can any sinner, after hearing such words, still despair? Do You lack souls in whom to delight, Lord, that You seek so unsavory a worm as I?… O what exceeding mercy! What favor far beyond our deserving!

“Rejoice, O my soul … and since the Lord finds His delights in you, may all things on earth not suffice to make you cease to delight in Him and rejoice in the greatness of your God.

“I desire neither the world, nor anything that is worldly; and, nothing seems to give me pleasure but You; everything else seems to me a heavy cross.

“O my God, I am afraid, and with good reason, that You may forsake me; for I know well how little my strength and insufficiency of virtue can achieve, if You are not always granting me Your grace and helping me not to forsake You. It seems to me, my Lord, that it would be impossible for me to leave You…. But as I have done it so many times I cannot but fear, for when You withdraw but a little from me I fall utterly to the ground. But blessed may You be forever, O Lord! For though I have forsaken You, You have not so completely forsaken me as not to raise me up again by continually giving me Your hand…. Remember my great misery, O Lord, and look upon my weakness, since You know all things” (Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 7 – Life, 6).

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

Art for this post Stay with Us (for Easter Monday): Jesus und der Gang nach Emmaus (Jesus and the Walk to Emmaus), Gebhard Fugel (1863-1939), turn of the 19th/20th century, PD-worldwide age, 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, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.


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

How the Resurrection Defines the Meaning of the Cross

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 22:07

What happened on Good Friday cannot be understood apart from Easter Sunday.

That statement rings true to us, but why?

On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. He ransomed us from the devil. He made ‘satisfaction’ for our sins to God. All these are different ways of explaining how Christ atoned for our sins, thereby saving us.

So, the question naturally arises, how does the resurrection define what happened in the cross? Because it’s not obvious that a resurrection is necessary for the atonement to occur—whether you define it as paying a penalty, ransoming us, or making satisfaction for our sins.

Yet, on a very deep level, the resurrection is the key to the cross.

Two scholars, in a book on the Second Vatican Council, explain what it is:

[T]he radical shape of the one sacrifice of Christ is absolutely incomprehensible apart from the resurrection. It is cross and resurrection together, the paschal mystery as a whole, that reveals to the world that the deep grammar of the cosmos, in the divine intention, is not violent sacrifice but vulnerable, self-giving love. In Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we encounter a love that overcomes all boundaries, a love that excludes only those who exclude themselves. It is this love, and this love alone, that merits the term Christian sacrifice (Keys to the Council, by Richard R. Gaillardetz and Catherine Clifford).

This profound insight—that the resurrection confirms that love is the deepest meaning of the crucifixion carries several implications.

We should begin by recognizing that Christ’s love was apparent for us on the cross itself. In offering Himself for our sakes in our place, He demonstrated a profound love for us. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).

But had there been no resurrection, such love, as great as it was, would have succumbed to death for the simple fact that death would have had the last word on the story of Christ on earth. The end of love—both chronological and teleological—would have been death. We now know that’s impossible, because God Himself is love. But one of the reasons we know this is precisely because of what was revealed to us in the resurrection.

In the resurrection, Christ emerged from the tomb still burning with love for us: His love had endured all things, even death. As St. Paul wrote, “Love never fails.” And again:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Second, this means that Christ’s mission on earth was about more than simply saving us from our sins. It was about more than setting things ‘right’ with God—though it certainly was about that as well. Had paying the debt for our sins been the sole purpose, hypothetically the crucifixion would have sufficed. But Christ’s mission was to do more than just reconcile our accounts with God. It was to reconcile us with God.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI asks what Jesus came to earth to bring. Was it peace? And end to world hunger and suffering? Happiness? Benedict answers: “The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God!”

Love is unitive: it seeks to be united with what it desires. God desires us, so He desires to be with us. In the Fall, we were separated from God. Man was exiled from the presence of God, what we call paradise, the Garden of Eden.

Man could not return to Eden on his own. So God brought Himself to man. This is what happened in the Incarnation. In the resurrection, then, Christ showed us that sin and death could no longer separate us from God. And there was only way to show us that: not by merely an empty tomb, not by a distant glimpse of Him ascending to heaven, not by a new prophetic word, but by bringing Himself to us once again.

Easter Meditation on a Suicide Averted

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 22:05

Look, here’s a true story. It’s a bit raw, but maybe it’ll help.

I was living in Chicago when I got depressed. Not the bluesy kind of depressed, but the heavy, can’t-shake-it, “drenched wool blanket draped over your thoughts around the clock” kind of depressed.

Sure, I sought out counseling; sure, I attended group therapy sessions and read books for adult children of alcoholics. Nothing was helping, though, and I spent a lot of time going to movies.

Going by myself.

I was like Walker Percy’s Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer, but without the sexual dalliances, and without the admirable existential yearnings of Percy’s Kierkegaardian hero. I was a kid in his twenties from the Colorado burbs, newly Catholic, and living among do-gooders in gritty Uptown. In fact, the do-gooders were my heroes, and I was trying to become a do-gooder myself.

That’s why the depression was so bewildering. God, went my prayer, over and over again, God, why are you doing this to me?

Maybe you’ve prayed that prayer yourself, and maybe your prayer met with cosmic stonewalling like mine did – or at least that’s how it felt. Regardless, I prayed and prayed, and then I self-medicated by going to movies – lots of movies. Going to movies distracted me from the pain and the endless loops of irrational, self-destructive thoughts, and it was better than drinking – or worse.

One night, I ended up in Water Tower Place. There used to be theater there on the second or third floor – maybe it’s still there. I forget what the first show was, but I recall sticking around for a second because it was too early to go home – too early, that is, to land home and crash without feeling compelled to talk with my roommates. I do remember that second show: Gardens of Stone, Francis Ford Coppola’s other Vietnam film, a stateside gut-wrencher that revolves around the Arlington National Cemetery. It was probably not the best film for me to be watching at the time – hardly the diverting entertainment I was groping for. The film’s bleak fatalism accentuated my despair and underscored my emotional isolation.

After it ended, I trudged over to the Chicago subway stop on the CTA’s Red Line. It was late enough that the platform was sparsely populated – just as well. I didn’t want to talk with anybody; I didn’t want to interact. I was tired and miserable and anxious to get home to bed. My mind was racing with dark thoughts. Sleep, at least, offered the prospect of temporary mental relief.

Relief, I thought – and the thought morphed into a prayer: Please, God, grant me some relief. I was standing at the edge of the platform and looking down the tunnel for the ‘L’ train. There are no guardrails or barriers on the edge of subway platforms. There’s just air – just a drop-off to the rails and rats below. As I heard the rumble of the arriving train and saw its lights, I had another thought: If I just fall forward as the train arrives, I’ll get that relief. A pause – the lights got closer. Just a bit of courage, just a shift of weight, and I’ll fall forward, fall in, fall down. I vacillated at the last moment. No more pain…

Terrified, I wrenched myself away from the platform’s edge, and the train rolled in. I shuddered, backed up, and turned to the pay phone on the wall – no cell phones back then, no universal and immediate connectivity. Instead, my bridge back to safety was mediated by an anonymous phone operator. “Collect call,” I told her, and she punched in my parents’ Colorado number. One ring, two – then my mom’s voice. She accepted the charges and ventured, “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s me,” I said. “I need to come home. I need help and I need to come home.”

I did move home soon after, started regular counseling, and got on meds. The meds were like a temporary chemical brace for my wobbly thinking, and the counseling offered me long-term mental guardrails to lean on going forward – and here I am, decades later, guardrails in place, and alive.

That night on the subway platform I stared down death, stared it full in the face and slapped it away. In that split second, I was granted a choice – and a clear vision. With God’s grace—no doubt with God’s grace—I looked at self-annihilation straight on, considered it, toyed with it, and sent it packing. “Not tonight, you bastard,” my platform retreat declaimed. “Not tonight, you lousy bastard. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight.” In that moment of crisis, I clung to the grace and gave in to its tidal sweep. It wasn’t the end of something, but a beginning. There’d be no quick cures, but only daily surrenders. Daily willful surrenders, with no guarantees, and yet each surrender meant living for another day.

And where’s there’s life, there’s hope – the Easter message in a nutshell. He is risen, dammit – risen! He’s alive, and where’s there’s life there’s hope. Hold onto life, no matter what – hold on to life, hold onto hope.

I’m telling you, when your platform moments come, you must back away. Your twisted thoughts will deny your infinite worth as a human being, your ineffable value to the world, to the universe, to those who love you – to us, to me. At those moments – if they come at all, God forbid, and if they do, let them be few – hear my words, let my words ring in your head: Your life is worth living; you will get through this; and don’t you dare, don’t you dare do anything to snuff it out. Don’t you dare.

Back away, and let the mental carnage pass. If I can do it, so can you. We can both refuse annihilation this day, this day! Alleluia.
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For immediate help, call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Good News of Easter

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 22:02

“Jesus Christ is risen today — Alleluia!  Our triumphant holy day — Alleluia!” Such is the message we sing today — this day we call Easter. What makes this day “triumphant”? Two reasons. The first is this: Our sins are now wiped clean and we have the promise of Heaven if we live our lives in accordance to God’s word and in cooperation with His Grace. It’s not just that Jesus died for our sins that we find forgiveness…there were many “messianic figures” long before Jesus and in the time of Jesus. The difference is that he rose again from the dead while the others did not. St. Paul says “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins”…and then “we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Cor. 15:17, 19). Easter is of such great importance that it is now at the head of our week! That is, Sunday is the Lord’s Day — EVERY Sunday is a memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection! But it is not just a day to remember but for us to live it and to experience him when we receive Him — Body, Blood, soul and Divinity in the Eucharist at Mass. Food of all foods.

Jesus’ Resurrected Body 

The second reason we find Easter to be “triumphant” is that Jesus shows us what will happen to us at our resurrection. Each week at Mass when we recite the Creed, we say the words “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”. What does this mean?  A lot! The Gospel writers and St. Paul have much to say about this. Let’s look at what they tell us.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he was unrecognizable at first. Mary Magdalene thought he might be the gardener: “Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher (Jn 20:11-16).

In Mark, we see that the two men who walked along the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus because he was “in another form” (Mk 16:12). However, in both situations Jesus was clearly recognized by his voice. Notice how the two asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way?” (Lk 24:32).

As far as his physical body is concerned the apostles presumed him to be “a ghost” (Lk 24:37) because he appeared to them in the upper room “when the doors were locked” (Jn 21:19). With his resurrected body, Jesus could not be limited to time and space — but rather he could appear anywhere at will.

We see in his glorified body that he could be touched physically as he said to Thomas in the upper room: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side…” (Jn 20:27). Jesus showed that he could eat as well. We see two times when Jesus placed food into his mouth to eat. The first is in the upper room: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”  And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them” (Lk 24:39-43). The second was at the Sea of Tiberius: (See Jn 21:1-12). Notice in this passage, too, that the apostles did not recognize Jesus.

Our Own Resurrected Bodies

Here is where things get interesting. We, too, shall have resurrected and glorified bodies — just like Jesus! No doubt you want to know, how is this even possible? Now we turn a lot to St. Paul. In his first letter to the church at Corinth in Greece, Paul assures us, “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor. 2:9).

But how do we know that this will come to pass for each of us? Listen to St. John (who wrote the Book of Revelation with its wonderful visions) — Jesus is “the firstborn of the dead” (Rev. 1:4). Note the word “firstborn”…St. Paul calls Jesus “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Firstborn, firstfruits…First Jesus and then each and every one of us shall rise.

I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

Here’s another question you may have…In what manner shall all of this come to pass? The church in the great city of Corinth asked the same thing of St. Paul in a letter: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?” (1 Cor. 15: 35).

Here is his explanation in his return letter to them, written around the year A.D. 56. (It is the first letter that he wrote to them and so it bears the name of the First Letter to the Corinthians).

We all know that we start out in life with a human body — like a “kernel of wheat” as St. Paul calls it (verse 37). He adds that “what you sow is not brought to life unless it dies” (v. 36) and he makes it clear, “so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible” (v. 42) which means that once our body dies and the soul goes to God for immediate judgment (what the Church calls the ‘particular judgment’) it (the soul) later reunites with our resurrected glorified bodies in order to go on living “in Christ”.  It is a process we must go through — “just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (v. 42).

St. Paul continues, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (v. 51-52).

It is the Holy Spirit who will accomplish all of this. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11) and “he will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil. 3:21). “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one” (1 Cor. 15: 44) but let’s recall that our spiritual bodies will be very capable of being touched, of having various experiences through our five senses, and of eating — although we will not need to eat. “We shall bear the image of the heavenly one” (1 Cor. 15:49).

The Purpose of All of This

So…we go through all of this just to be able to sit upon a cloud in heaven and to sing Alleluia for all eternity? “By no means!” (Rm. 11:1).

We know that in this life there is sin, sickness, suffering, death, corruption, etc. All of these are considered as enemies of ours. For anyone born before 1970, we were brought up with the Baltimore Catechism in order to learn the Faith. Question number six asks this: “Why did God make you?” The answer that all Catholics had to learn was this: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next”.

The Life of the World to Come 

Let’s continue with St. Paul. These enemies prevent us from living the life that God had intended and created us for…which is the fullness of life. When Jesus “comes again in glory” (from the Nicene Creed),  “then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15: 24-26) and everything must be “subject to him (Jesus) (1 Cor. 15:28). However, God will not destroy us or the earth because at the creation of the world God declared the world to be “good” and the creation of man and woman as “very good” (see Genesis 1:25, 31). Therefore he will not destroy that which is good. Rather, it is John in his Book of Revelation who takes over here and shares this vision as God himself commanded him to do.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1) — but this does not mean that the earth as we now know it will be destroyed but only renewed. He also writes, “I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (21:2). Going further John says, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]” (v. 3).

The “new Jerusalem” he sees in the heavenly vision is a symbol of the Church. God will “dominate” us but not in the sense of a strict overlord. The word “dominate” is from Latin…”Dominus” which means “filled with God”. This “new Jerusalem” will be restored and elevated and know the Lordship of God when Christ shall be all in all. It is God’s promise to us: “If we have died with him (in Baptism) we shall also rise with him” (1 Tim 2:11-12)….”we shall also reign with him”.  From there, in the “new Jerusalem” we shall find that “the economical life, the political life, the sporting life, the entertainment life, the transportation life — all will become radiant with the presence of God” (according to Bishop Robert Baron in his video on the Book of Revelation). So, yes, there is baseball in Heaven!  But the most important thing to understand from this is that all of us will experience our own resurrection from the dead and it will most certainly be a physical resurrection. What joyous news!!! Will we recognize our loved ones there? Yes…it may take a bit as it took the apostles and others to recognize Jesus in his resurrected body, but as St. Paul says, “Star differs from star in glory” (1 Cor. 15:41) for there are different gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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For an interesting presentation of what our glorified bodies may (or may not) look like, check out (the late) Robin Williams’ 1988 movie, What Dreams May Come:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6A2mejEaCg

 

Happy Easter to each and every one of you!

image: jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

St. Stephen Harding

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 22:00

Stephen was born in the eleventh century at Sherborne in Dorsetshire, England. He was educated at Sherborne Abbey and traveled to Scotland, Paris, and Rome. On the way home from his travel, he stopped at an abbey near Molesmes and was so impressed that he decided to stay. He joined the hermits who were under Abbot St. Robert and Prior St. Alberic. In 1094 Stephen, along with four other monks, the abbot and prior, requested permission to leave Molesmes to find a more spiritual way of life. They received permission from Archbishop Hugh of Lyons who was the papal delegate to France. They founded Citeaux with twenty monks and Robert as the abbot. Alberic was made prior and Stephen the sub-prior. Later Robert left and Stephen was elevated to prior.

In 1109 Albert died and Stephen was elected abbot. The monastery had very few monks left as most had died and none had joined to replace them. Stephen immediately made strict regulations which discouraged new members and there was very little money coming in. The outlook for the monastery wasn’t good. To make matters worse, a mysterious illness killed off most of the remainder of the community. It was 1112, and there didn’t seem to be any hope of keeping the monastery open. Providentially, one day a group of about thirty men on horseback, led by a nobleman named Bernard, arrived at the monastery and requested admission. From that day forward the community flourished. In fact, by 1119, ten monasteries had been founded from Citeaux. Bernard was elected abbot of one of the monasteries named Clairvaux and Stephen drew up the rule for the order, which organized the Cistercians into an order.

In 1133, because of ill health and blindness, Stephen resigned. A year later he died. By the time of his death, Stephen had established thirteen monasteries. He was buried in the same tomb as his predecessor, Alberic, in the cloister of Citeaux. He was canonized in 1623.

Lessons

Stephen was a great organizer. It was he who instituted the system of general chapters and regular visitations. He also drew up the famous “Charter of Charity” which was a collection of statues for the government of all monasteries united to Citeaux. In 1119, this charter was approved by Pope Callistus II.

Prayer

Father, may we never lose hope, knowing that you are always with us. When we are striving to walk the narrow road, help us to persevere, knowing that you have a plan for each of us and that we need not fear. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Anicetus (175), Pope, Martyr

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ, the Day, is Risen!

Sun, 04/16/2017 - 02:35

Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! Christ, the Day, is Risen!

 

Christ is the Day!


(Sermo 53, 1-2, 4: CCL 23, 214-216 by Saint Maximus of Turin, bishop)

Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; he has renewed the earth through the members of his Church now born again in baptism and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s resurrection, the thief ascends to paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the holy city, and the dead are restored to the company of the living. There is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see hell restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to heaven, and heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement, our Savior’s passion raises men from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights.

Christ is risen. His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the saints. And so David the prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Easter festival: Rejoice and be glad, he cries, on this day which the Lord has made (cf Psalm 118:24).

The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand (cf Romans 13:12). He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son is that day to whom the day, which is the Father, communicates the mystery of his divinity. He is the day who says through the mouth of Solomon: I have caused an unfailing light to rise in heaven (cf Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 24:6 Douay-Rheims). And as in heaven, no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it (cf John 1:5).

And so, my brothers, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?

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Art for this post on Christ the Day: Detail of Image of a side chapel of the Rosary Basilica, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France. The main image is a permanent mosaic depicting the Resurrection and was completed in about 1900. (The Basilica was consecrated in 1901), photographed by Prearcherdoc, 28 March 2008 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons.

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


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

St. Bernadette

Sat, 04/15/2017 - 22:00

Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age.

There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette’s initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of “the Lady” brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig.
According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was.

Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.

During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35.

She was canonized in 1933.

Lessons

Millions of people have come to the spring Bernadette uncovered for healing of body and spirit, but she found no relief from ill health there. Bernadette moved through life, guided only by blind faith in things she did not understand—as we all must do from time to time.

St. Paternus

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 22:00

Paternus, also known as Pair, was born around the year 482, at Poitiers. His mother gave his father, also named Paternus, permission to leave the family and go to Ireland where he lived and died as a holy recluse. Paternus was inspired by his father’s example of piety and decided to enter a monastery. He joined the monks at the abbey of Ansion. In his zeal and desire to attain the perfection of Christian virtue, he went to Wales where he founded a monastery called Lian-patern-vaur (The Church of the great Paternus). His father was still living at this time and Paternus visited him in Ireland. He was soon called back to his first monastery of Ansion. After a few years, he and another monk named Scubilion (later St. Scubilion) after receiving permission from the Bishop, retired to a remote area where there were many Druids. There they were able to bring many idolaters to the faith. Paternus was able to convince the people there to tear down a pagan temple, which had been held in great veneration by the ancient Gauls.

In his old age, St. Paternus was made bishop of Avranches by Germanus, bishop of Rouen. He shepherded his flock for thirteen years before dying in the year 550, on the same day as St. Scubilion. They were buried in the same monument in the oratory of Scicy which is now the parish of the Church of St. Pair (Paternus).

Lessons

The relics of St. Paternus, along with the relics of St. Gaud are found in his church, the Church of St. Pair in Scicy.

Prayer

Lord of all, we thank you for the holy ones, like St. Paternus, who have lived their lives on earth in service to you. So many people live only for themselves. Forgive us, Lord, for our selfishness and help us to reflect on the lives of the saints as our examples. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Sts. Basilissa & Anastasia (68)

image: Wikimedia Commons

Pope Saint Leo the Great on the Passion of the Lord

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 02:35
Pope Saint Leo the Great’s Sermon LV on the Passion of the Lord*

 

I. The difference between the penitence and blasphemy of the two robbers is a type of the human race.

… In speaking but lately of the LORD’S Passion, we reached the point in the Gospel story, where Pilate is said to have yielded to the…wicked shouts that Jesus should be crucified. And so when all things had been accomplished, which the Godhead veiled in frail flesh permitted, Jesus Christ the Son of GOD was fixed to the cross which He had also been carrying, two robbers being similarly crucified, one on His right hand, and the other on the left: so that even in the incidents of the cross might be displayed that difference which in His judgment must be made in the case of all men; for the believing robber’s faith was a type of those who are to be saved, and the blasphemer’s wickedness prefigured those who are to be damned.

Christ’s Passion, therefore, contains the mystery of our salvation, and of the instrument which the iniquity of the [people] prepared for His punishment, the Redeemer’s power has made for us the stepping-stone to glory: and that Passion the LORD Jesus so underwent for the salvation of all men that, while hanging there nailed to the wood, He entreated the Father’s mercy for His murderers, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

II. The chief priests showed utter ignorance of Scripture in their taunts.

But the chief priests, for whom the Saviour sought forgiveness, rendered the torture of the cross yet worse by the barbs of [mockery]; and at Him, on Whom they could vent no more fury with their hands, they hurled the weapons of their tongues, saying, “He saved others; Himself he cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him.” From what spring of error, from what pool of hatred…do ye drink such poisonous blasphemies? What master informed you, what teaching convinced you that you ought to believe Him to be King of Israel and Son of GOD, who should either not allow Himself to be crucified, or should shake Himself free from the binding nails. The mysteries of the Law, the sacred observances of the Passover, the mouths of the Prophets never told you this: whereas you did find truly and oft-times written that which applies to your abominable wicked-doing and to the LORD’S voluntary suffering. For He Himself says by Isaiah, “I gave My back to the scourges, My cheeks to the palms of the hand, I turned not My face from the shame of spitting.” He Himself says by David, “They gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst, they supplied Me with vinegar; and again, “Many dogs came about Me, the council of evil-doers beset Me. They pierced My hands and My feet, they counted all My bones. But they themselves watched and gazed on Me, they parted My raiment among them, and for My robe they cast lots.” And lest the course of your own evil doings should seem to have been foretold, and no power in the Crucified predicted, ye read not, indeed, that the LORD descended from the cross, but ye did read, “The LORD reigned on the tree.”

III. The triumph of the Cross is immediate and effective.

The Cross of Christ, therefore, symbolizes the true altar of prophecy, on which the oblation of man’s nature should be celebrated by means of a salvation-bringing Victim. There the blood of the spotless Lamb blotted out the consequences of the ancient trespass: there the whole tyranny of the devil’s hatred was crushed, and humiliation triumphed gloriously over the lifting up of pride: for so swift was the effect of Faith that, of the robbers crucified with Christ, the one who believed in Christ as the Son of GOD entered paradise justified. Who can unfold the mystery of so great a boon? Who can state the power of so wondrous a change? In a moment of time the guilt of long evil-doing is done away; clinging to the cross, amid the cruel tortures of his struggling soul, he passes over to Christ; and to him, on whom his own wickedness had brought punishment, Christ’s grace now gives a crown.

IV. When the last act in the tragedy was over, how must the [people] have felt?

And then, having now tasted the vinegar, the produce of that vineyard which had degenerated in spite of its Divine Planter, and had turned to the sourness of a foreign vine, the LORD says, “it is finished;” that is, the Scriptures are fulfilled: there is no more for Me to abide from the fury of the raging people: I have endured all that I foretold I should suffer. The mysteries of weakness are completed, let the proofs of power be produced. And so He bowed the head and yielded up His Spirit and gave that Body, Which should be raised again on the third day, the rest of peaceful slumber. And when the Author of Life was undergoing this mysterious phase, and at so great a condescension of GOD’S Majesty, the foundations of the whole world were shaken, when all creation condemned their wicked crime by its upheaval, and the very elements of the world delivered a plain verdict against the criminals, what thoughts, what heart-searchings…when the judgment of the universe went against you, and your wickedness could not be recalled, the crime having been done? What confusion covered you? What torment seized your hearts?

V. Chastity and charity are the two things most needful in preparing for Easter communion.

Seeing therefore, dearly-beloved, that GOD’S Mercy is so great, that He has deigned to justify by faith many even from among such a nation, and had adopted into the company of the patriarchs and into the number of the chosen people us who were once perishing in the deep darkness of our old ignorance, let us mount to the summit of our hopes not sluggishly nor in sloth; but prudently and faithfully reflecting from what captivity and from how miserable a bondage, with what ransom we were purchased, by how strong an arm led out, let us glorify GOD in our body: that we may show Him dwelling in us, even by the uprightness of our manner of life. And because no virtues are worthier or more excellent than merciful loving-kindness and unblemished chastity, let us more especially equip ourselves with these weapons, so that, raised from the earth, as it were on the two wings of active charity and shining purity, we may win a place in heaven. And whosoever, aided by GOD’S grace, is filled with this desire and glories not in himself, but in the LORD, over his progress, pays due honour to the Easter mystery. His threshold the angel of destruction does not cross, for it is marked with the Lamb’s blood and the sign of the cross. He fears not the plagues of Egypt, and leaves his foes overwhelmed by the same waters by which he himself was saved. And so, dearly-beloved, with minds and bodies purified let us embrace the wondrous mystery of our salvation, and, cleansed from all “the leaven of our old wickedness, let us keep” the LORD’S Passover with due observance: so that, the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may be “separated” by no temptations “from the love of Christ,” Who bringing peace by His blood to all things, has returned to the loftiness of the Father’s glory, and yet not forsaken the lowliness of those who serve Him to Whom is the honour and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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*Leo the Great. (1895). Sermons. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. L. Feltoe (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 167–168). New York: Christian Literature Company.

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Art for this post on The Passion of the Lord: Crucifixion, Lucas Cranach the Elder, from 1515 until 1520, PD-US published in the U.S. before January 1, 1023, Wikimedia Commons.

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


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

From Good Friday Sorrow to Easter Joy

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 22:07

April 15, 2017
Easter
Vigil Readings #4 and #5: Isaiah 54:5-14; 55:1-11
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041517.cfm

Holy Week can be tough. Meditating on the suffering and death of the One we love the most isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. We Catholics take our faith seriously and we particularly take the challenging parts with their due solemnity. But if we’re not careful, our very somberness can rob us of Easter joy. The transition from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is jarring, but we don’t want to lose out on the climax for which Lent has prepared us.

From a Prayerful Lent to a Worldly Easter?

You might be thinking about how much planning you’ve put into your family’s Easter celebration or how much you enjoy the Easter Vigil liturgy. Yet often I think our Easter joy can take on a secular character, where we experience it as relief from the arduous journey of Lent and as a good excuse to pig out on candy and cake. What feels Christian, spiritual and meaningful in our prayer is the difficult path of meditating on the Passion of Christ. But how much time do we spending meditating on the joyful wonder of the Resurrection?

Is Isaiah All Sad?

This dynamic is reflected on our common Catholic relationship with the Book of Isaiah. We know the passages about the Suffering Servant, who endures hardship and taunting for the sake of others, who redeems others through his suffering. We read these passages from Isaiah 52 and 53 on Good Friday. We sing some of them too. We allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the injustice of the buffets and spitting (Isa 50:6), the sadness of the “man of sorrows” (53:3), the horror of his marred appearance (52:14), and the deep mystery of his bearing our griefs (53:4). The power of the Passion of Christ cannot be underestimated, nor can its sorrow be diminished. Yet in the heart of the Passion, in the center of the sadness, we find an overwhelming abundance of hope. At the very place where the spotless Lamb of God was cruelly and unjustly sacrificed, we are acquitted. His death does not bring the story to a close. It is only the second-to-last chapter.

The Purpose of the Suffering Servant’s Suffering

But two of the readings at the Easter Vigil are from Isaiah 54 and 55. They immediately follow the sorrowful passages of Isaiah 52 and 53. By this point in the liturgy, we might be looking forward to the next outburst of song or just be trying to stay awake, but we don’t want to miss these key passages. The Lectionary throughout the year draws on Isaiah again and again. These twin readings unveil the purpose for which the Man of Sorrows suffered.

Zion Restored

Isaiah 54 starts out with a triumphant call to Zion (Jerusalem personified as a woman): “Sing, O barren one who did not bear” (54:1 RSV). The prophet speaks to the people of God, those for whom the Servant suffered, as symbolized by a woman. This woman has also suffered: she is barren, forsaken, deserted, forgotten, widowed. She aches under the shame of her neglect. She is “grieved in spirit” (54:4). She represents the ancient people of God trapped in the shame of exile and us, when we are trapped in the exile of sin. Yet now the Lord promises to return to her, to free her from her shame, to take her back as his beloved wife with everlasting love and compassion (54:8). He makes promise upon promise to her like a young man romancing a woman. He recalls the promise he made to Noah not to flood the world again and says that likewise, he will never forsake or rebuke her gain and never again will he revoke his covenant (54:9-10).

Zion, the city of Jerusalem, will be re-established, but this time it will never be destroyed. Not only will it stand firm forever, its foundation will be made out of precious jewels rather than rough-hewn stones (54:11-12). And within its beautiful new gates, the Lord himself will teach her children. (Talk about the ultimate homeschooling program!) The city will be re-founded in peace, free from oppression and fear. Even weapons designed to attack it will be useless (54:16). The Suffering Servant has brought about the vindication of God’s people and the peaceful and permanent re-establishment of Jerusalem, the city of God.

The Feast of Forgiveness

In the following chapter, Isaiah 55, the prophet invites all who hear him to a wonderful and delicious feast which God prepares for those who have been redeemed. Water, wine, milk and rich food can be had without payment (55:1-2). The Lord provides prosperity to his people, a smorgasbord of delights. He will even renew the everlasting Davidic covenant of kingship (v. 3) and glorify his people who had been stripped of their nationhood (v. 5). He calls everyone from the righteous to the wicked to return in fidelity to the Lord. He offers abundant pardon to all (v. 7), proving that his merciful intentions are far above our vindictive ideas: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa 55:9). The Lord’s word will go forth, causing abundance, pardon, and fertile soil (v. 10). “You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace” (55:12).

What Are We Redeemed For?

What are we to make of these sweeping metaphors of redemption? I think they remind us to focus not just on the fact of redemption itself, but on what exactly God redeemed us for. When we meditate on the suffering of the Lord, we confront the gloomy yet triumphal moment of our salvation: Jesus’ death on the Cross. But when we turn to Easter morning, we ought not let our vision be filled only with chocolate and jelly beans, but focus in on the Lord’s resurrection victory over death. He died once, but will never die again. He rose from the dead so that we could too. The life for which he redeemed us shows through in Isaiah as a restoration of a broken relationship, the re-establishment of a destroyed city and an abundant feast of food and forgiveness. The tear-filled intensity of Good Friday breaks and gives way to the delirious joy of salvation. Our unworthiness, our forsakenness, our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our infidelity is all wiped away. The power of death is vanquished and we are led forth from the tomb of our own making into the glorious light of the new dawn. Let’s not miss out on the feast!

image: giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on CE on Aug 03, 2015 and is reprinted to provide more reflection on Good Friday. Pray for us, readers, as we enter into contemplation of Our Lord’s Passion. 

Good Friday: The Victory of the Cross

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 22:05

Terrorism is nothing new.  It’s probably as old as the human race.

In fact the cradle of civilization, now Iraq, was the home of the most infamous terrorists of antiquity, the Assyrians.  Their goal was to conquer their neighbors in a way that would minimize initial resistance and subsequent rebellion.  To do this, they knew fear would be their greatest weapon.  Simple threat of death for those who resisted was not enough because many would prefer death to slavery.  So the Assyrians developed the technology to produce the maximum amount of pain for the longest amount of time prior to death.  It was called crucifixion.  This ingenious procedure proved to be very effective terror tactic indeed.

It was the policy of the Roman Empire to adopt from conquered peoples whatever appeared useful.  They found crucifixion an excellent tool of intimidation.  The humiliation of being stripped naked to die in a public spectacle was particularly loathsome to Jews for whom public nudity was an abomination.  Incidentally, crucifixion was deemed so horrible that Roman law forbade that it be carried out on a Roman citizen, even a traitor.  It was reserved only for slaves and conquered peoples.

Non-Christians have often asked a very good question–why do Christians adorn their churches, homes, and necks with a symbol of abasement, terror, and torture?  Why build an entire religion around the cross?

St. Anselm (12th century) explained it this way.  Our first parent’s sin was all about pride, disobedience, and self-love.  Deceived by the serpent, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in defiance of God because they wanted to exalt themselves as His equal.  The results were catastrophic–loss of communion with God, each other, and the created universe.  The history of the human race has been a story in which each one of us, weakened by the impact of this sin on our nature, have followed its pattern, proudly refusing to obey God and love our neighbor.

Anselm pointed out sin constitutes an infinite offense against the goodness and honor of God.  Having been created free and responsible, bound by the law of justice, our race is obliged to offer acts of love, humility and obedience to God powerful enough to cancel out the long legacy of disobedience, pride, and unlove and restore our friendship with him.

The problem is, our wounded race could not begin to attempt such a task.  So the Father sent His Eternal Word to become man and accomplish the task in our place, to substitute for us.  For the immortal, infinite God to empty himself and unite himself to a limited, vulnerable human nature was already a feat of unimaginable love and humility.  But for redemption to be complete, the hero would have to withstand the greatest fury that hell and fallen humanity could hurl against him–the cross.

Surely, after the crowds he had healed and fed cried “Crucify him!” and his own apostles fled, Jesus would realize it wasn’t worth it.  Surely he would curse the ingrates and use his divine power to free himself as many suggested in their taunts.  But no.  His was love to the end, love to the max (John 13:1).  His death was the clear and undeniable manifestation of the triumph of obedience over disobedience, love over selfishness, humility over pride.

Good Friday was the D-Day of the human race.  Since Pentecost, the power of Christ’s obedient, humble, unstoppable love has been made available to all who are willing to share it, producing martyrs and saints in every generation, down to the Maximilian Kolbe’s and Mother Teresa’s of our own era.

So the cross is not only victorious, it is fruitful.  It bore the fruit of salvation in the loving act of Christ but has kept bearing new fruit throughout the ages.  That’s why, if you go to the Church of San Clemente in Rome, you’ll see one of the most stunning mosaics in the Eternal City.  The ancient instrument of subjection and death, wrapped with verdant vines supporting fruit of every shape and size, the triumphant cross become the tree of life.

Marcellino D’Ambrosio, aka “Dr. Italy,” writes from Texas. This excerpt from his new book 40 Days, 40 Days: A New Look at Lent appears here by permission.  The book is, with his other resources, available at dritaly.com.

Scripture Speaks: Jesus Has Conquered Death

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 22:02

Today’s Gospel describes an absence that confounds the disciples, preparing them for the Presence their hearts desire.

Gospel (Read Jn 20:1-9)

On Palm Sunday, the narrative of our Lord’s Passion ended with these words:  “So they [the chief priests and Pharisees] went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard” (Mt 27:66).  Jesus’ dead Body had been quickly prepared for burial (because the Sabbath sundown approached), and He was laid in the fresh tomb of a rich man.  Then, for His followers, there was silence and utter desolation.  We can only imagine how much “rest” they got on what must have been the longest Sabbath day of their lives.

Today, St. John tells us, “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark” (Jn 20:1).  Now that the Sabbath was over, she was coming to finish the burial anointing.  Why did she arrive so early, before dawn?  Anyone who has grieved over the death of a loved one knows the answer to this question.  The finality of death, even for those prepared for its arrival, is literally un-believable.  We cannot bear the thought of not seeing this dear one again.  Mary had the opportunity to be near Jesus once more, to see and touch Him.  Even in death, He drew her to Him with an irresistible force.

Mary saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  Shock!  We can feel her eagerness to be with Jesus again, yet He was not in the tomb.  St. John wants us to see that the followers of Jesus were slow to understand what He had told them many times:  He would rise from the dead.  Mary believed that someone had taken the Lord and put Him elsewhere.  Imagine this for a moment:  profound grief was compounded by profound horror.  For Mary, the empty tomb was not a source of joy.  It was an agonizing twist in what was becoming a nightmare.

Peter and John (“the other disciple whom Jesus loved”) ran to the tomb with Mary’s news.  They, too, were drawn to the Lord in this energetic race.  John arrived first, but notice his deference to Peter, the Lord’s own appointed leader of the apostles.  Once inside, they quickly realized that grave robbers were not responsible for the absence of Jesus.  The burial cloths (fine, expensive linen) would never have been left behind by robbers this way.   No, something big was underway.  St. John tells us that when he entered the tomb and saw the burial cloths, “…he believed” (Jn 20:8).  What did he believe?  Only that Jesus was really gone from the tomb—itself a great mystery.  He goes on to make that clear:  “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).

So, on Easter Sunday, the Gospel reading leaves us with only clues.  How interesting!  There is not, as we might expect, the boundless joy of the disciples seeing Jesus alive again.  Instead, we spend time with His followers in their longing, anxiety, sadness, and utter confusion.  We, of course, know what’s going on, but they don’t as yet.  St. John wants us to linger for a spell in the very human reactions to an astounding miracle.  He helps us feel deeply the question that boggled the disciples:  What has happened to Jesus?  It is only by entering fully into this human dilemma that we are truly prepared for the answer:  Jesus has conquered Death.  The worst thing that has ever happened in human history (men killed the “Author of life,” Acts 3:15) has become the best thing that has ever happened in human history, and man’s history has been changed forever.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, sometimes I am shocked that You don’t seem to be where I expect You.  Help me believe that what I feel is Your absence will always lead to Your Presence.

Lord Jesus, what have I heard many times from You and not yet understood?

First Reading (Read Acts 10:34a, 37-43)

If we think about what we have seen of Peter in the readings for Holy Week, this passage from Acts might leave us asking a question:  What has happened to Peter?  We remember him on Palm Sunday, denying the Lord three times and fleeing when Jesus was crucified.  Today’s Gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene had to go fetch Peter with her news, because he and the other apostles were hiding “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19).  Yet here we see him boldly preaching the Good News (to the same Jews who had terrified him) that death could not hold Jesus.  We see the effects in him of the Resurrection—more clues to its reality.   Peter testifies not only to “Jesus of Nazareth,” Who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), but also to the fact that he “ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41).   The commission he and the other apostles received from the Risen Jesus, confirmed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, turned Peter inside out.  What a transformation from the befuddlement of the empty tomb!  Freed from his cowardice and fear, he wanted the world to know that Jesus is alive and that “everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through His Name” (Acts 10:43).

Possible response:  Lord, this Easter season, please loosen my tongue to bear witness to Your empty tomb and to the meal we still eat and drink with You in the Mass.

Psalm (Read Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23)

The psalmist announces:  “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”  Great joy like this might make us wonder about its cause:  What has happened to the psalmist?  If we read the entire psalm, we see he describes a time of unthinkable reversal in his life, when he was in terrible distress, and his enemies surrounded him “like bees” that “blazed like a fire of thorns” (Ps 118:12).  He recounts that he was “pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me” (Ps 118:13).  In fact, the LORD’s deliverance sprung him from death:  “I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the LORD” (Ps 118:17).  Yet what really seems to fuel the psalmist’s elation is that “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).  The psalmist’s enemies had rejected him, but God upset their plans to be rid of him, and, instead, set him like a cornerstone, a rock of solid strength.  Now we understand the joy of the psalmist, and why we are using his words to rejoice on Resurrection Sunday.  The reversal he experienced from God’s mighty hand ignited his heart to sing God’s praises on the day of his deliverance and victory.  His words help us re-live this Day the exquisite joy of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, our most feared enemies.  When the meaning of the empty tomb washes over us, we will echo the psalmist’s awe:  “By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes!” (Ps 118:23)

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

Second Reading (Read Col 3:1-4)

In his epistle, St. Paul writes a most remarkable exhortation to his Christian friends (and to us):  “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:2).  Why should we, earthbound creatures that we are, be seeking what is above?  What has happened to us?  St. Paul tells us that the death and Resurrection of Jesus, our focal point all during Holy Week, has happened to us, too.  In baptism, we died with Christ and rose again with Him into a brand new life.  The power that raised Jesus from the dead has seated us with Christ:  “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).  What a transformation for us!  The empty tomb of the first Easter has reverberated all the way out to us now, in the 21st century.  Its meaning is not only historical but personal.  In Christ, we are forgiven our sins, released from death, and destined for glory:  “When Christ your life appears, then you will appear with Him in glory” (Col 3:4).  Allelulia!

Possible response:  Father, forgive me when I try to make life on this earth my only goal.  Help me to set my mind on heaven.

“What attracts me to the homeland

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 22:00

“What attracts me to the homeland of heaven is the Lord’s call, the hope of loving Him finally as I have so much desired to love Him, and the thought that I shall be able to make Him loved by a multitude of souls who will bless Him eternally.”

-St. Therese of Lisieux, Morning with Saint Therese

The liturgy of Good Friday is made up

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 22:00

The liturgy of Good Friday is made up of three parts: the Liturgy of the Word at which the Passion of Christ according to St. John is proclaimed and which ends with the Solemn Intercessions, the Adoration of the Holy Cross and Holy Communion.

The focus of this reflection is the Adoration of the Holy Cross.

The ritual begins as the veiled Cross is carried into the church. As the covering on the Cross is uncovered in three steps, the priest intones, “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world.” As they kneel, the congregation responds, “Come, let us adore.”

The Holy Cross is then venerated by all, each one approaching the Cross with an appropriate sign of respect. Finally, the Cross is “enthroned” at the main altar.

Why is the Cross such an important symbol? The Cross itself is an ambiguous symbol. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians speaks of how the Cross is a scandal and foolishness for unbelievers (1 Cor 1: 1- 23).

In the Roman world of the day the cross was an instrument of torture and death, the penalty for the most ignominious of crimes. But on this day called “Good” Friday, we venerate the cross! What is it that makes an instrument of death for criminals something to venerate and adore? What is it that makes the Cross of Christ so special? What can help us to appreciate the goodness of the Cross on Good Friday?

Let us turn to the reflections handed down to us by the beloved Disciple. At the Last Supper it was he who reclined next to the Lord. It was he alone of all the chosen disciples who, at the end, together with Mary, stood beneath the Cross as Jesus handed over the Spirit with his last breath. His writings can speak to us to reveal the secret of the Cross.

We turn to John’s Gospel where Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, and so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through him, the world is to be saved.” (Jn 3: 14- 17)

Yes, God so loved the world! And the love of God for the world, for all of us, was and is what has often been poetically called “the greatest love the world has ever known.” We have the words of Jesus himself at the Last Supper, “There is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for one’s friends; and you are my friends if you do what I command you…. This is my command, that you love one another.” (Jn 15: 13 – 14, 17)

The Cross is nothing other than the love of God. The Cross that we venerate is not a symbol of death but rather a symbol of life-giving love, of divine love! St. Paul, writing to the Romans about sixty years after Christ’s death, declared, “But see how God manifested his love for us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5: 8) Yes, because of God’s love for us and our world, we can see how the Cross of the Lord stands revealed as the tree of life!

What remains for us is the challenge the Lord handed on to us, “Now I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13: 34- 35)

Sts. Tiburtius, Valerian and Maximus, Martyrs

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 22:00

In the Church, the lives of these three saints have always been celebrated in union, according to the ancient calendar of Fronto and Saint Jerome’s Martyrology.

It was the third century and Valerian was married to a pious woman named Cecily (later to be known as St. Cecily). Because of the influence of his wife’s great piety, Valerian was brought to the Christian faith. The holy couple also influenced his brother, Tiburtius, and he in turn converted to the faith.

This was a time of great persecution of Christians and soon Valerian and Tiburtius were arrested and sentenced to death. Their executioner was a man named Maximus, a Roman soldier. Maximus was amazed at the great courage and joy these men had in the face of death. How happy and willing they were to die for their faith! This was a great witness to Maximus. Because of their holy zeal, Valerian and Tiburtius became the instruments of the conversion of Maximus. The three were executed together and received their crowns of martyrdom in the year 229.

It is believed that they were killed in Rome, although some records state Sicily. They were buried in the place of Praetextatus. In the year 740, Pope Gregory III had their monument repaired. Adrian I had a church erected under their patronage. Pope Paschal, however, transferred their remains to Rome and had them placed in the Church of St. Cecily, where they remain today.

Lessons

We see by the conversion of these men how contagious the faith can be when we live our lives in holy zeal. St. Cecily, by her example, converted her husband and he in turn by his virtue drew the attention of his brother who also converted. The two brothers, in their great joy and courage, were able to bring Maximus, a pagan soldier, to the Lord. What an example these saints are still showing us today — if we live our lives in great love and devotion, we too, can draw others to Jesus!

Prayer

Heavenly Father, forgive us for the times we are silent in the face of evil. Forgive us for lost opportunities to tell others about Jesus. Help us, Father, to be like these holy martyrs, Sts. Tiburtius, Valerian and Maximus. May we recall their lives when we are pondering whether to speak, and in boldness may we speak the truth. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Justin (165) Martyr, Patron of lecturers

St. Lydwina (1433), Virgin, Patroness of Ice Skaters

The People of the Cross: The New-Martyrs of Egypt

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 06:00

Palm Sunday was the beginning of Holy Week. Worshipers of the ancient Coptic Orthodox Church in Tanta, Egypt were gathered together, palm branches in hand, to remember the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of his Passion. Without warning, an explosion violently rocked the front row of the church, spraying the attending priest with blood. Deafening noise and dark smoke filled the church, as if the very fires of hell had invaded the holy place.

As the smoke cleared, the devastation became apparent. Blood and body parts covered the floor, pews, and walls. Palm branches that were moments ago held aloft in joyful celebration were now scattered on the ground. Wails and cries erupted as survivors identified the dead as their loved ones and friends. Passion week had truly begun for these Egyptian Christians, entered into and sealed with sorrow.

The People of the Cross

I shed tears with a broken heart for these dear Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt. They have suffered so much for being faithful to the name of Jesus. In my home, I have a copy of the original icon created by a Coptic Christian after 21 Copts were kidnapped and beheaded on a beach in Libya. They died repeating the name of Jesus. “The people of the Cross,” their killers called them with spite and hatred in their voice. And so they were, though their killers knew not that it was the sign of their triumph and not their defeat.

The word martyr comes from the Greek word meaning witness. In the early church, the martyrs were the most cherished treasures of the ekklesia. Their mangled bodies were recovered from the places of their executions and buried with great love and honor. Prayers were offered at their graves and many of their names are still remembered and venerated today.

Why so much honor for those who died in the name of Jesus? Because the earliest Christians could think of no greater honor or privilege than participating literally in the cross of Christ by suffering and dying for their Lord. Moreover, they knew death was but a door to the glory of the kingdom of Christ. As they suffered and shed their blood for their savior, they became living icons of him, radiating his redeeming love to the world. In the words of St. Paul, apostle and martyr, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

No More Tears

The world looks at martyrdom and sees only tragedy and defeat. The sorrow, the pain, the agony of loss and death. But we see things differently as Christians. We see glory. For death is not the end, it is the beginning; it is the door to a world more real than we can fathom. We are the people of the Cross.

The Egyptian worshippers did not expect to die at their Sunday liturgy. They simply went to worship as they have always done. And yet, their presence was a sign, a prophetic witness, of the priority of Jesus Christ in their lives. Like these faithful Christians, we must always live as living martyrs, as witnesses to the power of the Gospel, saying like the apostles, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” For living as faithful Christians in a modern world so hostile to true faith is often a radical and revolutionary act. It will cost us in one way or another.

The new-martyrs of Egypt are not sorrowing today. They are not defeated, for they have won the crown of righteousness laid up for those who are faithful and true. They have washed their robes whiter than snow in the blood of the Lamb. They are even now rejoicing before his throne.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 Therefore are they before the throne of God,
    and serve him day and night within his temple;
    and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence.
 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more;
    the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
    and he will guide them to springs of living water;
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Revelation 7:9-17

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

Holy Thursday — The Real Presence

Thu, 04/13/2017 - 02:35
The Real Presence

 

Presence of God – “Hidden God, devoutly I adore Thee, truly present beneath these veils: all my heart subdues itself before Thee, since all before Thee faints and fails” (cf. Adoro Te Devote).

MEDITATION

“Verbum caro factum est” (John 1:14). The Incarnation of the Word, the ineffable mystery of the merciful love of God, who so loved man that He became “flesh” for his salvation, is, in a way, prolonged and extended through the ages, and will be until the end of time, by the Eucharist, the Sacrament by means of which the Incarnate Word became Himself our “food.” God was not content with giving us His only Son once for all, willing Him to take flesh in the womb of a Virgin–flesh like ours, so that He might suffer and die for us on the Cross–but He wished Him to remain with us forever, perpetuating His real presence and His sacrifice in the Eucharist. Aided by the Gospel narrative we can reconstruct and relive in our heart the sweet mysteries of the life of Jesus. Had we nothing but the Gospel, however, we would have only nostalgic memories; Jesus would no longer be with us, but only in heaven at the right hand of the Father, having definitively left the earth on the day of His Ascension. With what regret we would think of the thirty-three years of our Savior’s earthly life passed centuries ago! Oh, how different the reality! The Eucharist makes the presence, of Jesus with us a permanent one. In the consecrated Host we find the same Jesus whom Mary brought into the world, whom the shepherds found wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger; whom Mary and Joseph nurtured and watched over as He grew before their eyes; the Jesus who called the Apostles to follow Him, who captivated and taught the multitudes, who performed the most startling miracles; who said He was the “light” and “life” of the world, who forgave Magdalen and raised Lazarus from the dead; who for love of us sweat blood, received the kiss of a traitor, was made one enormous wound, and died on the Cross; that same Jesus who rose again and appeared to the Apostles and in whose wounds Thomas put his finger; who ascended into heaven, who now is seated in glory at the right hand of His Father, and who, in union with the Father, sends us the Holy Spirit. O Jesus, You are always with us, “yesterday, and today, and the same forever!” (Hebrews 13:8). Always the same in eternity by the immutability of Your divine Person; always the same in time, by the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, wealth of the poor, how admirably You can sustain souls, revealing Your great riches to them gradually and not permitting them to see them all at once. When I see Your great Majesty hidden in so small a thing as the Host, I cannot but marvel at Your great wisdom.

“O my God, if You did not conceal Your grandeur, who would dare to come to You so often, to unite with Your ineffable Majesty a soul so stained and miserable? Be forever blessed, O Lord! May the angels and all creatures praise You for having deigned to adapt Your mysteries to our weakness so that we might enjoy Your treasures without being frightened by Your infinite power. Otherwise, poor, weak creatures like ourselves would never dare to approach You.

“How would I, a poor sinner, who have so often offended You, dare to approach You, O Lord, if I beheld You in all Your Majesty? Under the appearances of bread, however, it is easy to approach You, for if a king disguises himself, it seems as if we do not have to talk to him with so much circumspection and ceremony. If You were not hidden, O Lord, who would dare to approach You with such coldness, so unworthily, and with so many imperfections?

“Besides, I cannot doubt at all about Your real presence in the Eucharist. You have given me such a lively faith that, when I hear others say they wish they had been living when You were on earth, I laugh to myself, for I know that I possess You as truly in the Blessed Sacrament as people did then, and I wonder what more anyone could possibly want” (Teresa of Jesus, Life, 38 – cf. Way of Perfection, 34).

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

Art for this post on the Real Presence: Detail of Sant Sopar (Holy Supper [Last Supper]), Antoni Estruch, 1903-1904, photographed by Kippelboy 26 January 2012, own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, 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, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.


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

Holy Thursday and the New Commandment

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 22:07

Jesus’ actions on Holy Thursday were revolutionary and radical.  They are meant to shock our consciences.  Indeed, St. Peter was so shocked he exclaimed, “You shall never wash my feet.” (Jn. 13:8)  His sensibilities were offended that the Messiah, the very Son of God, would perform the actions of a typical household slave of those days.  Jesus turned the world upside down.  True greatness would no longer be measured in money, power and social status, but in simple humble service to our fellow man, as Jesus taught them, “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Mt. 23:10)

It was in the Cenacle in Jerusalem that Thursday night that Jesus faced His imminent death.  Just hours from His Passion and Crucifixion – this supreme moment in His life – all of His words and actions in the Upper Room carried special meaning and weight.  Jesus waited until this moment at the Last Supper to institute the Eucharist and Holy Orders.  In this intimate setting with His closest friends and Apostles, Jesus washes their feet, and gives us the Mandatum, or the mandate, the new commandment.  As John tells us:

Jesus “rose from supper, laid aside His garments, and girded Himself with a towel.  Then He poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (Jn. 13:4-5)

Following the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus says, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn. 13:14-15)

Here, with His final actions before Good Friday, Jesus shows the disciples that they are to humbly serve one another.  He reinforces this with His final discourse, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn. 13:34)  On Holy Thursday, the beginning of the paschal Triduum, Jesus commissions all of His disciples, that is, all Christians, above all else, to love one another.

As with all things, Jesus’ words and example is the model for us to follow.  Jesus Himself said He “came not to be served but to serve.” (Mt. 20:28)  St. Paul too speaks of Jesus’ humility as He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.” (Phil. 2:7)  He spoke often about the need for humility and service, and the necessity to live one’s life with Christian charity.  One of Jesus’ great teachings is the parable of the Good Samaritan.  He uses the parable to demonstrate what our mercy should resemble, and that we should “Go and do likewise.” (Lk. 10:37)  In another parable, the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus warns us about the implications of not living a life of mercy and charity.  In the parable, the rich man, who did not show mercy or compassion towards the poor man Lazarus, ends up in torment in Hades.  Abraham reminds him that he had his opportunity to demonstrate mercy during his lifetime, but chose not to.  These are sobering words from Jesus.

Perhaps the most jarring words on this is Jesus’ depiction of the Final Judgment.  The Righteous inherit the kingdom and eternal life, with Jesus telling them: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Mt. 25: 35-36)  The Righteous had lived Jesus’ Beatitudes, especially “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Mt. 5:7)  But to those who fail to perform works of mercy and charity, Jesus sends them to eternal punishment.  Ultimately, we are judged by whether we follow Christ’s new commandment or not.  In serving the needy, we are, in reality, serving Christ, as He said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Mt. 25:40)

Jesus says the distinguishing characteristic of His disciples will be their “love for one another.”  Tertullian remarked that the early Roman pagans would exclaim of Christians, “See how they love one another!”  And what should this charity towards our neighbor look like?  The Church teaches the corporal works of mercy, in which we minister to the bodily needs of the person, primarily as: “feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.” (CCC 2447)  The Church similarly teaches that we should practice spiritual works of mercy as well, primarily by: instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead.  These bring to mind Jesus’ words to St. Faustina on the absolute necessity for us to demonstrate mercy towards our neighbor through deed, word, or prayer. (Diary, 742)

Jesus’ new commandment is clear; we are to love one another.  How then do we do this on a practical level?  The varied number of ways we can fulfill this are as long as they are deep.  We can do it in our everyday life and work.  We can donate our time and money, or goods and services.  We can volunteer at a soup kitchen, or be involved in a parish social ministry.  One of the areas I find rewarding is working with the homeless population.  Regardless of what the social and economic causes may be for homelessness, and whether our actions may be enabling them to some extent, Jesus did command us “Give to every one who begs from you.” (Lk. 6:30)  To enter into the world of the homeless is to be barraged by sights, sounds, smells and struggles.  It is to witness firsthand the brokenness in humanity in drug addiction and mental health sickness, and at times, crime.  On the other hand, they are people just like you and me.  Each homeless man or woman is a person, with an inherent dignity, made in the image of God.  In their faces and bodies is Jesus.  Although sometimes it is a difficult experience, I almost always feel enriched and spiritually renewed in serving them.

And so, it is up to us to live out Christ’s commission of mercy and charity towards our neighbor: to love one another in humble service as He has loved us.  This is Christ’s radical idea that upended the trajectory of the ancient world.  The God-man took the form of a servant and washed the feet of His disciples.  This is Jesus’ radical example for us.  It was in this Passover setting that the sacrificial lamb gave way to the sacrifice of Christ: the prefigurement gave way to the reality.  Christ gave us this sublime example and new commandment at the Last Supper, as He offered the sacrament of His love in the Eucharist.  We too can offer ourselves, as a living sacrifice, in our mercy and charity towards others, in union with the sacrifice of Christ.

image: Simon Ushakov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What the Proverbs Can Teach About Silence and Speech

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 22:05

We all know the childhood saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Although this may reassure young people who are subjected to name calling, it does not mean that our words cannot have a negative impact on others and on ourselves.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. (Prov. 10:11)

Starting off on a positive note, the first part of this saying reminds us that good words are not idle but can be truly life-giving — well beyond what we can understand at the moment. The image for the verbal source of life is a spring of water. In ancient Israel, the life of an entire city would often depend on one natural fountain. Jericho has lasted for eleven thousand years, since the Neolithic Period, because of the Spring of Elisha, as it is known today, pouring out water for the whole Jericho oasis. Jerusalem has existed for more than five thousand years because of the Gihon Spring providing water since the Chalcolithic Period (ca. 3500 BC) and the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3000 BC), when the first buildings were constructed. Other cities — Megiddo, Gezer, Hazor, and others — also depended on a spring of water for their existence. Pilgrims still visit Mary’s Well in Nazareth, which was the water source that made the village habitable. People who were absolutely dependent on settling near springs of water would consider applying this image to the “mouth of the righteous” a very powerful symbol for life.

Note also that the proverb contrasts the “mouth of the righteous” with the “mouth of the wicked,” and not, for instance, the “mouth of the ignorant.” This is a moral difference, not one of knowledge. While knowledge is important and extremely useful, the upright and moral use of it makes the difference between manufacturing tractors that help farmers grow food or tanks that kill enemies to ensure that the food reaches only one’s friends and allies. Righteousness guides the physician to remove life-threatening cancer rather than take the life of an infant in the womb.

This article is from a chapter in The Proverbs Explained. Click image to preview other chapters.

The moral difference between the righteous mouth and the wicked mouth naturally applies to the words that the person speaks to others. Wise and prudent words can bring comfort and peace to people struggling with anxiety or sin, or make sense out of their lives when they are faced with moral struggles or catastrophe. The words of the righteous can lead them to embrace Christ’s life-giving love and forgiveness. We do well to pay close attention here to the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy, most of which are directly related to speech: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead. Grace bubbles out — like a spring — from speech that serves God’s will and brings truth and goodness to others, as well as to ourselves.

On the other hand, words that needlessly tear others down or spread falsehoods have incited violence throughout history. Karl Marx did very little by way of personal charity to relieve the pain and suffering of the working class, whose lives were truly miserable through the first century of the Industrial Revolution. In fact, he made the lives of his own family miserable by his neglect, if not actual abuse, and adultery. What he did instead was write many words that concealed violence very thinly. For instance, he viewed the development of modern industry as the means by which the bourgeoisie produces “its own grave-diggers” through the “inevitable” proletariat revolution (Communist Manifesto). He wrote that religion “is the opium of the people,” and its abolition is the demand for the people’s “real happiness” (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1843). These words inspired the Communist governments of the twentieth century who killed more than 150 million of their own citizens, including millions of Christians. Marx’s wicked words concealed some of the most horrendous violence in history.

While Marx’s words had an extremely wide influence on modern history, the rest of us can learn from that extreme: when our words are wicked, emerging from ill will and selfishness, they are capable of releasing evil effects we cannot anticipate or control. Our task is to be wise enough to speak words of righteousness that will bring peace and life not only to ourselves but to the world around us, perhaps even after we have died.

Wise men lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near. (Prov. 10:14)

This proverb begins with wise people who “lay up,” or store, knowledge. This is more than just collecting facts, as if preparing for a lifelong game of Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. Knowledge of the world is definitely a good in itself, but the knowledge of facts and data requires the wise person’s ability to organize and interpret that information. Wisdom takes the facts of life and makes good sense of them. When knowledge has been organized through key concepts and ideas, people become capable of seeing patterns and insights that are useful for forming a coherent view of the world. The organization of the various facts of life will include God’s revelation of truth in Sacred Scripture, the Sacred Tradition of the apostles, and the consistent Faith taught through the Magisterium.

This book is itself that kind of project; we have collected knowledge from the Scriptures, organized it thematically, and looked for patterns that will give us insights into life and faith. All people go through similar processes every day. When information appears to be useful, people want to remember it in order to use it in the future. For example, parents remember their children’s responses to various disciplinary techniques, and spouses remember the ef­fects their annoying habits have on their spouse. The organizing principles that underlie these remembered facts are the improvement of the children’s behavior or the development of a better relationship with one’s spouse. The same principle applies to all knowledge: people have certain goals and purposes that induce them to seek out some types of knowledge and remember them, while ignoring other things that seem irrelevant. The sage is the person who stores up and organizes the kinds of knowledge that are truly useful for living a good life with God and other people, both during this life and into eternity.

The “fool,” on the other hand, speaks and acts without knowing much or without understanding why some knowledge is especially important, good, and true, while other knowledge is unhelpful. For instance, gossip, whether from Hollywood or from the neighbor­hood, is generally useless information. People who speak without knowledge of the facts tend to speak too much and too loudly as a way to cover up their ignorance. This is more than annoying when the babbling fool is in a position of authority, as in politics, punditry, or teaching. The wise person seeks to know much, to organize that knowledge wisely, and to speak with truth and moral righteousness.

He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who utters slander is a fool. (Prov. 10:18)

Although the two parts to this proverb seem to be about different sins — hatred and slander — they actually are two sides of the same coin. The first part is a wise observation that makes a great deal of sense: to hide hatred or contempt for another person from others, we naturally have to say things about that person that we do not believe — or we are nice to that person’s face but speak badly about him or her to others. Perhaps we tell ourselves that the purpose of the deceit is to preserve the other person’s feelings, but often it just allows us to nurse our ill will longer. In this light, we can see that vices tend to compound one another — as when hatred leads to deceit.

The second part of the proverb teaches that speaking about our contempt or hatred in the form of gossip and slander is another form of evil. Slander spreads lies about other people, and detraction reveals information — false or true — that damages another person’s reputation for no good reason. This is a form of gossip that has historically been considered a very serious sin, in part because it’s so difficult to make right. Like falling dominoes or ripples in a pond, slander and detraction continue to spread out from the original source and can never be fully undone.

Wisdom frequently means remaining silent about things we know concerning another person. When it is prudent, we may go to the person ourselves and address the issue in a conversation. This can clear up the false elements of the slander and may help the person change the direction of his or her life for the better. Cruel rumors usually harden hearts and so do little good for anyone involved.

This saying is a warning against harboring hatred in our hearts and expressing it in our speech. Hatred in the heart tempts a person either to deceive others about it, or to commit the sins of slander or detraction. The solution is to be careful about our words, certainly, but first of all the lesson is to guard against the interior attitudes that breed hatred in our hearts.

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth. (Prov. 10:20)

There are two points in this proverb. First, speech that comes from a person living a Christ-centered life can be incredibly valuable, even more so than choice silver. Righteous speech can evangelize, spreading the Good News of forgiveness of sins, salvation, eternal life with God, and peace in the heart. Speech can point out the meaning and goodness of life and convince others to improve their lives. In everyday life — at school or the workplace or the grocery store — our words can witness to the goodness of the Catholic Faith. A little kindness here, a little word of encouragement there add up to a precious contribution to the lives of other people. Words are one of the primary ways we radiate the love of Christ.

Second, this proverb tells us just how corrosive wickedness is. Abandoning God cuts us off from the Truth, and so our minds wither. No doubt there are many very smart people who are also wicked, but in using that intelligence badly they have made it worthless — unless and until they turn back to the Lord and His righteousness. Sin cor­rupts every part of life; even the seemingly most precious part — the mind — is rendered worthless when we are separated from Him. But with Him, even the lowly tongue is like silver.

The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. . . . The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright delivers men. (Prov. 10:21; 12:6)

These proverbs teach about the power of good speech versus the power of wicked speech — more specifically, the power of speech in the hands of the good versus that power in evil hands. If there’s one lesson that Proverbs wants us to take away about speech, it’s that words never lack power.

The first saying here would have been particularly meaningful to ancient Israelites, who were largely a farming people. The kind but firm exhortations of a father or mother could motivate the family to the work needed to feed themselves and to make a living. And to this day, of course, the words of wise and good leaders can move many people to wise and good action — whether to prosperity or, as in the second proverb, to freedom.

From Abraham Lincoln to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and many others, history is full of people whose words have inspired and continue to inspire heroic action that leads to freedom and enhancement of the common good. That power to speak truth well is in all of us, with God’s help. We don’t have to be a powerful political figure to motivate a child to hard work and personal improvement, or to deliver a friend or relative from a sinful habit, such as drunkenness or drug use. Remember the Spiritual Works of Mercy, each of which summons us to use speech to help and inspire others in ways that are precious to God.

Another consideration when we are facing those difficult situations when wise and prudent speech may be effective is the need first to spend time in prayer and meditation. Let us ask the Lord which words and phrases to use, what tone to take, and how to respond to the challenges we face. Such prayer is not some last-minute stop-gap measure, but rather a time of reflection and peace in the Lord’s presence, seeking a wisdom that is beyond our immediate grasp. No one can plan ahead for the crises of life, but we can maintain our relationship with the Lord through constant prayer so that we are better able to handle the crises when they arrive.

Remember: the wicked and foolish people described in Proverbs rarely know they are wicked and foolish. The line between prudence and error is narrow and not always obvious; it is only through God’s grace that we stay on the right side.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Pacwa’s The Proverbs Explained: A Blueprint for Christian Livingwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

The Meaning Behind ‘He Descended into Hell’

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 22:02

Q: What do we mean when we say in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus descended into hell? 

In approaching this question, we must examine the word hell. Usually, when we hear the word hell, we immediately think of the place of eternal damnation for those who have rejected God in this life and have committed mortal sins without repentance.

However, in the Old Testament, hell (or sheol in the Hebrew texts or hades in Greek texts) referred to “the place of the dead.” (Interestingly, our English word hell is derived from a Germanic name for the place of the dead in Tuetonic mythology.) This hell was for both the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. It was the nether world, a region of darkness. In the later writings of the Old Testament, a clear distinction is made between where the good resided in hell versus where the bad were, the two being separated by an impassable abyss. The section for the unjust was named Gehenna, where the souls would suffer eternal torment by fire.

Our Lord attested to this “land of the dead” understanding of hell: Recall the parable of Lazarus, the poor beggar, who sat at the gate of the rich man, traditionally called Dives (cf. Lk 16:19ff). Lazarus dies and is taken to the “land of the dead” (the original Greek text uses the word hades) and is comforted at the bosom of Abraham. Dives also dies and goes to the “land of the dead”; however, he finds eternal torment, being tortured in flames. Dives sees Lazarus and cries out to Abraham for relief. However, Abraham replies, “My child, remember that you were well off in your lifetime, while Lazarus was in misery. Now he has found consolation here, but you have found torment. And that is not all. Between you and us there is fixed a great abyss, so that those who might wish to cross from here to you cannot do so, nor can anyone cross from your side to us.”

Our Lord also emphasized the “eternal punishment” of hell: When Jesus spoke of the coming last judgment and the separating of the righteous from the evil, he will say to the latter, “Out of my sight you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (cf. Mt 25:31ff). Jesus also spoke of “risking the fires of Gehenna” for serious sins, like anger and hatred (Mt 5:21ff), and adultery and impurity (Mt 5:27ff).

Given this understanding, we believe that the sin of Adam and Eve had closed the Gates of Heaven. The holy souls awaited the Redeemer in the land of the dead, or hell. Our Lord offered the perfect sacrifice for all sin by dying on the cross, the redemptive act that touches all people of every time — past, present and future. He was then buried. During that time, He descended among the dead: His soul, separated from His body, joined the holy souls awaiting the Savior in the Land of the Dead. Remember St. Paul wrote, “‘He ascended’ — what does this mean but that He had first descended into the lower regions of the earth? He who descended is the very one who ascended high above the heavens, that He might fill all men with His gifts” (Eph 4:9-10). His descent among the dead brought to completion the proclamation of the Gospel and liberated those holy souls who had long awaited their Redeemer. The Gates of Heaven were now open, and these holy souls entered everlasting happiness enjoying the beatific vision. Please note Jesus did not deliver those souls damned to eternal punishment in hell nor did He destroy hell as such; they remained in that state and place of damnation begun at the time of their particular judgment.

The Catechism highlights the importance of this event: “This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption” (No. 634).

An “Ancient Homily” of the early Church for Holy Saturday captured this event: “The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began…. He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives of Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve…. ‘I am your God, who for your sake have become your Son…. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P / Harrowing of Hell / via Flick CC BY-NC-ND 2.

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.