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Temperance and Our Addiction Crisis

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 22:05

It would be too simple to say that temperance is the sole solution to America’s multifaceted crisis of addiction, but it’s entirely realistic to think there will be no solution that leaves out temperance. In the absence of temperance, we shall continue to apply patchwork, partial solutions here and there while piously decrying addiction as a bad thing.

Not that the patchworks aren’t needed. For instance, Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s proposal to reduce needlessly long periods of time for which, he believes, opioid painkillers often are prescribed sounds like a reasonable idea. Unfortunately, some medical groups are on record opposing mandatory education for physicians to accomplish it.

Over at the Justice Department the new approach involves a return to tough law enforcement, including long prison sentences for drug-related offenses. Leaving the pros and cons of that to those better equipped to judge, one can only say it’s at best a bit of patchwork that leaves untouched the larger issues raised by addiction.

And just here it’s important to recall that addiction isn’t only a matter of prescription opioids and street drugs. Viewed in a holistic sense, American addiction  extends to things like the routine abuse of alcohol and the epidemic of internet pornography. And how about the 5 million Americans who spend 45 hours a week playing video games? If that isn’t addicted behavior, what is?

About the only form of addiction that has been successfully eliminated (not totally, of course, but at least partially) is smoking, and there the change extended over decades and came about through a three-pronged effort invoking motives for quitting like fear, cost, and class-based snobbery. Isn’t it time to give temperance a try?

“Temperance” commonly is understood in a narrow sense as referring only to abstention from alcohol. But it has a classical meaning that takes in far more.

Aristotle understood that. “The temperate man desires the right things in the right way and at the right time,” he wrote. That may indeed involve swearing off some good thing, either temporarily or permanently, but more often it will mean using good things, but in a way that’s reasonable and suited to their purposes.

At first one might think this was so obvious that it hardly needs stating. But apparently that isn’t so for large sectors of American society today. Granted the exceptions, ours on the whole is a very wealthy country where pampered self-indulgence is not only accepted but held up as an ideal.

Doubt that? Then spend a little time watching TV commercials, with their unabashed appeals to easy, instantaneous gratification, whether by drinking beer or driving a luxury automobile. Pope St. John Paul II called this state of mind and soul “superdevelopment” and said that in its own way it was “as harmful as excessive poverty.” Whatever you call it, it’s the mortal foe of temperance.

Intemperance is typical of children and of adults with childish temperaments. That suggests that acquiring temperance is a matter of formation, a part of growing up. And that means temperance and the behaviors associated with it can and should be taught. Teaching temperance is a central task of formation agents who include parents, churches, schools, and the media.

And there’s the rub. There is money—big money—to be made by exploiting intemperance, and the formation agents of American popular culture seem bent on making it. Find a way to change that, and we will have taken a giant step toward solving the national crisis of addiction.

Five Ways to Listen to God

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 22:02

God speaks to each one of us at every moment of our lives, according to the Psalmist: “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord” (Ps 95:7). What does God’s voice sound like? Here are five ways that the Lord speaks to us, which are also five ways that we can begin to prayerfully listen to him.

1. In silence

We need to be quiet to listen. To hear and recognize God’s voice requires us to put down what we are doing, cast our anxieties and troubles at God’s feet, and give our whole attention to him. When we are recollected in silence before God, we begin to hear his voice.

2. Through Scripture

“The word of God is living and effective” (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is not merely proclaimed to people in general. God speaks to you through the words of the Holy Scriptures, especially when they are proclaimed in the liturgy. “Get the dust off that Bible and redeem your poor soul!”

3. Through your conscience

When we examine our consciences, we listen for God’s voice: “Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment…His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths” (C.C.C., 1776).

4. Through the beauty of nature

Every creature bears the mark of the Creator. Through the wonders of nature, God speaks to us of his own infinite beauty.

5. Through other persons

“Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas). Of all the marvels of the universe, persons most resemble God in his infinite glory. When we interact with our friends, we are communing with people made in the image of God. What is the Lord saying to us through those whom we love?

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

“Faith dovetails with hope and

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 22:00

“Faith dovetails with hope and matures in charity. The life of faith is truly redemptive if there is hope for a future glory and a true friendship with God, which is charity. The work of Christian faith is charity, and the eternal expectation connected with it is hope.”

—Fr. Maurice Emelu, Our Journey to God

There are times when our sufferings

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 22:00

There are times when our sufferings seem too great, beyond our capacity to bear. When this happens, it may be easier to just give up. Thankfully God sends us people who can help and console us. Being part of Christ’s Church we receive great encouragement from fellow Christians to persevere in carrying the crosses in our life. This encouragement we receive gives us strength and inspires us to help those who need help. Paul speaks of this in the first reading.

In the Gospel reading, the Beatitudes give us values to aspire for. The Beatitudes give us hope to move forward in very difficult times and challenges. The Beatitudes promise light and joy at the end of sorrow and pains in this life.

All want to experience the joys of the heavenly kingdom: the Beatitudes tell us that heaven will be enjoyed by the poor in spirit, the gentle and merciful, the pure of heart and the peace-makers, and those persecuted for justice’s sake.

Do we want to be among the “fortunate” in the kingdom of God?

St. John of Sahagún

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 22:00

John, the oldest of seven children, was born in 1419 in Sahagún, León, Spain. His parents, the pious and respected John Gonzalez de Castrillo and Sancia Martinez, had him educated by the Benedictine monks of San Fagondez Monastery in their town. According to the custom of the times, his father procured for him the benefice (an ecclesiastical post guaranteeing a fixed income) of a neighboring parish, but this caused John many qualms of conscience.

When John was 20 years old, he was introduced to the bishop of Burgos who took a liking to him and not only had him educated at his own residence, but also gave him several more benefices, and, after ordaining him priest in 1445, made him canon at the cathedral. Out of conscientious respect for the laws of the Church, John soon resigned all his benefices except for the chaplaincy of St. Agatha in Burgos, where he worked zealously for the salvation of souls.

John later sought permission to study theology at the University of Salamanca, and after four years received his degree in divinity and began to preach. In the next decade he achieved a great reputation as a preacher and spiritual director, but after recovering from a serious illness, he applied for admission to the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine and made his solemn profession in 1464.

Because of his swift progress in the way of spiritual perfection, John was appointed master of novices, and in 1471 prior of the community. He held a great devotion for the Blessed Sacrament, and at Mass was privileged to see the bodily form of Christ at the moment of consecration. He also had the gift of reading souls, so that it was impossible to deceive him, and sinners were almost forced to make good confessions.

John fearlessly preached the word of God and spoke harshly against the crimes and vices of the day, despite the fact that this greatly offended many who were rich and powerful. He soon made many enemies who went so far as to hire assassins to kill him, but the would-be murderers lost courage when confronted with John’s serenity and angelic sweetness. Some women of Salamanca, outraged by his strong denunciation of extravagance in dress, openly insulted him in the streets and pelted him with stones until stopped by a patrol of guards.

Like John the Baptist, John’s fearless speech against sin and corruption may have brought about his own death: He died at Sahagún in 1479, possibly poisoned by the mistress of a man he had convinced to leave her.

Lessons

1. John could have lead a very comfortable, somewhat protected life if he had kept the benefices given him by his father and the bishop. But John knew that this was not right and sought not only to be obedient to the laws of the Church, but also to live in Christ-like poverty. May we too always seek to be more like Jesus, even if it means having to give up a comfortable existence.

2. John also spoke against evil and vice despite the fact that he made dangerous enemies in the process. Let us strive to be courageous as he was, for as our Lord tells us, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).

Other Saints We Remember Today

Sts. Basildes, Cyrinus, Nabor, & Nazarius (3rd Century), Martyrs

St. Guy (Vignotelli) of Cortona (303), Priest

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Sun, 06/11/2017 - 02:35

 

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Presence of God — “I return thanks to You, O God, one and true Trinity, one sovereign divinity, holy and indivisible unity” (Roman Breviary).

MEDITATION

From Advent until today, the Church has had us consider the magnificent manifestations of God’s mercy toward men: the Incarnation, the Redemption, Pentecost. Now she directs our attention to the source of these gifts, the most Holy Trinity, from whom everything proceeds. Spontaneously, there rises to our lips the hymn of gratitude expressed in the Introit of the Mass: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and undivided Unity; we will give glory to Him, because He has shown His mercy to us”: the mercy of God the Father, “who so loved the world that He gave it His only-begotten Son” (cf. John 3:16); the mercy of God the Son, who to redeem us became incarnate and died on the Cross; the mercy of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to come down into our hearts to communicate to us the charity of God and to make us participate in the divine life. The Church has very fittingly included in the Office for today the beautiful antiphon inspired by St. Paul: “Caritas Pater est, gratia Filius, communicatio Spiritus Sanctus, O beata Trinitas!”; the Father is charity, the Son is grace and the Holy Spirit is communication: applying this, the charity of the Father and the grace of the Son are communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, who diffuses them in our heart. The marvelous work of the Trinity in our souls could not be better synthesized. Today’s Office and Mass form a veritable paean of praise and gratitude to the Blessed Trinity; they are a prolonged Gloria Patri and Te Deum. These two hymns–one a succinct epitome, and the other a majestic alternation of praises–are truly the hymns for today, intended to awaken in our hearts a deep echo of praise, thanksgiving, and adoration.

COLLOQUY

“O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea in which the more I seek the more I find, and the more I find, the more I seek to know You. You fill us insatiably because the soul, before the abyss which You are, is always famished; and hungering for You, O eternal Trinity, it desires to behold truth in Your light. As the thirsty hart pants after the fount of living water, so does my soul long to leave this gloomy body and see You as You are, in truth.

“O unfathomable depth! O Deity eternal! O deep ocean! What more could You give me than to give me Yourself? You are an ever-burning Fire; You consume and are not consumed. By Your fire, You consume every trace of self-love in the soul. You are a Fire which drives away all coldness and illumines minds with its light, and with this light, You have made me know Your truth. Truly this light is a sea which feeds the soul until it is all immersed in You, O peaceful Sea, eternal Trinity! The water of this sea is never turbid; it never causes fear but gives knowledge of the truth. This water is transparent and discloses hidden things; and, a living faith gives such abundance of light that the soul almost attains to certitude in what it believes.

“You are the supreme and infinite Good, good above all good; good which is joyful, incomprehensible, inestimable; beauty exceeding all other beauty; wisdom surpassing all wisdom because You are Wisdom itself. Food of angels, giving Yourself with fire of love to men! You are the garment which covers our nakedness; You feed us, hungry as we are, with Your sweetness, because You are all sweetness with no bitterness. Clothe me, O eternal Trinity, clothe me with Yourself, so that I may pass this mortal life in true obedience and in the light of the most holy faith with which You have inebriated my soul” (St. Catherine of Siena).

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

Art for this post on the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: Stiftskirche Schlägl – Hochaltar 3CC BY-SA 3.0, 1728, Detail of Coronation of Mary by the Holy Trinity, Augustin Palme, 1845, uploaded by Xenophon, June 28, 2013, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, 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. Barnabas

Sat, 06/10/2017 - 22:00

Though not one of the twelve Apostles, St. Barnabas, along with St. Paul, was considered an Apostle and an important leader in the early Church. The Acts of the Apostles introduces him by saying, “There was a certain Levite from Cyprus named Joseph, to whom the Apostles gave the name ‘Barnabas’ (meaning ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a farm that he owned and made a donation of the money, laying it at the Apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37).

It was Barnabas who introduced Paul to Peter and the other Apostles; his acceptance of this former persecutor of Christianity helped the other Christians overcome their distrust of Paul. When the Church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas as an official representative to the newly-formed Christian community in Antioch, he had Paul accompany him. The two men instructed the Christians there for a year. Recognizing Paul and Barnabas as inspired leaders, the church in Antioch sent the two to preach to the Gentiles (non-Jews). At Barnabas’ insistence, they were accompanied by his cousin Mark (the eventual author of the gospel) — but the young man deserted them when the journey proved to be hazardous.

Paul and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus (Barnabas is regarded as the founder of the Church there) and throughout Greece. They had much success, though they also encountered opposition and persecution. When Paul refused to allow Mark to accompany them on a later missionary journey, Barnabas separated from Paul and took Mark with him to Cyprus; eventually all of them were reconciled. Little else is known about St. Barnabas, though one account states that he was martyred at the Cypriot port of Salamis.

Lessons

1. Encouraging other Christians in their faith is an important ministry; St. Barnabas — a true “son of encouragement” — provides a noble example of this truth.

2. Even Christians constantly need to be reconciled to one another. Barnabas and Paul split up over Mark’s earlier desertion, but all were eventually reunited in peace.

Blessed John Dominici (Bishop)

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 22:00

John Dominici was born into poverty in Florence around the year 1356. His childhood was marked by piety and devotion, and he could almost always be found praying in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella. When he was 15 years old, he attempted to join the Order of Preachers — or Dominicans, as they are more popularly known — but was originally rejected because of his lack of education and a severe speech impediment which would have made it impossible for him to carry out his vocation as a preacher. But by the time he was 17, the fathers relented and he was allowed to begin his novitiate. Found to be a superior student, John was sent to Paris to finish his studies in theology and Sacred Scripture.

The problem of his speech impediment was still an issue, however, and his superiors attempted to spare John embarrassment by assigning him to duties in the convent. John turned to prayer, invoking the intercession of St. Catherine of Siena who had just died, and he asked for a cure. Miraculously, the impediment disappeared, and John was thus able to begin preaching, eventually becoming one of the most famous of Dominican preachers.

John preached and taught throughout Italy for 12 years, then became prior of Santa Maria Novella where his vocation had begun. During this time, the plague known as the Black Death struck: Santa Maria Novella lost 77 friars within a few months; other convents fared even worse — the mortality rate being so high among the friars because of their unselfish aid to the sick and the dying. Because of the decimation of the order, many Dominicans felt the times called for a relaxing of the rule, and several houses began to operate accordingly. With permission of the master general of the order, Blessed Raymond of Capua, John took upon himself the task of correcting this laxity and bringing the Order of Preachers back to its first fervor.

He began his work with a foundation at Fiesole; among his first novices were young Antoninus of Florence (see May 10) as well as two brothers, gifted artists who became known as Fra Angelico and Fra Benedetto. Soon the house at Fiesole, and others modeled upon it, could be described as the first houses of the order were: “Homes of Angels.”

Pope Gregory XII made John his counselor and in 1408 named him archbishop of Ragusa and later cardinal of San Sisto. John was one of those who convinced Gregory to resign the papacy in order to end the Western Schism, and so the groundwork was laid for the election of a new and acceptable candidate, Pope Martin V. John himself resigned his cardinalate to clear himself of accusations that his actions were motivated by political ambition.

Martin V appointed John legate to Bohemia and Hungary to combat the heresies of the Hussites, but John died from a fever on June 10, 1419, soon after his arrival in Hungary. He was buried in the Church of Saint Paul the Hermit in Buda. Many miracles were worked at his tomb before it was destroyed by the Turks.

Lessons

1. John Dominici felt called to join the Order of Preachers, and he pursued his calling despite the seeming impossibility of his situation: his severe speech impediment and his lack of education. His persistence and trust in God — and in the intercession of the saints — should inspire any of us facing difficulties, physical or otherwise, to always keep our confidence in God, for whom all things are possible.

2. John played an important part as a healer of the great division in the Church known as the Western Schism. Let us all follow his example and create unity wherever we find divisiveness, for, as our Lord has said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house can never stand” (Mark 3:25).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Margaret of Scotland (1093), Queen

St. Landericus (Landry) (661), Bishop of Paris

Forgiveness and Mercy

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 22:07

In the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus tells me that if my brother offends me seven times a day, and seven times comes to me and says he is sorry, then I must forgive him (Luke 17:4).

But in the Gospel of St. Matthew, when Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother seven times when he was offended, the Master answered, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:22).

The first counsel in Luke demands forgiveness as often as forgiveness is asked. The second brings me up to a higher plane and requires me to have mercy of heart even when forgiveness is not asked.

In the Lord’s prayer that Jesus gave me, He requests that I be forgiven by God in the same way I forgive my brother.

It seems then that the matter of forgiveness is clear; God expects me to forgive in my words, in my heart, and in my deeds.

In My Words

This article is from Mother Angelica on Christ and Our Lady. Click image to order.

When I see my brother has acquired a sinful habit, Jesus said I must reprove him and if he is sorry and says so, I must forgive.

There are times when a neighbor may offend me and not know it.

I must have the courage to bring this to his attention, not so much because of the offense done to me but because this fault in him may offend God and make him unChristlike.

When he says he is sorry, I must be very quick to forgive and do so as often as he says he is sorry.

It takes humility to ask forgiveness and I cannot respond with pride by not forgiving.

Humility is the requisite for both asking forgiveness, and accepting repentance.

This is where I need empathy and self-knowledge.

I must put myself in my neighbor’s shoes, take upon myself his personality, understand his dispositions, and know that I would be capable of the same fault were I in his place.

I am very quick to forgive and excuse myself because I know the motives for my actions. Since I do not know my brother’s interior dispositions, I must give him the benefit of the doubt in the same way as I do myself.

Even though I may not be as weak as my brother is in many areas, I must remember I also have my faults and he, too, must forgive me many times.

Since asking forgiveness is a requisite for being forgiven, I must be ready to say I am sorry when I offend my brother.

The account in St. Luke requires that I gently correct, forgive when asked, and seek forgiveness myself by an acknowl­edgement of my offenses.

When my neighbor refuses to admit an offense or ask for­giveness, then I must have recourse to the next counsel and develop the disposition of . . .

Mercy of the Heart

As Jesus hung on the Cross, He asked His Father to forgive His enemies because they did not know what they were doing.

They had not asked forgiveness and neither were many of them conscious they had done anything wrong. The people were deluded by the priests and Pharisees, and the soldiers were following the orders of Pilate. The centurion was enlightened only after he pierced Jesus’ side.

Although Jesus suffered intensely, many of those responsible were sincere and thought they were doing a service to God.

Jesus could and did ask forgiveness for them even though He suffered at their hands.

His forgiveness was from His Heart, prompted by love, mercy, and understanding.

I may not be called upon to exercise mercy in that degree, but there are many times in my life when I can forgive and forget because my offenders have no idea of the cross they have placed on my shoulders.

A brother must be forgiven and treated as a friend because he has given me the opportunity to be like my Father in Heaven who lets His sun rise and shine on the just and the unjust.

God has used my brother’s frailties to give me the oppor­tunity to be like Jesus — merciful and forgiving.

It does not always follow that my brother and I will ever be bosom friends. But it does mean I wish him well, pray for him, and hold no grudge or resentment.

Sometimes personalities clash, and all the good will I can muster does not change the situation. Here I need to pray for the Gift of Counsel to discern the course I should take, and for mercy that I may lovingly forgive.

Then it is that I will have that disposition of soul so necessary to say the Lord’s prayer with sincerity and portray . . .

Forgiveness by My Deeds

It is difficult after forgiving an injury to forget the incident entirely, and yet, this is exactly the kind of forgiveness I expect and hope for from God.

I want my faults and sins to be erased from the Book of Life, and I rely on His Mercy to do so.

He will do exactly that, but He asks in return that I do the same to my brother.

He gave me the parable about the man whose master for­gave him a debt of nine million dollars, and who in turn would not forgive a fellow servant a debt of less than fifteen dollars (Mat. 18:23-35).

I must keep this in mind when my brother offends me — a finite, sinful creature — and when I offend God — Infinite and All-Holy.

This does not mean my brother has a right to offend me, but it does mean that I must not exaggerate that offense out of proportion, be unforgiving and never forget.

I may be deeply hurt and my brother unjust, but I am only asked by God to forgive as He forgives me.

As with love, so with mercy; I am able to render to my neighbor what I cannot render to God — mercy and forgiveness.

When God forgives me He always gives me some token of that forgiveness. It may be a light-hearted feeling or more grace to overcome myself the next time.

His Goodness is so great and His Mercy so infinite that He rejoices over my repentance and treats me as a long-lost son.

Jesus manifested this Attribute of the Father by the parable of the Prodigal Son and said that even the Angels rejoice over my repentance (Lk. 15:11-32).

This forgiving is a trait I too must acquire. I must give my brother some sign that I rejoice in his repentance.

Perhaps a smile, a handshake are sufficient, or some token of my continued confidence in him as a person — making him realize I do not think less of him because of his offense.

Forgiveness and Mercy

I may make my brother something or purchase a gift, but if circumstances prevent me from doing this, I can at least give him the gift of my love, mercy, and kindness.

Prayer

Just and Holy God, whose mercy is higher than the heavens, grant me the grace to forgive by my words, heart, and deeds. I desire to be like Jesus and to hold no resentments or grudges. I put all my friends and enemies in Your loving hands.

Scripture

Forgive your neighbor the hurt he does you, and when you pray your sins will be forgiven. If a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord? Showing no pity for a man like himself, can he then plead for his own sins?

Mere creature of flesh, he cherishes resentment; who will forgive him his sins?

Remember the last things and stop hating, remember dissolution and death, and live by the Commandments.

Remember the Commandments, and do not bear your neighbor ill will;

Remember the Covenant of the Most High, and overlook the offense. (Sir. 28: 2-7)

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica on Christ and Our Lady, which is available through Sophia Institute Press. 

Trinity Sunday: Is it Relevant?

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 22:05

Many are ready to give a polite nod of some sort to Jesus of Nazareth.  Most honor him as a great moral teacher.  Many even confess him as Savior.  But the Incarnation of the Eternal God?  Second person of the Holy Trinity?  God can’t be one and three at the same time.  Such a notion is at worst illogical, at best meaningless.  “This was all invented by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 313 AD,” scoff a motley crew ranging from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the fans of the Da Vinci Code.

Of course this charge has no historical leg to stand on.  St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven brief letters around 110AD in which he called Jesus “God” 16 times.

True, the word “Trinity” is not in the bible.  But everywhere the New Testament refers to three distinct persons who seem to be equally divine, yet one (see 2 Cor. 13:13).  So over 100 years before Constantine, a Christian writer named Tertullian coined the term “Trinity” as a handy way to refer to this reality of three distinct, equal persons in one God.  It stuck.

But if the doctrine of the Trinity is authentically biblical, is it relevant?  Does it really matter?

If Christianity were simply a religion of keeping the law, the inner life of the lawgiver would not matter.  But if Christianity is about personal relationship with God, then who God really is matters totally.  Common sense tells us that some supreme being made the universe and that we owe Him homage.  But that this creator is a trinity of persons who invites us to intimate friendship with Himself—this we never could have guessed.  We only know it because God has revealed it.

God is love, says 1 John 4:8 (see too John 3:16).  If God were solitary, how could he have been love before he created the world?  Who would there have been to love?  Jesus reveals a God who is eternally a community of three persons pouring themselves out in love for one another.  The Father does not at some moment create the Son and then later, through the Son, create the Spirit.  No, the Father eternally generates the Son.  And with and through the Son, this Father eternally “breathes” the Spirit as a sort of personalized sigh of love.  “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.”  That’s what the conclusion of the Glory Be really means, that the self-giving of the three divine persons did not begin at a moment in time, but was, is, and is to come.

If we are truly to “know” our God, we must know this.

But if we are ever to understand ourselves, we must also know this.  For we were made in the image and likeness of God, and God is a community of self-donating love.  That means that we can never be happy isolated from others, protecting ourselves from others, holding ourselves back selfishly from others.  Unless we give ourselves in love, we can never be fully human.  And unless we participate in the life of God’s people, we can never be truly Christian either.  Because Christianity is about building up the community of divine love which is called the Church.  If God is Trinity, then there really is no place for free-lance, lone-ranger Christians.

The family, the domestic Church, is a reflection of trinitarian love – the love of husband and wife, distinct and very different persons, generates the child who is from them but is nonetheless distinct from them, indeed absolutely unique.

And that is the final point.  One of the greatest treasures of Western culture is the concept of the uniqueness and dignity of the individual person.  You really don’t find this idea in the ancient societies of Greece and Rome or in other great world religions, such as Islam.

The concept of the irreplaceable uniqueness of each person came into Western culture straight from the doctrine of the Trinity, three who possess the exact same divine nature but who are yet irreplaceably unique in their personhood.

The irony?  As it progressively abandons the triune God, the Western world is undermining the very foundation of personal dignity, individuality, and freedom.

So yes, the Trinity does matter.

image: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

St. Ephrem the Syrian (Deacon and Doctor)

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 22:05

St. Ephrem (306?-373) was a Syrian poet and theologian. He was born in the Mesopotamian city of Nisibis; because of his Christian sympathies, his pagan father forced him to leave home. Ephrem was baptized a Christian, and became famous as a teacher. In 363 the Christian emperor was forced to cede Nisibis to the Persians. Ephrem, along with many other Christians, thereupon migrated to Edessa (in modern-day Iraq), where he soon gained a reputation for scholarship, especially in the Scriptures.

Ephrem was ordained a deacon, though he later declined to be ordained to the priesthood. (According to one legend, he was also nominated as a bishop later in life. Feeling himself unworthy of this honor, he avoided it by feigning madness.) The Church in the fourth century was divided by many heresies and controversies. Ephrem opposed false teachings and forcefully upheld true Catholic doctrine.

His unique and effective approach involved writing hymns against the heretics of the day; he would take popular songs of such groups and, using their melodies, compose very beautiful hymns expressing true doctrine. Ephrem was one of the first to introduce sung music into Christian worship, thereby continuing a venerable Old Testament and New Testament tradition (and gaining a reputation as “The Lyre of the Holy Spirit”).

Ephrem also composed many other religious works, and after his death his writings were translated into Greek, Latin, and Armenian. In spite of his great fame, he maintained a simple and unpretentious lifestyle, living in a small cave outside Edessa. He died in 373, and in 1920 was declared a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. Jesus once said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Mt 10:37). St. Ephrem was willing to give up his earthly family in order to belong to the family of God.

2. It’s been said that “whoever sings, prays twice.” Music and singing are powerful ways of expressing emotions — and Ephrem realized they can be a valuable form of worship and of proclaiming the truth.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Sts. Primus & Felician (297), Martyrs

St. Columba (Columbkille) (597), Abbott

Scripture Speaks: Trinity Sunday

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 22:02

On this first Sunday after Pentecost, the Church calls us to remember the Most Holy Trinity.  Why is this perfect timing?

Gospel (Read Jn 3:16-18)

Today’s Gospel is different from any we have seen during the long seasons of Lent and Easter.  On Sunday after Sunday, the Gospels have reported actions of Jesus.  They have been passages full of conversations and events that moved His story along, culminating in His Ascension into Heaven and His promise to send the Holy Spirit.  Today, however, St. John gives us a kind of summary of this.  It is simple, but what a sweep it has!  Read the first verse carefully so as not to miss its impact through familiarity:  “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  If we understand the scope of this statement, we will know why it is perfectly fitting that today is Trinity Sunday.

“God so loved the world” inevitably takes us all the way back to Creation, where we first meet “God” and “the world.”  Why does God love the world so much?  We can’t fully answer this without figuring out why He made the world in the first place.  As we read through the first few chapters of Genesis, the one thing we immediately grasp is that the physical world exists as a home for the crown of creation:  man and woman.  In a brief but remarkably important verse, we see God’s intention for mankind:  “Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” (Gen 1:26).  Surely this doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know about our creation, but it tells us what we most need to know.  God, the “Us” in this verse, wants man to be like Him.  First, notice the paradox.  There is plurality in the language of singularity.  There is only one God creating the universe, but this God is “Us.”  Mysterious!  It will take a very long time for the meaning of this paradox to be made clear.  Next, implicit in this statement is an invitation.  Why make man in “Our” image and likeness if not to welcome him into the communion and fellowship of “Us”?  This is vital information.  If man is made in the image of the God Who is “Us,” then man is made for communion with the “Us” of God.  In addition, we find in the next chapter of Genesis that “it is not good” that man should be alone (Gen 2:18).  This was the only thing in creation pronounced “not good” by God.  It makes perfect sense, however.  If we are like the God Who is “Us,” then we are meant for communion with other beings like us.  This would be a true reflection of being in God’s image.

As we read on in Genesis, we find that God’s plan was seriously interrupted by man’s disobedience.   Adam and Eve’s willfulness broke their communion with God and with each other.  They incurred God’s just punishment, but because “God so loved the world,” He made them a promise.  A “woman” and her “seed” would someday do battle with the Enemy who seduced them into rebellion.  In the meantime, they were expelled from the Garden, but it was not destroyed.  That hinted at the possibility of a return.

So, very early on, the stage is set for the drama of salvation that needs the rest of history to unfold.  We began to explore that history in Advent, when we discovered that a young girl in Nazareth was “the woman” promised by God, and her “seed” was Jesus, God’s own Son, Who existed from the beginning but became a Man in the Incarnation.  The “Us” of Genesis is beginning to take shape.  Lent and Easter rehearsed the truly unimaginable history of God’s Son dying in our place to lift the punishment pronounced on us (as children of Adam) in the Garden.  He experienced God’s just judgment for us, and in His Resurrection, He defeated Satan, sin, and death in one fell swoop.  Then, in a move no one could have predicted, when He ascended into Heaven, King Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to complete the long-standing intention of God at Creation.  It is the Holy Spirit, God’s own life in us, Who makes it possible for man to step into the fellowship for which he was made, not only with the “Us” of God, now fully revealed to be God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but also with one another.  Wow!

This history helps us more fully understand St. John’s summary statement about God’s love.  We know the great heights from which man fell in the Garden and the dramatic response from God—sending His only Son—to restore us.  Jesus came to save, not condemn.  The condemnation on sin already rested on man from the Garden.  It didn’t appear in man’s history at the Incarnation.  Believing in Jesus will save man from sin’s judgment.  That is why St. John says, “Whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God.”

“God so loved the world” that He did everything necessary for us to know and love Him back, a work accomplished, at various times in human history, by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Now that the story is complete, it is the perfect time to say, “Blessed be the Most Holy Trinity today!”

Possible response:  Blessed Trinity, thank You for all You have done to welcome me into Your fellowship for eternity.  I was made for this.

First Reading (Read Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9)

Having reviewed the scope of salvation in our Gospel reading, we can now examine one piece of the vast history that led St. John to write, “God so loved the world.”  Here we find ourselves on Mt. Sinai, as Moses returns to the LORD’s presence after Israel’s apostasy with the golden calf.  In his fury at seeing for himself the orgiastic rebellion of God’s people, Moses threw the first set of the tablets of God’s Law down, shattering them in a prophetic demonstration of what the people had done by their disobedience.  Moses interceded on their behalf, however, and God accepted his mediation.  Now, Moses takes another set of tablets into the LORD’s presence so that He can write His Law on them a second time for His people.

Not included in today’s reading is Moses’ request that God do more than re-write the tablets:  “Moses said, ‘I pray Thee, show me Thy glory” (Ex 33:18).  Even with Moses’ long friendship with God, his heart’s desire was for “more,” as it should be for us, too.  God grants his request, passing by him as he was protected in the cleft of a rock.  In a very rare self-description, God identifies Himself as mercy, grace, patience, kindness, and faithfulness.  Notice in this encounter the shadowy suggestion of the Trinity:  “Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses.”  God in Heaven (the Father) comes down in a cloud (the Spirit), and stands, passing by like a man (the Son).  When Moses experiences this, he “bowed down to the ground in worship,” as we are called to do on Trinity Sunday.  Look carefully at Moses’ request for God’s wayward people:  “…do come along in our company.  This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as Your own.”  What is he asking?

Moses wants communion, nearness, physical proximity for God and Israel, the very thing for which we were made.  He acknowledges the problem caused by sin (resolved by Jesus, hundreds of years later), and longs for Israel to be God’s own children (accomplished by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost).  Not even Moses, who knew God so well, could have imagined how this prayer would ultimately be answered.  Because we do, we have yet another reason to say, “Blessed be the Most Holy Trinity today!”

Possible response:  Blessed Trinity, I ask of You, for myself and the Church, what Moses asked on Sinai:  “Do come along in our company” this day.

Psalm (Read Dan 3:52-55)

If our readings are getting us cranked up to bless the Holy Trinity today, this hymn of praise from the Book of Daniel gives us perfect words to do it.  Its lines contain an increasing intensification of what we know God’s love for the world should call forth from us:  “Glory and praise forever!”

Possible response:  Blessed Trinity, I can feel in these words the ecstasy of Your reign over all creation.  Help me keep this vision!  It dims for me sometimes.

Second Reading (Read 2 Cor 13:11-13)

This epistle reading, with amazing brevity, helps us to see the practical application of the work of the Holy Trinity on our behalf.  Imagine if we asked of St. Paul, “What difference does the doctrine of the Trinity make to my daily life?”  Good question!  Here is his answer.  Let us savor every simple phrase:  Brothers and sisters, rejoice (the only appropriate response to the work of the Trinity).  Mend your ways (Jesus has conquered sin and given us His Spirit; live in that victory).  Encourage… agree… live in peace…greet each other with a holy kiss (live the unity won for us by the Trinity).   The God of love and peace will be with you (Moses’ request for God’s presence among His people has been accomplished by the Trinity).  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (Blessed be the Most Holy Trinity today!).

Possible response:  Read the epistle again—it IS our response.

image: Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

“Fatherhood is a vocation in God&

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 22:00

“Fatherhood is a vocation in God’s service to be not held lightly or frivolously, but with the serious determination of serious men.”

-Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik, The Catholic Family Handbook

In the first reading we hear about God&

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading we hear about God’s kindness in restoring the sight of Tobit through Raphael.

Tobit was blind but was healed by the Lord through Archangel Raphael. Sometimes, we need to be “blinded” in order to see. Trials will come, but they are allowed by the Lord in order to purify us. The Book of Tobit is a beautiful narration of the fidelity of God, in all challenges and difficulties encountered. We will not see the face of God if it were not for these sufferings. Christ said if we want to be his disciple, we should learn to carry our crosses and to lean on him.

The Theology of Christopher Nolan

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 02:35

The following post is written by Julie Jessmon, a student at the Avila Institute’s School of Spiritual Formation. Julie has taken 6 courses in the School of Spiritual Formation including the upcoming course, “Batman and the Theology of Christopher Nolan.” Read on to find out what she learned in this course that impacted her life. You can apply to take the course today.

Healing Interior Wounds at the Avila Institute

“Whether the professors were aware or not, the Avila Institute was part of saving my life, along with raising my Faith to a whole new level. I have been taken on a journey. Before I could even enter my own Interior Castle to explore the inner dwellings of my wounded soul with the Holy Spirit as my protector and my guide, I had to fight my way through the warring arena of normal secular life. I was desperately holding off both my inner and outer demons, which were like maniacal lions working at all cost to blind my eyes to the gate that said, ‘Run to Me to leave this behind’. The professors here were some of the many field medics and guides that helped to lift the gate so I could slide my brutalized body under it. They assisted in dressing my wounds while giving me the ‘Interior Medicine’ that I needed to begin healing the spiritual bleeding that has been corroding my Interior Hallways.

“One of the six courses I have taken at the Avila Institute was Batman and the Theology of Christopher Nolan. This course helped unwrap my bandaged eyes so that they could see the sacred beauty all around me, even in modern art media. Incorporating Saint John Paul II’s ‘Call to Artists’, this course helped clean out my old wounds from the notion that Christ does not spiritually preside in this world. The course allowed for the arrow of His love to pierce my sufferings and release the antiseptic that revitalized my soul and transformed my interior life.

Batman and The Theology of Christopher Nolan Offered this Summer at the Avila Institute

“Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul … artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption” – Saint John Paul II

“Saint Pope John Paul II’s words reflect the very essence of how Nolan reveals the Crucifixion of Christ through his Batman movies. By doing so, he translates the Gospel message into a language that is comprehensive to the countless wounded individuals that reside in our current society. It pushes both Christians and non-Christians alike to walk alongside characters that are fighting for the lives of others so that they too can begin their journey of redemption. This class challenges the modern Christian to see how different artistic platforms can be used to evangelize and hopefully redefine the sacred beauty that is given through God’s Love. It encourages us to step out of what we deem as ‘safe’, both artistically and evangelically, and to reach out further into the depths of society so they too can experience the Love that Christ poured out for us with His blood. We must embrace these unconventional artists as a Christian community and watch the fruits unfold as people stare at these modern symbolisms of Batman when he is pinned down by a large beam across his chest or is scourged repeatedly by his enemy as Catwoman weeps. It pushes the Crucifixion into the modern age. The question is whether we are ready to be open to it. Once I realized this, I knew there was no turning back to how I viewed the beauty that resides in our very own Liturgy. It made me see my interior life in a whole new light.”

“Batman and the Theology of Christopher Nolan” taught by John Johnson, begins Friday, July 14th at 8:30 Eastern time. If this post has peaked your curiosity, consider applying to take the course at the School of Spiritual Formation. The Avila Institute provides a variety of courses designed to help the faithful in the interior life. Other upcoming summer courses include “The History of Catholic Spirituality” and “Discernment of Spirits with Dan Burke”. It is free to apply, and each course costs $150. The Avila Institute makes an effort to provide scholarships on a need-basis. To see a full list of upcoming courses, visit our webpage.


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Photographs of Julie Jessmon, John Johnson, used with permission.

About Dylan Jedlovec

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

 

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

Community: Liturgy and Radical Individualism

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:07

Lingering incense from liturgy the night before mixed with the smell of fresh flowers that decorate the empty tomb; bright lights filling the small chapel; the sanctuary veil swept aside, the holy doors flung wide open. These are the first things I experience when arriving for Agape Vespers on Pascha evening. Everyone in the chapel is that tired-to-your-bones exhausted after midnight services and all-night feasting, the kind of tired that reminds us: you are alive and life is full of joy because Christ is risen!

The highlight of this Vespers service is the Gospel reading which is the story of Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples after His resurrection. It is read in as many languages that can be spoken by the people present. The readers can be non-ordained laity (the only time this is allowed), and they read from different areas of the church to emphasize the Good News of the Resurrection being spread throughout the world.

After hearing the Gospel in Greek, Latin, Gaelic, Spanish, Ukrainian, and English, the symbolic meaning of this hit me once we sat down for dinner.  There with my husband, the monks, and a few visitors, I looked around the room and I was struck by just what a motley crew we were.
The small community of believers I belong to truly is a microcosm of the Church. It isn’t uncommon to have people of all the vocations (including a large number of children!) praying and enjoying a meal together. People of different traditions: East and West, Catholic, Orthodox, sometimes Protestant, all come to visit. The regular members are from various countries around the world and different states of the U.S. which means we also have quite a mix of personalities in a room even when we are a small crowd.

Because of my experience among such Christians, I want to share with you the insight I have gained over the past twenty years of striving to live a Christ-centered and community-centered life. Thanks to Rod Dreher and his book The Benedict Option, there is a lot of discussion about the need for Christians to live more community-centered lives. I don’t belong to an intentional community, though we certainly live with intention as Christians.  I live in a small, Midwestern village where I regularly worship at a humble monastery from the Romanian Eastern-Catholic diocese having its seat in Canton, Ohio. The East is where the birth of Christian monasticism happened and where Saint Benedict, the founder of monasticism in the West, drew his inspiration. It’s the cenobitic monasteries people are looking to for direction as they discuss community life; a hot topic even outside of the Church as people are feeling the effects of losing the “front porch”connection. The breaking down of the family has left no one unharmed. As Christians, we have ancient wisdom on our side to these modern dilemmas.

The Answer to Radical Individualism

My American-grown, individualistic take on the world was turned upside down when I became a wife, mother, and practicing Catholic; even more so when I started regularly attending liturgy at Holy Resurrection Monastery. Before this, my Christianity was only about “me and Jesus.” I did not understand what it meant that I was a part of the “Body of Christ.”  I did not know the depth of our interconnectedness.
We were not meant to travel through this world alone, and we are not even capable of doing so. We need community; we need communion; we need one another whether we like it or not–we cannot survive this world alone.

Community defines us because the Holy Trinity is a community–a communion of three persons making one God. We are made in the image and likeness of God.  We are called to live in community (or communion) with one another. We are one and united by stronger bonds than our sinfulness or desire for individual “freedom” could ever break: It is Christ who unites us.

Adam, Eve, and their children were the first community. The effects of sin within the first relationships were felt early on, and we have repeated the same sinful cycle. The struggle to live in communion with one another is the struggle humans have had since the Garden of Eden! So this conversation isn’t new it is just resurfacing as we are facing persecution across the world, a radical change in morality, and the breaking down of the family in modern times.

The fact that we have struggled with communion since Adam and Eve should not make us despair. It is true that broken families, friendships, communities, and broken hearts are proof of how often we fail at communion with each other. This understandably leads us to think ‘Why bother trying?’ So instead, we build walls to keep people out, we fulfill our obligations and go home, we keep people at a safe distance, and all the while we feel lonely, depressed, suffer from anxiety and can’t understand why. Our hope, however, lies in Christ alone and the union we already have with each other.

In my struggles of understanding these things, I am often surprised at how all this communion and grace works. Most of the graces come quietly, slowly over the years, and where least expected. Many of the graces come from years of growth together which means years of annoyances and conflict at times. After all, in a community we work out our salvation, so you better believe it is not always pretty.

When you are among a group of Christians who are striving after holiness, the evil one and his demons will be there trying to wreak havoc in any way possible. Of course, it is our sin that will cause the most trouble because living in community is a lot like family life: It is a mirror. Interacting with the same people year after year in normal life will show you your sins. You will know your brokenness, and you will not be able to run from it or get comfortable where you are. Community is the mirror we all need to shatter our egos and the false image of ourselves we’ve created. The good news is, a healthy community is also a refuge; a place to be loved and accepted while wrestling with your own demons. It is the path to true freedom if we commit to doing the hard work.

The actions of the Church over and over again emphasize that we are not primarily individuals. We are connected to each other–past, present, and future in the sacramental life of the Church. We need to understand these truths in our souls (not only our intellects), so we can arrange our lives according to the reality we are already living.

When we are baptized, we do not come to the door alone asking for entrance. We have sponsors. If we are a baby, it is the faith of our parents and godparents that allow us to pass through the waters. In Confession, the priest represents Christ and the rest of the members of the Church. Why? Because when we sin we are most definitely not harming only ourselves but the entire body. If you break your foot, your entire body will feel pain and be affected by the break. So it is with our “individual” sins. We do nothing alone in this world.

Holy Communion is the family meal, it is not received alone and is the same Eucharist that has been received and will be received by anyone who will ever partake of the Eucharist! Perfect communion is the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The eternal dance of agape. We must remember we are made in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity.

If you visit the beautiful little chapel where I go for Liturgy, you will see the motley crew I mentioned. If you hang out long enough, you will understand things are not perfect around there because we are all sinful people. I know if you can see past our faults, you will also see a deep love and commitment to one another. The foundation of this love is the liturgical life of the monastery, the life of prayer and asceticism.

Through the liturgical life of the Church, we learn how to love as God has called us. We learn we must forgive before we receive the Eucharist. We get glimpses of how our Father sees each one of us so that we can see our brother in the same light. We see the work of the Holy Spirit moving among us. If anyone wants to seriously undertake the calling to build close community, they must begin with the liturgy.

The perfect antidote to radical individualism is worshipping together at Divine Liturgy where we pray as the one body of Christ and receive Him in communion. From our prayers and actions, we can learn what it means that we are one. It is from Divine Liturgy that we learn how to live as Christians in the world. We are sent out to the world, not to hide our light, but sent forth to live the truths we just participated in. All of life finds meaning in the worship of God during Divine Liturgy. Or as a friend Marco da Vinha wrote, “…part of our current crisis of faith is the inability to look at things liturgically. We do not see our lives as liturgy.”

Oil Lamps and Life in the Spirit

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ii] from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Eternal Wedding Plan

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:02

Wedding season hath begun.

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

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

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

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

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

Only in heaven will the marriage be the wedding feast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When praying to God, we can only

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:00

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

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

In the first reading, Tobias is married

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 22:00

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

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

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

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

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.