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Reflecting on the Sign of the Cross

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 02:35

The Sign of the Cross is a Christian ceremony that represents the Passion of our Lord by tracing the shape of the Cross with a simple motion.

It is a ceremony, I say, and here is what is meant by that term. A skillful manager assigns to each of his subordinates his proper task, making all of them useful, not only those who are vigorous and energetic, but also those who are less so. Similarly, the virtue of religion, hav­ing for its proper and natural work to render to God the honor that is His due, draws up each of our virtuous ac­tions into its own work by directing them all to the honor of God. Religion makes use of faith, constancy, and tem­perance for the good deeds of testimony, martyrdom, and fasting. These actions are already virtuous and good in themselves; religion merely directs them to its particular intention, which is to give honor to God. Yet not only does religion make use of actions that are in themselves good and useful; it also employs actions that are indiffer­ent or even entirely useless. In this regard the virtue of re­ligion is like that good man in the Gospel (Matt. 20:6–7) who hires the lazy and those for whom others had found no use to work in his vineyard.

Indifferent actions would remain useless if religion did not employ them, but once put to work by it, they become noble, useful, and holy, and henceforth capable of earning their daily wage. This right of ennobling ac­tions which if left to themselves would be only common and indifferent belongs to religion, the princess of the virtues. It is a sign of her sovereignty. It is religion alone that makes use of such actions, which are — and are prop­erly called — ceremonies as soon as they enter into her service. Truly, inasmuch as the whole man with all of his actions and belongings ought to give honor to God, and inasmuch as he is composed of soul and body, interior and exterior, and in the exterior there are indifferent actions, it is no wonder that religion — having the duty to sum­mon man to pay this tribute — demands and receives in payment exterior actions, indifferent and bodily though they be.

Let us consider the world at its birth. Abel and Cain made their offerings (Gen. 4:3–4). What virtue called upon them to make these offerings if not religion? A little while later, the world came forth from the ark as from its cradle, and without a moment’s delay an altar was arranged and several animals were immolated upon it in a holocaust whose sweet odor was received by God (Gen. 8:18–21). In train there followed the sacrifices of Abraham (Gen. 12:8; 13:18; 22:13), Melchizedek (14:18), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (28:18; 33:20; 35:14), and the change and washing of the clothes associated with it (35:2–3). The greater part of the Law of Moses was taken up with ceremonies. Let us now come to the Gospel. How many ceremonies do we see there in our sacraments (Luke 22; John 3), in the healing of the blind (Mark 8), the raising of the dead (John 11:35–44), and the wash­ing of the Apostles’ feet (John 13:4–5)?

Some will say that in these things God did what He pleased and that no consequences for our practice can be inferred from them. Yet here is St. John baptizing (Mark 1:4), and St. Paul having his hair cut in accord with a vow (Acts 18:18) and then praying on his knees with the church in Miletus (Acts 20:36). All of these actions would have been sterile and fruitless in themselves, but employed in the work of religion they became honorable and effica­cious ceremonies.

Now here is what I have to say: the Sign of the Cross of itself has neither strength, nor power, nor any quality that merits honor, and, furthermore, I confess that “God does not work by figures or characters alone,” as the au­thor of one treatise says, and that “in natural things the power proceeds from the essence and quality of the thing, while in supernatural things God works by a miraculous power that is not attached either to signs or to figures.” But I also know that God, in making use of His miracu­lous power, very often employs signs, ceremonies, figures, and characters, without attaching His power to those things. Moses touching the rock with his staff (Exod. 17:6, Num. 20:11), Elisha striking the water with Elijah’s coat (2 Kings 2:14), the sick having recourse to St. Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15), to St. Paul’s handkerchiefs (Acts 19:12), or to the robe of our Lord (Matt. 14:36), and the Apostles anointing the sick with oil (Mark 6:13): what were these other than pure ceremonies, which had no natural power and were nevertheless employed unto miraculous ends? Is it necessary for us to say that the power of God was tied down and bound to these ceremonies? On the contrary, it would be more fitting to say that the power of God, by making use of so many different signs and ceremonies, shows that it is not bound to any one of them alone.

Our Five Points

Five points have thus far been made. First, the Sign of the Cross is a ceremony. In its natural quality a cross-like motion has nothing in it that is either good or evil, praiseworthy or blameworthy. How many times is such a motion made by weavers, painters, tailors, and others, whom nobody honors or troubles for it? It is the same with the cross-like shapes and figures that we see in ev­eryday images, windows, and buildings: these crosses are not directed to the honor of God or to any religious use. Yet when this sign is employed so as to give honor to God, even though it be indifferent in itself, it becomes a holy ceremony, one that God uses to many good ends.

Second, this ceremony is Christian. The Cross, to­gether with all that it represents, is folly to the pagans and a scandal to the Jews. Under the Old Law and under the law of nature, the death of the Messiah was heralded in different ways, but these signs were only shadows and confused, obscure marks compared with those we now use, and, moreover, they were not the ordinary ceremonies of the Old Law. The pagans and other infidels have also sometimes made use of this sign, but as something bor­rowed, as a sign not of their religion but of ours, and in this way the traitor himself confesses that the Sign of the Cross is a mark of Christianity.

Third, this ceremony represents the Passion. In truth, this is its first and chief end — that upon which all the others depend and which serves to differentiate it from several other Christian ceremonies that serve to repre­sent other mysteries.

Fourth, it represents the Passion by making a simple motion, which is what differentiates the Sign of the Cross from the Eucharist. For the Eucharist represents the Pas­sion by the perfect identity of the one who is offered in it and the one who was offered on the Cross, which is none other than the same Jesus Christ. The Sign of the Cross, however, represents the Passion by a simple motion that reproduces the form and shape of the Crucifixion.

Fifth, the Sign of the Cross consists in a motion, which is what differentiates it from permanent signs, engraved or marked out in enduring materials.

Making the Sign of the Cross

As a rule, the Sign of the Cross is made in the follow­ing way. It is made with the right hand, which, as Justin Martyr says, is esteemed the more worthy of the two. It is made either with three fingers, in order to signify the Blessed Trinity, or five, in order to signify the Savior’s five wounds; and although it does not much matter whether one makes the Sign of the Cross with more or fewer fingers, still one may wish to conform to the com­mon practice of Catholics in order not to seem to agree with certain heretics, such as the Jacobites and the Ar­menians, who each make it with one finger alone, the former in denial of the Trinity and the latter in denial of the two natures of Christ.

The Christian first lifts his hand toward his head while saying, “In the name of the Father,” in order to show that the Father is the first person of the Blessed Trinity and the principle and origin of the others. Then, he moves his hand downward toward the stomach while saying, “and of the Son,” in order to show that the Son proceeds from the Father, who sent Him here below into the Virgin’s womb. Finally, he pulls his hand across from the left shoulder to the right while saying, “and of the Holy Spirit,” in order to show that the Holy Spirit, being the third person of the Blessed Trinity, proceeds from the Father and from the Son and is Their bond of love and charity, and that it is by His grace that we enjoy the ef­fects of the Passion.

When making the Sign of the Cross, therefore, we confess three great mysteries: the Trinity, the Passion, and the remission of sins, by which we are moved from the left, the hand of the curse, to the right, the hand of blessing.


This article is adapted from a chapter in The Sign of the Cross by St. Francis de Sales which is available from Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on the sign of the cross: Amended “Cross, crucifix”, Michael Gaida, 2017, CC0 Creative Commons, Pixabay.

Read more about Catholic traditions, including genuflecting and kneeling, HERE.

About Charlie McKinney

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





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

58. Ocean of Mercy (Matthew 18:21-35)

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 02:30

“O Christian, be aware of your nobility – it is God’s own nature that you share; do not then, by an ignoble life, fall back into your former baseness.” – Pope St. Leo the Great

Matthew 18:21-35: Then Peter went up to him and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. Give me time he said and I will pay the whole sum. And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and canceled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. Pay what you owe me he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, Give me time and I will pay you. But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. You wicked servant, he said I canceled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you? And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Christ the Lord This passage immediately follows Jesus’ instructions to his Twelve about being good shepherds. That instruction took place in a small gathering after a full day of ministry. One can imagine the disciples discussing it. Possibly, one of the many quarrels among them arose as their discussion turned upon how many times they should go after the same sheep if it keeps wandering away. Rabbinic teaching at the time placed the limit of forgiveness at three times – a fourth offense was not to be forgiven. Perhaps Peter was proposing a reform of this custom in light of Christ’s lesson, while some of the others were sticking to the traditional view, and so he brought it to the Lord to settle the question. That was the right thing to do. The buck stops with Jesus. He is the Lord; he is the final word God has spoken to us. In him we have the answers we need for every dilemma we face. Like Peter, we should bring our questions to the Lord in prayer; we should cast the light of the Church’s teachings on our moral and intellectual quandaries. And, also like Peter, we should accept Christ’s solution.

Christ the Teacher  In Christ, God offers us forgiveness of a debt we could never pay – the debt of sin. But when we refuse to forgive the little offenses others cause us, we handcuff God’s mercy and put ourselves under strict justice. Previously, Christ pointed out, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2). This is the way God has found to unfurl his mercy without compromising his justice; he leaves each person free to choose between the two.

But this lesson is hard for us to learn. We tend to resent not only willful offenses, but also innocent mistakes. Whenever someone else causes us even a tiny inconvenience, we can easily lash out at the offender. This is especially the case close to home – we often have less patience with our siblings, parents, spouses, children, or roommates than we do with strangers and acquaintances.

In this parable, as in the Our Father, Jesus gives us the secret to forming a patient, forgiving heart. It consists in recognizing the immense evil of our own sin, and thereby perceiving the vastness of God’s goodness in forgiving it. Until we see the ugliness of the ingratitude and selfishness that characterize our relationship with God, we will never grasp how generous his forgiveness really is. When we do, however, our shriveled hearts expand, and our joyful patience knows no bounds.

Christ the Friend This brilliant parable rightly convicts us of our repulsive self-righteousness, but we should not therefore overlook its illustration of Christ’s magnanimity. Jesus himself is the King who forgives the “huge amount.” In the Greek text, this amount is quantified as 10,000 talents – an unimaginable, astronomical quantity of money. Likewise, Christ’s compassion exceeds even the malice of his own murderers: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” he spoke from the cross (Luke 23:34).

Jesus: You can count on my forgiveness. You just need to do what this servant did: kneel down before me and ask for it. I know that sometimes it’s hard for you to accept this forgiveness; your pride keeps you from forgiving yourself, so you hold my forgiveness at arm’s length, or you doubt it. I don’t want you to doubt my forgiveness. I want you to be absolutely sure. This is why I made it tangible in the sacrament of reconciliation. When you come to me through the ministry of my chosen, ordained priest, you actually hear my own words speaking through his voice: “I absolve you from your sins….” I invented this wonderful gift just for you, just so I could flood the depths of your misery with the ocean of my mercy.

Christ in My Life It amazes me to think that I can always come to you; I can always ask you a question; you are always available. You never cease thinking of me. Like Peter, I can turn to you to resolve my doubts. Why do I turn to you so infrequently? Why do I forget about your presence, your guidance, your passionate interest in my life?

Forgiveness is harder for me in some cases than others. Some people who have wounded me really don’t deserve to be forgiven, Lord. And yet, you offer your forgiveness to them. Why, then, do I resist? Free me from this snare of the devil. Teach me to forgive, no matter how I feel. Refresh my embittered heart. You love even those who have offended me terribly, and you can turn them into saints…

Thank you for putting no limits on how much you would forgive me. Thank you for continuing to assure me of your forgiveness through confession. There is no hesitancy in your love for me, no holding back, no tinge of self-seeking. Why don’t I trust you more? Jesus, teach me to trust you more…

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


Art for this post on Matthew 18:21-35: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant slightly amended, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, c. 1556, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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






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

Can We Control Suffering?

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 22:07

“It’s not suffering that leads to hopelessness. It’s suffering you think you can’t control.”
-Angela Duckworth,  Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Can we control suffering? It’s a shocking question with perhaps no less a shocking answer: yes and no. If we delve into the psychology and spirituality of suffering, we discover the slippery slope of moving from pain to hopelessness.

First, let’s clarify the premise of the article by explaining that pain and suffering, while related, are actually two entirely separate existential problems. Pain is what happens to us, which we cannot control: a 6-year-old’s skinned knee, a teenager girl’s broken heart, a necessary corrective surgery for a burn victim. Pain is what we experience.

Suffering, however, is our response to pain. What do I think (cognitive); how do I feel (emotive); what do I do (behavioral)? These are three components to how we react when pain – which we cannot control – befalls us in various forms. Suffering, to a large degree, we can control. This means we can control how we respond to life’s misfortunes, tragedies, and losses.

When we move from a place of hope to hopelessness, a series of internal events must occur before we land in despair. The way we respond to pain nearly always begins with an initial thought: “I’m tired of my boss yelling at me all the time in front of my coworkers. It’s humiliating.” Or “I wish I didn’t have so many medical problems. It’s exhausting going to the doctor.”

The cognitive aspect of our reaction is based largely upon our worldview, too: do we believe that suffering is pointless or that it can be used for a greater, even if mysterious, purpose? That will lead to the thoughts of our pain – either eschewing or embracing. Most of us, of course, do not naturally gravitate toward embracing the cross, though it most certainly is the goal of every devout Christian. Instead, we learn to grow from wincing at the thought of inevitable pain to facing its reality to willingly entering into it.

After our initial thoughts, which may be fairly benign or even mostly unconscious, we move to the emotive stage, or how we feel in response to pain. Pain caused by a physical injury is much clearer to understand that emotional pain resulting from loneliness, betrayal, a broken heart, or ostracism. Many of us do not have an extensive emotional vocabulary, so we may limit our expression of perceived “negative” feelings to anger or sadness.

If we make an effort to enter into prayer and bring our pain to God, we can examine more honestly our response to it. If we initially relate our boss yelling at us in front of others to the feeling of anger, we may be missing the deeper, underlying feeling of shame. Likewise, if we compare the chronic burden of managing multiple medical issues with feeling sad, we may be ignoring the predominant emotion of overwhelm and loneliness.

More often than not, in our saccharine culture that promotes the prosperity gospel and power of positive thinking, anger is the most acceptable, if not undesirable, emotion to express whenever pain is present. Yet anger is also a blanket for more painful feelings that we seldom believe we have permission to express: guilt, shame, fear, isolation, confusion, frustration, etc.

If we recognize that our external response of anger is really a cover for feeling the vulnerability of shame, we can take that to prayer and allow God to gently heal us of that wound. The wounds of shame very well may stem from decades prior to the triggering pain, but we cannot see this clearly without first bringing the real emotion and the deeper problem to prayer. Many times we will be led to further investigate our woundedness through spiritual direction, counseling, and the sacraments of healing: Reconciliation and reception of the Holy Eucharist.

Finally, if we do not confront the root of our true feelings, we may then be led to a sense of losing control over our lives or some aspect of our lives. The subsequent hopelessness might lead us to inaction in the face of crisis or calamity, which feeds the sense that “nothing can be done” but sit and wait, agonize and stew in our doom.

This is not to say that there are not, at times, psychological diagnoses that complicate our experience of pain and response to suffering. Mood disorders can and do often muddy sharp, coherent thoughts or even override those rational thoughts with a prevailing and paralyzing fear or sadness.

Psychological disorders notwithstanding, we can still glean some fragment of understanding how our thinking leads to feeling, which ultimately leads to doing – or not doing (behavioral response).

This behavior is really the crux of how we respond to pain we cannot control. It’s how we choose to suffer that makes all the difference in our experience of taking up the cross daily to follow Jesus. Consider the sagacious wisdom from Fr. Richard F. Clarke in his booklet Patience: Meditations for a Month; he tells us that “suffering is…the remedy for the disease of sin, the kindly knife that hurts but cures.”

It is possible, then, to willingly choose to suffer despite or in spite of intense feelings of agony and deep-seated sorrow. If we tether it to the wounds of Jesus, we know we have handed Him a most precious treasure of consolation, which is our misery. That is when suffering truly becomes, paradoxically, transformative and most powerful. It is when we realize the necessity of suffering because of our personal sins, as well as primarily due to Original Sin. It is anything from a blemish to a gaping laceration of the heart that actually heals us when we impart it to God.

Fr. Clarke further encourages us with the promise that “suffering is payment for joy to come.” If this is true, every time we are afflicted with some interior or exterior problem, we can move beyond our thoughts of irritation and agitation, beyond our feelings of hopelessness and loss of control, to a place where we see our suffering as an opportunity of reparation for our sins and those of the world. We see our suffering as a means of consoling the heart of Jesus. We see our suffering as a form of prayer for the sake of others who suffer still more than we. And that is ultimately the power of the Cross: to not necessarily understand its mystery but to stand in awe of its majesty; not to feel happiness at its foot, but to live its message with every fiber and facet of the moments we’ve been given.

That’s the joy in suffering – to see beyond the horizon of here and now, to await the promise of what is to come in our eternal reward. It’s the only point in life when we might step away from merely seeing and appreciating the “present moment” and instead riding on the wings of hope, which carries us to the joy that is yet to come.

It seems that’s what will lead us away from hopelessness in suffering: the reminder not of what anguish we are experiencing now, but instead of the ecstasy of Heaven.

Bl. Maria of the Angels: Joyful Martyr of the Spanish Civil War

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 22:06

In a quiet residential neighborhood in Madrid, far from the tourist-crowded Plaza del Sol and the Gran Via, lies a tiny side street called Blanca de Navarra. Many of the buildings on this beautiful street were built in the early twentieth century, with ornate facades and balconies filled with flowers lining each window. Most of these are apartment buildings with stores or restaurants taking up the ground floors. There is a charming flower shop, two modern art galleries, a high-end dress store, and a men’s casual clothing boutique. At the very end of this street lies a building that takes up the entire corner of the block, and the only clues that it is a convent are the pointed arches that line the chapel windows and the sisters dressed in grey who occasionally come in and out of the convent doors.

When you enter the main door you walk through a foyer where flyers are pinned to bulletin boards and religious books for sale are displayed in glass cases. If you push open the heavy wooden door to your left you will find yourself standing in the back of a small chapel, filled with a palpable sense of peace and calm, a quiet refuge in the midst of the bustling streets outside. As you stand in the back of this chapel, something immediately catches your attention—it is located on the left wall near the back of the chapel, and it is a large painting of a young woman in full habit, with dark hair and eyes, and a radiant smile on her face. Below the painting in black calligraphy is written: “Beata Maria de los Angeles, April 3, 1894 – August 26, 1936.

Blessed Maria of the Angels worked, prayed, and lived in this convent when the Spanish Civil War and its anti-clerical violence broke out in Madrid in the summer of 1936. Her body is buried in the vault directly behind the painting of her radiant face. I have sat in that chapel many times, gazing at her portrait, wondering at her courage, and admiring her joyfulness, which lives on in the sisters of her Order, the Zealous Sisters of Eucharistic Adoration, who give their lives in prayer and service in that convent, just as she did eighty years ago. Since it is the anniversary of Blessed Maria’s death, what better way to celebrate her memory than by sharing the example she has left us in the story of her life and her death?

Blessed Maria of the Angels

Blessed Maria of the Angels was born Angela Ginard Martí in the town of Lluchmayor, on the island of Mallorca. The second of nine children, little Angela was remembered as a joyful and affectionate girl, who was devoted to her family. She had a happy childhood and she enjoyed spending time with her family, but as she got older it became evident that she had different interests than other girls her age. When her sisters began to go out with friends to the movies, or attend other social events, Angela preferred to stay home with her younger siblings, teaching them their prayers and catechism, and reading to them the stories of the Early Christian Martyrs, which were her favorite. Her younger sister once related a conversation she had with Angela:

“She was reading to me about the martyrdom of the early Christians in the Roman Circus, and she said: ‘how wonderful to die that way, what joy! I would like to do the same…and you?’ And I answered her, ‘how horrible! Not me!’”

When her family moved to the city of Palma, Angela learned to embroider so that she could help her family, whose financial means were not sufficient to support a family of 11. She was a hard worker and soon her embroidery was in demand among the wealthy women of Palma. Besides this work, she helped her mother run the household and she was especially attentive to the education and care of her younger siblings, who later recalled that Angela treated them as if she was their own mother. During this time she attended daily mass, made frequent visits to the church to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and prayed the rosary with her family.

When Angela’s family circumstances improved and her parents agreed, she entered as a postulant in the Congregation of the Zealous Sisters of Eucharistic Adoration. After some time in Palma, then in the Order’s houses in Madrid and Barcelona, she made her final vows and took the name Sr. Maria of the Angels. She was sent back to the house in Madrid and appointed the administrator of the convent, a role she fulfilled faithfully.

Sr. Maria was well-liked by the other sisters and they later remembered her devotion to any task she was given—whether it was embroidering the cloths used for the altar, preparing the bread that would be made into hosts, or the long hours she spent in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament praying for the Church and the conversion of sinners, she did everything with the utmost care and attention.

Of course, she had not forgotten her longing for martyrdom that had first been inspired by the lives of the Christian Martyrs in Rome. One day, as the civil unrest in Spain increased, and news of churches being burned and priests and nuns being threatened had reached the convent, Sr. Maria was praying during Adoration and told God that she wanted to give her life if it was His will.

Tensions were building in Spain between those who supported the new government, which was democratic yet extremely anti-Catholic, and those who protested the government’s anti-clerical measures. Madrid was a hotbed of conflict, and violence and political assassinations were commonplace. This was the climate the sisters lived in, as they continued their daily work and intensified their prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The nuns, like so many other religious in Spain at the time, were well aware that their lives were in danger, but they prayed for the conversion of those who were persecuting priests and religious, and they went about their normal daily lives. When a sister would become overwhelmed with fear Sr. Maria would encourage her, saying, “What can happen to us? All they can do is kill us, nothing more.”

By the time the Spanish Civil War officially broke out on July 20, 1936 the priest who used to say mass for the sisters had removed the Eucharist from the tabernacle and had given the chalices to Julian Martinez for safekeeping. Martinez was the doorman for one of the buildings near the convent and he was a good friend to the sisters. A few days after the war began, he was the one who came to warn the sisters that the Reds were coming for them, and that they had to leave immediately. The nuns, dressed in regular clothes, split up, going to stay at the homes of friends who lived in the area. It was decided that Sr. Maria would go right across the street and pretend to be a servant working for José Brusa and Araceli Gonzalez de Quevedo.

Unfortunately, because of her proximity, she could see everything that took place when the Reds finally did come and take over the convent building. They danced in the chapel, destroyed statues, and brought sacred images out into the street to be broken or burned. Sr. Maria wept when she saw such precious objects destroyed before her very eyes, and she could do nothing to save them. She told one of the other sisters hiding in the same building that she did not fear for her life, but to see the chapel and sacred objects profaned caused her much suffering.

Finally, on August 25, 1936, militiamen from one of the anarchist groups in Spain came to the apartment to take Sr. Maria away. At first, they confused a relative of the owner of the house for Sr. Maria, but she quickly stepped forward and very calmly said, “This woman is not a nun, let her go, I am the only nun here.”

Witnesses said that Sr. Maria went with her captors without a complaint. They led her to a car outside, and drove her to an area of Madrid known as the Checa de Bellas Artes. The next day, some men brought her to a park outside of the city, and shot her. They abandoned her body there.

*     *

The sisters of her order searched for any trace of what might have happened to Sr. Maria for the next four years. Finally, on the 27th of August, 1940, when they were looking through files in the Ministry of Government they found some pictures of a woman who had been executed in Dehesa de la Villa on August 26, 1936. The nuns identified the woman as Sr. Maria of the Angels, they determined where her body had been buried once it was found, and they had it moved to a cemetery that belonged to their Congregation. Years later, in 1984, her remains were moved to a vault in the chapel in the convent where she had lived, and they remain there to this day.

Blessed Maria of the Angels’ story is much like the stories of the 7,000 Spanish priests and religious, including 13 bishops, who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War. Stanley Payne, an American historian who has written about Spain since the 1960s, once said that the Spanish Civil War saw the “most extensive and violent persecution of Catholicism in Western History, in some ways even more intense than that of the French Revolution.”

And yet, in spite of this unparalleled anti-Catholic violence, the priests and nuns who were hated so vehemently returned this hatred with love and forgiveness, even praying for their executioners. Like Blessed Maria of the Angels, they faced death by a firing squad with great peace and resignation, bravely giving their lives for God who they loved, many of them shouting out with the strength only a true hero can muster in the face of death, “Viva Cristo Rey!” And may we, in remembering their heroism, echo with our lives the answer that Spaniards give to that thunderous statement of faith and subjection the the King of Kings, “QUE VIVA!”

image: By Jeremy Keith (Flickr: Bullet-scarred wall) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Discerning True Love

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 22:02

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Here are some common pastoral scenarios that involve relationships: A young man claims to love his girlfriend so much and they are living together and raising a family without getting married in the Church and receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. A single woman claims to love her boyfriend who happens to be a married man with his own wife and children. A man opts to euthanize his sick father because he claims to love his father so much that he cannot bear to see him suffer any longer. A young lady in a same-sex relationship with her classmate who strongly claim that they both love each other.

I am usually left wondering, “How can these be called love?” Can cohabitation, sexual relations outside marriage and living in sinful situations be called love? Can adultery and its attendant covetousness and injustice against a spouse be called love? Can we call it love when we terminate the life of another to avoid witnessing their pains? Can sexual relations between people of the same-sex, something that is contrary to both Natural Law and God’s plan for marriage between a man and woman in faithful, exclusive and life-giving union be called love?

St. Paul reminds the Romans in today’s Second Reading about the importance of proper loving relationships, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” But he also gives the first and fundamental tool to discern how to love: Is this relationship in agreement with or contrary to God’s laws? “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Because God has made us out of love and for the sake of love, God alone sets the standards for true love, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” In short, we can never call anything love if God’s laws or Commandments are being broken in any way.

The second tool to discern true love is to ask if we are loving the other in a way that leads the person away from sin, the greatest harm to the soul, towards the fullness of life in Christ. Our love for others is true if we cannot be silent or idle as our loved ones choose sin and self-destructive habits. Hence Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our love is true when we have first received the truths of God and let these truths illumine our hearts and minds. Knowing and loving these truths and striving to live them out, we are also willing to risk the ire of our loved ones by telling them the painful truth so as to bring them from sinful lives and to “win over our brothers.” Realizing Christ’s love for each and every one of us, we just cannot stand about idle and quite, watching souls that we claim to love, souls redeemed by the blood of Christ perish in their sins.

The third tool to discern true love is to ask if we are reflecting to the other the forgiveness that we have received from God. Jesus assures us in His mystical body of the Church, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We receive forgiveness for ours sin from God through the sacrament of Reconciliation and reflect these forgiveness to others in relationships bearing in mind how we all fall short of loving in the right way. True love chooses to mediate to others God’s own forgiveness of sins instead of making them public or making the sinner guilty.

Lastly, true love for the other seeks for their temporal and eternal good by prayer and by sacrifice. Our prayers are powerful when we gather together to pray for a single purpose according to the divine will, “Amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” We love and we pray for each other, obtaining for others the grace to journey into heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has made us to love Him and to love others according to His own laws and commandments. No matter how strongly we may feel or how attractive our worldly ways of loving others may appear, we do not and cannot invent the standards of love. In our woundedness, we easily turn away from the ways of true love and allow pleasure and emotions to dictate our way of loving.

God, who has called us to love, knows our sinful tendencies and has united Himself to us in His Son Jesus Christ who alone brings to us that true love. Our Lord Jesus is the only one who shows us the love that obeys. He obeyed His Father perfectly, “He has done all things well,” (Mk 7:37) obeying His Father even till death on the cross. Jesus Christ loved us so much to take the risk and become man to tell us the whole truth about our true sinfulness, our need for a Savior, and His Father’s unconditional saving love for each and every one of us. We thanked Him by nailing Him to the cross! Jesus alone shows us that love that forgives even in pain as He cried out on the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk23:34) Jesus shows us that love that continues to pray and to sacrifice for us, “He lives to make intercession for us.”(Heb 7:25)

Jesus has also instituted a Church, His own mystical body, where we can participate in His own true love and avoid the temptations to love others in worldly ways. In the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s laws are taught and written in our hearts and we are interiorly moved by His grace to speak and witness to this changeless truth to others in love by virtue of the bond we have with others in Christ. In the Church we receive both forgiveness of sins and divine guarantee of forgiveness in the sacrament of confession and we can reflect this forgiveness to others. Our prayers are powerful in the Church because of our union with Christ and our participation in His powerful prayers at every Eucharist.

Today, as we encounter Jesus Christ in today’s Eucharist and participate deeply in the true love that He brings to us, let us discern and choose carefully how we love others. Because we have been made for love, we cannot love anyhow and hope to have His life growing in us and His joy in our hearts. The way that we choose to love will determine the quality of our lives and our joy in this life and in the life to come.

Our hearts will throb with His life and His joy will be ours if only we strive to obey all God’s commandments out of love for Him, speak and witness to the difficult saving truth to others out of love for them, forgive others for their transgressions and are ready to pray and make sacrifices for others simply because Jesus Christ has died and risen for all of us to love others just like He has loved us.

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

image: Sacred Heart by Fr. James Bradley / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the first reading Paul reminds the

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading Paul reminds the early Christian communities that, following Christ’s death and resurrection, we should die with regards to earthly things but live for heavenly things: “Set your mind on the things that are above, not on earthly things. For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, reveals himself, you also will be revealed with him in Glory.”

In the Gospel reading, a version of the Beatitudes as given in the Gospel of Luke, we are told which attitudes are really for heavenly things: “the poor, those who hunger, those who weep, those who are persecuted.” Their opposites would be happy and blessed in this world but not in the next.

The life, sufferings and exile endured by St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and Doctor of the Church, are an example of living for the things that are above, rather than for earthly things.

Like St. John, may we be willing to love and to serve God, even if we may be taking risks of failure, hatred and even persecution.

“The fruit of reflecting on

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 22:00

“The fruit of reflecting on Christ’s Passion is to believe in the truth that we are perfectly loved by God, to accept the gift of God. When our hearts are vulnerable to his love, he teaches us to love what he loves: the Church, and in a special way, his priests.”

-Kathleen Beckman, Praying for Priests

St. John Chrysostom

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 22:00

St. John Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) was a famous and controversial fourth century bishop. He studied law as a young man, but then went off to the mountains for some years and lived an ascetic life; after this he became a priest and served in his native city of Antioch. It was there that his powerful and eloquent preaching earned him the nickname “Chrysostom” (golden-mouthed).

In 398 John was elected bishop of Constantinople, the imperial capital. John tried to ignore politics as he exercised his ministry, but he was often caught up in controversy and intrigue. His sermons, often critical of the rich and powerful, made him many enemies, and his simple lifestyle and efforts at reform (such as deposing bishops who were mere political appointees) further alienated the ruling class.

In 403 John’s enemies, led by the empress and the bishop of Alexandria, charged him with heresy and misdeeds. The emperor sent him into temporary exile, but soon recalled him; in 404, however, John was exiled permanently, first to Armenia, then to Spain, where he died in 407 after several years of suffering and physical exhaustion.

St. John’s homilies were noted for their great scholarship and for being very practical and straightforward. He is considered a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

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

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

Though the waves of the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web . . . not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what [God] wants me to do. . . . If God wants something, let it be done!

— From a homily of St. John Chrysostom

To what extent am I more influenced by the desires of others than by God’s desires? I will examine my decisions based on this for the next week.

I “Am” Not a Christian – Insight from Romano Guardini

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 02:30


I “Am” Not a Christian – Insight from Romano Guardini The Lord (Week 13 of 23)

I “am” not a Christian; I am on the way to becoming one — if God will give me the strength. Christianity is nothing one can “have”; nor is it a platform from which to judge others. It is movement. I can become a Christian only as long as I am conscious of the possibility of falling away. The gravest danger is not failure of the will to accomplish a certain thing; with God’s help I can always pull myself together and begin again. The real danger is that of becoming within myself unchristian, and it is greatest when my will is most sure of itself. I have absolutely no guarantee that I shall be privileged to remain a follower of Christ save in the manner of beginning, of being en route, of becoming, trusting, hoping and praying.

The Lord, Part 4, Chapter XIII, last paragraph, emphasis mine

There’s something sexy about the “convert life” to those who have been raised Catholic.

Personally, I’ve always wondered why, but in the last year or two, I’ve found myself experiencing a similar sort of reaction.

I’ll sit and ask people for their conversion stories, and I’ll listen with bated breath.

What is it that makes us want to know others’ conversion stories?

And what is it that makes it so difficult to share?

Oh, I’ve gotten pretty good at a nutshell version of mine: I was a great sinner, I found a hole in my ego big enough to wiggle through, and from there, I accepted the authority of the Church.

Or, rather, I sort of accepted the authority of the Church.

Over the years, I’ve realized that the hardest part, for me, of sharing a conversion story is that it’s not a static moment in time. My conversion has been ongoing ever since I was baptized and confirmed on during that April evening in 2001.

Conversion is ongoing.

And, after years of “being” the convert in the room, I now find myself seeking that excitement in others, finding the bond that drew them in, relating with that which I do not want to forget myself.

“I ‘am’ not a Christian,” Guardini reminds us at the very end of our reading for today, “I am on the way to becoming one.”

It is a journey.

Every. Single. Day.

And some days, every. single. hour.

Following is a choice, but it’s also, as he also points out so astutely, a privilege.

It’s nothing we can earn. It’s nothing we can deserve.

Earlier in the reading today, Guardini makes this point:

[O]ur Christianity itself must constantly grow. The great revolution of faith is not a lump of reality fallen ready-made from heaven into our laps. It is a constant act of my individual heart and strength. I stand with all I am at the center of my faith, which means that I bring to it also those strands of my being which instinctively pull away from God. It is not as though I, the believer, stood on one side, on the other the fallen world. Actually faith must be realized within the reality of my being, with its full share of worldliness.

I am not better than the world because I am Christian. I am not above the world, nor am I saved from anything because I “believe.”

“Woe to me if I say: ‘I am a Christian’–possibly with a side-glance at others who in my opinion are not, or at an age that is not, or at a cultural tendency flowing in the opposite direction. Then my so-called Christianity threatens to become nothing but a religious form of self-affirmation,” Guardini writes.

And yes. Exactly the reminder I needed. And will need. And pray that I receive again and again.

Reading Assignment:

Part 4: Ch. XIII-XIV; Part 5: Ch. I-II

Discussion Questions:

1. What’s your story of conversion? We all have one! Spend time in prayer and consider how your conversion is ongoing.

2. This week’s reading also included a chapter about blessing. Was there anything that struck you as you read it?

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

Read More:

For More Information on the Book Club:

About Sarah Reinhard

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









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

“Marrying” the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chaplet

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 22:08

Father Donald Calloway is clearly a man who knows a thing or two about the Rosary. So when he described the simple means of joining the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy that I shared with him, “a marriage made in heaven,” it confirmed me in the hope that this practice is meant for a wider audience than me and my children. These days—between the closing of the Year of Mercy and the One Hundredth Anniversary of Fatima’s Miracle of the Sun—seem like the perfect time to share it with you.

What do I mean when I speak of “marrying” the Rosary to the Chaplet? I mean that I interlace the two – that I follow each decade of the Rosary with a decade of the Chaplet. It was something I did quite by “chance” one day, but I was immediately taken aback at what happened: Both devotions began illuminating the other. I started to see the Cross’s relationship to each and every mystery of the Rosary. And when I moved from a mystery of the Rosary to a decade of the Chaplet, I recognized that I joined the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross; and through her Jesus, we petitioned the Father for the graces meditated just meditated upon in the Rosary. Such a simple way to pray, but such profound spiritual realities!

As I reflected upon what I experienced, I began to see it as a form of lectio divina, divine reading. In the Rosary we are called to join Mary in her meditation upon the great events in our salvation, the events narrated in the pages of Scripture. We ponder the mysteries, seeking to hear what God wants to say to us through it. Then we turn to prayer, speaking to him about the light we have drawn during meditation and petitioning him for the grace to live it out. Read – Meditate – Pray, the first three steps of lectio divina.

I want to invite you to try it for yourselves. Thanks to the good people at En Route Books and Media, I am able to share an excerpt from our book, Marrying the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chaplet. (For the full effect you might want to open your Bible to the Gospel of Luke and read its inspired account of Christ’s birth.) Let the reflection below be a starting point for your own meditation, allowing the Holy Spirit to build upon it as you pray one decade of the Rosary and then the Chaplet:

The Nativity

(Luke 2:1-20)

The Nativity draws our attention to the symmetry of God’s redemptive plan. Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem (“House of Bread” in Hebrew) and lays him in a manger, a feeding trough for animals. It prefigures the Eucharist, the memorial of his Paschal mystery.

The cave of the Nativity points ahead to the cave in which Jesus was buried…and raised. The angels tell the shepherds, “this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:12). Decades later the Apostle John will gaze into Christ’s tomb and, seeing “the linen cloths lying there” by themselves, come to faith in the Resurrection (John 20:4-9). For both John and the shepherds the wrappings acted as a sign.  For the shepherds it was Jesus’ presence in the bands; but for John, his absence.

At Christ’s birth the angelic host proclaims, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”(Lk. 2:14). That peace was fully bestowed after our Lord’s Passion, on the evening of the Resurrection, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). And if we should lose that peace through grave sin, Christ gave the apostles the sacrament of reconciliation to restore it to us, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you…If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21-23).

  • Decade of the Rosary: Our Father, ten Hail Marys, Glory Be, Fatima Prayer
  • Pray: Dear Jesus, standing with your Mother at the foot of your Cross and filled with your Spirit, we pray…
  • Chaplet Intercession: Father we ask your mercy for all those have not yet come to faith; let them see in Christ’s Cross the ultimate sign of your love. For those who believe, but keep their distance because of sin, give them the grace to receive your mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation.
  • Decade of the Chaplet: “Eternal Father…,” ten “For the sake…”

Such a simple way to pray and yet, so powerful – like our Blessed Mother herself. I do not marry the two devotions in this way every day; but I do it from time to time. It really is a marriage made in heaven – Jesus and Mary, mercy and contemplation, petition and meditation.

Editor’s note: The above meditation and artwork is from Marrying the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chapletwhich is available from En Route Books and Media

Artwork: The Adoration of the Shepherds, Gerard van Honthorst (1622); St. John and St. Peter at Christ’s Tomb, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1640).

The Apostles and the Empire

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 22:07

And then shall come implacable wrath
on Latin men. Three shall by piteous fate
bring Rome to ruin. And all shall perish,
with their own houses, when from heaven shall flow
a cascade of fire. Ah, wretched me!
When shall that day and when shall judgment come
from the immortal God, the mighty King?

So ran a prophecy set down by a first-century Jew, likely during the reign of Caesar Augustus, while Jesus was still a child. Rome loomed monstrous in the religious imagination of Jews in the Holy Land. The oracle above goes on to visualize flames consuming “temples and racetracks, markets and idols of wood, of gold, of silver and of stone” — all marks of a debased Gentile culture. Everything would go up with “a stench of brimstone.”

Such fantasies were hardly unique, although other authors, understandably, chose to express their anti-Roman sentiment in code. More cautious writers identified the occupying power in ways that insiders would understand — those who knew the history of the Chosen People. Rome was equated with Israel’s traditional enemies: “Edom,” “Babylon,” or “Sodom.” In later rabbinic literature, the most common title for Rome was simply “the wicked kingdom” or “the kingdom of evil.”

Israel had suffered conquest and subjugation under the might of many nations, most recently the Greek Seleucid dynasty. But the power of the ancient enemies seemed fleeting, in retrospect. Rome’s power appeared to be indestructible and permanent, unless God should choose to intervene with fire from heaven.

Rome was all the more offensive because it imagined itself to be transparently benign and rational. And yet its commanding general could stomp heedlessly into the forbidden inner sanctuary of the Temple. And yet its prefect could allow his troops to carry the insignia of a boar — a swine — into Jerusalem, a city where graven images were banned and pigs considered the most vile and unclean of creatures.

Israel had always considered itself a nation set apart. The Law of Moses, with its strict dietary regime and sexual mores, enforced a separation from other peoples. The separation protected Israel not only from idolatry, which was its constant weakness, but also from the immoral practices of foreigners: abortion, infanticide, fornication, adultery, sodomy, homosexuality, and drunkenness. Those who “mingled with the nations . . . learned to do as they did” (Ps. 106:35). Even the Temple priests, if exposed to Gentile ways, were prone to take up “all the abominations of the nations” (2 Chron. 36:14).

This article is from “The Apostles and Their Times.” Click image to preview or order.

When the people of Israel showed by their actions that they preferred the ways of the Gentiles, God “gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them” (Ps. 106:41). Thus, the Roman occupation was, for the Jews, a judgment, a humiliation that they had earned by their desire to be like other nations.

In some quarters, as we have seen, the anti-Roman reaction was strong — in the school of Shammai, the party of the Zeal­ots, and the apocalyptic visions of the Essenes. When, in A.D. 6, Caesar Augustus decreed a tax census, some Jews resisted to the point of rebellion. Their leader, Judas the Galilean, called the decree blasphemous, because only God could demand a census, and therefore Caesar was putting himself in the place of God.

Others simply prayed that another of Israel’s ancient en­emies — the Persians, for example — would triumph over the more-hated Romans.

* * *

The Romans, for their part, were offended by the Jews’ self-segregation. They derided the Jews’ prohibition of pork and shellfish as arbitrary and silly. The Roman historian Tacitus summed up what was probably a common sentiment among Gentiles: “Moses introduced new religious practices, quite opposed to those of all other religions. The Jews regard as profane all that we hold sacred; on the other hand, they permit all that we abhor.” In the words of a modern historian:

“Jews were considered unsociable, even misanthropic, for the social distinctions created by their dietary laws.”

The difference drew the attention of Gentiles of the Greco-Roman world, and for at least a few it became a fascination. Some influential men and women looked into the Jewish writings and recognized their wisdom and moral beauty. They tried, to varying degrees, to undertake the disciplines — although few men were willing to submit to ritual circumcision in adulthood. The Roman philosopher Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus and Paul, complained that Jewish customs had become chic among the nobles of his time. Many, it seems, were keeping a leisurely Sabbath, which Seneca ascribed to laziness, and even lighting Sabbath lamps according to Jewish custom.

Among the Gentiles, some Jewish sympathizers took the fur­ther step of attending synagogue services. Called God-fearers, they appear often in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles, and it seems that they were among the groups more open to the Way of Jesus. Paul encountered them in the Greek cities of Iconium, Philippi, and Thessalonica. In Pisidian Antioch, it was the God-fearers alone who, hearing the gospel, “were glad and glorified the word of God” (Acts 13:48).

The books of the Old Testament, for all their horror of Gen­tile ways, foresaw such a day when all the nations would come to adore the God of Israel (see Psalm 86:9; Tob. 14:6–7). The Apostles delighted to see the prophecies’ fulfillment.

* * *

There is ample evidence in the New Testament of the Jews’ hor­ror of Gentiles in general and Romans in particular. Even Jesus said that an obstinate sinner should be treated “as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). The chief priests, for their part, worried that Jesus’ popularity would begin to look like another census rebellion — and would bring about a crack­down from the occupying powers: “If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation” (John 11:48).

Yet the Gospel also sounded a new and hopeful note for the Romans. Both Matthew and Luke relate the story of a Roman centurion who sought healing for his beloved servant. The el­ders of his town begged Jesus on the centurion’s behalf, perhaps assuming that the Master would not listen to a Gentile. “He is worthy to have you do this for him,” they said, “for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:4–5). Eventually, the man pleaded his own case, moving Jesus to exclaim: “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt. 8:10).

The story is significant, because it shows that a Gentile — even a Roman, and even a high-ranking military officer who served under the insignia of the swine — could have the kind of faith that God sought from Israel.

And this story is not unique. It was another centurion who, seeing Jesus crucified, was moved to confess the Master’s di­vinity: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

Even Pilate is treated more sympathetically in the Gospels than in any other documents from the same time. The historian Josephus portrayed him as an incompetent boor. The philosopher Philo saw him as deliberately and stupidly provocative. Yet, in St. John’s account of Jesus’ trial, Pilate appears to be looking for a way to release the accused. “I find no crime in him,” he said (John 18:38). Jesus himself downplayed Pilate’s personal guilt, placing the greater blame on the chief priests who had handed him over (John 19:11).

In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke presents a Roman centurion who was also a God-fearer, a man who “gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God” (Acts 10:2). Cornelius received an extraordinary revelation from God regarding Peter, whom he sent soldiers to summon from Joppa. By the end of the incident, God had made clear to Peter that Israel’s dietary taboos were no longer to be observed, Peter had preached the gospel to Cornelius and his household, and the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45).

These supernatural developments, quite naturally, led to conflict. Jewish Christians of a traditionalist bent opposed what they saw as an abrogation of the ancient law (Acts 11:2– 18). They vehemently protested Peter’s sitting down to eat with Romans.

The controversy continued as Paul and Barnabas made more converts among the Gentiles. It was settled only when the Apostles met in council (Acts 15) and concluded that they “should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God” (Acts 15:19).

Anti-Roman prejudice was common even in the primitive Church. But Paul’s attitude was consistently positive. He had no use for Gentile idolatry or immorality (see 1 Cor. 5:10). But he was proud of his own Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37–38; 22:25–29), and he did not hesitate to invoke Roman custom and law (Acts 25:16). When tried in court, he appealed to Caesar over the authorities in Judea (Acts 25:11).

Luke consistently portrays Roman officials as sympathetic to Paul and protective of him (Acts 25:24–25; 26:31). When Paul’s voyage is shipwrecked, a Roman centurion saves his life (Acts 27:43).

The trajectory of Luke’s narrative is Romeward. Paul was inexorably drawn there — in spite of many obstacles — “resolved in the Spirit.” He considered Macedonia, Achaia, and Jerusa­lem to be steps along the way: “After I have been there, I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21). The Lord himself made clear to Paul that the imperial capital should be his destination.

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.” (Acts 23:11)

It was God’s will. “And so we came to Rome,” Luke wrote (Acts 28:14).

It was a day Paul had long awaited. “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15).

Even though Roman intellectuals were hardly warm to Jews — and even though the emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from the city a few years before (Acts 18:2) — Rome was where God wanted Paul to be. And so Paul wanted to be in Rome.

We know little about his work there, except that he succeeded to a remarkable degree. When he wrote to the Philip­pians, he said in passing: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22). He was granted access, apparently, to the echelons of power.

Peter, too, made his way there (1 Pet. 5:13); and Christians would eventually cast the two Apostles as the new found­ers of the city. The original founders, Romulus and Remus, had established the city in strife, as one murdered the other. The new founders would consecrate the city with their blood, laying down their lives in the persecution of the emperor Nero in A.D. 64. They would be witnesses to the end — mar­tyrs. Their blood would be seed. The Church in Rome would hold a primacy in the universal Church from the first century onward.

All the great names of the early Church made pilgrimage there, to pay homage before the relics of Peter and Paul, and to visit, consult, and plead before the Apostles’ successors. Among the apostolic Fathers, Ignatius and Polycarp made the journey. Clement and Hermas lived in the city for a time, as did Justin, Hegesippus, and Hippolytus, Abercius, Irenaeus, and Origen.

“From heaven shall flow a cascade of fire.” In a sense, the prophecy quoted at the beginning of this chapter did come to fulfillment. Old Rome was indeed brought to an end by fire from heaven. And the fire did make a ruin of the city’s temples and idols. But it was not the conflagration the Sybil had imagined.

It was a Pentecostal fire. It was the apostolic Faith.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mike Aquilina’s The Apostles and Their Timeswhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

Five Steps for Giving Your Mind to Christ

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 22:02

Saint Teresa of Avila stated that the mind is the Loca de la casa—meaning, the madwoman of the house! Meaning? It is very difficult to control our thought world, most especially our imagination. Despite the difficulty of the challenge, still we must put forth the most noble of efforts!

Our Dynamic Thought Life

There is a dynamic in the human person, the way the Creator constructed us! And this is the way it unfolds. What goes into our eyes, ascends to our mind; from the mind it is archived in the memory. From the memory, the image can easily descend into the emotions. Then from the emotions into the heart. From the heart a decision is made that transforms into an action. If the action is good, then it is virtuous; if bad, then vicious or sinful. Many repeated actions form the person’s character—either a virtuous person or a bad person. Then finally the person’s eternal destiny is determined—either condemnation or salvation.

How then can we work on cultivating a rich, deep, noble thought life? All of us should accept the challenge because the formation of our character, and the influence that we have on others, depends largely on the cultivation of our mind, our thought life.

St Paul and the Mind

The great Apostle to the Gentiles, Saint Paul, makes reference to the mind on various occasions. He says that we should have a fresh way of thinking and not conform our mind and thoughts to those of the world. Still more, this fiery missionary saint who loved Jesus so much asserted: “Put on the mind of Christ!”  Then Saint Paul stated: “You have the mind of Christ…” And of course he said: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

Therefore, this being the case, how then can we cultivate one of the most noble gifts that God has bestowed upon us? The following are certain practices that we hope will be helpful in the battle to give your mind to the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, Jesus the Lord.  May Jesus as King reign over your whole being and that, of course, means your mind too!

1. Watch What Goes In 

First of all, we should all make a concerted as well as constant effort to control what goes into ourselves, especially our mind. By way of analogy, none of us would purposely shovel into our mouth garbage from the street—unheard of! Nonetheless, we can very easily give ourselves liberty to view with our eyes the ignoble, the profane, the crude, the obscene, the sinful.

Therefore, a primary step in controlling our thought world is to control our visual world; what we take into ourselves comes through the gateway of the senses. This proverb rings so true: The thought is the father of the deed. In other words, we carry out in action what has already been conceived in our minds through what we have previously seen. Every day we should be exceedingly vigilant over those wandering eyes that can get us into so much trouble! Not only does curiosity kill the cat, but worse yet, the curiosity of King David led to adultery and the murdering of an innocent man.

2. Find Good, Solid Reading

In such a fast-paced modern electronic world, many have lost the habit of spending quality time in silence, immersing themselves in the world of the most noble ideas by reading! We can start to cultivate a very noble mind by reading the classics. In the spiritual life there is a plethora, an immense and vast sea of good literature. Just to mention a few: The Bible—the Word of God, the lives of the saints (God’s heroes), the writings of the saints, the writings of Saint Pope John Paul II, the Fathers of the Church, and the Doctors of the Church, including Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and of course, it is always good to nourish our mind by reading a good book on the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Suggestion: Our Lady of Fatima by Thomas Walsh). As stated earlier, noble thoughts will be translated into actions, one’s character, and one’s eternal destiny!

3. Good Friends, Good Conversations

Many of the saints formed the habit of establishing good, solid friendships. Good friends maintain good, vibrant, noble, enriching, and stimulating conversations. This we see in the lives of the saints. You are called to be a saint and part of the labor is the cultivation of your mind! Why not follow the exhortation of Saint Paul: “Put on the mind of Christ… you have the mind of Christ!” The Bible says that a true friend is a treasure of infinite value. Good friends help each other mutually to keep on track by keeping their thoughts focused on Christ.

4. The Most Holy Eucharist

It is indeed true that when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we receive the total Christ. This of course includes receiving the mind of Christ! Upon receiving Jesus, we should humbly implore the Lord Jesus to purify our mind of all useless thoughts, lift our mind to all that is most pure and noble, and beg Him for the grace to have our thoughts lifted on high to the most noble realm—the Kingdom of God!

5. Pray the Psalms

It is so true that we become like those with whom we associate. Now if you can get into the habit of spending some time with Jesus who is truly present in the most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar then He will gradually transform you. Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who was faithful to his daily Holy Hour for more than 50 years, called this The Hour of Power. If we spend quality time in the presence of a good person, even a saint, then there is a transformation; so much the more, if we spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Open your Bible and pray the Psalm of the Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want…” (Psalm 23) May the Good Shepherd, and Our Lady the Mother of the Good Shepherd, attain for you the renewal of your mind, the renewal of your thought processes, the renewal of your affections, the renewal of your heart, and the renewal of your entire life! May it be said of you by the end of your life: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who thinks and lives in me!”

image: Focused on the Cross of Christ by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr

In the first reading Paul reminds us to

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading Paul reminds us to remain faithful to the Gospel message, to the teachings of Jesus which Paul and the apostles preached to the world.

In the Gospel reading, after a night of prayer, Jesus names the twelve apostles, ordinary men he has called and chosen to be his close companions and co-workers and who would, after his life on earth, lead his Church. They were ordinary people: a few fishermen and their friends, a tax collector, devout Israelites. Two would betray him, one before simple maid-servants, the other would betray him to his death before Jewish religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver. Except for one, all would abandon him at his trial and death.

Yet somehow they remained his faithful followers. And with the power of the Holy Spirit set the world on fire. All, except for one, died martyrs’ deaths in witness to their love for Christ.

May we be faithful and loving followers of Christ. May the Church always have faithful and trustworthy successors of the Apostles as leaders of the Church.

“What makes a man a Christian is

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 22:00

“What makes a man a Christian is his faith, that inner life that awakens in him the revelation handed down to us from the very moment he receives it.”

-Romano Guardini, Meditations on the Christ

Blessed Apollinaris Franco

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 22:00

Born in Aquilar del Campo, in Old Castile, Spain, Apollinaris was educated in law at Salamanca. Apollinaris entered the Franciscan Order and was sent to Japan in 1614 as a missionary, though practicing Christianity there was considered a capital offense.

He served as superior of the Franciscan missions in Japan, but was quite soon discovered and arrested by the authorities in 1614. Imprisoned for five years on death row in the prison of Omura, Apollinaris spent his time joyfully praying, preaching, and ministering to the other prisoners. He spread the Word of God faithfully, and even converted his jailers. On September 12, 1622, he and other Franciscans became martyrs as they were burned at the stake for their faith.

Other Saints We Remember Today

The Most Holy Name of Mary


Mon, 09/11/2017 - 02:35

Presence of God – O Lord, make me strong and courageous in Your service.


The more a soul loves God, the more courageous it will be in undertaking any work, no matter how laborious, for love of Him. Fear of fatigue, of suffering, and of danger, is the greatest enemy of fortitude; it paralyzes the soul and makes it recoil before duty. Courage, on the contrary, is invigorating; it enables us to confront anything in order to be faithful to God. Courage, therefore, incites us to embrace death itself, if necessary, rather than be unfaithful to duty. Martyrdom is the supreme act of Christian fortitude, an act which is not asked of all, yet one which it is well not to ignore as a possibility. Every Christian is, so to speak, a potential martyr, in the sense that the virtue of fortitude, infused into him at Baptism and Confirmation, makes him capable, if necessity requires it, of sacrificing even his life for the love of God. And if all Christians are not actually called upon to render to the Lord this supreme testimony of love, all should, nevertheless, live like courageous soldiers, accustoming themselves never to desert any duty, little or great, through fear of sacrifice.

It is true that the virtue of fortitude does not exempt us from the fear and alarm which invade our nature when faced with sacrifice, danger, or above all, the imminent danger of death. But fortitude, like all the other virtues, is exercised by the will; hence, it is possible to perform courageous acts in spite of our fear. In these cases, courage has a twofold function: it conquers fear and faces the difficult task. Such was the supreme act of fortitude Jesus made in the Garden of Olives when He accepted to drink the bitter chalice of His Passion, in spite of the repugnance of His human nature. It is by uniting ourselves to this act of our Savior that we shall find strength to embrace all that is painful in our lives.


“O Lord God of hosts, You said in Your Gospel, ‘I am not come to bring peace but the sword’; provide me then with strength and weapons for the battle. I burn with desire to fight for Your glory, but I beseech You, strengthen my courage. Then with holy King David, I can exclaim: ‘You alone are my shield, O God; it is You who prepare my hands for war.’

“O my Jesus, I will fight for You as long as I live, and love will be my sword. My weakness should never discourage me; when in the morning I feel no courage or strength for the practice of virtue, I must look upon this state as a grace, for You teach me that it is the very moment to put the ax to the root of the tree, counting only on Your help.

“What merit would there be in fighting only when I feel courage? What does it matter even if I have none, provided that I act as if I had? O Jesus, make me understand that if I feel too weak to pick up a bit of thread, and yet do it for love of You, I shall gain much more merit than if I had performed some nobler act in a moment of fervor. So instead of grieving, I ought to rejoice seeing that You, by allowing me to feel my own weakness, give me an occasion of saving a greater number of souls” (cf. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, PrayerLetters, 40 – C).


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 courage: Sepia of Blessed Isidore Bakanja Congolese Carmelite Martyr, US Government, ca 1900, PD-US work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code, 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, 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, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.





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

How Does Faith Really Work? Through Love

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:07

How does faith work exactly? How do I live a life of faith?

Galatians 5:6 has tremendously important answer to this question:  “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

Here it is clear that faith is conjoined with love—that the two virtues together are essential to life in Christ. As Catholics this point cannot be emphasized enough: we do not believe in salvation by ‘faith alone,’ but by faith working through love. This is at the heart of just about everything the Church teaches and does.

Intriguingly, the Greek very translated as working is energeō, whose root is also the source of our word energy. In ancient Greek, the word could be translated as made effective or made operative.

In the light of the original Greek, then, we could read the verse as ‘faith becomes effective through love,’ which is in line with other New Testament verses, such as James 2:17 (which talks about faith as ‘dead’ without works) and 1 Corinthians 13:13 (which declares love as the ‘greatest’ of the three theological virtues).

Using the modern analogy of energy we could, perhaps, think of faith as the filament in a light bulb. Love then could be compared to the electricity which runs through the filament, lighting it up. Faith is solid, essential, and initial like the filament. But love is what makes it work.

But there is a wrinkle stemming from a dispute over exactly how to translate the verb. It hinges on the voice of the verb. Now this may seem like a triviality, but it really does matter.

First, a quick grammar refresher: voice determines the relationship of a subject to the action of a sentence. Active voice: I hammer away at the wood. Passive voice: The falling tool hammered away at my hand. Here’s the twist. Greek has a third voice called the middle voice, which is kind of in between active and passive. In the middle voice, the subject acts on himself. I hammer at my own hand. So I am being both active and passive in the sense that I am on the receiving end of my own activity.

Now, the argument of some interpreters is that the verb in the phrase faith working through love is in the middle voice. So faith is still active and directing everything and love is more of an instrument of faith, so the argument goes.

But this argument misses the interpretative forest for the grammatical trees.

In other words, even granting the alternative view of the verb’s voice, this text still strongly argues for the distinctively Catholic understanding of the relationship between faith and love for the following reasons:

An effective faith: First, faith is making itself operative or effective through love. Ergo, faith without love—as in faith alone—is not operative, effective, or energized.

Perhaps, then instead of the light bulb, a better analogy would be the car engine. Faith would be the ignition system, the vital spark that lights the fuel. Love then would be the engine itself. You can’t get anywhere without that. Running the engine, in turn, recharges the battery for the ignition system. You need both: the ignition system and the engine. So also we need both faith and love. We can’t get to where we are going without either one.

Not faith alone. Regardless of how one conceives the relationship, both faith and love are necessary. Galatians 5:6 puts both on the scale and weighs them against the old system of works under the law.

Faith and love. Notice also that it’s not faith and works. It’s faith and love. This is a common, fundamental misunderstanding. Works do matter, but they matter because they are an expression of the interior love we have for God and neighbor. Faith produces good works in us through love.

Faith is active. Faith works. Faith itself is a kind of work. It is the work of God, of course, working in us, but it is still a ‘work’ of sorts. That’s why you might see some more traditional prayers labeled as ‘An Act of Faith.’

Faith is continuous. Faith is working. Faith is not a one-time event. Our initial moment of faith is lived out through time. It grows and is nurtured through love.

9/11: 16 Years of Free Fall

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:05

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airline planes over American soil and slammed them full force with fire and smoke into New York’s World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 2,996 Americans were killed. 6,000 Americans were injured. Sixteen years later, Americans still remember what happened on that day as they would remember a burning wound that will not heal. Though the response to this historic attack was a swell of American patriotism, there has been a rapid deterioration of the American spirit ever since.

One of the iconic images of horror from the attacks is a photograph (graphic content) of a man plummeting from one of the WTC Towers. The image of this desperate victim of hate was a harbinger of desperate years to come, days even now seeming to plunge to its death, growing more and more chaotic under the growing threat of Islamic terrorism and the loss of American identity. The crisis is augmented in the growing doubt about the meaning of life itself and the loss of a unity of purpose as a nation. It is a tumbling time. It is a time of free fall. Many believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. More and more people do not vote. The American workforce is dropping. There is disregard and even contempt for government, churches, and schools. The threat of terrorism grows more and more imminent—even present. The floor has dropped from beneath the feet of the American people. There can be no confidence in a no-gravity situation.

The chaos and paranoia of 9/11 has taken on new forms within the fabric of America and driven Americans to new levels of terror and panic. The falling man stands as a warning. The crisis of confidence that Jimmy Carter famously spoke of in the 1970’s is past. The collapse is come. Confidence in the future of the country is clearly plummeting, and without confidence there can be no real progress. As French philosopher Joseph de Maistre said, “Every country has the government it deserves.” It may even be said that the terrorists have achieved their purpose. Sixteen years after 9/11, America is a terrified nation.

It will take more than building a wall to pluck up a falling people. It will take more than a ban on Muslims entering the United States to restore a crestfallen country. It will take more than tax reform to lift the spirits of a nose-diving nation. There can be no confidence or courage in comatose lethargy, contentious communities, concentrated materialism, or collective atheism. In days like these, when Teddy Roosevelt’s big stick has been whittled down into a cheerleader baton, the only hope lies in clinging to the bulwark that will never fail. The destiny of America, like any great civilization, is collapse—and its rumblings are in the air as they were palpably on that black September day sixteen years ago—but there is one institution on earth whose destiny is eternity because it is not earthly: the Holy Catholic Church. In Her is the first and last source of support and strength. Faith has the greatest potential to thrive when there is little else to believe in. Hope can never be as strong as in a hopeless situation. Peter was permitted to walk on water to safety. Perhaps America will be permitted to walk on thin air.

It is in times of calamity, as in the moment of the falling man on 9/11, that the mystery of life becomes poignant and precious. One of those mysteries, one of the deepest, is the problem of evil. At anniversaries such as these, the attempts to solve the problem of evil seem so futile and frustrating to hearts in pain—hearts seeking answers. When humanity has been lashed so sorely, it is hard to find assuagement in hollow philosophies. That evil is a privation is no comfort to those who have been deprived. Dualism is a poor excuse for death. Even the theological truth that God does not directly cause evil does not stop people from finding fault with God. That He permits evil is often enough to exacerbate the excruciation. The necessary fact of the falling man prevails over rationalizations.

In the end, like the act of terror itself, such evils as 9/11 are beyond explanation—but this does not mean that there is no explanation. No matter how shattered and shaken Catholics might feel in the wake of such evil—even after sixteen years—human perplexity cannot overthrow the truth that God is a loving God Whose providence is guided by Divine love. This can never be gainsaid by the staggering horrors of evil, death, and sin. Though they may seem to argue against the providence of God, nothing can disprove the existence of the infinite Good, the infinite God. The sad fact that mankind cannot prevent or abolish all evils does not dismantle this tenet of faith. Though evils like those that brought carnage to the United States on September 11 abound, and ever threaten with a hatred that is inscrutable, equally inscrutable is the Providence of God. It remains as constant as the sun in a sky of clouds. Its life and power is always there, even if it be obscured. It can never be diminished or destroyed. And in that presence is peace. Every act of terrorism seeks to wrest power by violence, but the power of Christian peace must never be surrendered, despite the forces of despondency and despair.

As pop-culture media bluntly reminds Americans with painful, ironic poignancy, “madness… is like gravity, all it takes is a little push.” The spirit of America is falling into the madness of moral and mental relativity with terminal velocity. Meanwhile, foes tower and victims tremble in their shadow, bereft of anything like terra firma with a volatile president, an incapable Congress, and an insurgent culture, leaving the nation with no base to withstand the tremors of terrorism and turmoil. For all of the righteous surge of will and power spurred by 9/11, the United States yet seems powerless to reverse the course of things for itself or for the world. Americans must never forget 9/11 or the falling man, and gain from their memory the determination to reverse a surrender to determinism as the battle for Western culture rages on sixteen years after September 11. The prayer of every Catholic American should be that America not collapse as those towers did, but rather bear rather up under the threat of fiery evil with that confidence that has made the West famous in song and story and which has emblazoned the Cross of Christ over the pages of history. Only faith in Christ can reverse the fate of man from falling to flying. God be with us.

Pour Out Your Complaints Before the Cross

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:02

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3: 14).

What a strange thing to say! – if we don’t have context. If we are not deeply grounded in the Old Testament, much of the New Testament loses its meaning for us. It becomes decontextualized – because the context of the New Testament is the Old Testament

Perhaps many of us already know of the serpent here referred to by Jesus – the one that Moses lifts up in the wilderness – and that’s good. But perhaps many of us don’t know what he’s talking about – and then this sounds very strange. What does lifting up a serpent have to do with life? And how can Jesus be lifted up like a serpent?

How can we identify Jesus our Lord with a serpent? The serpent reminds us more of the devil, doesn’t it? Even those of us less familiar with the Old Testament probably know the beginning of Genesis better than we do the middle of Numbers. Who wants to read a book called Numbers? Could we have given this a duller name? So we know Genesis better and we know the snake in Genesis better. Anyway, that snake and this snake are not unrelated, in my opinion, so hold on to that thought.

But I promise the Book of Numbers is not all lists of numbers – though that’s in there, too. It also has some pretty good stories. Here’s one:

“The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread and no water and we loathe this worthless bread” (Num 21:5)

By the way, I just have to interject here, I just love the way they say there is no bread and then they say the bread is worthless. Really, there is bread – but they don’t like it – and so they say at first there is no bread. Maybe they felt like that was true but they knew it wasn’t really true and so then they adjusted their complaint a little bit. Because remember the Lord had given them manna to eat, so they couldn’t honestly say there was no bread.

Manna was not a gourmet dish – “[it] was like coriander seed, it looked like gum resin… and it tasted like cakes baked with oil” (Num 11:7-8). Sounds like it was not bad but pretty plain and something that maybe people would get sick of after decades of eating little else. It was nothing as good as the fleshpots of Egypt, for example. Yet it is better to eat bread in freedom with the Lord than pots of meat while in slavery to our passions.

But we often forget this and long to again indulge our passions even at the price of enslaving ourselves to them – all for the brief taste of something that seems good to us in the moment. And while we are deprived of some seemingly good thing, we complain about the truly good things we do have and we even deny that we have them. Well-fed with food we’ve lost our taste for, we complain that we have no food.

This is the way we complain. It’s not that we don’t have something to complain about legitimately – maybe we do – but when we complain it’s like we want to make it seem like it hurts even more than it does, don’t we? And so we exaggerate the difficulty of our situation. It’s bad, but we say it’s worse than it really is. When something’s difficult, we say it’s impossible. When something hurts, we say it’s killing us. When we don’t like the food, we say there’s nothing to eat. This doesn’t really help, by the way. It’s okay to complain to the Lord. The Psalms are full of complaint. Be honest with God and with your neighbor and your family and your friends about what you suffer. But be honest. Be truthful. And never lose sight of the good that is also there. Never be ungrateful for the good you’ve been given while you honestly complain about the bad. When we begin with gratitude for the good I promise our honest complaint about the bad will be more readily heard and answered.

Anyway, the people were complaining, “‘There is no food and we loathe this worthless food.’ And so then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many sons of Israel died. And the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it up as a sign; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it up as a sign: And if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num 21:5-9).

So, you see, the Lord hears this second complaint of the people. It’s different than the first because instead of beginning with a distortion of the truth, it begins with honesty and humility. The people say in repentance, “We have sinned. We have spoken against the Lord and against Moses.” This is the truth. They’re beginning with the truth this time – instead of with the lie – “we have no food.” The complaint that was founded in dishonesty and ingratitude was not heard by the Lord. Instead, they were given something to complain about. And complain they did, but this time with humility and honesty, and so the Lord does hear them and does give them a way to healing.

It’s interesting though. They ask for the Lord to send the serpents away. “Take away the serpents from us,” they say. I’m reminded of St Patrick chasing the snakes out of Ireland. Anyway, this is not what the Lord does. He doesn’t send the serpents away. Instead, he instructs Moses to make another serpent and to lift it up on high. The people still get bitten by the serpents. But now, when they are bitten, they can look at the bronze serpent that Moses has made and lifted up and looking upon it they are healed. The venom does not kill them anymore. The Lord delivers them from the venom of the serpents, through another serpent, a bronze serpent

Well, it is helpful to know all of this when we hear Jesus say, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3: 14).

Those infected with the venom of the serpent who looked upon the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses were healed and did not die. Now, all of us infected with the venom of death due to sin who look with faith upon Jesus Christ whom we have pierced upon the cross will have eternal life. And so the bronze serpent is a type of the cross – a prophecy of the way the Lord delivers us from death.

We may cry out to the Lord to simply eradicate death just as the Israelites in the wilderness before us cried out to the Lord to simply drive away all the snakes. But instead of driving away all the snakes, the Lord instructs Moses to make another snake and through that snake to heal the people suffering from snake bites. Likewise, the Lord does not simply eradicate death, but rather he becomes a man like us and dies himself and through his death and our own deaths united to his death we are healed of death and brought to everlasting life.

Now remember that first snake in Genesis. By listening to him, Adam and Eve bring death into the world. So the snake here is the source of all death, yet later through Moses becomes a means of healing. This is like the cross – a means and symbol of death that through Jesus Christ gives us eternal life.

It’s okay and even good for us to complain about all our sufferings and injustices to the Lord. Let us just make sure that we address all our complaints to Jesus Christ crucified. The cross gives perspective to every suffering and injustice. Because it is in the mystery and the paradox of the cross that every suffering is healed and every injustice righted.

“We shall never thank God enough

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:00

“We shall never thank God enough for the love with which He has loved us.”

—Fr. Raoul Plus, S.J, How to Pray Well


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.