Catholic Exchange Articles
Little or nothing is known of the early life of the seventh century pope and martyr St. Martin I. A member of the Roman clergy, he was elected pope in 649, and immediately found himself in the center of a religious and political controversy.
In the Byzantine (Eastern) Empire there was a heresy, or false teaching, known as Monothelitism, which said that Christ, while on earth, had no human will, but only a divine one. (The Church teaches that Jesus has two wills: a full and perfect divine one, and a full and perfect human one.) Several of the Eastern emperors had favored Monothelitism, supported by the patriarch, or bishop, of the imperial city of Constantinople.
Soon after his election, Pope Martin convened a Church council in Rome which officially rejected this teaching and condemned the efforts of the patriarch and emperor to promote it. An angered emperor tried to discredit and later to assassinate the pope. Failing in these efforts, the emperor sent troops to Rome with orders to arrest Martin. Already in poor health, Martin made no resistance, and in the imperial city he suffered torture and imprisonment. He later wrote, “For forty-seven days I have not been given water to wash in. I am frozen through and wasting away with dysentery. The food I get makes me ill. But God sees all things and I trust in Him.”
Pope Martin was exiled to Crimea, where he died in 655. St. Martin I is honored as a martyr because of his death in exile; he was the last pope to suffer martyrdom.
1. Truth is sometimes “politically incorrect,” but, as St. Martin knew, followers of Christ must defend the Faith nonetheless, even at the risk of controversy and personal suffering.
2. St. Martin suffered greatly at the hands of his enemies, but was sustained by his trust in God. We too must remember that God sees all things, including the difficulties and injustices we experience, and that remaining steadfast will result in vindication and glory.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Hermenegild (585), Martyr
Blessed Margaret of Castello (1320), Virgin, Religious
You ask me if a soul sensible of its own misery can go with great confidence to God. I reply that not only can the soul that knows its misery have great confidence in God, but that unless it has such knowledge, the soul cannot have true confidence in Him; for it is this true knowledge and confession of our misery that brings us to God.
All of the great saints — Job, David, and the rest — began every prayer with the confession of their own misery and unworthiness. And so it is a very good thing to acknowledge ourselves to be poor, vile, abject, and unworthy to appear in the presence of God.
“Know thyself” — that saying so celebrated among the ancients — may be understood as applying to the knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the soul (so that it may not be debased or profaned by things unworthy of its nobility); but it also may be taken to refer to the knowledge of our unworthiness, imperfection, and misery.
Now, the greater our knowledge of our own misery, the more profound will be our confidence in the goodness and mercy of God, for mercy and misery are so closely connected that the one cannot be exercised without the other. If God had not created man, He would still indeed have been perfect in goodness, but He would not have been actually merciful, since mercy can only be exercised toward the miserable.
You see, then, that the more miserable we know ourselves to be, the more occasion we have to confide in God, since we have nothing in ourselves in which we can trust. The mistrust of ourselves proceeds from the knowledge of our imperfections. It is a very good thing to mistrust ourselves, but how will it help us, unless we cast our whole confidence upon God and wait for His mercy? It is right that our daily faults and infidelities should cause us some shame and embarrassment when we appear before our Lord. We read of great souls like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila, who, when they had fallen into some fault, were overwhelmed with shame.
Again, it is reasonable that, having offended God, we draw back a little in humility and from a feeling of embarrassment, for even if we have offended only a friend, we are ashamed to approach him. But it is quite certain that we must not remain at a distance, for the virtues of humility, abjection, and shame are intermediate virtues by which the soul must ascend to union with God.
There would be no point in accepting our nothingness and stripping ourselves of self (which is done by acts of self-abasement) if the result of this were not the total surrender of ourselves to God. St. Paul teaches us this when he says, “Strip yourselves of the old man, and put on the new”; for we must not remain unclothed, but must clothe ourselves anew with God. The reason for this little withdrawal is only so that we may better press on toward God by an act of love and confidence. We must never allow our shame to be attended with sadness and disquietude. That kind of shame proceeds from self-love, because we are troubled at not being perfect, not so much for the love of God, as for love of ourselves.
And even if you do not feel such confidence, you must still not fail to make acts of confidence, saying to our Lord, “Although, dear Lord, I have no feeling of confidence in Thee, I know all the same that Thou art my God, that I am wholly Thine, and that I have no hope but in Thy goodness; therefore I abandon myself entirely into Thy hands.”
It is always in our power to make these acts; although there may be difficulty, there is never impossibility. It is on these occasions and amid these difficulties that we ought to show fidelity to our Lord. For although we may make these acts without fervor and without satisfaction to ourselves, we must not distress ourselves about that; our Lord loves them better thus.
And do not say that you repeat them indeed but only with your lips; for if the heart did not will it, the lips would not utter a word. Having done this, be at peace, and without dwelling at all upon your trouble, speak to our Lord of other things.
The conclusion of this first point, then, is that it is very good for us to be covered with shame when we know and feel our misery and imperfection; but we must not stop there. Neither must the consciousness of these miseries discourage us; rather it should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him and not in ourselves. And this is so inasmuch as we change and He never changes; He is as good and merciful when we are weak and imperfect as when we are strong and perfect. I always say that the throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore the greater our misery, the greater should be our confidence.+
This article is from a chapter in St. Francis de Sales’ The Art of Loving God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on misery and mercy: Cover of The Art of Loving God, used with permission. Saint Francois de Sales en gloire (Saint Francis de Sales in Glory), Anonymous, 1677, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.About Charlie McKinney
Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers, CatholicExchange.com, CrisisMagazine.com, and EpicPew.com. Charlie is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is a regular guest on Catholic radio and television. He and his wife have four children and they reside in New Hampshire.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
A friend stopped me during my daily walk with my dog for an unexpected conversation. As she momentarily halted her vigorous weeding, her approach seemed overly enthusiastic. “Jeannie, I have to tell you something!” she squealed with enthusiasm. I responded with equal gusto, “What is it?” Apparently a book I gave her over four years ago is now one she is eagerly devouring. It’s Scott Hahn’s Reason to Believe, and I’d nearly forgotten about it until she expressed how much it convicted her.
Normally, this wouldn’t have been news to write home about, but this was not a normal situation. My friend is Mennonite, and she comes from generations of Protestants who follow this faith tradition.
“I’m getting disillusioned with the Mennonite response to modern issues in the world,” she continued as I listened attentively. “Everything I read that is Catholic is really convicting me, and I keep running into Catholic blogs and articles. They all speak to me, and I just want to share what I’m learning with everyone else!”
In that moment, I recalled an article I’d read about gradualism, and it occurred to me that this was the fruit of many years of cultivating friendship with her. Last year I read the book, Forming Intentional Disciples, and I had informally been practicing evangelization to my dear friend. Here’s how it all began:1. Building a relationship
About eight years ago, I met my neighbor, who became a close friend. We fostered a relationship based on common interests, then our shared understanding of humanity based on our degrees in psychology, and finally, our Christian faith. We listened to each other with mutual respect and admiration, never condescending or judging. The first step to conversion begins with a solid friendship formed with this type of reciprocal respect.2. Establishing trust
Eventually my friend trusted me on matters concerning doctrine. Because we already had the foundation of friendship, she was willing to seek my advice and perspective about cultural and moral issues through the lens of Catholicism. We discussed life issues, the Eucharist, and celibacy – all with her authentically comprehending and believing what I shared.3. Openness to Catholicism
Last year, I became cognizant that my friend was, in fact, open to Catholicism. Her questions went from distant curiosity to genuine interest. I noticed a change in the way she saw herself, church history, apologetics, and all of the theological and philosophical applications of Catholicism in the modern day. Her heart was directed toward, rather than away from, the beauty of our Faith.4. Conversion
Now that my friend is reading Scott Hahn and sees the conviction of truth in her heart, I can see that she is on the journey toward conversion. From my viewpoint, this doesn’t mean verbalizing what I see to her. It means the continuation of listening to her insights, sharing when she asks, and maintaining our friendship.
We don’t have to knock door-to-door to be new evangelists. In fact, the beauty of a gradual conversion is often what draws people into the Church so that they stay. A faith rooted in rich, fertile soul is much more likely to withstand the inevitable storms that attempt to uproot it than the overzealous convert whose faith is built on rock or sand.
Maybe the point for all of us is to realize that everyone God places in our lives is a person in need of what we have to offer – hospitality, a thoughtful gift, a listening heart. If we allow God to be the One who puts all of the pieces together, we eventually discover that we were part of a beautiful tapestry – piece by piece, bit by bit – all along. Evangelization doesn’t have to be difficult. It just means we are attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through our everyday relationships.
The Easter season is one in which we recall the twelve Apostles and their commissioning – their sending forth into the world – after Pentecost. As the original Christian evangelists, they were first trained for a time, and then Jesus sent them to use what they had learned, to implement their gifts and talents in new and strange lands, but most of all, to be the heart of the Faith.
As disciples of Christ, we are also called to evangelize through the heart language, by way of encountering a person in his or her spiritual journey. We do not proselytize. We do not lead Pharisaical lives. Rather, we return to the source of our faith just as the Apostles did. We receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently; we confess our sins regularly; and we call upon the Holy Spirit to hear and speak the right words so that every conversation might be holy.
Years have passed since I first met my dear friend. In fact, it has been nearly ten years since we first met and forged a close bond with each other. I have seen her spiritual maturity unfurl slowly but steadily. I have watched in amazement at her inner transformation based on conversations she has initiated. And, today, in this Easter season, I stand in awe at the reality that she is on the cusp of conversion. To participate so directly in one’s call to Catholicism is incredibly humbling and quite an honor.
So we, like the first Twelve, must not be afraid to engage others when they approach us. We can view evangelization as if it were door-to-door preaching, or we can see it instead as the gradual building of relationships, the mutual trust and reciprocity that unfolds as the relationship deepens. When we step back and allow the Holy Spirit to lead our friendships with others, we just might one day realize that we have been instruments of evangelization all along.
Catholic pregnancy tip: well water from the Abbey of Santo Domingo in Spain where Blessed Jane of Aza prayed for another child—a prayer heard and answered in the person of Saint Dominic. I was told that someone in the parish usually had some, but warned to drink only a small amount. Had I noticed the number of twins running around after Mass?
Just a few short years ago, this advice would have struck me as insane.
Water from a well in Spain? A 12th-century woman desperate for another baby, dreaming about a dog with a torch in its mouth? The most ridiculous thing ever.
I remember reading infertility forums and, in addition to suggestions ranging from sweet potatoes to ovulation predictor kits to giving up coffee, some (crazy loony) Catholic suggested a novena to Saint Gerard. I read that and thought, “How on earth is that going to accomplish anything?”
But, in my post-conversion world, I was nothing short of thrilled to realize that I knew someone on pilgrimage in Spain. Not only did she promise to bring back water from the well, but she had a Dominican priest take pictures of her getting the water.
Just days after receiving the Spanish water, a writer embarking on an Italian pilgrimage asked readers for prayer intentions. I jumped on that too. Another baby. She responded, It would be an honor. She was going to haul my prayer on international flights, over rough Italian roads, and in and out of hotels to be presented to God at grottoes, cathedrals, and tombs. And that’s how my intention ended up before Padre Pio and Pope St. John Paul II.
Another friend was praying the Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux for me.
Yet another friend gave us relics from St. Gerard.
So with the small glass bottle of Spanish well water on our mantle, and prayer intentions storming heaven from Oregon to the Vatican, what else could have happened? A positive pregnancy test, in all its double-lined glory. I might have looked at it a dozen times a day, just to assure myself this was actually happening.
But then it was suddenly not happening anymore.
Despite the water, the prayers, the special feast days corresponding with discovering we were expecting again, there it was—an abrupt ending. Even though there were a dozen incredible things about this baby coming into being at this precise moment.
The shocking thing isn’t that this happened, because miscarriages happen all the time. Or that the intentions, blessings, and prayers didn’t “work” well enough. Because God alone can bring forth new life.
But that all was not lost—that this effort was not for nothing. Prayers are never wasted; they are always fruitful. In reaching out to brothers and sisters on earth and saints across time and place, it is nothing short of astounding to consider those who hear and witness our prayers. What a privilege it is to be Catholic, to have this communion to call upon.
My little children, your hearts are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun. —St. John Vianney
The Easter Triduum fast approaches. It is a time in which we remember Christ embracing the cross for the love of us, and one in which we joyfully celebrate his triumphant resurrection, which is the source of all our hope. But it is also a time of remembering what Christ saved us from, namely, our sins. Today, I want to reflect briefly on how humble repentance frees us from sin.
While many would deny it, it is a fact that we are all desperately sick with sin. It eats away at our souls like the deadly Ebola virus, and unchecked, it will inevitably lead to our spiritual death. How then do we find healing? How then are we made whole? The remedy is simple: Repentance. And there is no better illustration of repentance than the parable of the Pharisee and the publican:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”The Spirit of the Pharisee
How subtle is Pharisaism. How easy it is to scorn others and hold them in contempt. How natural for us to think that we are healthy and whole spiritually when in reality we are diseased and dying. We look at prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals, and those who have ruined their lives with sinful choices and think, “I’m so glad I’m not like that! I’m so glad my life isn’t a mess. Sure, I still sin (doesn’t everyone?), but at least I know God and haven’t been as immoral as others.”
In these moments when we feel like we are good, spiritual people who have it all together, we are far from God. “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked,” Christ says to us, his voice filled with grief (Rev. 3:17).
The root of this pharisaic pride is forgetting that sin is a matter of the heart, and that it is just as easy to be “wretched” in God’s eyes when we outwardly appear good as it is when we are outwardly immoral. That was the whole problem with the Pharisees—they washed the outside of the cup and ignored the inside.A Broken Spirit
The solution is the humility of the publican. The publican had no doubt he was a sinner. He saw the gravity of his sins and they overwhelmed him. There was no self-sufficiency in him, and there was no doubt in his mind that he was a very sinful man. “A humble and contrite heart, thou, O God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
This humility, this acknowledgement of our utter neediness, is the heart of true repentance. In God’s order of justice, only those who accuse themselves of their sins and confess like common criminals can find forgiveness, just as the one with leprosy can only find healing when he runs to the nearest physician. It is only when we are condemned that we find pardon.
The truth is, we are all desperately in need of God’s healing and forgiveness. Though our sins may be more subtle, they are nonetheless grave for their hiddenness. Perhaps they are more grave since their subtlety convinces us that we are well. We are all sinners; there is no place for us to despise or condemn anyone but ourselves.
This holy week, let’s embrace the spirit of the publican, and in our weakness and sinfulness, let us cry out to our Lord, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” For he did not come to heal the well, but the sick, and if we do not acknowledge our sin, we have no part with him. As he himself said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Editor’s note: The post The Pharisee, the Publican, and You appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman. The image is of the Pharisee and Publican – Tewkesbury Abbey by Walwyn / Flickr.
During Holy Week we recall the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord for our salvation. Today’s first reading from Isaiah details some of the sufferings inflicted on Our Lord in his passion. In all the pain and suffering, though seemingly abandoned even by his heavenly Father, he did not despair nor lose hope: “I have not despaired, for the Lord Yahweh comes to my help.”
In the Gospel reading we listen to the betrayal of Jesus by one his chosen apostle, Judas lscariot. For thirty pieces of silver Judas agreed to hand Jesus over to the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews: “from then on he kept looking for the best way to hand him over to them.”
We also hear Jesus telling his disciples at the Passover meal that one of them would betray him. Judas even had the gall to ask Jesus, “You do not mean me, Master, do you?” And Jesus confirmed his betrayal, “You have said it.”
The betrayal of Judas was very painful for Jesus, coming from one of his trusted chosen ones.
We, too, betray Our Lord when we sin, when we do not follow his commands, when we prefer the world’s values to the Gospel values he preached. When we sin, we betray our loving Father in heaven.
“The calendar of saints should remind us of the unreliability of appearances. Theirs is a greatness grander than size, and a prominence more cogent than popularity.”
-Rev. George W. Rutler, Hints of Heaven
Dear Brothers and Sisters: During this Holy Week, our continuing catechesis on Christian hope looks to the mystery of the Cross. Unlike worldly hopes, which fail to bring lasting satisfaction, our Christian hope is grounded in God’s eternal love, revealed in the mystery of Christ’s sacrificial death and his rising to new life. Jesus, in speaking of his imminent passion and death, uses the image of the seed that must fall to the ground and die, in order to bear fruit. His saving death and resurrection show that the self-giving love that is God’s very life can transform darkness into light, sin into forgiveness, apparent defeat into eternal victory. The Cross of Christ is thus the source of that unfailing hope which gives meaning and direction to our lives. Beyond the shadow of the Cross, we glimpse the glory to which we are called. As we celebrate these holy days leading to Easter, may we contemplate in the crucified Lord the source of our lasting hope and the inspiration for our efforts to live in imitation of his undying love.
In the year 337, Julius succeeded Pope Saint Mark, who had only reigned as pope for nine months. Immediately after taking office, Julius was involved with the Arian controversy. Anthanasius had been exiled. But after the death of Constantine the Great, his son, Constantine II, allowed Anthanasius to return to the see of Alexandria. Eusebius of Nicomedia was against the return of Anthanasius so he and his followers elected George for the see of Alexandria. However, the Arians in Egypt wanted another man, named Pistus, to be bishop. They pleaded with Julius to bring Pistus into communion with Rome.
A great controversy ensued and finally Julius assembled a synod in Rome so both parties could present their cases for his decision. Neither party attended though, so in a letter to the Eusebian bishops, Julian declared Athanasius the rightful bishop of Alexandria and reinstated him. This decision, however, was not finally confirmed until the Council of Sardica in 343.
Julius died on April 12, 352 and was buried in the catacombs of Calepodius on the Aurelian Way. Very soon after his death he was honored as a saint.
During his pontificate, Julius had two new basilicas built: the Church of Julius, which is now St. Maria Church in Trastevere, and the Basilica Julia, which is now the Church of the Twelve Apostles. He also built three other churches, one of which was at the tomb of the martyr, St. Valentine. While Julius was in office observance of saints’ feast days started and the Roman feast calendar of Philocalus began.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the discernment and wisdom you gave Pope St. Julius during his papacy. We thank you for Pope Benedict XVI and ask that you continue to bless him with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. In Christ’s Name we pray. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Sabbos the Goth (372), Priest, Martyr
I wish to clarify some fundamental truths regarding our Faith and the complex theme of evil spells. Even before speaking of these evils and their author, the devil, and in order to discourage the temptation of sensationalism, I shall put together two fundamental premises that regard Jesus Christ, the Master, the Savior, and the Liberator.
The first consideration regards the profound significance of the Incarnation of the Son of God for each man and woman of every era; that is, the birth of Jesus Christ the Savior, born of the Virgin Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit, which occurred one night more than two thousand years ago in Bethlehem, a small and insignificant locality not too far from Jerusalem. It is precisely this event inserted into the history of humanity that gives us great hope. It is necessary to look at that Baby as the Son of God, who was born in the midst of men and women in order to separate them from sin, egoism, death, and the power of the devil. With eyes animated by faith, one can see lying in that poor stable the Prophet waited for by the people — the Messiah, who, through preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, curing the sick, consoling the derelict, and casting out demons, will reveal, definitively, the merciful face of the Father.
The birth of Jesus, however, does not say everything; we must refer to the second fundamental moment in the history of the Son of Man: His death and Resurrection, which we celebrate each year at Easter. The Resurrection of Jesus is the cause of eternal salvation for the souls of those who died before His coming and for all those who came after Him. The Resurrection of Christ throws open the doors of paradise with one condition: that this salvation is liberally accepted by each man. God does not impose acceptance on anyone, and He is always ready to welcome us at every moment.
At the beginning of the Gospel of Mark there are four phrases that summarize the entire work of the Lord and that nurture and give meaning to our existence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Analyzing them, we shall understand the sense of the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus.
The first phrase tells us that the time for waiting is finished: from the moment when Jesus is born on earth, He becomes contemporaneously the center of all human history.
Here is the substance of the second phrase: heaven, which had been closed because of sin, is now open, in virtue of the transfigured flesh of Christ in His Resurrection. By now His kingdom of justice and peace has definitively arrived. It is helpful to recall that, according to the Old Testament, the dead had a particular destiny: Sheol, a type of common grave where the Jews believed their souls would end up after death. Sheol was imagined to be a dim, shadowy place that allowed a diminished type of survival after death. It did not, however, liberate man from the more perverse and adverse effects of creation: exclusion from perfect communion with God and men. But with the advent of Christ and His Resurrection in the flesh, revelation is now complete: the doors of paradise have been thrown open, and the dazzling light of Christ, raised and living, invades the resting place of all the redeemed.
The third phrase reveals to us that in order to enjoy eternal beatitude, we must change our way of thinking, and therefore our life, in a total and radical way. We have been called to a continuous metanoia, a conversion, a reformulation of the priority of life, so that this reality can also be fully realized in our own existence.
Finally, the forth phrase tells us how to work this conversion: by living the gospel. There we have all that is necessary. The gospel, in turn, summarizes what Jesus commands His disciples: “love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
What must we embody in order to assume all of this in a serious way? Permit me to respond with a simple personal anecdote. For twenty-six years — from 1942 to 1968 — I went regularly to San Giovanni Rotondo to meet with St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Some of the monks had posters in their cells with inscriptions and reminders. Some were from the Bible but Padre Pio had this: “Human greatness has always had sadness for a companion.” The sense of it seemed clear to me: we must have humility, precisely like Jesus, whom St. Paul describes as “emptying” Himself (cf. Phil. 2:7), that is, of making Himself man — even though He was God — and of dying on the Cross, rejected by men. After this poster was stolen from his room, Padre Pio put up another: “Mary is all the reason for my hope.” If Mary, who is the Mother of Jesus, is our hope, anyone — anyone who suffers, anyone who is alone, or anyone who feels sad — can look at the Nativity of Jesus and at His Resurrection with a heart full of hope.
The death of Christ throws a penetrating light on our death. The Son of God, making Himself man, wished to accept the condition of men in its totality. God, as the book of Genesis narrates, created man in a condition of immortality. In the terrestrial paradise he received only one prohibition: not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Obviously, in order to make us understand better, the biblical author uses metaphorical language: what is related is not understood in a literal sense. The message is received in the depth of its theological significance: for man, it is a trial of obedience and a recognition of the authority of God and of His lordship over creation. In order to make them deviate, the devil used two expedients with Adam and Eve, and he uses them also with us. Above all, he leads them to deny what God has imposed. For this the serpent says to Eve: “You will not die” (Gen. 3:4). He acts in the same way with us, when he makes us doubt the existence of sin and hell and paradise and of their eternity; or, for example, as in our times, where euthanasia and abortion are passed off as signs of humanity’s progress. The second subterfuge is to make evil appear good, a gain rather than a loss. The serpent proceeds: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The devil also makes evil appear interesting, positive, and beautiful.
In light of this situation, by incarnating Himself, Jesus accepts the extreme consequences of this original sin, whose effect is death: “[I]n the day that you eat of it you shall die,” warns God when placing man in Eden (Gen. 2:17). By incarnating Himself, the Son of Man has accepted — as man and only as man — the condition of mortality and all its limitations: hunger, thirst, fatigue, and sensibility to pain. He accepted — in order to save us — the extreme consequence, death, in order to defeat it with His Resurrection. This fact makes St. Paul cry out: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). Death has been defeated by Jesus! Included in the great consolation of eternal salvation — the Lord will dry each of our tears (cf. Rev. 21:4) — are those who are afflicted with spiritual evils. This is great news for our dear brothers and sisters who suffer so much.The Consequences of Christ’s Victory
Let us ponder what has just been said, lingering a bit on the mystery of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of the Lord. The last —the Resurrection — obtains three victories for us against the three condemnations imposed on Adam and Eve after the original sin. The first condemnation is death; the second regards our body, which falls into decay (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return” [Gen. 3:19]); the third is symbolized in the closing of the doors of paradise.
Above all, Jesus obtains victory over death; therefore, immediately after closing our eyes to this world, our body does not go into the semidarkness of Sheol; rather, it is destined to rise again. This plan is expressed very clearly in the affirmation Jesus expresses to the good thief on the cross: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). This tells us that we must not fear death, because in death we are going toward the peace, harmony, and love that await us and give us life without end.
Here lies the victory over the second condemnation: man is made of soul and body and cannot live with the soul detached from the body. Body and soul are destined to reunite at the end of time, that is, at the moment of the Last Judgment. St. Thomas Aquinas — in my view, the greatest Christian theologian — affirms that, if in faith we believe in this unity between the soul and the body, even from a rational point of view (using only the power of reason), it is impossible to conceive them separated. If we think of the saints — who already enjoy paradise but whose bodies are still not united to their souls, since that will happen only at the end of time — we can be certain that they already live the beatified state without the body and that they will reach their highest level of blessedness when body and soul are rejoined. And through the mercy of God, the same can be said of us when we reach paradise. Only when time is completed, when the soul and the body are rejoined, will there be a true fullness of life. To say it in simple terms: for the moment, the saints have so much happiness that they can be content with only their souls. The same can be said inversely for the damned.
Finally, regarding the third condemnation, we can maintain that Jesus, by His Resurrection, has opened the doors of paradise for us, the doors that had been closed and sealed by original sin. This is the fundamental lesson of Easter, for which we can say with the joy of our faith that our life is destined to glory and eternal happiness, together with the company of Mary, the saints, and the most Holy Trinity.Giving Meaning to Suffering
Yet we experience pain and suffering in this life. How do we look at eternal life for those who suffer in body and spirit? God created everything for love and happiness, but He also established that each creature arrive there freely and without constraint. The Lord has fixed a trial for everyone. The angels themselves were subjected to this test. We know the final result: some of them rebelled against God and did not wish to recognize His authority or to submit humbly to Him. These are the fallen who were definitively damned. The other angels preferred obedience to God, and they chose paradise.
Man is also subjected to the test of fidelity to God’s laws. This happens in an eminent way during a time of suffering, which, as we well know, is experienced by everyone. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Magisterium of the Church reminds us that “the messianic victory over sickness, as over all other human sufferings, does not happen only by its elimination through miraculous healing, but also through the voluntary and innocent suffering of Christ in his passion, which gives every person the ability to unite himself to the sufferings of the Lord.” Therefore, human suffering associated with Christ’s becomes salvific: “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”
Pain, especially that of the innocent, is a mystery that overwhelms our capacity to understand. The sufferer, who bears the pain of illness or of some other spiritual evil, such as diabolical possession, is elevated to a level nearer to Christ, making him capable through faith of cultivating hope. Indeed, the sufferer is called to a true and proper vocation, that of participating in the increase of the Kingdom of God with new and more precious modalities. The words of the apostle Paul can become their model: “[I]n my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24). Offering oneself to the will of God in suffering is the only path one can take. It is the mystery that I encounter each day in my ministry of releasing so many brothers and sisters from the sufferings of evil spirits, sufferings that they, in turn, offer for the salvation of the world.
In order to translate these theological concepts into popular terms, let us borrow what was said in my region, in Emilia [Romagna]: “No one goes to heaven in a horse-drawn carriage.” It’s necessary somehow, to earn one’s way. But let us understand that everything is grace; paradise can never be “merited.” It is Christ alone who has earned it for everyone through the narrow passage of His Passion and death on the Cross that led to the joy of the Resurrection. We are given the opportunity to accept it through the trials of life. And this is so for everyone. We read, for example, that some saints endured extraordinary sufferings. But the Lord does not demand this from everyone.
Each of us endures his tribulations, his ordinary and his extraordinary difficulties. To be tried in body and in spirit, entrusting oneself totally to God, is a true and proper test of faith, where love and fidelity to the Lord are given freely and not for some advantage. In brief, love for God has no other reason but love. Is it not also true of human love? Bernard of Clairvaux has illuminating words on the subject: “Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice; I love because I love.”
We are called, then, to love God and to believe in Him in the difficulties of life, because we recognize that the stormy things give us strength and the help to go forward each day. I cite again the example of St. Paul, who speaks of the “thorn in the flesh” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7). We do not know exactly what he was suffering; he speaks of a “messenger of Satan” who was persecuting him. We can infer that it involved a physical suffering due to the action of the devil and not from natural causes. “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me,” he affirms, nearly desperate (2 Cor. 12:8). God, however, does not free him. “My grace is sufficient for you,” He responds to him (2 Cor. 12:9), because virtue is manifested and deepened precisely through suffering, where virtue is tried and perfected. The apostle’s experience confirms that we learn to love God through suffering, perfecting ourselves in love. Suffering — I repeat — offered as reparation for the salvation of souls and the conversion of sinners becomes an instrument of true collaboration with God’s work for the redemption of all humanity.The Signs of God’s Love
How, then, is divine mercy manifested toward those who suffer and, in particular, toward those who are vexed by demons? The response is: through prayer, the intimate communion with Jesus, and in the highest way, in the sacraments, the tangible signs of God’s love for us.
Those persons who experience spiritual disturbances suffer from a unique form of suffering: in the case of physical illnesses there are medical tests, and if doctors are able to understand the causes, they can make prognoses and often find suitable remedies at the right moment and proceed with the attempts. In the case of the sufferings caused by demons, no human or scientifically verifiable explanation exists. We are in the field of the invisible: no two cases are similar; each has its own story, and in each one it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know how things were developed. What is certain is that the interior suffering is always very great, and often not understood, at least at the beginning, not even by those who are around the afflicted person, such as relatives and friends. This situation often leads to great frustration and solitude in those who experience it. In the case of torments caused by demons, we find ourselves before a mystery that can be confronted solely through total abandonment to the will of God. It is indispensable to turn to Him, since no human cure exists other than the supernatural cure and the knowledge that comes from faith that one’s life, even in paradoxical situations like these, “is hidden with Christ in God” (cf. Col. 3:3).
Thus, God’s “prescriptions,” authentic instruments of grace, become tangible signs that nurture faith and hope even when one confronts the most inexplicable situations. Many persons who suffer from spiritual maladies, and whom I have encountered over the years, confirm this each and every day.
A kid can live and die by the look on his mom’s face! Her smile can light up his day, while her disappointment or anger can be a dark cloud. Boys certainly live and die by their dads’ look, too! This is part of God’s design, the communion of persons. While women tend to do better at facial recognition (I have to ask my wife during a movie if that is the same actor/actress), I think most men can at least tell when their women are mad! The face is our most powerful medium of communication. Even Scripture knows this: Moses blesses the people, saying, “The LORD let his face shine upon you!” (Num 6:24-26). Or on the negative side, David says, “Do not hide your face from me” (Ps 27:9; See also Mic 3:4; Is 8:17; Ps 88:15; 69:18).The Prime of the Faith
We are first loved by God and then challenged to live out that love (1 Jn. 4:19-20). Love and challenge as a prime of our faith is the framework I will use to illustrate what I call “The Look” verse from Luke’s passion (22:61).When was the Look?
The context is Holy Thursday night. After Jesus celebrates the Passover, he goes through the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweats drops of blood as he prays. He is betrayed, arrested, and taken to the high priest’s courtyard in the middle of the night, where Peter denies him. Just as Peter finishes his third denial, the cock crows, “and the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Peter remembers Jesus’ prediction and weeps bitterly!
It is the timing of the Lord’s turning and looking at Peter that fascinates me. It is right after Peter’s denial—he is in his sin, having just betrayed Jesus. Whenever we sin, we deny and betray him. But the God of the universe does not wait for us to return; instead, he initiates and turns toward us! How often do we reverse who initiates our reconnection after sin?What was the Look?
This turning could be good news, depending on what the look meant. Was it harsh? Angry? Condemning? Vindictive? The look that could kill? I don’t think so! Jesus was not surprised—he had predicted Peter’s denial (22:34). He had also told Peter that Satan had “demanded” to sift him and all of the disciples like wheat (22:31), so he knew Peter would struggle. Therefore, I think his look was one of love!
Confirmation of this comes from the arc of salvation history. After Adam and Eve sin, they do not run to God to confess—rather, it is God who initiates contact—they hear him walking in the garden, are afraid, and run for the bushes. Then God asks, “Where are you?” Has God lost his kids? No! It is a relational question—“Where is my beloved son?”—not a behavioral one—“What did you do?” It is a verbal look of love!
It is the same with the prodigal son’s father. He looks for his son constantly and is overjoyed when he comes home. The question of “Where are you, my beloved son?” has been answered—he is home! The behavior is virtually ignored. Sin is not really ignored here, just overwhelmed with communion/love. Paul puts an exclamation point on things with, “There is no condemnation in Christ!” (Rom. 8:1). His look is one of love, not condemnation!Why the Look?
Love is a powerful force! We need to experience being loved, even in our sins. When we experience “the tender mercy of our God” (Lk 1:78) and not harshness, especially in confession, then we can be driven with Peter to “weep bitterly” over our sins out of gratitude, not necessarily guilt.
And that’s not all…the look of love comes with a challenge, too! Jesus’ look is saying to Peter, “I am not done with you yet.” After Jesus tells him that Satan demands to sift him, he continues, “but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:31-32). Out of Peter’s sin comes his mission. He denies Christ, then spends the rest of his life, through prisons, beatings, and ultimately crucifixion (upside down!), proclaiming him and strengthening the brothers. In the look of love our sins can be turned into our mission. This is a basic principle of Scripture and of the twelve-step programs: use your wounds and your forgiven sins to help/love others more (Step 12; Lk 7:47; 2 Cor 1:3-7).The Look: Love and Challenge
When you sin, can you experience Jesus turning toward you with the look of love? Going to confession can help! The look of love asks, “Where is my beloved son?” and expresses the Father’s deepest desire for you—he wants you home! Then “once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” You have been loved and now challenged: What is your mission that comes from your wound or sin?
God is always attentive to the humble supplication of a pure and sincere heart. Jesus commanded us to pray with these words: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…” (Mt. 7:7) Therefore, obeying the command of the Lord Himself we should ask, seek, and knock trusting that we will be heard and our prayers granted.
Prayer is an open communication with God; prayer is a conversation with Someone who we know listens to us and loves us most ardently; prayer is communication and dialogue with a Friend; prayer is the pious lifting up of the mind and the heart to God. What air is to the lungs, so prayer is to the soul; it is essential! The great Saint Augustine expresses prayer using this poetic and rhythmic expression: “He who prays well, lives well; he who lives well, dies well; he who dies well, all is well.” In other words, the salvation of our immortal soul depends upon a fervent and dynamic prayer life.
Still, there is the burning question: who then should we pray for? Is there a certain hierarchy or a list in priority as to whom we should pray for first? The response: we can and should pray for everybody in the entire world. This for the simple reason that God created all people on the face of the earth to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in Heaven. All were created for eternal Beatitude—meaning happiness—in heaven.
A group of persons very dear to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as well as the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, would be sinners, especially those sinners whose souls are in most danger of being lost for all eternity.
Our Lady of Fatima, as well as Our Lady of Lourdes, both insisted on prayer, but most especially praying for the conversion of poor sinners. After each decade of the Rosary Our Lady of Fatima insisted that we pray: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.”
Therefore, so as to enrich your prayer of intercession we will propose a list of certain sinners that we should have most close to our heart as we pray. We might use Saint Monica as a model for prayer of intercession for the conversion of sinners. Due to her prayers, her mother-in-law, her husband Patricius, and finally her wayward son, Saint Augustine—all of them were converted, and of course one became a great saint!Who Should We Pray For?
1. Those blind to their condition. We should lift up our prayers on high for that group of persons—and there are many, very many today—who actually deny that they have any sin whatsoever. Pope Pius XII asserted:“The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.” Jesus came to save sinners. If we deny that we are sinners, then how can Jesus the Savior actually save us. Never forget: Jesus came to save sinners!
2. Slaves to addiction. On our list of priorities, we should definitely implore the Lord’s abundant mercy for those who are slaves to addictions, those who seem unable to break the chains of sin that are enslaving them. Addictions today are many: drugs, drink, sex, porn, gambling, buying, stealing, and many more. May Jesus attain for them the true freedom of the sons and daughters of God by helping them to smash the chains of these addictions!
3. Despairing Souls. Another very critical category of souls to pray for is those who are despairing, those who have lost all hope. These are those souls who believe that their sins are so serious and many that they go beyond the pale of God’s mercy. Actually, the worst of all sins, as expressed in theDiary of Mercy In My Soul by Saint Faustina Kowalska, is the failure to trust in the infinite mercy that flows from the loving Heart of Jesus, pierced by the lance on that first Good Friday.
4. Anger and Hatred. Another very important group of souls who make up part of our prayer of intercession are those souls who have been so beaten, wounded, pummeled and lacerated in life by others that they are filled with gaping wounds of anger and hatred that are so deep, foul, and festering that they do not even want to turn to the Divine Physician to be healed and saved. Of course we know that one of the primary missions of the Lord Jesus was to heal wounded humanity. The blind, the deaf, the mute, the lepers, and the paralytics were drawn to Jesus like a magnet and because of their faith they were healed.
Let us pray for those who are deeply wounded by anger and hatred, that they will turn to Jesus and be healed and renewed. Of course the best model to follow for those who have been literally blinded by anger and hatred because of those who have wounded them, is Jesus Himself as He hung on the cross. Basically the Body of Jesus was a gaping wound from head to foot. Yet Jesus taught us the power of love, mercy, and forgiveness with these words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Let us turn to Jesus! Either we are wounded wounders or we are wounded healers! May those embittered by past wounds turn to Jesus for healing so that they can one day become wounded healers in a broken and wounded world.
5. Those who are dying. Of primary importance we should lift our fervent and zealous prayers for this very important category: sinners who are about to die; we call them deathbed sinners! These are individuals who are dying in the state of mortal sin, thereby separating themselves from God. Now, if they die in this state of unrepentant mortal sin they will lose their soul for all eternity—the worse fate that could befall any person! What can we do? Jesus promised in the Diary of Saint Faustina that when we pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for those who are dying, then these souls in some mysterious way will be saved for all eternity. Therefore, if you are ever present at the deathbed of any person, and this could be a fallen away Catholic, Christian, Moslem, Buddhist or Hindu, agnostic or even atheist, then for the love of God and for the eternal salvation of this soul pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. If done, Jesus promised in the Diary of Divine Mercy that this person’s soul will be saved.
In conclusion, let us pray, and pray often and fervently. However, let us make it a point to pray in a very special way for sinners. Our Lady of Fatima stated that many souls are lost because there is nobody to pray for them. Let us pray through the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the salvation of countless sinners. May they turn to the merciful Heart of Jesus and be saved for all eternity!
“This is the perfect will of God for us: You must be holy. Holiness is the greatest gift that God can give us because for that reason he created us. Sanctity is a simple duty for you and me. I have to be a saint in my way and you in yours.”
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, from The Love that Made Mother Teresa
We would be foolish to think we could be faithful to Christ on our own. We know our weaknesses and failures; we find that, while the spirit may be willing, our flesh is weak. While we may have good intentions, we often succumb to temptation and fall into sin. But we know that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can be faithful to Christ.
In the Gospel reading we see Judas leave the supper room to finalize his betrayal of Jesus. We also hear Peter profess his complete devotion to Jesus, even unto death; we hear Jesus predict Peter’s betrayal of him before simple housemaids.
After his betrayal of Jesus, Judas realized his sin, “I have sinned by betraying an innocent man to death” and hanged himself. (Mt 27: 4 -5) After his betrayal of Jesus, Peter remembered the words of Jesus and “went away weeping bitterly.” (Mt 26:75)
What do we do after we sin against the loving God?
The Polish bishop and martyr St. Stanislaus (1030-1079) was born near Krakow in Poland. After initial studies in Poland, he completed his education in Paris, where he spent seven years studying canon law and theology; this entitled him to a doctorate, but he refused it out of humility, and returned home. When his parents died, Stanislaus gave away his inheritance, and was ordained a priest.
Stanislaus was appointed as preacher and archdeacon to the bishop of Krakow; his great eloquence and piety generated a spirit of renewal and conversion in the local community. When the bishop died in 1072, Stanislaus was unanimously elected as his successor; because of the importance of this position, he soon found himself involved in the political affairs of the Polish kingdom.
Bishop Stanislaus was outspoken in his attacks upon political and social injustice, particularly that of the bellicose and immoral King Boleslaus II, who warred with his neighbors and oppressed the peasantry. The king at first made a show of repenting, but soon returned to his evil ways. Stanislaus continued to denounce him, accusations of treason and threats of death notwithstanding.
In 1079 the bishop excommunicated Boleslaus. The enraged king ordered his soldiers to murder Stanislaus; when they refused, he killed the bishop with his own hands while Mass was being celebrated. Because of Stanislaus’ popularity, King Boleslaus was forced to flee to Hungary, where he’s said to have spent the rest of his life doing penance in a Benedictine monastery. St. Stanislaus is considered the patron of Poland.
1. A complete “separation of Church and State” isn’t always possible, nor — from a Christian perspective — always desirable. As St. Stanislaus knew, Christians must use their influence to oppose injustice, even if this means becoming involved in politics.
2. Humility and generosity are “gentle” virtues, but they can help prepare us for fierce and difficult struggles. Stanislaus’ humility (in refusing a doctorate) and generosity (in giving away his fortune) allowed God to fill him with the courage and strength needed to resist the king.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Leo the Great (4610), Pope, Doctor
St. Gemma Galgani (1903), Virgin, Patron of Pharmacists in Hospitals
Presence of God— O Lord, with Mary of Bethany I wish to pay my humble, devout homage to Your sacred Body before it is disfigured by the Passion.
The Gospel for today (John 12:1-9) tells us of this impressive scene: “Jesus therefore, six days before the Pasch, came to Bethany … and they made Him a supper there; and, Martha served…. Mary, therefore, took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.” Martha, as usual, was busy about many things. Mary, however, paid attention only to Jesus; to show respect to Him, it did not seem extravagant to her to pour over Him a whole vase of precious perfume. Some of those present murmured, “Why this waste? Could not the ointment have been sold … and the price given to the poor?” And they murmured against her (cf. Mark 14:4,5). Mary said nothing and made no excuses; completely absorbed in her adored Master, she continued her work of devotion and love.
Mary is the symbol of the soul in love with God, the soul who gives herself exclusively to Him, consuming for Him all that she is and all that she has. She is the symbol of those souls who give up, in whole or in part, exterior activity, in order to consecrate themselves more fully to the immediate service of God and to devote themselves to a life of more intimate union with Him. This total consecration to the Lord is deemed wasteful by those who fail to understand it–although the same offering, if otherwise employed, would cause no complaint. If everything we are and have is His gift, can it be a waste to sacrifice it in His honor and, by so acting, to repair for the indifference of countless souls who seldom, if ever, think of Him?
Money, time, strength, and even human lives spent in the immediate service of the Lord, far from being wasted, reach therein the perfection of their being. Moreover, by this consecration, they conform to the proper scale of values. Giving alms to the poor is a duty, but the worship and love of God is a higher obligation. If urgent works of charity sometimes require us to leave His service for that of our neighbor, no change in the hierarchy of importance is thereby implied. God must always have the first place.
Jesus Himself then comes to Mary’s defense: “Let her be, that she may keep this perfume against the day of My burial.” In the name of all those who love, Mary gave the sacred Body of Jesus, before it was disfigured by the Passion, the ultimate homage of an ardent love and devotion.
Here are two paths, Lord, as diametrically opposed as possible: one of fidelity and one of betrayal, the loving fidelity of Mary of Bethany, the horrible treachery of Judas. O Lord, how I should like to offer You a heart like Mary’s! How I should like to see the traitor in me entirely dead and destroyed!
But You tell me: “Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation!” (Mark 14:38). Oh! how necessary it is for me to watch and pray, so that the enemy will not come to sow the poisonous germs of treason in my heart! May I be faithful to You, Lord, faithful at any cost, in big things as well as in small, so that the foxes of little attachments will never succeed in invading and destroying the vineyard of my heart!
“Lord Jesus, when I meditate on Your Passion, the first thing that strikes me is the perfidy of the traitor. He was so full of the venom of bad faith that he actually betrayed You–You, his Master and Lord. He was inflamed with such cupidity that he sold his God for money, and in exchange for a few vile coins delivered up Your precious Blood. His ingratitude went so far that he persecuted even to death Him who had raised him to the height of the apostolate…. O Jesus, how great was Your goodness toward this hard-hearted disciple! Although his wickedness was so great, I am much more impressed by Your gentleness and meekness, O Lamb of God! You have given me this meekness as a model. Behold, O Lord, the man whom You allowed to share Your most special confidences, the man who seemed to be so united to You, Your Apostle, Your friend, the man who ate Your bread, and who, at the Last Supper, tasted with You the sweet cup, and this man committed this monstrous crime against You, his Master! But, in spite of all this at the time of betrayal, You, O meek Lamb, did not refuse the kiss of that mouth so full of malice. You gave him everything, even as You gave to the other Apostles, in order not to deprive him of anything that might melt the hardness of his evil heart” (cf. St. Bonaventure).
O Jesus, by the atrocious suffering inflicted on Your heart by that infamous treachery, grant me, I beg of You, the grace of a fidelity that is total, loving, and devoted.+
Note from Dan: These posts are provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contain one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.
Art for this post on The Supper at Bethany: A Disciple washes Christ’s feet, 10 January 2012, own work, Nheyob, CC, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.About Dan Burke
Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
For most of us—with the exception of some converts—baptism is a sacrament most of us never remember experiencing.
Baptism is a crucially important sacrament. It’s the only sacrament mentioned explicitly in the Nicene Creed. Christ’s specially appointed forerunner was John the Baptist. And the first thing Christ did in His public ministry was get baptized.
For us, baptism washes away the guilt of original sin. It enrolls us in membership in the Church. St. Paul tells us it is a participation in the death and burial of Christ (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). The catechism elaborates:
Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.
The solemn significance of baptism is underscored by the fact that it can only be done once and is irreversible. As the catechism puts it,
Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.
When the majority of us were baptized we were not only too young to not only to fail to appreciate it but even to remember it. This is why the renewal of our baptismal vows at Easter—usually at the Easter vigil or the Easter Sunday Mass—is so important. It is the one time of year that is specially devoted to recalling our baptism.
Many of us may not realize it, but in many ways this is what our entire Lenten journey has been pointing towards. Every third year, in the readings for the first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of this by the Old Testament reading, taken from Genesis 9, which describes Noah’s flood. (We most recently had this reading in 2015.)
The flood account might seem an odd pairing for Lent. Isn’t the desert—the setting for Jesus temptation, which, in turn, recalled the wandering of the Israelites in the desert—the overriding motif for Lent? Certainly it is.
And yet, the flood account is relevant because of the importance of baptism for the Passion. Remember, as St. Paul explained, it is baptism that we are buried with Christ, so that we might be assured of resurrection with Him. As Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II constitution on the liturgy, puts it, “Thus by baptism men are plunged into the paschal mystery of Christ: they die with Him, are buried with Him, and rise with Him.”
That statement actually contains an illuminating pun in stating that we are ‘plunged’ into the paschal mystery. Plunge is one of the original meanings of the Greek word baptizo, which has been transliterated into our English word. Is this not what Lent has been building up to? Indeed, during this season we have been preparing ourselves to ‘take the plunge,’ so to speak, with Christ on the cross.
The account of the crucifixion in John 19 confirms this connection, where we see blood and water flowing out of the side of Christ—symbolizing the baptismal waters and the Eucharistic wine, thereby effectively giving birth to the Church.
Here’s where the flood comes into the picture. Recall that the flood waters were sent as punishment in Genesis. But Christ has taken the punishment upon use, transforming what was a symbol of condemnation into one of salvation. And so, at the start of Lent, the Genesis account of the flood reminds us that the desert in which we wander will be consumed in a flood of grace (as one of my local pastors once explained in a homily).
This kind of imagery fits in with Old Testament prophecy. As Isaiah 41:18-19 puts it,
I will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the wilderness into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
In the wilderness I will plant the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
In the wasteland I will set the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
And likewise, Isaiah 43:19,
See, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
In the wilderness I make a way,
in the wasteland, rivers.
The flood and water imagery is not actually opposed to that of the desert. Rather, it complements it. In a sense, we are called to follow Christ in reverse order during Lent: He was baptized in the Jordan then went out into the desert. We, on the other hand, fight our temptations during Lent in order that we might cross the Jordan. (This does actually follow the sequence of the exodus account: for Israel the wandering in the desert ended with the crossing of the Jordan and then then entrance into the Promised Land.)
There is so much that happens over Easter Weekend. The vigil alone is overwhelming in its beauty, mystery, and spiritual power. It can become easy to overlook or miss out on some of the elements of the liturgy, whether at night or the next day. This year, make sure the renewal of your baptismal vows isn’t one of them. It’s not just a critically important part of the liturgy. In a way, it’s the whole point of our Lenten journey.
Here on Catholic Exchange, I have had the opportunity to share other interviews with Susan Tassone: Answering Eight Questions About Purgatory and Celebrating Christmas in the Aftermath of Suicide. Now, I am delighted to share an interview about her most recent book St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners available from OSV, Amazon, or a Catholic bookstore near you. Susan is a prolific writer, having authored numerous works on Purgatory. With this book, she expands herself and shares her love of St. Faustina and the beautiful prayers contained in the diary. If you are looking for a resource to pray specifically for conversion, not only for ourselves, but for our family, country, and world, look no further than Susan’s latest book.
Fr. Looney: Your latest devotional book spotlights St. Faustina’s prayers for the conversion of sinners. Why St. Faustina? How long have you had a devotion to her?
Susan Tassone: I “discovered” St. Faustina’s Diary in the early ’80s—before she was a household name—and it fascinated me.
St. Faustina invites us to learn how to live the message of conversion daily, to avoid purgatory, and to become more faithful in praying for others.
EWTN told me the #1 most-requested prayers they receive worldwide are for conversions. There was no resource they could give people on what to do or how to pray. Now we have St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners for that.
You might be surprised at how often St. Faustina wrote about conversion. I was. In chapter after chapter, her Diary speaks of Jesus’ call for the conversion of sinners.
My previous books have focused more on purgatory so now I’m sometimes asked, “What does purgatory have to do with conversion?” We have to convert in order to avoid purgatory! What’s the chief way to avoid purgatory? Doing the will of God in all things in the present moment. What’s conversion? Striving to become better at doing his will. That theme runs throughout the whole Diary. My latest book, St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners, is an ideal accompaniment, a perfect match, for our own conversion and those of our loved ones.
The book gives a lot of good guidance, great teachings of the Church, valuable insights, and practical examples. It shows you how to place the lives of all your loved ones and friends into God’s merciful hands.
Just released, it is the #1 Best Seller at Our Sunday Visitor, and the #1 release in Saints and in Christian Prayer Books on Amazon. There’s no book like this.
In addition, St. Faustina had a very tender devotion to the holy souls in purgatory and it was extremely important to her. My first work on her was St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
Fr. Looney: When I was a young boy, I remember a few prayer books we had around the house. One was from Queenship Publishing, Pray, Pray, Pray, a few others include the blue Catholic Devotional, and the Pieta prayer book. Is there a draw in the third millennium, among millennials, to pray from a prayer book? Why not pray directly from our heart? Why pray already scripted prayers?
Susan Tassone: How to pray is very important. Jesus demands prayer and sacrifice. He instructed St. Faustina to pray certain kinds of prayers for the conversion of sinners. It comes directly from him! He told her—and us— to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet for sinners and for the dying and St. Faustina did it. He also asked her to make a special novena for the conversion of the whole world! She did that, too. The Diary tells us he said to her: “There is more merit to one hour of meditation on my sorrowful passion than there is merit to a whole year of flagellation that draws my blood” (369). He instructed her to contemplate his sacred wounds. This is of great value to us, and it brings him great joy! Needless to say, she did it.
St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners is filled with Jesus’ messages, her example, and the fruits of her prayer! We have all these novenas, meditations and prayers, how she sacrificed, and much more in our new book. We’re very excited about it. It’s packed with fascinating material! There’s no book on conversion like it.
Fr. Looney: In my own study of Marian apparitions, I have noticed a change in language. For example, in 1859, Mary appeared to Adele Brise in Wisconsin, and told her to offer her Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners. In 1917 at Fatima, Mary requested Eucharistic prayers of reparation for sin. There is a shift in language. As we look at the moral climate of our modern world today, in your estimation, or perhaps in the eyes of St. Faustina, from what do we most need to turn away today? What is our greatest vice/sin?
Susan Tassone: In the eyes of Faustina, the major cause of the problems of today’s world today is we reject God by our sinning. It’s our failure to follow God’s desire that we pray and be instruments of his Mercy through word, deed, and prayer. The key solution is in the conversion of sinners—in our turning back to God and praying for the conversion of sinners. We now have a prayer book to tell us how to pray and the power of intercessory prayer and intercessory suffering. Jesus gave St. Faustina a specific prayer to pray in which he promises the grace of conversion for that soul! It’s in the book. There’s also a wonderful story by a Marian priest who shares what happened when he faithfully and repeatedly offered this life-changing prayer for his father.
Fr. Looney: St. Faustina died in 1938. We are currently in the centennial year of the Fatima apparitions. Does St. Faustina make any reference to the apparitions of Fatima in her writings?
Susan Tassone: There’s no direct reference to Fatima. However, in addition asking St. Faustina to spread the message of Divine Mercy to help save souls, Jesus asked her to pray for the conversion of sinners. Mary’s message to the three Fatima children was that they work for the conversion of sinners through prayer and sacrifice. The children offered everything up. Now we’re to offer up the sacrifices demanded by our state in life. Offer our sufferings and problems that God permits. This includes offering them for the souls in purgatory. Both these messages remain with us today.
Fr. Looney: In our Catholic tradition, we have the wonderful example of St. Monica who prayed many years for the conversion of St. Augustine. What words of comfort would you, or St. Faustina, give to parents today who patiently wait the conversion of their son or daughter?
Susan Tassone: The conversions of an individual (a family member, a friend, and even an enemy) usually takes perseverance and sacrifice. One of the greatest examples is the conversion of St. Augustine who was caught up in a life of lust, having lived with two women and fathered a child by one of them. His devout mother, St. Monica, prayed her heart out for him. She went to church twice daily—day and night—for 16 years. Because of her trust in God’s mercy and her incredible dedication to praying for her son, St. Monica is an example of trust and hope for those who pray for the conversion of loved ones. Following St. Monica’s lead, the two basic ways to help your loved ones is to love them and to pray for them.
We have a great story in the book about how St. Faustina prayed for her sister, Wanda. It’s one of my favorites. Wanda was in a dark place. St. Faustina writes about what she did—about her prayers and sacrifices—and how, in her own words, “forced God” to give her sister grace.
Persevere in prayer. Don’t give up! God hears your prayers.
And—as Father Andrew Apostoli, wrote in the book’s foreword: “The one who helps the sinner convert will share in his or her glory in heaven. Above all, God Himself will be glorified by those who have been saved.”
Fr. Looney: It’s easy for us to look at others and say they need conversion. But the reality is we too need conversion. How can we better realize our own need for conversion?
Susan Tassone: We all need conversion. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that there are more people converted from mortal sin than there are people converted from good to better. That’s what conversion is. It’s moving away from those favorite little vices that over the years have held us back from becoming the person God is calling us to be.
The book includes examples of our own “obstacles to conversion” as well as how to invoke the angels for help. It’s the most comprehensive book on conversion.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you lose your temper quickly, often hurting others—particularly people who love you—as well as hurting yourself. You can decide that when you feel the urge to be angry you’ll first pray for guidance from St. Faustina. After your prayer, you’ll slowly begin to learn kinder and more constructive ways to express your hurt and annoyances. Thus leading you to your better self.
Each of us knows areas where we stumble, again and again. We can use St. Faustina’s prayers and the examples of how she handled these situations to move us in the right direction. This is the type of material we offer in the book.
Fr. Looney: In your St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners, you include prayers from other saints. How do they relate to St. Faustina?
Susan Tassone: Faustina always wanted to be a saint. She had many favorite saints she invoked for their help and we include them in the book. The saints model conversion for us. All of them turned away from sin and turned to God. Consider St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Therese of Lisieux. Each was converted to Christ over a series of years and continued to grow in holiness lifelong. We have a special Litany to the Saints of Conversion invoking them for the graces to become a saint by being faithful to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. We also include a unique section called Acts of the Apostles, Acts of Conversion. We record the earliest experiences of these first-century Christians from the Acts of the Apostles in order to reflect on their conversions, to take them as models, and to invoke their intercession. This has never been done before. It was fascinating to write about them and get to know them and “work with” these great converts! Now you can, too!
Fr. Looney: When we use the prayers you’ve collected in St. Faustina Prayer Book for the Conversion of Sinners, we hope that God answers our prayers, and many hearts turn back to God. If our prayers were answered and hearts changed how will priests, parishes, and dioceses handle the great demand for the sacraments?
Susan Tassone: That would be a great problem to have! I recently had the honor and privilege of speaking to 100 seminarians and faculty members at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Cleveland, talking to them about purgatory and how to preach on it. These seminarians were brimming with fervor. And, clearly, the faculty members were committed to teaching their students about the doctrine of purgatory and how to pray for conversion both for oneself and for the people they will serve in their parishes and ministries.
What a wonderful Sunday it would be if each parishioner could turn to the person next to them and tell others about their own conversion. Can you imagine the joy as each person shared what that journey has been like? My guess is that the seminarians and priests would welcome this golden opportunity.
As laity, priests and religious; as parishes and dioceses; as members of ministries and apostolates, we need to put our prayers into action. Doing God’s will through our kindnesses to the needy and others we’re called to serve will help convert us all. And if an additional result is a big demand for more priests, then we need to pray for more priests!
Fr. Looney: This is your tenth book. What keeps you writing? What’s next for you?
Susan Tassone: Our next book will be on adoration. Though I write the books, God is the chief inspiration. He directs me and inspires me through my prayer and fasting. He puts incredible people in my life to make these works possible. And then you, Father Looney, share these works with the world. Thank you!
I love Holy Week. It’s my favorite week of the year. Liturgically, it doesn’t get any better than this: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
But what about the rest of Holy Week? Is there anything special about Monday through Wednesday? Today seems like a normal Tuesday to me. I still have to go to class.
Certainly, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week aren’t as solemn, impressive, or attractive as the other days; there are no palm leaves, no washing of feet, no long processions, no elaborate chants, no giant candle. Perhaps, however, the “low profile” of these days can serve as a useful topic for meditation.
In this regard, an antiphon from Vespers of the Monday of Holy Week caught my attention: “He had neither beauty, nor majesty, nothing to attract our eyes.” These words, taken from the Prophet Isaiah, remind us of the down-to-earth reality of Jesus’ human life. He was born as a lowly child, lived as a poor man, and died as an outcast. In many ways he was a man who might easily escape attention, especially for those caught up in what the world deems important or noteworthy.
The most trivial things can catch our attention: a shiny object, a sudden noise, a pleasant aroma. If we are not careful, indulgence of the senses can make us habitually intemperate, and blind us to more profound, spiritual realities.
But there is another way in which we, who sincerely desire to live the Christian life, can “miss the mark.” When I was just beginning religious life, a Dominican priest gave me the following advice: “You’ve come this far in your life, but remember, the goal is not the habit; it’s not the Novitiate; it’s not the House of Studies; it’s not passing your final exams; it’s not even Ordination. The goal is Jesus Christ!”
The goal of our lives goes beyond what we can see, what we can predict. As St.Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Learning to walk by faith is like learning to walk at all: we cannot skip a step if we are to do it properly. Every step must be taken with care.
So, this Holy Week, let us learn to walk again: not skipping from Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday, but walking with Jesus every step of the way, even on an “unimpressive” Tuesday.
In the Gospel reading we see the love and devotion of Mary who anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair: “was she not keeping it for the day of my burial?”
Judas, who was a thief and would betray Jesus, dared to complain about the “waste”: “This perfume could have been sold for three hundred silver coins and turned over to the poor.”
For Mary the expensive perfume was but a sign of her love and respect for the Lord who had taught her and others so much, who had been such a help for so many. For Judas the expensive perfume was a waste because, despite their years and time together, he did not really love and respect the Lord. If one loves, nothing is too expensive for the beloved.
In the first reading the prophet Isaiah reminds us of the key mission of the Messiah, “as a light to the nations, to open eyes that do not see, to free captives from prison, to bring out to light those who sit in darkness.”
Lord, come and save us.
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.