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In the first reading St. Paul explains

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading St. Paul explains his task and mission to preach Christ and his Good News. He also explains how he shares in Christ’s suffering for the sake of the Church: “I rejoice when I suffer for you; I complete in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church.”

In the Gospel reading we see Christ heal a man with a paralyzed right arm on the sabbath to the indignation of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. Jesus enrages them more when he exposes their hypocrisy, “I want to ask you: what is allowed by the Law on the sabbath, to do good or to harm, to save life or destroy it?”

Jesus’ healing of the man with a paralyzed right arm and the lesson he impresses among the Pharisees on the sabbath are in fulfillment of his mission as given by the Prophet Isaiah, “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and new sight to the blind, to free the oppressed and announce the Lord’s year of mercy.” (Lk 4: 18 -19)

All of us are called to this same task: are we willing and ready, like St. Paul? To live our lives according to the Good News is possible only with God’s grace.

Sts. Hyacinthus and Protus (Martyrs)

Sun, 09/10/2017 - 22:00

They were brothers in many ways: brothers by birth, brothers in the Lord and in ministry in the house of St. Philip in Rome, and brothers as they died together, burned for their faith as very early martyrs in the Church.

Other than the above, little is known about these early martyrs. Protus and Hyacinth were buried in the same crypt in the Catacomb of Saint Hermes, the cemetery of Saint Basilla. Hyacinth’s burial stone read that he was buried September 11, 257. Protus’ remains had long before been transferred to the Church of San Salvatore when his brother’s were found.

In 1845 Father Marchi discovered the still undisturbed grave of St. Hyacinth in the crypt. It was a small square niche in which lay the ashes and pieces of burned bone wrapped in the remains of costly stuffs (Marchi, “Monumenti primitivi: I, Architettura della Roma sotterranea cristina” , Rome, 1844, 238 sqq., 264 sqq.) His relics were transferred to the Chapel of the Propaganda.

In life and in death, they belong to God. Though hidden for centuries from the eyes of the world, they are alive, worshiping and interceding, as saints in Heaven.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Adelphus (5th Century), Bishop

St. Paphnutius (356), Bishop

St. Nicholas of Tolentino

Sat, 09/09/2017 - 22:00

Nicholas was born in 1245 in Sant’Angelo in the diocese of Fermo. He was named after St. Nicholas of Myra, at whose shrine his parents prayed to have a child. Impressed by the piety of the young man, the Bishop of Fermo allowed Nicholas to become a monk at only eighteen years old, and he was ordained an Augustinian priest seven years later.

Nicholas entered the monastery at Tolentino and very actively administered the Sacraments to the laity. He preached daily and soon gained a reputation as a great preacher and a confessor. The people easily loved and trusted him, and he was often called upon to pray for their deceased loved ones. He became affectionately referred to as the “Patron of Holy Souls.”

In 1274, Nicholas was sent to Tolentino, near his birthplace. The town suffered from civil strife between the Guelphs, who supported the pope, and Ghibellines, who supported the Holy Roman Emperor, in their struggle for control of Italy. Nicholas was primarily a pastor to his flock. He ministered to the poor and to criminals.

It was reported that when he was very ill and was not responding to treatment, he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary who told him to eat a small piece of bread that was dipped in water. After doing so, he was miraculously healed. Nicholas prayerfully repeated these steps throughout the community to help the sick, resulting in numerous miracles of healing. Today, Saint Nicholas Breads are still distributed at the shrine of this saint. Nicholas died on September 10, 1305 in Tolentino after a long illness. People began immediately to petition for his canonization. Eugene IV canonized him in 1446, and his relics were rediscovered in 1926 at Tolentino.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Pulcheria (453), Virgin, Empress

Blesseds Apollinaris, Franco, Charles Spinola and Companions (1622), 205 Martyrs of Japan

St. Peter Claver (Priest and Missionary)

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 22:00

St. Peter Claver was born about 1580 in Verdu, Catalonia, Spain. He studied at the University of Barcelona, and entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) when he was only twenty years old. In 1610 Peter left Spain and went to Cartagena (located in modern-day Colombia).

Cartagena was a major center of the slave trade, though the popes condemned the practice repeatedly. Over 10,000 slaves passed through the city yearly, after enduring inhumane treatment and a terribly difficult journey from West Africa. As many as one-third had already died during the long travels due to horrible conditions.

“Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.” — St. Peter Claver

Peter was ordained a priest in 1616, and from then on he considered himself “the slave of the Negroes forever.” When a slave ship arrived, Peter would go on board to minister to the miserable passengers. Later, he distributed food, medicine, and other necessities as the slaves were being auctioned. He often visited the slaves on area plantations, staying with the slaves themselves rather than accepting the hospitality of the plantation owners. Peter was a moral force in the city, and was often found preaching in the main square. Though his efforts were opposed by some of the landowners, he never wavered in his commitment to the slaves, working with them for 40 years.

Peter realized the importance of living Christianity by meeting a person’s physical needs, but he did not neglect the spiritual works of mercy either. Peter gave the slaves basic instructions in religion and during his long ministry baptized an estimated 300,000 persons.

Peter also cared for Englishmen and other foreigners who were captured off marauding ships. He ministered to the sick in hospitals, and established charitable societies similar to those of St. Vincent de Paul. He died September 8, 1654. During his last four years of life Peter, half-paralyzed and in constant pain, was confined to one room, and though virtually ignored and neglected, did not complain, saying, “My sins deserve more punishment than this.”

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.”

To love God as He ought to be loved, we must be detached from all temporal love. We must love nothing but Him, or if we love anything else, we must love it only for His sake.

— Traditionally attributed to St. Peter Claver

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Gorgonius (303), Martyr

Help Young Men Thrive in Their Priestly Formation

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 02:35

Through God’s grace, the Avila Foundation has begun working with dioceses to prepare future priests for seminary! We have designed a powerful program, in concert with recent requirements for a Propaedeutic (preparatory) year established by the Holy See, which introduces future seminarians to formation regarding:

 

  • Sacramental Participation with Emphasis on the Eucharist and Confession
  • Foundational Liturgical and Mental Prayer Discipline and Practice
  • The Richness of Our Biblical Tradition
  • The Human Person, Social Media, and Pornography
  • What it Means to Grow Spiritually in, Through, and Beyond Seminary
  • How to Thrive in Seminary Life and Formation

Pope St. John Paul II, after intense study, concluded that men were not properly prepared for success in seminary because of the absence of authentic Catholic culture and formation in their youth. Most of these men are lacking in one or both of these critical areas necessary to properly discern and pursue the call to serve the Church. Our program addresses these challenges head on.

The end result will be, by God’s grace, that we will have more seminarians who are both truly called to the priesthood, and who thrive from the moment they enter into priestly formation.

Here is how you can sponsor a future priest. Our program is in need of faithful Catholics who can help us by:

  1. Providing Scholarships for Seminarians: The average cost per year for a seminary to educate one young man is $40,000 per year. The Avila Foundation is able to provide this program for $9,000 per year. With your generous help, we can provide scholarships to seminary applicants across the country.
  2. Providing Monthly Support: We need faithful Catholics who care about the priesthood to provide monthly support to our efforts through recurring giving of any amount. We are grateful for even the smallest monthly gift. We are also seeking those who can and will join our St. John of Avila Society for Priestly Formation by committing to a gift of $250 per month or more. This monthly gift will help us to provide a partial scholarship for a seminarian allowing more dioceses’ the ability to send their men to us.

For the next month, a generous donor will match every donation made up to $50,000!

Will you join us in this critical mission to lift these men to new heights and prepare them to serve your parish and the parishes around the United States?

Please consider making an investment (and having it doubled) in our future priests through your donation.

Yours In Christ,

Dan Burke
Avila Foundation

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 02:30
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 

Presence of God – O Mary, my Mother, teach me to live hidden with you in the shadow of God.

MEDITATION

The liturgy enthusiastically celebrates Mary’s Nativity and makes it one of the most appealing feasts of Marian devotion. We sing in today’s Office: “Thy Nativity, O Virgin Mother of God, brings joy to the whole world, because from you came forth the Sun of Justice, Christ, our God.” Mary’s birth is a prelude to the birth of Jesus because it is the initial point of the realization of the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God for the salvation of mankind. How could the birthday of the Mother of the Redeemer pass unnoticed in the hearts of the redeemed? The Mother proclaims the Son, making it known that He is about to come, that the divine promises, made centuries before, are to be fulfilled. The birth of Mary is the dawn of our redemption; her appearance projects a new light over all the human race: a light of innocence, of purity, of grace, a resplendent presage of the great light which will inundate the world when Christ, “lux mundi,” the Light of the World, appears. Mary, preserved from sin in anticipation of Christ’s merits, not only announces that the Redemption is at hand, but she bears the firstfruits of it within herself; she is the first one redeemed by her divine Son. Through her, all-pure and full of grace, the Blessed Trinity at last fixes on earth a look of complacency, finding in her alone a creature in whom the infinite beauty of the Godhead can be reflected.

The birth of Jesus excepted, no other was so important in God’s eyes or so fruitful for the good of humanity, as was the birth of Mary. Yet it has remained in complete obscurity. There is no mention of it in Sacred Scriptures and when we look for the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel, we find only what refers to Joseph; we find nothing explicit about Mary’s ancestry except the allusion to her descent from David. Our Lady’s origin is wrapped in silence, as was her whole life. Thus, her birth speaks to us of humility. The more we desire to grow in God’s eyes, the more we should hide ourselves from the eyes of creatures. The more we wish to do great things for God, the more we should labor in silence and obscurity.

COLLOQUY

“When I feel myself tossed about in the sea of this world amidst storms and tempests, I keep my eyes fixed on you, O Mary, shining star, lest I be swallowed up by the waves.

“When the winds of temptation arise, when I dash against the reefs of tribulations, I raise my eyes to you and call upon you, O Mary. When I am agitated by the billows of pride, ambition, slander or jealousy, I look to you and I invoke you, O Mary; when anger or avarice or the seductions of the flesh rock the fragile little barque of my soul, I always look to you, O Mary. And if I am troubled by the enormity of my sins, troubled in conscience, frightened at the severity of judgment, and if I should feel myself engulfed in sadness or drawn into the abyss of despair, again I raise my eyes to you, always calling on you, O Mary.

“In dangers, in difficulties, in doubts, I will always think of you, O Mary, I will always call on you. May your name, O Virgin Mary, be always on my lips and never leave my heart; in order that I may obtain the help of your prayers, grant that I may never lose sight of the example of your life. Following you, O Mary, I shall not go astray, thinking of you I shall not err, if you support me I shall not fall, if you protect me I shall have nothing to fear, if you accompany me I shall not grow weary, if you look upon me with favor, I shall reach the port” (cf. St. Bernard).

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

Art for this post on the “Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary”: Birth of the Virgin, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1660, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, Into the Deep Parish Programs, the Apostoli Viae (Apostles of the Way) Community, 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.

 

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

The Prayer of the Heart

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 22:07

The first Christians soon realized that if they were to persevere in the new life they were chosen to live, they had to love and love intensely. It was this element of love that made Christianity so different from any other religion.

Man is a being of emotion and to live only in Faith and Hope would be to live in a desert with light and air but no warmth. Man needs incentive and drive to propel him out of darkness into light, or, better still, to radiate light in the midst of darkness.

Life was difficult at best. Though Christianity gave them peace within, it created havoc around them. It made some men examine their consciences and showed them up for what they really were — false and tyrannical. It takes a great man to see himself and change, but the world was sometimes ruled by small men — men who rebelled at the sight of themselves. They struck out at these Christians with a fury that only hatred could produce.

These Christians had to keep themselves above every situa­tion that tended to drag their souls down and make them want to retaliate at anger and hatred.

They had to nourish and maintain within themselves a never-ending source of love. They had to feed their souls with life-giving water.

Jesus had sent the Advocate to dwell in their souls, and they were determined that nothing would interfere with that union. Every moment of their lives had to be used to grow in the Image of Jesus.

Faith gave them a belief, and Hope a goal, but to keep both alive and active they needed to Love.

Faith settled the doubts in their intellects, and Hope calmed their emotions, but they needed Love to give them the endur­ance to persevere.

Faith told them what they believed, and Hope told them why, but it was Love that told them Whom they believed in.

Faith gave them something, and Hope gave them some place, but Love gave them Someone.

In the journey of life, Faith was the boat, Hope the anchor, and Love the rudder.

They had to maintain an ever growing Love for God and neighbor and they looked to Jesus to tell them how. One day Jesus told His Apostles, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We shall come and make Our home with him” (John 14:23).

This article is from “Mother Angelica on Prayer and Living for the Kingdom. Click image to preview or order.

The secret then was to keep His word and the Trinity would live in them. The Spirit made them sons of God at Baptism; an indelible seal was placed upon them — a seal never to be erased in time or eternity. Like the sons of men, they had to grow and mature in their new life and that life was fed by God Himself.

“And My Word is not my own,” Jesus said, “it is the Word of the One who sent Me” (John 14:24). Was the “Word” some­thing they heard, or was it Someone they loved?

Somehow they knew that the words that passed through their minds and the emotions of their hearts were inseparable. They noticed when they read Scripture that the Sacred Writ­ers often used the word “mind” and “heart” as if they were the same.

Jesus Himself told them that “it is from men’s hearts that evil intentions emerge. . . . Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. All evil things come from within and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:21, 15, 23).

One would eventually think that theft, murder, avarice, adultery, envy, and pride, originate in the mind that reasons, plans, and determines goals, but Jesus says it all comes from the heart.

When we speak of the heart, we think of love, and wherever there is love there is the possibility of hatred. It is what we love or hate that determines our course in life, and the degree in which we love or hate will determine our success or failure.

One day Jesus said to a paralytic, “Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2). The Scribes were incensed that Jesus forgave sins. Only God can forgive sins and their only thought was that Jesus was blaspheming. Scripture then gives us one of those instances where mind and heart are synonymous: “Knowing what was in their minds Jesus said, ‘Why do you have such wicked thoughts in your hearts?’ ” (Matt. 9:4).

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and yet He spoke of those invisible and inaudible words as coming from the heart.

“When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding, the Evil One comes and carries off what was sown in his heart” (Matt. 13:19).

Here again Jesus speaks of the heart as a receptacle of knowledge, and yet we all realize that it is the mind, operating through the brain, that retains knowledge, reasons, and accomplishes.

Many scientists declare that a human being is legally dead when his brain stops functioning, and others maintain he is dead when his heart stops. It is a problem that will be difficult to solve both in the physical and spiritual realm. In Scripture, however, Jesus joins the two together very often and seems to indicate that as the heart pumps blood to the brain to keep it functioning in the physical realm, the three faculties of the soul, operating through the mind, are also influenced.

The heart, the symbol of love and seat of the emotions, reaches out as a light shining in the world, indicating the power of our will and the direction we have chosen to take.

No matter how often we remember His Words, or how deeply we believe in them, if those Words do not affect our heart and move that heart to love and give all to Jesus, it is nothing. St. Paul realized this when he said to the Corinthians that if he had all knowledge, gave everything he possessed to the poor, gave his body to be burned, and had the faith that moved mountains, without love, it would be as nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

Paul was not speaking of an emotional love — a love that was fanned into a raging blaze and then quickly turned into ashes. No, he was speaking of a deep love of the heart, an inner conviction, a total consecration, a drive that preferred death to denial.

The heart of the Christian was a heart of flesh, penetrated by the Spirit of the Lord. It was a heart ever aware of being a “home” in which the Spirit of the Lord reigned and loved.

The disciples going to Emmaus had this experience when Jesus began to walk beside them. After they recognized Him in the breaking of bread, they said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

Loving Jesus was a heart experience just as much as an intellectual acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior. This is what gave these converts life and joy. They became Lovers of God and faithful children, besides obedient subjects.

They loved Him and He loved them. They dwelt in Him as He dwelt in them through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had assured them that “a good man draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart. . . . For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart” (Luke 6:45). They were to be vigilant and not permit anything to enter the door of their souls that would destroy or mar its beauty. “Watch yourselves,” He told them, “or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life” (Luke 21:34).

Jesus puts the “cares of life” in the same category as debauchery and drunkenness. All three weaknesses occupy the mind and heart. The mind becomes possessed by them, the heart revels in them, and Jesus and the Kingdom are pushed aside as something not relevant for the moment.

The first Christians never forgot the statement Jesus made one day when He said, “Store up treasures for yourself in Heaven, where neither moth nor woodworms destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:20-21).

It was of primary importance then, that they analyzed their priorities to be sure the one thing necessary — the Kingdom — was first and foremost. The first Christians’ goal was to pattern their lives after the life of Jesus. They were sons of God through grace, and they made sure that sin would not take that treasure away from them. However, their lives as Christians were more positive than negative. They not only safeguarded their treasure; they increased it every day by seizing every opportunity to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Their whole life was spent setting their hearts aright and changing those hearts to resemble Jesus.

“Shoulder My yoke, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29-30). The Father had given each of them the yoke of obeying the Commandments, and especially the new one — to love their neighbor as He loved them. Jesus took that yoke upon Himself when He became man, and He bore it by being meek and humble of heart.

The first Christians were to learn how to preserve their hearts’ treasure by doing as Jesus did always and everywhere. The realization of the existence of Heaven detached them from the world. The words of Jesus gave them something to hang on to when the going was difficult, but they needed a heart united to the very heart of God to persevere in maintaining and increasing their treasure in Heaven.

The Heart of Jesus gave the souls of these Christians peace and rest. The Apostles often related to them how, when Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection, He said, “Peace be with you! Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?” (Luke 24:39).

Like the Apostles before them, the first Christians had to fight doubt and fear many times, but they would unite their hearts to His. They would love as He loved and have the same goal and determination as He.

He came as Light, and they would be the radiation of that Light. He showed mankind the Father’s Love, and they would be an example of that Love. He was detached and never lost sight of His Father, and they would be detached and never lose sight of Him. As Jesus manifested the Father, they would manifest Jesus.

Jesus said He only did what He saw the Father do. The first Christians strove with all their power to do as Jesus did. “The proof,” Paul told them, “that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts — the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Gal. 4:6).

They were to be patient and persevere in being like Jesus. They were to be, “happy, always happy in the Lord, full of peace, guarding their hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:4, 7). Their hearts were to belong to Jesus; He was their first love; He was the center of their day, their life, their work, their goal. He was truly the heart of their hearts, and they safeguarded this treasure with determination and zeal.

They kept His words in their minds and His Love in their hearts, and together they changed their lives, “so that Christ might live in their hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built in love, they would begin to understand the Infinite Love of God, as He gave them His very Spirit to dwell in their hearts” (Eph. 3:16-20).

Their lives were living witnesses of the love of Jesus. St. Paul told them, “You are a letter from Christ, drawn up by us and written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living Christ; not on stone tablets, but on the tablets of your living hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3).

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica on Prayer and Living for the Kingdomwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

Admonishing Sinners

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 22:05

I used to think that God’s law was like those dumb rules we had to put up with in grammar school, like “Thou shalt not chew gum in class.”  They are arbitrary laws that bureaucrats came up with to keep them happy and the rest of us miserable.  The goal of students is to break such rules whenever they can get away with it.  The only bad consequence would be to get caught.

But God is not a bureaucrat.  He’s a loving Father.  If He says “thou shalt not,” it is because the particular activity in question wounds and, in some cases, destroys the child of God who engages in it.  But does not sin offend God?  Of course.  We are made in his image and likeness, and sin defaces that likeness in us.  It also wounds others made in his image and likeness.  There is no such thing as private sin–we are so interconnected that every decision to step away from God has incalculable impact on not only the sinner but on the whole family of God.

Some people correct others because they are busybodies.  Others, like the Pharisees, do so in order to exalt themselves as they put others down.  The disciple, however, intervenes out of love.  Love for God, for all his children, but especially for the sinner who is damaged the most by his own sin.

Many people think about God’s law as if it were just arbitrary bureaucratic regulations.  They are unaware that their actions are gouging wounds in their hearts and in the hearts of others.  But if we know, and we care, we must find a way to tell them.  Others don’t know about God and his will–but their actions are still wreaking havoc in their lives and the lives of others.  We need to share with them the Good News about the mercy of Christ and the power of the Spirit who makes it possible to follow the will of the Father.

“But,” you may say, “they won’t listen, so why bother?” Simple.  Because God says so.  Ezekiel the prophet was called to be a watchman for Israel, as noted by this Sunday’s first reading (Ezek 33:7-9).  It was his responsibility to let people know whenever their actions were leading to disaster.  If he told them and they did not listen, Ezekiel was off the hook.  He fulfilled his responsibility, and the consequences were on the heads of those who failed to heed the warning.  But if he neglected to warn them out of fear of their disapproval and they ended in disaster, God would hold Ezekiel responsible.

“But,” you may say, “I’m not called to be a prophet.”  Oh yes you are!  In baptism and confirmation you were anointed priest, prophet, and king.  And, if you haven’t noticed, prophets don’t usually win popularity contests.

Of course, if you are prudent and humble and sensitive as you go about this prophetic task, your chances of success will be greater.  The Lord Jesus gives us direction about this in this Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:15ff):  first, go privately to the person and treat him or her like a brother or sister, not like your inferior.  If you get nowhere, get another to help you.  If you still run into a stone wall, refer the matter to the Church, which in most cases would mean someone in authority such as a pastor or bishop or apostolic delegate.

The bottom line is that we owe a debt of love to our brothers and sisters (Romans 13:8-10).  And love does its best to stop a person from walking over a cliff.

Scripture Speaks: Reconciliation

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 22:02

Previously in this Gospel, Jesus has spoken about authority in His Church.  Today, He shows us how it works.

Gospel (Read Mt 18:15-20)

Today, Jesus teaches His disciples about life in the Church He intends to build.  Earlier (Mt 16), He established Peter as its head, giving him the “keys” to the kingdom.  Now, He addresses various situations that will undoubtedly arise in His community of followers as they seek to live the new life of that kingdom.

“If your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.”  In these few words, we see an approach to wrongdoing that is countercultural, then and now.  He refers to His disciples as “brothers” to each other (as we are to Him).  He knows the human heart well, of course, so He knows that brothers will sin against each other.  What should Christians do when that happens?  In one breath, Jesus tells us the appropriate action and its ultimate purpose.  The sin is not to be ignored.  After all, Jesus came to build the kingdom of heaven on earth.  Sin is an outbreak of darkness in a kingdom of light; it cannot be glossed over.  Sin is the antithesis of the happiness and health of the Gospel, so it must be addressed.  However, the point of the exposure of sin by one brother against another is not retribution, shame, or vindication.  The purpose of the confrontation is reconciliation, a return of the sinner to the bosom of his family in faith:  “… you have won over your brother.”  This goal of brotherly love is precisely what makes this teaching so difficult.  Why?

When we are wronged, our first impulse is not usually reconciliation.  We want to keep a distance from the offender, to move away instead of toward him.  From there, we want to tell everyone we know how wronged we have been.  After that, there’s a desire to get even, to hurt in the same way we’ve been hurt.  In a truly countercultural way, Jesus interrupts this normal response.  He helps us understand that because we are a community of love, our biggest concern should be the return of our brother to the behavior of love.  So, we are to confront “him alone” with the problem first, hoping to quietly restore him to familial fellowship.  That teaches us to be as concerned for his welfare as we are for our own.

If that doesn’t work, we are to take “one or two others” along as witnesses that a wrong has certainly been committed.    The great value of needing witnesses to a wrong is that it prevents us from making frivolous charges against a brother.  There is still restraint here, still a desire to restore the brother to his Christian family.  If the brother “refuses to listen,” always the distinguishing sign of sin to the Jews, then the whole matter must be referred to the larger expression of the Christian family, the Church.  In all this, the goal is to win back the lost brother.  If he refuses to listen “even to the Church,” then he is to receive what, in all his refusals to “listen,” he really wants:  to live outside of the covenant family of God.  This is the final severe mercy extended to him.  He will have the painful experience of a kind of exile from the happiness and health of the covenant community.  Is this done out of hatred or a loss of hope?  To suggest that would be an entirely illogical conclusion to what we have seen in these verses:  a measured process that always aims at reconciliation.  No, the exile from the presence of God’s community on earth is meant to make the sinner long for “home.”  In addition, Jesus says that whatever the disciples, who are given His authority, bind or loose on earth is also bound or loosed in heaven.  Thus, the lost brother faces the very real possibility of an eternal separation from God’s presence, by his own choice of refusing to “listen” to those who speak for God.  Strong medicine indeed!

When we read through the rest of the New Testament, we see this principle at work in the early Church.  St. Paul routinely refers to it (read 1 Cor 5:1-5), and the Church, over time, has developed it into her teaching about excommunication (read CCC 1461-63).  In our own day, as impatiently litigious as we are, it is good to be reminded that Jesus Himself laid out the Church’s slow and seemingly “soft” method of confronting brothers with their sins.  Jesus’ primary interest was the sinner’s restoration, for the return of the lost sheep.  That can be inconvenient for us, can’t it, when the world outside the Church clamors for immediate, swift justice or even vengeance.  Do we have ears to hear?

Possible Response:  Lord Jesus, please give me the courage I need to accept Your way of confronting sin in my brothers.  I usually care more for justice than mercy.

First Reading (Read Eze 33:7-9)

Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon, an exile brought upon them by covenant unfaithfulness.  God called him “son of man,” a title Jesus frequently used for Himself in the Gospels.  The commission God gave Ezekiel was clear:  “… dissuade the wicked from his way.”  If he failed to speak, then he would incur the same guilt as the wicked.  If, however, he warned the wicked, even without success, he would “save” himself.  It is good for us to ponder the heavy burden of responsibility placed on God’s prophets.  Ezekiel’s job was not to cause repentance but to preach God’s Word, making repentance possible for the sinner.  In the Church today, our prophets are the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.  Part of their pastoral work is to warn us against wickedness, to speak out about it. Each of us has a choice whether to listen or not.  Do we have ears to hear?

Possible Response:  Heavenly Father, please give me ears to hear correction when I need it.

Psalm (Read Ps 95:1-2, 6-9)

We should not be surprised to find that today’s responsorial psalm has a warning in it:  “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”  The psalmist reminds us of the need for humility as we understand ourselves to be God’s flock, sheep who need guidance.  It is no coincidence that our bishops carry shepherd’s staffs, a symbol of their God-given responsibility to bind and to loose, to warn of wickedness, to feed the lambs.  In both the Gospel and the first reading, the sinner’s refusal to listen ends badly.  In the psalm, God speaks directly to us:  “Harden not your hearts.”  Refusal to listen to God (in our consciences or in His Voice today, the Church) leads to a heart of stone.  Do we have ears to hear?

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

Second Reading (Read Rom 13:8-10)

St. Paul explains why the attempt to restore and be reconciled with a brother who has sinned is always the goal when fellowship has been broken:  “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”  If a brother sins against us, he has stepped out of love.  Our response to him must be governed by one truth:  “Love does no evil to the neighbor, hence love is the fulfillment of the law.”  If we are wronged, how foolish it would be to do wrong ourselves.  Our desire for our brother should be the same as our desire for ourselves:  to live the behavior of love and so be true children of our Father.  Jesus shocked His followers by telling them to love even their enemies.  How much more should we be willing to love a lost brother back into the fold of God’s love.  Do we have ears to hear?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I need your grace to resist my first response to being wronged.  It’s hard to love rather than stew in judgment.

“During the day and between its

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 22:00

“During the day and between its tasks, as often as you can, you should examine yourself to see whether your affections have been distracted by some object, and whether you are still holding our Lord by the hand.”

-St. Francis de Sales, Roses Among Thorns

For God there is no time. He exists

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 22:00

For God there is no time. He exists from all eternity. And his plans are also from eternity. Our minds cannot really comprehend eternity, timeless, without beginning and end, and forever and ever. We can only be in awe and wonder at God and his ways: we really cannot fully understand, especially his workings and interventions in time and human history.

It does seem that God’s ways are so different from our ways. He works with and chooses what is small and insignificant in the world’s eyes: he chose Bethlehem, “so small that you are hardly named among the clans of Judah, from you shall I raise the one who is to rule over Israel.”

And God bides his time; he is not in any hurry. God waits. He waited for the birth of the maiden who would give birth to his Son. Amazing how he prepared for the coming of his Son as man.

Mary’s birth was insignificant, the ordinary birth of an ordinary baby girl to ordinary parents, Joachim and Anne. But in God’s plan, Mary’s birth was crucial in God’s salvific plan for humankind. “Preserved from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception,” the maiden Mary, “full of grace,” was in the “fullness of time” chosen to be the Mother of the Son of the Most High.

We rejoice and celebrate Mary’s birth as the “new beginning” of the dignity and vocation of women. Mary’s Fiat at the annunciation and her Magnificat at the visitation summarize her generous response to God.

Nativity of the Mother of God

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 22:00

The Feast of September 8 originated in Jerusalem. In the 7th century, in the Byzantine Rite and at Rome, the Birth of the Blessed Virgin was celebrated this day. Mary is believed to have been born approximately 20 B.C. Her Immaculate Conception — when she was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Anna — is celebrated nine months earlier, on December 8.

“In the liturgy the Church salutes Mary of Nazareth as the Church’s own beginning, for in the event of the Immaculate Conception the Church sees projected, and anticipated in her most noble member, the saving grace of Easter. And above all, in the Incarnation she encounters Christ and Mary indissolubly joined: he who is the Church’s Lord and Head and she who, uttering the first fiat of the New Covenant, prefigures the Church’s condition as spouse and mother” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater , 1).

“In fact, even though it is not possible to establish an exact chronological point for identifying the date of Mary’s birth, the Church has constantly been aware that Mary appeared on the horizon of salvation history before Christ. It is a fact that when ‘the fullness of time’ was definitively drawing near — the saving advent of Emmanuel — she who was from eternity destined to be His mother already existed on earth. The fact that she ‘preceded’ the coming of Christ is reflected every year in the liturgy of Advent. Therefore, if to that ancient historical expectation of the Savior we compare these years which brought us to the beginning of the third Millennium after Christ, it becomes fully comprehensible that in this present period we wish to turn in a special way to her, the one who in the ‘night’ of the Advent expectation began to shine like a true ‘Morning Star’ (Stella Matutina ). For just as this star, together with the ‘dawn,’ precedes the rising of the sun, so Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of the Savior, the rising of the ‘Sun of Justice’ in the history of the human race” (Redemptoris Mater , 3).

The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception upholds that from the first instant of her creation, the soul of the Virgin Mary was free from original sin; this doctrine is not the same as that of the Virgin Birth, which is when Jesus Christ was born of a virgin mother. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently favored belief in the Immaculate Conception; a festival of that name was celebrated in the Eastern church as early as the 5th century and in the Western church from the 7th century. In 1854, Pope Pius IX issued a solemn decree declaring the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma essential to the belief of the universal Church. Under the title Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Mary is invoked as the patron of the United States, Brazil, Portugal, and Corsica.

There are three different traditions as to the place of the birth of the Blessed Virgin. First, the event has been placed in Bethlehem. A second tradition placed the birth of our Blessed Lady in Sephoris, about three miles north of Bethlehem. The third tradition, the most probable one, is that Mary was born in Jerusalem. It rests upon the testimony of St. Sophronius, St. John Damascene, and upon evidence of recent finds in the Probatica. The Feast of Our Lady’s Nativity was not celebrated in Rome till toward the end of the seventh century; but two sermons found among the writings of St. Andrew of Crete (d. 680) imply that it was introduced at an earlier date into some other churches. In 799 the 10th canon of the Synod of Salzburg prescribes four feasts in honor of the Mother of God: the Purification, February 2; the Annunciation, March 25; the Assumption, August 15; the Nativity, September 8.

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.”

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Dipped in the instincts of heaven,
Robed in the garments of earth,
Maiden and Mother and Queen,
Wearing each crown at thy birth:
Threefold thy gift to the world,
Pluck’d from God’s ripening sky,
Tending the altar of life,
Kindred to angels on high.

— “Woman,” Thomas O’Hagan

Tending the altar of life . . .” In addition to bringing Jesus into the world, how else does Sacred Scripture show Mary as “mother”? I will do likewise in three ways today as a special birthday present to her.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Adrian (304), Martyr

St. Corbinian (Corbin) (725), Bishop

Falling Upward: Dealing With Failure in the Spiritual Life

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 19:47

Men do not like to fail. We find much of our identity in our ability to not be a failure. Yet, if we are honest, our spiritual lives are often characterized by the very thing we dread—failure. Our resolutions and our aspirations simply do not align with reality. Habitual sins plague us and enslave us, leading to shame, confessions that are numbingly identical, discouragement bordering on despair, self-loathing, and worse still, doubt—a terrible, nagging doubt that maybe the sacraments don’t really “work.”

Exacerbating the painfulness of this cycle of failure is the fact that the world puts a premium on success, on winning. There are few labels more humiliating for a man than “loser.” No one wants to be a loser. We all want to win at whatever we put our minds to, and we secretly harbor contempt for those who fail. That is, until we fail ourselves.

The Root of the Problem

At the root of our fear and disgust with losing is a deep down belief that we are better and stronger than we really are. When failure says otherwise, when we are humiliated by our own faults, we recoil in horror. “Surely, I am better than this,” we think. The disappointment we feel at the manifestation of our true weakness can result in anger at both ourselves and at God. But why this anger? It is the voice of pride, and a subtle kind at that.

At an even deeper level is a misunderstanding of what a successful spiritual life actually looks like. We think holiness consists in victory, in conquering all our spiritual foes, both internal and external. We believe that the measure of success is our victory, our feats of strength, our boundless determination. But this is simply wrong-headed, and the road to discouragement.

The Healthy Do Not Need a Physician

A priest once described Christianity as a “religion for losers.” And indeed it is.

Jesus simply did not come for the healthy and competent and strong. Far from it. “The healthy do not need a physician,” the Master said. The ones who thought they had perfected religion were the Pharisees. Jesus Christ did not come for them, for they did not want him. He came for the broken, the weak, the sinful. He came for the losers.

He came for those whom the world—and the proud religious zealots—deemed unfit, incompetent, and loathsome. He dined with publicans and sinners, much to the horror of more sensible folk. He healed the lame and the blind and the lepers, people whom the healthy and whole wanted to shut up and go away.

Even Jesus’ own disciples were shocked at his behavior. Talking to a woman, and not just a woman, but a notorious Samaritan woman? Forgiving a woman caught in the very act of adultery? Scandalous. “Shall we tell them to leave?” they often asked. “No,” was always the reply, “It is for such as these that the Son of Man came into the world.”

Christ’s association with failure was simply offensive to the great ones of the day. How could the Messiah, the conquering deliverer of Israel, associate with such folk? But the truth is that Jesus is attracted to brokenness and weakness. He doesn’t admire the strong. He loves the weak, especially those who know it. Those who catch his ear and move his heart are those who cry loudly like Bartimaeus in the Gospel, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and who won’t stop until they get an answer.

God Meets Us in Weakness

Jesus is God with us. He is the ineffable Divinity incarnate. But what is truly shocking is how often Jesus goes out of his way to identify and participate in our weakness and brokenness and pain. He chose to be born to poor parents who lived in a poor village. Not content with a ramshackle hut, he chose to be born amidst the dung and refuse of animals. His entire life was characterized by suffering and rejection, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” And his earthly ministry ended in the ultimate “failure” of the Cross.

Here is the paradox hidden in these facts: Our Savior does not come to us in a position of strength. His entire life was an identification with, a participation in, the brokenness of our humanity. Jesus does not rescue you from drowning by tossing you a life vest while he remains safely on the shore. He rescues you by plunging into the depths of your misery and transfiguring it from the inside out.

Where True Strength is Found

So you have failed again? You are broken? Humble yourself. You should expect nothing less. For you are weakness and inability. Embrace that fact, and thank God that he has shown you a small glimpse of what you really are. For until you reach the end of yourself, until you collapse in a broken heap and despair of your own efforts and strength, until you can cry out in desperation with every fiber of your being, “Son of David, have mercy on me,” God will not rescue you.

You see, the spiritual life is not about victory through effort. Our efforts are nothing, and less than nothing. It is true that God requires that we try, that we put forth effort, but always with the knowledge that it is Jesus who will give worth to our labors. His strength is made perfect in weakness.

So give up on your own expectations and aspirations. Be content to be nothing, to be a loser, though it be painful to your pride. Struggle on until God sees fit to deliver you. And above all, never forget that God’s mercy is like a stream of water: it always rushes to the lowest place.

The post Falling Upward: Dealing With Failure in the Spiritual Life appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

The Dark Night of the Soul

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 02:35
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b)

 

St. John of the Cross is one of the most misunderstood of the spiritual Doctors of the Church, yet his wisdom has led untold numbers of thirsty pilgrims to pure wells of salvation, contemplation, and union with God. In this course, we will explore Saint John’s life as a spiritual doctor, introduce his major writings and his central teachings on prayer, meditation, contemplation, and the dark night of the soul. We will place particular emphasis on correcting any misunderstandings of his writings and revealing the profound beauty of his revelation of God’s path to mystical union. Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, St. John of the Cross vowed himself to the Carmelite rule just like Teresa of Avila. He is the patron of contemplatives, mystics and Spanish poets.

“Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” – St. John of the Cross, “Special Counsels: Degrees of Perfection #9”

St. John of the Cross is best known for his works, “The Spiritual Canticle,” “The Living Flame of Love,” “The Dark Night of the Soul,” and “Ascent of Mount Carmel”. Below is one of his most famous poems.

The Dark Night of the Soul
by St John Of the Cross

1. One dark night,
fired with love’s urgent longings
— ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure,
by the secret ladder, disguised,
— ah, the sheer grace! —
in darkness and concealment,
my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night,
in secret, for no one saw me,
nor did I look at anything,
with no other light or guide
than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me
more surely than the light of noon
to where he was awaiting me
— him I knew so well —
there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night!
O night more lovely than the dawn!
O night that has united
the Lover with his beloved,
transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast
which I kept wholly for him alone,
there he lay sleeping,
and I caressing him
there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret,
as I parted his hair,
it wounded my neck
with its gentle hand,
suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself,
laying my face on my Beloved;
all things ceased; I went out from myself,
leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.

If you really want to live, don’t run from the cross or self-denial, mortification, purification, asceticism, or self-discipline. Dr. Michael Gama will teach you through his course Introduction to St. John of the Cross. This course is in the School of Spiritual Formation at the Avila Institute. The classes will be Tuesdays 8:30 – 10:30 pm Eastern time on Nov 7, 14, 28, Dec 5, 12, 19. Also, check out more information about another class at the Avila Institute called Exploring the Source and Summit here.

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Art for this post on The Dark Night of the Soul: A Vision de saint Jean de la Croix (The Vision of Saint John of the Cross), Jacques van Oost, 1675-1700, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Amended “Cross, crucifix”, Michael Gaida, 2017, CC0 Creative Commons, Pixabay. Special Counsels – Degrees of Perfection #9 from “The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross” Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez translators, ICS publications (Washington D.C.) 1991. “Dark Night of the Soul” from EWTN library.

About Kristin Aebli

Kristin Aebli is the Event Coordinator and Marketing Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Receiving the position was providential and in God’s perfect timing. Although cradle Catholic, in college she reverted and became confirmed in the Church. Kristin graduated with a degree in Communications from Samford University and she still enjoys ministering to college students through the Samford Catholic Student Association. Kristin is happy to be a part of the Firelight college ministry, is involved with Apostoli Viae and also a Young Professionals Bible study. For fun, Kristin enjoys discussing theology with friends, recording her podcast “Catholic After Dark”, dancing, singing, cooking, writing and painting. She hopes to continue growing in her faith through the sacraments and involvement with faithful community.

 

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

How are the Poor in Spirit Blessed?

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:07

Last week we began taking a look at the Beatitudes and how they serve as a roadmap for finding happiness in this life and in the next. It’s now time to turn to each of the individual Beatitudes in order to consider how we are called to live our lives in such a radical way. The first Beatitude is:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Matthew 5:3

Upon reading this passage, it becomes readily apparent that God is asking us to live counter to our Fallen nature. Immediately we are startled by such a call. It is foreign to the human condition to desire poverty of any kind. There are many forms of poverty and none of them are particularly attractive. The first type of poverty that comes to mind is material poverty.

Material poverty

In the West, we tend to romanticize poverty or discuss it in strictly political terms. This allows distance between us and those people who live in bone-crushing, abject poverty. It is something we do not experience on a daily basis. It is hard to find children living in trash heaps in the United States or Western Europe. Unlike St. Teresa of Calcutta, most of us have not seen people dying on the sidewalks from disease and hunger. There is material poverty within our nations, but it is something largely considered to be an urban problem, and we may largely ignore it in our own backyards.

Material poverty is not strictly a poverty of things. The person who struggles to make a just wage in order to provide food, shelter, water, and basic necessities for their family is tormented by the psychological, emotion, spiritual, and physical demands of poverty. They are not free. Instead, they spend their lives doing grueling work in order to provide a meager meal—or no meal– for their children. This is the reason poverty is spoken of frequently in Scripture and in Catholic Social Teaching. It is not just a privation of goods, it is a privation of true freedom to live as a person made imago Dei. Poverty is a form of slavery, and yet, wealth can also be a cruel taskmaster.

Wealth comes with its own poverty, when the individual uses their wealth to worship themselves rather than to be a good steward of their gifts. The body may be provided for among the wealthy, but often the soul is in great peril or dead because of the idolatry of money. The wealthy suffer from other forms of poverty. These may be emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. Many of the wealthy are lonely because true friendships are difficult to form since their money lends them to use by others.

Emotional poverty

There are many forms of poverty. One of the greatest poverties within the West is loneliness. There are countless people right now who are battling the poverty of loneliness. We are not made to live in isolation. The Triune God is a relation of Divine Persons. We are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that we are meant to live in communion with others.

The Western world has fallen for the lies of utilitarianism and nihilism. These two systems teach human beings to lord over one another and to use one another. Nihilism is the system that says the will is meant to be used to gain power; while utilitarianism tells us, happiness is our ultimate end so all things and people should be used to achieve that goal.

The “hook up” culture is a prime example of emotional poverty. Individuals engage in casual sex in order to use one another for a brief moment. At times, they may not even know the name of the person they choose to engage in sexual relations with on a given night. The holy act reserved for marriage is inverted into a temporary selfish gain that leaves both people empty. We are made for God, not to be used by one another.

This emotional poverty is not just among the young. Utilitarianism and nihilism are on full display in the way we treat the elderly. If a person is not deemed “useful” then they should do us all a favor and kill themselves. This type of mentality is growing in Europe and the United States. We no longer look to the elderly for wisdom, instead we lock them away and wait for them to die. This may sound harsh, but it is reality. Many lonely people waste away in nursing homes or other facilities without anyone to visit or care for them at an emotional level. Is it any wonder why euthanasia is gaining so much traction? Like those living in abject poverty, we forget about the lonely in our own backyards.

What is Christ’s answer?

What then does Christ mean when he tells us the poor in spirit are blessed? Poverty is a part of the human condition. I’ve only covered two major forms of poverty, but there are countless others: Illness, death, loss of faith, etc. Christ is telling us that we will experience poverty in this life. At the end of our lives we will experience the great poverty of death. We will go where we don’t want to go. We have no control over the timing of our death or how we die. Every single one of us will experience some form of poverty at one time or another in our lives. Christ wants us to embrace this poverty.

Poverty is a way for Christ to draw us close to Himself. It is one of the ways we learn to relinquish ourselves over to God. Christ calls us to accept this poverty, so that we can follow Him and give everything over to him.

The choice is difficult, for poverty runs counter to the instinctive possessiveness which is so deeply rooted in us. Urged on by a kind of fear of emptiness and by the anxiety which springs from our neediness, we try to acquire all sorts of goods and accumulate things endlessly. We even attempt to possess people, so that we can use them for our own personal designs or simply for the pleasure of power. We are grudging about our time, our efforts, even our smiles. Above all we want to possess ourselves, to be our own masters and to do as we wish. This is self-love, pride speaking.

Poverty places us at a crossroads. We can rebel and choose refusal and self-reliance—and this will harden us—or we can accept the suffering and let ourselves be shaped by poverty as we open ourselves to God and others. The decision is crucial.

(Servias Pinckaers, The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, 47.)

There it is. The paradoxical answer that we struggle to accept. We constantly wonder: How can poverty make us happy? The Cross stands at the center of our faith. Try as we might, there is no way of getting around the Cross. Each one of us has to carry the Cross given to us by God. It is through carrying this Cross that we are shaped, molded, and refined so that we can become saints. The purpose of our lives is to be saints. Holiness can only be achieved through the Cross, through suffering. None of us will get out of this life alive. All of us must die. The question is: How are we going to live? Do we set our eyes on our eternal home and embrace the Cross or do we rebel, fight, stomp our feet, and throw temper tantrums when suffering and poverty come our way, which they will? Blessedness—happiness—is the Cross. Christ meets us in our poverty and walks beside us. He enters into the depths of our poverty on the Cross.

Christ, therefore, chose to experience and espouse poverty, so that He might be one with the destitute and to all who are poor, including ourselves. This was the only road on which He could truly meet us, with no obstacle barring the way.

(Ibid, 48-49.)

The Beatitudes teach us to live as Christ lives; all the way to Calvary. Even though we live in some form of poverty, we always live in the hope of the Resurrection. This is why we can be truly blessed in poverty.

The Path to True Contentment

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:05

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

When God invited Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah demurred and lamented his lack of experience and his young age, “Ah, Lord God! Behold I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”(Jer 1:6) God responded by assuring him of His abiding presence and help against his adversaries, “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” God also touched his lips and assured him that he would never lack the words to speak, “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.”(v.8,9)

Jeremiah received divine assurance of God’s presence, God touched his lips and assured him that he will have the right words to speak at the proper time, and God assured him that his adversaries will surely not prevail against him.

In today’s First Reading we hear the same Prophet Jeremiah lamenting and regretting that he is called to preach God’s words to the rebellious Israelites. He is unhappy with his calling, his message is hard for the people to accept, he is being mocked by all, and he cannot keep silent about the messages from God, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped…All day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me…Violence and outrage is my message…It (God’s message) becomes like fire burning in my heart…I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

It is clear that God’s gifts alone are not enough to guarantee our true happiness. We need something else in addition to receiving God’s gifts – we must strive to make use of these gifts to please God and not ourselves. The Prophet laments the difficulty of the message and the insults that he has experienced in the hands of his countrymen because of this message, “The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.” He loses his happiness the moment that he begins to deliver God’s message for his own sake, seeking to please himself by the results of the message and not serving God and others for God’s sake.

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of that timeless truth of our intense hunger for God, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Nothing can satisfy this hunger for God no matter how much we have of that thing. We will always be wanting more; but the more we get, the more we want and the less content we are. It is not more of God’s gifts that makes us happy but our striving to use that which we have to know, love, and serve God more for His own sake. God, who desires our happiness more than we desire it, will always give us gifts and invite us to use them all for His sake if our happiness is going to be authentic and deep.

How can we both receive the fullness of divine gift and use it all for God’s own sake? Our Lord Jesus Christ is the answer because He alone has lived His life perfectly for the sake of the Father and it is by His grace alone that we can also receive the divine gifts and live for the sake of the Father. He did not become man, embark on His ministry or go to Calvary for His own sake but for the Father’s, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter tries to dissuade Him by appealing to the Father, “God forbid, Lord, no such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus rebukes Peter for thinking as human beings and not as God thinks. Man thinks of happiness as having and preserving all that he wants; God’s path of happiness is that shown by Jesus – using all that He has for the greater glory of God, to please the Father alone and not Himself, “I always do what is pleasing to Him.” (Jn 8:29) Hence the words of Jesus that point us to the path of true happiness in this life and in the next, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s world, how easily we try to find happiness by getting more natural and supernatural gifts? We hardly ask if the more we seek is pleasing to God or not. We have more pleasure, power and possessions and we are still left unhappy because we want more. We never seem to be satisfied. If our striving in the spiritual life for more spiritual gifts have left us unhappy and discontented, then we must ask ourselves one question: for whose sake am I striving? Is this for my sake or for God’s greater glory?

St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading that we can indeed go against the direction of the world and, following in Christ’s footsteps, make an offering of ourselves to God so as to please God, “I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” By offering ourselves to God for God’s own sake, we can “discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” The path to authentic happiness is in our complete self-offering to God through, with, and in Christ Jesus with the sole purpose of pleasing God and not ourselves.

Jesus had only one human life to live in the one body that He received from the most Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the same life that He gave on the cross and the same body that was raised from the grave. He shares with us all His own cross so that, like Him, we never follow and serve Christ for our own sake. By participating in His own suffering, we also participate in that love and grace that seeks only the Father’s greater pleasure, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

When we feel weak and unable to seek to please God, when we are so focused on getting more in this life and to please ourselves, we can turn with confidence to Mother Mary. The one and only desire in her Immaculate hearts was to please God in all things with all that she had and not to please herself, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it be done to me according to your word.” She never thought about what it would cost her or what was in it for her at the moment of the Annunciation, during Jesus’s infancy and ministry, during his prediction of His passion and death, on Calvary and in her days with the early Church. A confident prayer, “Mary, please help me to do (or endure) this for you,” surely kills the breath of self-seeking tendencies in us and places Jesus Christ in the center of our hearts because Mary was and is all about God and not herself.

The God-Man who shows us the way to true contentment and who alone makes it possible for us to do all for the sake of the Father comes to us in our Eucharistic celebration today. He alone can make us truly happy. He wants to make us truly happy. He comes to us with many gifts. Let us beg of Him all that we need in life for ourselves and for others. Remembering that having more gifts does not guarantee deep happiness, let us use these gifts by His grace to love and serve Him for His sake alone. This is how that deep abiding happiness will be ours in this life and in the life to come.

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

The Perspective of a Prominent Young Catholic Convert: An Interview with Brandon Vogt

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:02

I recently had the opportunity to ask Brandon Vogt some interview questions. This past July (1-4), Brandon was one of about 3,500 prominent Catholic figures to attend the historic Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America in Orlando, Florida. Included within Brandon’s vast media accolades is his position as content director at Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Ministries. Brandon is also a published author of various popular Catholic books. None of this is to mention Brandon’s role as a devoted husband and father, and someone who has shown how converts to the Catholic faith continue to both enrich and, frankly, comprise the lay Catholic leadership in the United States. Enjoy the depth of Brandon’s responses to my questions here.

What does your Catholic faith mean to you and your family?

Everything. It’s the DNA, the lifeblood, the beating heart of our family.

If a random passerby who had never heard of Jesus approached you and asked you to describe him in a few sentences, what would you say?

Jesus is the most startling, shocking, dangerous, intriguing person ever to walk the earth. When you meet the real Jesus, and not some sentimental caricature, he elicits only two reactions. Either you will love him or you will hate him. As C.S. Lewis said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.”

Tell us more about ClaritasU.

ClaritasU was created to help Catholics get clear and confident about the most pressing issues they face. These are the issues that make them nervous and afraid when they come up in conversation – things like atheism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and more.

Through ClaritasU, however, they get the tools and resources they need to stop being worried. Through video courses, expert interviews, and a vibrant community, we teach members how to be clear about their faith and answer the top objections. You can learn more at ClaritasU.com, but hurry, because the doors close to new members on Thursday, September 7, and they won’t open again for at least six months!

I have enjoyed watching your “Best Evidence for God” videos. Why did you start producing them?

One of the most alarming trends today is the rise of atheism. In the past ten years, the number of atheists in America has doubled. There were five million atheists in 2007. Today, there are over ten million. How has this happened? And what does it mean for us Catholics? That’s what I explain in this free video series, found at BestEvidenceForGod.com. You’ll learn why atheism is surging, what you should say when talking with atheist friends and family, and some good resources to go even deeper on the topic.

What have been some of the joys of working with Bishop Robert Barron and Word on Fire Ministries?

To quote the Little Flower, our main patroness, “Everything is grace!” I still can’t believe I get to work with Bishop Barron and so many talented and holy people at Word on Fire. These people are on the front lines of evangelizing the culture, and only in heaven will we learn the tremendous impact people like Bishop Barron have had on the world. I don’t think there’s a better evangelist in the English-speaking world than him, so it’s a great joy and honor to work alongside him.

As a fellow Ave Maria Press author, I must ask: what are your hopes for your forthcoming book Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too)?

Well, the same hope as any author: that many people read their book and find it helpful! For Why I Am Catholic, though, I especially hope it finds its way to non-Catholic readers. I wrote it with atheists, agnostics, “nones,” and former Catholics in mind, so I want it in their hands. We to need to reveal to them how the Catholic Church is true, good, and beautiful, and how, through it, God wants to transform them and share all his gifts with them.

You used to be a self-identified millennial “none” regarding religion. I had my own doubts before returning to the practice of the Catholic faith late in my college years. For you, what led you to Catholicism in light of your time in college?

I wanted to join the Church that Jesus established. At the time, I was part of a Methodist community, and I really loved it. It was there I first learned the Bible, I began to pray on my own, and I found a warm community of loving friends. Yet still, as nice as those things were, I was uneasy learning that the Methodist church was founded just a few hundred years ago by two brothers, John and Charles Wesley. I didn’t want to join a church started by men. I wanted the Church started by Jesus. So I poured through history books and examined the early Church, discovering quickly that the early Church was resolutely Catholic. It was the acorn that developed into the tree of today’s Catholic Church. And once I made that connection, I couldn’t help but embrace it.

You run the popular website StrangeNotions.com, which has earned the designation of “the largest site of dialogue between Catholics and atheists.” What is one story from this experience that has stuck out for you?

We’ve had many great encounters. For example, I personally have enjoyed getting to know so many atheists through the site, counting many of them as friends. I’ve also interviewed some fun atheist leaders, including Dr. Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher of science, who is one of the most friendly and thoughtful scholars I know. It’s also refreshing when I hear from atheists or skeptics who email me to say that a particular post or combox discussion has helped change their mind. It doesn’t happen often, and we’ve yet to have anyone who has admitted they’ve gone from atheism all the way to Catholicism, but there have been several who have renounced atheism and now identify as deist or theist.

I ask this in every interview: what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?

Definitely John 10:10: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” How many people today see Jesus, religion, and the Church as a thief? Someone who wants to steal away their freedom and happiness? But it’s precisely the wrong perspective. Jesus comes to give life, and give it to the full! What J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about the Blessed Sacrament could easily apply to Jesus: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth… [In Jesus] you will find romance, glory, honor, and fidelity.”

What advice do you have for millennial Catholics, many of whom are inclined to question the merits of the Catholic Church?

Follow the questions all the way down. You have questions about the Church? You have problems with some of her teachings? You have doubts? Good! That’s healthy! It means your mind is still working! But don’t stop there. Pursue those questions all the way. See what answers the Church gives. See what her brightest and most articulate defenders say. Give the Church a chance before casting her off. Because when you do, I’m convinced, you’ll find that in a strange and confused world, perhaps the Catholic Church looks so backward because everyone else is facing the wrong direction. As G.K. Chesterton says, “It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it, he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down, he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it, he begins to be fond of it.”

*

You can follow Brandon on Twitter (@BrandonVogt). Keep an eye on whatever Brandon has in store next – he reliably finds a unique way to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into the world through his media endeavors, thus taking seriously the call for all of the laity to participate in the efforts of the New Evangelization.

General Audience

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:00

Saint Peter’s Square
Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today I would like to return to an important theme: the relationship between hope and memory, with particular reference to the memory of vocation. I take the call of Jesus’ first disciples as an icon. This experience made such an impression on their memory that one of them even noted the time: it was about four in the afternoon (cf. Jn 1:39). The Evangelist John tells the story as a clear recollection from his youth, left untouched in his memory as an old man: because John wrote these things when he was already old.

The encounter took place near the Jordan River, where John the Baptist was baptizing; and those young Galileans had chosen the Baptist as their spiritual guide. One day Jesus came and was baptized in the river. The following day he passed by again and it was then that the Baptizer, that is, John the Baptist, told two of his disciples: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (v. 36).

And for those two, it is the “spark”. They leave their first teacher and begin to follow Jesus. On the way, he turns to them and asks the decisive question: “What do you seek?” (v. 38). In the Gospels, Jesus appears as an expert on the human heart. At that moment he met two young men, searching, with a healthy restlessness. Indeed, what youth is a satisfied youth without a quest for meaning? Young people who seek nothing are not young people; they are retired; they have aged prematurely. It is sad to see young people in retirement…. And throughout the entire Gospel, in all of the encounters that happen to him along the way, Jesus appears as an “incendiary” of hearts. From this springs that question of his that seeks to bring out the desire for life and happiness that every young person bears inside: “What do you seek?”. I too would like to ask the young people here in the Square today, and those who are listening via the media: “You, who are young, what do you seek? What are you looking for in your heart?”.

John and Andrew’s vocation begins in this way: it is the beginning of a friendship with Jesus so strong as to impose a commonality of life and of passions with Him. The two disciples begin to stay with Jesus and immediately become missionaries, because when the encounter ends, they do not calmly return home: in fact, their respective brothers — Simon and James — soon become engaged as followers. They go to them and say: “We have found the Messiah; we have found a great prophet”: they share the news. They are missionaries in that encounter. It was such a touching, such a happy meeting that the disciples will remember forever that day which illuminated and gave direction to their youth.

How can we discover our own vocation in this world? It can be discovered in many ways, but this passage of the Gospel tells us that the first indicator is the joy of the encounter with Jesus. Marriage, consecrated life, priesthood: every true vocation begins with an encounter with Jesus who gives us joy and hope anew; and he leads us, even through trials and difficulties, to an ever fuller encounter; that encounter, the encounter with him, grows greater, and to the fullness of joy.

The Lord does not want men and women who walk behind him reluctantly, without having the wind of gladness in their hearts. You who are here in the Square, I ask you — each of you respond to yourself — do you have the wind of gladness in your heart? Each of you ask yourself: “Do I have within me, in my heart, the wind of gladness?”. Jesus wants people who understand that being with him bestows immense happiness, which can be renewed every day of our life. A disciple of God’s Kingdom who is not joyful does not evangelize this world; he is sad. We become Jesus’ preachers not by sharpening the weapons of rhetoric: you can talk, talk, talk, but if there is nothing else…. How do we become preachers of Jesus? By keeping the sparkle of true happiness in our eyes. We see many Christians, even among us, who transmit the joy of faith with their eyes: with their eyes!

For this reason, a Christian, like the Virgin Mary, keeps alive the flame of falling in love: in love with Jesus. Certainly there are trials in life; there are moments in which it is necessary to go forward despite the cold and the crosswinds, despite much bitterness. But Christians know the way that leads to that sacred fire which ignited them once and for ever.

But please, I implore you: let us not give credence to embittered and unhappy people; let us not listen to those who cynically recommend not cultivating hope in life; let us not trust those who extinguish all nascent enthusiasm, saying that no undertaking is worth the sacrifice of a whole life; let us not listen to those “old” at heart who stifle youthful euphoria. Let us go to the elderly who have eyes sparkling with hope! Instead, let us cultivate healthy utopias: God wants us to be able to dream like him and with him, as we journey, well aware of reality. Dream of a different world. And if one dream is snuffed out, [let us] go back to dreaming of it again, drawing with hope from the memory of the beginning, from those embers that, perhaps after not such a good life, are hidden under the ashes of the first encounter with Jesus.

Here then, is a fundamental dynamic of Christian life: remembering Jesus. Paul said to his disciple: “Remember Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 2:8); this is the advice of the great Saint Paul: “Remember Jesus Christ”. [Let us] remember Jesus, the loving fire by which one day we understood our life as a project of good, and with this flame, [let us] rekindle our hope.

 

Marrying the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chaplet | An Interview With Shane Kapler

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:00

Long-time contributor Shane Kapler returns to the CE Podcast to share how you can intersperse the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet into your daily prayer. Many have found that this small addition to your prayer life can help you to deepen your faith and contemplate the love of God in your life. Shane offers his perspective and advise, as well as a preview of his recent book, Marrying the Rosary to the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode 

“But you are the captain of your

Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:00

“But you are the captain of your own soul; you are the arbiter of your own destiny. God and man both give you a fair chance, a noble opportunity. God has endowed you with a free will, the divine prerogative of choosing between good and evil.”

-Fr. Edward F. Garesché, Catholic Book of Character and Success

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.