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“A soul of holiness does not

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 23:00

“A soul of holiness does not strive for that holiness. It strives to love, to love wholeheartedly; there lies the difference…The simple soul loves; that is all. It would love still more.”

Raoul Plus, SJ, Holy Simplicity

Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 23:00

“And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb” (Lk 2:21).

During His ministry, our Lord stated that He came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). In order to fulfill that law, the Lord was circumcised when He was eight days old. As God, He was not bound by any law, but as St. Paul said, was born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law. In other words, the Lord of the Universe humbly submitted Himself to the Mosaic Law. Scripture tells us that after the days of her purification were complete, according to the laws of Moses, our Blessed Mother Mary and Saint Joseph took the Child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present Him to God.  As it was written in the law, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (Ex 13:2).

The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple is the celebration of this time when our Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself to come and dwell among us, not only fulfilling the Law and Prophets, but also submitting Himself to persecution, torture and death in order to redeem each of us.

Lessons

The Lord of the universe Who created us all submitted Himself to suffering even unto death for us, yet so many times we are unwilling to go out of our way to help one another.  It is good for us, when faced with trials and tribulations or even inconveniences in our daily lives, to reflect on the humility of our God.

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.”

“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

—Luke 2:34–35

Johnnette’s Meditation
How have some of my “secret thoughts” found their way into the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and how has she responded? Consider those sufferings, trials, prayers of petition, and loved ones you have entrusted to her.”

Prayer

Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory! We love and adore You and give you all thanks for Your mercy, kindness and love. Help us dear Lord, to remember Your commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Give us the grace to fulfill Your words, Lord. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.

Persevering in Failures and Temptations

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:07

I found myself lying face down in the mud, having suffered a rather difficult, but typical fall on my way up the holy mountain. I found the temptations, spiritual attacks, habitual sins, and failings I was facing to be too much. I took my eyes off of Christ for a moment and I started focusing on my lack of progress, failures, and the onslaught of temptations being thrown my way. This then led to the inevitable cycle of self-loathing—which shame drives, but does none of us any good—and me sobbing on the phone to my husband while emailing my priest about needing Confession after daily Mass. This is the not-so-picturesque reality of the holy life.

There is a tendency in people to paint a pious beautiful picture in our minds of this sunny, easy path to holiness. We can actually fall for a false piety of our own making that looks like halos set just so, prayerful Rosaries, silently meditating perfectly, and being thankful that we are not nearly as sinful as our neighbor. “How is it so-and-so could commit such a grievous sin?”, some will scoff in righteous indignation. More-often-than-not, if we are asking this question it is because we don’t fully grasp what we are capable of in our Fallen state and how much we must come to fully rely on Christ to keep out of serious trouble and preserve grace in our souls. This is why priests smile and tell their parishioners that they’ve heard it all in the confessional. They aren’t surprised, so why are so many of us?

Evil dwells in all of our hearts

As we progress spiritually the light of grace shows the dark, murky places within us and at times it can be surprising, astonishing, or horrifying to us. This is primarily because we have an inaccurate or erroneous understanding of ourselves and the immense wound the Fall inflicted on human nature. In truth, our fallen state should not surprise us, but it does, especially living in a culture that espouses the moral therapeutic deism of only having to be a “good” person, whatever that even means. In reality, we are meant to be saints and that means striving for ‘being perfect like our Heavenly Father’ while confronting our wounded Fallen state. We should not engage in self-loathing or self-pity, but we should have an honest understanding of ourselves. This understanding will actually make the path to holiness somewhat easier, because we will stop allowing our failures to lead us to despair and we will stop thinking so highly of ourselves in relation to our neighbor. We will start relying on God, rather than ourselves and extend mercy to our neighbor.

Each one of us is capable of great evil and our small sins really aren’t so small when they compound over time. It can also be easy to become frustrated by the level of spiritual attacks we take in our daily lives and there is a very real temptation to become overwhelmed by it all. Whenever I increase my prayer life or reception of the Sacraments the battle becomes more intense and the Enemy goes right for the spiritual jugular. He has found points of weakness within me that I wasn’t even aware of until recently. This is because the Enemy wants me to slip up. He wants me to stop praying regularly, to avoid daily Mass, not go to regular Confession, and to give into temptation. We must pray for the grace to persevere in spite of whatever is thrown our way from within and without. When we do fail—which will happen repeatedly—then we go back to Confession and try again.

Temptation is inevitable

As Catholics, we can struggle with the reality of temptation in our own lives. We may have mistakenly believed—or still do–that once we begin to follow Christ and strive earnestly for holiness, then our battle will lessen. We may have thought that we would not face rather difficult temptations in a wide variety of forms, including temptations or sins we didn’t expect to battle. In fact, as we progress, the Enemy can begin to strike us in new and varied ways. We have to keep in mind that his goal is to get us to slip up, to avoid prayer, not grow in virtue, or avoid the Sacraments. The Enemy uses shame in order to make us hide in the same manner as Adam and Eve. We can struggle to see God as merciful when we fail or when venial sins even become too heavy. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger provides an excellent example of our struggle in the spiritual life in his discussion with Peter Seewald in God and the World.

This question [mercy in the face of our repeated sins] greatly troubled Augustine, who was always a suffering and struggling man. To start with, he thought that once one had converted one was on the high road to heaven. Later on he noticed that even this high road can be terribly difficult and that there are some very dark valleys. He was of the opinion that even Saint Paul, to the end of his life, suffered temptation, which is certainly something he read into Paul’s story from his own experience. But precisely because Augustine was so oppressed, it was essential for him to be able to talk to God as the merciful One, to seek refuge in him, to see his loving face and not to have to dispute with him. In that sense I believe that in fact the figure of Christ takes something of the bitterness out of our conflict.

The battle can be a mighty one and it is fought with small victories that are totally dependent on God’s grace and His working in our lives. If we try to go it alone then we will inevitably stumble and fall. The path is an arduous one that takes our entire lives to complete and even afterwards we may need purification in Purgatory. Even when we pray regularly and receive the Sacraments frequently, we will still face immense struggles. We are meant to persevere, but that doesn’t mean there will not be repeated failures. Every priest will tell you the same thing in the confessional when you complain about repeating the same sins over and over and over again. “Keep coming back. Keep trying.” We are in serious trouble when we stop trying and we give up.

We must become dependent on God

My frustration in this recent fall of mine was because I thought that I had conquered a particular vice that I have battled for over a decade. The world would see this vice as nothing at all. It is my coffee addiction. The problem is that God has called me in particular to give it up. It is a full-blown addiction that impacts me physically and mentally. I am very sensitive to medications, and caffeine—being a drug—has a negative impact on my body and my moods. I know quite clearly that the Holy Spirit is telling me to give it up for good. I also have chronic gastritis thanks to a faulty—now removed—gall bladder and caffeine aggravates this condition. I thought I had done it, but then I slipped up and once I did, a whole host of other vices and temptations came roaring at me. It’s interesting how closely our pet sins are related to one another or how the temptations the Enemy throws at us are often connected to other sins we battle. It is crucial for all of us to understand that temptations aren’t going to cease, and in fact, they can grow in strength and require even more dependence on God and will on our part until we have progressed past each one. That is the point: We must become fully dependent on God.

Men on earth are stained with many sins, deceived by many desires, enslaved by many fears, endangered by many snares, distracted by many curiosities, entangled with vanities, surrounded by errors, tired with labors, troubled by temptations, exhausted with pleasure, tormented with many wants. Afflictions and sorrows are seldom absent. You are surrounded by so many traps and enemies. Scarcely does one trouble or temptation go, when another arrives. Often enough, the first trouble is still with you when others come.

Confraternity of the Precious Blood, My Daily Bread, page 84

In all of these temptations and the times we sin and give into temptation, we must constantly focus on God and seek His aid. If we run from Him or try to do it on our own then we will fail. Christ does not want us to hide in shame from Him. He knows when we truly desire to be holy. He knows when we are trying in earnest. He’s not going to leave us or abandon us. He’s going to pick us back up, dust us off, and tell us to begin again. We may actually have to keep scaling the same section of the mountain. We may fall repeatedly, but every single time He will tell us to do it again. He knows we will fail, but He also knows that by His grace we will succeed in the end if we truly desire Him as the Ultimate End for our lives.

Lessons From A Grade School

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:05

Last spring I graduated from 21st grade. It’s not a calculation I would make on my own, were it not for 2nd graders asking me what grade I was in. I would not be in dialogue with 2nd graders, were I not sent during my seminary studies to volunteer at a bilingual grade school in southwest D.C.

This week’s celebration of Catholic Schools Week has prompted me to step back and reflect on my time in this often chaotic, always instructive realm which I never thought I’d return to. I remember my first day last year, sitting on a children-sized art table while the kids sat on the carpet for story time. I was just listening, soaking it in, when a strong existential moment washed over me: “I’m a Dominican brother, wearing strange robes, in a 2nd grade classroom, everyone is speaking Spanish, we’re in downtown Washington D.C…. I couldn’t have predicted that any one part of this story would occur in my life. What has happened to me?” It was a good moment, not a scary one. It reminded me I was still a student, and I have kept my eyes open on every day that has followed.

At times I have felt a bit like Wittgenstein. At the age of 30 (my own age), he published his magnum opus in philosophy and then promptly disappeared to teach elementary school in the Austrian countryside. Having despaired of all things intellectual, he threw himself into all things poor and simple as a sort of refuge of meaning, from giving away his familial financial inheritance to siblings to even “sleeping in the school kitchen and eating cocoa and oatmeal for dinner out of a pot he never cleaned.” His head full of theoretical knowledge, he went back to the roots of society in search of the basic knowledge he had lost in growing up. And there is an enormous difference between passing through grade school and returning to it as an adult.

Months back, our 2nd graders were reciting the Nicene Creed for the first time, in slow and careful Spanish, line by line: “Creo en un solo Dios, Padre todopoderoso….” I thought for a few moments of the few centuries of controversy over this formula, of those bitter bishop battles we call councils, always convening somewhere in western Turkey and always abounding with venom and eloquence, with politics and the Holy Spirit! How simple it all has turned out to be in time. What gentle fruit is born of violent growth. What was once a war of words is now a simple and delightful formula, passed on to innocent children at 10 a.m. just 2 miles north of the White House. “On the lips of children and of babes you have found praise to foil your enemy” (Ps 8:3).

These past two years, as much as I have sought to teach, I have been taught. Students teach you by how they learn, how they speak, what they notice, what gets their attention, etc. I’d like to first share a big lesson, then some minor ones. Altogether, they are just a few of the many lessons I have learned since returning to grade school.

Beginning school is beginning to live in society. Even the seating arrangement shows this. Children are placed in rows or desk clusters, placed side-by-side with other children from other families they would never associate with, told to share crayons and glue and help each other on math problems. Already across the small space of a desk they furrow their brows, asking why that strange person behaves that way, or they lean over excitedly to say how pretty someone’s earrings are or how much they like their dragon drawings.

Likewise, a whole set of helping hands guide a student through a single day. On the first day of school, this is often a traumatic transfer. This year’s start to classes for us was humid with steady rain, and soon the tears of many children mixed with the general moisture of the day, the dawning realization that mom wasn’t coming back for hours and these other grownups were in charge of us now. They may be holding my hand and singing happy songs in my face like clowns, but they’re not my mom…. Yet separation soon smooths into a routine, and the transfer soon goes unquestioned. Each day, mom or dad or both first help children with a whole set of verbs: waking, dressing, brushing, braiding, packing, driving, hugging, leaving. Then it is the teachers who are more than teachers, for on school grounds they are also lawyers and referees and police officers and doctors and sometimes substitute parents.

I once entered the sacristy before school Mass to vest as a deacon, when behold, right at my feet lay a 7-year-old boy on the carpet, flat on his back, eyes closed in a quiet agony, with a 25-year-old girl bending over him, keeping him calm, until his mom arrived to bring him home. He had the flu, and she happened to be his teacher, and that’s just what teachers do in these situations.

Alternatively, we should also consider how much students affect society, not some future day when they grow up and get jobs, but now as students. Parents certainly set the tone of parenting, but children also form their own cultures, which they bring home and ask their family to deal with! That’s not a reason for universal homeschooling (which is itself a fine option), but simply to say that children form cultures at their own level regardless of the context in which they live. Another curiosity is how much a school calendar affects all of society, including dads at work. Business slows down some in the summer and most vacations or long weekends happen then, not simply due to the heat but also because the kids are home. I’ve seen Manhattan turn sleepy in a single weekend, once the public school calendar reaches its end. Parents may work remotely or have extra time off, but school says when to take it. This doesn’t happen in Bogotá, because the school breaks fall in winter. It’s only to say that school schedules have a wider ripple effect than adding some home and school meetings to mom’s calendar.

And now for further thoughts.

Words matter. I didn’t see this when I was a 1st grader, but since my return to 1st grade, it’s the most obvious and marvelous fact. To learn is simply to learn new words. That’s basically the entire educational process itself. Every subject, from science to history to religion, with perhaps math as the lone exception, is based on new vocabulary and how these words connect with other ones we already know, then what they mean together. You can’t explain the story of Gabriel appearing to Mary when the whole class cuts you off in unison, saying, “What’s appear?” Then 40 minutes have gone by, and you’ve covered up to 4 definitions of the word, only to walk away wondering why you never realized the term was so complex in the first place.

Rules matter. My nephew sat in a classroom for the first time this fall, and when later that evening in the kitchen his dad (my brother) asked him how his day went, his first words were: “You can’t talk if you don’t raise your hand.” To enter a school is submerge oneself in a world of rules. Smaller children don’t question this in the beginning, and the rules are almighty. Though rebellion may creep in, it remains that law is a teacher from our earliest age, shaping us from then until even now. And of course there are consequences. Rewards for good behavior may be false currency to purchase candy from the teacher’s closet or even a Pizza Hut gift certificate for good readers. Punishments are, as usual, some form of isolation – a difficult human experience regardless of age. Our school enforces behavior by color charts, which students then show to their parents at home, connecting the behavior to both school and family. Law reaches into every level of society, and behavior at any level affects the whole. School reminds us how true this is.

Questions matter. Kids are full of questions, real ones, sometimes the very deepest stuff, and some questions never go away. I’ve heard the same recurring questions from 2nd, 5th, and 8th graders: “Who made God?” In these questions they don’t need a quick answer, but need to keep asking that question. Other questions can be settled quickly. When one 2nd grader asked if the place where Jesus lived is still in the world, to which I said yes, the whole class rushed to the map to have me point out Israel. It was a loud and conclusive moment, the general phrase about the crowd being: “There it is!” Question solved. Many others to come. Not just in school, but all of life. In our 5th grade, every week we have Question Day, where many thoughts over the course of the week have all been jotted down on neon sticky notes, and I try to sort through the stack and answer as many as I can, as quickly as I can, sometimes getting caught in very deep and real matters. The best atmosphere in the classroom should be the same atmosphere in the home, when children are provoked by life and ask about it and are listened to and taken seriously. A child never asks an unserious question. Sometimes they do as part of a joke, which is always obvious. Normally if they bother to ask, they’re serious. If we don’t take them seriously, they stop asking. If we don’t have an answer for them, they get us searching for one.

Creativity Matters. It’s said that teachers learn their subjects fully only by the act of teaching it. Being a student involves a lot of information intake, but without any sort of creative expression to concretize what has been received, it may not remain. The most basic way we do so is by speaking. Reciting creeds or multiplication tables helps us remember them. Even with simple observations this applies. Kids notice every detail, so my first few days in the classroom were full of many interrogations I had never faced in my life: “How many beads are on your rosary?” I had to count. 169. “How are you toes so big?” Because I’m a grown up. I now realize wearing sandals to story time is a perpetual risk for distraction. And then the classic: “You’re tall.” You needed to say that, in order to process that, didn’t you? But besides words, there is also writing. Besides writing, there is also art, as another way to express our learning so as to absorb it. Everyone draws and colors the parables of Jesus after we read them. Whether or not the resulting images are discernable in the least, it’s the process that matters. A nice side effect, as well, is that schools become store houses for art supplies, so whenever I’m in a bind to make Christmas or birthday cards, a quick trip to school solves every need.

Boys and girls are different. Yes, they both are intelligent in all subjects. Yes, they are taught the same manners. Yes, they both cheer when someone brings pizza or cupcakes into the classroom. Yes, they are both equally primal on the playground, where once the doors have opened, shouting and the sound of running feet can be heard from more than a city block away. But only boys wrestle. Only girls find the need to discuss each other’s clothing. Whatever the crossover between the two, boys and girls have a different kind of speaking, a different kind of shyness, a different way of joking, even a different preference for animals. I’ve discovered some crossover with big cats, funnily enough, which appeal to both sides. Yet most often there is a division between bunnies and kittens on one side, sharks and eagles on the other. There will always be shared qualities between the two, as there will always be the difference that remains.

Putting yourself in another person shoes is actually hard. It turns out that subjectivity is a pretty heavy thing for us. It’s hard to escape. Not only in the lessons about being nice to one another and imagining how they feel. It’s a deeper pull than an emotional state. In my recent attempt to retell the Prodigal Son to 3-year-olds, I removed the word prodigal and just named it “The Two Sons,” to which the whole class inquired, “What’s a son?” Great … now we’re getting somewhere. I found out they only knew the words mom, dad, brother, and sister. Because that’s their perspective looking out on the world. Try to get them to put themselves in their parents’ shoes, and you might have to wait a few years. My nephew recently corrected my sister, when she told him, “Did you know your dad is my brother?” “No he’s not, he’s my dad!” There is only one way of seeing the world, and it’s mine! So we think. When we grow up, we only grow out of that somewhat. We still have our blinders, and it should humble us and make us trust others.

Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. Eighth graders, like all big fish in a small pond, can be ready to leap out. Their behavior can give of signs of fatigue or rebellion, but they’re still kids, and they’re still part of the family. Familiarity sometimes breeds familiarity, in fact! A clear moment of this is their system of being “Mass buddies” with the three-year olds in Pre-K. They sit in the pews together, and the older ones respond to this responsibility with a mix of, well, responsibility, but also a laissez faire smile when the little ones act up, as if to say, “What am I supposed to do about this? I’m just an eighth grader.” Everything has a time limit, and every student eventually moves on, but a real sense of family develops when the years add up. Some of my best friends in life are from kindergarten.

The ordinary is extraordinary. Everyone notices quietly when Jim walks into the corporate office with a new haircut, but kids will stand on metaphorical rooftops and proclaim it to the world, “Look, he got a haircut!” Then they’ll all want to take a closer inspection and give you their opinion, long litanies of, “You look really (adjective) now.” They remind us that nothing in life is really ordinary. “A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door” (G.K. Chesterton). And he’s right, that around 7 years we begin to gravitate towards the more extraordinary. Many times have I been approached by 2nd graders, a sense of urgency in their eyes, wanting to tell me about bad guys on the news, or a scary dream they had, or a tragic way in which a teenager died. One girl recently and spontaneously announced to me, “Do you want to know all the animals I don’t like? Snakes, spiders, worms, rats, some lizards….” This was unsolicited, but it was on her mind, because she’s seven. She and the rest of the world that has already turned seven (that includes adults) could learn again from the wonder of a three-year-old, we who are daily tied to the latest shock and scandal that visits our world. It’s worth our attention, but so are the basic things right in front of us.

Hope is the defining characteristic of being human. Yes, I was asked by a 5th grader the very sincere question, “Why did God create boredom?” And yes, frustration is real and sometimes from the start. A 1st grader turned to me on the 1st day of school this year, saying with an infinite degree of honesty, “I don’t like school.” I laughed inside and thought, you’ve got a heck of a long way to go. No advice from this guy…, And yes, problems arise with behavior, with families, with teachers, even with friendships when they shift over the years, and that can be awkward and even hurtful. Still, children all hope things will be better. So does everyone involved in educating them. That’s what everyone is working for.

A strange scene unfolded this past December, which has left me thinking. A few chaperones took a group of students caroling to a soup kitchen. We sang our songs, received our applause, then made our exit by passing through the crowd of 200 smiling, bundled, ragged, some drunk, some not, homeless people. Precious though they be in God’s eyes, we weren’t stopping for individual conversations, and the kids were protectively whisked away back to school. We want to teach them compassion and service, but we don’t want them to end up like what they saw. I’ve talked to those men on the other side, and many of them hope too, that life may turn around for them. We humans are hopelessly hopeful, that somehow and some way, life will get better, that it will all be ok. Even when it isn’t, we’re convinced it should be.

Children come into this world with that deep-down dream, and the joy that makes them bounce around the playground is something purposeful on the part of God, who perhaps left them that way on purpose, despite the fall of Adam, to remind us of his own joy about life. I asked a mom recently where her two kids get all their energy, and she laughed and said she had no idea. She has even cut all sugar from their diet completely, but they’re still up at 6 a.m. even on weekends, ready for a full day of activity. Maybe that energy is an image of God, who himself is up early and up always, working in all things, in each teacher and each student, so that as one family we are always learning, always growing, hopefully to be more like Him.

From Atheism to Declaring Spiritual Warfare

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:02
An Interview with Dr. Paul Thigpen

I recently had the delight of hearing from world-renowned Catholic theologian Dr. Paul Thigpen. In what follows, you will be inspired by his life journey (which includes forays from the desolation of atheism into his home in Catholicism).

1) What role does faith play in your life?

I was raised Presbyterian, and in my grade-school years, my faith was so important to me that I wanted to become an ordained minister. But when I was twelve, through a series of intellectual influences, I became an atheist. I remained without faith for six years, but after my reconversion to Jesus Christ, my faith became all-important to me again. I earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in religion, and I was ordained as an associate pastor in a non-denominational congregation. All forty-nine of the books I’ve published have been focused on matters of faith. After I became Catholic nearly twenty-five years ago, even though I can no longer serve as a pastor, I’ve been deeply engaged in ministry of various sorts in Catholic parishes, colleges, and other settings. In short, the Lord is my life. I remember what it was like to be without faith, and I can’t imagine ever going back to a life without Christian faith, hope, and love.

2) How did you come to the Catholic faith?

My first conversion (at the age of eighteen) was from atheism back to Christian faith, and a number of factors played a role: intellectual growth that allowed me to understand more fully the relationship of human reason and divine revelation; close friends who modeled for me lives of deep devotion, charity, and joy; experiments in prayer through which God showed himself to be real; and encounters with demonic powers that shattered my tidy materialistic worldview, which had excluded even the possibility of such realities.

My second conversion, to the Catholic faith, was largely spurred by three intellectually challenging academic degrees that plunged me deeply into Church history. As with so many other converts I know, our lives demonstrated Cardinal John Henry Newman’s dictum: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” At the same time, I found an intellectual depth and richness in Catholic thought and experience for which I had hungered, and I became acquainted with Catholics whose faith and example transformed my notions of what it means to be Christian. In the end, I came to realize that as I had been seeking the Truth, Truth himself had been seeking me, and he invited me to embrace his Church. Anyone interested in in more details of my conversion testimony can find it in “His Open Arms Welcomed Me,” the first chapter of Surprised by Truth: 11 Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic, edited by Patrick Madrid.

3) What have been your most fulfilling ministries over the years?

As much as I enjoy writing, teaching, and public speaking about all things Catholic, I find most satisfying the one-on-one ministry that allows me to fight in the spiritual trenches: to go deep with people who are seeking, struggling, or hurting. I’m not a counselor; I’ve never been trained for that role. And I’m certainly not a spiritual director. But people come to me almost daily in my work on the staff of a large and lively parish to talk about their lives, their struggles, their pain, their questions, and sometimes their joys and triumphs as well. They allow me the high privilege of listening to them, sharing their burdens, and praying with them. And if it seems right for their situation, I point them toward a priest or counselor for the kind of help that only priests and trained counselors can give. What could be more deeply satisfying than that?

4) Why is the Spiritual Warfare Bible, for which you provided extensive commentary, particularly needed in an era such as this?

As I wrote in the opening words of my Manual for Spiritual Warfare (TAN Books, 2014): “Like it or not, you are at war. … It’s a spiritual war with crucial consequences in your everyday life. And the outcome of that war will determine your eternal destiny.” This battle has been raging since the beginning of human history. But we need only read the daily news headlines, or see up close the spiritual, psychological, moral, and social wreckage of our day, to realize that books such as the Spiritual Warfare Bible are desperately needed in our time.

5) What is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?

So many favorites, but here’s one of them: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Despite my failures, which are many, I cling to that promise.

6) In the midst of challenging times faced by humanity around the globe, how can disciples of Jesus Christ find joy in following him?

My first book for adults was actually about this subject, called A Reason for Joy (NavPress, 1988). So much could be said. But the main point of that book is this: If we pursue joy, we’ll never find it. Joy is the consequence of living close to the One who loves us beyond all telling. So if we want to find joy, we must go looking for the Lord, in whose “presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

7) Do you have any parting words for your readers?

Those who read and think deeply about spiritual warfare are often tempted to anxiety and fear. I would simply remind them that we must place all our trust in God. As Saint John told us so long ago: “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

***

I thank Dr. Thigpen for sharing his wise insights with us. On a personal note, having received a copy of the Spiritual Warfare Bible, I encourage you to acquire your own copy, particularly in light of these challenging times in society. Of course, you are encouraged to read Dr. Thigpen’s numerous other titles, which you can find here.

Whenever we travel we always like to be

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:00

Whenever we travel we always like to be well prepared. What clothes will we bring? Where will we stay? Where will we eat? Who will take care of us?

In different fashion Jesus sent off the Twelve on their preaching missions with specific instructions to bring nothing and to depend on the kindness and generosity of people: “No food, no bag, no money in their belts,” “no extra tunic.” Somehow in his infinite goodness God will take care of those who preach the Good News.

Sandals and walking staffs are most useful in walking through dusty and rough paths of roads. Not carrying an extra tunic makes them more truly dependent on people they minister to.

If they are not welcome or not listened to, they are to signify their disgust and disappointment by shaking the dust off their feet as they leave,

The Church has sent off many missionaries to distant lands and islands following the same instructions given by Christ to the Twelve and to his other disciples. In this way they learned to depend on God: after all the Gospel is preached in God’s name and for his greater glory.

God continues to show his marvelous power not only in the faith and confidence of such missionaries of the Good News but also in the generosity and care shown by people to these bearers of the Good News. This clearly manifests that the mission becomes a concrete example of how faith nurtures both the missionary and those being addressed. Love is indeed shown in deeds and not merely in words. And God assures those who preach the Good News that they are worthy of their hire: God will watch over and repay them in providing their needs through the generosity of people. For us, the lesson is to give proper support to the Church and its workers.

St Peterʼs Square Wednesday, 31 January

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:00

St Peterʼs Square
Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Dear brothers and sisters: In our continuing catechesis on the Eucharist, we now consider the importance of the Liturgy of the Word.  There God speaks to us, and the same Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred Scriptures opens our minds and hearts to that living word.  At the table of God’s word, we find nourishment for our lives as we listen to the Old and the New Testaments proclaim the one mystery of Christ and call for our response.  Drawing from the richness of the Church’s Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Word invites us to silent openness to God’s saving message as it resounds in the ecclesial assembly and continues God’s constant dialogue with his people, the Church.  Since we do not live “by bread alone”, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (cf. Mt4:4), we need to be constantly open to, and challenged by, that word, in our lives as individuals and in our life as a Church.  Let us ask the Holy Spirit to make the word sown in our hearts bear abundant fruit and guide our steps, day by day, on this, our earthly pilgrimage.

“Love is the foundation of

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:00

“Love is the foundation of devotion to the Holy Spirit, as it is also the foundation of Christian perfection. But love as a reflection of God, as His own image, is something that encloses within its simplicity a boundless wealth and a variety of forms. Who can fathom the depths of love?”

-Luis M. Martinez, True Devotion to the Holy Spirit

 

St. Brigid of Ireland

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 23:00

Born in Ireland in the year 450 to parents who had been baptized by Saint Patrick, Brigid even as a child showed interest in the religious life. Sometimes referred to incorrectly as Bridget, Brigid was the daughter of an Irish chieftan; her mother, Brocca, had been a slave at his court.

There were many good influences in Brigid’s life, one being Saint Patrick, who had a close friendship with her family. She took the veil in her youth from St. Mel of Armagh and he also apparently later conferred abbatial authority on her. In her adulthood, Brigid, along with seven other virgins, settled in an area at the foot of Croghan Hill near an old oak tree. This small oratory was called Cill-Dara (later to be called Kildare) of which Brigid was the abbess of the convent. It was the first oratory in Ireland, and would later become a well-known center of learning and spirituality.

Brigid also founded a school of art in this region. Renowned for her spirituality, Brigid was a devout and pious woman of great intellect who did much to help others in their spiritual growth. There have been many stories and legends attributed to Brigid that are certainly exaggerated, given her popularity. But there is no doubt that she was a person of great charity and compassion. Brigid died at Kildare on February 1, 525.

Lessons

Saint Brigid is buried at Downpatrick with St. Columba and St. Patrick, and she shares with these great saints the title of patron of Ireland. Another name by which Brigid is sometimes known is Bride.

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

“When the Lord knows that good health is necessary for our welfare, He sends it to us; and when we need sickness, He sends that too.

—Traditionally attributed to St. Teresa of Ávila

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

Can I think of a time in my own life (or in another’s life) when sickness was a blessing? What spiritual benefits did it bring? “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).”

Prayer

Dear Father in heaven, we thank you for St. Brigid and all that she brought about in her homeland for our Irish brothers and sisters. The whole world can now enjoy the fruit of the labors of St. Brigid, and we are thankful for the great heritage and example she left us. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Ignatius of Antioch (107), Bishop, Martyr

How to Participate in the Eucharistic Prayer

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 02:35

 

You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.
— Psalm 110:4

Near the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the famous image of Adam’s creation at the hand of God is a majestic reminder of our humble dependency on God for our very being. Whether as faithful pilgrims or curious tourists, the chapel’s guests can’t help but gaze up at this work of art. What do they see? Some see color, form, and beauty; others see faith and inspiration; and still others see beauty and faith commingled in some of Michelangelo’s more subtle meanings.

An interpretation of The Creation of Adam gives insight into liturgical participation, especially of the priestly sort. At the center of this central picture of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling are God’s and Adam’s fingers about to touch, putting the capstone on the Trinity’s visible creation. But these figures are not yet touching, and the space between them — and the power to fill it — begins to speak directly about priesthood. The adjoining panels in the chapel’s ceiling help us to see why.

The fresco next to The Creation of Adam depicts Eve being created out of the side of the sleeping Adam, and the one after it depicts their fall from grace at the tree and their subsequent expulsion from the garden. These panels can be given a priestly reading by those fingers about to touch. If that first contact created life, and if the continued contact sustained and developed it, then Adam’s sin withdraws the human hand from God and ushers in death. Consequently, if fallen man and moaning creation wish to return to a new life, they must reach out and contact God once again. The gap — or, better, the chasm — must be bridged. And this is the job of the priest.

There are a few words our Roman Rite uses to describe its priests, and one of them is pontifex. In Latin, the noun pons means “bridge,” and we can see this word surface in such words as “pontoon boat,” which, in essence, is a small floating bridge. Fex is the foundation of today’s “factory,” the place where things are built. Put the two words together — pontifex — and you get “bridge builder,” which is precisely what a priest is. In this job description, a priest has the power to overcome the separation between humanity and divinity, allowing men and women to pass over to heaven and unite themselves with God. In terms of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, the priest bridges the gap between the outstretched fingers of God and man, a void that appeared because of sin.

Throughout history, many have noticed that things aren’t quite right with the world around us and have sought either a priest or at least priestly power to commune with the divine. In fact, the priestly instinct is a part of human nature, since our constitution is perfectly suited to reconnect heaven and earth. On the one hand, we share much in common with the rest of visible creation, since we are composed in part of a material body. We love dogs and cats, flowers and trees, clouds and air, food and drink. On the other hand, we resemble invisible creation, the angels, since we possess immaterial souls.

We desire to know and seek justice, we love (or at times hate) one another, and we are universally dissatisfied with the superficial happiness that material possessions bring. We look like animals but think like angels, with one foot in the earthly world and another in the heavenly world, and so we occupy a unique place in all of creation to bridge, mediate, and intercede between the opposite sides of the abyss separating us from God (see CCC 355). Some in the Church’s Tradition have even called man not Homo sapiens (since we are often as foolish as we are sapient), but Homo adorans, the “worshiping man.” But we are also fallen “priests of creation” and are in need of a supernatural cure for our priestly shortcomings.

A key thread throughout the Old Testament — perhaps the key thread — is the formation of priests. The Trinity works to restore and perfect the priesthood, both individually and collectively, a work that reaches its perfection in Jesus, the greatest bridge builder of them all, the Pontifex Maximus. Let’s consider a few of these priests of the Old Testament and how they led the Chosen People to pass over to God.

Something of a mystery man when it comes to priests in the Bible, the figure of Melchizedek is a remarkable example of how the sacerdotal is able to bridge the gap between man and God. It should come as no surprise that Melchizedek has much in common with the Christ yet to come. First, he is not only a priest but also a king, just like Jesus, and he’s not any old king either, but the royal head of Jerusalem, the place where Christ will one day offer Himself. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, Melchizedek is also “without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life; thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever” (7:3). He also offers bread and wine, which Jesus will also do at the Last Supper. The fourth-century Doctor of the Church St. Ambrose saw in Melchizedek’s offering a universal sacrifice, one given in all times and places (“from the rising of the sun to its setting,” as the prophet Malachi would put it [1:11]). Melchizedek would be making an offering not bound to the future Temple of Jerusalem and its restrictive priesthood of a single tribe, the Levites. Rather, Melchizedek’s priesthood reaches further than Adam’s hand. In other words, this priesthood is big, one that calls the universe’s priests — men and women — to their original place as adoring bridge builders.

Serving as another type of priest is Abraham, whom the priestly Melchizedek blesses in God’s name. A different sort of priest from Melchizedek, Abraham (or, Abram, his original name) was called by God from a foreign land and promised blessings and descendants. He routinely builds altars and offers sacrifices to God (e.g., Gen. 12:7; 12:8; 13:18), and through these altars and their sacrifices made by Abraham the priest, heaven and earth one day would be rejoined. (Altars, sacrifices, and priests are always found together.) Abraham’s most significant sacrifice was his only son, Isaac, who was most dear to his heart.

God tells Abraham to “offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Gen. 22:2). Isaac travels to Mount Moriah on a donkey, carries the wood of his death up the mountain upon his shoulders, and freely gives himself over to his father’s hands. This domestic or paternal priesthood, to be passed from father to son, was present from the start. Already naturally born priests, God’s people were called upon to offer priestly sacrifice as the means to unite themselves — finger to finger — with the hand of God.

A third kind of Old Covenant priest, Moses leads his people from worldly woes to a new life. Standing at the head of his people (“in the breach” between God and the Israelites, Psalm 106:23 says), he directs the fathers of households to sacrifice an unblemished lamb to ransom their firstborn children. With the blood of the lamb marking the doorways of their homes, the Lord passes over their houses, sparing them. The next day, Moses, with staff (a type of cross) in hand, leads the Jews out of Egypt’s slavery, passing through the Red Sea to freedom and new life on the opposite shore. This entire people, God says to them, “will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6), the conduit through which heaven and earth will one day reconnect.

In all these early prefigurements of Christ’s priesthood, “passing over” from one state to another and reconnecting with God is a vital element. The crossing of the Red Sea is, until the coming of Jesus, the most significant passover, where the journey from point A to point B is the result of priestly bridge building between man and God. But it is not the only example of pass-over. After forty years of desert wandering, for example, Joshua (in Hebrew, his name is the same as Jesus) leads the Chosen People across the Jordan on dry ground, the waters of the river piling up on both sides of them, into the promised land at Jericho (Joshua 3). Elijah also passes over the Jordan at Jericho before being taken up in the fiery chariot to God. After Elijah rolls up his mantle and strikes the water, the Jordan again parts, allowing the prophet to cross. Only then did the “fiery chariot and fiery horses” appear and “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11).

In another example of passover, the book of Ruth relates how Naomi and Ruth, living east of the Jordan River in the land of Moab, hear that the Lord has visited His people in the land of Judah “and given them food” (1:6). Then, crossing over the Jordan, they enter Bethlehem (the name means “house of bread”) and receive abundant food from Boaz — so much food, in fact, that they gathered the leftovers. (Does this account remind us of another priest from Bethlehem who gave food in abundance?) In each of these three instances — Joshua, Elijah, and Naomi and Ruth — we see bridges, passovers, and journeys from slavery and hunger in this earthly life to refreshment and new life with God. Each example recounts priestly actions of bridge building and reconnecting God and man, fingertip to fingertip.

These Old Testament priests and their meditations find fulfillment in the Pontifex Maximus, Jesus Christ. Like Melchizedek, the eternal Jesus offers bread and wine in Jerusalem. Like Abraham, He obediently offers His heart to the Father on the wood of the Cross. Like Moses, Jesus “stands in the breach” between God and man and builds a bridge from earth to heaven so that we can pass over to God. His redemptive bridge building is called the “Paschal Mystery,” and it includes His suffering, sacrificial death, Resurrection, and Ascension to the Father’s right hand. Because Jesus’ priestly Paschal Mystery is the high point of His saving work, it is naturally also at the heart of the Mass.

Our devotional journey into the heart of the Mass has taken us to the Sacred Heart of the Redeemer. His heart is, as it were, a bridge, over which we pass from earth to heaven. Consider the type of bridge builder Jesus is, and why we call Him the greatest of all. If the bridge of all human desire connects earth to heaven, rejoins man to God, Jesus is the only one who could build it, since He works perfectly for both sides of the void. He is, on the one hand, entirely God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He has every authority and power to reach out from heaven to earth (much as Michelangelo depicted God striving for man on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling). On the other hand, Christ is faultlessly, wholly, and completely man. But unlike that first Adam, who withdrew his hand from the life-giving touch of God, this Second Adam does not collapse under the weight of misguided desires but wills nothing but union with God. Christ the God-man is the true High Priest who bridges the great chasm created by sin. Is there a greater bridge — or bridge builder — imaginable?

With this image of the bridge builder in mind, let us return to Mass. During the Eucharistic Prayer, this great bridge opens before us. Jesus has the power to reconnect both sides, and the material He uses is His heart, the great gift that fills the space between heaven and earth. His Cross is the altar, the location — the X that marks the spot — where His heart is placed. As a willing agent in the Paschal Mystery, His ordained priest makes the Pontifical Jesus present. But even though Jesus is the offering, the altar, and the priest in history’s Paschal Mystery at Mass, He still desires our assistance. Christ the High Priest is always the principal worker in the Mass, but He calls all — the ordained and the baptized — to be His co-workers, salvation’s cooperators, priestly collaborators.

But who is this willing accomplice in the Paschal Mystery? Ordination to the priesthood conforms a man to Christ the priest and gives him unique power to exercise Jesus’ priesthood at the head of the Church. Long before ordination, that man began participating in Christ’s priesthood in virtue of his bap­tism. In addition to removing all sin, the sacrament of baptism gives a number of saving gifts: divine life of grace, gifts of the Holy Spirit, membership in the Body of Christ, and a share in the priesthood of Christ. All of the sacraments help us look and act and think and be like Jesus. And since priesthood is one of Christ’s characteristics, so too is it a Christian characteristic.

If Christ is the Pontifex Maximus, then you and I and each of the baptized is a pontifex minimus, a “little bridge builder.” Our bridge is the same one that Christ builds, a bridge to which we contribute by offering ourselves. Baptismal character empowers us — and demands of us — to exercise Christ’s priesthood in ourselves.

The sacrifice that God wants is our whole heart. But He won’t reach out and take it against our will, nor will the priest at Mass. To get my heart to the Father, I join it to Christ’s on the altar that serves as the crossroad between heaven and earth. And since Jesus is the priest who empowers me to act, I actualize His priesthood in myself. In Mass, as the preparation of the altar and the gifts concludes, the priest commands us to pray that his sacrifice and ours be acceptable to God. Assuming a priestly posture, we stand “in the breach” and say: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” The Eucharistic Prayer that follows is the time to roll up our sleeves and usher our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings over the great bridge with Jesus. St. Leo the Great once put it like this:

For all, regenerated in Christ . . . are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special ser­vice of our ministry as [ordained] priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are . . . sharers in the office of the priesthood. For . . . what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?

Sacrifices need priests, and priests need sacrifices. After our hearts are prepared, the Eucharistic Prayer is the moment to realize our priesthood and join ourselves to God.

As daughters and sons of Adam, we were made to praise, adore, and mediate on behalf of creation. As brothers and sisters of the Second Adam, our natural desires attain supernatural power, enabling us, with the help of Christ, to redirect a fallen world to the hand of its Maker. As priests of creation, we point to the Father, who in Christ is no farther than our fingertips. Like the snapping synapses that flash between living cells in the body, the Paschal Mystery’s priestly bridge illuminates our journey’s main junction: the reunion of heaven and earth.

The word “liturgy” has at its root the word “work.” Bridge building is in large part the work taking place at Mass. But this labor also has its reward: much as the Chosen People’s crossing over the Jordan gave them the new land’s milk and honey, or as Naomi and Ruth’s passage gave them Bethlehem’s bread, so our own work in the Eucharistic prayer will yield food: the fruit of the tree of the Cross.

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This article is from a chapter in A Devotional Journey into the Mass by Christopher Carstens which is available from Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on the Eucharistic Prayer: Bishop Alan Hopes during the Eucharistic Prayer, James Bradley, 13 January 2011 own work, CCA-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons; Cover of A Devotional Journey into the Mass used with permission.

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

The Snake and the Rosary: The Dreams of St. John Bosco

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 23:07

Dreams are a product of our unconscious mind and imagination. To pay too much attention to them is foolhardy. The inspired writer Sirach wrote “dreams give wings to fools.” (Sir. 34:1) But, not all dreams are created equal. Some dreams are more than just unconscious renderings of our conscious lives.  In some rare cases, dreams are inspired visions from heaven. Mary and Joseph were “warned in a dream” not to return to Herod. The wife of Pilate warned him to release Jesus “for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” It is of this latter version, that of prophetic dreams, that filled the life of St. John Bosco. The Forty Dreams of St. John Bosco details some of these dream-visions that he experienced.

St. John Bosco was an Italian priest who lived in the 19th century helping and educating youth, particularly disadvantaged young boys. Many of the vision-like dreams revolved around the state of the boys’ souls in his Oratory. The dreams often involved the boys with weapons in fierce battles against gruesome animals and beasts. The weapons were metaphors for the sacraments and devotions, while the animals and beasts were various sins and vices.

The dreams were a sublime rendering of our internal struggles between virtue and vice, innocence and sin, heaven and hell. The prophetic nature of the dreams revealed the actual state of the boys’ souls.  They also revealed the hidden spiritual realities of the Catholic faith. These remain completely relevant to us too. Imagine if St. John Bosco were still alive today, how troubled would his dreams be by the state of our souls?

One of the prototypical dream-visions St. John Bosco had concerned “The Snake and the Rosary.” In it, he and the boys were in a meadow where a stranger took him to see “a huge, ugly snake, over twenty feet long.” The stranger impelled him to dangle a rope over the snake, which he was quite hesitant to do out of fear. He finally agreed to hold the rope over the menacing snake, and the snake leaped up and “ensnared itself as in a noose.”  The snake then furiously writhed to free itself but ended up tearing itself to pieces. The stranger then took the rope and put it in a box saying “watch carefully.” Then, opening the box he saw the rope had taken the shape of the words “Ave Maria” or “Hail Mary.”  The man then explained to him that the snake is a symbol of the devil and the Ave Maria rope stands for the Rosary — with which “we can strike, conquer, and destroy all of hell’s demons.”

The dream, however, was not done.  In the second part of the dream, the boys of the Oratory were now congregated around the remnants of flesh from the snake. Then, against St. John Bosco’s protests that it was poisonous, some of the boys began to pick up the snake flesh and eat it saying, “It’s delicious!”  They promptly crumpled to the ground, with their bodies swelled and hardened like stone.  The saint tried vigorously to keep them from eating the meat but they just kept eating it.  He questioned the stranger why do they keep eating the meat even though it will kill them?  The stranger replied, “Because the sensual man does not perceive the things that are of God!”  He pleaded to the stranger that there must be some way to save them.  To which, the stranger said there is, by “anvil and hammer.”  St. John Bosco then put the boys on an anvil and hit them with a hammer.  With that, most of the boys were “restored to life and recovered.”  The stranger then explained to him that the anvil and hammer are symbols respectively for Holy Communion and Confession.  By Confession we strike away at sin, and by Holy Communion we are sustained.

St. John Bosco constantly stressed this theme, “Frequent and sincere Confession, frequent and devout Communion.”  This was reflected in many dreams.  For example, in another dream, the boys fought with two-pronged pitchforks against ferocious animals.  He was shown that the two-prongs symbolized a “good Confession and a good Communion.”  In yet another terrifying dream, St. John Bosco saw boys running down a road and being caught in traps and pulled into hell.  God, however, left implements next to the traps so the boys could cut themselves free.  There were two swords symbolizing a “devotion to the Blessed Sacrament – especially through frequent Holy Communion – and to the Blessed Virgin.”  There was also a hammer “symbolizing Confession,” and knives symbolizing devotions to St. Joseph and various saints.

In perhaps his most famous dream, he saw a large ship, representing the Church, in a violent storm and under attack.  The Pope guided the ship to two large columns, at which, the ship docked and was saved.  On the one column was a statue of the Virgin Mary with the title “the Help of Christians;” and, at the top of the other larger column was a Eucharist Host entitled “the Salvation of the Faithful.”  St. John Bosco explained: “Only two means are left to save her amidst the confusion: Devotion to Mary Most Holy and frequent Communion.”

In our modernist era besieged by materialist confusion, the dreams of St. John Bosco are all the more urgent.  The attacks are particularly diabolical against young people, seducing them to believe that there is no God or absolute morality, and no eternal consequences.  Anything goes!  The devil lies hidden before our secular eyes.  This makes the risk of succumbing to mortal sin, and potentially damnation, all the more terrifyingly ominous.  Sadly, as the percentage of Catholics decrease, the number of those without religious affiliation expands (the so-called “rise of the nones”).  If youth were so imperiled in the 19th century, how much more endangered are souls in the 21st century with the falling away en masse from the Church, the unmooring of morality, particularly in sexual promiscuity of all sorts, and so much more.  The monsters of St. John Bosco’s dreams are running wild today.

The Church, however, is here to aid us in the battle.  It is our field hospital, present on the battlefield to heal our wounds and save our souls.  She helps us grow in virtue and slay the beasts.  The saint’s solution for us was simple: innocence preserved in penance.  He said one good Confession could restore us to our title “of Son of God.”  As the dreams of St. John Bosco reveal, our salvation is found in prayer, frequent Confession and Communion, Adoration, and recourse to Mary and the Rosary.

image: By Sir87 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Miraculous Charity of Don Bosco

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 23:02

On a sunny spring day, Fr. John Bosco was in Lanzo, Italy, paying a visit to one of the schools he had founded. When he arrived, seven boys were in the infirmary, quarantined with smallpox. Sick or not, their faith in one they believed a saint was so great they were sure that if Don Bosco, as they called him — Don being Italy’s title for priests — would only come up and bless them, they would be healed and not have to miss the fun and entertainments scheduled for his visit. From their sickroom, they sent out an urgent request that the visiting priest come see them.

With his usual total unconcern for his own well-being — he once snapped at a hovering woman, “Madame, I did not become a priest to look after my health” — the saint entered their off-limits quarters.

With cheers and roars, all the boys began to clamor, “Don Bosco, Don Bosco! Bless us and make us well!”

Boys were never too raucous for this saint. He only chuckled at their exuberance. Then he asked if they had faith in Mary’s intercession, for like all saints, Bosco never attributed his cures to his own prayer power.

“Yes, yes,” they chorused. If Don Bosco was praying, they were full of faith.

“Let’s say a Hail Mary together then,” he proposed. Perhaps he re­minded them that, as at Cana when Jesus worked His first public mir­acle at her request, when Mary asks her Son for a favor, she gets it. At any rate, only after the prayer which asked for the cure through Mary’s prayers, not Bosco’s, did he bless the sick students in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from whom all healing comes.

As their hands completed the answering Sign of the Cross, the boys began reaching for their clothes.

“We can get up now, right?”

“You really trust our Lady?”

“Absolutely!”

“Then get up!” He turned and left, and six boys, ignoring the deadly pustules that still covered them head to foot, hopped into their clothes and raced out to the festivities.

This article is from “Nothing Short of a Miracle.” Click image to preview or order.

For the imprudent, roof-raising rascals who dashed out to the fun and games with complete confidence, their pustules began to disappear as they played. The only near-casualty of that day in May 1869 was the poor conscientious school physician, who almost had a heart attack when he saw the smallpox patients “infecting” the entire school with an often fatal illness. While he was understandably furious, in fact no one caught the disease.

Many years later, as clean, decently clad, well-mannered adults, long deflected from incipient delinquency into honest workingmen and stalwart Christians, the same pair and hundreds like them, plus many slightly better off boys like those seven at Lanzo, would recall Don Bosco with a fierce love.

“How he loved us!”

“Remember his fatherly smile.”

“And his gentleness. Wasn’t he more tender than a mother?”

“He had so little to give us actually: a handful of doughnuts or chest­nuts, maybe a cheap comb — but those days with him seem to me like Paradise.”

There is even a testimony to this Holy-Spirit-filled magnetism from America’s shores. The late Italian-born pastor Alfonso Volonte of Cor­pus Christi Church in Port Chester, New York, has told how, even when Bosco was old and unwell, the sight of him at one of the schools for poor boys he founded would cause “a free-for-all to get near him.” One of Fr. Alfonso’s most precious memories even in great old age was the day, as one of those youngsters, he actually managed to grasp the hand of the saint, who smiled “as only Don Bosco could smile” and let his free hand rest on the young Alfonso’s head while saying a few treasured words to the boy.

The man whose love healed lives and sometimes bodies as well was canonized as St. John Bosco in 1934. It was only forty-six years after his death in 1888, in spite of all the miracles required at that time. His had been a life on the fast track too: Bosco was years ahead of his time — and ours. A master psychologist, nurturer, and educator, his boys’ clubs and schools — whether academic, technical, or seminary — lovingly edu­cated the whole child, intellect, emotions, soul, and body, with remark­able results.

Bosco founded technical schools to augment or replace the system of apprentice training of the young, midday retreats for workers and students, and vacation camps for Christians. Beginner of Italy’s Catholic press apostolate, he knew how to turn every available medium of communication or entertainment — from almanacs and magazines to theater and music — to Christian use. One of the most winning personalities among the Church’s saints, he was gifted by God with perhaps more charisms than any nineteenth-century saint, from prophecy and reading of hearts to the working of all sorts of miracles, including healing minds, souls, and bodies.

To The Mission Field

Why was Don Bosco seen entering a tavern late at night with a vicious gang and standing these young hoodlums a round of drinks? Had John Bosco no thought for the dignity of the priesthood? Why, most priests, some reminded him, forbore even to speak to slum people or any young person in order to maintain the proper awe toward their sacred calling.

When Bosco told his fellow mid-nineteenth-century clergymen that he was going to form a cadre of laymen and priests “in shirtsleeves” to live in the slums and work with the young spawned there, kids who would otherwise end up dead of drug or alcohol abuse, jailed for violent crime, or victims of the gang system, some fellow clergymen were horrified. They actually made arrangements to have “poor unbalanced Don Bosco” confined to a mental institution, but the quick-witted Bosco outfoxed them.

Another hardship was the political situation. It was a period of polit­ical instability. The small kingdoms of Italy were breaking up interiorly or being invaded by foreign powers. The entire Italian Peninsula was moving toward unity as a new nation.

Church and states, particularly Piedmont’s government, were locked in battle over everything, from the pope’s earthly kingdom, the Papal States, to the role of religious orders in the new era. Many anti-cleri­cals in government looked with a jaundiced eye at the muscular, athletic young priest, a spellbinding speaker who could lead boys — and men — anywhere he proposed. When he marched through Piedmont’s capital city, Turin, with several hundred young slum toughs on their way to the country to hike or picnic, sinister political maneuvers and the building of a personal power base were suspected.

On all sides, criticism or misunderstanding. No substantial help anywhere. His mission seemed doomed before it got off the ground. Finally came the crisis on Palm Sunday 1846, when he was going to have to tell his hundreds of followers they were being evicted from even the bare field he had rented as their meeting place when they had been thrown out of every building in Turin. Only in this last great temptation to despair, when he was asked to trust a God who seemed both deaf and cruel, did Bosco interior a faith so heroic that nothing could defeat it and a humility bottomless enough to defeat every impulse to pride in his enormous human and spiritual gifts.

God assisted him. For instance, if Bosco could not see with his eyes, God gave him other means. Take the testimony of a boy making his confession to the saint. Don Bosco, who had been in the church hearing confessions for hours, informed him in which building on the large property he would find a boy hidden away and smoking an illegal cigarette.

“Don Bosco asked me to go to this fellow and tell him he should think about coming to confession.”

When the messenger stepped gingerly into the dark hallway, he saw no one but smelled cigarette smoke. He called out the message hur­riedly, because he wanted no dealings with the older, bigger youth. Then he dashed outside, hid in the bushes, and a moment later saw the boy named come out the door and head for the church.

The Love of Don Bosco

Lovable, human Don Bosco exemplifies in still another way that people madly in love with God can still behave as foolishly as the rest of us. Don Bosco not only acted as a priest, a catechist, and a teacher of subjects from music to metrics to his first slum kids, he also took many homeless or abused boys to live with him. He cooked for them, cut out and sewed their suits, barbered their hair, made their beds, and in all ways acted as both a mother and a father. Surely this was enough self-giving, but not for the saint.

When a boy came to him moaning piteously with a toothache, an earache, or another infection in those pre-antibiotic days, Don Bosco would ask God to heal the kid by giving the pain or the illness to him. God, of course, may answer our idiotic prayers as well as our sage ones. Finally, when Don Bosco couldn’t function for his hundreds of boys because he was incapacitated by the terrible toothache he had taken on for one boy, he came to his senses. He realized that this love that cries out to bear physically the loved one’s pains and troubles, spiritually speaking, was a youthful excess. From then on, when led by the Holy Spirit to pray for healing — certainly not always the case, for he assisted many people in their deaths — Bosco prayed people well with the assumption God could spare the cure: it did not have to come, physically anyway, out of Don Bosco’s hide.

Of course he reserved the right to make occasional exceptions, like the time he arrived at a Salesian school to find that the youngster who was to take the lead in the evening’s entertainment had lost his voice.

“I’ll lend you mine for the evening,” the saint said. For the rest of that night the boy projected his voice beautifully, while Don Bosco was hoarse as a foghorn.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Nothing Short of a Miracle: God’s Healing Power in Modern Saintswhich is available from Sophia Institute Press.

To Be Like Them

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 23:01

Wouldn’t it be nice if being Catholic didn’t make us so annoyingly different from everyone else? If we didn’t have such a strong emphasis on sacraments and hierarchy, while those around us rely on egalitarianism? If Sundays meant football and not church, if Fridays meant hamburgers and not fish? If we could follow a comfortable relativism in which each religion was equally valid, instead of espousing the politically incorrect claim that there is one true religion and every other is in some way erroneous? Wouldn’t it be nice to be like them?

This is, in one sense, what the Israelites sought from Samuel when they asked for “a king to govern us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5). They wanted to be like everyone around them, to have the earthly stability and security of a monarchy. They found it inconvenient to be governed by the Judges, charismatic leaders chosen extraordinarily by God—it cut against the established customs of the world. Who would foreign leaders approach? When a war needed to be fought, who would lead them? In times of prosperity, who would they bestow honor and affection upon? God would raise up leaders and judges when necessary, but the Israelites desired to have a ruler of the same kind as everyone else.

Samuel warned them that the king would “take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots … He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers … you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam. 8:12-18). Still, they wanted a king, and so God gave them a king. It was a mixed blessing, giving them kings like David who killed both Goliath and Uriah.

Sometimes we ask from the Lord things that are very mixed blessings, and sometimes we ask things that are no blessing at all. In such cases there is always the terrifying possibility that God will give us or permit us to have exactly what we ask for; in a way, that is what our particular judgment will be. You will stand before the throne of the Judge, and he will look at your life and discover what you truly, in your heart of hearts, have desired: God or something else. If you have accepted God’s grace and by that grace have desired God, you will be welcomed into his presence to see him face to face, and find in that vision joy beyond joy. And if you rejected grace and do not desire God, he will grant that desire also and cast you out of his presence, where the burning absence of Him who is every man’s fulfillment is the worst torment of hell.

Every Catholic knows this, or should, even if we don’t often put it into words so harsh. But then one day we find that being Catholic is awkward or difficult or frowned upon in “polite company.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could watch that movie with our friends, or occasionally take a day off and skip Sunday Mass? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could ignore the truth and be tolerant in the way they want us to be, if they didn’t call us bigoted or islamophobic or patriarchal or homophobic?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be like them? Or do you live for something better?

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

In the Gospel reading we learn that

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 23:00

In the Gospel reading we learn that Jesus worked as a carpenter, the trade of his father Joseph. But he was also a prophet, and the Son of God, made man to share the good news of our salvation. The very people among whom he grew up resisted the notion that a humble carpenter could also be their Savior. They could not see beyond his low station.

Jesus chose to take up the ordinary profession of his earthly father Joseph, and worked with his hands, alongside the important mission of spreading the Gospel, precisely to teach us his kind of humility and devotion. On account of his humble beginnings. His own towns-folk took offense and rejected him, judging him unworthy of becoming a prophet.

What hurdles prevent us from trusting in Christ as our Savior? Do we look for proof that Jesus really loves us and that he really is the God that has come to save us? We need to re-examine if our personal issues are getting in the way of our completely trusting in the Lord.

Let us pray for the grace of humbly trusting in Jesus’s power to deliver us from our weaknesses and short-sightedness, learning from his example of humility and great love for us. May his example teach us how to treat the people around us, especially to those who do menial tasks which allow our lives to be comfortable. May we see Jesus’s face and his great love among the least of our brethren, as he has taught us to do by the example of his own life.

St. John Bosco

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 23:00

“When deep sleep falls upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction” (Job 7:14).

God has revealed things to men in dreams throughout time. In the Bible we read many stories of how God spoke to His people through dreams. He revealed to Joseph that Mary was with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. He spoke to Joseph again to take Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod. These are but two instances in the Bible where God spoke through dreams.

God still speaks to people through dreams. One such person was John Bosco (John Bosco is also known as Don Bosco. Don is a Spanish title for Father.)

John Bosco was only nine years old when he had a dream that he could not forget. It turned out to be prophetic. John dreamed that he was in a field with many other young boys who were cursing and misbehaving and totally out of control. They were shouting, shoving and fighting. Suddenly a man dressed in white and whose face shone with light appeared and summoned John. He told John, “You will have to win these friends of yours, not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness.” John was astounded. He was just a kid himself and this man expected him to bring these unruly children under control? John answered, “I’m just a boy. How can you order me to do something that looks impossible?” The man answered, “What seems so impossible you must attain by being obedient and acquiring knowledge.” The boys turned into the wild animals that they had been acting like. The man then told John that the field was John’s life’s work and that once John changed and grew in humility and faithfulness, he would see a change in the children — a change that the man then demonstrated. The wild animals suddenly changed into gentle lambs.

John’s family did not encourage his dreams. They made fun of them, and his grandmother told him not to pay any attention to dreams, that they didn’t mean anything. But even though John believed his grandmother, he couldn’t forget the dream.

When John was 16, he entered the seminary at Chieri and continued his studies at Turin where he was ordained. At the encouragement of Fr. Joseph Cafasso, John began working with neglected boys. He was appointed chaplain of St. Philomena’s Hospice for girls so he housed the boys that he was helping in an abandoned building on the grounds of the hospice. He began workshops and schools and built a church.

John continued to have dreams that turned out to be prophetic. Pope Pius IX learned about his dreams and right away felt that these dreams were from God. He encouraged Don Bosco to keep records of his dreams by writing down every detail. John also used his dreams to help instruct the boys in how to live moral lives. Once he related to them a dream he’d had about four kinds of bread. He said he saw them eating these different types of bread and that each bread indicated the state of that boy’s soul. He urged each of them to come and speak with him later so that he could reveal to them individually the state of their souls so that they would have the opportunity to change if need be. This worked also as a way of getting them to use the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receive moral guidance from John.

By 1856, John was housing 150 boys and had another 500 in oratories. Many of Don Bosco’s boys became priests. His dream at the age of nine had come true. He was immensely successful with children. His patience, love, and encouragement — along with a little discipline — proved to be very effective. After a while, John’s need for dependable assistants led him to found the Society of St. Francis de Sales. The men in this society became known as the Salesians. The Salesian Order received formal approval in 1884. By 1888, there were 64 Salesian foundations in Europe and the Americas and almost 800 Salesian priests. Don Bosco did not limit his help to boys. In 1872, he founded the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians to help young girls who were poor and neglected. John died in Turin, Italy, on January 31, 1888 at the age of 72. He was canonized in 1934.

Lessons

St. John Bosco had a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother Mary. He once had a dream that Mary led him into a beautiful garden full of roses. The scent of the roses filled the air. Mary told him to take off his shoes and walk along a rose-strewn path through a rose arbor. After just a few steps, however, his feet were cut and bleeding from the thorns. John said he would have to have shoes or he could go no further. Mary told him to put on sturdy shoes. When he continued his walk, he was followed by helpers. Then the walls of the arbor started closing, the roof sank lower and thorns were tearing into his legs. He pushed them aside, cutting his hands, and becoming tangled in the roses, but he continued to push forward until he finally climbed through the roses and thorns and entered another garden. A cool breeze soothed his torn flesh and healed his wounds. His interpretation was that the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys and the thorns were all the obstacles, distractions, and frustrations that he would encounter along the way. The message of the dream was that he must persevere and not lose faith in God or fail to continue in his mission. This is a lesson for us all. When God calls us, like St. John Bosco, we are to lean on God and press forward knowing that He is always with us and He will bring us through.

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.”

There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.

— From a letter of St. John Bosco on disciplining boys

How can I apply this advice in my dealings with children — mine or those entrusted to me? How does this advice apply to my actions with all people?

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, for speaking to us through many means. Help us to remember that You not only speak to us in dreams and visions, but also through friends, books, or even a beautiful picture. May we always seek You and be open to hearing You speak to us, Lord. And through the intercession of Saint John Bosco, may we also be inspired to help others through love. Amen.

The Spiritual Battle: Victors, Not Victims

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 23:07

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).”

Recently EWTN’s “Women of Grace” television ran a five-part series titled “How to be Freed from the Influence of the Demonic” in which the host, Johnnette Benkovic, interviewed me about the Church’s ministry of healing, deliverance, and exorcism. Please understand that I am not an expert, rather, a poor servant who has witnessed intense battles between darkness and light since I am a member of an exorcist’s team. “The battle is the Lord’s” (Samuel 17:47). The only expert is Christ, the Chief Exorcist. Those who serve in the deliverance or exorcism ministry are Christ’s ambassadors in the school of divine mercy; always pupils.

The Lord confers upon His priests the authority to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). The priest’s ministry is a collaborative one in which he engages with the laity, medical professionals, and brother clergy.

When the television program aired on the global Catholic network, my inbox was filled with inquiries for help; many heart-rending stories. In this brief reflection, I hope to address some of the inquiries since it is beyond my jurisdiction to respond to individuals.

First, being deeply moved when I read the personal stories of pain, I ardently interceded for each person. What is common among all stories of men, women, and families who suffer diabolical affliction is their “broken-heartedness.” I empathize because I know the pain of being brokenhearted. It’s a dark place where hope fades. But I want to assure those who are in this place that there is healing and hope in Christ Jesus, our Victor. Please persevere to seek Jesus, the Divine Physician for “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

Crushed in Spirit

The devil is often empowered when he observes someone who is “crushed in spirit.” An opportunist, he redoubles his attacks with seductive false promises and then crushes the soul even more. The evil spirits tempt us to sell out Christ; lose faith in Him completely. “Where is your Jesus now?” Demons are bullies aimed at the eternal destruction of souls. When we are brokenhearted, we are more easily worn down and can easily slip into agreement with the temptation.

We can’t imagine the hatred that Satan harbors against human beings who are destined by God to eternally exist in the very place from which he was banished: Paradise. He is jealous of our inheritance. That is why its wise to focus as much as possible on our eternal goal: Heaven. But we are not meant to do this alone. And we can’t manufacture faith, hope, and love. We must receive God’s infilling. Often I cry out, “Come, Holy Spirit, possess me!”

My first experience of being brokenhearted occurred when I saw the ugliness of the murder of a loved one. It was a dark path for a time when I questioned everything and everyone—especially God. I experienced a great spiritual battle with temptations to deny Christ who did not prevent this gut-wrenching tragedy in our family. A demon of death pursued us. Death is the preoccupation of the devil.

When you are brokenhearted or crushed in spirit there is a greater need for spiritual accompaniment. Holy Mother Church provides. I know by experience. To heal my wound, to overcome the wild temptations, and to forgive the murderer, I deposited my pain into the wounds of Jesus Christ whose pain was “unto death on a Cross”— and I was healed (not instantly; it was a process). I experienced healing through the Cross and Eucharist.

As stated during the EWTN program, one of the greatest temptations of the devil is, “Put down the cross; get off the cross; reject the cross; hate the cross.” Of course! By the sacrifice of divine love on the cross, Satan was, is, and always will be, defeated. Christians don’t run from the cross. We unite with Christ on the cross. We raise it up! We proclaim Christ’s victory over evil and darkness. We are victors, not victims. When the devil perceives that we won’t reject the cross, that we cling to it as our victory weapon, he is weakened (cf. James 4:7).

Seek Help

Many inquired as to where to begin when one believes that he or she is afflicted by evil spirits. Please start with your local parish priest. Why? Because the Catholic priest is ordained to be a spiritual father with God-given spiritual authority.

Of this I am sure, your desire for liberation from evil and sin is God’s grace because He desires it all the more. He will not abandon you unto sin and evil. He will lead you to the place of healing, conversion, and restoration. The journey to liberation is not unlike the Exodus experience of the Israelites fleeing the slavery of the Egyptians (cf. Exodus 14). Sometimes we grumble because we want quick fixes, not true conversion of life.

It takes courage to seek help, to entrust your broken heart to a priest. Catholic priests have a special anointing conferred upon them for the liberation of God’s people. Ideally, you will be welcomed and met with compassionate understanding. Remember that you are not seeking a perfect personality fit, you are seeking the healing power (authority) of the universal Church through a person who is on a journey toward holiness (a work in progress).

Some people wrote about the disbelief of their priests regarding diabolical affliction. I acknowledge that according to a publication of the “Association of International Exorcists” some priests have ceased to believe in the existence of the devil. Pray for our priests please (foundationforpriests.org). Most clergy do believe according to the teaching of the Church. Please do not be discouraged, rather, keep seeking help within the Church and do not go outside of the Church. Too many people suffer terrible spiritual, emotional and physical consequences from so-called healing practitioners outside of the Church.

Let us imitate the entrustment of Jesus who places His Body and Blood into the imperfect, anointed hands of His priest in the sacrifice of the Mass to become our spiritual food. Christ is vulnerable first so that when we are “crushed in spirit” we can entrust the little pieces of our heart to Him. He collects, cherishes and re-constructs the broken parts into something quite beautiful and new.

On the EWTN program, we mentioned that deliverance is often accelerated with the help of medical professionals. A medical, psychological evaluation is prudent, not because the Church denies the diabolical; rather, because the Church acknowledges the whole person: body, mind, and soul. My best friends are psychiatrists on the deliverance team and I check in with them regularly.

Praying for Yourself

Exorcist priests explain to the diabolically afflicted person that while he and the team can help toward liberation, the big extent of the work will be done by the person. The Exorcist has the authority to pray the Rite (powerfully effective), but the hard work of conversion, of cultivating a sacramental prayer life, and renouncing evil practices, is done by the person. Praying for oneself, putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6), is necessary. You can find Catholic prayer books with authorized deliverance prayers for the laity, ideally with the Church’s Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat. The most powerful reading for liberation is scripture; the Word of God is living and effective. Insert your name into the scripture. Pray with the Psalmists; insert yourself into the scenes of healing and liberation, personalize scripture passages.

Sacramental Confession

For Catholics who experience diabolical affliction, I encourage you to run to the confessional. It is one of the Church’s most powerful sacraments of healing; a hundred times more powerful than a sacramental such as the rite of exorcism (according to exorcists).

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:

– reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
– reconciliation with the Church;
– remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
– remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
– peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
– an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

Recourse to Mary

Here’s an account that best illustrates what I want to convey about the Virgin Mary. It is told by a renown Rome exorcist priest.

One day, while I was saying to the demon, “in the name of our Most Immaculate Mother, leave this body!”, The demon yelled, “That is the word that I hate the most!” And I responded, “Immaculate?” And the demon said, “Yes!”

One time during the novena of the Immaculate Conception, a demon began to yell, “Send her away! Send her away! Send her away! Everyone is saying her name in these days. All are calling her. Everyone says her name. Too much light, too much light, too much light!”

Another time, one demon exclaimed, “The Immaculate Conception is my opposite.”

In another exorcism, we repeated the following prayer several times: Oh, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. The demon responded, “Stop that! This short prayer is powerful against me!”

School of Holiness

On the EWTN program, I shared what Fr. Bamonte taught us, “Even diabolical possession can be a school of holiness.” Possession is rare. More common are diabolical oppressions or obsession. Christ is your sure help, the Church is your hospital, sacramental grace is your medicine. You were not created to be crushed or brokenhearted. God’s provision is yours. His hand is grasping for yours. St. Paul teaches, No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Of this I am sure because I have witnessed the liberation of persons tormented by the demonic who are then transformed into healed vessels of light, peace and joy.

image: The Torment of St. Anthony, attributed to Michelangelo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spiritual Lessons I Learned While Dieting

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 23:05

January 1st came and went, and hopefully some are still resolutely following their New Year’s Resolution. Each year we probably make the same resolutions: eat better, drop weight, and exercise, to name only a few. One family I know shared with me their new diet regiment. I can tell you that losing weight is not one of my New Year’s resolutions, but if I continue to drop pounds, I won’t complain.

Back in May, I stepped on the scale and saw the highest number I had ever seen. I knew that a change was needed and I heard the success some people had with an app called My Fitness Pal, a calorie counter combined with computations of calories expended through exercise. At the end of May I started to diligently watch what I ate and did, consequently I saw the number on the scale decline. Throughout the experience, what I found while dieting were pertinent lessons corresponding to the spiritual life. Here’s what I learned.

Self-Knowledge

The first few days of counting calories brought me to a point of self-knowledge.  It became easy to discover why I gained so much weight in two years and it helped to illuminate what changes needed to be made. The same is true in the spiritual life. If we want to root out sin, we need to become self-aware.  Is there a certain time when I fall prey to sin?  Or with a certain group of people?  What sin is it that I need to address?  Self-knowledge sheds light into the areas which need to change and can be beneficial not only to dieting but also in the spiritual life as well.

Self-Control

Counting calories as I dieted forced me to keep my appetite in check and exercise moderation.  I love hors d’oeuvres and could eat a ton of Spinach and Artichoke dip in one sitting.  With self-knowledge, I knew I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted.  Instead I needed to be vigilant and deny myself certain foods.  On the very first day of my diet, I went to a graduation party and was faced with a plethora of food options.  With the help of the My Fitness Pal app, I was able to identify what I could eat and stay within my limits.  Dieting allowed me to grow both in virtue and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Root Out Vice

One of the vices that my self-knowledge showed me was slothfulness.  If I had a very sedentary day, I did not burn a lot of calories, meaning I would have to eat within the set calorie limit.  I was motivated to move from inactivity to activity in order to open up calories for dinner or a snack.  Another vice dieting rooted out was gluttony because one’s goal can not be met by overeating.  Dieting proved itself to be a way to grow in virtue.

Solidarity

I sometimes went to bed with a slight hunger during the first few weeks of my diet.  It was the days that I ate a bulk of calories in the morning or for lunch that forced me to eat a smaller dinner, maybe even just a yogurt.  Going to bed with a little hunger can become a spiritual act by remembering that so many people are going to bed hungry, not only in third world countries, but also on our streets.  Even if I wasn’t completely satiated, I realized that I had experienced many blessings throughout the day and could offer such a small sacrifice as penance.

Planning Ahead

With the help of tracking calories on the app, I knew how many calories I could eat in a given day. If I projected that I would be having a bigger meal in the evening, it would require me to eat smaller meals or be more active so as to open up calories. I had to plan ahead. This is true for the spiritual life. If we want to have a good spiritual life and dedicate some time to prayer each day, we need to plan ahead.  If I normally pray in the morning but have a 5am flight, when will I pray during that day? Or if I have a late evening commitment and that is my time for prayer, when could I pray earlier?  The saints called this remote preparation. It was needed for dieting and it is something we need in our spiritual lives if we want a healthy relationship with God.

Honesty with Self

The goal of dieting, especially when tracking through an app, is to not use up all your calories for a given day. The goal would be to have a deficit every day. Sometimes that didn’t happen. There was a temptation for me not to enter all my food intake so that I could have the satisfaction of coming in under the count when I knew I exceeded it. I had to be honest with myself and admit what I ate and adjust going forward. This is true for the spiritual life as well.  Sometimes we need to be honest with our selves about the changes we need to make. If we desire holiness, and we know that one path will lead to it and the other won’t, we need to be honest, and journey down the right path. It’s true for the confessional. Some people might find they are embarrassed by their sins and want to omit it from their confession. We need to be honest and admit our sins, not only for the validity of the Confession, but also for ourselves as we strive to reject sin and live virtuously.

Habits of Life

From the time I began counting calories back in May to the present day, I’ve dropped nearly 30 pounds and am very content with my progress.  I had a little extra help in the process by having orthodontics installed on my teeth which also serves as a preventative measure against harder, high calorie food.  After just three months of calories, I really haven’t logged into the app to enter my food intake or measure my activity level.  I acquired the habit and now know what I need to do and how much I can eat.  It took a little training but now it has become a way of life for me.  Again, the same is true for the spiritual life.  When we give God time each day, when we attend Mass weekly or even daily, it becomes a habit, and we couldn’t imagine our life without it.

At the present moment, I continue not to count calories and I consistently am seeing the declining number on the scale, getting me closer to the goal I set when I first began.  If I should see the number on the scale creep up, I know what I need to do: become self-aware of what I’m eating, exercise self-control, and begin planning ahead once again.  As you carry out your New Year’s resolution after about several weeks into the New Year, may you discover good health, not only physically, but also recognizing the spiritual value of what you have undertaken.

Ten Ways to Fall in Love with the Eucharist

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 23:02

The saints are the great lovers of Jesus; they were on earth and now are in heaven loving God for all eternity.  In this article, we will give a list of what some saints have said in an excess of love for the most Holy Eucharist. Then we will give ten keys to unlock the gems to help you love the Eucharist even more! Let us read and meditate on the fire of the saints and the Eucharist:

  •  “Holy Communion is the shortest and the safest way to Heaven.” (St. Pius X)
  •  “If the angels could be jealous of men, they would be for one reason: Holy Communion.” (St. Maximilian Kolbe)
  •  “In one day the Eucharist will make you produce more for the glory of God than a whole lifetime without it.” (St. Peter Julian Eymard)
  •  “How I love the feasts!… I especially loved the processions in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. What a joy it was for me to throw flowers beneath the feet of God!… I was never so happy as when I saw my roses touch the sacred Monstrance.” (St. Therese the Little Flower)
  •  “When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
  •  “From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others.”  (St. John Paul II)
  •  “This is the bread of everlasting life which supports the substance of your soul.” (St. Ambrose)
  •  “The longer you stay away from Communion, the more your soul will be weak, and in the end you will become dangerously indifferent.”  (St. John Bosco)
  •  “The Eucharist is the consummation of the whole spiritual life.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Now let us dive into ten golden keys that can open up the infinite treasure house of jewels so as to derive countless graces and blessings from Jesus’ greatest Gift to the entire world: Holy Mass and Holy Communion, His Body, Blood Soul and Divinity!

1. Faith

Beg the Lord for a greater faith in the sublime mystery of the most Holy Eucharist. Let us say with the Apostles Saint Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” Let us also so the prayer of the man of the Gospel: “Lord I believe but strengthen my faith!”

2. Visit

Make it a habit to visit the most Blessed Sacrament as often as is possible. Hopefully when we die Jesus will not reproach us with these words: “Whenever I see a church I stop to make a visit so that when I die the Lord will not say: ‘Who is it!'” Friends meet to chat, talk, and enjoy each other’s company; so should we, in visiting and talking frequently to Jesus.

3. Spiritual Communion

Highly recommended by St. Alphonsus Liguouri as well as Pope Benedict XVI in his document “Sacramentum Caritatis” is the frequent practice of the Spiritual Communion.   It can be done in a simple manner and as often as your heart desires.   You can say the simple prayer:  “Jesus I believe that you are truly present in the Tabernacle in your Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Now I cannot receive you sacramentally but come at least spiritually into my heart.”  Then enter into your heart and thank, praise and love the Lord who has come spiritually into your soul.  This can fan the flame of love for our Eucharistic Lord.

4. Read John 6

The Gospel of John, chapter six has three parts: Jesus multiplies the loaves, walks on water, and then He gives a sublime discourse related to the Eucharist; actually it is a Eucharistic prophecy. Best known as the “Bread of life discourse”, Jesus promises to give us the Bread of Life. Also Jesus points out in no unclear terms that our immortal salvation depends upon our eating His Body and drinking His Blood, which obviously refers to Holy Communion. Read and meditate on this powerful chapter!

5. Fifteen Minutes

Years ago there was published a small booklet with the title “The fifteen minutes”.  It is a little gem where Jesus encourages the reader to enter into simple but profound conversation with Him. Basically Jesus wants to be our Best Friend and challenges us to open up the secret mysteries of our heart to Him and only He can truly understand the inner secrets, wounds and mysteries in our heart.   Read and pray through this booklet if possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament!

6. Holy Hour

Get into the habit of making a daily Holy Hour in front of the most Blessed Sacrament. It will transform your life if you persevere in the practice. The Great Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who made his Holy Hour faithfully for more than fifty years, called it The Hour of Power.

7. Adorn and Embellish Churches & the Eucharist

The woman lavished her expensive nard on the feet of Jesus; she wept and her tears came pouring forth on the feet of Jesus; finally she wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair (Lk. 7:36-50).  Fulton Sheen points out that this is symbolic of the gestures of love and attention we should manifest in the way we adorn, embellish and beautify the Churches and tabernacles where Jesus abides.

Known for his spirit of penance, fasting, and sacrifice, the Cure of Ars would travel long distances and expend big sums of money to purchase the best for his little Church. Why? For the simple reason that Jesus—the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords—abides in the tabernacle and descends from heaven in the hands of the priest in every consecrated Host. “O come let us adore Him!”

8. Holy Mass and Holy Communion

Of course, the greatest act is the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The greatest gesture any human being can accomplish is to assist at Mass and to receive Holy Communion with faith, devotion, reverence and awe but especially with a passionate love.

Whenever possible, go to daily Mass. Arrive early to prepare yourself. Offer your own private intentions. Participate in Holy Mass fully, actively and consciously. Receive Holy Communion as if it were your first Holy Communion, last Holy Communion, and only Holy Communion. Be exceedingly thankful for your faith in such a sublime and august mystery! Do not rush out of the Church after Mass, as if your pants were on fire!  Rather, spend some time after Holy Mass to render abundant thanks to Jesus for such a sublime gift. Actually the word “Eucharist” means Thanksgiving.  What a sublime gift, free of charge. The only condition is lively faith and a heart overflowing with love for Jesus the greatest of all lovers!

9. A.C.T.S

Remember the four principal ends or purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass—A.C.T.:

A—stands for adoration.  The primary purpose of Holy Mass is to offer adoration to God the Father, by the offering of Jesus the Victim and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

C—stands for contrition Our hearts should be contrite, humble, and repentant of our many sins. It is a great practice to offer our Mass and Holy Communion in reparation for our sins, the sin of our families as well as in reparation for the sins of the whole world.  “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

T—stands for thanksgiving.  Everything that we have in this life—with the exception of our own sins—is a pure gift from God. Therefore we should be overflowing and abounding in the thanksgiving. “With the Psalmist let us pray: ‘Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his love endures forever.'”

S—Stands for supplication; in other words we should offer prayers of fervent intercession and petition for the many needs of the world: the world at large, the Church, the conversion of sinners, the sick, the dying, our own personal family needs, the souls in purgatory, and much more.

10. Eucharistic Missionary.

As Mary received Jesus in the Annunciation and promptly and quickly brought Jesus to her cousin Elizabeth, so should we bring Jesus to others, and others to Jesus.   This can be done in a very concrete manner by encouraging Catholic lost sheep wandering in the wilderness back to the fold.  The second largest religious group in the United States are non-practicing Catholics.

Find the time, manner, effort and initiative to invite some lost soul back to Church. Hopefully he or she can make a good confession and return to the reception of Holy Communion and to the loving embrace of God the Father. All this might take place if you simply trust God and take the initiative to welcome them back! God is so loving and good!  Share the Good News to the entire world!

image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / “O Sacrament Most Holy” via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0. Learn about Fr. Lew’s ministry and photography at his blog, Releasing the Arrow. 

In the first reading, Absalom, the son

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 23:00

In the first reading, Absalom, the son of King David who led a rebellion against his father, is slain in battle. David mourns greatly the loss of his son even though he had been his enemy. David’s attitude is commendable. We should not hate our enemies. On the contrary, Jesus tells us to love them. And when they are confounded, we should hope that they will repent of their evil deeds. God always hopes for the repentance of the wicked man so that he may be converted and live.

In the gospel, we see how faith can do wonders. Whatever suffering or tragedy we encounter in life we should not despair and feel hopeless. We must trust in the Lord who can turn things around for us if he wants to. He can cure our sicknesses, be they physical or spiritual. But we must believe in his power to do so. Yet even if things do not totally get better, we should continue seeking God’s message for us in our difficulties. Only then do we become true followers of Jesus trusting in him both in times of successes and failures.

“It is the very nature of faith

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 23:00
“It is the very nature of faith to persevere, for faith is not rooted in emotion but in character, not in experience but in loyalty; in short, not in the changeable but in the constant elements of life.”

~Romano Guardini, The Art of Praying

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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.