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St. Fulbert of Chartres

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 22:00

Fulbert was born in France around the year 962. He attended school in Reims and was taught by the famous Gerbert, who became Pope Sylvester II in the year 999. Fulbert followed Pope Sylvester to Rome. When Pope Sylvester II died in 1003, Fulbert returned to France where he started a school at Chartres. This school was the most famous seat of education in France. Scholars from all over France, Italy, Germany, and England attended school there. Fulbert became chancellor of the church of Chartres and was the treasurer of St. Hilary’s at Poitiers. Later he was elected bishop of Chartres and he rebuilt the cathedral when it burned down. He had the assistance of King Canute of England, Duke William of Aquitaine and other European leaders in rebuilding the cathedral in great splendor.

Fulbert had a great deal of influence over the secular leaders of his day and was very active in fighting simony within the Church. He worked hard at reforming the clergy and was very much against the practice of granting ecclesiastical benefits to laymen. Fulbert died on April 10, 1029.

Lessons

Saint Fulbert’s epistles are of great historical value. The epistles give information on the liturgy during his time and the discipline of the Church in that century. Two treatises are in the form of homilies. Five of his nine sermons are on the blessed Mother, to whom he had great devotion.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we pray that St. Fulbert will intercede for our clergy when they need strengthening to make the right decisions. May they always stay true to Church teachings and to You, we pray.  Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Ezekiel (6th Century B.C.), 1 of 4 major prophets of Old Testament

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Sun, 04/09/2017 - 02:35
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Presence of God: O Jesus, I want to follow You in Your triumph, so that I may follow You later to Calvary.

MEDITATION

Holy Week begins with the description of the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His Passion. Jesus, who had always been opposed to any public manifestation and who had fled when the people wanted to make Him their king (cf. John 6:15), allows Himself to be borne in triumph today. Not until now, when He is about to die, does He submit to being publicly acclaimed as the Messiah, because by dying on the Cross, He will be, in the most complete manner: Messiah, Redeemer, King, and Victor. He allows Himself to be recognized as King, but a King who will reign from the Cross, who will triumph and conquer by dying on the Cross. The same exultant crowd that acclaims Him today will curse Him in a few days and lead Him to Calvary; today’s triumph will be the vivid prelude to tomorrow’s Passion.

Jesus enters the holy city in triumph, but only in order to suffer and die there. Hence, the twofold meaning of the Procession of the Palms: it is not enough to accompany Jesus in His triumph; we must follow Him in His Passion, prepared to share in it by stirring up in ourselves, according to St. Paul’s exhortation (Philippians 2:5-11), His sentiments of humility and total immolation, which will bring us, like Him and with Him, “unto death, even to the death of the Cross.” The palms which the priest blesses today have not only a festive significance; they also “represent the victory which Jesus is about to win over the prince of death” (Roman Missal). For us too, they must be symbols of triumph, indicative of the victory to be won in our battle against the evil in ourselves and against the evil which roams about us. As we receive the blessed palm, let us renew our pledge to conquer with Jesus, but let us not forget that it was on the Cross that He conquered.

COLLOQUY

“O Jesus, I contemplate You in Your triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Anticipating the crowd which would come to meet You, You mounted an ass and gave an admirable example of humility in the midst of the acclamations of the crowd who cut branches of trees and spread their garments along the way. While the people were singing hymns of praise, You were filled with pity and wept over Jerusalem. Rise now, my soul, handmaid of the Savior, join the procession of the daughters of Sion and go out to meet your King. Accompany the Lord of heaven and earth, seated on an ass; follow Him with olive and palm branches, with works of piety and with victorious virtues” (cf. St. Bonaventure).

O Jesus, what bitter tears You shed over the city which refused to recognize You! And how many souls, like Jerusalem, go to perdition on account of their obstinate resistance to grace! For them, I pray with all my strength. “My God, this is where Your power and mercy should be shown. Oh! what a lofty grace I ask for, O true God, when I conjure You to love those who do not love You, to answer those who do not call to You, to give health to those who take pleasure in remaining sick!… You say, O my Lord, that You have come to seek sinners. Here, Lord, are the real sinners. But, instead of seeing our blindness, O God, consider the precious Blood which Your Son shed for us. Let Your mercy shine out in the midst of such great malice. Do not forget, Lord, that we are Your creatures, and pour out on us Your goodness and mercy” (Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 8).

Even if we resist grace, O Jesus, You are still the Victor; Your triumph over the prince of darkness is accomplished, and humanity has been saved and redeemed by You. You are the Good Shepherd who knows and loves each one of His sheep and would lead them all to safety. Your loving heart is not satisfied with having merited salvation for the whole flock; it ardently desires each sheep to profit by this salvation….O Lord, give us then, this good will; enable us to accept Your gift, Your grace, and grant that Your Passion may not have been in vain.

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

Art for this post on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion: The Lord Enters Jerusalem, Andrey N. Mironov, June 2016 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.


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

St. Eupsychius, Martyr

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 22:00

Julian the Apostate, arriving in Caesarea on his march to Antioch, was infuriated to find that the majority of the population was Christian. He was further enraged to learn that the Christians had destroyed the last remaining pagan temple in the city, a temple dedicated to Fortune. In his anger, Julian crossed out the name of the city from the list of cities and ordered that it return to being called by its ancient name, Mazaca, rather than the name of Caesarea which had been given to it by Tiberius. He then claimed all the Christian churches in the city and took possession of anything of material value. Many Christians were tortured in order to extract from them the location of some sacred objects. In addition to this, Julian had all the clergy enlisted in the train-bands under the governor of the province. He also imposed heavy taxes on all Christians.

Worst of all, Julian had many Christians put to death. A young man by the name of Eupsychius, from a noble family and a newlywed, was among those sentenced to death. Julian then continued his march, leaving orders in the newly named city of Mazaca that the Christians be compelled to rebuild the temples. Instead of rebuilding the pagan temples, the Christians erected a church to the true God and named it after Eupsychius.

Lessons

Just eight years after the death of Eupsychius, on April 8, Saint Basil celebrated the feast of this martyr and invited all the bishops of Pontus.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, You said that the man who loves his life loses it, while the man who hates his life in this world preserves it to life eternal. We pray that, like Eupsychius, we will stand strong in our faith and remain always loyal to You so we may join You in eternity. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Gaucherius (1140), Abbot

St. Mary of Cleophas (1st Century)

St. Julie Billiart

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 22:00

Julie Billiart was born July 12, 1751, in Picardy, France, the fifth of seven children. She was christened Marie Rose Julia. Julie lived on a farm, but her favorite pastime was pretending to be a teacher and playing school. The school Julie attended was a rural one-room school house. Her favorite subject was religion, taught by the local parish priest. This priest noticed Julie’s great piety and saw that she was special. For that reason, he secretly allowed Julie to make her first communion at age nine. At that time the normal age was thirteen. Julie developed a great love for Jesus in the Eucharist.

When Julie was still a young girl, someone attempted to murder her father. Some believed that this incident so traumatized Julie that she developed a mysterious illness paralyzing her for over twenty years. During the French Revolution Julie hid loyal priests in her home. Because of this, Julie herself became a fugitive. Many times she had to flee to escape discovery in homes where friends were hiding her. During this time Julie had a vision. She saw the Lord crucified and all around Him were religious women dressed in a habit she had never seen. In an inner locution, she was told that these women would be her daughters and that she would start an institute for the Christian education of young girls. In 1803 Julie, along with a few women, began their lives as religious and founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Julie’s vision had come true. One year later, Julie was miraculously cured of the paralysis that she had endured for twenty-two years. Then in 1805, Julie and three of her companions took their final vows. Julie was elected as Mother General of the congregation.

Mother Julie Billiart spent the next ten years caring for the poor, nursing the wounded from the Battle of Waterloo, and feeding the hungry. On April 8, 1816, at age 64, she went to be with the Lord.

Lessons

Julie worked hard to expand her Institute and by the time of her death, fifteen convents had been established. Pope Paul VI canonized her in 1969.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we offer up all our pain and sufferings to You, just as St. Julie did during her long illness. We pray, dear Lord, that You will unite our sufferings with Yours and that through these, many souls are saved. Amen.

What Catholics Are Bound to Practice

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 22:07

The Catholic Church is acknowledged by her children as their infallible guide, not only in matters of belief but in conduct also. And, indeed, since belief is for the sake of conduct, and directed to conduct, we should expect that the religious society that teaches the truth should also point the way to right living.

So it is with the Catholic Church: the truths that she proclaims are saving truths, addressed not merely to the intellect but also to the heart and the will. It is one of the signs of her divine origin that she satisfies both heart and mind — confirming, developing, and completing that instinctive teaching of man’s understanding and conscience that we usually speak of under the name of natural religion — the revelation of divine truth and law written on the heart of man. All truth has a value in itself and is admirable for its own sake; but religious truth has always a practical, not simply a speculative, value; and only he profits rightly by the heritage of divine revelation who strives to make it bear upon his life. It is the constant endeavor of the Church to aid us in doing this.

Hence, recognizing that true religion is a right life molded upon true beliefs, from her speculative doc­trines she draws practical conclusions — that is, she instructs the understanding in order to guide the will; and in this work she is infallibly preserved from error by the spirit of her Master, who is not only the Truth, but the Way and the Life.

The General Obligation of Worship and Service

From what the Church teaches us about God, then, and about our relations to Him, there follow certain duties that we owe to Him. These are summed up in the twofold obligation of worship and service. Thus much of his duties man might have learned without a Church; but the Church, having been formed by the Son of God to continue His work of evangeliza­tion, tells us in His name what worship and what service we are to render, and how. Moreover, as God’s accredited representative, she claims a service and obedience due to herself — or, rather, due to Him in her. Above all, preaching the doctrine of her divine Founder, she tells us that both worship and service are to take their rise in, and be permeated through and through by, love of God.

This article is from “What Catholic Are Free to Believe or Not.” Click image to preview or order.

Thus her primary message to mankind is: “Worship God and do His will for love of Him”; and she provides ways and means of doing this that she has learned from Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, who dwells within her.

Vested with divinely granted authority, and guided into all truth by the Spirit of Truth, she is able to particularize this general precept and has power to impose such regulations upon the consciences of her children as she knows to be conducive to its due observance. Hence her code of morality, and those laws that we know as the precepts of the Church. In these two is comprised all that Catholics are bound to practice.

Of the Church’s code of morality it is not my intention to treat. Based on the Ten Commandments, it would be generally acknowledged as binding upon Christians by those for whom I write. Nor is it necessary here to refute oft-refuted calumnies, such as the old lie that the Church advocates the doing of evil that good may come, or teaches that a good end justifies an evil means, or that lying is allowable.

The Precepts of the Church

I shall confine myself in this chapter to those distinctively Catholic practices that the Church enjoins as necessary to that good life lived for love of God that it is her mission to promote among men.

To take, then, first, the obligation of worship that arises from the relation of the creature to his Creator. This worship must include the four elements of adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation for sin, and prayer. The Catholic Church possesses the only form of worship on earth which fulfills these four duties in a way entirely worthy of the infinite majesty of God. That form of worship is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in which for those four ends the oblation of the true Body and Blood of the Incarnate Son is offered to the Father. What wonder that the Church enjoins upon her children as a solemn obligation to participate in the offering of this sacrifice! Particularizing the natural obligation that rests upon every human being of devoting some notable part of his time to the worship of his Maker and Father, and possessing the most perfect means of fulfilling it, she commands us to observe the Sundays and certain holy days by devoutly hearing Mass; adding, for the more complete consecration of those days, a prohibition of ordinary weekday labor. This precept we know as the First Commandment of the Church.

As we have already seen, the Church’s law of conduct is the law of love. He who loves will not refuse some pain and self-denial. Moreover, without self-denial and restriction the spirit cannot be free of the bondage of the flesh and fleshly desires. Men found that out before Christianity dawned upon the world. For this double reason, to train her children to the proof of their love of God by the taking up of the cross, and to aid them in subduing their carnal appetites to the spirit, she imposes upon them the duty of fasting and abstinence at certain seasons. Hence the Second Commandment of the Church: to keep the days of fasting and abstinence.

Every Catholic knows that he is not expected to injure his health by the observance of this precept, and thus to incapacitate himself from the performance of his daily duties. The duties of one’s state of life, performed for God, come first and foremost in the appreciation of the Church as well as in the right order of things. Piety that does not help to this is a sham. Therefore, the Church is always ready to grant a dispensation to all who can show good cause for being relieved of the obligation of fasting or abstinence; although, at the same time, she recommends or enjoins, according to circumstances, some alternative form of self-denial that will not interfere with other duties.

The next law of the Church concerns sin and the means and conditions of forgiveness. In none of the man-made religions that have sprung up since Jesus Christ founded the Church has due proportion been observed in this matter. Error, as it always does, has rushed into one or other of two opposite extremes. While in the early days of Christianity the tendency of heretics was to exclude some sins altogether from the hope of pardon, modern religions have to a greater or lesser extent lost the sense of personal sin and of the need of reconciliation with God. The Church from the beginning has steered the middle course, which is also the true one. She excludes none from pardon, whatever his guilt, provided that he is penitent; she insists on penitence as well as upon a humble acknowledgment of personal guilt. This acknowledgment takes a form that the instincts of nature itself point out as the condition of forgiveness — a detailed confession of the sins committed; hence the Third Commandment of the Church obliging the faithful to go to confession at least once a year.

Knowing that, since the promulgation of the gospel, the prerogative of pronouncing God’s forgiveness in His name has been entrusted to her by the commission of Jesus Christ Himself — “Whose sins ye shall forgive they are forgiven” (John 20:23) — she will not allow her children to deprive themselves, without strong protest on her part, of this necessary means of grace. Her children clearly understand that she makes no claim to forgive in her own name; and that although they may deceive the priest who exercises this ministry, and extort absolution from him on false pretenses, that judgment will not be ratified in heaven. With confession as without, repentance and purpose of amendment are necessary for forgiveness.

The motive of the next commandment of the Church is the same as that of the preceding — a desire, namely, on the part of the Church to prevent neglect of a necessary means of salvation. Mindful, therefore, of the words of Jesus, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you” and “He that eateth my flesh, and drink-eth my blood, hath eternal life” (cf. John 6:54-55; RSV = John 6:53-54), she lays upon us her Fourth Commandment: to receive the Blessed Sacrament at least once a year — and that at Easter or thereabouts.

The Fifth Commandment enjoins upon the faithful the duty of providing for the support of their pastors; and the sixth forbids marriage within certain degrees of kindred, and the solemn ceremonies of marriage in certain penitential seasons.

In the general law of worshipping God and of doing His will from the motive of love, and in these six commandments of the Church that interpret and define that law on certain points, providing thereby for its better observance, we have all that is of positive obligation for a Catholic.

By that motive — which, of course, includes love for one’s neighbor, as equally with ourselves a child of the Heavenly Father, the object of His predilection, the redeemed of His Son — a man’s whole life is rightly ordered in its active relations toward God and His fellowmen. By those laws he is directed to the essential means of performing God’s holy will. If anyone wishes to know the Church’s conception of a good Christian life, he will find it simply and excellently set forth in any catechism.

To go further into these details here would carry me beyond my scope, which is merely to remove certain misconceptions as to the strict obligations of Catholics. When we have said that the Church teaches us to worship God by faith, hope, and charity, and that the greatest of these virtues is charity — love of God, and of men for His sake — we have summed up the Catholic religion.

It remains, then, to add here only that, while providing for what we may call the minimum in Christian practice, the Church has never ceased to put before her children the higher standard of evangelical perfection to be aimed at for love of and in imitation of the perfections of God.

To all she cries aloud the exhortation of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be you, therefore, perfect, as also your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). With what fruit she does this the lives of her saints and the holiness of many thousands of her children at all periods of her history bear ample witness.

No earnest Catholic troubles himself about the minimum that he may perform; nor would any in­quirer of goodwill do so, except for the purpose of getting rid of an exaggerated notion of what would be required of him if he were to submit to the Church. As soon as he began to understand the spirit of the Catholic religion — its intrinsic beauty and reasonableness, its evident power to satisfy all the spiritual needs of the souls of men — the tried efficacy of the means it offers, whether obligatory or free, to promote the great ends of holiness and salvation would pro­duce in him the same desire that every earnest Catholic feels: not only to use to the full such means as are essential, but also to take advantage of the additional helps that the Church offers in so great abundance to suit the particular needs of individual souls.

If it shall be made even a little clearer to any inquirer that the Catholic religion is not to the children of the Church (as it appears to so many who are not of her) an intolerable burden, but the highest of privileges, a sweet and easy yoke, a help and not a hindrance to happiness here and hereafter, the object with which I write will have been attained.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Fr. Hughes’s What Catholic Are Free to Believe or Notwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

The Victory of Humility

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 22:05

When a conquering hero of the ancient world rode into town in triumph, it was in a regal chariot or on the back of a stately stallion.  Legions of soldiers accompanied him in the victory procession.  Triumphal arches, festooned with relief sculptures, were often erected to immortalize his valiant victory.

After driving out demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead, it was time for the King of Kings to enter the Holy City.  But to do so, he rode not on the back of a warhorse, but a donkey. His companions accompanied him brandishing not swords, but palm branches. The monument to his victory, erected a week later, was not an arch, but a crucifix.

His earthly beginning was frightfully humble.  And his earthly end would be no different.  The wood of the manger prefigured the wood of the cross.

From beginning to end, the details are humiliating.  No room in the inn.  Born amidst the stench of a stable.  Hunted by Herod’s henchmen.  Growing up in a far-flung province of the Roman Empire–Galilee, the land where the country accent is so thick, you can cut it with a knife.  How was it that the high priest’s servant-girl knew that Peter was a disciple of Jesus?  His hillbilly accent gave him away (Mat 26:73).  Jesus disciples were not cultured, learned men of ability.  They were drawn from the low-life of a backwater region.

When one of his closest companions offered to betray him, he did not require millions.  Jesus’ worth was reckoned to be no more than the Old Testament “book value” for a slave–thirty pieces of silver (Ex 21:32). When he was finally handed over to the Romans, he was not given the punishment meted out to Roman citizens.  Beheading was the quick, dignified way to execute someone of any standing.  Instead Jesus was given punishments reserved only for slaves and rebellious members of subjugated peoples – flagellation and crucifixion.  These two penalties were not just about the pain, but about the humiliation.  In first century Palestine, men and women typically covered themselves from head to toe, even in the scorching heat.  A crucified man was stripped naked and put on display for all to see.

But this is not primary a story of violence and humiliation. The events of Holy Week are much more about love and humility.

That’s why on Passion Sunday we read the powerful words of Paul’s letter from the Philippians (2:6-11).  Though the Divine Word was God, dwelling in the serene heights of heavenly glory, he freely plunged to the depths of human misery, joining himself to our frail nature, entering into our turbulent world.  As if this act of humility were not enough, he further humbled himself, accepting the status of a slave.  His act of stooping down to wash the feet of his disciples (Jn 13) was a parable of his whole human existence, for this act was regarded as so undignified that not even Israelite slaves could be compelled to do it.

But that’s just it.  Jesus was not compelled to do it.  He willingly lowered himself in his birth, in his ministry, in his death.  No one took his life from him. He freely laid down his own life (Jn 10:18). Others did not have the chance to humble him; he humbled himself.

It had to be so.  The Second Adam had to undo the damage caused by the first.  What was the sin our first parents?  They disobeyed because they wanted to know what God knew, to be like God, to exalt themselves over God (Gen 3). They were bitten by the Serpent, and injected with the deadly venom of Pride.  The antidote, the anti-venom could only be humility.  The foot-washing, donkey-riding New Adam would crush the head of the deadly serpent by means of loving, humble obedience.

The first-born of many brothers lowered himself to the dust from which the First Adam has been made–indeed humility comes from the word “humus.” But God responded to his humility by exalting him far above Caesars, kings, and even Hollywood stars.  And he invites us to share his glory with him.  But first we must walk on his road to glory, the royal road of the cross.

image: See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Scripture Speaks: Palm Sunday

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 22:02

Palm Sunday’s Gospel is a drama that is at once both intensely human and profoundly supernatural—the mystery of Christ’s Passion.

Gospel (Read Mt 26:14-27:66)

On Palm Sunday, Catholics all over the globe, in every nation and time zone, in public and sometimes in secret, stand at attention to hear the longest Gospel narrative of the entire liturgical year.  This riveting episode needs no interpretation.  Young and old, male and female, educated and uneducated, sophisticated and simple—all of us are caught up in the story and understand it.  Why is it so universally accessible?  The answer must be because it is a truly human drama, with the kinds of characters, action, plots and subplots, emotions, twists and turns that all of us know, because we either have lived or are now living them.  Who among us has not experienced something of betrayal, fear, humiliation, misrepresentation, powerlessness, malice from others, remorse, and dark foreboding?  This Passion story is not one told in philosophical, theological, or metaphorical language.  No, this story is our story, full of the truths of life that no one ever has to teach us.

Because of its length and density of details, a comprehensive commentary is not possible here (see Jesus of Nazareth:  Holy Week by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for a truly glorious examination of all the Passion Scriptures).  Still, many of us can be helped to stay attentive (we need help because, alas, we are like the apostles who kept dozing while Jesus agonized in Gethsemane) as it is read at Mass by pondering beforehand one of the story’s most fascinating themes:  irony.

Ever since the Garden of Eden, when the serpent promised “opened eyes” to Adam and Eve and instead caused spiritual blindness, the human experience has been laced with irony (words or events that seem to mean one thing but actually mean something else).  We never grow tired of seeing it exposed, in others or in ourselves (that’s why we love it in literature, humor, and the daily newspaper).  This Gospel story, being very human, abounds in irony.  Let’s follow some of its threads:

At the Last Supper, all the apostles deny that they could possibly fail Jesus, yet all of them, except John, do (Mt 26:56).  Judas kisses Jesus, a sign of fraternal love, but the kiss was one of betrayal.  Those who arrest Jesus show up with swords and clubs, yet all they had ever seen Him do was sit peacefully in the Temple and teach.  Both Caiaphas and Pilate, who conspired to kill Jesus, confess Him with their own lips as “Christ, the Son of God” (Mt 26:63) and “the king of the Jews” (Mt 27:11), without Jesus having to say anything except, “You have said so.”  The man, Barabbas, whose name means “Son of God” and who was guilty of insurrection (sometimes translated as “robber”), is released from prison in exchange for the true “Son of God,” who paid the price for the release of all the rebellious “sons of God”—you and me.  The crowd crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion calls, “His blood be upon us and our children”—and it was.  However, His blood would not be the blood of guilt, as they supposed, but the blood of atonement, for their forgiveness.  With their own lips, they welcomed it.  Unthinkable irony!

And there’s more—the soldiers dress Jesus like a king with a robe, a crown, and a scepter.  They think this is for His humiliation and exposure as a fraud, but instead it acknowledges that He is the king of a kingdom not of this world.  Over His Cross, in a sign written in the three main languages of the Greco-Roman Empire, they unwittingly declare Jesus king of all nations. (Note:  the three languages declaring Jesus as king are still make appearances today in the Mass.  Kyrie is Greek; Alleulia is Hebrew; Sanctus is Latin.)   Finally, in an attempt to make sure that no one could possibly steal the body of Jesus and claim He had risen from the dead, they secure the tomb “by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard” (Mt 27:66), thus guaranteeing that the onlyexplanation for the re-appearance of Jesus, should it happen, would be His Resurrection.  The “king” Who looks weak and impotent, dying at the hands of those who despised Him, would, by this very weakness and suffering, defeat Death, man’s most powerful enemy, the greatest ironic reversal of all time.

No wonder this is a story whose appeal will never be exhausted!

Possible response:  Jesus, what is there to say to You in gratitude for what You endured for me?  I owe You my life!

First Reading (Read Isa 50:4-7)

The prophet, Isaiah, because he lived during a time of great covenant unfaithfulness in God’s people (about the 8th century B.C.), had to deliver dire warnings of coming catastrophe unless the people repented.  He prophesied that judgment would inevitably fall, but Isaiah also spoke of a coming restoration, when their punishment would end, and the people would once again flourish in their land.  Remarkably, Isaiah’s prophecies included detailed descriptions of a Suffering Servant who would play a significant role in this restoration.  Through his innocent, willing suffering, the sin of the people would be forgiven.  Here, of course, we have an astounding Messianic prophecy of Jesus, the Innocent One Who suffered on behalf of all people, making our redemption possible.  There are several “songs” in Isaiah about this Suffering Servant.  Today’s reading highlights the determination of the Servant to stay the course set out for him, regardless of the physical violence and acts of degradation against him.  This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus, Who “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51) and quietly endured contemptuous brutality, as we see in the Gospel reading.  Although Jesus wrestled in the Garden with His natural desire to avoid suffering, He rose from His agonized prayer to fulfill Isaiah’s words:  “I have not rebelled, have not turned back” (Isa 50:5).

Possible response:  LORD, I need the courage and perseverance of the Suffering Servant to do Your will when I face opposition.  Please grant me that grace in the Eucharist today.

Psalm (Read Ps 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24)

We can’t read this psalm without being amazed at how accurately it describes some of the details of the Crucifixion.  That is why we understand it as a Messianic psalm, written by David, King of Israel, hundreds of years earlier.  David, like Jesus, was persecuted unjustly.  His enemies wanted to destroy him, and his suffering made him cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  However, in a verse not included in our reading, David acknowledges that God has not forsaken him:  “For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and He has not hid His face from him, but has heard when he cried out to Him” (Ps 22:24).  This is the turning point of the psalm.  David goes on to see a time when he will be restored and be able to “proclaim Your Name to my brethren in the midst of the assembly” (Ps 2:25), even being able to “eat and be satisfied” (Ps 22:26).  In other words, David sees life after his suffering, something wonderful from God on the other side of it that will cause all Israel to “give glory to Him…revere Him” (Ps 22:23).  Is it any wonder, then, that this psalm was on the lips of Jesus as he was dying on the Cross?  The separation from God He experienced as He bore the full weight of all humanity’s sin made Him feel abandoned, as did David, but He had the hope of the psalmist, too:  “Posterity shall serve Him; men shall tell of the LORD to the coming generation, and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn” (Ps 22:30).  We cannot doubt that this psalm, known so well to Jesus, gave Him courage as He drank His cup of suffering to its bitter end.

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

Second Reading  (Read Phil 2:6-11)

St. Paul gives us a summary of the Incarnation and, with it, a preview of what lies beyond the sober details of today’s Gospel narrative.  Jesus left His glory in heaven to become one of us, yet He became more “us” than we are ourselves!  God made us for obedience to Him, which would enable us to live in His “image and likeness” and be truly happy.  We, however, always choose disobedience, so, on our own, we never really reach who we actually are.  Jesus chose perfect obedience for us, even unto death.  Therefore, God gave Him the Name that will eventually cause every knee to bend and every tongue confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  In all our other readings today, we see the Suffering Servant, stripped of power and glory, the very image of weakness and defeat.  In this epistle, we see King Jesus, exalted and glorified and worthy of praise—the perfect anticipation of the joy of Easter!

Possible response:  King Jesus, help me to believe that the way of humility and obedience is always the path to glory.

St. John Baptist de La Salle

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 22:00

St. John Baptist de La Salle (1651-1719) was a French priest who became famous as a teacher of underprivileged boys. John, who came from a noble family, was ordained a priest at twenty-seven, and was assigned to the city of Rheims, a very prestigious position. It seemed his life would be one of privilege and easy dignity, but as he became aware of the needs of poor children — especially education — he felt himself called to respond (even though at first the work was distasteful to him).

John left Rheims and gave away his share of the family fortune. He began training a group of young men as teachers, thus beginning the order known today as the Christian Brothers. John successfully introduced several new educational methods (such as teaching in the local language, instead of Latin), and he established colleges for training teachers. His success in training delinquent and underprivileged boys provoked bitter opposition from secular schoolmasters, who resented his emphasis on Christian values; ignoring his critics, John urged his teachers to treat their students with love and compassion, making time for them and being concerned for their spiritual well-being.

St. John Baptist de La Salle suffered from asthma and rheumatism in his last years; he died on Good Friday in 1719.

Lessons

1. Our calling from God may at first be distasteful to us, but if we persevere, we will learn to love the life God intends for us. St. John Baptist de La Salle initially didn’t want to work with children, but he obeyed the Lord’s will, and ended up being very happy and fulfilled in his educational ministry.

2. As John learned, educating young people is an important way of serving Christ — especially by preparing them for eternity through an emphasis on faith and morality.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Herman Joseph (1241), Priest, Religious

Pilgrimage to Spain: A Few More Spots Available

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 02:35
Pilgrimage to Spain in November of 2017

There has been some expression of disappointment that we have limited the size of our Pilgrimage to Spain in November. As a result, what I have decided to do is open a few more seats so that this opportunity will be available to more people. We can still only take a limited number of people, but we now have a few more spots available if you would like to register. If you want to ensure a spot, be sure to submit your initial deposit very soon, as there is no guarantee how much longer there will be spots available. Below you will find a link to a video I made talking about the pilgrimage as well as a link to the pilgrimage webpage, where you will find an in-depth itinerary as well as Dr. Lilles’ virtual tour of the Pilgrimage to Spain that will take place November 16-25.

We are excited to be able to invite you on this pilgrimage of a lifetime, where you will more deeply encounter the mystical tradition of the Church through visiting the places frequented by some of the great Spiritual Doctors of the Church. We know from the New Testament that the power of the Holy Spirit working in the saints makes the things the saints touched and places they went resonate with us on an eternal level.  We hope you can join us for what is sure to be a transformative experience as we engage with the mystical wisdom of the Church through the holy and historic places we will visit. You can read all about the pilgrimage and register at our pilgrimage webpage by clicking here.

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This video on the November 2017 pilgrimage to Carmelite Spain has been provided courtesy of Dan Burke and the Avila Foundation … and is used with permission. Avila Institute Logo used with permission.

About Dan Burke

Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio – Resources Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.


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

The Moment You’re In

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 22:07

Ever notice that we rush through our days with so much to do, so much we think we should be doing, so much we think we’re missing out on…but how often do we give the proper time and attention to the moment we’re in?

This truly is one of my biggest faults, and I suspect it’s actually pretty common for most people. And it’s one of the things I’m trying hard to conquer.

When I’m at work, I’m often trying to quickly get through a task, so I can move on to the next. Or simply staring at the clock, anxious to leave for the day.

When I’m at home, I’m trying to quickly get done necessary tasks around the house, so I can be out in my garden, or reading.

When I am helping my mother with her needs, I am often frustrated, because I have so many other things to get done that are on my mind.

The list is endless.

How often in life do we neglect giving our full focus and attention to what we’re doing in the moment of time we’re in?

Often, I bet.

The more virtuous way would be to give of ourselves to what we are called to do.

At. That. Moment.

Learning to Appreciate and Fully Be in the Moment

We can always try to find something to be grateful about during the moment of time that we’re in. If you’re around someone you love, enjoy that. If you’re doing something that is providing charity to another, be thankful for that. If you’re simply home and secure, be grateful.

But what if you don’t like where you are at that moment?

This is when we are provided the perfect opportunity to offer self-surrender and sacrifice for others, and most importantly, to God. A person who lives without peace in their soul is often that way because they do not care to let God manage their lives. Instead, they’re always fighting to figure things out on their own.

To do what they want to do.

How they want it done.

When they want it done.

It’s here that we are given an opportunity to forget self and find something far greater. The opportunity to let God guide us in what our life should be each day. And no offering can ever please God as the greatest gift of all – our Will.

Instead of constantly looking at the clock, wondering how much longer we’ll be stuck in our current task, now we are given the opportunity to simply give our “all” to the moment. To the task at hand.

To the moment that God has put in front of us at that exact time and place. And by doing it with as much determination and joy as possible, what may have at first seemed displeasing, may even in the end, be rewarding.

Because we’re doing it out of duty or charity, but most importantly, for the love of God.

Remember, it’s when we do everything for ourselves that we lose our peace and become self-ish. Because selfish motives never bring us happiness.

The most virtuous thing we can do, is to place our life in God’s hands, and let Him direct our daily life as He wills it. This we can do with our patience, understanding, generosity, and unselfishness in our daily activities.

So, the next time you want to quickly get something done, so you can move on to what you want to do – stop for a moment, and realize that the moment you’re in, is the exact moment that God has placed upon you. There, in that moment, is your opportunity to want to do that task, and to do it as well as you possibly can.

And in this moment, you have the opportunity to please God, simply by giving your all to the task He has given you.

The more perfectly we can give of ourselves to the moment we’re in, so much the more perfectly we will find peace, and a true union with God – and happiness.

And who doesn’t want that?

St. Mary of Egypt: An Unexpected Saint

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 22:07

Saturday was the feast day of St. Mary of Egypt and Sunday – the last Sunday of the Great fast – we remembered St. Mary of Egypt again.

Before her repentance, St. Mary of Egypt was, as Simon the Pharisee observed today about the woman of the city, “a sinner.” Though she is often thought of as a prostitute, her sin was not so much prostitution as fornication. Saint Sophronios says that she would not charge her many sexual partners, but survived instead by begging and spinning flax. She was, like so many of us in this hypersexualized culture, consumed and driven “by an insatiable and an irrepressible passion” of lust.

She went to Jerusalem among the pilgrims, but her reason for going was not pilgrimage. Rather, she went in a large group for the purpose of seducing many partners. Some might question how such a sinner could even think to enter the holy city and its holy places.

But remember the sinful woman of the city in Simon’s house (Luke 7:36-38). She goes right up to Jesus himself and, weeping, wets his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair and kisses his feet and anoints them. Though she is a sinner, she touches Jesus. And Jesus, who is more than a prophet, knows that she has sinned, yet allows her to touch him.

On the other hand, when Mary of Egypt, who is also a sinner, tries to enter the house of Jesus – that is his Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Church of the Resurrection – she is prevented by an invisible spiritual force.

Why? What’s the difference between these two sinful women? Why does Jesus allow one to touch him and kiss while the other is prevented from even entering his house? There is only one difference between them – repentance. The woman of the city in the Pharisee’s house is penitent. She is weeping. And she is loving. She does not cease to kiss Jesus’s feet. So all her many sins are forgiven because she loves much (Luke 7:47).

Meanwhile, Mary of Egypt tries to enter the holy place of the Lord while yet impenitent. She goes to that holy tomb not seeking to anoint the body of the Lord, but rather while seeking more partners for her lust. The invisible blockade that she experiences is in fact a strong medicine. It’s not meant, I don’t think, simply to keep the holy separated from the unholy or the clean from the unclean, but it is meant, I think, to reveal to her her situation and to bring her to repentance.

And, gracefully, it has this effect. Seeing outside the church an icon of another Mary – that is, of the Theotokos – she does repent. She weeps and laments, like the woman of the city in the Pharisee’s house. And she learns that true love for the Lord surpasses any self-satisfaction gained by indulging in the passion of lust. Trying again, in her new state of penitence, to enter the Church of the Resurrection, she finds no force keeping her out. And she does enter and there she kisses the Holy Cross, just as the woman of the city kissed the feet of Jesus. She who is forgiven much loves much.

Now what might her fellow pilgrims have thought of her at this moment? Seeing this woman who they knew to be among their number expressly for the seduction of their members, now entering the Holy Sepulchre weeping and kissing the Holy Cross, what might they have thought? When Simon saw the sinful woman enter his house and kiss the feet of Jesus, he thought, “If this man were a prophet he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” If Mary’s fellow pilgrims were true followers of Christ, then they rejoiced at her repentance. But if they were like some of us, then they probably had thoughts rather similar to Simon’s. They may have thought “Who is this woman to kiss the Holy Cross? She has not embraced the cross by her dissolute living.” They may have judged her and thought her presence among them in this place at this time inappropriate.

I hope not. But if they did, the only true judge knew their thoughts. And if we have thoughts like this about those who come among us, he knows this as well, and we will hear about it. Let’s keep our thoughts on our own sins rather than on the sins of those around us.

For things are often not what they seem. A person who seems to us to be a great sinner may, in fact, be awash in the holy grace of forgiveness through repentance.

This was the case with Mary of Egypt. She seemed to be still a great sinner, but in truth, her glorification by grace, by the life of God, had already begun. She went immediately after her eyes were opened to the holy mystery of repentance, was absolved of her sins, and received holy communion. This is the proper, ordinary, and churchly way to begin again the life in Christ after we have sinned. When we fall, we get up again. When we sin, we repent and enter again into communion with the Lord through the mysteries of the Church.

But then Mary did something less ordinary, less usual, and even less churchly by some standards. The next morning, she crossed the river Jordan and then lived the rest of her life – 47 years – in the desert as a hermit. I say this is a less churchly way of life because, for one thing, it is extremely peculiar for a person to be called directly into the anchoritic life – that is, to live alone as a hermit – without first having lived the coenobitic life for a long time in community. (Though, there are other examples of this – particularly in early monasticism – such as St. Antony the Great.) And then, even among anchorites, it is peculiar to live most of life deprived of the holy mysteries, especially the Eucharist. Yet, they say, that this is what Saint Mary of Egypt did. After that first holy repentance and communion, she went into the desert and never communed again, until the day that she died many years later.

A year before she died, St. Zosima, a priest (whose feast day is Tuesday), came upon her in the desert. She was so rough from her many years of ascetic practice, that from a distance he did not at first know for sure whether she was human. She told him her life story and she asked him to bring her holy communion the following year on Holy Thursday, which he did, on the banks of the Jordan – the same place she had received communion the last time. When she came to receive communion from him, she walked on the water of the Jordan to meet him.

Here is a woman who defies all of our churchly expectations. Living apart from church services, even apart from frequent reception of holy communion, and yet living a life somehow filled with grace and faith. I do not recommend that we all imitate Mary of Egypt in her way of life. St. John Climacus (who we remembered on the Fourth Sunday of the Great Fast), warns us, after all, that the avoidance of church services is a sure sign of the deadening of the soul. But I think we can hold up Mary as demonstration that God can and does act as he will. He is not confined by us or by our expectations. We do not limit his grace.

It is good to remember John Climacus’ observation when we are tempted to avoid church services. But I think Mary of Egypt is marvelous for us to consider when we are tempted to judge others for the way it seems to us they are living or not living the Christian life. We do not necessarily see their life in Christ or where God is leading them. We do not know what prayers they pray in their closets nor do we see their ascetic practice. Sometimes there is one whom the Lord loves in his own way and for his own reasons, blessed be the name of the Lord.

image: Giotto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

What is the Resurrection of the Dead?

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 22:02

Q: At Easter we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. In the Creed, we believe in the “resurrection of the dead.” Could you better explain these beliefs?

In the Gospels, Jesus had predicted three times that He would be arrested by the chief priests and scribes, suffer, be condemned to death, and be crucified; however, He also predicted that He would be “raised up” on the “third day” (cf. Mt 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19). The predictions came true. On Easter Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene and other women, St. Peter and St. John went to the tomb, they found it empty. The angel proclaimed, “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; he is not here” (Mk 16:6). Jesus had risen, body and soul, from the dead.

Later, Jesus appeared to the apostles and others. He would appear and disappear suddenly. He could be embraced (Mt 28:9). He shows the wound marks of His hands and side to the apostles, and invited St. Thomas to examine them with his fingers (Jn 20:19ff). He was not always easily recognizable, as in the appearance to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11ff) or to the apostles by the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1ff). Jesus also shared meals with His apostles (Jn 21:9ff, Lk 24:36ff) and other disciples (Lk 23:13). In all, Jesus affirmed He was not some ghost or some ancient image of “Night of the Living Dead.” Jesus said, “Look at my hands and my feet; it is really I. Touch me, and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do” (Lk 24:29).

Therefore, through the resurrection, our Lord has a radically transformed or glorified existence. Glorification means that Jesus was fully and perfectly spiritualized and divinized without loss of His humanity.

We believe that we too will share this glorification. When we die, our soul stands before God in the particular judgment, and we have to account for our lives — good and bad, omissions and commissions. God will then judge the soul worthy of heaven, hell or purgatory.

At the end of time — the time of our Lord’s second coming and the general judgment — we too will share in the resurrection of the dead, or body. At that time, Christ will transform the bodies of the righteous and make them like His own glorified body. St. Paul addressed this issue: “Perhaps someone will say, ‘How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?’ A nonsensical question! The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural body is put down and a spiritual body comes up” (1 Cor 15:35-36, 42-44).

The bodies of the faithful will be transfigured to the pattern of the risen Christ. Traditionally, theology has described these glorified and perfected bodies as having the characteristics of identity, entirety, and immortality. Moreover, they will also have four “transcendent qualities:” “impassibility,” or freedom from physical evil, death, sickness, and pain; “clarity,” or freedom from defects and an endowment with beauty and radiance; “agility,” whereby the soul moves the body and there is freedom of motion; and “subtility,” whereby the body is completely spiritualized under the dominion of the soul. The Catechism teaches, “After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul” (No. 1042).

What about the bodies of the souls of the damned in Hell? These bodies will have identity, entirety, and immortality, but not the four transcendent qualities. They will have the condition necessary for suffering the eternal punishment of Hell, but not the glorification of the Lord shared by those in Heaven.

Nevertheless, we must admit that this “glorification” exceeds our understanding and even our imagination. We believe it because Christ promised this resurrection of the body: “For an hour is coming in which all those in their tombs shall hear His voice and come forth. Those who have done right shall rise to live; the evildoers shall rise to be damned” (Jn 5:28-29).

Editor’s note: This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

Abraham, known for his unwavering faith

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 22:00

Abraham, known for his unwavering faith and subsequent covenant with God, is a key character in both readings today. In the first reading we are told about God’s covenant with Abraham: “I will establish a covenant, an everlasting covenant between myself and you and your descendants after you.”

In the Gospel reading Jesus told the Jews, “Truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never experience death.” The Jews retorted that Jesus’ statement could not be true since even Abraham, their father in faith, and the prophets all died.

Jesus boldly told them that “[Abraham] looked forward to the day when I would come; and he rejoiced when he saw it.” How could Jesus say that, considering that he was not even fifty years old? Because Jesus claimed to be God, “Truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews clearly understood Jesus’ claim and they “picked up stones to throw at him.” Before Pilate the Jews said, “We have a Law and, according to the Law this man must die because he made himself Son of God.”

Saint Marcellinus, Martyr

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 22:00

There are several saints and popes with the name Marcellinus or similar-sounding names, which sometimes leads to confusion over them. Each deserves honor and veneration; however, today is the feast day of Saint Flavius Marcellinus who was born sometime in the fourth century. He was the tribunal secretary in the court of Emperor Honorius and had a reputation as a highly intelligent, honorable man.

In the year 411, the emperor sent Marcellinus to Africa to chair a meeting between Catholic and Donatist bishops. Donatists took their name from the schismatic Bishop of Carthage named Donatus who lived a hundred years earlier. The Donatists were part of a rigorist movement who insisted that when an unworthy minister administered any sacrament, the sacrament was invalid. This contradicted the Catholic doctrine that the efficacy of the sacraments depends not on the worthiness of the ministers, but on the power of Christ, Who is the true and ultimate minister of every sacrament.

Marcellinus conducted the negotiations with impartiality and finally made a decision in favor of the Catholic position. He and his brother, Apringius, ordered the Donatists to return to the Catholic faith and published new imperial decrees against the Donatists. This so infuriated the schismatic group that they falsely accused Marcellinus and his brother of being supporters and partisans of Heraclianus. This group had rebelled against Marinus, who was in charge of putting down the insurrection.

Believing the charges against the brothers, General Marinus had them arrested and imprisoned. Many African bishops came forward in their defense, including Saint Augustine; however, on September 12, 413, Marcellinus was beheaded by order of Marinus.

Lessons

We can see how rumors and lies can lead to such evil. The hatred the Donatists had for Marcellinus and Apringius caused them to bear false testimony against them, resulting in their death. God can bring good out of all situations. Marcellinus lost his life but gained the crown of martyrdom.

Prayer

Dear Father in heaven, the worst event in the world was the crucifixion of Jesus yet You brought redemption to mankind through this horrible deed. Saint Marcellinus also suffered a similar fate at the hands of his enemies, but through Your promise of eternal life, we know that he now lives in glory with You forever. Thank you, Father, for your love and mercy. Amen.

Repentance and Cleaning House

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 04:00

I am the father of three children four and under. It is always startling to me, though it shouldn’t be at this stage, how quickly things can spin out of control. A perfectly clean house that took a great deal of effort to tidy up can nearly instantly be destroyed by our children with hardly any effort at all.

Cheerios crunch under my feet as I gaze in stupefied awe at the explosion of food under our one-year old’s high chair. Pieces of Mr. Potato Head are unearthed in my sock drawer. Beds that were neatly made a moment ago are suddenly a tangled mess of blankets and sheets in no time at all. I could go on and on.

It is as if a tornado sweeps through our home on a daily basis. It is the law of entropy experienced in all its brutal and chaotic reality.

Yet, my wife and I both tend to crave order and neatness. We’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to just ignore it and let go. Maybe someday we’ll succeed. But for now we can’t. Each day, the house is nearly destroyed, and each day we begin again the futile task of picking up, wiping down, vacuuming, sweeping, emptying, and organizing. It is a process that will never end—at least, as long as we have children in the house.

Cleaning Your Spiritual House

We are in the midst of the season of Lent, and recently, it struck me how similar our spiritual struggle is to keeping an orderly house. Often, we compare the spiritual life to heroic things like warfare and wrestling and endurance racing. But maybe taking out the trash is a more down to earth comparison.

At any rate, I’ve noticed that, just as a clean house quickly descends into disorder and must be constantly cleaned, so also our souls need constant care and upkeep. We must always be beginning to put them in order again.

We must do this because there is a spiritual law of entropy called sin. We are constantly being pulled away from God by our sinful passions. They literally make war against us, and left unchecked, hinder our journey to our Creator. Our sinful nature—what scripture refers to as the flesh or the old man— acts like gravity that keeps us from ascending to our Father. St. Paul once described sin as a “weight,” and it is an apt metaphor.

Because of our brokenness, there is no such thing as a holding pattern in the spiritual life. The minute you cease advancing, you begin to lose ground. The moment you relax your guard, you will fall back. This side of heaven, we will never truly be free of this reality.

Begin Again

There are days when our children have made such a mess of things that cleaning up seems a hopeless task. My wife and I look at each other and don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, we begin again.

Likewise, in the spiritual life, there are moments when we feel hopeless. Like all our struggling is in vain. We are tempted to give up, thrown in the towel, and take the easy road. But the end of this way is death.

In this life, holiness is found in beginning again and again. It is constant examination and conversion and regeneration of heart. Holiness if found in repentance. And repentance is not merely feeling sorry that you sinned. It is rather a re-turning to God—a thousand times a day if necessary.

If we desire a clean house, we can never stop cleaning. If we desire a pure heart, we must never cease the struggle of conversion and repentance. This is the Christian life. Begin again.

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

Tears and Prayer

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 02:35
Tears and Prayer

It is said that after his conversion, Saint Ignatius could not stop weeping. He shed tears all the time. This is so much the case that only through the gift of tears do we really understand the spiritual exercises that he proposed. Saint Teresa of Ávila also recommends this way of tears. In them is found a mysterious consolation that only God’s presence can give.

For great mystics like Saint Teresa of Ávila or Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the heart-piercing awareness of the Lord’s presence that they sought by faith often caused them to weep — both exteriorly and interiorly. Prayer rooted in conversatio morum [ongoing dialogue with God that takes up our whole existence, our judgments, dreams and behaviors] is always open to these tears. In their case, this holy sorrow helped them pray and to grow in virtue because it is a sorrow informed by love and gratitude.

Pondering Christ’s Incarnation and work of redemption against her own indifference, Saint Teresa would wash her memory with hope. As she learned to invoke the Holy Spirit in the midst of difficult spiritual struggles, her heart was pierced by love, and she was freed from attachments that held her back. At the end of each day, she would spend an hour weeping with Jesus in the Agony of the Garden before falling asleep.

The most difficult obstacle to this kind of prayer is our own distracted minds. We have filled our imagination with impure images, and we have entertained whole ways of thinking that are opposed to the tenderness that deep prayer requires. A kind of sluggish indifference can pull at us when we try to pray. At the same time, if we make the decision to turn our attention to holy things with love, God’s gentle power is brought to bear in surprising ways. All it takes on our part is determination and perseverance in prayer.

When the thought of Christ evokes tears, whether physical or spiritual, the virtues of our spiritual life grow. Tears of compunction are like water for the garden of our heart. Compunction, in fact, means to be pierced to the heart. These tears, whether physical or spiritual, make the virtues of our spiritual life grow and flourish. Teresa of Ávila described this kind of devotion as water for the flower garden of our hearts, the place where Christian virtues are meant to flourish.

Devotion is not the external fulfillment of religious obligations. One can be self-consciously devout in appearance but lack devotion of heart. Looking and sounding spiritual is easy. Being spiritual requires the hard work of actual and ongoing surrender of one’s heart to God. In fact, it is possible to be very observant of one’s religious obligations but not actually be devout at all.

Devotion is commitment to be sincere and vulnerable to God interiorly, in season and out of season. It cannot be seen or measured from the outside, but everyone is drawn to its sincerity and attracted by its integrity. Without this decision of the heart for the Lord, our religious observances can easily become blasphemous acts of self-delusion. With this interior disposition, one possesses a powerful tool to combat hypocrisy and backsliding.

This dedication of heart chooses the Lord as the ultimate priority of one’s life under which every other priority and concern must fall. This choice is not on the level of wishful thinking or vague intention. It plays out in an immediate readiness to respond completely and hold nothing back.

Devotion has this note of immediate generosity because it is immediately aware of how devoted the Lord is to each one of us. It does not try to prove itself or gain divine approval. It has, instead, the character of tender mutuality between God and the soul. Beholding the intensity of God’s love, the attentiveness of devotion yearns to provide some token of gratitude in the here and now.

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This article is from a chapter in Fire from Above, which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on tears and prayer: Detail of Ignatius of Loyola adoring Jesus. Painting in the left nave of the church of San Pietro Martire (Peter of Verona) at Murano (Venice, Italy), picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, July 16, 2008, license for any purpose provided copyright holder is properly attributed, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Fire from Above, used with permission.

About Charlie McKinney

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


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

82. The Taste of Love (Matthew 26:17-35)

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 02:30

“I am the same under each of the species, but not every soul receives me with the same living faith as you do, my daughter, and therefore I cannot act in their souls as I do in yours.” Words of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska

Matthew 26:17-35:  Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover. When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. ‘Take it and eat;’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them. ‘Drink all of you from this,’ he said ‘for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.’

After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all lose faith in me this night, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered, but after my Resurrection, I shall go before you to Galilee’. At this, Peter said, ‘Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith’. Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you solemnly, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times’. Peter said to him, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you’. And all the disciples said the same.

CHRIST THE LORD Jesus alters the ritual of the Passover meal, which had been established by God himself through the ministry of Moses. In doing so, he confirms yet again his claim to be the Messiah (evident as well in his continued use of the Messiah’s prophetic title, Son of Man), and by doing so in his own name, he reiterates his claim to be the Son of God. These changes shed light on just what kind of a King he is.

The unleavened bread, which commemorated the Israelites’ rushed departure from Egypt (they were hurrying too much to have time to bake leavened bread), and the cup (the third ceremonial glass of wine, which commemorated past blessings, was drunk right after eating the sacrificial lamb, and preceded a long prayer of thanksgiving) become Christ’s body and blood, which are given up for the forgiveness of sins (as the blood of animal sacrifices was poured out at the foot of the altar to atone for sins in the Old Covenant). He also cuts the meal short. He declares he will not drink of the fruit of the vine again until he has entered into his kingdom, even though normally a fourth cup was drunk at the end of the Passover supper, in anticipation of the future fulfillment of all God’s Old Testament promises.

Jesus thus turns this religious meal into an unbloody sacrifice that points towards the bloody sacrifice he will soon make on Calvary. In so doing, he accrues to himself the roles of priest (he offers the sacrifice) and victim (his Body and Blood are offered). And by inviting his twelve Apostles to participate in the sacrifice and receive its benefits, he shows that his Kingship will be exercised in the total surrender of himself for the good of his subjects. Not only will his sacrifice wipe away their sins, but it will also elevate them to become, through Holy Communion, sharers in his royal and divine nature: if we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will have his everlasting life within us.

Christ is the one Lord of history, and the only Lord in history to share his royal inheritance with all his people.

CHRIST THE TEACHER We are accustomed to this sharing of natures that Jesus enacts through the Eucharist, but its sharp departure from Jewish custom would have astonished the Twelve. The Mosaic and Levitical Law prohibited all Jews from drinking the blood of their sacrifices, or even eating any meat with the blood still in it. In blood, they believed, was life, and all life belonged to God – it’s off limits for men. So when Jesus commands them to take the cup of his blood and drink from it, the concept would have shocked them.

And yet, that Old Testament command had its purpose. Pagan religions had no prohibition against the consumption of blood. Pagans were accustomed to consuming bloody meat and bloody sacrifices. Just as they worshiped idols, creatures that were considered divine, so they believed they could enter into communion with the divine through the consumption of those creatures’ blood. But the Jews were protected from such practices. They knew they had been created in God’s image, and that there was only one God, Creator of all things. And so, when Jesus proclaims a new covenant in his name – something only God could do – and then commands his followers to consume his precious Blood in the Eucharist, the Apostles would have gotten the message: the divine life of Christ was about to start flowing in their veins; the pagan sham is giving way to the real thing. The first time in their lives that they consumed blood of any kind was when they received their first Holy Communion.

How fitting it was that God had prepared so carefully, through the Mosaic customs, the men who first consumed Christ’s Body and Blood! It teaches us the reverence and gratitude with which we ought to treat this most Blessed Sacrament.

CHRIST THE FRIEND When Jesus and his disciples celebrate this first Eucharist, the New Covenant is established. In the biblical context, a covenant is a family bond, a mutual commitment that links two parties so that they become one thing. Marriage, for example, is a covenant. God’s promise to Abraham is a covenant. In establishing a New Covenant, Jesus abrogates the Mosaic Covenant, which was written on stone tablets, and fulfills Jeremiah’s prophecy that after Israel’s infidelity to the Old Covenant, God would make a new one, deeper, everlasting, and it would be written in his people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:31).

How curious it is that St Matthew locates the establishment of this everlasting covenant right between two predictions of betrayal, Judas’ and Peter’s. Jesus is willing to commit himself to us, body and soul, to offer us his undying fidelity, even knowing that we will betray him. When he predicts the betrayals, we can hear the sadness in his voice; dipping into the same dish was a sign of close friendship, and that is how he describes his betrayer, as someone close to him, trusted by him. And yet, he wants his disciples to realize that he knows what will happen so that later they will reflect on it, seeing that he loves them no matter what, even knowing their weakness. He wants to remove even the last speck of doubt from our hearts: in Christ, we have found an undying, untiring love, the firmest of anchors in the stormy sea of life.

CHRIST IN MY LIFE

  • Will I abandon you too, Lord? You know that I already have. So many times I have failed to trust you, I have ignored your voice speaking in the depths of my soul. I am weak, Lord, and I am inconstant. Be my rock; be my shield! With the fortitude of your heart, strengthen my heart…
  • Your generosity humbles me, Lord! Do I deserve the great gift you give me in the Eucharist? Do I deserve the forgiveness you offer me, even before I am aware of all my sins? Do I deserve your friendship, which you promise never to take back, even if I betray you? Do I deserve to be permitted just to speak your holy name, the name which says everything? Jesus: God saves. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me…
  • I cannot receive you in the Sacrament right now, but at least come into my heart” Come to me, my Lord, and make me like you. You give without counting the cost. You love and forgive without ever demanding your rights. I am so slow to give, to forgive. But I know that with you I can do all things. Jesus, I trust in you…

Editor’s Note: This post is the first of nine posts on this coming Sunday’s Passion Gospel reading.  Part two can be found by clicking here.

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

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Art for this post on Matthew 26:17-35: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Last Supper, Semen Afanasyevich Zhivago, 1845, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less. 

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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


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

88. Mocking the King (Matthew 27:27-44)

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 02:24

“None must be ashamed of the cross of Christ, by which he redeemed the world. None must fear to suffer for righteousness’ sake. None must doubt that God will fulfill his promises. For through toil comes rest; through death comes life.” Pope St. Leo the Great

Matthew 27:27-44 The governor’s soldiers took Jesus with them into the Praetorium and collected the whole cohort round him. Then they stripped him and made him wear a scarlet cloak, and having twisted some thorns into a crown they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand. To make fun of him they knelt to him saying, Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucify him. On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, Simon by name, and enlisted him to carry his cross. When they had reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place of the skull, they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink. When they had finished crucifying him they shared out his clothing by casting lots, and then sat down and stayed there keeping guard over him. Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews’. At the same time, two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said, So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself! If you are God’s son, come down from the cross!’ The chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him in the same way. He saved others;’ they said he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He puts his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, I am the son of God.’ Even the robbers who were crucified with him taunted him in the same way.

Christ the Lord Even in the midst of mockery and scorn, Christ’s Lordship is proclaimed. Three times in this brief passage St Matthew shows Jesus being called a King, and twice he is called the Son of God. It is public proclamation, posted high on the cross for all to see. It comes from Jews and Gentiles alike. They pronounced it as a taunt and jeer, but they pronounced it all the same. And lest we miss it, the pronunciation is even emphasized by the soldiers, who crown him, robe him, and put a scepter in his hand. Here we see our King enthroned on the throne of his choice, the cross, and what kind of King he really is, becomes clear.

  • First of all, his Kingdom is in this world, but not of this world. Until the end of time, conflict will continue to rage between the community of fallen, sin-infected men and the community of those who truly love God. Christ’s faithful followers will always taste this same mockery and violence at the hands of Christ’s enemies.
  • Secondly, this King conquers by the beauty of his virtue, not the splendor of his might. The One who had the power to destroy his enemies lets his enemies destroy him instead, and, in the process, he exhibits every virtue to the highest degree: patience, mercy, temperance, fortitude, humility, and above all, love. He loves God his Father enough to suffer unspeakable torments out of obedience, finally untying Adam’s knot of disobedience; he loves sinners enough to take the consequences of their sins upon his own body and soul, siphoning off their just desserts. Other kings conquer through self-assertion; Christ conquers through self-oblation.

If the King is like that, so too must the Kingdom, with all its subjects following his lead, up to Calvary and onto the Cross.

Christ the Teacher Unwittingly, the chief priests expose their own tragic blindness. As they deride and flout their Savior, they voice the very words of Psalm 22, a psalm that prophesied the crucifixion, one that Jesus himself would quote before he died. Verse 8 of Psalm 22 reads: “He trusted himself to Yahweh, let Yahweh set him free!…” A phrase more than merely reminiscent of what St. Matthew puts in the tormenters’ mouths as Jesus hangs there: “He has put his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him”

Among all the fulfilled prophecies that Matthew points out, perhaps this one contains the most poignant lesson. See Jesus hanging on the cross, seemingly abandoned by God, his life an apparent disaster. If he does what his enemies invite him to do, come down from the cross, show some supernatural pizzazz, he would have everyone cowering at his feet. But his Father’s will, God’s plan, is different. Jesus sticks to that plan. Contrary to all merely human logic, the all-powerful Creator allows his own weak creatures to crucify his Son. And yet, that event, the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which so blatantly defied human logic, that event becomes the fulcrum and foundation of all of human history. Jesus trusts against all odds, unconditionally and till the end, and his trust is not betrayed.

We who are wounded by our sins and the sins of others put limits on our trust, even our trust in God. So Christ trusts in our place, and in so doing teaches us that we ought to put no limits on our trust in God.

When our self-love cries out against the discomfort of God’s will and the pain of the cross, we need to lift our gaze to Christ crucified. He put his trust in God, and God showed himself worthy; if we do the same, he will surely do so again.

Christ the Friend St. Matthew seems to be particularly shocked by the universality of the scorn Jesus receives. The soldiers, the chief priests, the passers-by, and even the other criminals being crucified all join together in jeering at the Lord. Only one person in the passage doesn’t: Simon of Cyrene. Of all the participants in this dark drama, Simon was closest to Christ throughout. He helped him carry the cross. And Simon doesn’t mock.

Jesus makes himself weak for a reason. He takes on human nature in order to need us. To be human means to be dependent on others. This is how we’re made. From the moment of conception to the moment of death each of us is dependant, directly or indirectly, on a huge number of other people. When Jesus becomes man, he becomes fully man. As he makes his way to Calvary, weakened, exhausted, almost half-dead already after his violent arrest, night imprisonment, trials, and scourging, he in his true humanity needs help to bring his mission to a close. Simon supplies it. Perhaps that’s why Simon doesn’t mock him. He is close enough to experience Christ’s presence, overflowing not with anger and hatred and desperation, but with acceptance and forgiveness and determination. In helping Christ accomplish his mission, he entered into a relationship, a friendship, with the Lord.

Jesus took that same humanity with him into heaven on the day of his Ascension; he rules the universe in his glorified humanity. That means he still needs help to fulfill his mission; he is still dependent, like all men. If we shoulder our corner of his cross sincerely, even if at times reluctantly, we will never fall into mocking him, and he will surely give us the incomparable gift of his unique friendship.

Christ in My Life

  • Nothing men do to you will change your Kingship. You are the King, the Lord of life and history. I believe in you, my Lord, and I want to follow you, to know you, to defend and extend your Kingdom. I know that if they persecuted and humiliated and misunderstood you, they will do the same with your followers. I am willing, Lord. Thy Kingdom come…
  • You have identified yourself with every person. When I insult my neighbor, I insult you; when I judge and condemn my neighbor, I judge and condemn you; when I merely use and fail to love my neighbor, I am treating you as these soldiers did. Don’t let me, Lord; teach me to love all people as you do…
  • Mary, Christ’s flesh, torn by the scourging, ripped by the crown of thorns, pierced by the nails, was your flesh. He took it from you, as we all take our flesh from our mothers. And so you ached with every wound. But you trusted in God, as Jesus did. Teach me to suffer with love, so as to conquer the death of sin with eternal life…

Editor’s Note: This post is the seventh of nine posts on this coming Sunday’s Passion Gospel reading.  Part six can be found by clicking here. Part eight can be found by clicking here.

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

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Art for this post on Matthew 27:27-44: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Crucifixion of Christ, Jacopo Tintoretto, 1568;  Christ carrying the cross [Simon of Cyrene helping], Titian, circa 1560, both PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, both Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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


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

Could Solitude Ease the Pain of Loneliness?

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:07

Is it true that, as St. Teresa of Calcutta once said, the greatest poverty is that of loneliness? As I peer into my own heart and listen as others share their hearts with me, I believe it is. We are more inundated with “social” ways to interact with others instantaneously through Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat. But as we’ve become digitally connected, we’ve also distanced ourselves from authentic relationships. And this, sadly, has led to great depths of loneliness.

When I was a college undergrad, I took a theology course that was required for my religious studies minor. I’ll never forget my professor stating, “There is a great difference between being alone and feeling lonely.” I pondered that for a bit and realized that solitude and loneliness aren’t the same; one can be surrounded by people and still feel isolated and ostracized. At the same time, a person can enter into that sacred silence of solitude and be at peace within.

It seems, too, that solitude is actually the cure for loneliness. But too often many of us fill the painful chasm of loneliness with more distractions. We escape from reality through our digital connections, tuning out our feelings through vegging in front of the television, or otherwise cluttering our minds and souls with external noise. Entering into solitude is truly a discipline for us in this post-Christian era in which we live. It’s as if we must force ourselves to go away for a time, as Jesus did in the desert, so that we can enter into the mystery and beauty that solitude affords us.

True solitude is where we encounter God. He often speaks to us in whispers or other subtleties, not in the boisterous and flagrant actions that we seek. We long for the signs and wonders of the Old Testament – tangible, obvious ways God manifested His presence to His people. Solitude, however, is an invitation to encounter God in a profound way, which is by way of listening with the heart.

Every time I wake up early enough to read Scripture and listen to God’s voice speak to my heart, I am amazed at the interior peace that remains in me throughout the day. I am not as restless, frantic, or frustrated. There is a serenity that sweeps over me through the movement of the Holy Spirit when I choose to rest in Him – in the quiet space, without distractions or diversions. I’ve come to realize that God only fills me with Himself when I am empty of all else that attempts to allay the restlessness of loneliness.

Loneliness is really a symptom of disengagement. We are a people called to live in and among others, in community. When we isolate ourselves, or when others disengage from meaningful relationships with us, loneliness results. And in that ache, there is a sorrow that cannot be filled with superficial, peripheral things.

For the soul that longs even more deeply for union with God, not even human relationships satisfy this loneliness. Yet we falsely believe that we must busy ourselves, not quiet our minds and hearts, in order to reach God, who waits for us in silence.

Maybe solitude is so difficult for us, because we are afraid of what we might have to face in the silence. We are terrified of facing ourselves – our wounds, weaknesses, fears, sins. We know somehow that silence reflects reality to us, especially when we are intentional about connecting in authentic relationship with God through the silence.

And that’s likely why we are also uncomfortable sharing silence with another person. Somehow we have been conditioned to fill silence with anything – noise, laughter, idle chatter, etc. If we are talking, we don’t have to deal with the possibility of real connection that often happens when we are vulnerable with another person.

Solitude, then, is the antidote for loneliness, because it is an invitation to vulnerability with God. The times when I am able to freely let go of my façade of strength and simply weep to the Lord are the times when I know He is healing me through the wound I have given Him. These moments may be fleeting, but in them, I am uplifted through His love. I share my heart to Him without pretense or rote prayer. All that is said and all that is heard results from an openness and desire to know and love Him more – and for me to become more than I am today.

It seems that when we learn to be vulnerable with God and allow Him to heal our brokenness through the gift of vulnerability, then we are more equipped to accompany others in their own journeys of suffering and pain. No longer is silence shared between friends an uncomfortable space to fill. No longer do we wince and writhe when someone begins to open up to us about incredibly shameful or deeply painful aspects of their lives.

We open ourselves to grace through solitude, and once we encounter God there, He leads us back into genuine community, authentic relationships. This is how we live our call to be disciples of Jesus. It’s not in the grandiose affairs we imagine, nor in the aspirations of material success. It is in the one-on-one moments of encounter that profoundly change someone’s life. One conversation, one word of inspiration and encouragement, is often sufficient to transform someone’s soul, to touch their hearts in a healing manner, and to grant them permission to enter their own solitude with God, so that they can do the same for others.

We seldom realize that the ordinary responses we give to others are really powerful messages of interior growth and healing. When we live in the Spirit and draw our strength from Him every day through solitude, we find that we are no longer filling the void of loneliness and estrangement from the world. Instead, God is filling our cups so that we might do the same for others, and we are at last fulfilled.

You might be the gateway to someone’s salvation. Never underestimate the gift you are to others, even in your experiences of brokenness and loneliness. Begin with silence and enter into the solitude where God awaits you. It is there you will discover that God works through simplicity, through you.

image: Dmitry Kovba / Shutterstock.com

Feeling Abandoned by Jesus? Think Again

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:05

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I can never forget that Sunday evening after Mass in our parish in Boston. I was a seminarian then and I was locking up the Church after evening Mass when I saw it: A white Communion host on the pew of the Church. Obviously, someone had received Holy Communion during Mass and then somehow left our Eucharistic Savior on the pew and walked away.

It was a painful reminder of how much risk Jesus has taken to become one like us and then to give Himself to us in Holy Communion. Many would reject Him and would not believe in His Real Presence. Many will question His ability to give Himself to us in such humble conditions. Many would stay away from the Eucharist because, in their opinion, they are not getting anything out of the Mass. Many would stay away because they think that they are not worthy to receive Him. Many would receive Him in Communion and then abandon Him in the pew. Many will make sacrilegious Communions and receive Him with little or no repentance for their sins. Our Eucharistic Savior never abandons us and nothing stops Him from coming to give us life.

In today’s Gospel passage, Lazarus’ two sisters seemed to have memorized the same song of lament, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” They must have rehearsed and internalized those words at their moment of grief, just waiting to say it to Jesus. It was an endless mantra, a cry that accused Jesus of abandoning them at the moment of their brother’s sickness when they had sent Him a desperate message, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”

Little did they realize that Jesus could never abandon anyone, much lest His friends. If only they realized the great risk that Jesus took to come and visit them at their moment of grief. His disciples thought that He was out of His mind when He spoke about leaving His safe haven in Galilee to return to Judea and risk being stoned to death by the irate Jews. They had responded in disbelieve, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” But nothing will deter Jesus from going to console his friends and to raise His friend Lazarus.

Despite Jesus’ deep love for Lazarus and His knowledge that Lazarus was dying, Jesus had remained where He was for two days because Jesus never does anything to please Himself but to please the Father no matter the pains that it would cause Jesus or others, “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to Him.”(Jn 8:30) This is why Jesus responds to the news of Lazarus’ sickness with these words, “This sickness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

To stay behind two more days when He had the power to heal Lazarus by a word of His command, to let His friend Lazarus die when He could easily have prevented it, to see Martha and Mary weep at the death of Lazarus when He could have prevented those tears – all these were painful for Jesus and He showed it by His deep tears at the grave of Lazarus, “And Jesus wept.” These are the tears of One who never abandons His own but who gives them life just as the Father wills that He should, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wills.”(Jn 5:21) Jesus assures that He would never abandon His own even in the grave, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whoever believes in me, even if He dies, will live.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if Jesus never abandons His friends even in death, He will surely never abandon us who are now children of God because we have the Spirit of God in us. We are more than just friends of Jesus now; we are now children of God like Jesus, co-heirs with Him of His Father’s unfailing love, by the Spirit of adoption that we receive at Baptism.

St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading of the privilege and responsibility of having the Spirit of Jesus in us. First, by possessing the Spirit of God in us, we belong to God as His own children, “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” Secondly, we are delivered from living “according to the flesh,” seeking always to please ourselves without any regard for the glory of God. Like Jesus, possessing the Spirit, we too can do and endure all things so as to please God and not just to please ourselves, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Lastly, we have the guarantee and divine assurance of future Resurrection i.e. God will not abandon His own people, even in the grave, “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through His Spirit dwelling in you.” We share with Jesus that assurance that, as the Father did not abandon Him in His suffering and death, He will surely never abandon us too in life and in death.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if Christ Jesus will not abandon us, in life and in death, even in the grave, then He will never abandon us even in our sins, trials, and sufferings. We only need to ask ourselves if we are living as God’s children today, seeking to please our loving Father in all that we think, say and do simply because we are His children. Jesus will never abandon us and it is not because of any good that we have done but simply because we have dwelling in us that Spirit that Christ merited for us by His passion, death and Resurrection.

On a practical level, one clear sign that we are living as God’s beloved children is that we are not slaves to fears in this life. Whether it is the fear of losing a loved one, the fear of losing our job, the fear of being abandoned and rejected, the fear of losing our health and strengths, the fear of ridicule, etc., when we live as God’s children by the power of the Holy Spirit, we do not fear anything, not even death, because we know that God will never abandon us, even in death.

Our divine guarantee that we will not be abandoned is renewed and made effective in every Eucharist where Jesus repeatedly pours His Spirit into our souls and assures of His continued abiding presence with us in life and in death. As we face life’s hurts and pains, losses and sorrows, there is no need to lament saying, “Lord, if only you were here.” He is with us always, risking everything just to give us His life even in our pains and moments of darkness. Let us be certain today that if we never abandon Jesus, if we continue to live as God’s own children, seeking to please the Father in all things and not ourselves by the power of His Spirit, Jesus will never abandon us but will surely risk all just to give us life, even from the grave.

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

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.