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Authority Under Authority

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 22:05

All of us are under authority. Most of us have some authority. Many of us have problems with authority.

A mother says to her son, “Go.”

And the son says, “Send my brother instead. He’s not doing anything.”

A priest says to his parishioners, “Come.”

And they say, “Maybe we’ll come next time. We’re too busy at the moment.”

A manager says to his worker, “Do this.”

And the worker says, “Do it yourself.”

Maybe the worker gets fired for this, but it feels really good for a minute. Many of us would like to say something like that to our boss, because many of us have problems with authority.

Of course, maybe the parent or the priest or the boss is an autocratic tyrant. That’s another kind of problem with authority – a failure of the authority to recognize that they are also under authority. There’s an important distinction between being authoritative and being authoritarian.

Our society is so given over to democratic ideas, we may be particularly bad at understanding and accepting authority – other than our own authority over our own selves. Nobody else better tell me what to do, we think. We forget – some of us – that heaven is a kingdom. And that Jesus Christ is King – not president – of every nation. Poland actually crowned Jesus as the king of Poland last year. Make of that what you will. But the government of God is not by the consent of the people – the δῆμος. Whether or not you have voted for Jesus Christ, he is your king. His authority over you and me is real and essential.

You see, real authority comes from above – from God – not from below – neither from the δῆμος or the demonic. But both people and demons seek to imitate authority – to seize power that is not theirs but truthfully is God’s, to assert their own will upon others instead of submitting to the will of God.

Well, the centurion in Capernaum has something to teach us about authority – both about leadership and obedience (Matt 8:5-13). He lived and worked in a framework of authority – a chain of command – that helped him to understand the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word, who can heal the servant by his word.

A centurion in the Roman army was a person who had command of a century, which sounds like it would be a hundred soldiers but was usually around eighty. But he was also under authority. He was in the midst of a chain of command – both one to give orders and one to follow them. Maybe he can help us with our problems with authority.

He says to Jesus, “I also am a man under authority,” and, he says, “[There are] soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt 8:9). Such crisp obedience he speaks of. How alien to us! The centurion is a witness for us of both leadership and obedience.

Firstly, unlike autocrats, who are concerned first of all always with themselves – always with maintaining their own authority over others – the centurion, who bears his authority well, is concerned first of all for the welfare of those under him. This is to be the priority for those who lead.

The centurion’s servant “was dear to him,” according to Luke (7:2). He comes to Jesus full of concern and solicitude for his servant. He comes to Jesus and beseeches him – “with grief,” as St. Rabanus puts it – and says, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home in terrible distress.” And he says, “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” He seeks what is good for his servant: healing from the true healer. He treats his servant with compassion. As St. Rabanus says, “In like manner, ought all to feel for their servants and to take thought for them.”

We can see easily enough, I hope, how good and appropriate it is for a leader to take care of those under his authority in this way. What we might miss if we don’t understand the historical-cultural context of this passage is how counterculturally the centurion is behaving.

He comes to Jesus about his “servant.” The word used for “servant” here is “παῖς.” Now, a παῖς is a boy – rather like a garçon. But the word connotes more than that. The next entry in the lexicon is παίω, which means to strike or to smite – to hit as if by a single blow with the fist. Now, these words are likely related because a παῖς is a boy whom you may beat with impunity – a punching bag, a whipping boy. A παῖς is really a more a kind of slave than what we would think of as a servant. In fact, in Luke’s version of the story, he’s called a δοῦλος – a slave (Luke 7:2-10).

You wouldn’t want to be a slave under Roman law. It was chattel slavery. It was almost – though not quite – as bad as American slavery. It was even permitted – and thought in some cases economically well-advised – to work your slaves to death, rather than wasting resources on feeding them and housing them.

But this is not how the centurion treats his servant. Even in defiance of his own culture, he cares for those over whom he has authority. A real leader must not succumb to the social and cultural pressures all around him to do other than what is best and right for those whom he leads.

The centurion does not seek the best way to use others for his own purposes and ends and goods, but seeks their own good with humility – admitting to the Lord that he is not worthy that the Lord should enter under his roof (Matt 8:8).

He is not first of all concerned with self-promotion or causing others to recognize his authority. He is concerned first of all with helping one under him who is suffering, and he does this by honoring the authority of someone else – namely, the authority of Jesus Christ over all things and his power to heal all sicknesses.

The centurion recognizes the real authority of Jesus Christ. He is intimately familiar with the workings of authority in ways that we – in our more democratic age – may not be. He even kind of identifies himself with Jesus. Pseudo-Chrysostom says that the centurion “clearly” does not draw a “distinction,” but points “to a resemblance… between himself and Christ.” Listen to the way he says to Jesus, “I also am under authority.”

What authority is Jesus under? Pseudo-Chrysostom says he is “under the command of the Father, in so far as [he is] man, yet [he has] power over the Angels.”

Then, it’s as if the centurion goes on to intimate, “I also wield authority. As one who has authority, I recognize that you have authority, too. I give commands and my soldiers obey. You, O Lord, give commands and the whole cosmos obeys. You order all creation by your word. Your authority is the source of all authority. Only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  This is the absolute authority of Christ. What he says is so. Just like that. If he says, “Let it be,” then it is.

Let’s consider the authority of Christ for a moment. Authority – ἐξουσία – means literally that which comes out of essence or being. And Christ himself is the being one – ὁ ὤν – the one who is – the very God and ground of all being who reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush. When truth himself and the author of truth speaks, it is clear enough he speaks with authority. And, more than this, he is the ground of all authority that exists. We may covet power, authority over others, control of others, but unless the authority is given by Christ, it is no authority at all but only an illusion of authority.

And, if we have indeed been given authority, we must always remember, like the centurion, and even in some ways like Jesus, that we are also under authority. Leaders actually function in a long line of authorities responsible for guiding and protecting others. And the Lord – the true and highest authority – will hold leaders accountable for how they exercise their power.

Drawing on his experience in a chain of command, the centurion was able to see and understand the spiritual workings of authority in the Kingdom of Heaven so well that Jesus says of him, “not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Let us share his faith and wield our God-given authority as he does – with humility, with obedience to all who truly have authority over us, with awareness of Christ’s absolute authority, and with care, concern, and love for those we lead.

God’s Great Love For Us

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 22:02

One of the principal reasons why we commit sin is because we do not really understand the love that God has for each and every one of us. Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen defines love in these simple but profound words: Sin is hurting the one you love. This is a very personal definition. That is to say that sin is hurting and damaging your relationship with God, and maybe even rupturing it to the point of severing the relationship.

The primary question that each of us should ask ourselves in the depths of our hearts is this: do you really believe that God loves you personally, permanently, unreservedly, and infinitely? This brief essay is aimed at helping us to really be convinced of God’s infinite love for us. Consequently, it will be much easier when confronted with temptations to sin to reject them. And the reason is because I do not want to hurt God who loves me. In other words, serious sin is not simply breaking a commandment, but breaking the Heart of God!

How then do we know that God really loves us with an infinite love? The following are a few reasons.

1. Original Sin and the Incarnation 

A very consoling truth in the Catholic faith is that God allows evil so that He can bring greater good out of evil. Saint Paul asserts: “Where sin abounds, the grace of God abounds all the more.”(Rom 5:20) If you like, God can turn a tremendous tragedy into a glorious victory! One of the clearest and most penetrating manifestations of this truth is the reality of Original Sin and consequently the Incarnation.

God gave Adam and Eve freedom which they abused by committing Original Sin. However, God intervened by sending His only-begotten Son, Jesus, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary to save us. As we sing in the Easter Vigil Mass in the Exultet: O happy fault, O happy fault that brought us so great a Savior. Therefore, the Incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God made man, was done for you and me. How great God’s love is for us in that He sent Jesus to save us from the devil, slavery to sin, and eternal damnation.

2. The Life of Jesus as Model for All of Us

Another sign of God’s infinite love for us is the Person, Pattern and Model of perfection that Jesus is for all of us. As to living out the truth, we are not like blind men, or men living in caves, or a man running around like a chicken with his head cut off—far be the case from that! How we are to act, what we are to say, who we are called to become—all of these questions can be responded to in one word and that WORD is the Word of God, the LogosJesus the Lord! Our whole existence should be a constant study of the Person, life, words, and actions of Jesus. For us Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

3. The Passion, Suffering, and Death of Jesus

In the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in the 3rd Week of the month retreat, the topic for meditation or contemplation is the Passion, suffering, and death of Jesus. The retreatant is invited to enter into the very life of Jesus, to enter into the very Heart of Jesus, and to beg for the grace to suffer with Jesus—not an easy grace to beg for! Moreover, Saint Ignatius emphasizes this extraordinary truth: Jesus suffered all of His Passion for love of you! Indeed, if you were the only person in the whole created universe then Jesus would have gone through all the most excruciating pains and tortures for love of you.

His sweating blood, scourging, crowning with thorns, carrying of the cross and falling under its heavy weight, His crucifixion, prolonged agony on the cross those three hours, shedding every drop of His Precious Blood, His breathing forth His spirit into the hands of the Heavenly Father, and even the piercing of His Sacred Heart after He was already dead—all this and much more, all His intense and indescribable suffering, He went through because of His infinite love for you and your eternal salvation. Stop to meditate upon this profound truth and tell the Lord Jesus how thankful you are. Beg Jesus for the grace right now to truly love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength!

4. The Church and the Sacraments 

Jesus promised that He would not leave us orphans, but that He would send us the Consoler, the Paraclete, that is to say, the Holy Spirit. Still more, Jesus left us until the end of time His constant and perpetual presence in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

However, of supreme importance is the institution and reality of the greatest of all the Sacraments and that is the most Holy Eucharist.  Jesus loves us so much and continues to love us until the end of time and forever in heaven. On earth, this love is present to all who believe in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which the sublime fruit is the Eucharist which reaches its climax in the reception of Holy Communion. We must remind ourselves over and over again of the sublime and ineffable truth that Holy Communion is Jesus loving us!

Holy Communion is really and substantially Jesus in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Indeed, Jesus loves us so much that He wants to come and love in us, abide in us, be part of us. Jesus wants His Body to be part of our body. Jesus wants His Precious Blood to circulate and flow through our veins and enter into our very heart. Jesus wants His mind to be our mind; as Saint Paul says: “Put on the mind of Christ… you have the mind of Christ.” (1Cor 2:16) Jesus wants His very soul to enter into our soul, to sanctify and strengthen our soul. All of this truly becomes a reality every time we receive Holy Communion worthily, with faith, devotion, love, and a burning heart. How much Jesus really loves us in all times and in all places! Understanding the immense and personal love of Jesus through His Mystical Body the Church, and especially through the most sublime Sacrament of the Eucharist, motivates us to renounce sin when it is knocking at the door of our heart. We do not want to hurt a God who loves us so much!

5. Jesus’ Precious Gift to Us From the Cross

The love that Jesus has for you continues and will continue always and even into eternity! As He hung on the cross in painful agony and abandonment, Jesus gave to the whole world, but to you individually the great gift of His Mother to be your mother. The words of Jesus were addressed to you and to me: “Woman behold thy son, son behold thy Mother; from that moment the beloved disciple took Mary into his home.”(Jn 19: 26-27) Jesus loves you so much that from all eternity He willed to leave for your peace, joy, consolation, and love, the gift of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the person of Saint John, in giving Mary to him, Jesus was also giving Mary to be your tender, loving, meek and humble, and compassionate Mother. You can turn to Mary as your Mother in all times, places, circumstances, and contradictions of life. Mary is always present and willing to listen to you, console you, comfort you, and love you with the heart of the most loving of mothers.

Therefore, when temptation to sin knocks at the door of our hearts we should call to mind the Incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God made man; His life on earth; His Passion and death that He suffered for you and for me; the Church, especially the Eucharist, that He left us and by means of which He remains with us until the end of time; and lastly the gift of Mary as our loving Mother. Keenly convinced of these truths, we can more easily say NO to sin and YES to love and a deep friendship with Jesus, the faithful Friend who will never fail us!

When the teachers of the Law questioned

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 22:00

When the teachers of the Law questioned in their minds how Jesus could forgive sins, he asked them, “Why do you have such evil thoughts? Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Stand up and walk'”?

And before they could answer, to prove himself Jesus cured the paralyzed man, “Stand up! Take up your stretcher and go home.” And the man got up and went home.

Indeed we do make decisions on what to say: we choose what words to speak, what stories to tell, what details to stress. Approached for advice or opinion or when volunteering information, we would tell what we consider more favorable to ourselves and our image and reputation.

Like most everything in life, it is our choice. We may choose to “save face,” or to go with the more popular opinion or position or to honestly speak the truth, based on what we know and believe.

The paralyzed man was brought to Jesus to be cured, as he had cured so many others. Though Jesus knew this as his petition, Jesus wanted to give importance to a more important cure, a more important healing, of his relationships with God. So he began with this more important cure and lesson, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.”

Only after that, at the unexpressed query of the biased teachers of the Law, does he physically cure him, “Stand up! Take up your stretcher and go home.”

Both healings are miracles of God’s loving mercy: may we value the healing of the spirit more.

Holy Mass and blessing of the Pallium for the new Metropolitan Archbishops

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 22:00

Saint Peter’s Basilica
Thursday, 29 June 2017

The liturgy today offers us three words essential for the life of an apostle: confession, persecution and prayer.

Confession. Peter makes his confession of faith in the Gospel, when the Lord’s question turns from the general to the specific. At first, Jesus asks: “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” (Mt 16:13). The results of this “survey” show that Jesus is widely considered a prophet. Then the Master puts the decisive question to his disciples: “But you, who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). At this point, Peter alone replies: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). To confess the faith means this: to acknowledge in Jesus the long-awaited Messiah, the living God, the Lord of our lives.

Today Jesus puts this crucial question to us, to each of us, and particularly to those of us who are pastors. It is the decisive question. It does not allow for a non-committal answer, because it brings into play our entire life. The question of life demands a response of life. For it counts little to know the articles of faith if we do not confess Jesus as the Lord of our lives. Today he looks straight at us and asks, “Who am I for you?” As if to say: “Am I still the Lord of your life, the longing of your heart, the reason for your hope, the source of your unfailing trust?” Along with Saint Peter, we too renew today our life choice to be Jesus’ disciples and apostles. May we too pass from Jesus’ first question to his second, so as to be “his own” not merely in words, but in our actions and our very lives.

Let us ask ourselves if we are parlour Christians, who love to chat about how things are going in the Church and the world, or apostles on the go, who confess Jesus with their lives because they hold him in their hearts. Those who confess Jesus know that they are not simply to offer opinions but to offer their very lives. They know that they are not to believe half-heartedly but to “be on fire” with love. They know that they cannot just “tread water” or take the easy way out, but have to risk putting out into the deep, daily renewing their self-offering. Those who confess their faith in Jesus do as Peter and Paul did: they follow him to the end – not just part of the way, but to the very end. They also follow the Lord along his way, not our own ways. His way is that of new life, of joy and resurrection; it is also the way that passes through the cross and persecution.

Here, then, is the second word: persecution. Peter and Paul shed their blood for Christ, but the early community as a whole also experienced persecution, as the Book of Acts has reminded us (cf. 12:1). Today too, in various parts of the world, sometimes in silence – often a complicit silence – great numbers of Christians are marginalized, vilified, discriminated against, subjected to violence and even death, not infrequently without due intervention on the part of those who could defend their sacrosanct rights.

Here I would especially emphasize something that the Apostle Paul says before, in his words, “being poured out as a libation” (2 Tim 4:6). For him, to live was Christ (cf. Phil 1:21), Christ crucified (cf. 1 Cor 2:2), who gave his life for him (cf. Gal 2:20). As a faithful disciple, Paul thus followed the Master and offered his own life too. Apart from the cross, there is no Christ, but apart from the cross, there can be no Christian either. For “Christian virtue is not only a matter of doing good, but of tolerating evil as well” (Augustine, Serm. 46,13), even as Jesus did. Tolerating evil does not have to do simply with patience and resignation; it means imitating Jesus, carrying our burden, shouldering it for his sake and that of others. It means accepting the cross, pressing on in the confident knowledge that we are not alone: the crucified and risen Lord is at our side. So, with Paul, we can say that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken” (2 Cor 4:8-9).

Tolerating evil means overcoming it with Jesus, and in Jesus’ own way, which is not the way of the world. This is why Paul – as we heard – considered himself a victor about to receive his crown (cf. 2 Tim 4:8). He writes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7). The essence of his “good fight” was living for: he lived not for himself, but for Jesusand for others. He spent his life “running the race”, not holding back but giving his all. He tells us that there is only one thing that he “kept”: not his health, but his faith, his confession of Christ. Out of love, he experienced trials, humiliations and suffering, which are never to be sought but always accepted. In the mystery of suffering offered up in love, in this mystery, embodied in our own day by so many of our brothers and sisters who are persecuted, impoverished and infirm, the saving power of Jesus’ cross shines forth.

The third word is prayer. The life of an apostle, which flows from confession and becomes self-offering, is one of constant prayer. Prayer is the water needed to nurture hope and increase fidelity. Prayer makes us feel loved and it enables us to love in turn. It makes us press forward in moments of darkness because it brings God’s light. In the Church, it is prayer that sustains us and helps us to overcome difficulties. We see this too in the first reading: “Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church” (Acts 12:5). A Church that prays is watched over and cared for by the Lord. When we pray, we entrust our lives to him and to his loving care. Prayer is the power and strength that unite and sustain us, the remedy for the isolation and self-sufficiency that lead to spiritual death. The Spirit of life does not breathe unless we pray; without prayer, the interior prisons that hold us captive cannot be unlocked.

May the blessed Apostles obtain for us a heart like theirs, wearied yet at peace, thanks to prayer. Wearied, because constantly asking, knocking and interceding, weighed down by so many people and situations needing to be handed over to the Lord; yet also at peace, because the Holy Spirit brings consolation and strength when we pray. How urgent it is for the Church to have teachers of prayer, but even more so for us to be men and women of prayer, whose entire life is prayer!

The Lord answers our prayers. He is faithful to the love we have professed for him, and he stands beside us at times of trial. He accompanied the journey of the Apostles, and he will do the same for you, dear brother Cardinals, gathered here in the charity of the Apostles who confessed their faith by the shedding of their blood. He will remain close to you too, dear brother Archbishops who, in receiving the pallium, will be strengthened to spend your lives for the flock, imitating the Good Shepherd who bears you on his shoulders. May the same Lord, who longs to see his flock gathered together, also bless and protect the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, together with my dear brother Bartholomew, who has sent them here as a sign of our apostolic communion.

“Let us believe our Lord Jesus

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 22:00

“Let us believe our Lord Jesus Christ, who calls this rest His peace, a divine peace, which the world can neither give nor take away — a peace that we can never obtain by our own efforts because it is the gift of God and is His reward for the absolute and irrevocable gift of ourselves that we have made to Him.”

Fr. Jean Nicolas Grou, The Spiritual Life

Holy Communion Increases Sanctifying Graces

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 02:35
Holy Communion Increases Sanctifying Graces

The Eucharist, as a sacrament, produces in you an increase of habitual, or sanctifying, grace by its own power. Its effects are like those of food: it maintains, increases, and repairs your spiritual forces, causing also a joy that is not necessarily felt, yet it is real.

Holy Communion not only preserves the life of your soul, but increases it, just as the body is not only supported by means of natural food, but increases in strength.

Holy Communion also preserves and increases all the various virtues, which are bestowed upon your soul together with sanctify­ing grace. By increasing the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), Holy Communion enables you to enter into closer union with God, and by strengthening the moral virtues (prudence, tem­perance, justice, and fortitude), Holy Communion enables you to regulate better your whole attitude toward God, your neighbor, and yourself. By rendering the seven gifts and the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit more abundant, Holy Communion opens your understanding and will to the inspirations and promptings of the same Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit sanctifies souls by the supernatural gift of grace. The highest type of grace is sanctifying grace, which is a spiri­tual quality, dwelling in our soul, making it like God Himself. Our Lord spoke of the reception of this life as a spiritual birth when He said to Nicodemus, “Unless one is born anew, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Sanctifying grace is also called habitual grace, because once we have received it, it remains as a habit in our soul. Once it has been received, sanctifying grace remains in the soul unless it is driven out by mortal sin.

The Holy Spirit is the skillful gardener. The root of the vine is the sinful soul. Through grace the Spirit gives it His divine life so that it may blossom forth into virtues.

Before our Lord went forth to His Passion, He left to His Apostles and to us all a last testament in His parting discourse. When His bodily presence had to be taken from us, He earnestly and repeatedly enjoined, “Abide in me.”

The bond uniting Him and you can be only a spiritual one, yet it is something real and living, something enduring, not passing, and rooted in the very essence of your being. He used the signifi­cant parable of the vine and branches to illustrate: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.”

The stem and the branches are one same being, nourished and acting together, producing the same fruits because fed by the same sap. In the same way Jesus and the faithful are united in one Mysti­cal Body. He makes the sap of His grace to spring up within you, especially by means of Holy Communion, and thereby increases and develops the divine life of your soul.

Pope Pius XII in his encyclical letter on the Mystical Body of Christ says, “In the Holy Eucharist the faithful are nourished and strengthened at the same banquet and by a divine, ineffable bond are united with each other and with the Divine Head of the whole Body.” You will be able to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

To have sanctifying grace is the first, most essential, and abiding condition of union with Christ, and the basis of all gifts and powers that make up the spiritual life. This grace is a real, spiritual, and abiding faculty of your soul, a partaking in the divine nature and image of the divine Sonship in a spiritual manner, so that you become like Christ, who is the Son of God by nature. As long as sanctifying grace remains in you, He is and remains within you that you may be one in Him and in the Father, as They are one. “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us.” The Father and the Son are one by the possession of the same divine nature. You possess an image of that nature in sanctifying grace.

Surely you ought to be eager to go to Holy Communion often in order not to lose life everlasting. This is the greatest loss possi­ble, for the smallest degree of sanctifying grace is worth more than anything that the world can offer. Even the greatest earthly happi­ness is nothing in comparison with that of possessing sanctifying grace and eternal life in God. Look into your soul, for Heaven’s beginning is there in the form of grace.

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This article is from a chapter in The Basic Book of the Eucharist by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on sanctifying graces: Cover of The Basic Book of the Eucharist, used with permission. Detail of La [última] comunión de Santa Teresa (The (last) communion of Saint Teresa), Juan Martín Cabezalero, circa 1670, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Charlie McKinney

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

 

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

Deepen Your Friendship with God

Tue, 07/04/2017 - 22:07

The perfect life consists in the perfect correspondence to the will of God. He who came to teach us how to live said, “I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him that sent me”; “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work”; and St. Paul says of Him, “Even Christ pleased not himself.”

In the hour of His agony, His prayer was, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” He would not anticipate by a moment the appointed work of His life. “My hour is not yet come,” He said again and again; but when the hour had come for work or suffering, He never failed. From first to last, His life was the perfect correspondence with His Father’s will. His first word was: “Did you not know, that I must be about my Father’s business?” Almost His last was: “It is finished.”

Therefore, the more truly we desire to follow our Lord’s example and to attain perfection, the more deeply must this principle underlie all our plans and actions. As we lose sight of this, we are almost certain to get astray and set up false standards and unworthy aims.

But such a life involves great self-discipline and constant sacrifice; many an ambition has to be crushed, many an opening for plans that are much to our taste has to be abandoned. Any who would live such a life must have their nature well in hand and be living in close communion with God. It is an easy thing to say, “The perfect life is the perfect correspondence with the will of God,” but it is not easy to carry out in practice, for it is certain to lead us along a rough and difficult path where oftentimes our heart and strength will fail us. If it was so with the Master, we cannot be surprised that it should be the same with the servant.

This article is from “Spiritual Guidelines.” Click image to preview/order.

There are two things especially that any who would live this life will need. First, the ever-increasing knowledge of God’s will; and, secondly, the grace to correspond with it when it is known; first, light and secondly, grace — light for the mind, grace for the will. We may know God’s will for us well enough at any given moment and not have the strength to obey it, or we may at times earnestly desire to follow God’s will and yet not know it. We need both light and grace.

Now, so that we may attain these gifts, it is necessary to be living near God. It is impossible for us to turn suddenly from a distracted or careless life and to find ourselves at once illuminated and strengthened. The knowledge of God’s will is often most difficult to attain, even for those living very near Him; often those who love Him most and are most single-minded are left in doubt as to His purpose for them, and only by constant prayer and self-discipline do they gradually gain the knowledge.

Therefore, if we would not make grievous mistakes and per­haps make shipwreck of our lives, we must endeavor to keep near to God, to learn to know Him better, to understand the tokens of His will and the method of His dealings with us; in a word, to get on terms of loving and reverent friendship with Him.

But this can be done only by prayer. A prayerful life is almost certainly a life of conformity to the will of God; a prayerless life is quite certainly a life of self-will, in which imperfections and sins and the spirit of worldliness cloud the spiritual perception so that it is not even conscious of how far it is separated from God.

And yet, while prayer is the condition of knowing God, there is no practice of the spiritual life more difficult. To pray well, to grow in the knowledge of God, we must pray; and to be able to pray well, we have to learn how to pray, to live through, perhaps, many years in which we seem to gain little fruit and are often scarcely conscious of any progress.

And, moreover, each has practically to learn for himself how to pray. We may gain some encouragement, some little help from others, but the real secret of prayer we must learn for ourselves. How can anyone teach another the form of conversation with a friend? It grows, unfolds, develops of itself; it is intensely personal.

We may learn something from the experience of others as to where dangers lie, as to possible self-deception, the need of perseverance through times of darkness and coldness; but the inmost secret of prayer must be our own. It is the deepest expression of the soul’s personal relationship with God. It is, indeed, in one sense like, but in another unlike, the prayer of anyone else.

If God has given us any power in prayer, we shall find that it is impossible to communicate the secret of that power to anyone else; when we try to tell that, we fail. We may repeat the prayer that we say, and tell of some of the trials and struggles through which we have passed, but we cannot tell just that thing that gives the power and strength to our prayers, for, in fact, it is our relationship to God Himself; it is the expression of all that we mean by our spiritual life.

Yet there are certain dangers that are common to most people, and certain principles on which growth in the life of prayer must be based.

To many persons it seems, when first they begin in earnest the practice of prayer, that the best guide is their own devotion, that in spiritual matters system and rule crush out all spontaneity and life, and that often even the mere attitude of kneeling chills them and makes them formal. They find that they can pray better at work than on their knees, at irregular times of exceptional fervor than at stated times, and that consequently the best rule is to pray when they can pray best. Such persons have a proper dread of formalism, and it seems to them as if system and rule must degenerate into formalism if prayers are to be said at stated times whether there is any fervor of spirit or not. Yet such persons should remember:

  • As time goes on, those inspirations and times of fervor, unless carefully disciplined, become less frequent and intense, and at last probably die out altogether. They belong to the early years of spiritual youth; they are given to help the soul in those first arduous struggles with bad habits and sins of the past, but they pass away; they are not a necessary part of the saintly life; they are, moreover, full of imperfections, and those who depend on such states of mind for prayer will find that, as time goes on, they pray less, not more.
  • Everything is of value only insofar as it helps to form character. A person whose conversation with God depends mainly on the amount of emotional fervor he experiences will not have much strength of will or determination. The life of prayer cannot be built on anything so unreliable as feelings without being itself unreliable; it is built rather on acts of the will.

The religious character, therefore, is developed, and more is done for God by system and regularity than by all the fervor and excitement in the world. A great part of the discipline of faith is the holding on to God in darkness; one, therefore, who goes on regularly with prayer in coldness and deadness as faithfully as in times of the greatest fervor, thanking God when He makes His presence felt, but not laying too much stress on it, not gauging his progress by it, but believing that it is the will, fighting its way through darkness and almost the chill of death, that is accepted by God; such a person’s character is altogether a more religious one and a stronger one than the other, and moreover we shall find that he has a far deeper and truer knowledge of God. The effort to get nearer God when He seems far off awakens a longing and strengthens the will in a way that one whose prayers depend on emotion can never experience.

The religious character that is ruled by impulse is quite a different one from that which is governed by principle. God can reveal Himself in darkness as well as in light: we are told that “clouds and darkness are round about him” and that He “coverest himself with light as with a garment.” Those, therefore, who will not pray in darkness lose that special revelation that God gives through the darkness, and surely none who have persevered through such times can doubt that God revealed Himself to them then. When the darkness has passed, the soul will find what an increased knowledge and love of God it has gained.

  • Devotion is of two kinds, essential and accidental. The word devo­tion means “consecration,” which is an act of the will — offered, dedicated, devoted. Essential devotion, then, is devotion of the will offered to God and independent of any emotion. He who prays in such a spirit, offering himself to bear whatever God may send, is certainly devout, whatever he may feel, even though his whole time of prayer be spent in nothing but a struggle with distraction. God will not refuse to accept the service of a will that is devoted to Him.

Accidental devotion arises when there flows in upon the will that is thus holding on to God the light and joy and peace that stirs the heart and feelings. This is, after all, but accidental; it is not of the essence of devotion; one may be very devout without it. For the deepest love is the love that has passed down into the will and rules there.

The love that a young couple experience in the first days of their married life is full of passion and feeling; but after they have lived together for years and their lives are woven into one another, those passionate feelings of love have mostly given way to a stronger love that rules the will. They probably feel little of what they used to experience, but now each rules and molds the other’s life. Perhaps it is only when there comes the possibility of a separation that either one realizes how intense their love is.

So it is in prayer. We must not gauge our devotion by what we feel, but rather by what we are ready to endure. Indeed, it often happens that God tries the most advanced by letting them experience a coldness and deadness in prayer such as ordinary people seldom experience, and none could endure in such times if their love for God were not very deep and strong, ruling and sustaining the will.

Now, in considering the act of prayer itself, we must remem­ber that it is composed of a natural and a supernatural element: the act of the person who prays and the help that God gives. Different classes of minds are in danger of laying undue stress on one or the other of these parts as if it comprised the whole, but all true prayer involves both.

Therefore, due consideration must be given to both parts. If the best musician in the world were playing on an organ that was out of tune, he could not produce good music, and if the Holy Spirit were to breathe over our souls in prayer while the strings were lax from damp or carelessness, He could not produce the music that God loves to hear.

Our prayer may fail, therefore, not because God does not help us, but because we have not taken proper care in preparing ourselves; the strings of the mind are out of tune. We shall never get so high as to be able to leave out of consideration our own preparation and discipline. And, on the other hand, if the mind were under perfect control and discipline, we would never be able to pray without the help of God’s Holy Spirit. The organ may be in perfect tune, but it needs the hand of the musician to draw out its powers.

When we come to our prayers, we must place ourselves beneath His influence. “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.”3

Let us consider these two elements then, the natural and the supernatural.

The Natural The mind must be prepared.

So many of our prayers are poor and unworthy because the mind is not properly prepared; one kneels with the best disposition, but the mind has got into a morbid condition, and the whole time of prayer is lost in a kind of unhealthy self-examination; or it is absorbed in some matter that it has allowed to take posses­sion of it, and the time is spent without ever rising to God. Or again, no sooner does one kneel than it seems to be the signal for the imagination to break loose and bring before the mind everything he has thought, said, or done, and everyone he has seen during the day.

It is important, therefore, that we should remember that the instrument with which we pray is that with which we do all our other mental work; when we turn it to God, we shall find that it has the same defects and the same powers that it has at other times, only that we become more conscious of the defects in times of prayer.

No wonder it is difficult to pray if there is no effort made to discipline or concentrate the mind at other times; how can the mind that is left relaxed and unguarded all through the day be recollected in prayer?

Prayer is not the only time to struggle against distractions; the more orderly, methodical, disciplined, and concentrated our minds are during our daily life, the more we shall be able to direct them to God in prayer.

There is nothing, therefore, that we do during the day that may not prove a help or hindrance in times of prayer. In reading, working, and thinking, we are unconsciously training our minds for prayer. If it is the same mind that we use for all our ordinary work that we use in prayer, the same and no other, we shall find the same laxity, the same distractedness, the same slipshod and careless ways, the same habit of losing ourselves in daydreams at prayer that we experience in all our mental life.

It is a good thing, therefore, to remember that prayer is not the time to train the mind, but that in prayer we shall reap the fruits of the carelessness or watchfulness of our ordinary life.

Prayer calls for common sense.

Again, it must be remembered that the mind is a very delicate instrument, and is very easily put out of order, and that spiri­tual work does not exempt people from natural laws. We need, therefore, care and common sense just as much in spiritual as in temporal things; a person may suffer very considerably in his spiritual life from lack of the exercise of a little common sense.

  • In learning to pray, it is therefore most important not to over­burden oneself at first with too many prayers. Leave plenty of room to grow, be content at first to say such prayers as are suited to a beginner. If you would ever be able to spend a long time in prayer, you must begin with short times; the mind must be seasoned. Do not let prayer hang over you as a burden. It may be an admirable exercise in humility to confess to oneself how short a time one is able to pray; the mind must grow into the life of prayer, but it will never do this if it is allowed to be overweighed with a burden of prayer beyond its strength.
  • Again, do not leave your prayers to be said when the mind is too wearied to think. If you are obliged to be up late, say the greater part of your prayers earlier in the evening. It is a fatal thing to go to one’s room at night tired out and burdened with the dread of a considerable time to be spent in prayer, much of which, experience has taught, will be a mere struggle with sleep. One will never learn to pray by such methods; the mind needs in prayer the exercise of all its powers, and prayer should be said when the mind is fresh and in full vigor.

The times of prayer, therefore, should be arranged so that the natural instrument is at its best, not at its worst, and it should be always borne in mind that God does not give His grace to help us to do what nature can do of itself. You have no right to expect God to help you to say your prayers when you are tired, because you have not taken the trouble to say them in proper time.

  • There must be, if there is any life in prayer, adaptability. One of the chief conditions of life is the capacity of adapting inward to outward relations. It is the same with prayer. Prayers in sickness will not be the same as in health if they are the utterances of a living soul: and in times of special trial or temptation, prayers will not be those of one’s ordinary life. The soul, in proportion as prayer becomes a reality, will instinctively adapt its prayers to special circumstances, not indeed changing lightly the form of prayer, but having that liberty of spirit that makes a rule not a hindrance but a help, not the destroyer but the developer of life.
The Supernatural

But there is also the supernatural element in prayer. We must, indeed, discipline and train our minds, and fulfill our part; but prayer is not a mere straining of the mind toward God. We must pray as members of Christ: “He hath made us accepted in the beloved.”

We pray not as those who have nothing to depend on but their own efforts, but as those whose acceptance is already as­sured if they have faith to realize their great privileges. We Chris­tians speak, as it were, with the lips of Christ. We know that in proportion as we believe in and use our great privilege, God cannot reject us.

Our own powers may be very limited, the sense of our sins may dismay us, but we draw near with the life of our Lord within us, “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” and we know that God will hear the voice of His own Son.

Yet this sense of membership in Christ must be developed not merely at the times of prayer; it must be the effort of our daily life, the aim of our self-discipline. For it is on this that our Lord’s promise depends: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you.” And as members of Christ we have the assistance of the Holy Spirit, “who helpeth our infirmities.” We kneel, but, notwithstanding all our watchfulness and care, our hearts are cold, and our words come falteringly; but we persevere, and then at times — not always consciously, but at times — we feel the breath of the Spirit breathing through us and kindling our devotion, and words come to our lips, or longings too great for words well up within our hearts and reach to God.

We feel, in one way, that what we say and long for is our own; it has the color and temper of our minds. But again we feel it is not our own; it is greater and stronger than we are. And then we know that it is partly ourselves, partly the Spirit of God — that the music that thrills us is the breath of the Spirit breathing through the instrument that we have striven so hard to prepare.

Such moments we must cherish and recall in times of darkness; they enable us to feel and to know that we are not alone in our efforts to pray, but that there is One who helps our infirmities, and who, when He sees fit, at any moment can make His power to be felt, even though when we are least conscious of it He is still with us.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Maturin’s Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press

The Fourth of July and an Approach to the Bible

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 22:07

In the days when states were still “the colonies” and men wore powdered wigs, a new way of thinking captured the intelligentsia of the western world.  “The miracle stories in the Bible and the lives of the saints may be quaint, entertaining, and even have symbolic meaning.  But certainly we should not take them literally!  Oh, God exists, for sure.  But if the Creator made such a marvelous world, humming along according to the laws of nature which he designed, why would he ever step in and work against those rules?  So let’s not be naive.”

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to take scissors and cut all the supernatural stories right out of his Bible, leaving only the moral teaching of Jesus.  Others insisted on keeping their bible intact, but reading the miracle stories with a nod and a wink, just like they read Greek mythology.  This movement, known as the Enlightenment, was just too sophisticated to take literally such primitive fantasy.

To tell the truth, the Enlightenment raised a very good question.  Why would the creator of nature violate natural laws?  Perhaps because not everything we experience in this fallen world is so “natural” after all.  The first chapter of the Book of Wisdom tells us that death is really not “natural.”  God designed human beings to live forever.  It was by the envy of the devil that death came into the world, and the spiritual death resulting from the sin of our first parents had a disastrous impact on all of creation.  One of the foremost Enlightenment philosophers, Gottfried Leibniz, said that the world we live in was the best of all possible worlds.  Genesis and the book of Wisdom beg to differ.

So perhaps God works miracles, and defies seemingly “natural” laws, to restore nature, to rescue his creation from the degradation and misery that sin has let loose in the world.  Plus, in the case of truly natural laws, if He created nature, he is above nature.  “Nature” comes from the Latin word for birth.  Nature is that which has been born, which has come into existence.  Our God, unlike the gods of the Greek and Roman myths, has no beginning or end.  He was, He is, and He is to come.  He is therefore transcendent, above nature, super-natural.

This is point Mark’s gospel is making when it tells us about Jesus calming the storm, healing the woman with the flow of blood, and raising Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43).  Standing in front of Jesus, we are in the presence of Mystery.  He does not plead or conjure or recite incantations.  He does supernatural things not through petition but by word of command.  Sophisticated skepticism is a useless response to Him.  So is fear.  If I want to experience the saving, life-giving power that He offers me, the only useful and appropriate response is faith.  Before the tragedies and challenges of life in this imperfect world, this is what faith says: “I can’t, He can, and I think I’ll let Him.”

Many children were ill in Palestine on that day.  But Jairus believed that Jesus could do something about the sickness assaulting his daughter, and let him, despite the ridicule of his friends.  Many adults physically touched Jesus on that day as he made his way through the crowd, but only one woman believed Jesus could heal her.  She had the boldness to reach out and touch him with expectant faith, and healing power flowed out of him, changing her life forever.

If the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of this supernatural miracle worker, why we don’t see more healing, miracles, and sanctification going on in the lives of communicants?

Maybe it’s because many who shuffle forward in communion lines each Sunday are like the nameless people who bumped into Jesus in the square but were too busy to notice and too jaded to expect anything.  Or maybe it’s because we’re just too “enlightened” to take such quaint Bible stories too seriously.

Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas.  For info on his resources or pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit dritaly.com or look for him on Facebook and Twitter as “Dr.Italy.”

Minimalism, Evangelical Poverty, and Simplicity

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:07

As I was browsing my Facebook feed recently, I came across a post that struck me: it was of a close friend of mine posing with two guys called “The Minimalists.” Curious, I checked out their website and began reading some of their articles to get a better feel for their definition of minimalism. It is a concept about which I had heard through the years and is now gaining momentum among the Gen Xers and Millennials for its appeal to the “less is more” cliché.

According to pop culture, minimalism is a specific lifestyle based on the mentality of detachment from material possessions and subsequently the pursuit of personal happiness and freedom. The Minimalists claim that the goal is searching for happiness “not through things, but through life itself.”[i] Those who follow this movement assert that it isn’t so much about living with fewer things but rather the philosophy behind the lifestyle; in other words, it doesn’t mean much to just declutter or purge every now and then with a garage sale. Instead, a true minimalist must establish a type of intentionality to what s/he owns and why.

Pondering this, I wondered why this movement attracts so many people, but it occurred to me rather quickly that it’s not necessarily minimalism that many seek; it’s the virtue of simplicity and perhaps even evangelical poverty. Digging deeper into the Minimalist ethos, I realized that – much like other secular ideas and fads – it’s not so much that calling oneself a Minimalist is bad. It’s that it’s incomplete.

Of the Minimalists who blog and whom I’ve read in order to delve more deeply into this topic, I realize that their ultimate end is for personal happiness and freedom. Naturally, these are not inherently bad desires. The problem is that they are not ultimately rooted in the spiritual depth that the virtue of simplicity and, for some, evangelical poverty offers.

If I am seeking happiness, financial freedom, and detachment from any sort of oppressive bond to my “stuff,” but it all ends there, what am I truly accomplishing? Will there come a time in my life when I realize I still feel empty in the recesses of my soul? I believe my heart would still languish if my motivation behind such living was not of a higher, supernatural origin, namely God.

The virtue of simplicity, much like Minimalism, is that we endeavor towards detachment from materialism and the consumerist mindset of our culture. However, simplicity – as a virtue – would have us move beyond this reprioritizing of our things. Simplicity asks more of us. It beckons us toward charity.

If I am ridding my life of things I don’t use, need, or really even want and am simultaneously offering this to God in the form of prayer, I will necessarily have more room in my heart for the highest goal of all: love. Through Christian charity, I am asking God how I can be a witness to others, how I can go forth in my life to become more generous with the extra time, space, and money I have.

Minimalism tells me to pursue my own version of happiness, whatever that may be. Simplicity asks me to pursue God’s designs for my life rather than my own. When true detachment from worldly things becomes a significant and constant aspect of my intentional living, it does not end with me. Rather, it allows God to create more space in my heart for Him to move in and through me, to touch other people’s lives.

I think that’s why the vow of poverty in religious communities can be so attractive and yet repulsive to many people. It’s because we are drawn to those who are genuinely free within, because they do not possess material wealth and, as a result, possess God more fully. At the same time, we wonder how anyone could voluntarily relinquish their cell phones, access to the Internet, plethora of books, car, and home. Yet we see, time and again, that this renunciation is motivated by a truly generous spirit, an unabashed longing to love God.

Many women religious explain that they are able to more fully live out their other vow of obedience to their superiors because of the virtue of poverty. Without owning much more than clothing and perhaps a few books, they have the freedom to go on missions, move to a new convent or start an apostolate. They are not bound by their possessions, and because of this, they are willing to freely give everything to God.

Maybe that’s why Minimalism is so enticing: people long for more than the fleeting pleasures that possessions offer them, yet they are not quite on the cusp of recognizing that their truest, deepest thirst is for giving all to God. That’s where I see the biggest difference between secularism and virtue in this case. In the former, people erroneously believe the highest end in life is personal happiness and freedom; in the latter, people sagaciously accept the contradiction that owning less and living in a spirit of detachment draws them nearer to God so that He may be their only possession.

There is, indeed, good in many modern movements, including Minimalism, but they lack the one component necessary, the only aspect that would offer complete and lasting happiness. Their philosophies are often repackaged from ancient Stoics (in this case), yet they neglect to acknowledge the supreme aim for all should be heaven, not earth. The notion of living with less falls short when it is not coupled with the question, “What more can I do for You, God, now that I have less in my life to distract me?”

That’s why, as Catholics, our aim must always be on the “something more” rather than on earthly contentment. That something more is living for God rather than for ourselves. It is seeking His will above our own. It is asking of Him what He wants us to rid of, detach from, and in the end, replace with a greater generosity in giving of ourselves for His work in loving others.

Holiness does not always include earthly happiness, but in our emptiness offered to God with sincerity of intention to please Him, He will fill us with the greatest treasure of all: His Heart.

*

[i] Retrieved June 25, 2017 from http://www.theminimalists.com/minimalism/

A Very Moving Story of Holy Communion

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:05

A few weeks ago I walked into church and was struck by a peculiar sight. A healthy, younger (40-ish) woman was moving along with a walker. She was accompanied by an older man. My son, John Paul, was helping her. The two had a subdued solemnity, even joy, mixed with a kind of heaviness I could not explain. I welcomed them to our church and inquired where they were from. They said Erie, Pennsylvania… my wife’s home of 43 years.

Of course, I had to go retrieve my wife, who had already made her way to the front of the church and was praying in preparation for Mass. Now that we live a few hours away in Toledo, she always delights in any Erie connection.

The story unfolded. The gentleman showed us pictures from two months earlier, in a room down in Florida preparing for open heart surgery. He showed a photo of his beautiful wife smiling next to him. Another, with this woman, his daughter. Another yet, with his son.

And he shared photos of a car smashed beyond recognition.

Tears streaming down his face, the man explained that when he had awoken from heart surgery, the surgeon informed him that there was bad news. He thought it had to do with the surgery, but it did not. During his post surgery recovery the three had been driving. A car crossed over the median and smashed into them, killing both his wife and his son. His surviving daughter was undergoing therapy on her leg, thus, the walker.

They were here in Toledo because the woman, her husband and family had moved to this area. The dad was staying with them for the time being.

Here, before Mass, we were so blessed to share tears streaming down all our faces with once strangers who had become dear friends. Unbelievable blessings poured out as we were about to approach our common Lord and Savior, seeking his healing, transformation and renewal of heart, mind, body and soul.

Through all this something was stirring deeper inside of me that continues to “haunt” me weeks after, awakening me to awareness of our participation in the Mass. “This is my body, broken for you”– the profound blessing in Jesus Christ that comes by way of brokenness. “Body of Christ” — a holy communion forging our real lives together in His Real Presence.

I’m awakening to the awareness of how deeply our God desires such great and total intimacy with us, and in Him, with one another.

This is the entire purpose of Mass. Not an isolated event once a week, but the epicenter of our human existence. Our ultimate drama from disassociated pieces to “whole,” as in “holy.” Singular, sacred intimacy with God, and in Him, with one another.

Whether atheist, Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Christian, four movements define our own lives. They are proclaimed in every story ever told. We live (Life). We encounter a crucible (Death), through which we are more aware of our identity (Resurrection), from which flows our mission (Pentecost).

Life, Death, Resurrection and Pentecost.

Our lives proclaim us to be imago dei, the image of God. This ushers us into the life of the Trinity. Together we exist to make God, who is Love, known. A holy, missioned, community of persons. This is the DNA of our human existence. And the very heart of the Mass.

Thus, our Encounter was powerful. And made possible through the risk of authentic, simple, vulnerable sharing. Former strangers ceased to be merely anonymous “dad, mom, daughter and son.” They became for us what they are known to God: Jim, Kathryn, Janice and Steve.
Real people. Real presence. Real relationship.

After Mass, our entire family was blessed to sit with Jim and Janice and simply talk about other things. Such a beautiful, powerful icon of God’s presence through both of them, and their wife/mother, son/brother, whom I had a definite sense were abiding with us in the conversation.
We continued to think of them and pray for them on the way home, and throughout the days that followed. My wife called home to family and friends who are very familiar with the story back in Erie, Pennsylvania. The son was a beloved firefighter. His memorial was attended by 3,000 people from the community. Jim and Janice could not attend because of recovery.
Sharing this story is one, small way I am making good on the exhortation at the end of Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

Please continue to lift them all in your prayers. Join us in praying that we all more fully discover God’s presence alive in our personal stories. And that each of our stories are woven together in the body of Jesus Christ. By God’s design, we are a communion of saints here on earth destined for eternity. This is the meaning of Holy Communion, the meaning of Holy Mass, the meaning of our lives. Amen.

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How God is Present in Us

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:02

We have taken it for granted that God, then, is present somehow in the soul by grace. We have now to con­sider what sort of a presence this really is. Do we mean absolutely that God the Holy Spirit is truly in the soul Himself, or do we, by some metaphor or vague expres­sion, mean that He is merely exerting Himself there in some new and special way? Perhaps it is only that, by means of the sevenfold gifts, He has a tighter hold on us and can bring us more completely under the sweet dominion of His will.

All that is true, but it is not enough, for we do absolutely mean what we say when we declare that, by grace, the Holy Spirit of God is present within the soul. Scripture is exceedingly full of the truth of this and is always insisting on this presence of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, especially, notes it over and over again, and in his letter to the Romans repeats it in very forc­ible language: “But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if it be that the Spirit of God dwells in you.”And he goes on in that same chapter to imply that this presence is a part of grace.

To some it will seem curious to find that the Fathers of the Church in earliest ages were not only convinced of the fact of this presence, but appealed triumphantly to it as accepted even by heretics. When, in the early days, a long controversy raged as to whether the Holy Spirit was really God or not, the Fathers argued that since this indwelling of the Spirit was acknowledged on all hands, and since it was proper to God only to dwell in the heart of man, the only possible conclusion was that the Holy Spirit was divine.

This presence, then, of God in the soul is a real, true presence, as real and true as the presence of Our Lord Himself in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucha­rist. We look on all that mystery as very wonderful, and indeed it is, that day by day we can be made one with God the Son by receiving His body and blood; we know the value of visits to His hidden presence, the quiet and calm peace such visits produce in our souls; yet so long as we are in a state of grace, the same holds true of the Holy Spirit within us.

We are not indeed made one with the Holy Spirit in a substantial union, such as united God with man in the sacred Incarnation; nor is there any overpowering of our personality so that it is swamped by a Divine Person, but we retain it absolutely. The simplest com­parison is our union with our Lord in the Holy Eucha­rist, wherein we receive Him really and truly and are made partakers of His divinity. By grace, then, we re­ceive, really and truly, God the Holy Spirit and are made partakers of His divinity. If, then, we genuflect to the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is re­served and treat our Communions as the most solemn moments of our day, then equally we must hold in rev­erence every simple soul in a state of grace—the souls of others and our own.

We can experience God’s presence in our own souls

This article is an excerpt from “The Little Book of the Holy Spirit.” Click image to preview or order.

The fact, then, of this presence has been established and its nature explained. It is a real presence, a real union between the soul and God the Holy Spirit. We have, however, a further point to elucidate: the mode whereby this presence is effected. Now, this is twofold insofar as this presence of the Spirit affects the mind and heart of man.

First, then, we take the knowledge of God that is generated in the soul by this presence. From natural knowledge we can not only deduce the existence of God, but in some way also deduce His nature. Not only do we know from the world which He has made that He certainly must Himself have a true existence, but from it we can even, gradually and carefully, al­though certainly with some vagueness, discover God’s own divine attributes. His intelligence is evident, as are His power, His wisdom, His beauty, His Provi­dence, and His care for created nature. The pagans, merely from the world about them, painfully, and after many years and with much admixture of error, could yet in the end have their beautiful thoughts about God, and by some amazing instinct have stumbled upon truths which Christianity came fully to establish. The writings of Plato and Aristotle, of some Eastern teachers, and of some of the kings and priests of Egypt are evidence of the possibility of the natural knowledge about God.

Faith, then, came as something over and above the possibilities of nature, not merely as regards the contents, but also as regards the kind of knowledge it gives us. Reason deduces truths about God, and therefore attains God indirectly. It is like getting an application by letter from an unknown person and guessing his character from the handwriting, the paper, the ink, the spelling, and the style. Possibly by this means, a very fair estimate may be formed of his capacities and his fitness for the position which we desire him to fill. But faith implies a direct contact with the person who has written the letter. Before us is spread what Longfellow has called “the manuscript of God,” and from it we deduce God’s character. Then faith comes and puts us straight into connection with God Himself.

The “theological virtues” is the name given to faith, hope, and charity, because they all have God for their direct and proper object. Faith, then, attains to the very substance of God. It is indeed inadequate insofar as all human forms of thought can only falteringly represent God as compared with the fullness that shall be revealed hereafter; still, for all that, it gives us not indirect, but direct knowledge of Him. From seeing His handiwork, I do not deduce by faith what God is like, but I know what He is like from His descriptions of Himself.

Now, the indwelling of the Spirit of God gives us a knowledge of God even more wonderful than faith gives, for even faith has to be content with God’s descrip­tions of Himself. In faith I am indeed listening to a Person who is telling me all about Himself. He is the very truth, and all He says is commended to me by the most solemn and certain of motives; but I am still very far from coming absolutely into direct and absolute experience of God. That, indeed, fully and absolutely, can be achieved only in Heaven. It is only there, in the Beatific Vision, that the veils will be wholly torn aside and there will be a face-to-face sight of God, no longer by means of created, and therefore limited, ideas, but an absolute possession of God Himself.

Yet although I must wait for Heaven before I can achieve this absolutely, it is nonetheless true that I can begin it on earth by means of this indwelling of the Spirit of God. This real presence of God in my soul can secure for me what is called an experiential knowledge of God, such as undoubtedly I have. It is not only that I believe, but I know. Not only have I been told about God, but, at least in passing glimpses, I have seen Him. We may almost say to the Church what the men of Sichar said to the woman of Samaria: “We now believe, not for thy saying, for we ourselves have heard and know.” “For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.”

Editor’s note: This article features two chapter’s from Fr. Jarrett’s The Little Book of the Holy Spiritwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

image: Art Konovalov / Shutterstock.com

We tend to look at things in our own

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:00

We tend to look at things in our own personal point of view. In the
letter of Paul to the Ephesians, we are reminded to appreciate the
greatest gift that God had given us – God accepted us, we of whom were
not part of his initially chosen people, into his family. What can we
do to build a dwelling place within ourselves for God’s spirit to grow
within us?

Just like Thomas, all of us have our personal spiritual doubts. Some of
us may be searching for some kind of spiritual “proof.” But what kind
of “proof” are we looking for? Is it a belief “that if it works – then
it must be true” especially if it was experienced firsthand? Or is it a
“leap of faith” or “leap in the dark”? Or is our belief on the point
that “since there was past evidence, then it makes sense”?

The Gospel today reminds us to pause and reflect on the evidences in
our daily lives that come from our belief and trust in Jesus Christ.
Could these evidences have been shown within us as a result of
experiencing and reflecting on God’s Words, finding it easier to show
love and concern to others and the need to share our faith with them?

St. Thomas the Apostle

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 22:00

St. Thomas, Apostle and Martyr, is best known as “Doubting Thomas,” but his faith and personality were much deeper than his doubts.

In John’s Gospel, we learn more about Thomas’ character than we do about most of the other Twelve Apostles. Through Thomas’ outspoken nature, much is revealed about him, and about Our Lord. First, when Jesus announced His intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, “Thomas” who is called Didymus [the twin], said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

During the conversation before the Last Supper, St. Thomas raised an objection: Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:5-7)

These words of Jesus, first directed to Thomas, are a major tenet of the Catholic Faith.

St. Thomas is most often associated with his skepticism when the other Apostles announced Christ’s Resurrection to him.

But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (John 20:24-29).

St. Thomas is also recognized as the apostle who baptized the Magi. After the Magi held the Holy Infant, the Blessed Mother gave them some of His baby clothes to bring back to the East as relics. The Magi returned to the East, to Persia, and in the year 40 A.D., were baptized there by Saint Thomas the Apostle. All three Magi, Saint Gaspar, Saint Melchior and Saint Balthasar, were martyred for the Catholic Faith.

St. Thomas, too, died as a martyr, stabbed with a spear in India, 72 A.D. He is the patron of architects; blind people; construction workers; Ceylon; East Indies; geometricians; India; masons; Pakistan; Sri Lanka; stone masons; stonecutters; surveyors; theologians; and against doubt.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,

Let our prayer today be that of St. Thomas, upon seeing you truly present in our midst in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, may we proclaim in our hearts and on our lips, “My Lord and my God.”

Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Irenaeus (203), Bishop, Martyr

St. Leo II (683), Pope

 

St. Bernardino Realino

Sat, 07/01/2017 - 22:00

Bernardino Realino was born into a noble family of Capri, Italy, in 1530. After an excellent Christian education received at home from his mother, he went on to study medicine and law at the University of Bologna, receiving his doctorate in law in 1556. A brilliant young man, Bernardino was soon on the road to success: at the tender age of 26, he was elected mayor as well as judge of the town of Felizzano. From there he became head tax collector in Alessandria, then elected mayor of Cassine, followed by his election as mayor of Castellone. Word of his learning, dedication, and legal brilliance spread throughout Italy, and the marquis of Naples named him superintendent of all his fiefs.

While in Naples, Bernardino, now 34 years old, met some priests of the relatively new Society of Jesus and made an eight-day retreat with them. During this retreat he felt a strong call to the religious life and asked the Jesuits for admittance into their Society. He was accepted and ordained a priest in 1567.

From that time on Bernardino devoted his life to the care of the poor and sick, to teaching the Faith to young people, and to ministering to galley slaves. He was appointed novice master while in Naples and remained in that city for ten years until he was sent to the south of Italy to the town of Lecci where he had been requested to found a college. He spent the rest of his life in Lecci where he was hailed as a saint during his lifetime, not only because of his powerful example as a preacher, confessor, and teacher, but also because of the many miracles he performed by the power of God. One of the miracles attributed to Bernardino was in regard to a small pitcher of wine which did not give out until everyone present had had their fill.

Six years before his death at the age of 86, Bernardino fell and sustained two wounds which never healed. During his final illness, blood was taken from one of the leg wounds and placed in glass vials. After his death, the blood appeared to boil and foam and retained its liquid state until well into the mid-nineteenth century.

So devoted were the people of Lecci to their saint, the magistrates of the town visited Bernardino on his deathbed and formally requested that he take the city under his patronage after his death. Unable to speak, Bernardino nodded his head, dying soon afterwards with the names of Jesus and Mary on his lips. He was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1947 and is to this day considered the Patron of Lecci.

Lessons

1. In his late twenties, Bernardino Realino was already a mover and shaker of his time with everything going for him in the way of success. He gave it all up, however, the moment he heard the call from God to become a priest. Here we have an example of a rich young man who this time made the right decision, who gave it all up to follow Jesus, finding his treasure in heaven rather than in the world.

2. St. Bernardino Realino dedicated much of his life to teaching young people the Faith. Remembering that young people are the future of the Church, let us pray to St. Bernardino that all those who teach the young will do so under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit and so lead our youth to a true understanding and love of their Catholic faith.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth

Saints Processus and Matinian (67), Martyrs

St. Peter (304), Exorcist, Martyr

St. Junípero Serra

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 22:00

Miguel José Serra was born November 24, 1713 on the Spanish island of Majorca. At 17, he joined the Franciscans and took the name Junípero after St. Francis’ much-loved friend. He was ordained a priest in 1737 and became a well-known theologian and professor of philosophy when, at the age of 36, he decided to join the Franciscan mission to the New World in 1749. At this time, Spanish cultural and religious influence was widespread throughout the urban areas of Mexico (called “New Spain”), but the outlying areas were still uncharted and wild and considered missionary territory.

On his arrival in the New World, Fray Serra’s first assignment was to the rugged, mountainous region of Sierra Gorda. Here he remained for nine years, preaching to the Indians and strengthening the two missions already established in the area. His second assignment was to journey out from Mexico City into coastal villages and mining camps. In those eight years, despite severe asthma and a leg chronically infected and ulcerated after an insect bite, he walked over 6,000 miles on foot, preaching retreats and administering the sacraments.

In 1767 when the King of Spain banished the Jesuit Society from his dominions, the thirteen Jesuit missions in Baja California were suddenly left unstaffed. Junípero Serra, now 54, was appointed the new Superior of Baja California, and within several years he was requested to move into Alta California (the current State of California). Serra joined the expedition of Don Gaspar de Portola who had been ordered by the Spanish king to explore and occupy new territory. Fray Serra reached San Diego on June 27, 1769 and founded there the first mission, today known as Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá. In the next fifteen years, Junípero Serra established nine of the 21 missions of California, each a one-day walk apart (about 30 miles), and linked by a dirt road called El Camino Real (The King’s Road).

Junípero Serra personally oversaw the planning, construction, and staffing of each mission from his headquarters at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel. From Carmel he traveled on foot to the other missions along the California coast to supervise mission work and to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. Biographers estimate that, still bothered by his infected leg, Serra walked more than 24,000 miles in California alone — more than the journeys of Marco Polo and Lewis and Clark combined. He kept with determination to his motto, “Always to go forward and never to turn back.”

Fray Serra’s first concern was always for his missionary flock, California’s native Americans. He introduced them to efficient agricultural and irrigation systems as well as to a system of trade between the various missions; he pressed the Spanish government for a system of law to protect them against the abuses of Spanish soldiers; and he created a network of roads, making trade and transportation easier for them.

Junípero Serra’s devotion to his mission did not end with his death at Carmel, August 28, 1784. A few hours before he died, he said, “I promise that if the Lord in His Infinite mercy grants me eternal happiness — which I do not deserve because of my faults — that I shall pray for all and for the conversion of so many pagans whom I leave unconverted.”

Junípero Serra, who is known as the “Apostle of California” was beatified by Pope John Paul II in September 1988. Pope Francis canonized him on September 23, 2015.  A statue of his likeness stands in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., and his body lies beneath the sanctuary at Mission San Carlos Borromeo, Carmel. Many of his letters and other writings have survived, and the diary of his travels was published in the early 20th century. He is also the namesake of the Serra Club, an international Catholic organization dedicated to the promotion of vocations.

Lessons

1. Despite the intense suffering he endured from his asthma and infected leg, Blessed Junípero still practiced mortifications and various forms of self-denial. In this day when we run from any kind of suffering, let us ask the Holy Spirit for an understanding of the great value of suffering both for our own souls and for the entire Body of Christ.

2. We live in an age of indifference in which Blessed Junípero’s missionary zeal must seem not only incomprehensible, but completely uncalled for. But it is this very lack of comprehension, this indifference, that makes it so necessary for every one of us to become missionaries, to spread the Word of God throughout this world that seems to have forgotten Him.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Oliver Plunket, Bishop and Martyr (1681)


Our God Is Almighty

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 22:07

The Bible is full of stories of God’s power and authority. As a refresher, let’s recount a few of the stories — two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament.

Let’s begin in the historical literature of the Old Testament. God promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a son through whose offspring the world would be blessed. From the purely hu­man point of view, the promise was unusual and unrealistic. Abra­ham and Sarah were getting on in years. When told she would be the mother of Abraham’s child, the child of promise, Sarah laughed, betraying the inner doubts locked inside of her heart, as every woman who has passed the age of childbirth knows it is impossible. In response, God spoke the following words to Abra­ham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son” (Gen. 18:13–14). Needless to say, Sarah conceived and bore a son as the Lord had promised, underscoring the fact that with God, “all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

Then, many generations later, when God rescued the na­tion of Israel from bondage in Egypt He led them through the wilderness and miraculously provided them manna for food. Nevertheless, the Israelites complained because they could not enjoy the delicacies they were accustomed to eating in Egypt. In response to their grumbling, God promised to give them meat for the entire period. The people were doubtful, as was Moses, who expressed his concerns to God: “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot; and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to suffice them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?” (Num. 11:21–22).

In response to Moses, God asked another question — a question vitally important to us today — “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not” (Num. 11:23). Certainly, God’s hand is not shortened; nothing limits His power. God miraculously provided quails in the wilderness, as he had promised. God’s ability to provide beyond human understanding is a running thread throughout Israel’s story. I can’t say it enough: our daily faith motto should be “With God All Things Are Possible.”

In the New Testament, we have many beautiful stories of God’s omnipotence. The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel records that when Jesus was teaching the crowd, He observed that His audience was hungry, for they had been with Him for a long time without food. When He looked up and saw a great crowd com­ing toward Him, He said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He asked this only to test Philip, for he already knew what He was going to do. God always sees the finish line from the start.

This article is from Fr. Emelu’s “Our Journey to God.” Click image to preview or order.

Philip responded incredulously that half a year’s wages “would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” Andrew pointed out that a boy had five loaves of bread and two fishes, “but what are they among so many?” But Jesus calmly said, “Make the people sit down.” There were about five thousand men, not even counting women and children.

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:11–14)

Wow! What power must one possess to accomplish this kind of miracle — in full view of thousands of people and yet known to only a few.

Moving ahead to John’s eleventh chapter we find the story of the Savior visiting His good friend when many thought it was too late. After hearing of Lazarus’s illness, Jesus waited for two days before setting out to see him, and it seemed He had waited too long. But He had a plan. God always has a plan — a better plan than any we can devise with our limited reason. So He set out to see Lazarus.

By the time Jesus arrived, four days had gone by since Lazarus had succumbed to his illness. Everyone at the scene was afraid, despairing, or, in the case of those who were suspicious of Jesus, sarcastic. Lazarus was dead, and the game was over. The Apostles were afraid and did not want Jesus to go into Judea because the Jews were looking for Him to kill Him. Martha, who despairingly cried, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” had not conceived the possibility of the power of Jesus to raise her brother from the dead. And the Jews who observed Jesus weep said sarcastically, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” For all these people, the death of Lazarus was final; the dead are dead.

When Jesus asked to be shown where Lazarus was buried and for the stone covering the tomb to be removed, Martha replied, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” As we know, Jesus performed the miracle and raised Lazarus from death after four days in the tomb. The meaning of His initial wait to come to Lazarus was revealed: in the Jewish understanding, after three days the dead have passed to a place of no return to physical life. At four days after death, Lazarus was considered to be totally beyond this world. But Jesus made the impossible possible with just a sigh and a command. God creates out of nothing. He gives life out of nothing.

These stories are among many in Scripture that demonstrate God’s almighty power. Many New Testament accounts also show Jesus Christ to be truly God. From the creation narrative to the eschatological visions in the book of Revelation, we have sub­stantial testimony to the power of God. It is therefore no surprise that of all His attributes, only His almighty power is mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed. Almighty power is an attribute that neces­sarily follows from God’s divinity. It expresses the idea of absolute authority over all of creation.

The concept of power has been an object of great discussion among sociologists and political philosophers. In any given situ­ation, the person who has power calls the shots regarding the disposition of material goods, events, and even fellow people. Usually, when a political leader wields power, he or she does so within the framework of the law — civil or natural. Power wielded within the confines of the law is legitimate. Power wielded outside the confines of the law wreaks havoc on society. When a ruler is said to have “absolute” power it really is hyperbole. No human could ever have absolute power.

For God, the case is different since He is almighty and always just. To say that God is almighty entails three main ideas:

  • God’s power is absolute.
  • God’s power is universal.
  • God’s power is eternally integrated.
God’s Power Is Absolute

Think about the most powerful people in the world — CEOs, presidents, and so forth. These people wield considerable power in their companies and countries, but still there are always limitations to what they can accomplish. CEOs are limited by boards of directors and their competitors; political leaders are limited by other authorities within the government and, failing that, by the people. Even the most authoritarian leaders in the world must constantly shore up their power against threats.

This also applies to religious leaders. The most powerful religious leader in the world remains the pope, although this power is exercised most perfectly in service. Nevertheless, even the pope kneels and bows before almighty God. He is answer­able to Somebody. An old story is told of a pope who went into his private chapel at night, removed his skullcap, and placed it on God’s altar, saying, “This is your Church. Take care of it because I need to go to bed. I will help you carry it tomorrow. Good night.”

Thus, neither the pope nor the most powerful political leader nor the most powerful CEO has unlimited power. With God, the situation is different. God has absolute power; it is unlimited and complete, neither shared with nor granted by anyone else. God does whatever He wills; He has no need to consult with anyone. He has all it takes to accomplish what He does because He is existence itself. Thus, God is also all knowing. The prophecy of Isaiah beautifully expresses this idea: “Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge and showed him the way of understanding?” (40:14).

God’s willing and existence are identical. Hanging on the Cross, Jesus spoke to the thief at His right side: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). So it happened that a thief entered heaven just by the very word of Jesus. He has absolute power over life and death, over heaven and hell, for all power belongs to Him (Matt. 6:13). God can therefore do all things (Matt. 19:26; Mark 14:36), for nothing is impossible for Him (Luke 1:34–37). God is absolutely able to fulfill promises (Rom. 4:21). God is absolutely able to save us and to do so forever (Isa. 63:1; Ps. 54:1; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 7:25), to set us free from danger (Dan. 3–4), to protect us (Ps. 79:1; 91:1), and to rescue us (Ps. 79:11).

We, in and of ourselves, may be limited in what we can do to fulfill our purpose in life. But God isn’t limited in His ability to accomplish His will in and through us, if we allow Him to lead us. No matter how intelligent we may be, no matter how strategic our plans for the future are, without God nothing worthwhile will happen.

God’s Power Is Universal

God’s power is absolute because it is universal. This means God is not limited by space and time. After all, God created space and time! In the beginning, it was all chaos. It was God who by the power of His word ordered space and time and the rules by which they function. God is pre-time.

One of the challenges to the Catholic Church in Africa is the residual belief from African Traditional Religion that deities are territorial. African Traditional Religion, like most indigenous or traditional or nature religions, has an idea of deities as gods of specific places, peoples, shrines, or aspects of human life. The god takes charge of those events and lives for a limited time. Thus, the concept of a universal God who has absolute power not lim­ited by territory or time is not readily assimilated by indigenous peoples. From time to time, people who have become Christians fall back to their prior idolatrous notions of God as territorial.

I’ve seen this in the way some people use the sacramentals of the Church. The Church is rich in symbols, icons, and sacra-mentals — such as holy water, blessed salt, and so on. We know that religious language is symbolic and in many cases sacramental in nature. Nevertheless, sometimes we observe an abuse of the proper use or meaning of these sacred signs. I have had to explain to some families that the holy water we use is not a magical ele­ment that brings about miracles. Crucifixes are not talismans like those used in pagan cults. They are simply sacramental. Their use is to inspire us and help us connect with Almighty God, who has the power to bring about His will, whether in the form of a miracle or a less noticeable pouring out of grace.

Similarly, God’s universal power covers my personal life as well as our collective existence as a people. We need to recognize that God has the overriding control over our lives. Although He grants us the freedom to make choices, this freedom does not in any way limit His absolute power over us. God is our ultimate Lord, to whom we pay homage. God is the master of history, governing hearts and events in keeping with the divine will. “It is always in thy power to show great strength, and who can withstand the might of thy arm?” (Wisd. 11:21).

God’s Power Is Eternally Integrated

The Catechism teaches that God’s almighty power is in no way arbitrary: “In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or his wise intellect (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 25, 5, ad. I).” Thus, whatever God does is holy and perfect.

I suspect that some will now ask the age-old questions: If God is all powerful and all wise, then why is there evil in the world? And if God’s power is absolute and universal, why should we pray, since God does whatever He wills?

Many great minds have answered these questions, and the arguments never end. Let’s begin with some rhetorical questions: If there is no all-powerful God, then why has evil not overtaken goodness, beauty, and truth, despite its insidious and invasive character? If God is not all powerful, how is it that so many men and women still chant the Deo gratia amid the menacing ruins of evil? How is it that so many still see evil for what it is and do not mistake it for the good? We speak of evil and see the ugly face of evil in the world because the good God has put in our hearts a seed for goodness.

With respect to our personal free will, God’s absolute power implies His absolute honor of the freedom He chose to bequeath to us as rational creatures. In His almighty nature, God models for us the right use of power and authority and wants us to fulfill the very goal He had in creating us — namely, to choose from nature’s beatitudes the path we want for ourselves. God’s absolute power is indeed exercised every day in freedom; we are, in a sense, delegates of that freedom, deputized to live out God’s will in freedom here on earth.

We said earlier that by His gratuitous love and consistent with His being, God gave us freedom and equipped us to cooperate with His providence. This means that God wills us to have the privilege and power to change things and situations around us. God endorses the legitimate use of this right, but it is not absolute. It is not legitimate when exercised in isolation from the delegator.

For example, a Catholic bishop of the Latin Rite who is a local ordinary of a diocese cannot remain legitimate if he severs communication — and therefore communion — with the pope. Nor can an ambassador of a nation remain legitimate if he breaks ties with the represented country. We too cannot legitimately use the power of co-creation if we sever ourselves from our Cre­ator. If this connection is severed, there are bound to be conse­quences — consequences that are never good for us.

In our relationship with God in the faith journey, one of the virtuous habits that keep us focused and properly disposed to His direction is prayerful obedience. Prayer in this sense is basically a communication; it places us where we belong and recognizes the place of God in the dialogue. Prayer becomes the place of encounter between God and us, His delegates. Through prayer, we delegates can tap into and execute some of the qualities of God as the Almighty.

This encounter is perfectly achieved in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the ultimate prayer: a sacrifice of God, the Son, to the Father and of humanity to God. It is where we can draw from the almighty power of God so that we can make wonderful things happen for the good of believers. It is in the Eucharist that heaven and the attributes of our God in heaven are uniquely instantiated in time, tangibly and before our eyes.

The implications of the theology of the almighty power of God in our lives are huge. First, it inspires us not to live in fear, for the “Lord of Hosts is with us and the God of Jacob is our stronghold” (Ps. 46:11). The faith journey is a courageous ride we take with confidence in divine providence and sovereignty. Faith empowers us. We do not need to fear death, hunger, pestilence, poverty, or whatever else might appear in our way. We are as­sured of the supremacy of the Lord in our lives: “Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4: 4).

Second, our weaknesses are not a barrier to God’s power to save us. Severing ties with God by rejecting His friendship can be a barrier, but it is one that we erect. Our God-given freedom can be our only nemesis only if, like the fallen angel, we use it to tell God that we will not serve Him. We have to step away from our weaknesses and hand ourselves over to God’s rule. He can transform our weaknesses to strength for the glory of His name.

Third, we should not allow ourselves to be taken in by the devil. Satan and his works and pranks, as expressed in witch­craft and voodoo but also in institutionalized evil and injustice, should not be given free reign. We stave off evil by proclaim­ing the good news of our very existence; evil, as St. Augustine teaches, degrades existence itself. The devil is not our God; he has no absolute power to do anything. The Lord Jesus Christ has already achieved victory over the devil’s tactics, and we equally are victorious in Christ, who is our strength.

If we really understood the power of God, we would not give so much credit to Satan. We would realize that because God is the Creator, Satan is but a creature — a fallen angel. We would know that God’s power is infinite, while Satan’s power is finite and indeed minuscule. God is not battling with Satan with the hope of defeating him; Satan is already a defeated foe, whose final demise is certain (John 12:31; 16:11; Luke 10:18). In the meantime, God is allowing Satan and his rebellion to achieve His purposes (see 2 Cor. 12:7–10). As Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “Evil may have its hour, God has his day.”

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Emelu’s Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith from Abraham to Youwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press as an ebook or paperback.

Me, Myself, and I: The Unholy Trinity

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 22:05

When “Self” Magazine made its debut a few decades ago, it certainly was a sign of the times.  Ours is an age when it is socially acceptable to admit that life is all about me.

But selfishness is nothing new.  Ever since Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, human beings have made the choice to dethrone God and put in His place the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I.

But Jesus commands us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Doesn’t this imply that love of self is OK, even required?

Absolutely.  God placed in us a drive towards self-preservation.  He made beneficial activities, like eating, pleasurable.  And he made destructive activities painful.

But He also gave us intellect and will so that we are not driven simply by instinct, as are the animals.  Thus the ancient enemy of humanity has to do his best to deceive our intellect into thinking that what is destructive is actually good for us.  And he entices us to use our will to choose these destructive things contrary to God’s commandments.  The end justifies the means, he argues, and so if we have to trample over others and defy God to get what we want, so be it.

This is the kind of self-love that Jesus condemns (Mt 10:37-42).  It leads to ruin, confusion, and emptiness.  There is no way to tame this or to fit religion into it.  The only solution is to kill it.

In baptism, this old egocentric self is crucified and buried with Christ (Romans 6:11). There can only be one Lord–Jesus or me.  Accepting him means allowing Him to be boss, allowing Him to call the shots and direct my steps.  Picking up the cross and following Him means accepting the Father’s will, even where it “crosses” my will, even when it leads to suffering.  This is the meaning of Jesus’ words to Peter “as a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased, but when you are older, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will” (John 21:18)

When Jesus had finished saying this, he looked at Peter and said “Follow me.”  A few years ago he said much the same thing to a new successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI.  Those pundits who spoke of his maneuvering to build support for his “candidacy” before and during the conclave made me laugh.  Cardinal Ratzinger had tried to retire twice before the death of John Paul II!  Both times the Pope refused to accept his resignation.  When during the conclave he saw momentum began building for his election, he cried out to God begging to be spared.  The room where the newly elected Pope first dons the Papal vestments is called the “Room of tears” for a reason.

Jesus says “follow me” to each of us.  It may mean making a change of career.  It may mean breaking off a relationship that is leading us away from Christ.  Or it may just mean doing what we are already doing but for an entirely different reason . . .achieving great things not to draw attention to ourselves, but to glorify Christ . . . seeking an intimate relationship no longer to take but to give. . . working not for the weekend, but for the kingdom.

The ironic thing is that such abandonment of our own agenda is precisely what allows God the freedom to give us the true desire of our hearts.  For he knows us better than we know ourselves and he loves us more than we love ourselves.  So to lose ourselves for his sake finally makes it possible for us to find ourselves.  To renounce self-love is actually enlightened self-interest.

This is precisely what we see with the Shunemmite woman who gave of herself and opened her home and heart to a man of God (2 Kings 4:8-11).  She was barren in an age when barrenness was the greatest of curses.  Yet she forgot her need in order to meet Elisha’s need.  In return God prompted Elisha to meet her need.  For one thing is certain about God–He will not be outdone in generosity. 

This post is offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a, Ps. 89; Ro 6:3-4,8-11; Mt 10:37-42).  It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.  Marcellino D’Ambrosio, aka “Dr. Italy,” writes from Texas. Connect with him at dritaly.com or on social media @DrItaly.                               

“We, in and of ourselves, may be

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 22:00

“We, in and of ourselves, may be limited in what we can do to fulfill our purpose in life. But God isn’t limited in His ability to accomplish His will in and through us, if we allow Him to lead us.”

-Fr. Maurice Emelu, Our Journey to God: An African Priest Explores the Power of Faith from Abraham to You

Scripture Speaks: The Costs and Blessings of Discipleship

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 22:00

Today, Jesus gives the Twelve lessons in discipleship, both its costs and its blessings.

Gospel (Read Mt 10:37-42)

In verses preceding today’s reading, Jesus perhaps startled His disciples with this warning:  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (vs. 34).  The battle He describes, however, isn’t a military one.  Rather, “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…”  The hostility that will often follow Jesus’ disciples will appear right in the bosom of their families.  How painful this is to experience!  How could something so inherently good—conversation to Jesus—cause such disruption in families, where our earliest and most intimate human relationships are formed?  Today’s reading sheds some light on Jesus’ troubling prediction.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  Now, we can see that the cause of friction in previously peaceful families is a profound change of allegiance.  In the converted person, the call of Jesus is a call out of this world—not physically, of course, but a radical redirection of love and obedience.  The values of this world need to be forsaken for the values of a kingdom not of this world.  For the converted disciple, this can mean changes in language, in behavior, in routines of work, play, and worship.  The disciple’s relatives may find this unsettling, even insulting.  It is not hard to see why criticism and even arguments might arise.  This should not surprise us.  Recall the word of Simeon to Mary when she and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple:  “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against” (Lk 2:34).  It is not that Jesus asks His disciples to create friction in their families.  Their allegiance to Him and to His remarkably different kingdom may simply cause discomfort and even resistance for those who aren’t His followers.  For some family members who have gotten deeply entangled in the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the intrusion of light is unwelcome, for, as St. John tells us, “men loved darkness rather than light” (Jn 3:19).

Ultimately, Jesus tells His disciples that following Him means the willing loss of everything, just as a criminal carrying his cross to his execution by the Romans loses all, including his pride.  It is good for us to remember this if we find ourselves being criticized, mocked, ridiculed, or resisted by family members because of our allegiance to Jesus.  Our response is not to fight back but to willingly embrace our cross out of love for Him and for those who, like the ones who crucified Jesus, “do not know what they are doing.”

As difficult as this teaching is for Jesus’ disciples, the next verses in our reading show the glorious nature of the work they will do in His name.  He bestows on them the highest gift—they will be as He was in this world:  “Whoever receives you receives Me.”  When the Twelve carry on His mission after His departure, every act of goodness toward them would be rewarded as an act of goodness to Jesus Himself.  Yes, opposition to them, even in their families, might be ugly, but they are never to forget that they are really and truly His very own Mystical Body here and now.  The disciples are to pray for forgiveness for those who oppose them, as Jesus did from the Cross.  On the other hand, they are to rejoice with those who show even small, seemingly insignificant kindness to them, because—“amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

Possible response:  Lord, let me not forget that kindness to those doing Your work is kindness to You.  Silence my sometimes critical spirit.

First Reading (Read 2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a)

Elisha was the disciple of the great prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, Elijah.  We learn today of “a woman of influence” who invited him to dinner.  Because he often passed by her home, she suggested to her husband that they furnish a spot for him to stay the night.  Elisha was touched by her generosity and kindness, so he asked her servant if he could be of help to her in any way.  The servant told him about the woman’s barrenness, so Elisha called for her and promised, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”

Here is an example of what Jesus taught His disciples in our Gospel reading.  God rewarded the woman with what she most wanted in life and yet, apparently, had never mentioned to Elisha.  The servant had to inform him about her infertility.  This suggests the absolute lack of self-interest or expectation of any return on her hospitality.  She wasn’t thinking of anything but offering kindness to the prophet.  Her reward was very great!

Possible response:  Lord, help me to be as self-forgetful as this woman in caring for Your servants.

Psalm (Read Ps 89:2-3, 16-19)

The psalmist is eager to declare what ought to be on our lips when reading the lectionary today:  “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”  He remembers all the kindnesses God had shown His people.  They have known that “through [His] justice, they are exalted.”  The psalmist declares “the promises of the Lord I will sing forever.”  We should recall the promises Jesus makes in our Gospel that no kindness ever shown to those He has commissioned will ever be forgotten or left unrewarded.  That should make us sing, too.

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

Second Reading (Read Rom 6:3-4, 8-11)

St. Paul gives us some insight into why, upon our conversion, our allegiance is radically altered:  “We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.”  So, St. Paul tells us, “… you, too, must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.”  This will most certainly make us seem like misfits in this world.  Discipleship will do that to us.  Are we ready for this?

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, forgive me for the times when I have tried to find life in old sinful habits.  No wonder that always leads to pain.

image: Piith Hant / Shutterstock.com

Leprosy is such a frightening disease

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 22:00

Leprosy is such a frightening disease that lepers are kept separate from people and kept in leper colonies. In the time of Jesus, they were considered untouchable and unwanted. They were unclean.

In the Gospel reading one such unclean leper approaches Jesus to be cleansed, “Sir, if you want to, you can make me clean.” He did not even ask to be cleansed: if Jesus wanted, Jesus could cure him.

The loving response of Jesus was immediate, “I want to, be clean again.” The leper showed faith in Jesus, in his healing power and his love.

In the first reading we hear God confirming his covenant with Abraham. We call Abraham the Father of faith because of his adherence to his covenant with God, even to the sacrifice of his only son Isaac at God’s command.

Jesus performed many miracles for those who asked him and had faith that he would and could heal them. He praised the faith of the centurion who asked him to cure his dying servant, “I tell you, I have not found such faith in Israel.” (Mt 8:10) He cured the daughter of the Canaanite woman, “Woman, how great is your faith! Let it be as you wish” (Mt 15: 28)

In their ready willingness to die in witness to their Christian faith, the first Martyrs of Rome showed similar great faith and love of Our Lord. Their faith and death nourished the growth of Christianity in the Roman world.

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.