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St. Boniface (Bishop and Martyr)

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 22:00

The missionary bishop and martyr St. Boniface (672?-754) has been called the “Apostle to the Germans.” He was born in England and given the name Wynfrith, which he later changed to Boniface. Until about the age of forty, he was a Benedictine monk, devoted primarily to scholarship; then, in 718, Boniface permanently left England and went to Germany as a missionary.

Christianity had earlier been established among the tribes of Germany, but, largely through the weakness and ignorance of the clergy, it had become riddled with superstition, and was affected by paganism and heresy. Boniface described these conditions on a journey to Rome in 722, and Pope Gregory II thereupon appointed him an archbishop and charged him with reforming and reinvigorating the German church. Boniface worked tirelessly among the Germans, preaching to the pagans and encouraging the Christians, and his efforts met with great success.

He made a point of restoring the obedience of clergy to their bishops, thereby strengthening the larger principle of unity with Rome; he also stressed the universal nature of the Church by seeking financial support from his friends in England and by involving foreign missionaries in his work.

Additionally, Boniface aided the Frankish kings in their reform of the Church in France, and did much to promote the unity of the Church in France and Germany with Rome. Though in his seventies, Boniface desired to convert the fierce pagans of Frisia (located in modern-day Holland). He and fifty-three companions went to Frisia for this purpose, but were ambushed and killed by the natives upon their arrival; St. Boniface himself is said to have been stabbed while reading in his tent.

Lessons

1. “Old age” isn’t necessarily a hindrance to doing valuable work for God’s Kingdom. St. Boniface didn’t begin his career as a missionary until age forty, and even in his seventies, he chose not to “retire,” but to undertake a difficult and dangerous missionary journey.

2. The true Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. St. Boniface particularly emphasized the first of these marks of the Church by emphasizing the importance of obedience and unity with Rome.

image: Deutsche Fotothek‎ / Wikimedia Commons

Sweet Guest of the Soul

Sun, 06/04/2017 - 02:35
Sweet Guest of the Soul

Presence of God – O Holy Spirit, You who deign to dwell in me, help me to open my soul completely to Your action.

MEDITATION

The Encyclical Mystici Corporis states that “the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church.” Because soul means “principle of life,” this statement equivalently says that the divine Paraclete is the One who gives life to the Church. As the soul is the principle of life in the body, so the Holy Spirit is the principle of life in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ (cf. Divinum Illud Munus).

We have seen that the Holy Spirit was in Christ’s soul to direct Him in the accomplishment of His redemptive mission. Jesus could have carried out this mission alone, but He wished the Church to participate in it. Since the Church continues Christ’s work, she needs the same impetus which guided His soul; she needs the Holy Spirit. Jesus merited His Spirit for us on the Cross; by His death, He atoned for all sin, the chief obstacle to the action of the Holy Spirit, and when He had ascended into heaven, He sent Him to the Apostles, who represented the whole Church. Now, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, He intercedes continually for us, He is always sending the Holy Spirit to the Church, as He promised. The Holy Spirit operates in the Church now, just as He once did in the blessed soul of Christ. He gives her impulse, moves her, and drives her to accomplish God’s will, thus enabling her to fulfill His mission, the continuation down through the ages of the redemptive work of Christ. With reason, then, did the early Fathers call the Holy Spirit the Soul of the Church; the Church herself invokes Him in the Credo: “Dominum et vivificantem!” Lord and life-giver. As the soul vivifies the body, the Holy Spirit vivifies the Church. He is the impulse of love who kindles in her zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls; He gives light and strength to her shepherds, fervor and energy to her apostles, courage and invincible faith to her martyrs.

COLLOQUY

“O Holy Spirit, You formed our Redeemer in the pure womb of the Virgin Mary; You gave life to Jesus, and directed Him in all He thought, said, did, and suffered during His earthly life, and in the sacrifice He Himself offered to the Father for us on the Cross. When Jesus ascended into heaven, You came upon earth to establish the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and to apply to this Body the fruits of the life, Blood, Passion, and death of Christ. Otherwise, Jesus would have suffered and died in vain. Furthermore, O Holy Spirit, You descended to us at holy baptism to form Jesus Christ in our souls, to incorporate us into Him, to give us birth and life in Him, to apply to us the effects and merits of His Blood and of His death, to animate and inspire us, and to guide and direct us in all that we should think, say, do, and suffer for God. What, then, should our life be? Oh! it should be completely holy, divine, and spiritual, according to the words of Jesus: ‘that which is born of the Spirit is spirit!’

“O Divine Spirit, I give myself entirely to You. Take possession of my soul, direct me in everything, and grant that I may live as a true child of God, as a true member of Jesus Christ; grant that, born of You, I may totally belong to You, be totally possessed, animated, and directed by You” (St. John Eudes).

“O Holy Spirit, Soul of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, fortify me, console me. Tell me what I should do, give me Your orders. I promise to be submissive to all that You ask of me and to accept everything that You permit to happen to me” (Cardinal Mercier).

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

Art for this post on the Holy Spirit, Sweet Guest of the soul: ReligiöseKunst2 (Religious Art2 [Holy Spirit and Church]), Jakob Häne, undated, photographed by Ruth Häne, 27 February 2015, PD-US faithful reproduction of two-dimensional public domain work of art, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

St. Francis Caracciolo

Sat, 06/03/2017 - 22:00

Francis was born on October 13, 1563, in Italy. At one point in his life he contracted leprosy, but after being miraculously cured, he vowed himself to the service of God. He gave away all his worldly goods and left for Naples in 1585 to study theology.

After being ordained a priest in 1587, he entered the confraternity of the Bianchi della Giustizia (The white robes of Justice) who ministered to prisoners who were condemned to death. By providence, he received a letter from Giovanni Agostino Adorno meant for another person of the same name, requesting him to assist in founding a new religious institute. He assisted in writing up the rules for the congregation and Sixtus V approved it on July 1, 1588. Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was kept and the monks continually practiced mortification. Francis was chosen general of the first house of the congregation in Naples in 1593, which was called St. Mary Major’s. He traveled to Spain three times to establish foundations and opened the house of the Holy Ghost in Madrid in 1599. On his second journey, he established Our Lady of the Annunciation at Valladolid and then in 1601, on his third trip, he opened a school for teaching science called St. Joseph at Alcala.

Francis remained humble throughout his life. Even though Pope Paul V desired Francis to be a bishop, Francis was not interested. He became ill and died on the vigil of Corpus Christi in Agnone on June 4, 1608 at the young age of forty-five.

Lessons

Francis Caracciolo was beatified by Pope Clement XIV in 1769 and canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807. He was chosen patron saint of the city of Naples in 1838.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we pray that we might be like St. Francis Caracciolo in showing our love and appreciation for all Your blessings by living our lives for You. May the Holy Spirit live always in our hearts, and may we bring glory to Your Holy Name through our words and deeds. Amen.

St. Charles Lwanga and Companions

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 22:00

The nineteenth century martyrs of Uganda were the first modern black Catholic martyrs of Africa. St. Charles Lwanga first learned of Christ from two members of the court of an African chief named Mawulungungu. Charles became a catechumen (one actively preparing for baptism); soon after this, he entered the royal court of King Mwanga of Uganda, where he served as an assistant to Joseph Mukaso, head of the royal pages (errand boys).

King Mwanga at first favored Charles and the other pages (young men aged thirteen to thirty), but when they rejected his homosexual advances, the king grew angry, and ordered a persecution of “all those who pray” — meaning all Catholics. Joseph Mukaso, who had encouraged the pages to resist, was put to death at the king’s command.

On the night of Mukaso’s execution, Charles requested and received baptism; then, following his friend’s example, he attempted to protect the others from the king’s demands. Charles and his companions were imprisoned. On June 3, 1886, he and some of the other Catholics were burned alive, while still others were killed by the sword. The remaining Ugandan martyrs were killed early in 1887. St. Charles Lwanga and his twenty-one companions were canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

Lessons

1. Contrary to what some of the Church’s critics claim, Christianity is not merely a white, European institution; the gospel is intended for persons of every language, nationality, and race, and all people are capable of receiving it and of following Christ faithfully and heroically.

2. God gives wisdom and strength to all who seek these gifts. St. Charles Lwanga, though young and still only a catechumen, was able to recognize immorality and able to refuse to take part in it.

3. Though homosexuality is considered “politically correct” in our society, homosexual acts are sinful — and committed Christians accept this truth and, with God’s help avoid such activity.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Clotilde , (545) Widow, Queen of France

image: http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/

Attention and the Distraction Addiction

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 17:28

There are two ways to go through life: Mindfully or mindlessly. In the first instance, we pay attention. We see things and notice them in order to appreciate them. We hear things in order to understand them. We seek to know things not superficially but in their wholeness. We live in the present moment and experience the world with wonder, tasting its mysteries with full appreciation.

In the second instance, we are distracted. We see things but do not notice them. We hear things but do not understand them. All the information of our senses is received with the bare minimum of attention. Our whole life is a haze, a fragmented series of a barely conscious sense impressions.

The first describes the mode of the poet who sees fully and feels deeply. The second describes the frequently fragmented attention of modern man, and this is in no small part due to omnipresent technology.

Technology and Attention

I possess a smartphone, and I there are frequently times I am thankful for its benefits. Yet, as often as I am thankful, I am equally disgusted with it. For my phone has a way of drawing me inevitably away from the present moment. A brief consultation for a specific purpose quickly finds me distracted by myriad pieces of information flowing at me incessantly through a brightly colored screen. It is a machine designed for one purpose—to absorb and hold my attention for as long as possible.

Whether or not we realize it, our attention is now a commodity to be bought and sold. We think we are mindlessly relaxing, scrolling through our Instagram or Facebook feed. In reality, advertisers are purchasing our attention and using the years of social data we have given them to know what we want before we know we want it.  And it works. It is nearly irresistible. It is designed to be so.

Fragmentation and Augmentation

It could be argued legitimately that every technology has tradeoffs and that internet enabled phones are no exception. The problem is, digital devices are designed to fragment attention, where other technologies are intended to augment it. An apt example is a book. A book is actually a piece of technology for relaying information. After the advent of the printing press, books became the most widely used system of information exchange.

But reading is an entirely different experience than scrolling on Facebook. Reading focuses your attention and draws you into a deep state of flow—of concentration without effort. Reading causes you to pass through the particular words into the realm of ideas and, in the case of fiction, imagery and emotions. The whole structure of a book, from the font to the layout of words on a page, is designed to aid and augment concentration.

Digital devices, on the other hand, fragment attention. On opening your smartphone, you are presented with a grid providing you with a choice of applications you want to enter. Because there are options, your attention is immediately pulled in different directions. Once you enter an app, you are faced with a stream of information—whether it be a list of emails, social media posts, or notifications of activity.

Each item presents a demand on your attention. It beckons you to become aware of it and engage with it. It stimulates our desires and teaches us to act on impulse. And because there is always something new, our brains are soon trained to expect the reward of fresh stimulus. Using such a device is rather like someone on a strict, gluten free diet walking into a donut shop—resolve does not last long.

Struggle for Awareness

My point is not to denigrate technology. Devices such as smartphones have indeed brought benefits to our lives. I would not own one if there were not benefits to it. And yet, there is a very real sense in which these devices have impoverished us in making us no longer aware of the world around us. More often than not, we move through life in a distracted haze of stimulation and response, neglecting the deeper concentration needed for true contemplation. How many miracles, how many shimmering wonders do we miss because we are lost in a two dimensional screen?

We must resist mindlessness, and not by half measures. I believe we have a very real duty to struggle against distraction. As Christians, we are all called to be poets—not literally perhaps, but in the sense of seeing fully and feeling deeply the mystery of things.

To quote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, the “world is charged with the grandeur of God,” but without awareness, without attention, we cannot experience this sacramental reality. We cannot receive it as the gift that it is, with joy and wonder and gratitude, if we are not awake enough to notice it. And not merely notice it in a superficial, cursory manner, but truly contemplate it in its richness and beauty.

Our fragmented attention is causing us to miss out on a great deal of joy. Let us then struggle against the world of artificiality that beckons us and seeks to absorb and then shatter our attention. Let us strive for mindfulness and not mindlessness. Let us return to reality and receive the gift of creation with awe and thanksgiving and offer for it a sacrifice of praise.

The post Attention and the Distraction Addiction appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

Pentecost: A New Revelation of God

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 22:07

In many places throughout the world, Christians observe Pentecost Sunday as a celebration of God as the Trinity — three divine Persons living eternally in perfect unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is the mystery at the heart of Christianity, and from the beginning it distinguished the apostolic Faith from everything else. It is the foundation of every Christian creed; all other dogmas, all other revelation, come from the fact that God is three in one.

The Apostles preached, insistently, that “God is one.” St. Paul said it plainly (Rom. 3:30; 1 Cor. 8:4–6; Gal. 3:20), as did St. James (James 2:19). In the entire New Testament, there is nothing to suggest a second god — a god besides God.

The Apostles’ monotheism was continuous with their religious herita e. God had said through the prophet Isaiah: “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5). And, in the time of Jesus, Jews daily recalled the words of Moses: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4–5). The God preached by the Apostles is one, and he demanded a total and undivided commitment from anyone who would enter his covenant.

Yet from the first day of the Church’s life, it was clear that the one God is also three. As Peter preached his first public sermon, he spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Je­sus] has poured out this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33).

The God Peter preached was not a solitary being, but an eternal communion. The God revealed on Pentecost was interpersonal. Only of such a deity could the Apostles say: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

* * *

The Apostles grounded this most fundamental belief in a revelation given by Jesus himself. In the last sentence recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). They were to act in one divine “name” that clearly applied to three distinct persons. Father, Son, and Spirit share the “name” of God equally. Jesus’ Great Commission, then, was the immediate background for Peter’s first proclamation.

But even before the Great Commission, Jesus had spoken of himself as “one” with the Father (John 10:30). The being of the Father and Son, he said, was relational and inseparable: “the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (John 10:38). As God had revealed himself to Moses by the name “I AM” (Exod. 3:14), so Jesus claimed that name as his own. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58). Only immortal, eternal God could make such a statement.

Nevertheless, Jesus was clearly not the same person as the one he addressed as “Father” — and who identified Jesus as “beloved Son” (Mark 1:11; 9:7).

Jesus knew that he was divine, and he applied unmistakably divine titles to himself, such as “lord of the sabbath” (Luke 6:5). His appeal to God as “Father” was perceived as a divine claim, which the Pharisees condemned as blasphemy and supreme arrogance. “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he . . . called God his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). And Jesus did not back away from those charges. Instead, he expressed his expectation “that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23).

From the reactions of his opponents, we can see that Jesus’ self-understanding was scandalous. Nevertheless, the disciples and evangelists reported the Master’s divine titles and claims without commentary, explanation, or defense. They had received a revelation — an idea usually rendered by the Greek apokalypsis, which means “unveiling.” Jesus had shown them something that had previously been veiled from human sight, something humanity could not have discovered on its own. The Apostles were duty-bound to report the content of the revelation, even though they could not pretend to comprehend it.

Jesus had, moreover, spoken of a third divine Person — distinct from the Father and Son yet united to them. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as someone like himself: “another Counselor” (John 14:16) —yet, again, someone whom the Father could “give” and “send” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit would himself be an active agent — a person and not a force — teaching and reminding the disciples of all that they needed to know.

The divinity of the Spirit was self-evident to the Apostles. In his interrogation of the wayward Ananias and Sapphira, Peter used the terms God and Holy Spirit interchangeably (compare Acts 5:4 and 5:9).

Such was the God proclaimed by the Apostles — and expe­rienced by thousands of people in the New Testament period.

* * *

Christians, over time, would reflect on the mystery and see hints of it in the Old Testament. They noticed that the cre­ation story portrays God using the first person plural, us and our, to speak of himself and not the singular me and my: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26, em­phasis added). God is one, and his singularity is reflected in the verb forms of the narrative; and yet, when he speaks, he speaks as a collective.

Later in the book of Genesis, God’s promise appears to Abraham by means of three messengers. Other books of the Bible present God’s wisdom as a person (see Proverbs 1:20 and chapters 7–9). Similarly, “the word of the Lord” appears often as not simply a message, but a messenger, who comes and goes (for example, 1 Kings 17:2). When Jews in the diaspora composed the Targums, paraphrased and expanded versions of the books of the Bible, they often depicted “the Word” (Aramaic memra) as a personal figure.

This article is from Ministers and Martyrs. Click image to preview other chapters.

The most prominent Jewish contemporary of the Apostles, Philo of Alexandria, speculated much about God’s “Word.” Philo personifies the Word as the mediator of God’s revelation; God is known in and through the Word. For Philo, the Word is a deuteros theos — a “second god”! — and yet is also the archetype of man.

Other religious Jews were discussing the possibility of a plurality of “powers” in heaven. Yet none went so far as the author of the fourth Gospel, who wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). For the early Christians the Word was eternal and transcendent, but became a man in order to save the human race. The apostolic Faith proclaimed the eternal “Word” as enfleshed in the historical Jesus.

The word flesh (Greek sarx) was graphic and must have been scandalous. The same term could be used to describe meat hanging in the marketplace. Here it describes the human body of God. (Later, in John 6:51, Jesus will use the same term, sarx, to describe his body given as “bread . . . for the life of the world.”)

The New Testament doctrine of God was revealed at Pentecost — revealed in the words of St. Peter and in the event itself. But nowhere in Scripture is it presented systematically. The word Trinity appears nowhere in the Bible.

Nevertheless, the testimony of the Apostles is clear. The awaited Messiah, sent by God, was not merely one of the great men of history, but rather God himself. The Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus, in turn, was not an impersonal gift, but the gift of a divine person. From the beginning, the Church instinctively worshiped Jesus and the Holy Spirit as God. St. Paul prayed to the Father and Jesus together:

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you; and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thess. 3:11–13)

Paul also pronounced blessings in Jesus’ name (Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 16:23) and in the name of the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14).

The most ancient Christian homily we possess outside Scripture begins with the line: “Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God, as the Judge of the living and the dead.” And one of the earliest pagan reports about Christianity, the letter of Pliny the Younger to the emperor Trajan, describes a congregation gathered to “sing hymns to Christ as to a god.” The New Testament contains several passages that testify to Jesus’ divinity and that seem to be cast in a musical form (John 1:1–18; Phil. 2:5–11; Col. 1:11–15). Hymns to the divine Christ were likely part of Christian worship from the beginning.

What was implicit in Scripture became explicit in the Church’s worship — and made more explicit still in the speculative theology of the following generations. By the end of the second century, Greek and Latin writers had coined new words to describe the mystery of the three in one: Trinas in Greek, Trinitas in Latin — the etymological sources of the English word Trinity.

But the earliest proof is in the Church’s worship of God as Father, and of Jesus, and of the Holy Spirit. A maxim of the early Church tells us: The law of prayer is the law of belief.25 And the Church has prayed consistently in a Trinitarian way since the time of the Apostles.

* * *

The God revealed at Pentecost was not a new God. He was, as the disciples proclaimed to the Jews in Jerusalem, “the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers” (Acts 3:13; 7:32).

The experience of that God was decidedly different. The eternal Word had “pitched his tent” among his people; that’s the literal meaning of the Greek in John 1:14. And, as if that were not close enough, he promised that they would share his life in a still deeper way. He would “abide” in them, and they would abide in him (John 15:4–10). They would be “filled” with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 6:3, 5; 7:55; 13:52).

God would live in the believers, as believers lived in God. God shared human nature, so that humans might come to share his divine nature. St. Paul said: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9; see also Gal. 4:4–6). As Jesus was the Son of God, so the members of his Body, the Church, would know themselves to be children of God (see 1 John 3:1–2).

This was the deepest meaning of salvation. Jesus came “to save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21); but the cleansing from sin was a preparation for their new life as God’s children. Around the same time the Fathers were developing a language to describe the Trinity, they were coining terms just as bold to describe salvation. They called it divinization and deification, to emphasize the reality that Christians were God’s children. Jesus’ promise of the Spirit was not a word game. It was the promise of a share in God’s very nature (see 2 Pet. 1:4).

That sudden infusion of divine power explains the ecstatic behavior of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. It also ex­plains the power with which the Apostles worked miracles from that day forward. It is perhaps the only plausible expla­nation for the success of the work of evangelization in those first generations. The sociologist Rodney Stark estimates that the Christian Church grew, over its first three centuries, at a steady rate of 40 percent per decade.

That’s not something the Apostles — as we know them from the New Testament — could accomplish. Remember: Peter was a coward, Thomas a doubter, James and John ambitious dreamers.

With military might and a wealth of resources, Alexander the Great had failed to conquer the world. So had imperial Rome. Yet believers, or rather Christ, who lived in them (Gal. 2:20) and enabled them to act with his divine power, would succeed.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Ministers and Martyrs: The Ultimate Catholic Guide to the Apostolic Age, which is available from Sophia Institute Press as an ebook or paperback.

image: piosi / Shutterstock.com

Pentecost: The Difference that the Spirit Makes

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 22:05

As a teen, I thought the clergy were supposed to do everything. We laity were just called to pray, pay, and obey.  Oh yes, and keep the commandments, of course. The original 10 seemed overwhelming enough. Then I discovered the Sermon on the Mount and nearly passed out.

Perhaps this is why many inactive Catholics are so resentful of their upbringing in the Church.   For them, religion means frustration, failure, and guilt.

Somehow they, and I, missed the good news about Pentecost.  OK, we Catholics celebrate the feast every year and mention it in Confirmation class, but lots of us evidently didn’t “get it.”

Because if we “got it,” we’d be different . . . bold instead of timid, energetic instead of anemic, fascinated instead of bored.   Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost and you’ll see the difference the Spirit makes.

The gospel is Good News not just because we’re going to heaven, but because we’ve been empowered to become new people, here and now.  Vatican II insisted that each of us is called to the heights of holiness (Lumen Gentium, chapter V).  Not by will-power, mind you.  But by Holy Spirit power. Holiness consists in faith, hope, and especially divine love.  These are “virtues,” literally “powers,” given by the Spirit.  To top it off, the Spirit gives us seven further gifts which perfect faith, hope, and love, making it possible for us to live a supernatural, charismatic life.  Some think this is only for the chosen few, “the mystics.”  Thomas Aquinas taught to the contrary that the gifts of Isaiah 11:1-3 (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord) are standard equipment given in baptism, that all are called to be “mystics.”

Vatican II also taught that every Christian has a vocation to serve.  We need power for this too.  And so the Spirit distributes other gifts, called “charisms.”  These, teaches St. Thomas, are not so much for our own sanctification as for service to others.  There is no exhaustive list of charisms, though St. Paul mentions a few (I Corinthians 12:7-10, Romans 12:6-8) ranging from tongues to Christian marriage (1 Corinthians7: 7).  Charisms are not doled out by the pastors; but are given directly by the Spirit through baptism and confirmation, even sometimes outside of the sacraments (Acts 10:44-48).

Do I sound Pentecostal?  That’s because I belong to the largest Pentecostal Church in the world.  Correcting the mistaken notion that the charisms were just for the apostolic church, Vatican II had this to say: “Allotting His gifts ‘to everyone according as he will’ (1 Cor. 12:11), He [the Holy Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church” (LG12).

Powerful gifts, freely given to all.  Sounds like a recipe for chaos.  But the Lord also imparted to the apostles and their successors a unifying charism of headship.  The role of the ordained is not to do everything themselves.  Rather, they are to discern, shepherd, and coordinate the charisms of the laity so that they mature and work together for the greater glory of God (LG 30).

So what if you, like me, did not quite “get it” when you were confirmed?   I’ve got good news for you.  You actually did get the Spirit and his gifts.   Have you ever received a new credit card with a sticker saying “Must call to activate before using?”  The Spirit and his gifts are the same way.  You have to call in and activate them.   Do it today and every day, and especially every time you attend Mass.  Because every sacramental celebration is a New Pentecost where the Spirit and his gifts are poured out anew (CCC 739, 1106).

That’s why the Christian Life is an adventure.  There will always be new surprises of the Spirit!

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Scripture Speaks: Receive the Holy Spirit

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 22:02

On Resurrection Day, Jesus breathed on His disciples, a gesture odd in itself but packed with meaning for our celebration of Pentecost today.

Gospel (Read Jn 20:19-23)

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus surprised the disciples “on the evening of that first day of the week” by appearing in their midst without using a door (locked “for fear of the Jews”).  We wonder if He had to calm them down a bit, because He said, twice, “Peace be with you.”  We can imagine how startled they were.  He showed them His wounds, in case they thought He was a ghost.  Then, Jesus gave the apostles an astonishing commission:  “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.”  What had begun three years earlier with a call to “Follow Me” (Mt 4:19) culminated in a sending out.  Their work was to be a continuation of the divine apostleship of Jesus (“apostle” means “one sent”; see Heb. 3:1).  If we have paid attention to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ companionship with these men, we have seen clear indications that He intended to give the apostles authority to build His Church and do His work.  We are impressed by the scope of their mission but not really surprised by it.  However, after announcing His directive to them, Jesus steps out of the expected with an action that can only be described as strange:  “He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”  Don’t let familiarity with this verse rob it of its shock value.  Why on earth did Jesus breathe on His apostles?

To understand this moment, so different from anything we’ve yet seen in any Gospel account, we have to go back to the beginning, to the first time divinity breathed on humanity.  At Creation, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7).  There is no clearer image than this of God’s desire to impart His own life into man, who is made in His image and likeness.  Adam and Eve’s fall into sin robbed them (and us) of their inheritance as God’s children, but the entire story of salvation reveals God’s plan to restore and renew His life in us.  So vivid is this image of God’s breath in man that it appears again at the time of the prophet, Ezekiel.  God’s people, Israel, were in exile in Babylon; they had been ravaged by their enemies as punishment for their covenant unfaithfulness.  They represent all of us who are spiritually dead and entirely helpless.  However, in His unrelenting determination to restore His people, God says to Ezekiel (whom He called “son of man”):  “’Son of man, can these bones live?’  And I answered, ‘O LORD God, Thou knowest.’  Again He said, ‘Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD…Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live…and you shall know that I am the LORD’” (Ez 36:3-6).

When we know this Old Testament history, Jesus breathing on the apostles on Resurrection Day no longer seems so odd, does it?  In this gesture, He begins the divinization of man, always God’s intention for His children.  The renewal of humanity begins, once again, with the breath of God.  For the apostles, this unique action enabled them to truly be Jesus’ continuing presence on earth.  They will forgive or retain sins, an action reserved for Divinity.  What about the rest of us?  Will the breath of God blow on us, too?  The other readings will help answer this question.

Possible response:  Father, thank You for loving us enough to share Your own breath with us—a marvel beyond description.

First Reading (Read Acts 2:1-11)

At His Ascension, Jesus told the apostles not to start on their mission of making disciples of all nations until they received “power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).  This helps us see that Jesus’ action of breathing on them on Resurrection Day was an initiation into the Holy Spirit, not the fullness they were meant to have.   For that, Jesus had them wait for the Jewish feast of Pentecost, nine days later.  Pentecost originally had been a harvest festival in the Jewish liturgical calendar; gradually it also became associated with a memorial celebration of God’s giving of the Law to His people at Mt. Sinai, when they had been delivered from slavery in Egypt.  The Law, or Torah, gave the people a way of life that would distinguish them from all other peoples on earth.  To seal the covenant, God actually came down on top of Mt.  Sinai, manifested in fire, smoke, thunder, an earthquake, and the loud sound of a trumpet (see Ex 19:16-19).  It was quite the fireworks show!

We need to know this history, because it helps us understand why Jesus waited until Pentecost to send the Holy Spirit on His Church.  Drawing on all the parallels with God’s visit to Mt. Sinai, the Jews gathered there in Jerusalem that day could comprehend this action as the “harvest” of God’s people, ready now, because of Jesus’ accomplished work, to receive God’s new Law of Love, to be written not on stone tablets but in the hearts of men by the Holy Spirit.  Just as God’s descent on Sinai meant the formation of Israel as a nation, the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost meant the formation of Jews and Gentiles into the Church, the new Israel.

Of course, the events on Pentecost evoke the deep symbolism of wind and fire throughout the Old Testament, not just at the Mt. Sinai covenant.  At Creation, “the wind” of God (literally, God’s “breath”) hovered over the waters of the earth, ready to do God’s bidding as He brought forth life (Gen 1:2).  The “wind” of God also blew apart the waters of the Red Sea so God’s people could escape from their enemies, the Egyptians.  As for fire, recall that God first appeared to Moses, the deliverer of His people, in a fiery bush.  Also, the people had to follow a pillar of fire to make their way home to the Promised Land.

The more we know of the imagery representing God in the Old Testament, the more we understand the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost as an explosion of fulfilled promises!  See that the tongues of fire rested over each of the apostles.  They will now be God’s presence in His Church, leading His people on their journey home to heaven.  To this day, the bishops of the Church, who are successors of these apostles, wear hats (mitres) in the shape of a flame of fire.  They are marked out as our pillars of fire, leading us on our pilgrim journey home to heaven.

What about the effects of all this amazing action?  The apostles were miraculously able to communicate the Gospel in the foreign tongues of the Jews assembled there.  All male Jews were required to make a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for this feast; that explains why “there were devout Jews from every nation” there.  This immediately evokes the history of Babel (see Gen 11:1-9).  There human pride made a grab at heaven by building a tower up to God.  The solidarity of men (made possible by one language) was perverted to accomplish an evil end.  God broke it by confusing the one language into many.  Now, in the fullness of time, God grants the human solidarity for which man longs (because he is made for that) but which he cannot naturally achieve.  The Holy Spirit creates supernatural solidarity, represented here by all men being able to hear, in their own language, the mighty works of God.  This time, God reaches down to man rather than man trying to climb up to God.

So, now that we understand something of the background of Pentecost, we can ask whether all the rest of us who aren’t apostles will also have a share in this breath of God.  The answer is YES.  In verses not included in today’s reading, Peter answers the “what about us?” question:  “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:28).  Jesus wants to breathe on all of us and thus renew the face of the earth.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, may Your Church always live in the joy of Pentecost, in awe of Your power and presence.

Psalm (Read Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34)

Today’s psalm celebrates the life-giving power of God’s Spirit.  Written long before the Day of Pentecost, it nevertheless summarizes both the past and the future.  “If you take away their breath, they perish and return to their dust” (Ps 104:29) reminds us of the Fall, at the beginning of man’s story.  Disobedience led to death:  “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19b).  “When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30) describes our celebration today.  The world, weary in sin, is in dire need of refreshment and renewal.  Maybe we are, too.  The psalm response is the perfect Pentecost prayer:  “Lord, send out Your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.”

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

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13)

The Gospel showed us God’s desire to once again breathe His life into man.  The Book of Acts showed us that the gift of God’s breath, the Holy Spirit, entered the stream of human history on the Day of Pentecost, producing miraculous results.  In the epistle, St. Paul gives us a theological reflection on the meaning of all this history.  He explains that none of us can confess Jesus as Lord without the Holy Spirit.  Our Christian faith is, itself, a work of God’s breath, the Spirit, in us.  That Spirit gives to believers a wide variety of spiritual gifts, creating diversity of service in His Church.  However, because it is “the same God” Who produces this diversity, we are “one body.”  St. Paul’s emphasis here is on the unity created by the Holy Spirit.  Let’s consider this for a moment.

Unity is the distinguishing characteristic of the Trinity—three Persons in One.  Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is hard-wired for unity, for communion with both God and others.  Sin shattered this unity (recall the immediate fracture of Adam and Eve’s relationship with God and each other in the Garden).  Babel showed us that when men actually cobble together unity, their pride bends them towards a perverse use of it.  God’s descent on Mt. Sinai was for the purpose of forming one nation for Himself out of many tribes.  He gave them one way to worship and one law to live by.  In time, that nation fractured, and a large part of it completely disappeared.  Men cannot create unity for themselves, although their hearts long for it.  Fittingly, unity in His Church was the one thing for which Jesus prayed as He faced His Passion:  “I…pray…that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (Jn 17:20-21).

On Pentecost, God sent His breath to create supernatural unity.  It was experienced immediately among the first converts, and it is a constant manifestation of God’s breath in His Church, 2000 years later.  The life of Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit, holds us in His one Body.  Unity at last—alleluia!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, forgive me when I rebel against unity—wanting my own way, isolating myself.  Let Your Spirit lead me to the unity for which my heart longs.

image: jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

“The only thing that matters in

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 22:00

“The only thing that matters in life is doing the will of God. Once you are doing the will of God, then everything else matters.” 

-Hubert van Zeller, Holiness for Housewives

Simon Peter was so enthusiastic and

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 22:00

Simon Peter was so enthusiastic and loyal to Jesus at his arrest that cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant. However, before maid servants Peter denied him three times. This was the same Peter who had insisted, “Though I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” (Mk 14: 31)
Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him: three times, not to be assured of Peter’s love but rather to remind Peter of his weakness and betrayal of Jesus. Christ gave Peter, the weak one who denied him, the leadership of his Church. Christ trusted Peter despite his weakness because Peter knew how to repent. Peter knew himself very well, that he was a sinner.

If we are to follow Christ, we must first abandon our way of thinking, the direction we are taking. Oftentimes the will of God may be against our own will. The path the Lord for us may be the one we do not like. But inspired by the Holy Spirit, we eventually follow him and allow God to lead us to where he wills.

Peter the coward was chosen by the Lord to become the first leader of the Church and to die with loyalty and faith. If God can give this privilege to Peter, he can certainly give this gift to anyone. God clothes our imperfections and gives us love for him and a newfound zeal for evangelization. This is what it means to feed the sheep. It is to announce the Good News and bring salvation to the people of God unrelentlessly and unceasingly.

Saint Marcellinus, Priest, and Saint Peter, Exorcist

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 22:00

Saints Marcellinus and Peter were Roman Christians who suffered martyrdom for their faith at the beginning of the fourth century. Marcellinus was a priest in Rome and Peter was an exorcist. (At one point in the Church’s history, exorcists comprised a minor order in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, ranking below deacons and sub-deacons.) During the intense persecution of the Church ordered by the Emperor Diocletian, both men were arrested and imprisoned.

According to legend, Marcellinus and Peter not only strengthened the faith of other Christians imprisoned with them; they also made new converts, including the jailer — a man named Arthemius — and his wife and daughter. Along with the other Christians, Marcellinus and Peter were condemned to death about the year 304; the two saints were taken to a wood outside Rome named Silva Nigra, where they were beheaded in secret (so that their place of burial wouldn’t be known to the Church, and in the hopes that their example of courage and faith would be forgotten).

Ironically, their names have been preserved and venerated over the centuries in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) used at Mass. Pope St. Damasus (d. 384) had, while a boy, talked to Arthemius about the two saints; as pope, he later wrote an epitaph for their tombs.

Lessons

1. As Jesus said, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be made known” (Mt 10:26). The Roman authorities attempted to execute Saints Marcellinus and Peter in secret so as to erase their memory — but through their courageous martyrdom, God has granted them eternal renown.

2. Difficulties and misfortunes can actually provide opportunities for spreading the gospel; Marcellinus and Peter used their imprisonment as a way of bringing still more people to know and follow Christ.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Erasmus (303), Bishop and Martyr, invoked against stomach ailments

St. Blandina (177), Martyr

4 Ways to Discern the Voice of God

Thu, 06/01/2017 - 02:35
Do you want to be set free?

When he is teaching on Discernment of Spirits, Dan Burke often says that “not all of the voices in your head are from you, and you don’t have to listen to them.” Find out how to learn more about how to discern the voice of God via this post, and be sure to register for our upcoming webinar (mini-course) on Discernment of Spirits on June 7th.

“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

Do you believe that the Christ has the power to set you free? Whatever you are struggling with, whether it is addiction, loneliness, habitual sin, low self-worth, pride, or anger, Jesus wants to set you free from it, and He has the power to do so. Sometimes we fail to believe this.

If Christ wants to set us free from our sin and temptations, why do we feel as if it is an impossible task to be set free from what we are struggling with?

Becoming free from our chains can be difficult because we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. The devil is constantly enticing us to listen to him, to believe the lies that he has infiltrated our culture and our mind with. Too often, the devil’s lies go unrecognized in our own heads. We mistake them for our own voice or even the voice of God. The devil is a liar and an accuser, but he is also clever, and he can get those who are not alert to fall into his traps. That’s why Scripture tells us:

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.” – 1 Peter 5:8-9

Lest we feel that we are fighting a losing battle, Christ has equipped us with all that we need to fight the battle against sin darkness. Firstly, he has given us His grace. We are totally dependent upon his grace, and the more we realize this, the more we open ourselves up to receiving it. We remain open to his grace through daily mental prayer and through reception of the sacraments. Secondly, God has given us Sacred Scripture to help us navigate our way through the journey. Thirdly, God has given us the wisdom of the great saints who have come before us, from Paul and to Augustine to Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux, the saints lived deep prayer lives and imparted great wisdom upon us. All of these saints wrote extensively and, in their writings, we find rich wisdom on how to discern God’s voice in our lives. Perhaps one of the more insightful writers of all is St. Ignatius of Loyola, who wrote fourteen rules for discernment of spirits. His fourteen rules were based primarily on his own experience but correspond remarkably to the truths witnessed to by all the other saints and Doctors of the Church. Ignatius’ rules serve as excellent guidelines to help discern the voice of God.

The Avila Foundation seeks to make the wisdom of the saints known in a world that has its own misguided sense of wisdom. We don’t want you to be alone on the journey, so we are here to help. We offer several ways for you to learn about the wisdom of the saints that will help guide you on the path of discerning God’s voice and obtaining the freedom He wants for you.

First, we have regular posts here on spiritualdirection.com where we cover a wide range of topics that will help you to discern the voice of God more clearly in your life.

Second, we have an upcoming Discernment of Spirits Webinar with Dan Burke, where you can learn about Ignatius’ rules and how to implement them in your life to better discern the voice of God in your life.

Third, we have the Avila Institute, where you can take courses in the School of Spiritual Formation like Discernment of Spirits, Foundations of Prayer, History of Catholic Spirituality, and more, all with the purpose of guiding you in the spiritual life. You can find out more and see a list of upcoming courses by visiting our website.

Fourth, you can listen to Divine Intimacy Radio on EWTN Radio on Sundays at 6:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 11:00 pm Eastern time where Dan Burke and Melissa Elson discuss the wisdom of the saints.

These are all ways in which you can learn about Discernment of Spirits and other topics to help guide you in your spiritual life. Don’t forget to join us for the webinar on June 7th. You can register here.

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Art: St. Ignatius of Loyola, Peter Paul Rubens, 1600s; San Miguel Arcangel venciendo al demonio (Saint Michael the Archangel defeating the devil), Höllensturz, Altarbild von Johann Michael Rottmayr, 1697, Schlosskapelle St. Michael (Tittmoning); both PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; both Wikimedia Commons.

About Dylan Jedlovec

Dylan Jedlovec is an Operations Administrative Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Finishing up an undergraduate degree in Marketing and Economics from Samford University, Dylan is first and foremost a disciple of Christ and a son of the Church. Dylan has a heart for evangelization on college campuses, and has worked closely with FOCUS as a student missionary and served as President of the Catholic Student Association at Samford. As a member of the University Fellows Program at Samford, Dylan developed a love for the writings of the Saints, particularly the Doctors of the Church, through his studies of the core texts of the Western Intellectual Tradition. This love for the rich intellectual tradition of the faith brought him to the Avila Foundation, where he seeks to further the kingdom through feeding Christ’s sheep. In his free time, Dylan enjoys watching baseball, reading, hiking, running, and lifting weights (although you can’t really tell).

 

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

Praying for Priests & Families: Urgency, Promise, Vision

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 22:07

Today I was communing with the Lord about the urgency, promise and vision of praying for priests. In 2013 when I co-founded the international apostolate, “Foundation of Prayer for Priests,” I heard the clarion call. In response, I seriously committed myself to the mission of spiritual motherhood of priests, offering daily holy hours and rosaries for them. The initiative of the Congregation for the Clergy confirmed its urgency for the New Evangelization of future generations. Priests had long been a part of my family experiences so appreciating and praying for them was not new for me. But doing so in the context of a broader need in the Church, and for future families, added to the weight of the mission.

Since 2013, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to many countries to encourage men and women to discover the timely, profound and necessary mission of spiritual motherhood and fatherhood of souls, especially those of priests. The response of the Holy Spirit and the people of God has been overwhelmingly generous. Absent even one glossy pamphlet or professional marketing, in three years, the number of spiritual mothers and fathers, clergy and religious now spans twenty countries and thousands of members.

Yet, I was struggling about this today. I wanted my family to receive the first fruits of prayer because we are undergoing a difficulty that requires torrents of grace. I honestly questioned the Lord, “Why pray for priests first? Why not my family first?” I became hung up on who should receive the first fruits of prayer. A deeper consideration revealed that I had an attitude: The priests are the Lord’s. The family is mine. Wrong! O how tightly I want to hold onto “my” family. No! My family is the Lord’s. Priests are the Lord’s. Everything is the Lord’s.

In prayer, the Lord graciously helped to me to grasp that praying for priests first is a prayer for the salvation of all families including mine. I realized that what the Lord desires for my family is the goods of the Church, some of which, only His priests can give. When I give the first fruit of prayer for a priest, I am investing in my family; in their future encounters with priests and need for the beautiful goods of the Church.

Urgency

Praying for the holiness of priests is urgent. They are called to be protectors of families. The spiritual welfare of the domestic church is entrusted to mothers and fathers but parents must draw wisdom and sacramental grace from the wellspring of the Church through the hands of her ministers, the clergy. Some priests arise from broken homes and imperfect families also. Thus, we need one another for mutual, but distinct support. Distinction is important. Men ordained to Holy Orders are ontologically changed (dealing with the nature of being); uniquely configured to be the Head of Christ’s Body, the Church.

Pope Francis has referred to the Church as a “field hospital” and this is true. Often, the process of checking into the “field hospital” requires the hard work of intercessory prayer, little and big sacrifices, and the offering of suffering. Our families suffer due to the imperfection of selfish human love, weaknesses of the flesh, and constant temptations of a relativistic world that is desensitized about sin and evil, and dangerously distracted from God.

One of the secrets of Fatima shared by Sr. Lucia to a Cardinal concerned the prophecy that Satan’s final attack would be against marriage and the family. Most of us perceive this as real and well underway. The attack is fierce because Satan’s time to test is limited. The Church must fight this good fight in defense of marriage and family. Her ministers, the priests, catechize the faithful so we effectively engage in the spiritual defense of Christian faith and culture. Priests also give us the sacraments which empower us to be courageous in faith, hope and love.

Urgency is furthermore evidenced by current news stories about the killing of priests. I recently completed a course covering healing, exorcism and deliverance at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. Clergy and lay professors laid out the cunning, systematic way of the occult and Satanic sects who aim to scatter the sheep by destroying the shepherds. Yes, the one third fallen angels know well the power of Priesthood and Eucharist and this is evidenced in their desired profanation of both.

Recent headlines bear evidence of increasing violence against priests:

In France: Sister Danielle was in the church at Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, at 9.43am local time during morning mass, when the men entered and took five hostages: the priest, two nuns and two parishioners. She fled as they killed Hamel, 85. “Everyone was shouting ‘stop, stop you don’t know what you’re doing’. They forced him to his knees; he wanted to defend himself and that’s when the drama began,” she said.

Sister Danielle said she had run out of the church while the men cut the priest’s throat. She told BFMTV, a TV news channel, that the two men filmed their attack. “They didn’t see me leave. They were busy occupied with their knives … and they were filming it. They filmed themselves preaching in Arabic in front of the altar. It was a horror. Jacques was an extraordinary priest. He was a great man, Father Jacques.”
(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/26/france-shock-second-isis-attack-12-days, accessed 29 May, 2017).

In Mexico: “2016 Deadliest Year for Catholic Priests in Mexico. A total of 61 attacks occurred against church members in Mexico between 1990 and 2016, according to the report published by the Catholic Media Center (Centro Católico mulitmedial), showing an alarming increase of 375 percent over that time in the number of priests who have been murdered.”
(http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/2016-deadliest-year-for-catholic-priests-in-mexico, accessed 30 May 2017.)

Promise

Popes, saints and prophets have written or spoken about a New Pentecost for the Church. Some insist that it must first begin with a “priestly Pentecost.” Last weekend I spoke at the Ave Maria University Eucharistic Marian Conference with Fr. Bill Casey. His every breath was prophetic. He spoke about the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. What does this mean precisely? Father suggests that this could mean the “flowering of faith” again. Is this the promise?

Here’s the promise given to Venerable Conchita Cabrera, mother of a Jesuit Priest and spiritual mother to countless other priests.

The Holy Spirit is He who blows, and moves hearts, and lifts them from the earth, and carries them to celestial horizons, and communicates to them the thirst for the glory of God. He is the one who will give them His light and His fire from inflaming the entire earth. Thus, I want priests possessed by the Holy Spirit and forgetful of themselves, all for God, all for souls.

Let them ask for this reaction, this new Pentecost, for my Church needs holy priests through the Holy Spirit.

The world collapses, because faithful priests are lacking who would draw it out of the abyss in which it finds itself; priests of light who would illuminate the paths of goodness; pure priests who would rescue so many hearts from the mire; priests on fire who would fill up the whole universe with divine love.

Ask, cry out to heaven, offer the Word, so that all things may be restored in me, through the Holy Spirit and through Mary.”
(Venerable Concepción Carbera de Armida, “A Mis Sacerdotes”; quoted by Kathleen Beckman, Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, Sophia Press, p 32)

Vision

If the priest is to remain completely available to God and His people and willing to embrace suffering, he needs perennial renewal. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, as a very young priest, had this to say about the interior renewal of the priest:

We must begin by purifying ourselves before others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw closer to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hands and counsel prudently. I know whose ministers we are, where we find ourselves and to where we strive. I know God’s greatness and man’s weakness, but also his potential. Who then is the priest? He is the defender of truth, who stands with angels, gives glory with archangels causes sacrifices to rise to the altar on high, shares Christ’s priesthood, refashions creation, restores it in God’s image, recreates it for the world on high and even, greater, divinized and divinizes.” (quoted by Kathleen Beckman, Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, p 15)

The vision is Eucharistic. By establishing the primacy of prayer for priests, when the first fruit of our prayer, suffering and sacrifice is offered for them, we are praying eucharistically. We sacrifice for those men who offer the perfect sacrifice at the altar. The priest uniquely prays, “This is My Body.” Priests make Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. The table of the Lord is where the soul of the family is sanctified; where Christ’s Head and Body are blessed and bound in Trinitarian love.

I am no longer confounded about appropriating the first fruit of prayer for priests because by doing so I am interceding for the new wine and wine skins from which my family members will drink new life and healing. I grasp the urgency, promise and vision again.

Spiritually adopt a priest, and learn more about spiritual motherhood and fatherhood: www.foundationforpriests.org.

Excerpts are from: Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, available from Sophia Institute Press.
image: Thoom / Shutterstock.com

Strange Gods Before Me: Do Catholics Worship Saints and Statues?

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 22:05

I like to hear and to read about people’s conversion stories to the Catholic Church—about the process they’ve been through in trying to assimilate all that our glorious Faith offers us. More often than not, there tends to be some tension within them about Mary’s role in the Church and in praying to her and the saints.

Many articles have been written by those outside of the Church who make the claim that Catholics are heathen idol-worshipers. They point to the first of the Ten Commandments (and for the sake of this article all bible quotes are from the NAB) which says, “You shall not have other gods beside me.” The commandment continues, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them”(Ex. 20:2-5).  From there, they make the claim that Catholics worship saints, statues and Mary. Let’s take a look at this Scripture passage and unpack it.

We know how the Hebrew people went to Egypt during a time of great famine; how the people were enslaved for hundreds of years, how Moses fought the Pharaoh, Raamses (Ex. 1:11) and bade him to “Let my people go” (Ex. 9:1) as God had instructed Moses. What many do not realize is that God had a reason for wanting the Hebrew slaves to be set free — “that they may serve me”(Ex. 1:12).

However, the Hebrews not only needed to be freed from the slavery of Pharaoh, but they also needed to be freed from the idols that some of them had taken to worshiping (but not all of them did) if they were going to serve God. That’s what the ten plagues were all about — God “demolishing” each of the ten major Egyptian plagues that were being worshiped in order to show forth his power over them.

The first plague, of course, was of the water of the Nile being turned to blood…in the Egyptian pantheon of gods, Hapi was the spirit of the Nile, the guardian of the Nile. In the second plague (frogs) Heqet was the goddess of fertility and water; she had the head of a frog. In the fifth plague, Hathor was the goddess of love and protection; she was oftentimes depicted with the head of a cow; hence the death of cattle and livestock. For more on the other plagues (gods/goddesses) go here.

Thus the Hebrews were freed from slavery in Egypt. God lead them into the great desert and at the top of Mt. Sinai he gave them (through Moses) his Law — the Ten Commandments. Therefore, the command “You shall have no other (strange) gods before me” was confirming the actions he had just completed in Egypt.  The rest of this commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them”, also refers back to those Egyptian gods. It was a reminder to not go back to their worship of idols.  Looking at this latter part of the commandment I will state that in the Catholic Church statues that are depictions of saints and the Virgin Mary are not in any way formed in a “likeness of anything of the heavens above (in the air) or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth”.

When God makes such declarations to his people (or even when prophets prophesy) what comes forth “from the mouth of God” MUST be relevant for the times of the hearers. Saints and the Virgin Mary had absolutely no relevance to the people of Moses’ time…there is no prior context.

The next “problem verse” in Sacred Scripture where Catholics are accused of making and worshiping idols is in Jeremiah 10:3-4 — “For the carvings of the nations are nonentities, wood cut from the forest, fashioned by artisans with the adze (ax), adorned with silver and gold”. From there the leap is made by fundamentalists who exclaim, “See? The Bible does not allow Christmas trees!” But again, this is taken totally out of context. Jeremiah is a prophet who is exhorting God’s people to be faithful to God and his Law. Then he goes into a bit of satire to poke fun of the pagans who were making idols for themselves — idols made “out of wood” (v. 8). The following verse (5) indicates, “they cannot speak; they cannot walk”. Then Jeremiah adds, “Do not fear them, they can do no harm, neither can they do good”. This same exhortation is repeated by Isaiah in 40:19-20 and 44:14-17. It is also in Psalm 115:4-8 and in Psalm 135:15-18. To repeat — prophecies and commands of God MUST have relevancy for the time at hand and not some 2,000 years in the future. Neither Jeremiah, nor Isaiah nor the writer(s) of Psalms 115 and 135 had any concept of Christmas trees. Further, no Christmas tree that I have seen has ever been carved with eyes, ears, a mouth, etc.

The third text of concern is Deuteronomy 4:12, 15 where Moses clearly states that God has “no form” and thus many non-Catholics exclaim that it is not known what God looks like. Muslims do not allow for images of God — they assert, “Rendering images of God in Islam is an impossibility, and amounts to disbelief” (http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/331/can-we-see-god).  Neither does Judaism for it “firmly maintains that G-d has no body” and adds that, “Any reference to G-d’s body is simply a figure of speech, a means of making G-d’s actions more comprehensible to beings living in a material world” (http://www.jewfaq.org/g-d.htm).

However, since the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus, He has become “fair game” to render into images. Indeed the ancient Christian hymn quoted by St. Paul in Colossians calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God” (1:15). God is also referred to as a father and thus it is ok to depict him as a fatherly figure.

God’s prohibition against idols is because he has called himself “a jealous God” (Deut. 5:9) and a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24).

Jealous?  Can God be jealous of wooden idols? He isn’t. He is jealous because as a father he wants the best for us his children and he knows that the idols can do no good (see Jer. 5:6). No wooden idol has the capacity to give his Law, to establish a covenant with his people or to love his people. Idols do not have a will but with God we can know and choose to follow his will.

There remains just two more verses to look at as I “turn the tables” on those who use these illustrations to claim that Catholics worship idols…I would like to ask how they handle God’s command to “make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the cover” of the tabernacle (Ex. 25:18)? Doesn’t this go against God’s previous command? Not really because God was against the carving of idols where one could bow down and worship them. The operative words are “bow down and worship” as God says in Ex. 20:5. Lastly, I would also ask them how they would explain God’s command to cast a bronze serpent (Numbers 21:4-9) for people to look at if they have been bitten by one of the serpents as they journeyed through the desert. Notice that after the people repented of their complaints against “this wretched food” (the daily manna in the desert), God did not cause the serpents to just slither away but commanded an image of them to be cast in bronze and then hung upon a pole for those who had been bitten to look upon and thus be healed.

Catholics do not worship the Virgin Mary; rather, they greatly revere her. Honor and veneration of the saints is called “dulia” while the veneration of the Virgin Mary is called “hyper-dulia”. Adoration which belongs to God alone is called “latria”. Saints are our friends…that “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in the Letter to the Hebrews (12:1). The Virgin Mary is our mother because we call her son Jesus our brother. Many people who complain about Catholics worshiping idols have photos of loved ones in their homes, in their wallets, on their cell-phones. We know that those who have gone before us are indeed dead in the body but not in spirit…they are quite capable of praying and interceding for us.

My Finest Hour in New York

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 22:02

Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones by the hand every day!
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
~ Walt Whitman

It’s complicated, but decades ago I lived in Manhattan with a bunch of Mennonites. I had a room in their Gramercy Park townhouse for a few months, and the rent was cheap-cheap-cheap. The room was no bigger than a closet – actually, it originally had been a closet – but I only slept there, so it didn’t matter.

The rest of the time I wandered around the city, taking the subway here and there, bebopping and cavorting, looking, listening, checking things out. Up to the Cloisters, down to the Battery, Columbia and the Village, St. Pat’s and St. John the Divine, riding, walking, drinking it all in. Sometimes I’d pick a random neighborhood I hadn’t been to, find it on my map – a physical map, a paper map with lots of creases and impossible to refold – then head out on bus and train to find it. Other times (my favorite times) I’d dip into Dorothy Day’s autobiography and locate the sites she mentions like they were hallowed shrines – which they were because she’d been there, because she’d taken note of them. Dorothy was my lodestar in New York, a mentor as I stumbled my way into the practice of the Faith and adult freedoms.

So that’s how I spend most of my time in Manhattan, but I still had to pay my cheap-cheap rent, so I worked at a bookstore. Logos Bookstore of Midtown, on Madison Avenue, between 43rd and 44th (I think). It subsequently moved further north, but at the time it was definitely in the thick of urban things, at least from my suburban perspective. Grand Central Station was my subway stop; Times Square right down the street.

What happened was this. I was working the counter, ringing up books and magazines, answering questions, and Dan, the manager, took over. “Time for lunch,” he said – gladly. I hit the street, did a brief wander in the general vicinity, and settled on some eatery around the corner from the store and across the street. When it was time to head back to work, I maneuvered through the traffic, crossed back over 43rd and I noticed something in the gutter. It was a wallet – an oblong, brown wallet. I picked it up and looked around: nobody close by, nobody looking for it.

“It’s already been rifled,” I thought to myself. “Probably empty.”

It wasn’t.

I could feel through the leather that there was something inside. I undid the snap, and there were credit cards and pictures, a woman’s driver’s license and…cash! Maybe thirty, maybe forty bucks. I looked up again, sharply, glancing left and right – nobody around, no one near. Glory! A fortuitous moment – a serendipity; grace! I was in the right place at the right time, and I rescued this woman’s wallet from oblivion!

When I got back to the store, I showed off the wallet to my coworkers. “Can you believe it still has everything in it?” They couldn’t believe it either.

“Should I mail it to her?”

“Call information and get the phone number,” said Dan, “and call her.” Obviously. I gave the operator the address listed on the card and she gave me the number.

I dialed; a woman answered: “Hello?” I asked if I had the correct person. Pause – “Yes.” Pause – “Who is this?”

“I work at a bookstore in Midtown and I found your wallet today – on the street, on 43rdnear Madison.” There was silence, another pause. “It was in the gutter – everything’s still in it.”

Again, another pause as she took in my outlandish claim. “You have my wallet?”

I assured her I did. “I’ll hold it here behind the counter for you.” I gave her the address and my name. “You can pick it up next time you’re in town.” We hung up.

She appeared the next day, accompanied by her brother, I think, or maybe a boyfriend. He hung back, but she inched up to the counter and identified herself, brow furrowed. I’m not sure what she expected – it was just a bookstore, after all, and a religious bookstore at that. Of course, these was the wild days of Mayor Koch’s New York, and I suppose it made sense that she took precautions. Perhaps she imagined a set-up for some kind of elaborate con, a rip-off in the spirit of The Sting, with Scot Joplin melodies tinkling in the background.

Nope. Just ordinary small-town decency. “Here it is,” I said, handing over the wallet. She immediately unsnapped the cover and looked inside: Cards, cash, license, all there. She glanced up at me through the furrows. Without a word she removed a bill – a ten spot maybe? – and held it out.

“That’s not necessary,” I said with a wave. She put away her money – it was an awkward moment. “Thanks,” she uttered as she turned to go. Her man-friend lingered, perhaps out of an abundance of caution, but eventually he exited as well.

That’s it. So simple, so straightforward, it wouldn’t even rate a second thought in the Midwest – in Dubuque, for instance, or Wichita.

But in Manhattan? I know I would’ve been shocked if a stranger had contacted me about a missing wallet, and even more shocked when he restored it to me intact. The whole episode would’ve entered my lexicon of family lore, a story told over and over whenever New York came up in conversation.

Which is why I call my own part in a surprise wallet recovery my finest hour: not because my actions were particularly meritorious, not because I did the bare minimum that most folks would do, especially those that aspire to be Christians. Frankly, if I’d been a real Christian, I would’ve hopped in a cab and delivered the wallet in person, on the spot.

No, I call it my finest hour because the unusual circumstances allowed me to become, just that one time, a bit player, an active player, in someone else’s New York sojourn. That lucky, that providential wallet find made me a character in a stranger’s memorable Manhattan moment that’ll stand out into her dotage, a story that her kids and grandkids will hear over and over, a command performance at Thanksgivings and other family gatherings. “Tell the one about losing your wallet in New York, grandma!”

And she’ll tell it with pleasure. “It was the strangest thing,” she’ll say. “I knew it was gone, and I was making plans to get a new license when I got this odd phone call….” And that’s me, in her New York story! What a gift, what a gift to add to her story, the city’s story, after having received so much.

She might’ve even told our story today, who knows? Wouldn’t that be a coincidence?

image: Alessandro Colle / Shutterstock.com

“Parents are the first and most

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 22:00

“Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area: they are educators because they are parents.”

-St. John Paul II, Letter to Families

When John the evangelist wrote his

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 22:00

When John the evangelist wrote his Gospel, the Church was already divided into factions and different groups. Today, John presents Christ’s moving prayer for unity.

Was there ever unity in the world? Too many forces pull apart families, communities, religions and nations. Such divisions are always destructive. The worst is when this division occurs because of different beliefs in God. No wonder the climax of Jesus’ prayer is his urgent plea for unity among his disciples and among future Christians. For he sees in disunity one of the greatest temptations and one of the greatest victories of the evil one.

What is the root of disunity? Usually, it is pride, selfishness, stubbornness, the refusal to compromise or to sit down together and dialogue. The prayer of Jesus makes us aware of how dear the issue of unity is to his heart. The last popes took up this issue and worked hard to bring the different Christian groups together, especially Pope John Paul II, who went out of his way like no other Church leader before him to reach out to other Christian Churches and non-Christian religions. We have seen him embracing Patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches.

It would be good to ask ourselves today: How do I contribute to unity in my own surroundings, my family, my community, my parish? May we continue to do in our own little way, in our own limited environment what Pope John Paul II did on a large scale. May the Spirit of unity encourage us and give us the strength to be instruments of unity wherever we are and in this way contribute our share in bringing to fulfillment Christ’s greatest desire: that all may be one.

St. Justin (Martyr)

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 22:00

St. Justin (100?-165) was among the first Christian philosophers. He was born of a pagan Greek family in Palestine (the Holy Land). As a young man, he studied one system of philosophy after another. He was principally attracted to Platonism (based on the teachings of Socrates and Plato some 500 years earlier), but through Platonism he came to know of and accept Christianity, finding that it answered great questions about life and existence better than the teachings of any earlier philosophers.

Justin was about 33 when he became a Christian. He remained a layperson, but actively proclaimed the gospel. He was an apologist, or defender of Christianity, and his writings (the Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho ) are valuable to us today because of the information they give about early Christian teachings and customs. Justin was a dedicated philosopher, combining Christianity with the best elements of Greek philosophical thought. He traveled widely as a missionary, twice staying in Rome.

In the year 165 Justin was denounced as a Christian and arrested, along with five other men and a woman. Upon being ordered by the Roman prefect to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods, Justin replied, “No right-minded man forsakes truth for falsehood,” and his companions said, “Do with us as you will — we are Christians, and we cannot sacrifice to idols.” St. Justin and the others were thereupon beheaded. Ever since then, he has been known as St. Justin the Martyr.

Lessons

1. Sometimes an inadequate but sincere search for wisdom can lead a person to accept the truth of the gospel; St. Justin’s familiarity with Greek philosophy predisposed him to believe the claims of Christianity.

2. St. Justin realized that once we have discovered the truth, we must not forsake it for anything, even at the cost of our lives — for as Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Angela Merici (1540), Virgin, Foundress of the Ursulines

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 02:35
Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Presence of God – O my Mother, most holy Virgin Mary, be always my model, my support, and my guide.

MEDITATION

“And Mary, rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Judah.”
These words are from today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-47).

Mary, in the exquisite delicacy of her charity, has such a profound sense of the needs of others, that as soon as she hears of them, she acts spontaneously and decisively to bring help. Having learned from the Angel Gabriel that her cousin was about to become a mother, she goes immediately to offer her humble services.

If we consider the difficulty of traveling in those days, when the poor, such as Mary, had to go on foot over difficult roads, or at best, by means of some rude conveyance, and also the fact that Mary remained three months with Elizabeth, we can readily understand that she had to face many hardships in performing this act of charity. However, she was in no way disturbed: charity urged her, making her wholly forgetful of herself, for as St. Paul says: “Charity seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). How many times, perhaps, have you omitted an act of kindness, not to spare yourself a hard journey, but only to avoid a little trouble. Think how uncharitable you are and how slow to help others. Look at Mary, and see how much you can learn from her!

Charity makes Mary forget not only her hardships but also her own dignity, which was greater than that given to any other creature. Elizabeth is advanced in years, but Mary is the Mother of God; Elizabeth is about to give birth to a man, but Mary will give birth to the Son of God. Nevertheless, before her cousin as before the Angel, Mary continues to look upon herself as the humble handmaid of the Lord, and nothing more. Precisely because she considers herself a handmaid, she comports herself as such, even in respect to her neighbor. In your case, perhaps, although you know how to humble yourself before God and recognize your lack of perfection in the secrecy of your heart, it displeases you to appear imperfect before your neighbor, and you quickly resent being treated as such. Are you not anxious to have your dignity, education, and ability recognized, as well as the more or less honorable offices or charges which have been entrusted to you? Your dignity is a mere nothing, and yet you are so jealous of it. Mary’s dignity approaches the infinite, yet she considers herself and behaves as if she were the least of all creatures.

COLLOQUY

“O Mary, how great is your humility when you hasten to serve others! If it is true that he who humbles himself will be exalted, who will be more exalted than you who have humbled yourself so much?

“When Elizabeth caught sight of you she was astonished and exclaimed: ‘Whence is this to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’ But I am still more astonished to see that you, as well as your Son, came not to be served, but to serve…. It was for this purpose that you went to Elizabeth, you the Queen, to the servant, the Mother of God to the mother of the Precursor, you who would give birth to the Son of God, to her who would bring forth a mere man.

“But your profound humility in no way lessened your magnanimity; the greatness of your soul was not opposed to your humility. You, so small in your own eyes, were so magnanimous in your faith, in your hope in the Most High, that you never doubted His promises, and firmly believed that you would become the Mother of the Son of God.

“Humility did not make you fainthearted; magnanimity did not make you proud, but these two virtues were perfectly combined in you!

“O Mary, you cannot give me a share in your great privileges as Mother of God; these belong to you alone! But you want me to share in your virtues, giving me examples of them in yourself. If, then, sincere humility, magnanimous faith, and delicate, sympathetic charity are lacking in me, how can I excuse myself? O Mary, O Mother of mercy, you who are full of grace, nourish us, your poor little ones, with your virtues!” (cf. St. Bernard).

***

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

Art for this post on the Feast of the Visitation: La Visitación (The Visitation), Maestro de Perea, ca 1500, PD-US. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

Lessons on Motherhood from the Visitation

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 22:07

Today is the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lord. It is a feast day that draws us into a deeper love of Our Lord and Our Heavenly Mother. It is also through the Visitation that mothers can enter more deeply into the joy of their vocation, as well as the joy of ministering to one another on the journey. After the Annunciation and Mary’s fiat to God’s plan of salvation, she proceeds “in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth.

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me. For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Luke 1:39-45

There is much to be gleaned from this beautiful passage. It is the coming together of two women, united by joy and the promise of salvation. Two women sharing the great gift of motherhood. One bears the son who will pave the way for the coming of the Lord and the other is the New Eve whose son will take away the sins of the world. They greet one another as kinswomen united in a deep communion. The encounter between these two women invites us to be drawn closer to God by the gift of not only their pronouncement, but their pious love for one another. Their womanhood and motherhood is an example for all, but mothers can learn quite a bit through the Visitation.

Mary proceeds in haste.

Mary is primarily silent in Sacred Scripture, but she is clearly shown to be a woman of mission and purpose. She proceeds in haste. She understands the urgency of God’s working in the world. Once she accepts God’s invitation to bear the Savior of the world, she quickly visits her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s example is an important one for mothers. We are surrounded by things in need of our attention. Children and husbands are constantly vying for our attention. At times, we can be drawn into distractions in our daily lives to the detriment of our families. We must learn to discern when haste is needed.

Mary reminds us that our work as mothers is holy work. The raising and bring up of children with the purpose of leading them to Heaven is intense work. Haste in this sense is not busyness. Far too often in Western culture, we associate busyness with holiness or importance. Running from event to event is not the type of haste I am referring to here. Haste in this sense is turning to our children and husbands in love and truly giving them our attention and giving them what they need from us in each moment. It is a constant choice to be present and to go about living our vocation with holy vigor. That does not mean we will not find ourselves exhausted at times, or even often. This is precisely why we need prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments to remain properly balanced in our spiritual lives.

Mothers are meant to minister joyfully to one another.

There are times when motherhood can seem to be a lonely struggle. This is a reality that far too many moms keep to themselves in a culture where we are largely isolated from one another. This is especially true for stay-at-home moms–which I can attest to personally–but I suspect mothers who work struggle with this loneliness at times too. Moms need other moms. Women are particularly social creatures. We need space to discuss what is going on in our lives and with our children. We need other moms to tell us that a particular behavior is actually normal for that age. In our isolation, we can begin to feel like we are losing our minds or that our children are strange. Children can in fact be quite strange, which is one of the reasons motherhood is such a joyful, entertaining, and exhausting adventure. Moms, we are not in competition with one another. We are joyfully united to the Mystical Body of Christ and we are meant to live in communion with one another. That loneliness you feel is because this need is not being met in our fast-paced, individualistic, isolationist society. You are not alone.

At the Visitation, it is clear how much Mary and Elizabeth find peace, joy, and comfort in their meeting. They are united by the power of the Holy Spirit. We too are united by the Holy Spirit. Mothers are meant to share in one another’s joys, sorrows, struggles, grief, successes, and failures. We are meant to walk this journey of holiness together. We cannot achieve holiness alone. Human beings are ontologically–by our very nature–social creatures. By the gift of the Incarnation we are united in a deep solidarity with Christ as our Head and with one another. We are made to walk the pilgrim way together. Friendship and family are tremendous gifts. It’s time we start celebrating this gift of motherhood together, so that we may live in the joy of Christ united to one another.

Mary comes to each one of us.

As Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth, so too does she come to each one of us. She is our Heavenly Mother and she loves us with the great filial love found in that holy motherhood. Throughout the day, we must foster a habit of calling on her for aid. Motherhood requires great charity, patience, fortitude, temperance, prudence, and every virtue available to us. There is something about motherhood that prunes us at the deepest levels. The selfishness we naturally possess due to the Fall is constantly ripped out of us by our children and our husbands. This is a holy process, but a daunting, and at times, overwhelming process. Mary is a mother’s guide. She will not leave us or fail us. She will always lead us to her Son and help us on the path to holiness. Call on her and trust in her loving guidance, wisdom, and example.

Today’s Feast of the Visitation is a wonderful opportunity to draw deeper into the vocation of wife and mother. This is the path God has given to us in order to draw us into conformation with Him. Mary teaches us to make haste in our daily lives, so that we may prioritize those things which will guide our families and lead us to holier lives. Mary and Elizabeth reveal to us the power of communion through the Holy Spirit and show us that we are members of that communion with one another. We are not meant to be islands tackling the great task of raising saints alone. We are meant to walk towards our Heavenly home together. Mary, Our Mother, ora pro nobis.

image: The Visitation (Lower Church, Assisi) by Giotto di Bondone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.