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St. Charles Borromeo

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 22:00

Charles was the son of Count Gilbert Borromeo and Margaret Medici, sister of Pope Pius IV. He was born at the family castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore, Italy, on October 2. He received the clerical tonsure when he was twelve and was sent to the Benedictine abbey of Saints Gratian and Felinus at Arona for his education.

In 1559 his uncle was elected Pope Pius IV and the following year, named Charles his secretary of state and created him a cardinal and administrator of the see of Milan. He served as Pius’s legate on numerous diplomatic missions and in 1562, was instrumental in having Pius reconvene the Council of Trent, which had been suspended in 1552.

Charles played a leading role in guiding and in fashioning the decrees of the third and last group of sessions. He refused the headship of the Borromeo family on the death of Count Frederick Borromeo, was ordained a priest in 1563, and was consecrated bishop of Milan the same year.

Before being allowed to take possession of his see, he oversaw the catechism, missal, and breviary called for by the Council of Trent. When he finally did arrive at Trent (which had been without a resident bishop for eighty years) in 1556, he instituted radical reforms despite great opposition, with such effectiveness that it became a model see. He put into effect measures to improve the morals and manners of the clergy and laity, raised the effectiveness of the diocesan operation, established seminaries for the education of the clergy, founded a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the religious instruction of children, and encouraged the Jesuits in his see.

He increased assistance to the poor and the needy, was most generous in his help to the English college at Douai, and during his bishopric held eleven diocesan synods and six provincial councils. He founded a society of secular priests, Oblates of St. Ambrose (now Oblates of St. Charles) in 1578, and was active in preaching, resisting the inroads of Protestantism, and bringing back lapsed Catholics to the Church. He encountered opposition from many sources in his efforts to reform people and institutions.

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

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

My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during, and after everything we do. The prophet says: “I will pray, and then I will understand.”

— From a homily of St. Charles Borromeo

Johnnette’s Meditation
What place in my prayer life does meditation on Sacred Scripture or on the truths of the Faith hold? How has it helped to understand God, myself, and others better?

Other Saints We Remember Today

Saints Vitalis and Agricola (3rd Century), Martyrs

A Royal Priesthood: Salvation, Election and the Power of Mediation

Fri, 11/03/2017 - 15:07

The history of salvation is in many ways a history of mediation. In the Old Covenant, God raised up mediators in the form of priests and prophets—like Moses, Aaron, and Samuel—to intercede for the salvation of his people. These mediators were specifically chosen, often reluctantly, to carry out the divine mission. These men were types or pictures of the One Mediator who was to come, Jesus Christ.

These holy men begged, suffered, and interceded for God’s all-too-often wayward people, the Israelites. They were signs of God’s presence and dispensers of both his abundant mercy and, not infrequently, his severe justice. More than anything, however, they were servants of salvation, shepherding the wayward people of God to repentance and dispensing the word and power of God.

The Mediator of the New Covenant

In the New Covenant, this prophetic and priestly mediation is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is at one and the same time the ultimate Prophet, revealing the face of God, and also the great High Priest, who sacrificed not a lamb, but himself, for the salvation of all. He was and is the ultimate intercessor, the ultimate shepherd, leading God’s people to participation in eternal life, the very life of God himself.

As a protestant, I always rejected the idea of the need for priests, and even the invocation of the saints, based upon this fact. Why do we need more mediators between us and God? I reasoned. Don’t priests and saints and the Virgin Mary just get in the way? Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, I argued, and that’s all there is to it.

It is true that Christ is the one high priest, the one mediator, and yet it is also true that there is a mysterious sense in which we as baptized Christians participate, to varying degrees, in his unique priestly mediation. We are a called to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Moreover, Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). We are priests, and to be priest means to mediate salvation.

But how is this possible if Christ is the one high priest? How can we be mediators if Christ is the one mediator? The answer lies in our baptism. In baptism, we are united to the life of Christ. We literally become his body, and in doing so, we share in his priestly dignity. We are sons in the Son. His life is our life. And our life is hidden in his.

There is no competition between Christ and us, for our work is his work. His intercession and mediation is not threatened by ours, for in a real way we are Christ. We are united to him in the profoundest possible way. And as such, we share in his ministry of mediation and salvation.

Election and the Salvation of the World

Before my conversion to Catholicism, I was a staunch Calvinist—that is, a devotee of the teachings of the Swiss reformer, John Calvin. John Calvin taught many things, but perhaps one of his more famous teachings is that of unconditional predestination. Calvin taught that before the foundation of the world, God specifically chose who would be saved and who would be damned for all eternity.

This divine election had nothing to do with our actions or merits; it was rather, completely arbitrary, so that no one could boast of having earned salvation. According to this theology, the saved would show forth and bring glory to God’s mercy, while the damned would reveal and bring glory to God’s justice.

Needless to say, I now reject this distorted view of salvation; a theology that places the focus on God’s power to the neglect of nearly everything else. But while I am no longer a Calvinist, I do think there is a sense in which divine election, or choosing, is true.

While all souls receive enough grace for salvation, I do believe that some receive more light than others. And I do believe some receive more grace than others. But this election is not so that we can count our good luck at being one of the elect. Nor is it so that we can giddily rejoice at God’s justice tormenting the damned for all eternity. Far from it. The more graces we receive, the greater our responsibility. For grace calls us to be mediators, and mediation means the cross.

The Priestly Responsibility

What is the point of this reflection? Is this all meaningless theological speculation?

The point is simply this: You, as a baptized Catholic, have been chosen by God in a very real way. You have been taught the truths of the Catholic faith. You receive the Eucharist and are immersed in the power and life of God. You have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit at your confirmation. In short, you have been chosen, by God’s mysterious design, to participate through your baptism in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are great gifts—but they are also an awesome responsibility.

For your calling, your election, was not so that you can merely escape hell. It was not a salvation from but rather a salvation for. It is a call to become a mediator of salvation like the prophets of the Old Covenant and the saints of the New. You are called to bring the light of Christ and the hope of salvation to others. Like Christ, you are called to take up your cross and lay down your life for the salvation of the whole world.

Dear reader, the precious gift of faith that you have been given is not for your own benefit alone. One who is unconcerned about the salvation of others could hardly be saved. No—the gift of faith you have received is a call to pray and sacrifice for the salvation of the world. You have been chosen like Moses and Samuel, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Benedict and St. Francis and all the saints through the ages to follow in Christ’s divine mission of salvation. In the words of St. Paul, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship.”

So then, brothers, pray and sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Take up your cross and follow Christ. Let your light shine out before men. This is your high calling—for to whom much has been given, much more will be required.

The post A Royal Priesthood: Salvation, Election and the Power of Mediation appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

How We Can Experience Christ’s Boundless Love

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 22:07

He still loved those who were His own, whom He was leaving in the world.
-John 13:1

In the first letter of St. John, we read, “God is love. This might have been said of Jesus Himself, and it would still be the same: Jesus is love.

Love proceeded from Him everywhere. We encounter love all around Him. But we want to seek it out in the flaming, radiant center. Love is what He shows toward the delicate blossoming of His Father’s creation, when He speaks of the lilies of the field, and how God has clothed them more magnificently than Solomon in all his glory. He shows love toward all things living and breathing when He speaks of the birds of the air — light, free of worry, who toil not, and yet the Father in Heaven feeds them.

This kind of love is indeed beautiful. But love of this same sort may be found among others, even better expressed, more highly colored, and more from the heart. Consider St. Francis of Assisi who called everything in this world brother and sister.

Love is what seizes our Lord when He sees the obscure, abandoned masses of the people, and takes pity on them because they are like sheep that have no shepherd. There is something heroic, strong, in this love for people forsaken and in distress.

It is love again when He receives the sick; when He lets that great sea of misery wash up to Him; when He lifts up, strengthens, and heals. It is love when He says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.” Oh, this tremendous Lover and the might and majesty of His heart taking up arms against the massive world-force of sorrow, magnificently sure of His inexhaustible power to comfort, to strengthen, and to bless! Love is indeed all these things. But still we do not see the uniqueness about these several instances that bring us to say, “Love is He and He alone.”

This article is from “Meditations on the Christ.” Click image to order.

We must go deeper in our search.

That last evening before His death, those hours when what was coming hovered dark and terrible, and at the same time every happening of the past was brought sharply to the foreground of His soul’s memory, Jesus was with His disciples, in a state of mind more withdrawn and interior than ever before, waiting completely on His Father’s will, aware in His deepest self, of His mission and the purpose of His presence. Just before his account of that last evening, John says, “Before the paschal feast began, Jesus already knew that the time had come for His passage from this world to the Father. He still loved those who were His own, whom He was leaving in the world, and He would give them the supreme proof of His love.” He washed their feet; then, while they ate the Passover together, He bequeathed the mystery of His Testament.

Matthew reports it so: “And while they were still at table, Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then He took a cup, and offered thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink, all of you, of this; for this is my blood, of the new testament, shed for many, to the remission of sins.’

Two words in these sentences must be understood at least to some extent if we are to follow what went on: the little words for you. The mystery that Jesus was bequeathing is embedded in the Passover meal, in memory of the covenant God made with His people, in those days when He sent the Angel of Destruction against Pharaoh’s obduracy with the most dreadful of all plagues, the death of every firstborn. At that time, Moses was instructed that every family was to kill a lamb and paint their doorposts with its blood, and all should eat of it standing and dressed and ready for a journey. The blood was to be a sign of safety from the avenger on his way; the meal celebrated the covenant of alliance between the people and their rescuing God. That was the lamb eaten in the paschal meal of the old testament; that was the blood shed as seal of confirmation to the covenant. And now Jesus speaks of love, bestowed anew in death and a communal meal — blood shed to seal the new testament.

The victim, in the death that is to take place, is He.

“For you” — for us. These words are as if covered with ashes, gray, impotent; custom has made them so. We have heard them countless times, and their edge has gone blunt. Do we still grasp what they mean?

Any man alive stands in himself and feels himself at the natural center of things, as if the world would stop existing for him if he should cease to be. Does such a being ever give his life for another? Certainly he does. A mother does as much for her child. A man does as much for his work or his ideas. This happens now and then, one has to say; or more accurately, seldom, very seldom. More often than not, what passes as sacrifice for work or an idea is nothing but camouflaged assertion of status. Or a man may give his life for his nation, carried off by the dreadful events of war. Or he might do the same for his neighbor in peril, if he is driven by a great heart. But what about giving one’s life for mankind — for all the strangers afar off, for all those he encounters who have no sympathy or understanding or love for him, who accept nothing, and who even defend themselves against the salvation being offered them?

We can have no understanding of the words for you until we cleanse ourselves of every trace of sentimentality. We must clarify in our minds the degree of isolation in which our Lord stood, abandoned by all who might have helped, without the stimulating atmosphere pervading great affairs, with no enthusiasm of any kind about Him, and without the support or élan of natural drives or creative compulsion. He knows that men are lost. He knows they can breathe in the freedom of salvation only when satisfaction has been made for their sins. Life may come to them only through a death which He alone can die. He takes this for granted, starts from this premise. That is what is meant by the words for you.

We can understand them — and it is our entire Christian duty to understand them — only if in the deepest stillness of our hearts, and the readiness of our hearts, we strive for this understanding, and God furnishes us with the necessary graces. But what Jesus achieved for you: that is His love.

And herein lies the mystery of the Eucharist.

When He was announcing this at Capernaum, He said, “I myself am the living bread that has come down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever. And now, what is this bread which I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world.” Then the Jews fell to disputing with one another, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Whereupon Jesus said to them, “Believe me when I tell you this; you can have no life in yourselves unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood. The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food; my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives continually in me and Iin him. As I live because of the Father, the living Father who has sent me, so he who eats me will live, in his turn, because of me.”

The Gospel goes on to say that “the Jews murmured.” We cannot help finding this very understandable. Someone standing in their midst, very much alive, tells them in the fullness of His vigor that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood; and this audience has no confidence in Him to begin with — how could they be other than indignant and antagonistic? And when He says, “Only the spirit gives you life; the flesh is of no avail,” and, “The words I have been speaking to you are spirit and life,” His words can reach only those who are ready to follow along in blind confidence through the darkness.

The Eucharist is rooted in Jesus’ death. It will always remain a mystery. But we can feel how we are bound to it with deeper and closer bonds by virtue of Christ’s death and Resurrection. He even said so Himself: “Does this try your faith? What will you make of it if you see the Son of Man ascending to the place where He was before? By His death and Resurrection, Jesus underwent a transfiguration, into His spiritual mode of being. He lives as one glorified in the Eucharist. The Eucharist proceeds from His death. Not for nothing does St. Paul write in his first letter to the Corinthians: “It is the Lord’s death that you are heralding, whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, until He comes.”

The gift of the Eucharist and our Lord’s death are, in the deepest sense, one and the same mystery. The love that drove Him to die for us was the same love that made Him give us Himself as nourishment. It was not enough to give us gifts, words, and instructions; He gave us Himself as well.

Perhaps we must seek out woman, the loving mother, to find someone who understands this kind of longing: to give not some thing, but rather oneself — to give oneself, with all one’s being; not only the spirit, not only one’s fidelity, but body and soul, flesh and blood, everything. This is indeed the ultimate love: to want to feed others with the very substance of one’s own self. And for that, our Lord went to His death, so that He might rise again in the Resurrection, in that condition wherein He desired to give Himself to all mankind for evermore.

And now He who died for us lives again, within us. In His farewell we read, “I am the true vine, and it is my Father who tends it. The branch that yields no fruit in me He cuts away; the branch that does yield fruit He trims clean, so that it may yield more fruit. You, through the message I have preached to you, are clean already; you have only to live on in me, and I will live on in you. The branch that does not live on in the vine can yield no fruit of itself; no more can you, if you do not live on in me. I am the vine; you are its branches. If a man lives on in me, and I in him, he will yield abundant fruit; separated from me, you have no power to do anything.”

He has gone into us, and works within us, and we live in Him and by Him, just as the vine’s branch bears the leaf and fruit from out of the living interdependency of its entire growth.

St. Paul placed this mystery at the foundation of all Christian being. He says, “You know well enough that we who were taken up into Christ by Baptism have been taken up, all of us, into His death. In our Baptism, we have been buried with Him, died like Him, so, just as Christ was raised up from the dead by His Father’s power, we, too, might live and move in a new kind of existence. We have to be closely fitted into the pattern of His Resurrection, as we have been into the pattern of His death; we have to be sure of this, that our former nature has been crucified with Him, and the living power of our guilt annihilated, so that we are the slaves of guilt no longer. Guilt makes no more claim on a man who is dead. And if we have died with Christ, we have faith to believe that we shall share His life.

“We know that Christ, now that He has risen from the dead, cannot die anymore; death has no more power over Him; the death He died was a death, once for all, to sin; the life He now lives is a life that looks toward God. And you, too, must think of yourselves as dead to sin, and alive with a life that looks toward God, through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

“And yet I am alive! Or rather, not I; it is Christ who lives in me.” The whole life of Christ recapitulates itself ever anew in man. To live as a Christian means to participate in the re-enactment of Christ’s life. This happens every time a believer takes a step closer to the Lord, whenever he conquers himself in the course of following Christ. When he carries out within himself the Lord’s commandment, something dies within him: the old man. And something rises up: the new man, “made after the fashion of Christ.” Christ rises within him. And so on, ever the same. Until such time as there slowly grows up within him “the glory of a child of God,” “made after the image and likeness of Christ,” at first invisible, concealed, covered over with ashes and debris, frustrated, imperiled; but then gradually growing stronger until finally it is revealed, after this death, and the old man drops away forever.

That is Christ’s love: that He lives in us in this way, and we in Him, and what is His and what is ours becomes one. That is what Christ’s love is: the love of the Redeemer who dies for us; the love which bestows itself, which gives its all, body and soul, for us to feed upon; the love of being within us, so that His life becomes our life, and ours His.

That is what Christ’s love is. And it is only in the light that shines hence that all else that had to do with love in His life takes on clarity in the plan or design of Christ’s love: how He called to Himself the weary and oppressed that He might comfort them; how He took unto Himself all the sufferings of mankind, bringing relief; how He cast His mercy over the dark distress of nations; how He showed tenderness for all living things, plants, and animals: the first kind of love we spoke of shows in all these instances. That is the love that is revealed in them.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Meditations on the Christ, Model of All Holiness. It is available as an ebook or paperback from Sophia Institute Press.

Scripture Speaks: Love in Service

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 22:05

Today, Jesus denounces the Pharisees and scribes as outrageous hypocrites, yet He tells His disciples to do whatever they say.  Why?

Gospel (Read Mt 23:1-12)

In the many parables He taught, Jesus gave His enemies, the religious elites of Jerusalem, ample opportunities to recognize Him as their Messiah and be converted.  Their response, instead, was to try to trap and silence Him.  In today’s Gospel, He now gives a direct warning to His followers about the dangers they present to God’s people.  However, He begins His warning with a surprising exhortation:  “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”  This presents a conundrum to the modern mind.  Why would Jesus bind His followers to obeying people whom He denounces as fakes?

Jesus makes reference to “the chair of Moses.”  In the synagogues, when teachers of the Law of Moses read the Scripture, they stood up.  When they instructed the congregation about its meaning, they sat down, just as Jesus did in the synagogue in Nazareth when He began His public ministry (read Lk 4:16-20).  Clearly, this “chair of Moses” was a seat of teaching authority in the Old Covenant.  Moses was long dead, but the authority God gave him to lead His people and deliver His Word to them lived on in the “chair,” or office of leadership.  The one who sat and taught in it was able to preach truthfully, otherwise Jesus would never have instructed His disciples to fully obey it.  However, the authority provided by the chair of Moses did not translate into personal holiness for those who sat in it, as Jesus makes clear:  “For they preach but they do not practice.”  To live in accordance with what a man authoritatively taught from the chair of Moses was a personal, individual decision.  We might say that while the charism of truth conferred by the chair of Moses made a man’s teaching infallible (free from error), it did not make him impeccable (free from sin).

Does this sound familiar?  Of course, it does!  This principle is the same one at work in the Chair of Peter, the papacy, where the teaching authority of the New Covenant resides.  It is very important for us as Catholics to see that it was Jesus Himself who suggested that this charism of truthful, authoritative teaching can actually work, even when it is exercised by men who choose not to live the truth they teach.  The promise Jesus made to Peter when He gave him the keys to the kingdom (see Mt 16:13-20) was that the gates of hell would never prevail against His Church.  His Church was to be built on the foundation of Peter, on the office of leadership Peter would fill.  Those who sit in the Chair of Peter teach with infallible authority.  A Church that can teach error would not be one protected from hell!  A Church that cannot teach truth authoritatively is doomed to constant fracture and disunity.  However, the popes who sit in that Chair are not by any means thereby impeccable (free from sin).  We know our history includes men who chose to live up to the truth they taught, as well as, sadly, those who didn’t.

Here, Jesus exposes the teachers of the Law in His day as hypocrites, men who perform all their religious works in order to be seen and honored by others.  Even the way they dressed reflected their love of themselves.  Phylacteries were small boxes containing Scripture passages that Jews wore on their arms and foreheads to keep the Word of God close to their actions and thoughts.  The bigger the boxes were, the more obvious was the show of piety.  Tassels, too, were regulated by Mosaic law (read Num. 15:38).  Making them more visible was another ostentatious flash of apparent compliance with that Law.

These men loved their reputations.  That is why Jesus warned His followers against desiring titles of respect and honor—rabbi, father, master.  This was not, of course, an absolute prohibition against the use of these titles.  Even the New Testament writers use “father” for natural fathers (read Heb 12:7-11) and for spiritual fathers in the Church (read 1 Cor 4:15; Philem 10).  The spiritual fatherhood of priests in the Church today is an extension of this practice.  Jesus’ warning was against pride, not titles:  “The greatest among you must be your servant.”  Those who seek to exalt themselves set themselves up for a fall.  Those who consciously choose the way of humility and service, who give no thought to their own status or reputations, have nothing to worry about.  Their futures are in God’s hands.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, help me choose obedience and humility and to forget about looking spiritual.

First Reading (Read Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10)

Malachi was a prophet in Judah at the time when Jews who had been exiles in Babylon were allowed to return and rebuild their nation (about 460 B.C.).  They had rebuilt the Temple, restored the priesthood, and attempted to regain what they had lost through infidelity to the covenant.  However, disillusionment had set in.  Prosperity had not returned to their land, enemies surrounded them, and they suffered from drought, bad crops, and famine.  Many began to doubt God’s love.  It looked to them as though the evil and self-reliant were the ones who prospered.

Malachi announced that their difficulties came from a poison within—unfaithfulness again to the covenant.  There was the problem of corrupt worship being offered by the priests.  They were irreverent and perfunctory in their Temple duties.  The example they set for the people was leading them astray.  In particular, they were very lax about the kind of offerings people brought to the Temple for sacrifice.  This indifference to the precepts of the Law bred indifference in the people, too.  They became stingy and deceitful.  A failure in the covenant inevitably meant failure in the life of the community.  Breaking faith with God will always mean breaking faith with one another.

Malachi warns the priests that the blessings they enjoyed in their Temple service (an elevated status among the people) would be turned to curses if they didn’t turn from their unfaithfulness.  This history helps us understand the grave warning Jesus gave His followers about the example set by corrupt religious elites.  The temptation to abuse religious authority is present in every age, including our own.  God’s covenant with His people will always stand.  Each one of us, priest and layman, must decide whether he will heed God’s call to listen, to lay His commandments to heart, and to give glory to His Name, just as Malachi urged in his day.  The question he asks is one that stirs up a decision about allegiance through all the ages:  “Has not the one God created us?  Why, then, do you break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?”

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, please give grace to Your priests to serve well the Covenant Jesus made in His blood.

Psalm (Read Ps 131:1-3)

The psalmist gives us a prayer that can be a path away from the temptation to religious vanity and pride—the very danger about which Jesus warns His followers (and Malachi preached against in his day).  What can we do when we find we want to busy ourselves with “great things” in order to impress others or ourselves or God?  We can pray with the psalmist:  “O, LORD, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty…I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child.”  The great weapon against the “busyness” of impressing others with our showy religiosity is stillness before the LORD.  When we are at rest, “like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,” we are not depending on our many good works to gain a reputation for us with others or with God.  How helpful this can be to us, in our over-stimulated lives!  With the psalmist we can say, “In You, LORD, I have found my peace.”

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 Thess 2:7b-9, 13)

Our readings have instructed us about bad examples among those given religious authority.  Now, St. Paul gives us the example of how a true servant of the Lord lives.  See how he describes the gentle, tender love he and his missionary companions showed to the people to whom they were sent to preach the Gospel.  These men were not merely performing a religious duty.  They shared “not only the Gospel of God, but [their] very selves as well.”  St. Paul and the others worked by their own hands (he was a tentmaker) so that their support would not be a financial burden on the new converts.  Consequently, the people who heard him preach understood that his message was “not a human word…but…the Word of God.”  Human beings preached a Divine Word (just as those in the chair of Moses did in the Old Covenant and those in the Chair of Peter do in the New Covenant).  Because St. Paul chose to live up to the truth he preached, the Word of God was not discredited and was “at work in you who believe.”

Good shepherds lead their sheep to rich pasture.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, thank You for the many good priests I have known in Your Church, men who share not only the Gospel but their very selves as well.

The Insidious Sin of Pride

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 22:02

A hundred and fifty years before Christ, they were the good guys. The Greeks were in charge and decided that, if they were to unify their kingdom politically, they needed to unify it religiously. So they imposed Greek ways on the Jews, including worshiping idols and eating pork. You can read about the Jews’ military resistance to this tyranny in the two books of Maccabees.

In these same books, you can read about the spiritual resistance of pious laymen who stood up for the Law and the traditions of the rabbis, who sought to preserve the faith of Israel and live it with passion. The members of this renewal movement became known as the Pharisees.

Yet obviously something went terribly wrong with God’s champions. Because just a few generations later, when the Son of God appeared in their midst, they rejected Him. How did it happen? They succumbed to an insidious disease that they didn’t even know they had.

Today, there are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like this. One of them, HPV, is a virus that has no symptoms at all. A woman often does not know that she has it . . . until, that is, she is diagnosed with deadly cervical cancer.

The Pharisees would have wagged their fingers at such women, as they did at the woman caught in adultery (John 8). “Serves them right– the wages of sin is death!”

Fornication and adultery are serious sins indeed. In fact, they are expressions of one of the seven capital sins–lust. Many assume that lust is considered by Christianity to be the epitome of sin, the worst possible vice. Actually, in the hierarchy (or should I say “lowerarchy”) of capital sins, the king-pin and most deadly of the seven sins is not lust but pride. Lust wrongly seeks sexual pleasure apart from love and life. Pride seeks greatness apart from God. The tricky thing is that pride can often start in the course of promoting God’s greatness.

Here’s how it works–as people begin applauding as you do God’s work, you think they are applauding for you. It’s a rather pitiful mistake really. Imagine the donkey Jesus rode into Jerusalem thinking that the crowd had turned out for him!

Such applause, however, can be addicting. The proud person ultimately will do anything to make the ovation happen and keep it going. But there can only be one star. Pride is essentially competitive. So anyone who threatens to steal the show becomes a mortal enemy. Even if he happens to be God.

The proud man does not teach to enlighten, but rather to pontificate, to impress, to appear as the authority. So the Pharisees laid heavy moral burdens upon the shoulders of the people without lifting a finger to help them (Mat 23:4). They coveted the title of “teacher” (that’s what “rabbi” means) and “father” (teachers in the ancient world were regarded as spiritual fathers), but really did not want the responsibility.

When Jesus says to avoid being called “teacher” and “father,” he wasn’t talking about what titles educators and parents should and shouldn’t use; he was talking about an attitude. Humble persons realize that all wisdom and teaching comes from God, even if God happens to be instructing others through their mouths. They know that the applause ultimately is for Him, and they are glad to redirect it back to Him as Mary does when she is praised by her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1: 42-55).

Pride is deadly because it is so insidious. The further the disease progresses, the blinder the victim becomes until it is nearly impossible for him to recognize his plight. The strutting and posturing of the proud are nothing more than compensation for their own insecurity. The pathetic emperor cannot see what is perfectly plain to everyone else–namely, that he has no clothes.

The humble person, on the other hand, is secure in the love of God and therefore has no need of pomp and circumstance. He is not afraid to look at his own littleness, for He clearly sees the greatness of a God who is not a competitor, but a loving Father.

image: James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the Gospel reading Jesus heals a man

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 22:00

In the Gospel reading Jesus heals a man suffering from dropsy on the sabbath day, despite the presence of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who found such healing as a violation of the sabbath. They could not refute Jesus, “If your lamb or your ox falls into a well on a sabbath day, who among you doesn’t hurry to pull it out?”

In their dedication to the letter of the Law as they read and saw it, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law missed the whole point of the Law based on love of God and neighbor.

In the first reading Paul mourns the reality that the people God had chosen, loved and shepherded did not accept the Messiah when he came: they failed to recognize him and his visitation. “How often would I have gathered your children together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you refused!” (Mt 23: 37)

“Woe to you! You do not forget the mint, anise and cumin seeds when you pay the tenth of everything, but then forget what is more fundamental in the Law: justice, mercy and faith.” (Mt 23: 23) May God preserve us from such blindness and hypocrisy in our lives.

“Saint Martin lived and breathed

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 22:00

“Saint Martin lived and breathed the virtue of liberality, since he gave all he had, not in worldly possessions, since he had next to none to give, but he gave back to his neighbor through his good works all the invaluable spiritual gifts God had given him.”

-Kevin Vost, Hounds of the Lord

St. Martin de Porres

Thu, 11/02/2017 - 22:00

On May 16, 1962, Pope John XXIII, in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, made Martin de Porres the first black American saint. Martin was born on December 9, 1579, in Lima, Peru, the illegitimate son of Don Juan de Porres of Burgos, a Spanish nobleman, and Ana Velasquez, a young, freed, Negro slave-girl.

From early childhood Martin showed great piety, a deep love for all God’s creatures and a passionate devotion to Our Lady. At the age of eleven he took a job as a servant in the Dominican priory and performed the work with such devotion that he was called “the Saint of the broom.” He was promoted to the job of almoner and soon was begging more than $2,000 a week from the rich. All that was begged was given to the poor and sick of Lima in the form of food, clothing, or medicine.

Martin was placed in charge of the Dominican’s infirmary where he became known for his tender care of the sick and for his spectacular cures. In recognition of his fame and his deep devotion, his superiors dropped the stipulation that “no black person may be received to the holy habit or profession of our order” and Martin was vested in the full habit and took the solemn vows as a Dominican brother.

As a Dominican brother he became more devout and more desirous to be of service. He established an orphanage and a children’s hospital for the poor children of the slums. He set up a shelter for stray cats and dogs and nursed them back to health.

Martin lived a life of self-imposed austerity. He never ate meat. He fasted continuously and spent much time in prayer and meditation. He was venerated from the day of his death.

Many miraculous cures — including the raising of the dead — were attributed to Brother Martin. Today, throughout South America, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean, people tell of the miraculous powers of St. Martin de Porres.

A close friend of St. Rose of Lima, this saintly man died on November 3, 1639.

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

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

The virtuous example and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. . . . If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.

— Pope John XXIII at the canonization of St. Martin de Porres

What do my example and my conversation with others speak about me?

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Malachy O’More (1148), Primate of Armagh, Ireland

Blessed Ida of Toggenburg (1226), Matron

Pray for the Dead, On All Souls Day and Every Day

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 22:07

It is a hallmark of the modern mind to reduce incredible things to their lowest utilitarian component. The splendor of nature becomes an evolutionary algorithm, the mysterious workings of love are reduced to chemical reactions in the brain. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist-turned-celebrity, is notorious for this on Twitter, sending out depressingly reductionist gems like “Total Solar Eclipses occur somewhere on Earth every two years, or so. Just calm yourself when people tell you they’re rare”.  For some people, it seems, the world can only be endured if it is stripped of anything mysterious or sublime.

Few concepts in Catholic theology suffer from this treatment quite like Purgatory. It is a thing steeped in confusion and misunderstanding, not only among non-Catholics, but Catholics as well. A common response to that confusion is to reduce Purgatory down to a bare bones utilitarian concept, to sanitize it by distilling it into clinical observations.

Even the treasure trove that is the Catechism has something of a dry feel to its description:

“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” – CCC 1030

There is a danger in reducing the sum total of Purgatory down to “purification”.  That is, of course, its nature and purpose, but to the modern ear, the “process of purification” sounds like something with little room for third party involvement.  It becomes something tidy and safe and understandable, something like a chemical reaction that takes place just between the soul and the process.  So, by reducing Purgatory down to its lowest utilitarian components, we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve got it all figured out, and the process, the place, and the souls slip from our active thoughts.

The truth is that Purgatory is far more complex, rich, mysterious, and plain old weird than the modern mind is comfortable with.  Rather than a predictable, straightforward process, numerous people, from saints to sinners, have been given glimpses of the mystical, strange landscape of Purgatory.

In his excellent article, “Fourteen Questions about Heaven”, Peter Kreeft discusses the existence of Purgatorial ghosts: the sad, joyless, wispy apparitions who appear to be earthbound as part of their purification process.  To hear a respected scholar like Dr. Kreeft talk about such things should give a body pause next time a story about a ghostly spectre is passed around a campfire.  We enjoy the shiver of fear such tales send up our spine, but far more efficacious it would be if we followed that shiver with a prayer for Holy Souls experiencing just such a purification.  Instead, how many of us write off ghosts as “not real”, and thus smugly excuse ourselves from having to pray for the dead?

Anyone steadfastly refusing to believe in ghosts would do well to read the visions of the saints on the subject.  St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was visited numerous times by Purgatorial ghosts, souls of departed religious who begged her for prayers and assistance in relieving the pain of  purification. Far from being a tidy, understandable process, the stories revealed by these ghosts show how complex and strange Purgatory is, and how much the prayers of the living are needed.  St. Brigid of Sweden was shown a vision of Purgatory, where an angel was comforting  the Holy Souls there by constantly repeating:

“Blessed is he that, living still upon the earth, gives aid to the souls in Purgatory with their prayers and good deeds, because the justice of God demands that without the help of the living, these would necessarily need to be purified in fire.”

Christ Himself explained the great benefit of praying for the dead to St. Gertrude after she recited a Psalm for a toad-like Purgatorial ghost she encountered. “Certainly, the souls in Purgatory are lifted up by such supplications,” Christ revealed, “but also brief prayers that are said with fervor are of even greater benefit for them.”

To reduce Purgatory down to a some sort of clinical process, to deny the existence of spirits reported throughout space and time to diverse multitudes of saints, is to attempt to reduce our duty towards those suffering souls. If these spirits and their appearance aren’t real, if places like the Little Museum of Purgatory house nothing but piously fraudulent items, if there is nothing odd and messy and weird and challenging about it, then Purgatory becomes a domesticated sort of place, and it’s very easy for us to let the Holy Souls who reside there slip from our attention and go unprayed for.

How lucky we are then, that Holy Mother Church gives us an annual reminder in the form of All Souls Day.  Following the great feast of All Saints Day, where the universal Church celebrates those who have gone before us and now enjoy perfect unity with God, All Souls Day is a sobering reminder of the poor souls suffering greatly and greatly in need of our prayers.

The saints who have had direct interactions with the Holy Souls and their temporary home of Purgatory send us postcards of a sort.  Postcards from a weird, unsettling, deeply strange land that many of us will consider ourselves lucky to skid into upon death.  Rather than shy away from contemplating this foreign landscape, of attempting to control it by stripping it of its strange other-worldliness, it would benefit us to spend this year’s All Souls Day learning more about what God has allowed the saints to see of Purgatory, and let our hearts soften towards our brothers and sisters residing there. Someday, they may be us, clinging to the prayers of those to come.

Whatever Happened to Limbo?

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 22:05

Dear Father Kerper: Last April, I heard that the Church had abolished Limbo. Years ago, my grandmother told me that non-baptized babies go to Limbo instead of Heaven because of original sin. Now I hear that Limbo was just an opinion, not a Church teaching. How can I know what’s really true and what’s just opinion?

Thank you for your note of interest in this subject, which reflects your honest concern for the salvation of all of God’s children. Yet I also realize that your question reflects the reality that some of us get very frustrated when ideas and practices suddenly change.

In order to answer your question we must distinguish doctrine from opinion based on what the Church calls the hierarchy of truths. This means that some teachings are more important than others.

Think of it this way. The owner’s manual of your car will show you clearly how to turn on the engine, shift gears, and use the brake. Later, perhaps in a bad snowstorm, you’ll learn how to use your defroster and rear window deicer. Someday when you have nothing to do, you may even read about oil changes, tire pressure, and maintenance.

All these instructions are true and helpful, but each one is not equally important. You need to know where to put the key before you worry about tire pressure. Think of Church teaching as a spiritual owner’s manual.

This article is from “A Priest Answers 27 Questions You Never Thought to Ask.”

The Church has at least four markers for permanent teach­ings: Sacred Scripture, ancient creeds, council statements, and ex cathedra papal statements.

  • First, Sacred Scripture expresses key beliefs, such as the oneness of God, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection of Christ.
  • Second, ancient creeds, such as the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, contain settled doctrines.
  • Third, core doctrines of faith proposed by ecumenical councils are also permanent, although open to refinement, new formulations, and development.
  • Fourth, teachings declared ex cathedra (from the chair) by the pope are unchangeable. So far, only two popes — Pius IX and Pius XII — have used this form of teaching.

Many older Catholics probably learned about Limbo in religion class. For years, Limbo was proposed as one possible way of resolving the apparent contradiction between two genuine Church teachings, namely, the necessity of Baptism for salvation and God’s desire that everyone be saved.

As much as we want to know precisely what happens to non-baptized persons — children and good people — the simple truth is that God’s revelation doesn’t tell us. In the past, Limbo became the favored opinion because many in the Church stressed the necessity of Baptism. Today, however, many theologians, including Pope Benedict XVI, see that opinion as explaining too much, thereby foreclosing possibilities known to God alone.

If you study Scripture and key Church documents you will find that nothing proposes Limbo as a settled and indisputable teaching. Indeed, it has none of the markers needed for permanent teachings.

Let’s go back to the hierarchy of truths. God’s revelation enlightens us only about matters essential for our salvation. Hence, God tells us how to live a good and moral life, confident that we come from Him, have been redeemed by Christ, and have the hope of eternal life. This information is like knowing how to switch on the engine and use the brake.

But God doesn’t explain every detail of how His saving love works in the world. Such details are akin to a car’s clock and DVD player. We can drive the car perfectly well without the correct time and music. Similarly, we can live the Christian life fully and joyfully without clear answers to every possible theological question.

One way of approaching this subject with those who have lost children through miscarriage, sickness, or even abortion is to reflect on God’s mercy. The one consistent mystery of God that is found in all four markers of the truth is that God is not merely the God of justice, but also the God of mercy and love.

The point is to drive the car rather than to become too engrossed or even distracted by the owner’s manual. And on our road to God, there must, and always will be, mysteries. Our challenge is to let those mysteries serve not as obstacles, but as opportunities for increasing our faith and desire to arrive at our destination, where, we are assured, all things will be revealed.

Can I baptize someone?

Every human being, even a nonbeliever, has the ability to baptize another person validly. However, the Church authorizes this only in cases of imminent death. A Catholic should therefore refrain from baptizing someone else’s child, even a grandchild, and should not feel guilty about it. Such a situation calls for patient sensitivity toward the rights of the parents who have chosen not to baptize their child.

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Kerper’s A Priest Answers 27 Questions You Never Thought to Ask, which is available through Sophia Institute Press

Remembering All Souls Day

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 22:02

The Church has consistently encouraged the offering of prayers and Mass for the souls of the faithful departed in Purgatory. At the time of their death, these souls are not perfectly cleansed of venial sin or have not atoned for past transgressions, and thereby are deprived of the Beatific Vision. The faithful on earth can assist these souls in purgatory in attaining the beatific vision through their prayers, good works and the offering of Mass.

In the early days of the Church, the names of the faithful departed were posted in Church so that the community would remember them in prayer. In the sixth century, the Benedictine monasteries held a solemn commemoration of deceased members at Whitsuntide, the days following Pentecost. In Spain, St. Isidore (d. 636) attested to a celebration on the Saturday before Sexagesima Sunday (the second Sunday before Lent, the eighth before Easter, in the old calendar). In Germany, Widukind, Abbot of Corvey (d. 980) recorded a special ceremony for the faithful departed on Oct. 1. St. Odilo, the Abbot of Cluny (d. 1048), decreed for all of the Cluniac monasteries that special prayers be offered and the Office of the Dead sung for all of the souls in purgatory on Nov. 2, the day after All Saints. The Benedictines and Carthusians adopted that same devotion, and soon Nov. 2 was adopted as the Feast of All Souls for the whole Church.

Other customs have arisen over time in the celebration of All Souls Day. The Dominicans in the 15th century instituted a custom of each priest offering three Masses on the Feast of All Souls. Pope Benedict XIV in 1748 approved this practice, and it rapidly spread throughout Spain, Portugal and Latin America. During World War I, Pope Benedict XV, recognizing the number of war dead and the numerous Masses that could not be fulfilled because of destroyed Churches, granted all priests the privilege of offering three Masses on All Souls Day: one for the particular intention, one for all of the faithful departed and one for the intentions of the Holy Father.

Other customs have developed regarding All Souls. In Mexico, relatives make garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers of every color to place on the graves of deceased relatives the morning of All Souls. The family will spend the entire day at the cemetery. The pastor will visit the cemetery, preach and offer prayers for the dead, and then bless the individual graves. “Skeleton” candy is given to the children.

Similar practices occur in Louisiana. The relatives whitewash and clean the tombstones, and prepare garlands, wreathes and crosses of real and paper flowers to decorate them. In the afternoon of All Saints, the priest processes around the cemetery, blessing the graves and reciting the rosary. Candles are lit near the graves at dusk, one for each deceased member. On All Souls day, Mass is usually offered at the cemetery.

In the Middle Ages, superstitious belief, probably influenced from Celtic paganism, held that the souls in purgatory appeared on All Souls Day as witches, toads, goblins, etc., to persons who committed wrongs against them during their lives on earth. For this reason, some ethnic groups also prepared food offerings to feed and to appease the spirits on this day. These practices are probably remnants of the Celtic Samhain festivities.

Nevertheless, All Souls Day as well as all Saints Day are rooted in Christian belief and arose in this life of the Church through a healthy spirituality, despite some pagan trappings that may have survived and have remained attached to their celebration.

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

“The souls in purgatory are so

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 22:00

“The souls in purgatory are so thankful for all that is done for them that persons who have relieved them receive proofs of their gratitude before they can join them in heaven.”

-François René Blot, In Heaven We’ll Meet Again

Commemoration of All The Faithful Departed

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 22:00

The practice of praying for the faithful departed goes all the way back to the early Christian era when names of the deceased were posted in places of worship so that all could pray for them. The catacombs of Rome testify to this practice.

Purgatory is not a physical location but a stage for the purification of souls before entrance into God’s heaven. St. Pope Gregory the Great reminds us that souls needing purification undergo a process of further cleansing which allows them to enter heaven. Jesus tells us that whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will be condemned (Mk 3: 29) but for lesser offenses there would be purification before entrance into heaven. Based on Scriptural passages which speak of cleansing and purification, the Church teaching on purification was formulated at the Councils of Trent and Florence (CCC# 330, 331)

When we pray for the faithful departed we simply practice what we profess in Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints … the resurrection of the body.” We are all adopted sons and daughters of God. The deceased have gone ahead to be with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While we grieve at the loss of loved ones, we trust in Jesus’ words that all who believe will be saved.

Purgatory is not some kind of prison where one is expected to make restitution for offenses of the past; rather purgatory provides for inward transformation to make it possible to be united with God.

Perhaps purgatory may be likened to a boot camp for heaven. No matter who or how we may be, boot camps are meant to prepare us for future tasks and responsibilities. It is a time to deepen one’s relationships with the merciful and loving Father who sent his only begotten Son so that we may have eternal life.

The celebration of All Souls reminds the living to pray for the departed that they may rise again as promised by Jesus to his followers.

Feast of All Souls

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 22:00

Since the eleventh century, the Feast of All Souls has been celebrated for deceased Christians that they might “rest in peace.” Catholics believe, as we recite in the Creed, in the “communion of saints.”

In the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of All Souls, we solidify that belief. This is the union of the faithful on earth (the Church Militant), the saints in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the souls in Purgatory (the Church Suffering). This is the body of believers, with Christ as the head. We are united in a spiritual bond.

Through prayer we communicate, and since we never die, but live forever through the death and resurrection of Christ, we can still communicate with each other. As believers on earth, we can pray to our brethren who are in Heaven or Purgatory. Those in Purgatory benefit from our prayers, and we from theirs. They cannot pray for themselves, so we need to remember to pray for them. And we can ask those in Purgatory and those in Heaven to pray for us while we are on our earthly pilgrimage with our destination being Heaven.

The Feast of All Saints and All Souls has been lost to the secular celebration of Halloween, just as our Lord’s birth has been lost in the celebration of the coming of Santa Claus. Traditions that are not lived are soon forgotten.

Keep the feast days and give the saints the remembrance and honor they deserve. And remember that they surround us, cheering us on and always interceding for us.

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

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

“Some souls would suffer in Purgatory until the Day of Judgment if they were not relieved by the prayers of the Church.”

— Traditionally attributed to St. Robert Bellarmine

What offering or sacrifice can I make today to benefit the holy souls in Purgatory?

Prayer

Thank you, dear brothers and sisters in Heaven, for your intercession for us. Please ask our Lord to grant us the graces we need to keep our eyes focused on the goal of Heaven and the courage to finish the race in faithfulness to Him. Amen.

What Does It Mean to Want to be a Saint?

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 22:07

I wish that I could say that I have submitted and relinquished my will entirely to God. I can’t say that, yet. I’ve spent more days sitting beside my husband in hospital rooms than I care to count. Hospital visits are a monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly occurrence for us. I have had to stand by in horror and fear watching my husband nearly lose consciousness and cough blood into bowls. I have had to quietly finger my Rosary through Divine Mercy Chaplets with tears streaming down my face while my husband lies in the hospital bed next to me completely disoriented. My husband is 40 years old. He’s not 70 or 80. He’s 40. Each new episode reminds me that I may become a widow at any point: next week, next year, in ten years, twenty years. We don’t know, but we know this disease could become unmanageable at any point.

In truth, the possibility of my becoming a widow or him a widower has always been the case because we don’t know what will happen from day-to-day. Death comes at God’s appointed time and often without warning, but there is something different about finding out that my husband has a rare and dangerous auto-immune disease. It makes that reality tangible. It is front and center in our lives. He has good days and days he suffers greatly. Each new day brings more uncertainty. In that uncertainty, God is calling me to trust Him and love Him fully. He offers His Sacred Heart to me each day and I only need to fully accept that love in all of its awe, wonder, joy, terrible suffering, and sorrow.

The furnace of love is suffering

When we enter into our vocation the fire is lit and the furnace begins to warm. It is through our vocation that we learn to relinquish ourselves in self-emptying love. This process is often slow and painful. We are often reminded of our selfishness and weakness when confronted with those God has given us to care for and love. This is just as true for the priest who has been entrusted with a flock who he must teach, lead, and walk with in periods of joy and sorrow, as it is for the husband and wife who move towards Heaven together with or without children. Love demands a relinquishment of self. Divine Love requires the total relinquishment of self to God. Often, we must learn to relinquish our will to God through trials of fire, that is, suffering.

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:7

God uses these trials to teach us to love. In standing beside my husband through agony and suffering, I am taught how to love as God loves. This life isn’t about amassing as many pleasures and material possessions as possible. Life is about loving others and learning to love with the love of Christ. This love is not sentimental and very often it doesn’t “feel” good at the time. It is a love grounded in the reality of the Blessed Trinity in all of its great mystery.

Learning to trust when we feel helpless

If there is one word that can sum up how I have felt these past few months it is helpless. When my husband gets really sick, all I can do is care for him and be present to him. I am not able to make him feel better. I cannot cure him. I cannot take away his pain. I have to stand by his side and give him completely back to God in the face of total and utter helplessness. It is in this helplessness that I am learning trust.

God is teaching me that I can’t change any of this because it is His plan, not mine. No matter how much I want to grasp at a false sense of control, I do not have any control. I can fight, kick, scream, cry, or flee, but God truly is the “Hound of Heaven” and He isn’t going to let me go far. He is there no matter how much I hurt, no matter how scared I feel, or how helpless I am in the face of my husband’s suffering and the pain our daughter is carrying from seeing her father suffer. In the end, all I can do is turn to Him and relinquish my heart, my will, my plans, and my dreams to Him. He is my Father—as He is your Father—who loves me with a pure love that I cannot fully comprehend. All of this is for my good, even though I can’t see it or feel it at times. Faith isn’t about how we feel. It is choosing to believe and knowing God is there even in periods of darkness and dryness. Faith employs the faculties of the soul—intellect and will—and is not dependent upon the passions (emotions/feelings).

What being a saint actually means

When I first got married and I came back to the Church, I prayed fervently for God to make my husband, me, and any of our children saints. I meant it at the time, but I did not understand what I had asked for then. My faith was newer and filled with some false notions of piety that are common among reverts and converts. My idea of holiness was largely sentimental, and for lack of a better word, shallow. I didn’t understand what it takes to make saints. Now I know.

God is answering my prayer. That doesn’t mean I am even close to being a saint. I have a very long way to go. This just means that I understand now what He is asking of me and what I asked of Him in that prayer. He wants all of me. Everything. I don’t get to hold back any part of myself or my life from Him. It also means that suffering is necessary. It is not the greatest evil, as our culture would have us believe. In fact, oftentimes, we miss out on growing in our faith, depth, love, and understanding when we flee from suffering. This does not mean we should be looking for suffering. Send the hairshirt back to Amazon and don’t go out into your backyard looking for sticks for self-flagellation. This means that God is going to allow us to suffer at different points in our lives. Some of us may suffer more than others for reasons that will remain mysterious to us on this side of eternity. I think, from a practical perspective, some of us are harder headed, so we need longer in the furnace of refinement. I know I am hard headed, and far too often, hard-hearted.

Being a saint means to be like God. We are called to love like God. The Church Fathers understood that we are called to be divine. A friend of mine recently commented to me on Facebook: “We are beasts who are called to be gods.” This is exactly how the Church Fathers saw it and this is indeed our call. Ask anyone who has been woken up from a sound sleep by their husband calling out for them because he’s about to collapse on the floor or is coughing up blood again, how long it takes the meat (our body) to wake up and want to help. Our weakness says “sleep”, but love says “serve” until we have nothing left to give and then Christ will give the grace to do even more than we ever thought possible.

How did the God of the Universe, creator of all things, love us? He died a brutal, torturous, humiliating death for us on a Cross. The God of the Universe gave us everything: Himself. He shows us complete and total self-emptying love on the Cross. That is the very same call for you and for me. A saint loves as God loves. A saint desires to give everything to God. They hold nothing back and they joyfully accept whatever life brings. Growing in holiness means learning to joyfully embrace the Cross. Most of us aren’t quite there yet, but if we truly want to be a saint then we understand what God is really asking of each one of us. The joy part can be difficult for us in the face of suffering. It’s a process, but God will help and guide us as long as we turn to Him constantly. We must give everything to Him and trust that the glory He has in store for us is far greater than any debilitating disease, natural disaster, violence, or suffering that we may endure in love and hope here on earth. We live in the hope that regardless of how terrible the refinement in the fire may be, we will be made new creations worthy of Heaven in the process.

Loving God & Neighbor: Why and How?

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 22:04

I can still remember his face and the passionate tone of his voice when he spoke some words to me and other seminarians. It was at the height of the clergy sexual abuse scandal of 2002 in the United States. Some priests in a diocese had recommended to their bishop that one way to deal with the low morale and burnout of the clergy was to allow them more days-off during the week. Our priest-professor in the seminary, obviously enraged by such a request, said to us:

When you become priests, I don’t care how many days-off you may have during the week, or how long a vacation you have yearly or what exotic places you go to for your vacation; as long as you are not growing in you love for God and for His flock entrusted to you as priests, you will never know true joy.

Why is it imperative for us to keep the two inseparable Commandments to love God and neighbor that Jesus gives in Sunday’s Gospel? Some of us may have asked our parents or other authority figures why we should obey their instructions only to receive that familiar answer, “Because I say so.” Can we and do we keep the two-fold Commandment of love simply because God says so? What then is the deeper reason that sustains our striving to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and our neighbors as ourselves?

The newly liberated Israelites are warned by Moses in today’s First Reading not to molest or oppress the aliens because they themselves have experienced God’s liberating power that freed them from oppressive slavery, “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” Having experienced the compassionate love of God that liberates, they must extend a liberating and compassionate love to the widows, aliens and orphans.

This is the very first reason why we must keep the commandment of love: we have received this love as a gift. We are not the origin of this love but we have this love simply because God has loved us first, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” (1Jn 4:7) In addition, this love is a gift from God, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He has loved us first.”(1 Jn 4:10) This gift of divine love is received through the person of the Holy Spirit, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit that has been given to us.”(Rom 5:5)

The Second Reading points us to the second reason why we must keep the Commandment to love God and neighbor. The Christians in Thessalonica had received the Gospel wholeheartedly and had experienced persecution because of their new faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Moved by the Holy Spirit, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to await His Son from heaven,” thus becoming “models for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” Though they “received the word with great affliction,” they experienced “joy from the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit moved them to concrete acts of love for God even in their affliction and, once they responded positively to the promptings of the Spirit, they experienced a joy that could not be quenched by their earthly travails. We too strive to keep the commandment to love God and neighbor because we want to have the unquenchable joy of the Lord in our hearts.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the Spirit of love and joy from the moment of our baptism. This Spirit is always moving us to love God and neighbor more and more with all that we have. When we respond to the Spirit’s call to love God and others more, we have the deep joy of the Lord that abides even in the midst of the trials of life. This is why we must strive to keep the greatest Commandment of love in all that we do, think and say.

God desires our deepest joy always and He does all things so that this joy becomes ours. God, “who is love,”(1 Jn 4:8) made us through love and calls us to love Him in others for His own sake. God so desires that we live in this love that He “gave us His only begotten Son so that those who believe in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life.”(Jn 3:16) Jesus Himself came that we “might have life and have it abundantly.”(Jn 10:10) The Father and the Son never cease to send forth the Spirit of Love into our hearts to move us to deeper spiritual joy along the path of greater love for God and neighbor.

So how is the Spirit of God moving us today to greater love for God and how are we responding? Maybe the Spirit is moving us to go deeper in our prayer life or to confess a particular sinful habit and amend our lives. Maybe the Spirit is moving us to end a sinful relationship or to serve Him more selflessly in our apostolate. Maybe the Spirit is moving us to participate more actively in liturgical celebrations or to attend the sacraments more frequently or spend time in delving into His word in Scripture.

So how is the Spirit of God moving us today to greater love for our neighbor? Maybe we are being moved to reach out to someone whom we have written off in life or to reconcile with one who has hurt us. Maybe we are being inspired to speak kind words to someone we always put down or to spend time with someone that we would rather avoid. Maybe we are being moved to intercede for those who lack faith and strength to pray or to instruct the ignorant in faith and morals. A deep and unquenchable joy awaits us as we pursue the will of God and His greater glory and strive to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of others.

The example of Mama Mary shines out so brightly in this regard. Mary’s act of charity is exceptional because, in her love for God and for us her sinful children, she received and responded to the gift of the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you,” with a complete gift of herself to God, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Filled with this Holy Spirit, Mary was so powerfully moved by the Spirit that she “arose and went in haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered into the house of Zachariah and greeted Elizabeth,” serving Elizabeth’s needs for three good months. Can we think of a more profound hymn of joy than Mary’s Magnificat, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior?” With and through Mary, the ever-faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit, we too can believe in the gift of love received through the Holy Spirit and let this Spirit move us to seek for that deep and lasting joy which remains the sure reward of a growing love for God and neighbor.

Having all that we need to love God and neighbors more in this world of selfishness and greed, a world where individualism and egoism is rampant, where consumerism and hedonism dictates life choices, where it is so easy to use others as means to our selfish goals, the words of my seminary professor ring out as true as ever: “No matter what we have or do or enjoy, if we are not loving God and others more and more, we will never have deep and lasting joy.”

In our Eucharist today, Jesus renews in us the outpouring of His Spirit because He wants us to be truly joyful even in this world as we await the perfect joy of heaven. We have the gift of the Spirit of love that never ceases us to inspire us to greater love for God and others no matter the cost. Let us love God and neighbors just as He is moving us and we will also have the joy of the Lord in our hearts, a joy that nothing in this world can take away from us.

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

All Saints Day Means Holiness is For All

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 22:02

At age 16, I thought that aspiring to holiness was out of the question.  If you really wanted to be holy, I thought, you had to be a priest, nun, or brother.  And you had to spend your days doing “religious stuff” like praying, preaching, teaching catechism, or serving the poor.  But I had developed an interest in the opposite sex and was headed toward a career in music.  So I was disqualified.  The best I could hope for was to avoid breaking the 10 commandments, get to confession when I failed, not miss Mass on Sunday and toss a few bucks in the collection each week.  That way, I could at least make it to heaven after a stay in Purgatory.  But true sanctity, that was out of my reach.

If holiness were about marital status or what you do for a living, I would have been right. But the Second Vatican Council made very clear that my assumptions were wrong.  Holiness is not about what you do but with how much love you do it.  Holiness is really the perfection of faith, hope, and sharing in God’s very nature, which is love (I Jn. 4:8).  We are talking about a special kind of love here, the love that gives freely of itself to another, that even lays down its own priorities, interests, and very life, for another.

So is holiness difficult to attain?  No.  It is impossible.  At least on our own steam.  But that’s the thrill of it all.  God invites us into an intimate relationship with Him through Jesus.  He takes up residence within us and makes it possible to love with His love. Grace is the love of God that comes into our hearts as a free, undeserved gift and enables us to be like God.

So that means spending all our time in chapel?  No it means doing daily, ordinary things with extraordinary love.  The Virgin Mary, our greatest example of holiness, was a housewife and a mother.  Jesus and his foster father, St. Joseph, apparently spend most of their lives doing manual labor.  But when Mary did the wash, she did it for love.  When Joseph made a table, he did it for love.  When hardship and danger threatened, they met it with faith, hope, and love.

So holiness is for every baptized person, regardless of personality type, career, age, race, or marital status.  In baptism, we are all reborn with the spiritual muscles necessary to get us across the finish line.  Yet these muscles must be nourished and exercised if they are ever to develop and carry us the full distance.  God provides the necessary nourishment in the Word of God and the Eucharist.  And he sends us ample opportunities to exercise.

But there’s the rub–many of us don’t want to exert ourselves.  It can be uncomfortable.  We stretch a bit to finish school, to excel at sports, to win the heart of the love of our lives.  But when it comes to the things of the Spirit, we often settle with being couch potatoes.

Leon Bloy, a French Catholic writer, once said “the only tragedy in life is not to become a saint.”  Holiness is about realizing our deepest, greatest potential, becoming who we were truly destined to be.  What a shame it would be to miss it.

The saints were just like us…

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 22:00

The saints were just like us… with one difference: they strove, in everything they did, to discover Jesus and to live as signs and servants of His Presence.

-Fr. Joseph Esper, Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems

Feast of All Saints

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 22:00

Today is the Feast of All Saints, which is celebrated every November 1. By the fourth century, this Feast of All Martyrs, as it was then known, was celebrated on May 13. The words “martyr” and “saint” originally meant basically the same thing — someone who is a witness to Christ even unto death.

The early Christians usually placed the body of the martyr who had died for his faith in a tomb that was easily accessible. Then on the anniversary of that martyr’s death, the faithful would come and pray and celebrate the Eucharist. Eventually, these celebrations were held in local churches to commemorate not just one martyr, but all who had given their lives for their faith. By the fifth century, this feast of “All Saints” was held on the Friday of Easter week.

However, in the ninth century, Pope Gregory the IV changed the date to November 1. Those Christians who endured torture for the faith, but did not die, were treated with great respect. Therefore, their local church often acclaimed those who led heroic and faithful lives as saints after their deaths.

The theology of this feast emphasizes the bond between those Christians already with God and those still on earth. Consequently, the Feast of All Saints points to our ultimate goal — eternity with God.

In 1484 Pope Sixtus IV established November 1 as a holy day of obligation. The vigil for this feast day was known as “All Hallow’s Eve,” today called by its shorter version. Hallowed means holy (as in “hallowed be Thy name”). The abbreviated name for evening became “e’en” and this is where we get the name “Halloween.”

Rather than concentrating on witches, ghosts, and goblins, let us think on those who have gone before us, having persevered in holiness and faithfulness, setting before us the way unto salvation of our souls. This is a time to celebrate their lives and give our children real heroes that they can look up to and pattern their lives after.

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

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

The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself enflamed by a tremendous yearning.

— From a discourse of St. Bernard

Johnnette’s Meditation
Of all the saints, who enflames me the most with “a tremen­dous yearning” for the things of God? Why? How can I emulate him or her in one specific way today?

Prayer

Holy Spirit, anoint us with the oil of joyfulness in the midst of our sufferings and the gift of perseverance during persecution, that we may run the race of those saints who have gone before us, keeping our eyes on the crown of glory and eternity with You. Amen.

Padre Pio, Purgatory, and Praying for Souls in the Cemetery

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 22:07

A frail old man lay on his deathbed. In a chair beside his bed, a priest sat with him and wiped away the tears that flowed quietly from the dying man’s eyes. The old man asked the priest to hear his confession.

After receiving the sacrament, he said to the priest, “My son, if the Lord calls me tonight, ask all my brothers to forgive me for the trouble I’ve caused them. Ask them also to pray for my soul.”

From these words, one might think the old man had many regrets and much to repent. Just a few days earlier, however, the whole town had held a huge celebration to honor him. The year was 1968, and the occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of the day he had received the stigmata.

The old man was Padre Pio.

He was known to read souls, to see heavenly apparitions, to bilocate, and to obtain miraculous cures. He slept only one or two hours each night; the rest of the time, he prayed. His reputation for sanctity brought pilgrims from around the world to visit him at San Giovanni Rotondo.

And yet, in the last hours of his life, as told in the book Padre Pio: Man of Hope, he made a request that seems bewildering in light of his holiness.

Why would Padre Pio, whom many considered a living saint, who seemed to have one foot in heaven throughout his entire life, beg prayers for his soul? When he was moments away from meeting his Lord, his humility convicted him. He was a saint; and still, he was a sinner in need of mercy.

Dear Suffering Friends

“How grateful I should be,” writes St. Margaret Mary in her Life and Writings II, “if you would help me by your prayers to relieve my ‘dear suffering friends,’ for so I call them. There is nothing I would not do or suffer to help them. I assure you they are not ungrateful.”

When St. Margaret Mary writes of her “dear suffering friends,” the phrase resonates with me. I’ve spent so many hours near tombstones that the souls now feel like old friends.

One of the loveliest places in our town is our local cemetery. Drawn to its beauty and peace, I wind its paths several times a week. Reading the weather-worn headstones there, I wonder about the lives they honor. A Union soldier who fought in the Civil War. A three-month-old baby and her father, both born in the 19th century. A husband and wife with nicknames like “Sweets” and “Lovie.”

I can easily get lost in thought there, and it usually takes some time before I remember that even now, long after they lived, there is something I can do to help these people. That’s when this simple variation of the Jesus Prayer (one I mentioned in an article last November) comes to mind, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I repeat it:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on the souls in this cemetery.

It fills my heart to pray for the people whose graves I pass—and also for my relatives and other “dear suffering friends.”  And in the bounty of divine mercy, I find added peace in knowing that my prayers in the cemetery are not one-sided: When I have intentions close to my heart, I also ask these souls to pray for me.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says something amazing about praying for the dead: “Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.”

When I pray for the souls in Purgatory, it makes them better able to pray for me. What a reciprocal blessing of unity in the Body of Christ!

The Gift of Prayers

When Padre Pio asked that his brothers pray for his soul, he was no stranger to the souls in Purgatory. In fact, he said that “more souls of the dead than of the living climb this mountain to attend my masses and to seek my prayers.”

He told stories of souls who had come to him in visible human form to ask for his intercession. He mystically understood what kinds of sins brought people to Purgatory. Padre Pio was so busy trying to empty Purgatory that, for those who knew him, it must have seemed that he would never need to land there himself.

But still, he asked for prayers for his soul. He knew that he sinned; and even if he went straight to heaven, those prayers would never be wasted. Other souls in Purgatory could benefit from the offering.

It is a comfort to us on earth, when a loved one dies, to think that the person is in heaven. This consolation is real and sweet; it is right and good for us to hope for heaven. But we must not forget what Padre Pio understood: Death is not always a free pass to heaven. In order to get there, many souls need the gift of our prayers.

Each November, the Church gives us an extraordinary gift that we can extend to our “dear suffering friends.” From November 1-8, a plenary indulgence is available for Catholics in a state of grace who visit a cemetery and pray, even if only mentally, for the dead. This indulgence can only be applied to the souls in Purgatory.  On other days, the indulgence is partial.

In addition to praying in the cemetery, the conditions for a plenary indulgence are: (a) to receive Communion once for each intended indulgence; (b) go to Confession—a single Confession will suffice for all; and (c) pray at least one Our Father and one Hail Mary for the pope’s intentions.

Padre Pio reminds us that it is never too late to pray, whether a person died recently or long ago:For the Lord, …everything is an eternal present. Those prayers had already been taken into account so that even now I can pray for the happy death of my great-grandfather!”

I hope and pray that when I leave this life, my loved ones will pray for my soul. I have no doubt that I will need those prayers desperately. And I hope and pray that I will always remember to offer the same act of mercy for my “dear suffering friends,” so that, by God’s grace, we will all meet one day, with the angels and saints, together in the Sacred Heart, for all eternity.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

image: Saint Pius of Pietrelcina by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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.