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The Eucharist: Grace for Tired Spirits

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:02

“Food tastes so good when you’re hungry!” Veritas from the lips of babes. This time it’s your ten-year-old son who has just worked his tail off after 60 minutes of hard-played soccer. And he’s right. After all, that’s what food is for!

The Scriptures gratefully acknowledge the blessing of food and drink: God gave “wine to gladden their hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread to sustain the human heart” (Ps 104:15). Believable on the lips of any rabbi and no doubt embodied by many a doting Italian grandmother, this verse fosters a spirituality of gratitude for the goodness inherent throughout God’s creation. “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Delicious food and drink remind us of the richness of the human life they nourish. This is why saying Grace before Meals is a great Catholic tradition.

But we all know that the Christian use of food and drink does not stop with merely bodily sustenance. We have truly been made partakers in a spiritual refreshment, the “bread of angels” (Ps 78:25). This revelation was only hinted at in the Old Testament prefigurations but was taught openly in the public ministry of Jesus:

Do not labor for food that perishes. … The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jn 6:27,51b).

Here in the “Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus introduces one of his most striking teachings. His audience is a hungry multitude which followed him throughout the hill country of Judea, much like the Chosen People of Israel who wandered through the Desert of Sinai. When he tells his audience that “my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55), they are rightly taken aback! Yet Jesus does not respond to their genuine shock by adjusting his new teaching. Rather, he insists upon its spiritual grounding and later confirms it at the Last Supper. St. John reports that at the end of the “Bread of Life Discourse,” “many of [Christ’s] disciples drew back and no longer went about with him” (Jn 6:66). However, a group of disciples led by Simon Peter believed Jesus based on his authority as “the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:69).

Following in the faith of Peter and the Apostles, we must give heed to what Christ is showing us by instituting this sacrament. Why make simple bread and wine become his Body and Blood and then command that this be repeated for time immemorial? St. Thomas Aquinas lists among the principal effects of the Eucharist that “this sacrament does for the spiritual life all that material food does for the bodily life.” If we pay attention to the basic sacramental signs at play here, we can come to a better understanding of the spiritual reality made present by God’s design.

By the Body of Christ, we are fortified with strength for the journey, aptly represented by the appearance of bread. If a bagel from your favorite deli powers you through the first hours of the day, what kind of spiritual vitality and endurance might you expect from the Son of the living God?

By the Blood of Christ, we are spiritually gladdened so that what was formerly harsh along the way becomes sweet under the influence of divine charity. Think of the relaxation and refreshment that come from your favorite summer beverage. How much better will the spiritual drink that comes from God’s banquet table give ease to your tired spirit?

The appearances of bread and wine, although veiling the new essence of Who is there, help us to understand the purpose of Holy Communion: grace comes to nourish and enliven the charity already aflame from Baptism. We find strength for the demands of life in Jesus’s friendship. Our sacramental unity with God’s Son turns sweet what had been bitter and makes ever more fresh what before felt so dull. Increasing our frequency of attendance at Mass and worthy reception of Christ’s Body and Blood, we should expect to find ourselves overawed by the extent of God’s providence. Reflecting on this gift which nourishes the mystery of divine life within us, we may well find ourselves thinking, “food never tasted so good!”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is republished here with kind permission. image: Photos by ECatholic.Com

In the Gospel reading we see Jesus

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:00

In the Gospel reading we see Jesus arguing with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Jewish leaders have refused to accept Christ and his message, despite the many signs and miracles he had performed; his teaching had undermined their teaching and authority with the people. They claimed that their Father was Abraham. In reply Jesus said that, if they were children of Abraham, they would see the truth and accept him.

In the first reading we see the faith in God shown by the three youths thrown into the fire and saved by their God. They would rather risk death than go against God’s law.

We pray that we may have the faith and the courage of the three youths. We also pray not to be proud, stubborn and blind like the Jewish leaders.

“When making the Sign of the

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:00

“When making the Sign of the Cross, therefore, we confess three great mysteries: the Trinity, the Passion, and the remission of sins, by which we are moved from the left, the hand of the curse, to the right, the hand of blessing.”

—St. Francis de Sales, The Sign of the Cross

St. Vincent Ferrer (Priest)

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 22:00

St. Vincent Ferrer (1350?-1419) was a Dominican priest caught up in the Great Western Schism — a period of almost forty years in which the Church was divided between two popes, both claiming to be the legitimate successor to St. Peter. Vincent was born in Spain. Entering the Dominican Order, he developed a reputation as a brilliant scholar and powerful preacher.

After being ordained a priest by Cardinal Peter de Luna, Vincent was chosen as prior of the monastery in Valencia. In 1378 an Italian cardinal was elected pope, taking the name Urban VI; however, his heavy-handed efforts at reform alienated some of the French cardinals, who declared his election invalid and chose as pope a different cardinal, who took the name Clement VII. This was very confusing for loyal Catholics; Vincent supported Clement, while St. Catherine of Siena backed Urban. (Most Church scholars today agree that Urban and his successors represented the legitimate line of the papacy.) Vincent tried to organize Spanish support for Clement; when Clement died, Vincent’s mentor Cardinal de Luna was chosen to replace him, and took the name Benedict XIII. Vincent served as Benedict’s confessor, and then spent ten years doing intensive mission work in France, Spain, and elsewhere, all the while promoting reconciliation and unity in the Church.

Efforts were made to resolve the schism, including the election of a compromise pope with the idea of uniting the two factions (though this merely increased the number of claimants to the papal throne from two to three). Finally, a general council was arranged in 1415, with the understanding that all three popes would resign and a new one be officially named. This new pope chose the name Martin V — but Benedict XIII, in spite of Vincent’s urgings, refused to resign as promised.

Vincent finally concluded that Benedict wasn’t the real pope, and publicly withdrew his support from him; this forced Benedict to flee, eventually ending the Great Schism. St. Vincent Ferrer continued preaching throughout Western Europe until his death in 1419.

Lessons

1. Even saints can disagree (as St. Vincent did with St. Catherine) or be mistaken on important issues.

2. Persons having great influence or prestige must use these gifts for the well-being of the Church, as Vincent did by withdrawing his support from Benedict, even if it means admitting one was mistaken.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Blessed Juliana of Mount Cornillon (1258), Virgin

St. Isidore of Sevilla and Preserving Our Inheritance of Faith

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 22:07

St. Isidore of Sevilla was born in Cartagena, Spain in the late 500s when the kingdom of Spain was sharply divided. Two hundred years of control of the Iberian Peninsula by the Visigoths saw a decline in the learning, values, and culture of the Romans, who had previously ruled Spain for 600 years. The Visigoths had also brought with them Arianism, the heresy that said Jesus was not God. Most of the people of Spain still followed true Christianity, which St. James brought to Spain in the first century, and which had been established throughout the Roman Empire by Constantine in the 300s, but the Visigoth nobility followed Arianism. During St. Isidore’s childhood, Spain was deeply split between the Arian Visigoths and the Hispano-Roman Christians, and the culture was in a period of decline. Through wide-spread educational reform, a tireless devotion to study and writing, and through his own example of holiness and humility, St. Isidore not only unified Spain, but he almost single-handedly preserved the universal knowledge of his time for Christian Europe throughout the Middle Ages.

Early Life and Educational Reforms

St. Isidore was born in Cartagena around 560 A.D. and his family emigrated to Sevilla when he was young. St. Isidore had three siblings who also became saints: Leander, Fulgentius, and Florentina. St. Isidore was educated at the Cathedral School in Sevilla, which was the first school of its kind in Spain, where he was taught the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and the quadrivium: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. No doubt inspired by his own classical education, when he became bishop of Sevilla St. Isidore brought about sweeping educational reforms, and these inspired changes throughout the kingdom. Soon all the bishops in Spain were required to establish seminaries in their cities modeled after the Cathedral School in Sevilla, and the courses in these seminaries included Greek, Hebrew, the liberal arts, as well as law and medicine. St. Isidore was also responsible for introducing the study of Aristotle and Greek philosophy to Spain. One can only imagine the impact Isidore’s reforms had on the subsequent generations of priests in Spain.

Writing

St. Isidore of Seville is perhaps best known for his prolific writing, which covered a wide variety of subjects, including: the Church, law, theology, scripture, and literature. His Etymologies, which was an encyclopedia of all knowledge of the western world at that time, covered geography, animals, building, road-making, agriculture, ships, houses, languages, and even furniture. It was a highly-esteemed work of reference and it was in print up until the Renaissance, for approximately 900 years. In fact, the Etymologies contains many fragments of classical writing that would have been completely lost if St. Isidore had not preserved them. Spanning 448 chapters and 20 volumes, the knowledge included in the Etymologies was considered everything a scholar could hope to learn in a lifetime–not surprisingly, it took St. Isidore 25 years to complete. This massive work preserved nearly all of the knowledge of Western Civilization up until that point in history for future generations, and it was considered the only necessary textbook during Medieval times. For this reason, even though St. Isidore lived in the 600s, he has been called “The Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages.”

Humility

After studying the life of this extraordinary saint, the most edifying thing one finds is the beautiful contrast between his great learning and his profound humility. St. Isidore’s humility is illustrated powerfully in the account given of his final days. Sensing that his death was drawing near, he asked two bishops to come with him to the church. There, he asked one of the bishops to cover him in sackcloth and the other to cover his head with ashes. He then stretched his hands towards heaven and begged out loud for God to pardon him of his sins. He asked everyone in the church to pray for him, he forgave all debts that were owed to him, and he asked that anything he still owned be given to the poor. He died peacefully four days later on April 4, 636, at the age of 76. He was declared a Doctor of the Church within sixteen years of his death.

As I was reading and reflecting about St. Isidore, I was moved by how much he valued the inheritance of faith he received, and I was reminded of how often I take that gift for granted. As Catholics we have a heritage that is more precious than all the riches in the world combined–a heritage of faith in Christ. But as Catholics who have been born into Western Civilization, like St. Isidore of Sevilla, we also have a legacy of human knowledge and achievement—of philosophy, democracy, history, art, music, literature, and languages, and yet it is one that could be easily lost if we, who have inherited it, do not study it and share it with others—unless we preserve the treasure we have been given. St. Isidore has not only given us the example of a man who truly valued that treasure of faith, but he also offers us the example of how to safeguard it: by reforming education so that future generations will have good formation, by study and writing in order to share our faith with others, and most importantly by living a life of profound humility, so that everything we do will give glory to God.

image: By Héctor Gómez Herrero (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 es], via Wikimedia Commons

“For What Can a Man Give in Return for His Life?”

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 22:05

Bishop Sheen used to say that at the end of our earthly life, we will meet one of two figures: Jesus or Satan. And one of them will say, “You’re mine.”

The questions we will consider in this chapter are about the choice we have between Jesus and the devil, Heaven and Hell, life and death: “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?” (Mark 8:36–37).

We need to live with the end of our lives in mind. Heaven will fulfill our every desire. All the happiness, beauty, and joy we can find in this life are but a tiny reflection of the happiness, beauty, and joy of God Himself. Heaven is going to fulfill every hope we’ve ever had; every dream will come true. And Hell will fulfill every dread we’ve ever had; every nightmare will come true.

The stakes are high. It’s eternal happiness or eternal misery. We have to live each day making sure we follow the way that will lead us to Christ. That’s the purpose of Jesus’ questions in this chapter.

It can be shocking to hear Our Lord talk about the lengths we should go to in order to see Heaven and avoid Hell. He famously said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Now, He doesn’t mean for us to do that literally. The point is that there should be nothing in this life that we should be unwilling to sacrifice if it stands in the way of our getting to Heaven.

Vince Lombardi used to say that, in football, winning isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing. We can adapt that to the Christian life: salvation isn’t the main thing; it’s the only thing.

God created us to be in the Kingdom of Heaven. That’s why we’re here. The Trinity — God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are perfectly happy for all eternity. God doesn’t really need us humans. He created us, though, so that we might share His happiness. Spending eternity in Heaven is the very purpose for which we were created. If we don’t reach that goal, we miss the whole reason for our existence. That would be beyond tragic. And that’s why Jesus challenges us to live our lives faithfully so that we will be found worthy to enter into His Kingdom.

The world, the flesh, and the devil will give you pleasure. They will give you an illusion of greatness through success and popularity, but it won’t be fulfilling. Why? Because the world doesn’t give you joy. Joy comes in a commitment to love others so we can participate in the joy of Christ. After all, we were made for Jesus.

The Fruitfulness of Love

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ teaching here in its entirety:

And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)

In this passage Jesus tells us that there are three things that a person has to do to join Him in His Kingdom: “deny himself,” “take up his cross,” and “follow me.” You and I must live the way that God created us to live, not the way our culture wants us to live. That means we have to deny ourselves certain things — first of all, sin. We have to remove from our lives occasions of sin, which are circumstances — people, places, situations — that make us vulnerable to serious sin, even if those things are enjoyable.

This article is from a chapter in “Answering the Questions of Jesus.”

Then we have to strive to overcome our sinful habits and to control our passions. St. Paul tells us that the flesh fights against the Holy Spirit within us. If we follow the way the Spirit leads us, practicing and growing in the virtues in our everyday life, we will find peace and will gradually overcome our passions.

Secondly, Jesus says we have to take up our cross. We all have a cross in life, and to take it up means to fulfill our responsibilities and to accept the burdens that come along with those responsibilities. These are different for everyone, depending on our circum­stances, our vocation, and so on. As we patiently bear our trials, we learn how to forget ourselves while lov­ing others. The beautiful thing about that love is that, as it grows, it helps us in so many ways. It allows us to take up our cross cheerfully. It makes it easier for us to sacrifice our time and energy for others. In fact, it challenges us to serve more and more. Love, like life itself, is most fruitful when it is given.

Love grows as we give it away but shrinks as we try to keep it for ourselves. The very nature of love is self-giving. When we give our lives in service and in love, we will find more and more love for others and for Christ in our lives.

And finally, the third thing Jesus tells us is sim­ply to follow Him — to follow the example He sets for us. Jesus is the only way: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). If we follow anyone else, we will get lost. “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). We need to follow Jesus as the authentic way to salvation.

Yes, there will be sufferings. But remember Jesus’ teaching about the grain of wheat: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). When we die to ourselves by emptying ourselves in the ser­vice of others, we will be like that grain of wheat, and the world will be a better place due to a bountiful harvest of grace and goodness for the Church.

This is what the Lord means when He says, in the original passage, “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Anyone who wants to keep his life for himself by refusing to give of himself to help others will finish in the end with nothing. But in dy­ing to ourselves, we become fruitful in Christ.

Let’s compare the last words of two Catholic leaders who served under King Henry VIII. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey put his earthly power above his duties to Christ and the Church. He died in great pain, saying, “If I had served God as diligently as I have done the King, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs.” While an important figure in his age, Wolsey is remembered more for his failures than his accomplishments. St. Thomas More, however, is remembered to this day as a great saint who put his duties to Christ and the Church first and who was martyred for his devotion. His last words: “I die the king’s good servant — but God’s first.”

Finally, Jesus tells us in this passage that we should not be ashamed of Him. If we are faithful to Jesus, He will return that faithfulness, acknowledging us to His Heavenly Father.

Don’t sell out for the promises of the world. When I see Catholic politicians who say they are Catholic but who embrace values that conflict with the gospel, it seems as if they are ashamed of Christ. More than that, it seems as if they’re looking for something in this world to exchange for their very soul. We must pray for them.

These temptations affect all of us, though, even if we’re not in positions of secular authority. We are constantly asked by our culture to sell out on the gospel for a little money, or a little power, or a little prestige. When we feel that temptation, we must remember that question of Jesus: “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

There is no fair exchange for our eternal happiness.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion
  • Do I go about my everyday life remembering the promise of Heaven and the pains of Hell?
  • Do I conscientiously avoid occasions of sin?
  • Am I ever ashamed of the gospel, choosing other values and actions that seem more “modern” or “practical”?
  • How would I respond to this question of Jesus if it were addressed directly to me: “What can a man give in return for his life?”

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Apostoli’s Answering the Questions of Jesuswhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

Bringing the Joy of Christ to Others

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 22:02

Sadness, depression, complaining and gossiping, anger and bitterness, despair in life—all of this characterizes the environment of workplaces, offices, companies, and even many homes.

Saint Thomas Aquinas makes a somewhat obvious statement and it is the following: all are called to happiness. Everyone in the world, irrespective of time, place, culture—all have a great desire to be happy.

Why then is it, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, that so many, and we repeat, so many people are everything but happy? The response is the following: they are looking for happiness in the wrong places. A fish placed on the top of a building, a bird plunged into water, a cat placed in the company of a dog—all are simply in the wrong place!

Likewise, the human person who pursues happiness in the casino, in wine and whiskey, in the pleasures of the flesh referring to sexual promiscuity, porn viewing and licentiousness, not to mention drugs and overeating—all of these cannot produce true happiness. Indeed, all of the above can produce transitory or ephemeral pleasure, but not true joy, not true happiness. Pleasure can be bought with money and depends on external stimuli; whereas, true happiness comes from within; true happiness comes from God; true happiness is this intimate relationship, better said, Friendship with God. True happiness comes from union with the Holy Spirit who gives us both His Gifts and His Fruits; one of these fruits is joy, very much akin to happiness!

Saint Augustine, who looked for happiness in pleasure (sexual addiction until he was 31), after his conversion, in his classic Confessions, penned this immortal line: “O God, you have made our hearts for thee and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”  True happiness can only be found in God, in a deep, personal and dynamic relationship with God.

Therefore, we who have encountered God in a deep and personal manner in our lives, it is incumbent upon us to share this joy with others. Pope Francis’ document summarizes our central theme: The Joy of the Gospel. Those who have understood the message of the Gospel, which actually means Good News, should not keep this joyful Good News to themselves, but be ardent and zealous in sharing it with others! This being the case, we would like to offer ten simple ways in which we can share the joy of the Gospel, the joy of union with the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit with an angry, depressed and even despairing world!

1. Smile at the angry person.  One of the clearest signs of union with God is the joy that radiates from a smile. Many things are contagious and that includes a smile; try it and you will see its effects! One of the highlights of Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the Order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, is the smile on the face of this saint, as well as her sisters!

2. I am praying for you. Upon bumping into a grumpy and sad person, why not say to him/her: “I am praying for you!!!” You might even add: “You know, God really loves you as someone precious to His Heart!”  Who knows, maybe this person has never heard these words in his/her whole life!

3. Open the door! Upon entering some building take the initiative to open up the door for that person who arrives at the place at the same time that you do! This is symbolic! You are desiring that one day God will open up the door of heaven for you as well as for this person. Jesus pays undivided attention even to the smallest detail. He said: “I tell you, those who give even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones will not go without his reward.”

4. Kindness.  Try to be kind in words as well as in gestures. The opposite of kindness is meanness! We all know what that is. When somebody says a mean word to us, it is almost as if we were stung by a wasp with those words—the poisonous venom stays with us. Kindness is the exact opposite; it is like a gentle and healing balm that anoints our soul. (Read Father Lovasik’s book on KINDNESS.)

5. A kind glance or a look.  Even something so simple as a kind look or glance can indeed be very consoling to somebody with a wounded heart. Indeed, words can be very encouraging, but the same can be said with a loving and encouraging glance. How many athletes have gone beyond their physical limits because there was some person encouraging them by a mere encouraging glance of the eyes!

6. Give a holy card. Giving a holy card of Jesus, Mary, the angels, or one of the saints can serve as a concrete reminder that in the midst of loneliness and the dark nights that we all must traverse, we are really never alone, rather, God and the angels and saints are present with us. Small reminders can have huge impacts on the lives of the fallen and depressed. God is close to those whose hearts are broken.

7. Take a walk. Maybe there is a family member who is going through depression—it might be your teenage son. Then why not invite him to take a half-hour nature walk. Exposure to the trees and the multi-colored leaves, the sound of the chorus of birds chanting their songs of praise to the Creator, the gentle breeze caressing your faces, the bright and warm sun a source of solace and healing, the fresh smell of cut grass, the blue sky really the mantle of Mary—all of these can serve as a means to lift the cloud of depression and radiate joy and happiness!

8. Walk the Talk.  During the course of the nature walk, engage this person—maybe your teenage son—in conversation. However, first highlight the good qualities that God has endowed him with. There are many, but he may not be aware of them. It is up to you to highlight them and encourage him to cultivate them. These 30 minutes, exposed to the beauty of creation that comes from God who is beauty itself, as well as an encouraging conversation can turn the tide of depression to renewed hope and happiness! Try it and you will see!

9. A sense of humor. When you run into a sad-faced and joy-less individual—and there are many out there—tell an honest, clean, humorous story or simply a joke! The great orator Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, would often start off his conferences or lectures with not one joke, but three! This would dispose the audience for the rest of his talk. Maybe you can buy a good and I would highlight clean joke book, and learn a few so as to spice up the life of the sad! We all like a well-told, timely joke or humorous anecdote!

10. Mary, the cause of our joy.  In the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary one of the short phrases apropos of our topic is “Mary, Cause of Our Joy, pray for us!”  It is recorded in the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as “The Little Flower”, that she was suffering from a very painful sickness when she turned to a statue of Our Lady and she smiled at Saint Therese; she was instantly healed of her ailment! Therefore, in conclusion, let us offer up fervent prayers to Mary, Cause of Our Joy, for many of our brothers and sisters who are suffering acute depression in one form or another. Through the intercession of Mary, may the sad and depressed recognize that true happiness can only be found in union with God. Our Lady teaches the world this in her canticle of praise that we call the MAGNIFICAT:  “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…”  Like Mary, let us LOOK TO THE LORD and be radiant with joy!

The Value of Suffering

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 02:35
The Value of Suffering

Presence of God – O Jesus Crucified, teach me the Science of the Cross; make me understand the value of suffering.

MEDITATION

The Passion of Jesus teaches us in a concrete way that in the Christian life we must be able to accept suffering for the love of God. This is a hard, repugnant lesson for our nature, which prefers pleasure and happiness; however, it comes from Jesus, the Teacher of truth and of life, the loving Teacher of our souls, who desires only our real good. If He commends suffering to us, it is because suffering contains a great treasure.

Suffering in itself is an evil and cannot be agreeable; if Jesus willed to embrace it in all its plenitude and if He offers it to us, inviting us to esteem and love it, it is only in view of a superior good which cannot be attained by any other means–the sublime good of the redemption and the sanctification of our souls.

Although man, by his twofold nature, is subject to suffering, God willed to exempt our first parents from it by their preternatural gifts; but through sin, these gifts were lost forever, and suffering inevitably entered our life. The gamut of sufferings which has harassed humanity is the direct outcome of the disorder caused by sin, not only by original sin, but also by actual sins. Yet the Church chants: O happy fault! Why? The answer lies in the infinite love of God which transforms everything and draws from the double evil of sin and suffering the great good of the redemption of the human race. When Jesus took upon Himself the sins of mankind, He also assumed their consequences, that is, suffering and death; and this suffering, embraced by Him during His whole life, and especially in His Passion, became the instrument of our redemption. Pain, the result of sin, becomes in Jesus and with Jesus, the means of destroying sin itself. Thus a Christian may not consider pain only as an undesirable burden from which he must necessarily recoil, but he must see in it much more–a means of redemption and sanctification.

COLLOQUY

“O Lord, You do not like to make us suffer, but You know it is the only way to prepare us to know You as You know Yourself, to prepare us to become like You. You know well that if You sent me but a shadow of earthly happiness, I should cling to it with all the intense ardor of my heart, and so You refuse me even this shadow … because You wish that my heart be wholly Yours.

“Life passes so quickly that it is obviously better to have a most splendid crown and a little suffering, than an ordinary crown and no suffering. When I think that, for a sorrow borne with joy, I shall be able to love You more for all eternity, I understand clearly that if You gave me the entire universe, with all its treasures, it would be nothing in comparison to the slightest suffering. Each new suffering, each pang of the heart, is a gentle wind to bear to You, O Jesus, the perfume of the soul that loves You; then You smile lovingly, and immediately make ready a new grief, and fill the cup to the brim, thinking the more the soul grows in love, the more it must grow in suffering too.

“What a favor, my Jesus, and how You must love me to send me suffering! Eternity itself will not be long enough to bless You for it. Why this predilection? It is a secret which You will reveal to me in our heavenly home on the day when You will wipe away all our tears.

“Lord, You ask me for this suffering, this sorrow…. You need it for souls, for my soul. O Jesus, since You have made me understand that You would give me souls through the Cross, the more crosses I meet, the more ardent my thirst for suffering becomes.

“I am happy not to be free from suffering here; suffering united with love is the only thing that seems desirable to me in this vale of tears” (Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Letters, 32,50,23,40,58,224 – Story of a Soul).

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Note from Dan: These posts are 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 Value of Suffering: An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane by Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873, Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, 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 Author Insights Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.


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

The Meaning of Christ’s Temptation at the Temple

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 22:07

We tend to forgot that one of Christ’s three temptations in the desert actually wasn’t.

Following the order of the Luke, the third temptation was a world away from the desolation and deprivations of the desert. Instead, it was on the roof of the temple. Here is how it is recorded in Luke:

Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and:
‘With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test’ (Luke 4: 9-12).

In placing this one last, Luke helps us to see it as the culmination of the other two. Briefly recalling what was at stake in those, then, should help us to better understand what is happening here. Again, following the order of Luke, the first temptation was to turn stones into bread. The second was to receive all the kingdoms of the earth in return for worship of the devil.

In an Angelus address, Pope Benedict XVI says that each of the temptations involves a false image of man and God. (An idea I have previously explored in depth here.)

In the first one, we can see that Satan is tempting Christ to affirm His divinity at the expense of His humanity—to use His divine power to convert stone into bread, thereby ending His all-too-human experience of hunger. This is reversed in the second. Having demonstrated His humanity, Satan now asks him to deny His divinity—to deny that His kingdom is not of this world by accepting all the earthly kingdoms.

So, in the first and second temptations, Jesus refuses to deny His humanity and His divinity. Although a true understanding of the Incarnation—as the fullness of humanity and divinity, distinct yet united and centered in one person—probably eludes Satan, he has come to at least grasp this much: Jesus is likely the true Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.

Thanks to the extraordinary vision of Daniel 7, the Jews of Jesus’ time had some understanding that the Messiah had to be more than a mere man—perhaps an angelic or semi-divine being. Jesus had proved at least this much to Satan.

The preceding temptation would reinforce this conclusion.

In the vision of Daniel, the Son of Man is presented as a ‘heavenly king’ rather than an earthly one, as one scholar puts it. True he does take dominion over all the earthly kingdoms, but this is a dominion he receives from the Ancient of Days—the only Old Testament depiction of God that can be, with certitude, associated with God the Father.

In refusing to accept the kingdoms from Satan, then, Jesus indicates that he is not some earthly wanna-be Messiah, but the true thing, descended from heaven, and, for that reason, confident in His expectation that God Himself would bring all things in subjection to Him.

Heading into the second temptation we can reasonably surmise that Satan suspects Jesus is the Messiah. In tempting Jesus to cast Himself off the temple, Satan is asking Him to reveal His true identity. The devil’s taunt to Jesus confirms this. In the first temptation and in the third he begins with this premise, “If you are the Son of God”—using what was then a term for the Messiah. (Daniel 7 had used parallel language, calling the envisioned figure the ‘Son of Man.’)

The words of the third temptation itself are taken from Psalm 91, which speaks of trust in God when all the forces of evil seem arrayed against the supplicant. Certainly this would apply to Jesus? (Moreover, the verse after the last one quoted by the devil says this: “You can tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon.”)

One interpretation of this event holds that the Jews of the time were expecting the Messiah to confirm His identity “in a very dramatic way.” One scholar elaborates, “By leaping from the pinnacle of the temple and then being rescued in a spectacular manner, Jesus would fulfill Jewish expectations and thus convince those who witnessed this dramatic display of power that He was the Messiah.”

This would certainly seem to be a fitting culmination to the temptations.

In the first Jesus, did not deny His humanity. In the second, He did not deny His divinity. Now, he is being asked to effectively affirm both. (In His humanity, there is a risk of bodily injury. But as divine Son, He presumably could also expect a miraculous rescue.)

But Jesus doesn’t reveal Himself here. Why?

The setting seems to serve as a bit of a clue. Remember, we are on the roof of the temple. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus will, when asked to produce a sign justifying His cleansing of the temple, suggest that it be torn down so that He could raise it up in three days. As The Gospel of John notes, Jesus was really talking about His own body.

It’s hard not to think of that episode in the context of the third temptation. In asking Jesus to cast Himself off the roof, Satan is asking Him to, at least theoretically, put Himself in danger. But, as Satan presents the situation, there shouldn’t really be any risk as angels are supposedly at hand to rescue Jesus in mid-air.

Such a dramatic display would surely have been the unmistakable sign that Jesus was the true Messiah. But He does no such thing. Instead, the only sign that Jesus promises to give during His ministry is his crucifixion. He refers to it obliquely in the Gospel of John when he talks about tearing down the temple and he mentions it again in the allusion to Jonah—whose descent to the abyss of the seas and three-day sojourn in the belly of a whale foreshadows the crucifixion and descent to hell. (See Matthew 12 and 16.)

So, in effect, what Satan is asking Jesus to do is forgo the crucifixion.

The previous temptations were enticements to deny His humanity and His divinity. Here the temptation is an affirmation. But it is preciously at this point that Jesus now must deny Himself—‘deny’ in the sense that He called on any would-be follower to ‘deny himself’ and take up his cross (see for example, Luke 9:23). Paradoxically, it is this last denial that would become the greatest affirmation of who Jesus really was.

image: Temptation of Jesus Christ by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Outrage and Consolation of a Helpless God

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 22:05

“If Christ was not of the very substance of omnipotence, if becomes relatively pointless to point to the paradox of his impotence.”
~
G.K. Chesterton

Early in the first semester of nursing school, I teach a unit on mobility and range of motion. We talk about body mechanics and ergonomics, how to ensure proper positioning for ailing patients as well as proper nursing postures to avoid back injuries. I tell the students that mobility is a continuum: It begins with limited locomotion in infancy, progresses to maximum free movement in youth and adulthood (with occasional interruptions due to injury or illness), and then finally declines with the entropy of natural aging. When we care for patients suffering altered mobility, our job as caregivers is to move them back along that continuum toward their maximum potential – to restore, that is, their fullest possible functioning with regards to voluntary movement.

As a part of that module, we also talk about restraints, which are the exact opposite of promoting mobility. Under certain circumstances – namely for patient safety and/or the safety of the practitioners – physical restraints are warranted, but they’re never easy to implement. People typically choose nursing as a profession because they’re caring and compassionate, and it goes against the grain for nurses (especially students) to impose anything that, on the surface, defies the Golden Rule. “I wouldn’t want to be restrained,” our thinking goes – a notion that also applies to giving shots and inserting loathsome tubes. Still, for the greater good of the patient, for the advancement of his healing and recovery, we are obliged to do such things. And, yes, we’re even obliged to physically confine our patients’ freedom of movement when it is required to bring about a greater good.

This Lent, I’ve been dwelling on the idea of restraints with reference to the crucifixion. Ordinarily we focus on the crucifixion’s Cross and its wood, especially on Good Friday – and rightly so. All through the New Testament, there’s a repeated emphasis on crosses – the Cross that our Lord carried and upon which he died; the crosses that we ourselves take up and bear as followers of the Lord, as imitators of him. “Apart from the cross,” insists St. Rose of Lima, “there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven” (CCC 618). These days, however, I’m more fixated on the nails – in fact, “fixate” is an especially appropriate descriptor here, because that’s exactly what nails do. They fix something in place: God, in this case.

Of the three or four Holy Nails that affixed our incarnate God to the Cross, there are few intact specimens with any substantial provenance. St. Helen is said to have discovered the originals along with the True Cross in the fourth century, but then their history gets a bit murky after that. Tradition has it that the nails are still around, or at least facsimiles with some kind of associative pedigree. You can view and venerate them – all 30 or more – at various sites and shrines around the world.

Years ago, I myself had the privilege of seeing one of them at the Roman Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and it’s a Holy Nail with an especially solid claim on authenticity. “The true nail, kept at Rome, in the church of the Holy Cross, has been manifestly filed,” notes Fr. Alban Butler and his associates, “and is now without a point, as may be seen in all pictures of it.” It’s in a side chapel containing other Holy Land treasures, including Pilate’s tri-lingual placard that declared Jesus the King of the Jews, a couple thorns from the Crown, and chunks off the True Cross.

As a relatively new Catholic at the time of my visit, I was especially taken with these relics of the Passion, and I recollect even then being particularly impressed with the Holy Nail on display. The wood of the True Cross, I knew, was scattered around the world in innumerable reliquaries, but here was one of the actual bolts that captured God – that restrained him, not for his own good, but for mine. “The fact that He stayed on the Cross until the end…has remained in human history the strongest argument,” writes Pope St. John Paul II. “If the agony of the Cross had not happened, the truth that God is Love would have been unfounded.” That agony was a function of the nails; that salvific demonstration of divine love was facilitated by a fettered restriction to which he subjected himself.

Nowadays, the Holy Nails come to our attention primarily when we’re making the Way of the Cross and come to the Eleventh Station – “Jesus is nailed to the Cross.” However, the reflections associated with that Station are usually directed to the physical pain that accompanied the nailing – the pounding of those spikes into our Savior’s limbs, the gush of blood, the agony, the terror. “These barbarians fastened Him with nails; and then, raising the cross, left Him to die with anguish on this infamous gibbet,” writes St. Alphonsus Liguori in his familiar version of The Way. Then, in his meditation on this terrible event, Liguori requests of the Lord that he “nail my heart to Thy feet, that it may ever remain there to love Thee, and never quit Thee again.” It’s a laudable sentiment and a worthy spiritual goal, but recently the Nails have come to mean something even more to me.

I was sharing with Jim, my ersatz godfather, about a delicate and complex problem I’d been contending with. “I feel powerless to do anything,” I told him with a sad sigh, “helpless.”

Jim listened, paused, and then made a simple, wise suggestion. “Sounds like you should spend more time in church looking at Christ nailed to the Cross.”

The moment he said it, I knew he was right, and the crucifix in my parish church lent itself well to Jim’s proposal. The corpus is outsized, those holy hands clearly visible from the pews, and the black tacks pinning the divine wrists jut out in clear relief. The nails defy, they taunt, they dismiss all entreaties. One can readily imagine the bound Messiah feebly commending his mother to St. John and vice versa – what else could he do? No gesture of affection, no caress of his mother’s brow, none of that. The extremities of the Lord were held fast.

Yet it needn’t have been so – by Jesus’ own admission. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father,” he told his disciples, “and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” And yet he acquiesced and stayed on the Cross, allowing the nails to pin him fast. I’m reminded of the scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the lordly Aslan, a Christlike servant-king, submits to a humiliating, tortuous spectacle:

The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others…rushed in to help them, and between them they rolled the huge Lion over on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh.

As I gaze in silence at the nails on my parish’s imposing crucifix, and I contemplate how they briefly and mysteriously confined the Word made flesh, the principle of God’s creative force in the universe, I realize a peace with regards to my own intractable situation. I can do nothing, nothing – just like the One who bowed to a cross and its bondage. There’s only endurance and waiting, abandonment and hope, and I take comfort in the knowledge that he knows every dimension of my human pain, including the pain of limitation.

His immobility beckons me to imitate his acceptance and perseverance. He beckons; I hesitate. He beckons; I pray. He beckons….

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Last Testament

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 22:02

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will turn ninety years old on Sunday, April 16, 2017. How remarkably fitting that we will celebrate nine decades of this brilliant and holy man’s life on Easter Sunday. Thus, if you would like to honor Benedict on his ninetieth birthday, consider buying his latest (and, unfortunately, professedly last) book, Last Testament: In His Own Words, with Peter Seewald (Bloomsbury, 2016). Last Testament is in a question-and-answer format, and is separated into three parts that are further divided into fourteen short chapters. This is in addition to a foreword by the interviewer (Peter Seewald), a conclusion, author’s notes, and a seven-page timeline of Benedict XVI’s life. The timeline is a worthwhile feature, particularly for those who may not be quite as familiar with the sequence of Benedict’s ministerial initiatives.

In the interest of full disclosure, Benedict XVI has long been my favorite author, so my perspective may be skewed or biased. (In fact, it probably is [although my opinion will hopefully serve as a sufficiently educated one].) Over the course of the last few weeks, I have had the distinct privilege of reading my favorite author’s last book, and now I enjoy yet another privilege – this time, of aiming to encourage others to read it as well. Last Testament is admittedly a lighter read than many of Benedict’s prior classics, but not in the sense that it is somehow lacking in depth or scope. However, perhaps its relative levity is for good reason: because we get a glimpse at the formation of the formidably potent theological genius from his days as the young Joseph Ratzinger, through his early priesthood and subsequent service within the episcopate, through his reign as supreme pontiff between 2005 and 2013, through his resignation from the Petrine office and more subdued role as the first pope “emeritus” in centuries. In other words, this book leads the reader to better know how Joseph Ratzinger came to be Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

A captivating feature of Last Testament is Benedict’s personal anecdotes, in which we are especially able to see his deep admiration for Pope Saint John Paul II and the currently reigning Pope Francis, serving to clarify a great deal of conjecture that has inopportunely caricatured the functional dynamic and actual continuity between these last three pontificates that have significantly shaped the popular perception of the Church in the modern world. As evidenced throughout Last Testament, it is demonstrably challenging to envision Benedict XVI independent of the output of his intellectual magnitude, yet this book does not connote a man who views himself as an academician to the exclusion of warmth, whether pastoral or personable. Rather, we are better able to fathom Benedict in his true comfort zone: as a mind that is only effective insofar as it serves the heart, as a shepherd whose goal is to draw us to myriad levels of appreciation for the Paschal Mystery and the wonders of the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we celebrate Benedict XVI’s ninetieth birthday at the very beginning of the joyous Easter season, the Catholic faithful – along with anyone of any faith of good will – would do well to read Benedict’s last book. You will not regret taking the time to gain a deeper, and hopefully more practical, appreciation for this devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. As I already mentioned, Benedict XVI is my favorite writer, and he was already so long before I began reading this book. Last Testament has served to cogently fortify my gratefulness to Benedict XVI as a man whose writings have steadily drawn millions of souls to a more profound experience of how to live the Gospel based on the unison of mind and heart that undergirds humanity’s capacity to endeavor to profess the kingdom of God. In addition to Bloomsbury’s website, you can find Last Testament on the website for Ignatius Press or Amazon. Buy this book for yourself and/or those dear to you, in order to both wish Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI a happy birthday and to greatly enrich your Easter season.

image: Frippitaun / Shutterstock.com

Both readings today speak of lust and

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 22:00

Both readings today speak of lust and adultery, God’s mercy and the protection of the innocent.

In the first reading two elders of the people lusted after Susanna and, failing, sought to condemn her to death through false testimony. The youth Daniel intervenes and exposes the false testimonies: “thus was the life of an innocent woman spared that day.”

In the Gospel reading, in efforts to trap Jesus, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees bring a woman caught in the act of adultery before Jesus: what would Jesus say or do, considering that the Law of Moses prescribed death by stoning for adultery. Jesus quietly says, “Let anyone among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” When none of the accusers dared to condemn her, with everyone leaving starting from the elders, neither did the merciful Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you; go away and don’t sin again.”

In the first reading through the young man Daniel God protected the innocent and falsely accused Susanna. In the Gospel reading Jesus showed us God’s forgiving mercy, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Mt 9: 13)

“Love, in addition to being a

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 22:00

“Love, in addition to being a giving or an outpouring, must also be a recovery…In other words, love must increase and multiply; it must recover itself in a harvest; it must, like the love of earth and tree, be fruitful unto a new love.”

-Ven. Fulton Sheen, God’s World and Our Place in It

Raise the Crucifix to Strike Holy Terror in the Antagonist

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 02:35
Raise the Crucifix to Strike Holy Terror in the Antagonist But…Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore!

“Jesus isn’t on the cross anymore! The cross is empty!”
So what’s the deal with crucifix-wielding Catholics?
Don’t they know we worship a risen Savior?

St. Paul says that “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (cf 1 Corinthians 15:14). Without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity, end of story. The Bible says so and the Catholic Church ratifies it (CCC 991). We even have a major celebration in honor of Jesus defeating death (the Easter Vigil) and so glorious is this occasion that this is the time when the Church brings in her converts and gives them the first sacraments. It is to signify the Resurrection power – the saving power – of Christ defeating the grave and swooping up to the right hand of the Father, and his children experiencing that power by starting a life anew.

Yet while it is true that there is no Christianity without the Resurrection, neither is there a Christianity without the cross. I don’t mean the “empty cross” either. I mean the cross with the God-man hanging on it, in agony, suffering for you and for me. Catholics venerate the crucifix (the cross with Jesus on it) for several reasons.

Jesus told us we must take up our cross and follow him (cf Matthew 16:24). Taking up our cross implies that following Christ will not be an easy peasy-lemon squeezy, jolly ‘ol ride. A cross is burdensome, it breaks us and in the end we have to climb up on it and die for the One we love: just like Jesus did. We aren’t dying for all of humanity. Only Our Lord has accomplished this. But by taking up our cross we relate to Christ and we imitate him. We acknowledge that there is suffering in this life and sometimes the path to peace and happiness is through suffering (bearing a cross) and not around it. We experience resurrection only after death – the death of the cross.

Of course bearing our cross in this life is only symbolic – most of us, thank God, do not have to undergo physical, actual crucifixion. But we relate our sufferings in this present life with what Our Lord experienced in His passion. So Catholics raise the crucifix to be reminded of what the God-man did for us. How he loved us in the agony of the cross. We also raise the crucifix to remind ourselves that we have crosses to bear too, and that Our Lord will give us strength to bear them.

And of course, we raise the crucifix to strike holy terror in the Antagonist.

A wise philosopher once said that “Calvary is judo; the enemy’s own power is used to defeat him.”* Raising the crucifix – keeping it on the desk at work, above the door in the house – reminds the devils of the embarrassment of the cross. The devils thought they were winning when they got the God-man killed. They were, in fact, quite mistaken.

To make a final point: we raise the crucifix as a remedy to a Resurrection only Christianity in a Resurrection only kind of world. In an age where the “millennial mentality” is consistently making the news and finding its way into our social media milieu, it is a bastion of hope to be reminded that sometimes the long, slow, slog of life is what makes the greatest of saints. Holiness is born of adversity. The cross of the obscure “9 to 5” job, of simple living, of simply loving the wife and the kids and making sacrifices for them – this is the path to life everlasting.

It is the narrow road that leads to the narrow bridge of the cross, that leads to the loving Heart of the Savior and the glory of resurrection.

*Peter Kreeft in Making Sense Out of Suffering.

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Art for this post Raise the Crucifix to Strike Holy Terror in the Antagonist: Christ en majesté (Christ in Majesty [Resurrection]) Isenheim Altarpiece, Matthias Grünewald (c.1470-1528), undated; modified sepia of Christ Crucified, Diego Velázquez, circa 1632; both PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Wikimedia Commons. Art for Feature Image: Detail of The Crucified Christ, Peter Paul Rubens, between 1610 and 1611, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

About Charlie Johnson

Charlie hails from the deep green southern reaches of Birmingham, Alabama. Inspired by Catholic thinkers to re-write his reformed Protestant view of the faith, he began a journey that led him to confirmation and first Holy Communion in the Catholic Church in January 2015. Charlie works in the legal profession by day and writes in his spare time. He married his lovely bride, Katie, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December 2015. His writing has been featured at the Catholic Stand, Catholic Lane, the Catholic Exchange and in print at Shalom Tidings.


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

One Priest’s Thoughts and Experiences Concerning Communion on the Tongue – Part I

Sat, 04/01/2017 - 02:35
One Priest’s Thoughts and Experiences
Concerning Communion on the Tongue
Part I

When I was a child and preparing to receive my First Holy Communion, I remember being taught to do so the traditional way: on the tongue. In fact, if memory serves, we received Holy Communion via intinction that first time i.e. the priest carefully dipped the host in the Precious Blood before placing it on our tongues. (We were further instructed to allow the host to dissolve and not chew it; I believe this was very practical advice, for if we chewed it particles might have gotten caught in our teeth, which could then fly out if we coughed, sneezed, or just talked.)

Ever since that important day in my life – though there were many years when I did not go to church in-between – I have always preferred to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. It just seems right. And even now, as a priest, on the occasions when I simply attend Mass in choir, I still receive on the tongue.

In fact, once I was ordained and started reflecting at much closer range, so to speak, on these things – reflections often connected with practical matters, like how to distribute Communion well and efficiently, how to purify the sacred vessels properly, etc. – I went from having a personal preference against Communion in the hand to having serious misgivings about it for more objective reasons. I also started to be aware of the fact that many other priests shared these misgivings as well.

From the lack of reverence that many people show when receiving in the hand (oh, the stories!), to the dirty hands that they present… From the particles of the Sacred Host that most certainly end up on their hands and on the floor (Lord have mercy!), to the real possibility of theft for malicious purposes (which has happened in many places)… Communion in the hand has become something that greatly distresses me. I do not deny that the Church allows it – in the United States, at least – but I do not think that it is an advisable choice for us to make.

Fr. Bryan Jerabek

Regarding the very widespread practice of Communion in the hand, there are also particular problems with children receiving that way. Besides the fact that they frequently have dirty hands from playing before (or during!) Mass, they also often lack coordination and judgment: it has happened several times that children have dropped hosts that I placed squarely in their hands, due to their movements or a lack of attention.

I remember preaching about the proper way to receive Holy Communion in the hand on one occasion, in particular: about the need to form a “throne” with one’s hands, to consume the host right away, and then to check for particles on the hand, and so forth. And I noticed exactly zero change in how people approached and walked away from the Communion line at that very same Mass! It seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Why did it fall on deaf ears? I think it is because there has been a loss of faith in the Real Presence. Few Catholics would openly deny this dogma with their lips; but in practice, we see it denied all the time. I think this teaching has become something kind of “magical”, if I may put it that way: Christ is sort of mystically present in the host, but he’s not worried about crumbs. Even if such an erroneous belief is better than not believing in any sort of Real Presence, no matter: it is erroneous, not at all what the Church teaches.

Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L. is Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Alabama and is Chancellor of the Diocese of Birmingham. He blogs at http://fatherjerabek.com.

Editor’s Note: In Part II, Fr. Jerabek discusses whose hands are consecrated for handling the Blessed Sacrament, what other priests and bishops think of the practice of receiving Holy Communion in the hand, and provides recommendations (and links) for further reading.

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Art for this post on Communion on the Tongue: Partial restoration of San Carlo Borromeo comunica San Luigi Gonzaga (St. Charles Borromeo communicates St. Aloysius Gonzaga), tapestry by unknown artist, photographed by Giovanni Dall’Orto, June 22, 2007, copyright holder allows use for any purpose, provided copyright holder is properly attributed, Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Fr. Bryan Jerabek used with permission.

About Fr. Bryan Jerabek

Father Bryan W. Jerabek, J.C.L. is a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, currently serving as Rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, Chancellor of the Diocese, and Judge on the Marriage Tribunal. He received his License in Canon Law from the Pontifical College of the Holy Cross in Rome. His personal blog is fatherjerabek.com. Besides his native English, Father also speaks Spanish and Italian. He enjoys traveling and so far has been to 18 countries. Father’s present favorite food is Spanish tortilla.

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

Life’s Not Fair: Finding Joy By Accepting Things As They Are

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 03:59

One of the most pernicious lies of the modern world is that life is supposed to be easy and comfortable. There is even a sense in which moderns believe they are entitled to this comfort and ease—that it is some sort of fundamental human right.

Many of us have absorbed this subtle thinking, even though we may not realize it. When trouble comes to us, when life is inconvenient or difficult, we are almost angry at the injustice of it. As if it were some sort of cosmic crime that violates that easy life we believe we should have. We complain and take God to task for upsetting our dreams, a very unkind thing to do.

The fact is, life isn’t always fair. Things aren’t always easy, nor were they meant to be. That doesn’t mean anyone in particular, least of all God, is to blame. Sometimes things just are what they are. And accepting that fact is the first step to real freedom.

Among an older, sturdier generation, there was a saying that could be heard frequently: “Life is hard and then you die.” At first glance, the saying sounds brutal and pessimistic, as if life is one long, miserable slog crowned with the blackness of the void. But looked at in another light, this saying strikes at a deeper truth: It is only when you accept life as it is that you can really live with joy.

People who lived before the advent of mechanized modernity were realists. Far from anticipating a life of air conditioned comfort, they expected that life would be hard, even painful. Making a living would unquestionably involve labor, sweat, and sacrifice. There would be sorrow along the way. Yet far from depressing them, this expectation freed them to enjoy the leisure and simple pleasures they did have more fully. When you expect things to be hard, you enjoy your ease the more.

The aim of modern, secular society has in many ways been one long quest to eradicate suffering. For in a world without God and without objective meaning, suffering cannot but be the greatest evil. Those of us who have grown up in this secularized world have been raised to believe we have a right to a pain-free, pleasure-maximized life. And if we ultimately cannot escape suffering due to illness or other causes, we can even go so far as to take our own life to avoid it.

Yet, paradoxically, it is the very expectation that life should be pain-free that causes us the greatest suffering. For pain in life is truly inevitable. It will visit in one form and to one degree or another. In the words of the ancient Salve Regina, we live in a “vale of tears.” Trials are inherent in a disordered, fallen world. The more we internally resist this unchangeable fact, the more anxiety and anger and bitterness the suffering we encounter causes us.

In life, the joy we experience is directly related to our frame of mind. “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing,” said G.K. Chesterton, “for he shall enjoy everything.” If we expect ease and comfort and endless pleasure, difficulties will be a rude and loathsome shock. But if we expect that life will include pain and even sorrow, we will not be surprised when it comes. We will rather endure it with patience, beseeching God’s mercy to persevere. We will also receive the gifts of joy and pleasure we do experience with all the humble wonder that comes with an unexpected and undeserved surprise, saying with full hearts, benedicamos Domino—let us bless the Lord!

Thoughts on Suicide

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 01:00

Hamlet. O that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!

 Hamlet, Act I, Scene II

In his groundbreaking study of suicide written in 1897, Emile Durkheim, the French philosopher who is credited as one of the principal founders of sociology, identified anomie as the condition of those who, finding themselves untethered from any relationship with others, become the most likely candidates for self-slaughter. Thus he found fewer suicides among Catholics, owing to their cohesiveness, than among Protestants, who tend to stand in nakedness before God. In addition, of course, there will generally be fewer couples committing suicide than among the unattached singles for whom the temptation to solipsism tends to be greater.

Had Durkheim only been around forty years later when the Golden Gate Bridge opened, he’d no doubt have been able to document his discoveries by observing the first of the more than sixteen hundred people leaping to their deaths hundreds of feet below.

It takes only four seconds to reach the water, the experts tell us, hitting it at a speed of about 75 mph. Death is usually instantaneous, although a few have survived the trauma, some of them even returning to get it right the second time. And while the death toll is impressive, what really catches the eye is the fact that, almost without exception, they are all pointing West, hurling themselves into the black expanse of the night. Which is not at all surprising, assuming Durkheim has got it right, since the whole point about anomie is that there is no point, no norm or standard to which the self-tormenting self will turn. Uprooted from every real or recognizable connection, whether family or friends—or God—why wouldn’t they fling themselves out into the emptiness?

“On Margate Sands,” where he had gone to recover his nerves following a breakdown, T.S. Eliot reflects: “I can connect / Nothing with nothing.” It is the perfect description of the deracinated soul, unable to escape the pain of remaining rootless in a world where to be necessarily means to be in relation. After all, if it is not well for God to be alone, as Chesterton famously tells us, why on earth would creatures made in his image and likeness wish to do so? Even figures of purest fiction like Robinson Crusoe, who becomes a castaway on an imaginary island in the sea, even he could not cope in the absence of his friend Friday, whose arrival helps to ensure his own happiness. “It thus becomes clear,” writes Joseph Ratzinger, “that man is a being that can only ‘be’ by virtue of others. Or to put it in the words of the great Tubingen theologian, Mohler: ‘Man, as a being set entirely in a context of relationship, cannot come to himself through himself, although he cannot do it without himself either.’”

So what happens when that spool of thread finally unwinds, leaving the soul bereft at the last?  One doesn’t need a degree from Harvard to predict the outcome of that particular scenario. When the self having lost all sense of an identity anchored to any other self, when all the connections come crashing through the ceiling, suicide then becomes an option for which the anomic self can see no alternative. If there’s no meaning to my misery, why not end it?

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem,” writes Albert Camus, “and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Of life, too, never mind the musings of philosophers. And citing the stern advice of Nietzsche, who insists that to earn the respect of their readers the philosopher is obliged to preach by example, Camus adds that we “appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act.”

But, of course, not since Socrates have we seen great numbers of philosophers actually doing it. It is rather their readers who feel driven to that extremity. Especially when it is the purest nihilism on which they, the philosophers, draw, then blithely pass it on to others. Not a very appetizing brew, by the way, however tricked out with bright lights and shiny red ribbons. “Neiman-Marcus Nihilism,” is how the late David Foster Wallace once described it in one of his essays, having in mind so many sun-bleached yuppies, “none of whom seem to be able to make it from the limo door to the analyst’s couch without several grams of chemical encouragement.”

Unlike David-Foster Wallace, of course, who, alas, needed no inducement of any kind to take his own life, which he did back in 2008. We must pray that, in death, he found that elusive repose of the soul that evidently had escaped him in life.

So what does one say to the person tempted to suicide? Who finds himself in the grip of despair so comprehensive that neither reason, nor medication, appears resistant to its infection? Are there other antibodies available? How does one talk a person like that down off that ledge? “Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred,” writes Malcolm Muggeridge, who placed himself squarely on the side of life, “or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and some the other.”

How does one make the point that, notwithstanding the flirtations with despair that so bedevil the neurotic Prince Hamlet, to be is not a question ending in death, but an exhortation leading to life, because it is always better to be than not to be? And the answer is that there is really only one way to deflect the terrible dis-ease of people so trapped by the sadness of their lives that they feel no alternative but to kill themselves. And that is be faithfully and intensely present to them in their predicament, evincing total com-passion for their sufferings; so that, for a time at least, the dis-connect they are forced to endure is wiped clean away by the love shown by one human being for another.  Love may well disappear from the face of the public world, which was Romano Guardini’s dire prediction in writing The End of the Modern World, “but the more precious will that love be which flows from one lonely person to another, involving a courage of the heart born from the immediacy of the love of God as it was made known in Christ.”

And there is yet another thing to be done to help allay the sadness, which is to try and fashion a culture in which the sacredness of life is both recognized and sustained amid the many civil and institutional arrangements of a people more and more persuaded to find Christ in the least and the lost. So that the plaintive cry of the Hebrew psalmist—“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”—may be rendered all the more felicitous in a redeemed actuality, which is to say, a place bathed in the Blood of the Lamb. A world, in other words, as Dorothy Day used to say—sounding the great theme of solidarity in the teeth of widespread atomization—where it is easier for men to be good. That is, to love one another as Christ loves us.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Sir Laurence Olivier as Hamlet in the 1948 Academy Award-winning film adaptation.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Crisis Magazine.

Let Christ Impart Life to You

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 22:07

A visitor from the higher kingdom must descend into the lower, take into Himself the elements of which that lower kingdom is composed, making them His own, infusing into them His own life and holding them in its grasp, endowing them with His power, enriching them with His attributes, crowning them with His beauty, and penetrating them with His presence, and thus transplanting them into the kingdom from which He comes.

This was done once for all when “the Word who was with God and was God. . . was made flesh and dwelt among us”; when the King of that heavenly kingdom Himself came down and, uniting man’s nature to Himself, lifted it across every barrier that had hitherto held it down, burst open the gates of death, and bore it in His mighty grasp to the very throne of God. And it is done for each one of us individually when, in Baptism, the Sower sows the seed of the incarnate life in our nature. Then there is imparted to each of us in our weakness a power that, working like a seed in the soil, can lift us up above the capacities of our own nature, making us, as St. Peter says, “partakers of the divine nature,” and transplanting us from the kingdom of earth to the kingdom of Heaven, from the kingdom of nature to the kingdom of grace.

As the earth is powerless to rise until the seed, bringing a new and mysterious force into it, seizes upon those elements in it which yield themselves to its influence, and transforms and raises them, so it is with this divine seed cast into the soil of human nature. It enters as a new force into our nature, and there is absolutely no limit to the height to which it can raise it. It can “take the poor out of the dust and lift the beggar from the dunghill and set him amongst princes.”

This article is from a chapter in Christian Self-Mastery. Click image to preview or order.

As the earth becomes transformed under the molding force of the life in the seed so that it is scarcely recognizable, manifesting extraordinary powers and revealing possibilities that were unknown, so does man’s nature under the forming and quickening powers of grace. It is the seed that reveals to the earth its latent powers, wakens them, and uses them. So does grace reveal man to himself. Coming into his nature, it shows him what he can be — new uses to which his powers can be put, new combinations, new developments. Like the seed in the soil, it draws under its influence various elements scattered through our nature that are seemingly useless and disconnected and weaves them all into a wondrous unity, seizing in its strong grasp all that can be laid hold of and taking it into its service. It can enable us to do things that by nature we could not do, showing us at once our own weakness and its power.

And as the earth under the molding hand of the life that is in the seed reveals magical powers that transform it, so does man’s nature as he yields to the forming and quickening powers of grace. It can be as different as the waving cornfield, ripe with its golden harvest, differs from the barren earth. Where that heavenly seed has been planted, all things become possible. The kingdom of Heaven, with all its riches, lies open to be entered and taken possession of: “All things are yours. . . and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”

As the flower, in all its glory of color and beauty of form, is but matter under the new creative influence of life, so is it with man, newborn into the kingdom of God with the energy of the divine life acting within him. The material, if I may use such an expression, of the virtues of the saints is human; the creative force is divine. The elements out of which the noblest Christian virtues are formed are the elements taken from the earth of our poor human nature, but the molding force is in the seed “which is the Word of God.”

Surrender yourself to God’s grace

But there is another law. The seed cannot act upon the earth unless the earth surrenders itself to it. In the parable of the sower, our Lord taught that the growth of the seed is entirely dependent upon the soil; if it is hard or rocky or thorny, it will prevent or mar its growth. If it is “good soil,” yielding itself entirely to the action of the seed, it will bring forth fruit to perfection. The earth must surrender itself to the new force that has come down into it to raise it up; it cannot rise of itself, for it neither has the power nor knows the way into the kingdom of its new inheritance.

With man it is the same. All the efforts of his nature can­not enable him to do one act above his nature; all his intelligence, courage, and determination will not enable him to pass one step beyond into the kingdom of Heaven. “Flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God.” This is the work of that new life, that transforming force which, like a seed, has been planted in him.

It is his work henceforth to remove every obstacle to the operation of this seed, to surrender himself and all his powers to its molding hand, to die out of the lower kingdom up into the higher kingdom, into which this gift would transplant him. Henceforth, his life must be one of mortification, dying that he may live, a yielding of nature to grace, a surrender of the things of earth to the powers of Heaven, a constant min­gling of the sadness of earthly surrender with the divine glad­ness of heavenly attainment.

No doubt there were tears on the faces of many an Israelite on the night of their great deliverance. The ties and associations of four hundred years had to be broken. They had to go into a new world and to leave the old. But as the breath of the desert breathed upon their cheeks, as its wide spaces opened out before them and led them up to the Land of Promise, their tears would soon dry; their sorrow would be turned into joy.

There is always a sense of loss at first in passing from a lower to a higher life, but the loss is soon forgotten in the gain: the games of childhood in the strenuous work of manhood, the joys of home in the claims and interests of the world. And no doubt the breaking with those things that hold us down to earth is painful. The restraints and customs of civilization are difficult for the savage, but when he is tamed and educated and civilized, he knows how great are his gains. And as we pass from the undeveloped and spiritually ignorant state of the citizens of the kingdom of earth and become citizens of the king­dom of Heaven, we enter into “the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” This is the mortification that the Chris­tian life demands: the surrender of our whole selves to the new life that descends from above to sanctify and energize every power and faculty of our nature and fit us to enter into the Vision of God.

In such mortification there is no unreasonableness, for it is the very height of reason to sacrifice the lower to the higher, the ephemeral to that which is permanent. There is no gloom, however great the suffering, for he who so mortifies himself knows that he is on the road to eternal joy. And often, amid the sorrows of earth, he gets a foretaste of that peace which passeth all understanding. There is no bitterness, for it is the act of divine love; it is done for God and in God. It springs from no hatred of self, no morbid contempt for the things of the world. It endows the soul with a divine tenderness so that, however hard it is upon itself, it is ever gentle toward others.

In such a one we see first the conflict and then the reconciliation of life and death — death conquering one form of life and endowing the soul with another and a better; death the conqueror and the conquered: “That which is mortal is swallowed up by life.”

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Fr. Maturin’s Christian Self-Masterywhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

Removing Obstacles to Science-Religion Dialogue

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 22:05

As it happens, it was Ash Wednesday when I casually flicked on an all-news radio station just in time to catch a quickie interview with a scientist. He’d written a book about the origin of the universe and wanted everyone to know that this particular story doesn’t require anyone to believe in the existence of God.

On the contrary, he said, from the start “the molecules” possessed a built-in dynamism that moved them to organize themselves into systems of ever greater complexity. Let those molecules do their thing long enough, and—voila!—the universe.

As I listened, a question formed in my mind: “And where, eminent sir, did the molecules come from?”

Naïve? Perhaps. But consider the naivete of the scientist’s remark. It was typical of the pronouncements on spiritual matters made rather often these days by people—by no means always scientists—who purportedly speak with the support of “science.”

Science is a wonder, to be sure, and scientists are gifted people to whom we owe vast increases in our knowledge of, and ability to manipulate, the physical world. The more science tells us about the operations of this remarkable world, the more light is shed on the extraordinary creativity of God.

That said, however, it must also be said that some scientists exhibit a childlike hubris in pronouncing on questions that lie beyond the scientific method’s capacity for shedding light. That includes, but is hardly limited to, the question of God.

Several years ago a New York University philosopher named Thomas Nagel caused a stir—and received not a few personal attacks—with a book called Mind & Cosmos (Oxford, 2012) that was sharply critical of this sort of overreach.

Nagel, a nonbeliever himself, aimed his critique at the currently popular neo-Darwinian account of human mental functions, calling it “a heroic triumph of ideological theory over common sense.” With the necessary adaptations, Nagel’s critique applies to any similarly reductionist account of the world—such as one that explains the existence of the universe and everything in it by the action of molecules whose existence apparently can’t be explained.

Religion sometimes makes its own contribution to this problem by giving a simple-minded account of God. A prominent example: Michelangelo’s depiction of the creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, where God is represented as a powerful old man with a flowing white beard.

This is great art, but it is also very bad theology to the extent that, taken literally, it reinforces the anthropomorphic fallacy which supposes God to be pretty much like us, albeit much bigger and smarter.

So what is God like? Or more properly, what can we know about him? St. Thomas Aquinas makes the crucial point that “we cannot know what God is, but rather what he is not”—the way of negation it’s called. Revelation aside, such positive knowledge of God as we may have is knowledge by analogy, which comes from knowing created things: God is something like this, something like that, but very unlike anything in our experience.

Above all, God is transcendent—he exists in an order of being altogether outside our own. And, as Notre Dame historian Brad S. Gregory remarks in his important book The Unintended Reformation (Harvard, 2012), “If real, a transcendent God is by definition not subject to empirical discovery or disproof.”

This is heady stuff, hardly self-explanatory, but it’s a necessary starting point for dialogue between science and religion. Simplistic salvos from either side are no help in that.

Scripture Speaks: Mourning into Joy

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 22:02

In today’s Gospel, Jesus turns mourning into joy when He raises Lazarus from the dead.

Gospel (Read Jn 11:1-45)

Today’s Gospel gives us a story about Jesus raising the dead to life, something He did on at least two other occasions (see Lk 7:11:17, Mk 5:21-23).  This episode, however, is profoundly different from those in three ways:  (1) Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus, not a complete stranger (2) Jesus purposely allowed His sick friend to die (3) the dead man was in a tomb long enough to decay.  With these details, we find ourselves in a resurrection story that will penetrate deeply into the mystery of the miracle.

St. John tells us that the sisters of Lazarus sent word to Jesus that he was ill.  They appealed to Him in their darkest hour because of His great love for them (Jn 11:5).  Instead of speeding to their home to help, Jesus announced that “this illness is not to end in death, but it is for the glory of God” (Jn 11:4), and He stays two days longer where He was.  Does it surprise us that Jesus was willing to allow Lazarus to undergo death, catapulting his sisters into agonized grief?  We can only imagine what those two days were like for that family.  Lazarus’ pain and physical decline continued to advance, while the sisters were struck a double blow.  Not only did they watch their brother die, but their Friend failed to help when they cried to Him out of the depths of their suffering.

Why did Jesus allow events to unfold this way?  He knew from the start that Lazarus’ death was going to be an occasion for God’s glory to be revealed.  He even went so far as to say, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe” (Jn 11:15).  Whatever lay ahead was meant to teach His disciples to believe in something big.  What else could justify Jesus being “glad” that Lazarus had died

After waiting two days, on the third day (hint, hint) Jesus went to Bethany.  Both Martha and Mary told Him what was in their hearts:  “If You had been here, [our] brother would not have died” (Jn 11: 21,32).  It is clear that the pain of Jesus’ absence and seeming indifference to them equaled the pain of losing Lazarus.  They knew He could have prevented the death; they also knew He chose not to.  Jesus answered their deep disappointment with a promise:  “Your brother will rise” (Jn 11:23).  Martha thinks Jesus is talking about something way off in the future, “on the last day” (Jn 11:24).  Jesus’ reply must have startled her.  The resurrection and life she hopes for her brother is not an event on a distant calendar; it is a Person.  “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), He tells her.  Death cannot affect one who believes in Him.  Then, He shows her (and us) what He means.

The drama heightens as Jesus draws near the tomb.  “Take away the stone” (Jn 11:39), He says.  Now we begin to understand why this particular raising of the dead is full of glory.  The “third” day, the weeping women, the rolled away stone, the burial cloths—this resurrection is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection when, once for all, He conquered death, the sin that causes it, and the Enemy who uses it to haunt and terrorize us.  “Lazarus, come out!” (Jn 11:43)  Simply by the Word Jesus spoke, Lazarus appears alive.

What would the disciples have learned from this event?  First, Jesus was not afraid to disappoint and cause temporary pain for Martha and Mary, because He knew He could work a greater good through Lazarus’ death than through healing the sickness that led to it.  If we are not going to give up as disciples of Jesus, we must understand this truth.  When we cry out from the depths of our suffering and hear only silence, we are not to give up.  A greater glory is at work; this we must trust with all our hearts.  Second, Jesus is not unmoved by our suffering, even when He seems to be.  His weeping over the family’s grief proves that Love is always present, no matter how things look.  Third, resurrection life begins for believers in the here and now, not off in the future.  Nothing illustrates this more graphically than Lazarus, bundled up in burial cloths, walking out of his own tomb.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in Jesus of Nazareth:  Holy Week:  “Eternal life is not—as the modern reader might immediately assume—life after death, in contrast to this present life, which is transient and not eternal.  ‘Eternal life’ is life itself, real life, which can also be lived in the present age and is no longer challenged by physical death.  This is the point:  to seize ‘life’ here and now, real life that can no longer by destroyed by anything or anyone.”  This is the eternal life Jesus gives to Lazarus and to all of us who believe in Him:  “Untie him, and let him go” (Jn 11:44).  We are finally free from death.

Possible response:  Jesus, sometimes I’m disappointed when You don’t act as quickly as I want You to.  Teach me to trust in Your wisdom rather than mine.

First Reading (Read Ezek 37:12-14)

In the Gospel, we noted that Martha believed in a resurrection of the dead “on the last day.”  For the Jews, this belief was slow to develop.  For most of Israel’s history, the afterlife was only dimly imagined.  It was not until the Exile, when Judah was punished for its sin by being sent into “death” away from the Promised Land, away from the Temple and the glorious worship of the covenant, that the prophets began to speak of a rising from death.  In this passage from Ezekiel, a prophet in the time of the Exile, God promises to return His people to their land, putting His spirit in them so they can live.  “I have promised, and I will do it” (Ez. 37:14).  He kept His promise.  The people, contrite over their covenant unfaithfulness, were able to return to their homeland like men coming back from the dead.  Increasingly, Jews began to have a meaningful concept of resurrection, life after death.  In the Gospel story, Ezekiel’s prophecy comes true literally, as Lazarus’ tomb was opened, and he regained his life.  Jesus fulfills all God’s promises.

Possible response:  Father, You have promised us eternal life through Your Son, a life that starts right now.  Help me always to believe in Your promises.

Psalm (Read Ps 130)

The psalmist’s cry must surely have been on the lips of Lazarus’ sisters as they waited helplessly for Jesus to arrive and watched their brother die:  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; LORD, hear my voice!” (Ps. 130:1).  Here is the plaintive cry of all of us when we are in great darkness and suffering.  We can either fall into despair, or we can pray the psalmist’s prayer:  “I trust in the LORD; my soul trusts in His word” (Ps. 130:5).  See that the psalmist waits for the LORD “more than sentinels wait for the dawn” (Ps. 130:6).  The watchmen who alerted Israel to the first rising of the sun weren’t waiting to see if the sun would come up, but when.   Thus it is for us as well.  That the LORD will come is not in doubt, because “with the LORD there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”  Waiting for the Lord bore fruit for Martha and Mary, as it will for us, too.

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

Second Reading (Read Rom 8:8-11)

St. Paul helps us to see that what was foreshadowed in Lazarus and made concrete in Jesus is now true for all of us who have been baptized and remain in Jesus.  Our bodies will die, “because of sin,” yet “because of righteousness” (not our own but because Christ is in us), our spirits are alive (Rom. 8:10).  To each of us, feeling the heavy weight of our own sin and mortality, as binding as were Lazarus’ burial cloths, Jesus says, “Come out!”

Possible response:  Jesus, give me ears to hear when You call me to “come out” of my sin, self-absorption, or indifference to You.  Help me flee the decay and stench of life without You.

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

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.