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Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee.

Sun, 09/03/2017 - 22:00

Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee. And, during his public ministry, he went back to his hometown where according to Luke, he was rejected. Why was it hard for the people of Nazareth to accept Jesus? Is this a reflection of our human frailty or was it due to spiritual blindness? Jealousy? Or looking down on a “carpenter’s” son? We are often judgmental in our dealings with people around us. We reject people because they do not live up to our expectations. Rejection is never easy to accept. In whatever aspect of our lives, nobody wants to be rejected.

And yet, like the people of Nazareth, we continue to reject Christ in various aspects and in various times in our lives. We continue to commit sin and fail to live up according to Christ’s commands. Do we find his message unacceptable? Do we find his challenges too difficult? Do we recognize his love for each one of us?

Let us allow Christ to come into our hearts and live Christ-like lives. Christ is in us. Let us not reject his presence in our lives.

“God is truly humble. He comes down and

Sun, 09/03/2017 - 22:00

“God is truly humble. He comes down and uses instruments as weak and imperfect as we are. He deigns to work through us . . . to use you and me for his great work.”

-St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, The Love that Made Mother Teresa

St. Marinus

Sun, 09/03/2017 - 22:00

Interceding for Bachelors

Are you a single man? Or a deacon? Or have you ever been falsely accused? Marinus is your patron saint!

Born in Urbino, Italy, Marinus was a stonemason who worked in Monte Titano. He loved to preach as a layperson, and spent his time ministering to Christians who had been sent to work in the quarry as a punishment for defending their faith.

He was a confirmed bachelor, and became a member of the clergy, being ordained a deacon by St. Gaudentius.

A cave became his home in Monte Titano, to which he fled and where he lived as a hermit after being falsely accused by an insane woman of being her estranged husband. From this cave would rise the Republic of San Marino, the oldest surviving republic.

Marinus’s feast day is September 4, and his relics are in the Basilica of St. Marinus.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Rosalia (1160), Virgin, Patroness of Palermo, Sicily

St. Rose of Viterbo (1252), Virgin

St. Gregory the Great

Sat, 09/02/2017 - 22:00

One historian wrote: “It is impossible to conceive what would have been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the Middle Ages without the medieval papacy; and of the medieval papacy, the real father is Gregory the Great.”

It wasn’t until he was in his mid-thirties that St. Gregory the Great became a monk. Gregory was born around the year 540 in Rome, Italy, to a wealthy family from whom two popes had come in the past. He was talented and respected, and was appointed to the civil position of prefect of Rome when he was about thirty-two years old. He soon sold his possessions, however, and turned his home into a Benedictine Monastery, becoming a monk around 575. He established six other monasteries in Sicily. He also became a missionary to England.

Gregory was appointed the pope’s representative to the imperial court in Constantinople (the residence of the emperor). He later returned to Rome and entered a monastery, though he continued to serve as a papal advisor. When the pope died in 590, Gregory, himself reluctant, was elected by unanimous acclamation as his successor on September 3, 590. He was ill throughout most of his pontificate, but Pope Gregory was an active and tenacious leader during a period troubled by famine and the invasion of Italy by the Lombards (a barbarian tribe).

Gregory acquired certain civil responsibilities due to the collapse of civil authority in the West, which helped to increase the power and prestige of the papacy in the world. Gregory instituted reforms, restored Church discipline, and promoted monastic life. He sent monks as missionaries to England, including St. Augustine of Canterbury, and to France, Spain, and Africa.

Gregory had a great influence on Church liturgy and music. One of his contributions was to codify and standardize the use of chant in the Church, now called “Gregorian Chant.” His writings on moral theology and the lives of the saints were highly respected during the Middle Ages.

St. Gregory (ca. 540-604) is one of the few Church figures honored with the title “the Great.” He was a great and highly respected pope and was also named Doctor of the Church (an eminent and reliable teacher).

Gregory’s mother is Saint Silvia and his aunt is Saint Emiliana.

“This very day is a day of truce, a day for conversion.” — St. Gregory the Great

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

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

Many people are pleased by what they hear, and sincerely resolve to pursue the good. Yet when adversity and suffering come, they soon abandon their good works.

— From a homily of St. Gregory the Great

In what area is my resolve weakening today? With that in mind I pray:

Heavenly Father, today I ask you to give me the grace to “hang on and hang in” regarding (mention a situation or area in your life). Give me the strength, fortitude, patience, and perseverance I need. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

St. Gregory the Great, pray for me.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Pius X (1914), Pope

St. Agricolus

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 22:00

Today’s teens get a party and maybe a car, but at age 16, this teenager became a monk!

St. Agricolus, also known as Agricola, was born in Avignon, around 630, the son of Saint Magnus of Avignon, who as a layman, served in the French Senate and, upon the death of his wife, became a monk and eventually a bishop.

Agricolus took his monastic professions at Lérins at the tender age of 16. When he was 32, his father, Bishop of Avignon, appointed him his coadjutor, or assistant. And at his father’s death in 660, Agricolus succeeded him as Bishop of Avignon. Dedicated to the life of the Church and its visible presence in the world, he led the construction of a great church in Avignon in which the monks of Lérins could minister to the community. He also founded a Benedictine convent.

Great miracles while he was alive can be attributed to his prayers. During an infestation of storks, a simple blessing seemed to drive the giant birds away. And during a great plague of terrible storms, good weather resulted from the bishop’s dedicated prayers.

Since his death in 700 at age 70, several miracles have been attributed to his intercession, as recorded in 15th-century documents. He is the patron saint for assistance in plague epidemics and for good weather and against rain. Saint Agricolus has also been the patron saint of Avignon since 1647. Represented in art by a stork, his feast day is September 2.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Stephen (1038), King of Hungary

St. Ingrid of Sweden (1282), Virgin

image: Reinhardhauke / Wikimedia Commons 

Mother Angelica: In Praise of Goodness

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 22:07

When historians glance back at this twentieth century, they will primarily see two things: great advances in science and great sin. At no other time has man taken such giant strides forward and backward at the same time. The perplexing aspect of this phenomenon is that it is unobserved by so many. For in our backward swing, we have gone beyond years and reached the animal levels. At the same time we have gone forward with a technology that can press a button and direct a missile thousands of miles away — send voices on laser beams and pictures on satellites.

The impact of such a forward-backward living tears apart the identity of the human nature God has given us. We resemble computers intellectually and animals emotionally. We are like children playing games, with only the fun involved as our goal. When the fun is gone, we either change games or hang our heads in a bored pout as we await the next thrill to come along.

Lethargy is another evil of our day. There are many who are not guilty of doing anything wrong, but very guilty of sins of omission, the things they neglect to do — the good things — the kind, thoughtful words, compassionate thoughts and hopeful attitudes they might have had towards their neighbor. This promotes a lack of zeal for the Church and God’s Kingdom. At first sight one might think this is not important, but it is. Without this inner power that makes us care — makes us indefatigable in our efforts to change, strong in our Christian principles, our faith, and our morals — we are open and vulnerable to every kind of worldly temptation, false doctrine, and evil desire. We are like “reeds shaken by the wind” (Matt. 11:7), without purpose, goal, or zeal.

St. Paul draws a graphic picture of what happens when we let ourselves go on in this listless and aimless fashion.

This article is from “Mother Angelica on Prayer & Living for the Kingdom.” Click image to learn more.

“They knew God and yet refused to honor him as God or to thank him; instead they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew” (Rom. 1:21). The consequences of spiritual inertia are tragic and St. Paul saw these results just as we do today. “God left them,” he told the Romans, “to their filthy practices . . . degrading passions, monstrous behavior . . . stupid in all sorts of depravity, greed, envy, malice, men turning from natural intercourse to being consumed with passion for each other, libelers, rebellious to parents and enterprising in sin” (Rom. 1:26-32).

This letter of Paul reads like today’s newspaper. Times have not changed, but they should have. Human beings still insist on living on the degrading level of uncontrolled passions and vice, but God desires to do now as He did then, and that is to inspire Christians to go against the trends of the day and be virtuous.

Today’s man of the world proclaims that sin, and his enterprising in sin, are a part of modern living, but it is not modern. It goes back to Adam and Eve: to desire and the temptation to know, to experience evil. The problem with this old deception is that the knowledge of evil blots out the desire for good. Evil slowly enwraps the soul with the fine silk threads of self-indulgence. As each thread takes hold, it is only a matter of time before the soul is deaf, dumb, and blind to virtue, goodness, and God. It is then that the rest of Paul’s letter becomes a reality, for they are “without brains, honor, love, or pity.”

Man can and does rationalize his sins. He finds reasons for all his weakness, invents excuses that first calm and then deaden his conscience. He blames God, society, education, and environment for his wrongdoing. If his conscience manages to survive this barrage of reasoning, he then allows himself the broad excuse of modern living — new concepts of morality and intellectual superiority over those who lived before him. This latter type of excuse deals the final death-blow to his conscience. The acceptance of sin by the majority leads the soul into limitless realms of self-indulgence, for human respect, imperfect motive though it be, is pushed aside by human ac­ceptance. All the weaknesses that were once controlled by prayer and God’s grace, plow through the soul like a tornado in an empty field, swirling round and round, rooting up the flowers of virtue, the fruit of hard work and the soil of goodness. The soul becomes a maze of wrecked dreams, twisted goals, and crushed ambitions. It is now that the soul finally becomes enslaved by uncontrolled passions, and the dark silence of despair falls upon it.

“When self-indulgence is at work,” Paul wrote to the Galatians, “the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and similar things” (Gal. 5:19-21). Here we see human nature at its worst, giving in to every inclination for pleasure. We do not often think of disagreements, factions, bad temper, quarrels, and jealousy as a self-indulgent weakness, but when we look more closely we find selfishness as the basis for these sins. We become conceited, self-opinionated, self-willed, domineering. These put emphasis and values on the gratification of our own feelings, reasoning, and will; the three faculties of the soul become completely engrossed within themselves, leaving God and neighbor outside. What is the remedy for such a condition of heart and soul? Is it possible in this world of self-indulgence to take a stand against the general trend? Yes, Jesus came for this very purpose. The Spirit He sent us and the grace He merited for us can give us the courage and strength to withstand the world and all its enticements.

St. Paul, as he spoke to the Colossians about their impurity, greed, and evil desires said, “This is the way in which you used to live when you were surrounded by people doing the same thing, but now, you, of all people, must give up these things: getting angry, being bad tempered, spitefulness, abusive language and dirty talk. . . .You have stripped off your old behavior with your old self, and you have put on a new self which will progress towards knowledge the more it is renewed in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:7-10).

How great is the mercy of God. He not only hounds us to repent, but gives us a whole new creation within our souls. Such a change does repentance spark, that the soul grows into a clear image of its Creator; from a life of misery, hopelessness, slavery, and guilt, to one of joy, trust, freedom, and self-control. Darkness gives way to light, passion to virtue, sadness to joy.

We are well aware of the effect of evil upon our souls. Perhaps we need to meditate on the necessity of goodness, so we may choose the right course and fulfill the purpose of our creation.

A Clean Memory — Purity of Heart

The faculty of the soul that we call Memory is the one most worked upon by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The Memory is like a computer — it stores everything that passes through the five senses. It takes these impressions and enhances them by the imagination and the results can be tragic if we are not discerning. Jesus told His disciples, “It is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, indecency, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:20-23).

As children of God it is our happy privilege to radiate the goodness of our Father. This necessitates the obligation of seeing that nothing enters the faculty made to His image that in any way mars or distorts that image.

Our Memory must be compassionate towards those who have hurt us so we harbor no resentments, free of any recollection that makes us lose our self-control. Like an empty jar, it can only feed back what we in turn have fed it. Our Christian principles and the following of Jesus will fill this faculty with good things — forgiving thoughts, compassionate understanding, and purity of heart. Hope will replace despair, and joy, sadness. The fresh air of God’s grace will replace the sickening stench of evil as the garbage of bad thoughts disintegrates before the fire of His Love.

A Clean Intellect — Purity of Mind

Whatever we feed our Memory is absorbed by our Intellect. Reason separates, divides, analyzes, forms opinions and makes decisions. It is here we arrive at a set of values and priorities. If we permit ourselves to live on a Memory level only, then our values drop almost to the “instinct” level or we set our goals on values that are passing, unimportant, or imaginary. We see everything on a selfish level, judge everything only by its ef­fect on us, work only for our own good and have little or no regard for our neighbor. Cruelty, disobedience, and rudeness take possession of a faculty that was given to us by God to raise us above every other animal. As a result, man can do things that animals without reason would never do.

Jesus came that we might live on a higher level — the level of Faith. He became man and suffered from the cruelty of other men so we would rise above this world and follow in His foot­steps. He wants us to live, not by the things we see, but by the things we do not see. He told us that His Father was our Father; His Spirit lives in our souls. His Love is preparing a place for us in His Father’s House.

We need not fear trials, suffering, poverty, or pain, for He had them all and overcame them. He gave us Beatitudes to live by and these principles rise above our human reason. He told us that the “poor in spirit would possess a kingdom,” while human reason says they possess nothing. He said the “gentle inherit the earth,” but reason says they lose it and only the violent possess the earth. He promised that those who “mourn for their sins would be comforted,” but reason says there is no use crying over the past. Those who thirst for holiness would be satisfied, He told the Apostles, but human reason says it is better to seek worldly gain in the here and now.

The “merciful” were promised mercy and the “pure of heart” the sight of God, but human reason says you can carry forgive­ness too far and purity is a virtue of the past.

He held “peacemakers” in high regard, called them “sons of God,” but human reason calls them “busybodies or fools” who get involved in other people’s business.

To the world the most “unreasonable beatitude of all is the one where Jesus expects His followers to “rejoice and be glad when they are persecuted and abused for His sake for their reward would be great in heaven” (Matt 5:1-12). The world cannot accept loss as gain. It is easy to see that if we live by human reason alone we shall be bogged down by a thousand legitimate reasons for living an enslaved miserable life. It is only those glorious Beatitudes that raise us above and beyond our human reason to the freedom of sons of God.

A Clean Soul — Purity of Will

As our Memory presents us with what to choose and our Intel­lect discerns how and why, it is the Will that accomplishes, performs, and does. This power can say yes or no even to God. It is an awesome power, given by an Awesome God. As the Will goes, the soul goes, and that is why we see Jesus constantly directing us to the accomplishment of the Father’s Will over our own. His own life was lived only to do the Father’s Will. He called that will His “food.” He was anxious to accomplish it and told us over and over that He “only did what He saw the Father do and only said what He heard the Father say” (John 5:19; 8:28).

He promised us that if we did the Father’s holy and perfect Will, we would be like a “mother, brother and sister” to Him (Matt. 12:50). He will not force us to give Him this prized possession; He wants it from us freely and out of love. It is only the world, the flesh, and the Enemy that use force to possess our Will. To accomplish this, the world uses enticements, the flesh uses passions, and the Enemy uses deception. All of these allurements are powers that coerce and force the will of man in the direction of evil. The mind is confused and unable to see the right choice clearly. Only God permits man to choose freely, by presenting him with grace, light, and love, all of which produce the clarity of thought and mind so necessary for a wise choice. There is none of the confusion, anxiety, and frustration so present to the soul as when the will is influenced by evil.

The accomplishment of that Holy Will is not always easy; it was not so, even for Jesus. However difficult it is, we may be sure it is far less difficult than the frustration of choosing any other will. The choice of evil over good is always more painful than the momentary pain of self-control.

We were created out of Love, by Love in order to love. We are out of place and misfits when we try to be anything else than what we were created to be — good, loving, joyful, compassionate, kind, understanding, chaste, and holy, “holy as our heavenly Father is holy.”

We will grow in Hope as our Memory is filled with mercy, and we will grow in Faith as our Intellect is filled with humility. Then it is that our Will, united to His, will grow in Love, for the “virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43).

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica on Prayer and Living for the Kingdomwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

Scripture Speaks: To Save a Life

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 22:02

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus called Peter “the rock.”  Today, He calls him “Satan.”  What happened?

Gospel (Read Mt 16:21-27)

In the verses preceding today’s passage, Jesus and Peter had a remarkable exchange.  Peter identified Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God; Jesus announced that God had revealed this truth to him.  On that basis, Jesus changed his name and made him head of the Church He was to build.  He made a promise to preserve that Church, giving us some confidence that He wasn’t making a terrible mistake.  However, in today’s reading, that confidence gets tested.

We find that “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly…be killed and…be raised.”  Peter, the newly appointed Rock of the Church, is horrified.  The English translation of the Greek doesn’t give the full force of Peter’s instant and violent reaction to Jesus’ prediction of the Cross.  In Greek, the verb translated as “took aside” is better rendered “took possession.”  The scene was likely one in which Peter pulled Jesus forcibly to himself, by His tunic, and literally stepped ahead of Him, blocking the road to Jerusalem.  We have seen Peter’s impetuosity before in this Gospel, and we will see it again.  These verses demonstrate it graphically.  Peter listened to Jesus only long enough to hear “suffer greatly” and “be killed.”  However, when Jesus spoke these words, they described actions that were leading up to something else:  the Resurrection.  Peter never got that far.  The thought of Jesus undergoing that kind of cruelty was too much for him:  “God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to You!”

We all understand this reaction, because it is so human.  Still, it disturbs us in the man upon whom Jesus intends to build His Church.  Is this guy reliable?  If our confidence in him starts to wobble, Jesus’ next words might strike it to its foundation:  “Get behind Me, Satan.”  What’s going on here?

We must understand why Jesus harshly calls Peter by this dreaded name.  Clearly, the intention of Peter here is radically different from the temptation of Jesus by Satan, God’s enemy.  As we know from the forty days in the wilderness, Satan consciously and intentionally wanted to subvert God’s plan to save the world through the humility and obedience of His flesh-and-blood Son.  Earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel, we see Satan “taking Jesus” aside, first to the pinnacle of the Temple (Mt 4:5), then to “a very high mountain” (Mt 4:8).  His goal was always to tempt Jesus to repudiate the path God had ordained for Him:  in His human weakness, through His own self-denial, He would rise victorious over both death and the devil.  After the third temptation, Jesus says to Satan, “Be gone!” (Mt 4:10), foreshadowing the final removal of his presence and power among men.

Notice the difference in Jesus’ response to Peter:  “Get behind Me, Satan.”  This is a difference that makes all the difference.  Jesus here is referring to Peter as Satan in a metaphorical way, as an “adversary” (the literal meaning of “satan”) who, because he is thinking as a man does (we never believe suffering is God’s plan), temporarily becomes an obstacle to Jesus.  The command to “get behind Me” suggests that Peter’s problem was that he wanted to get ahead of Jesus.  Perhaps he thought that his appointment as head of the Church meant he could lead even Jesus!  The sharp rebuke returns him to reality.  Jesus leads; the disciples, even (and especially) Peter, follow.  Does this lapse nullify Peter’s role in the Church?  Not at all.  If it had, surely Jesus would have issued a retraction.  It does demonstrate, however, that Peter still had much to learn about thinking “as God does.”  He and the other apostles would have to live through the Passion in order to understand how different God’s way is from the way of man.  In order to prepare them, Jesus speaks about the mystery of God’s way.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel will save it.”  This is the lesson the apostles and all followers of Jesus would have to learn.  When we cling tightly to life and comfort in this world, we risk losing out on the real life God desires to give us.  Peter, out of misguided love, proposed exactly that.  Jesus had to correct him, out of true love, and call him back to allegiance to God’s way.  As the apostles would soon learn, the path to glory, for Jesus and for us, cannot avoid the Cross.  However, suffering is never the end of the story for those who are behind Jesus.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I need Your help to really believe that when I lose my life, I find it.

First Reading (Read Jer 20:7-9)

We ought to know something about the prophet, Jeremiah, if we are to understand this reading and why it is read before our Gospel.  Here is a helpful description:

“During Holy Week, the Church enters into a period devoted mainly to the commemoration of our Lord’s blessed Passion.  She has appointed the prophet Jeremiah to be read in this time, because in his message he is the most ardent preacher of penance to his people, a fearless and scathing denouncer of their sin.  In his life, he is the most faithful picture of the suffering Christ that exists in the Old Testament.” (Pathways in Scripture, Damasus Winzen, pg 235)

Jeremiah was called by God to warn Judah that punishment for their covenant faithlessness was inescapable.  As a result of his unpopular preaching, he underwent severe suffering.  In today’s reading, he brazenly cries out to the LORD that he had been “duped” into being a prophet, although he admits, “I let myself be duped.”  Here he is not describing deception or dishonesty by God; rather, he believes that when God called him as prophet, there was not exactly full disclosure about how much his obedience to that call would cost him personally.  Jeremiah became an outcast among His people for telling them what God wanted them to know:  “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”  As he continues to pour out his soul, he admits that he considered keeping God’s words to himself, saving himself from the suffering he was sure to incur:  “But then it comes like fire in my burning heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary of holding it in, I cannot endure it.”  Trying to avoid a prophet’s suffering would cause Jeremiah even more suffering.  In this, he foreshadows Jesus, particularly in the heat of His response to Peter’s proposed change of God’s plan.  A fire burned in His heart to do the mission He was sent to do.  He could not “endure” any deviation, even when suggested by a friend who loved Him.

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, I desire the courage of Jeremiah to follow Your call to me no matter the cost.

Psalm (Read Ps 63:2-6, 8-9)

The psalmist describes his desire for God as a restless “thirst,” a longing that penetrates both his “flesh” and “soul.”  His most relevant observation, however, is that God’s kindness “is a greater good than life.”  Jesus says precisely that in the Gospel, as did Jeremiah in his agonized soul’s outpouring.  Both men understood, as the psalmist did, that life outside of doing God’s will is not real life.  Jeremiah knew he would explode if he didn’t obey God’s call.  Jesus knew He would fail in His work if He listened to Peter’s voice instead of God’s.  The psalmist expresses this knowledge in the poetry of his prayer:  “My soul clings fast to You; Your right hand upholds me.”  Even though the psalmist admits that longing for God in this life can make a man painfully uncomfortable, leaving him feel “like the earth, parched, lifeless, and without water,” still he gazes toward God in His sanctuary “to see Your power and Your glory.”  Together with Jeremiah, Jesus, and the psalmist, we can focus our hearts in single-minded obedience to God, no matter the cost, in the words of our responsorial:  “My soul is thirsting for You, O LORD, my God.”

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

Second Reading (Read Rom 12:1-2)

St. Paul summarizes all the readings for us in the exhortation of today’s epistle.  He translates into words we can understand the action we should take as a result of what we have read:  “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  Jeremiah, the psalmist, and Jesus were willing to do this in their obedience, even though it led to suffering.  In the Gospel, Peter was an example of one who had not yet begun in earnest to resist being conformed to man’s way of thinking.  Eventually, of course, Peter would be “transformed by the renewal of [his] mind,” able to discern “what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”  We should never underestimate how much our minds are in need of this renewal!  Let us listen carefully to St. Paul’s “urging,” and let us never forget that this surrendering of ourselves to God comes entirely “by the mercies of God.”  It is the loss of self that, mercifully, leads to true life.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, my impulse for self-preservation and avoidance of suffering is very strong.  Please help me renew my mind so that I choose to offer, not withhold, myself in Your service.

In the first reading today Paul reminds

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading today Paul reminds us to lead holy lives, in a way that pleases God. He also gives more specific instructions about family life and the relationships between husband and wife.

In the Gospel reading, in the parable about the bridesmaids, five sensible and five careless and foolish, preparing for the arrival of the bridegroom for the wedding banquet, Jesus wishes to remind us to be always ready and prepared.

As we prepare for the coming of the Son of Man, we do not know when he will come: “regarding that Day and that Hour, no one knows when it will come, not even the angels, not even the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk 13: 32)

The lesson of the parable for us is very clear: be ready. Have enough oil. Be like faithful servants ready to give a proper accounting of our lives and of the proper use of the gifts and talents given to us. Be ready that the Lord would recognize and welcome us.

Peter and Satan

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 22:00

Truth in advertising.  After all the glowing reports of the benefits of a medicine, potential side effects need to be mentioned.

Informed consent.   Before surgery, patients should be told of all the things that could possibly go wrong.  That way, they have the chance to opt out before it’s too late.

As soon had the truth came out at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lord made clear the unpleasant implications for his followers.  When first century Jews thought of the Messiah, they thought of God’s anointed, David, gloriously triumphing over the Philistines and just about everyone else.  They thought about the peace and prosperity of the empire ruled by David’s son, Solomon.

Jesus knew that the end of the story would be even more glorious than this–eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  But he also knew that the way to such triumph was the way of the cross, and that anyone who wanted to be his disciple needed to follow him on this via dolorosa.

Jesus had just named him “prime minister” by calling him “the rock” and giving him the keys.  So Peter felt it entirely his place to pull the king aside and advise him to take a different road.  Just praised by the Master, he is now soundly rebuked.  Jesus goes so far as to call him “Satan.”  That’s a far cry from “the Rock!”

Some have pointed to this as proof that Peter, and his papal successors, are not infallible as Catholics claim.  But actually, this illustrates well what the Catholic Church teaches about the subject.  For Catholic doctrine does not proclaim that the pope can never make a mistake in personal judgment.  It is only when he fully engages his authority as successor of Peter speaking from Peter’s seat of teaching authority (“ex cathedra”) that the Church guarantees him to be acting under the charism of truth given by the Father through the Spirit.  When Peter publicly proclaimed “you are the Christ,” Jesus pointed out that this was not from him, but from the Father.  When Peter privately said, “God forbid that you should suffer,” Jesus notes that the source of this was himself.  And what’s worse, this human opinion was being used by a diabolic manipulator to tempt the Lord to choose comfort and honor over suffering and sacrifice.

Jesus will have none of it, of course.  After all, He is the truth incarnate.  And the truth is that glory comes only after sacrifice.  And His own incomparable sacrifice will not make things easy for his disciples, but will blaze the trail of sacrifice that they too must walk.  The sacrifice that he will offer will be Himself.  The sacrifice they will be called to offer will be similar: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship.”  (Romans 12:1-2).

Peter couldn’t quite get it.  None of them could.  This is entirely understandable.  During the ministry of Jesus the apostles here and there experienced a passing inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but that Creator Spirit had not yet taken up residence within them.  That only came when the fire descended on them in the upper room.  Before Pentecost, they ran from suffering.  After Pentecost they ran towards it.  Peter, who denied Jesus, ultimately gave his life for him.  A successor of Peter, John Paul II, preached his most eloquent sermon by continuing to serve in the twilight years of his life, a living witness of loving self-giving which is a fruit of Pentecost.

Truth in advertising.  Salvation is a free gift of grace, but it will cost you everything.  When faithfulness to Jesus brings ridicule rather than applause, don’t complain like Jeremiah.  Jesus makes clear the cost of discipleship up front.  But he also reminds us that the pearl of great price is worth anything we have to pay for it. 

This was originally offered as a reflection upon the readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Jeremiah 20:7-9), Psalm 63, Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27).  It appears here with the permission of the author.

“Not only should you be devout

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 22:00

“Not only should you be devout and love the devout life, but you should be making that life beautiful to behold.”

-St Francis de Sale, Roses Among Thorns

St. Giles

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 22:00

From Riches to Rags

He appeared to be hiding out in a cave, impoverished and alone, when the French king found him. The king became his friend and frequent visitor to the cave.

His name was Giles, also known as Aegidus. Although he came from a very wealthy family of nobility in Athens, Greece, he gave his entire fortune to the poor. He fled to the diocese of Nimes in France to avoid the adulation of people in his homeland who revered him for his wisdom and piety. There he lived for several years in a cave, spending his time in prayer and meditation, and contemplating the mysteries of God. The king discovered him when his royal hunting party shot an arrow into the cave, accidentally hitting and injuring Giles in the leg.

People soon became aware of the home of Giles, and gathered around the cave of the saint, believing him to be a holy, wise man and a miracle worker. The French king decided to build a monastery there and establish Giles as the abbot of the monastery of Saint Gilles du Gard. People who flocked to Giles settled around the church and a town grew up there. He attracted many disciples who embraced his life of solitude and contemplation. In later ages they embraced the rule of Benedict and Saint Gilles du Gard became a Benedictine monastery.

Giles died in the early 700s, and his monastery and grave became a shrine and a place of pilgrimage for many. Because he himself identified with the poor and lame, they often sought his help and intercession, and he is the patron saint of the poor, the sick, cripples, and many others. Hospitals in his name were later set up in England and in Scotland, especially for easy access for those who were physically challenged.

From riches to rags … to riches in Heaven!

Lessons

1. Despite access to enormous wealth, St. Giles followed the call of God to a life of poverty and active works amidst the poor which he saw as more practical and more valuable in the eyes of God.

2. Holiness and humility go hand in hand; St. Giles sincerely believed that the poor, the disabled, and even the outcasts whom he served were worthier and more important than himself.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Twelve Holy Brothers (258), Martyrs

St. Anna, the Prophetess (1st Century)

The Good Life 101

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 02:35
Why is it good to be good? Christian human perfection is a spiritual union with God, which can be attained in this life. However, it exists alongside human misery, rebellious passions, and venial sin; therefore, it is not absolute perfection.

If Christ exhorts us to “be perfect as [our] heavenly Father is perfect,” just how does one go about ‘doing’ this? Does human perfection consist in an assent to a set of “values” or “beliefs”? Is perfection measured by the strength with which we adhere to a certain “moral code”? The Catholic Church, in her wisdom, answers these questions with a resounding “No.” Instead, she points us to an ancient, all but forgotten, notion for which the modern culture now starves: virtue.

 

In this Avila Institute mini-course “Christian Human Perfection,”  we will attempt to distill the Church’s perennial moral teaching into an overarching, but penetrating, vision of the good life. Why is it good to be good? In what does happiness consist? What is a virtue, and how is it attained? These examinations will include a survey of the Catholic understanding of the virtues, both natural and supernatural (as well as their opposing vices). Replete with practical tips, this course will serve well as an introduction to moral theology. The class is geared toward everyday spiritual growth. Our approach to the questions of Christian perfection will come through the ascetic rather than the mystical point of view, as well as give special attention to the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. It will be a fitting prequel to the upcoming six-week Avila Institute Course, “Contemplative Prayer and the Angelic Doctor.” Register here for the mini-course “Christian Human Perfection.”

“Happiness is secured through virtue; it is a good attained by man’s own will.” – St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Prima Secundae Partis, Question 2.

Open to the public, students with any level of education, Catholic or not, are welcome to enroll. The mini-course will be taught by John Johnson on Friday, September 15 at 8:30 pm – 10:30 pm Eastern time (EST).

Register here to take a Fall course at The Avila Institute called “Contemplative Prayer and the Angelic Doctor.” This class is geared towards Christians seeking deeper mystical union with the One who is loving us into being. It will be given Fridays on Nov 10, 17, Dec 1, 15, 22, Jan 5 at 8:30 – 10:30 pm EST. Check out more information on another course called “Angels and Demons” here.

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Art for this post on human perfection: church-bank-wood-benches-christian, Michael Gaida, July 13, 2016, CC0 Creative Commons, Pixabay. Portions of this article were written by John Johnson. St. Thomas Aquinas quote taken from the Summa Theologica.

About Kristin Aebli

Kristin Aebli is the Event Coordinator and Marketing Assistant at the Avila Foundation, parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Divine Intimacy Radio. Receiving the position was providential and in God’s perfect timing. Although cradle Catholic, in college she reverted and became confirmed in the Church. Kristin graduated with a degree in Communications from Samford University and she still enjoys ministering to college students through the Samford Catholic Student Association. Kristin is happy to be a part of the Firelight college ministry, is involved with Apostoli Viae and also a Young Professionals Bible study. For fun, Kristin enjoys discussing theology with friends, recording her podcast “Catholic After Dark”, dancing, singing, cooking, writing and painting. She hopes to continue growing in her faith through the sacraments and involvement with faithful community.

 

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

Made for the Happiness Found in the Beatitudes

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 22:07

We are made for happiness. At the deepest level of our existence, God has made us to be happy. This happiness, we must remember, comes from God alone. He created us to find our total and complete joy within the Blessed Trinity. Everything else we experience in our daily lives is a shadow of the love and joy we will be filled with when we stand before the Beatific Vision. The mistake we can make is in thinking that happiness is something material, that it is something we can grasp. Rather, it is a letting go and a relinquishment of self to God’s Divine plan. It is to conform our will to God’s will and to love God completely and love our neighbor as God loves.

Happiness is not one more car, another promotion, prestige, the perfect body, more money, or any other material comfort we can find in this life. To quote C.S. Lewis, those things may bring us the occasional “pleasant inn”, but they can never in principle fill us up. We are body and soul. We are not just body; we are not just meat. We are not angels, so we are not pure spirit. We are the unification of body and soul; the great bridge between the material and immaterial. This means that purely material things cannot bring us ultimate happiness. In order to find happiness our souls and our bodies must be rightly ordered to God. How do we properly order our entire being to God?

Jesus tells us happiness is to be blessed

On the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord lays out the path to happiness in the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:3-12

Christ re-orders us away from purely material comforts and pursuits and teaches us to focus on spiritual realities ahead of the material. This is not to say the material is evil. This is an ancient heresy. Instead, Christ reminds us to focus on God first so that we can be filled with joy. Since we are made by God and for God, He is the only one who can fulfill our heart’s desires.

Blessedness, or beatitudo, is an ancient term for happiness. God made us to be happy with Him for all of eternity. If we want to be happy, then we must give our lives over to Him each and every day, even when it is difficult or when we struggle with doubt. It is in relinquishing ourselves over to His care that the emptiness, brokenness, and sins within us are healed and we are made new. In focusing on His will, we stop seeking the riches of this world and begin to live lives of holiness. In growing in holiness, we are able to transform the world and bring others to Christ.

The Beatitudes are difficult

Living the call of the Beatitudes is deeply difficult and takes a lifetime to learn. This is not a call to false piety and sentimentality. The Beatitudes are demanding and even paradoxical. How can joy come from mourning?

The Beatitudes strike a vibrant, joyous chord. With their repeated promise of happiness overriding all the trials they evoke, they form one of the most consoling texts of the Gospel. And yet how disconcerting they can be at times. And yet how disconcerting they can be at times, for anyone who takes the trouble to spend time meditating on them in order to sound their depths.

Servais Pinckaers, OP, The Pursuit of Happiness—God’s Way: Living the Beatitudes, 23.

The Beatitudes are demanding because they are supernatural in nature. They upset the order of this Fallen world. They teach us that happiness comes from doing the work of the Father. Christ constantly tells us that His mission and our mission is to do the will of the Father in Heaven. The will of God is for each one of us to live the Beatitudes in our own lives so that we may find the happiness we were made for by Him.

The beatitudes contain within them all the power of Jesus’ teaching. They actually dominate His teaching through the appeals and promises which they formulate and the paths of life which they trace…It is always a question of blessedness God gives to those who believe in His word and His promises, and who put His law into practice. Their happiness is the work of God.

Ibid, 25.

Even though living the Beatitudes is challenging and we will fail each day, it is the path that will most readily lead us to God and the joy of His promises. The Beatitudes are what Christ calls us to live in order to attain holiness.

God desires our happiness

We are created for happiness, which means that God desires our happiness. This happiness is not going to come in a large house, fancy car, money, or other luxury. In fact, material possessions can hinder our path to holiness if we allow them to become a false idol. The happiness God has in store for each one of us is born of a relinquishment of self and total trust in God. This takes time and we are drawn into the Beatitudes throughout our daily lives. There are times we will truly follow the will of God and other times we will fall and choose sin. Even in those struggles we need to realize and believe that God desires our good and happiness.

God has placed the desire for happiness in the heart of every man as a fundamental thrust, and He wants to respond to it by sharing His own happiness with us, if we will allow ourselves to be led by Him along paths known to Him alone. Our God does not love unhappiness. He takes no pleasure in tragedies and terrors, as the devil would have us believe when he arouses the anxieties and fears hidden in our depths. God always has happiness and joy in view. He wants us to believe this for His sake, on His own word.

Ibid, 28.

There may be times when we struggle to see the good that God has planned for us. In reality, this struggle is often born of erroneous understandings of happiness. We often become blinded by fleeting emotions and a desire for comfort. This eventually leaves us empty since nothing in the material universe can satisfy the deepest longing of our hearts. As Christ tells the Samaritan woman at the well, it is only Living Water that can quench our thirst. In order to be satiated, we must be willing to give our lives completely over to God. We must ponder and pray to live the Beatitudes. They are the roadmap God has given us on the path to Him. In the coming weeks, we will look at each of the Beatitudes and consider how we can apply them in our lives as we walk the path to holiness.

image: Christ Preaching the Beatitudes by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New Books on Mary for Every Catholic’s Reading List

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 22:05

2017 is a special year for celebrating the Blessed Virgin Mary. Among other causes for celebration, this year marks the centennial of the first of a series of Marian apparitions in Fátima, Portugal, beginning May 13, 1917. At the same time, this is unfortunately an era of great difficulty and discord, on an international scale. The world needs the love that only Our Mother’s heart can provide, especially since Mary’s sole interest is in uniting her will – and ours – to her Son, Jesus Christ. The following are recent (although some from a few years ago) Marian titles, listed alphabetically by title, that should be on the bookshelf of every twenty-first century Catholic. Read one or read them all (I suggest the latter), finding at least one that will revitalize your spiritual resolve in order to deepen your veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is steadily drawing us closer to the Lord.

33 Days to Morning Glory: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC (Marian Press, 2011)

Although a little over five years old at this point, this book is already considered a modern Marian classic. It has led many to devote themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Fr. Gaitley provides summaries of the writings of four figures who have mastered Marian veneration: Saint Louis de Montfort, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and Saint John Paul II. This book is designed for those who are seeking an enriching spiritual encounter, even in the midst of a very busy schedule.

Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon by Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC (Marian Press, 2016)

In this book, Fr. Calloway, a bestselling author on books of Marian devotion, details the history of the Rosary and twenty-six figures (some well-known and others less so) who have championed it since the better part of the twentieth century. This book is particularly fitting, given that Marian devotion is on the rise around the world, and today’s “champions of the Rosary” will hopefully be some of tomorrow’s saints. This book has been endorsed by prominent figures in the twenty-first century Church.

The Contemplative Rosary – with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila by Dan Burke and Connie Rossini (Sophia Institute Press / EWTN, 2017)

This forthcoming text from seasoned authors Dan Burke and Connie Rossini promises to delight those who already have a strong devotion not only to the Blessed Mother, but likewise to two spiritual greats from two different eras: Saint Teresa of Ávila, one of only four female Doctors of the Church, and Saint John Paul II, easily one of the popes most dedicated to Mary throughout Church history. A compelling feature of this book is that it contains the National Catholic Register’s “New Guide to the Rosary.”

A Heart Like Mary’s: 31 Daily Meditations to Help You Live and Love as She Does by Fr. Edward Looney (Ave Maria Press, 2017)

Fr. Looney’s A Heart Like Mary’s is for anyone interested in enhancing his or her devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This can be either the novice devotee or the more “experienced” devotee of Our Lady. An interesting feature of Fr. Looney’s book is that it is comprised of a daily devotional designed to last for a month. Your prayer life will be deepened both during this month and beyond. After all, it is by fashioning our heart to be more like Mother Mary’s that it beats ever greater for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Marian Devotion: Firm Foundations by Cardinal Francis Arinze (Ignatius Press, 2017)

This book was a delight to read. Already a short book, it was a quick read, due to Cardinal Arinze’s characteristic style of clarity and cohesion. However, this is not to indicate that the book somehow lacks profundity – quite the opposite! As we endeavor to venerate Mary to an appropriate extent, Marian Devotion provides an overview of the underpinnings of Marian devotion. It is rife with Church history, scriptural references, and magisterial documents on Marian devotion, to name a few aspects.

Meet Your Mother: A Brief Introduction to Mary by Dr. Mark Miravalle (Lighthouse Catholic Media / Augustine Institute, 2014)

In the interest of full disclosure, this past summer, I took a course (THE 655: “Mary in the Modern World”) through Franciscan University’s distance learning MA in Theology program. I waited until I got my grade back from Dr. Miravalle prior to compiling this list; fortunately, I did well (although Dr. Miravalle is a tough grader)! This book introduces us to Mary as Mother to Jesus, our Brother, and Mother to us by extension. This humor-laden work reminds us of why Mother Mary is such a unique saint.

Mother Mary: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis edited by Alicia von Stamwitz (Franciscan Media, 2017)

Saint John Paul II is often regarded as the pope of modernity with the greatest devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. While this is a worthwhile assessment, we cannot pretend that Benedict XVI and Francis have not likewise made frequent recourse to the vital role of the Blessed Virgin Mary within salvation history. This book, as its subtitle implies, features various categories of inspiration that Mary can provide to everyone of good will. Perhaps you can enjoy this book by reading one reflection per day for a few weeks.

Our Lady of Fátima: 100 Years of Stories, Prayers, and Devotions by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle (Franciscan Media / Servant Books, 2017)

Our Lady of Fátima’s message of love, peace, and reconciliation is one that the weary world of the twenty-first century greatly requires. Practically every corner of the globe is mired in some challenge of one type or another, many more severe than others. As alluded to within its subtitle, in Our Lady of Fátima, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle delights us with an array of anecdotes and opportunities for prayerful experiences as we meditate on the wonder that surrounds Our Lady of Fátima one hundred years later.

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena by Marge Fenelon (Ave Maria Press, 2015)

In only a couple of years, Marge Fenelon’s Our Lady, Undoer of Knots has already had a profound impact on many of the faithful who thought that dilemmas in various aspects of their lives were somehow insurmountable. The text is focused on the Holy Land, the place of Christ’s birth that unfortunately continues to be torn by such malice and tumult. Our Lady, Mary of Nazareth, wants to heal this land and bring it to the very peace that Christ yearns to bestow upon us (see John 14:27).

Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life by Jared Dees (Ave Maria Press, 2017)

This book by masterful catechist Jared Dees has the capacity to remind the world that the brevity of the Angelus prayer should never suggest that it is anything other than potent when it comes to directing our day. The approximately three minutes of the day that the Angelus occupies is something that everyone can spare, and it has the potential to reintegrate the faith lives of Catholics, for the wellbeing of broader society. Praying the Angelus is a resource for those who need to recall Mary’s desire to accompany us.

The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis by Dr. Carrie Gress (TAN Books, 2017)

This is an era in which various “options” have been proposed regarding how to live your faith in a culture that is increasingly alienating to those whose Christian convictions guide their lives. In The Marian Option, Dr. Carrie Gress provides the scope of the book via the subtitle: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Let us recall that Jesus came into a world of turmoil and chaos, and every epoch has had its fair share of discord. Let us likewise recall that Mary, who always accompanied the Lord during his earthly ministry, knows how to direct our focus toward him.

The Rosary: Your Weapon for Spiritual Warfare by Johnnette Benkovic and Thomas Sullivan (Franciscan Media / Servant Books, 2017)

Johnnette Benkovic and Thomas Sullivan give us a book about the Rosary whose description on Franciscan Media’s website is as sobering as it is thought-provoking: “The Rosary is much more than an optional Catholic devotion for the old and dying. In fact, it is a vibrant and powerful intercessory tool in the hands of valiant spiritual warriors.” In this book, Benkovic and Sullivan remind us that the Rosary is the most effective “weapon” for waging peace in a world that longs for Mary’s maternal embrace and Christ’s abiding love for us, whether or not it realizes it.

Vision of Fatima by Fr. Thomas McGlynn (Sophia Institute Press, 2017)

Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P., was a Dominican priest who died forty years ago this year. Part of his ministry was as a sculptor, as detailed within this book that describes how Sister Lucia (the last survivor of the witnesses to the Fátima apparitions) guided his fashioning of the now famous statue of Our Lady of Fátima. This book is far more than a description of an artistic rendering; it is a meditative journey through the sequence of the apparitions that gives us a glimpse into what the experience was like for the children.

Why the Rosary, Why Now? by Gretchen Crowe (Our Sunday Visitor, 2017)

The last book mentioned in this list of reviews should hardly imply that it is least in terms of consideration. In fact, as Gretchen Crowe indicates with its title, we are more in need of devotion to the Rosary now than ever before. However, Crowe’s book is not “alarmist”; rather, she guides us to a deeper understanding of how various prominent Catholics throughout history have relied on the Rosary for spiritual support in the midst of any number of cultural and societal perils. And our modern circumstances require the same resolve.

These have been only a few of the multiple Marian titles that are [fortunately] available in modern times. On that note, if you are a Catholic author and do not see your book listed, please message me via e-mail (justin.v.mcclain@gmail.com) or Twitter (@McClainJustin), and I will share your book in a future version. As we continue to celebrate the centennial of the Fátima apparitions, we likewise are approaching October (commonly recognized by the Church as the “Month of the Holy Rosary”). Similarly, Advent and Christmas – when we consider Mary’s role (of course, along with Joseph’s) in heralding Christ’s Incarnation – will be here in no time. Read one or many (or even all) of these Marian titles, and get them for loved ones, in order to better fathom how our proximity to the Blessed Mother will subsequently approximate us to her Son, who wants to draw us ever heavenward.

Lead Us Not into Temptation?

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 22:02

Q: In the Our Father, we pray, “And lead us not into temptation.” This sounds a little odd, because why would God lead us into temptation?

Upon first hearing, this petition of the Our Father does sound like we are asking God not to lead us into temptation. (The Our Father is found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.) In this sense, the petition sounds like God would purposely place us in temptation and set us up for a fall to sin. The literal translation of the Greek text is indeed, as we recite, “and lead us not into temptation.”

Consequently, we must understand this petition in its context. The preceding petition asks our heavenly Father to forgive us our sins as we forgive others — a very positive petition imploring an outpouring of God’s healing grace. The petition in question must also be viewed positively: it asks the Father not to lead us into temptation, but not in the sense of God putting us into temptation.

St. James reminds us, “No one who is tempted is free to say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ Surely God, who is beyond the grasp of evil, tempts no one” (Jas 1:13). Our Lord would never set us up for a fall to sin.

Rather, as the Catechism indicates, the petition means more “do not allow us to enter into temptation” or “do not let us yield to temptation” (No. 2846). Jean Carmignac, the great Qumran scholar, after a very thorough study, suggested that the petition is best rendered, “Father … see that we do not enter into temptation” or “that we do not give in to temptation.” Therefore, we understand the petition in the sense of God giving us the grace to recognize and resist temptation. We must realize that our human efforts are not sufficient to face all the temptations surrounding our daily lives. We need divine assistance to lead a holy life.

Moreover, the petition invokes a grace to persevere along the path of holiness. St. Paul admitted the constant need for God’s grace. He wrote, “…Let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he fall! No test has been sent you that does not come to all men. Besides, God keeps His promise. He will not let you be tested beyond your strength. Along with the test, He will give you a way out of it so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:12-13).

Reflecting on his own faith journey at the end of his life, St. Paul wrote in his second Letter to St. Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7). St. Paul realized the test of this life, but also the grace of God which allowed him to meet it head on and persevere.

Similarly, St. John of Avila (d. 1569) in a sermon delivered on the first Sunday of Lent reminded the faithful:

God is strong enough to free you from everything and can do you more good than all the devils can do you harm. All that God decrees is that you confide in Him, that you draw near Him, that you trust Him and distrust yourself, and so be helped; and with this help you will defeat whatever hell brings against you. Never lose hold of this firm hope…even if the demons are legion and all kinds of severe temptations harass you. Lean upon Him, because if the Lord is not your support and your strength, then you will fall.

Highlighting this understanding of this petition, the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent in its exposition of the Our Father stated:

We do not ask to be totally exempt from temptation, for human life is one continuous temptation (cf. Jb 7:1). What, then, do we pray for in this petition? We pray that the divine assistance may not forsake us, lest having been deceived, or worse, we should yield to temptation; and that the grace of God may be at hand to succor us when our strength fails, to refresh and invigorate us in our trials.

The idea of persevering also moves us to ponder the final time. Some Scripture scholars suggest that this petition does not necessarily refer to our daily temptations to sin, but perhaps the great eschatological test when we may be tempted away from the Lord. Here we would face the one great future trial with a terrible onslaught by the devil (cf. 2 Thes 2:1-8).

Matthew’s version of the Our Father adds “but deliver us from evil” — evil not being some amorphous force but a personified evil, the devil. The devil is the tempter, the Satan, who tries to obstruct the Lord’s plan of salvation and tempt us from the path of holiness. Recall that at the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to His Father, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to guard them from the evil one.” However, we need not live in fear for, by the grace of God, we will persevere.

Therefore, as we continue our Lenten preparation, we must undergo a thorough self-examination, recognize our temptations and weaknesses, and repent of sin and receive sacramental absolution. We must implore the Lord to pour forth His grace to give us a firm resolution of heart to follow Him, to keep us vigilant against temptation and evil, and to persevere until the end.

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

St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 22:00

One to Call

Aidan was a humble man. He was greatly loved and respected because of his love and compassion for the poor, his kindness toward people, and his distaste for pomp and excessiveness. He exuded genuine warmth, humility, and a deep love of goodness — a man anyone would love to call “friend”!

Aidan of Lindisfarne was born in Ireland. It is believed he studied under St. Senan before becoming a monk at Iona, the monastery St. Columba had established. At the request of King Oswald of Northumbria, Aidan became the first bishop of Lindisfarne, a small island off the coast of Northern England, in 635. He was well-known throughout the kingdom for his knowledge of the Bible and his great learnedness and eloquence as a preacher. He was known to be holy, and miracles were attributed to him.

He founded and became abbot of the monastery at Lindisfarne, which became known as the English Iona. Created by its monks was the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the most beautiful works of art from the medieval period. It was a center of learning and a great storehouse of European literature during the Middle Ages, as well as a center of missionary activity for all of northern England. He died in 651 at the royal castle at Bamburgh and his feast day is August 31.

Prayer

O loving God,
who called your servant Aidan
from the peace of a cloister
to re-establish the Christian mission
in northern England,
and gave him the gifts of gentleness,
simplicity, and strength:
Grant that we, following his example,
may use what you have given us
for the relief of human need,
and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel
of our Redeemer Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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

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

“One must see God in everyone.”

— Traditionally attributed to St. Catherine Labouré

It is often easy to see God in people we love or admire, but quite difficult to see Him in those we dislike or disdain. Today, I will look to see God in the person who is presently causing me the most heartache and pain.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Raymond Nonnatus (1240), Religious, Patron of midwives

St. Aristedes (2nd Century)

Letting Go of Grudges

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 02:35
Letting Go of Grudges

A young French schoolboy watched as two Englishmen disembarked from their ship at the port of Calais. Before they knew what hit them, the lad charged at them, push­ing them off the pier into the water. Not too pleased at this inhospitable gesture, the men climbed out and ac­costed the boy. “Just what are you trying to do? Is that any way to greet visitors to your country? A good spank­ing might teach you some manners. Why did you do such a thing?” The boy spat back, “That’s for burning Joan of Arc at the stake!” “But that happened five hun­dred years ago,” was the astonished response. “Yeah, but I just learned about it this morning,” he replied.

Nationality jokes are banned at my house. As instruction in a certain dan­gerous human weakness, however, such humor does have redeeming value. Like the boy in the anecdote, people tend to hold grudges against one another for a long time. Individuals may nurse bitter memories of past rivalries for years. Nations may do it for centuries. In any case, resentment is an unhealthy practice and detri­mental to all involved.

Nursing grudges is a serious stumbling block in the Christian life. Constantly recalling people’s offenses and thinking of ways to pay them back creates a steady drain on our spiritual energy. Bitterness prevents us from receiving the Lord’s power. It blocks our release from the problems that afflict us.

Only rarely do we succeed in damaging an offender more than we damage ourselves. The harder we try to get back at someone, the more we get hurt. As our mind reaches out in search of revenge, bitterness reaches into us, plunging its massive, expanding tentacle deep within us. Daydreams of getting even devour our time during the day. At night we lose sleep to our hurt feel­ings. Resentment is a spiritual tapeworm that nourishes itself at our expense. Too often we are willing to feed this parasite.

Revenge can seem so reasonable. It doesn’t take much to persuade us that we have good cause to strike back. Four-year-old Mary runs in tears to her father with the complaint, “Daddy, Daddy, Tommy hit me for no reason.” Five-year-old Tommy is next on the scene, ex­plaining to his dad that the reason he hit Mary was that she hit him first. Like the children in this all-too-familiar scene, we often have good reasons for striking back at people who have mistreated us. Many times we are perfectly right. In accordance with principles of strict justice, people who wrong us ought to repent and make amends for the damage they have done.

God calls us to show mercy to others

Although this approach makes sense on one level, it can be fatal to us on another. If it’s reasonable to hold others to a standard of strict justice, it’s equally reason­able to hold ourselves to the same standard. Had the Lord demanded payment for the debt we piled up be­cause of our sins, it would have cost each of us our lives. Death would have been only fair punishment for us. What else could we expect?

The Lord, however, dealt with us according to a dif­ferent standard, a standard of mercy. He was not put off by our sin. In the face of an endless inventory of wrong­doing and direct offenses against His Person, He sent His Son to an ignominious death to cancel our debt to Him.

“While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Instead of ex­acting what we owed Him, the Lord forgave us. Paul says that the Lord “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nail­ing it to the Cross.”

If we want the Lord to release us from our wrong­doing, we must release others from the wrongs they have done to us. This is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Instructed by Jesus Himself, we ask the Father to bestow the same measure of forgiveness on us as we be­stow on others. If we have been stingy with our forgive­ness until now, we had best hasten to become more generous. We ought to understand the consequences of praying the Lord’s Prayer. We don’t want to commit ourselves to a limited measure of forgiveness and mercy each time we say, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

If we are harboring resentment, grudges, or bitter­ness against others, the New Testament commands us to put them away. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, for­giving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

When we hold a grudge, we are holding a claim against someone. We write out spiritual IOUs. We keep strict accounts, planning to exact the very last penny. In our ledger, we hold IOUs against our parents (for quarreling between themselves and manipulating us); against brothers and sisters (for belittling us and get­ting more parental attention, or so it seemed); against spouses (for some petty fault or slip of the tongue); against children (for lack of respect and for turning out different than we had planned). We hold IOUs against friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and so on. If we are to experience freedom ourselves, we must cancel all these debts. We must deal with our IOUs the way God dealt with ours: He “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the Cross.”

Tearing up spiritual IOUs helps rid us of resentment

There is a practical way to get rid of resentment. Make a list of all those people toward whom you have resentments. Begin with the people closest to you — parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, and children — and move outward from there. You might want to list each on a separate slip of paper. Then tear up the IOUs one by one. Forgive each of them, no matter what they have done to offend you.

You may come up against one or two IOUs that you feel you just can’t tear up, because the hurt was too big.

A common mistake is to think that forgiveness is something a person feels rather than something a person does. If we wait until we feel like forgiving, we’ll proba­bly take others’ IOUs with us to the grave. It helps to feel like forgiving someone we must forgive, but if we don’t feel like it, we should go ahead and forgive any­way. Once we have torn up the IOUs, once we have stopped dwelling on the offense against us, our feelings toward the person will improve. Through the power of forgiveness, many a person has ended up liking some­one they thought they would always hate.

Tearing up IOUs is usually a unilateral action. For our part, we release people who have offended us. We say by our action that we no longer intend to collect what­ever we think they owe us. Tearing up IOUs doesn’t mean saying to each person toward whom we feel resent­ful, “I forgive you for the time you did this” or, “I don’t hold that against you anymore.” Usually putting aside resentments and bitterness is something I do privately, between the Lord and me. But doing so can suggest ways of straightening out broken relationships. We should be open to taking further steps if they seem right. Talking over with someone we trust what we think we must do may help us act prudently in mending relationships.

The Lord gives us the grace to forgive and forgive generously. We should begin now by tearing up the IOUs we are holding, and we should repeat the process regularly.

We can now add a part to our strategy for get­ting free from the influence of the flesh:

We must put aside all resentment, bitterness, and grudges. These are obstacles to our spiritual freedom that prevent us from experiencing the power of the Lord in our lives.

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This article is adapted from a chapter in Getting Free by Bert Ghezzi which is available from Sophia Institute Press

Art for this post on grudges: Interior Scene [Confession], Jean Alphonse Roehn (1799-1864), unknown date, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Getting Free used with permission.

About Charlie McKinney

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

 

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

53. God’s Wild Idea (Matthew 16:21-28)

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 02:30

“Offer him your sufferings according to all the intentions for which he continually offers himself on the altars of our churches. Your sacrifice, united to the sacrifice of Jesus, will bring many sinners back to the Father; many without faith will find the true faith; many weak Christians will receive the strength to live fully the teaching and the law of Christ.” – Venerable Pope Pius XII

Matthew 16:21-28: From that time Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you’. But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’ Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life? ‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behavior. I tell you solemnly, there are some of these standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.’

Christ the Lord We have reached a definitive moment in Jesus’ career. “From this time” he intensely prepares his disciples for his passion, death, and resurrection. The drama of Christ’s mission is approaching its climax, and he knows it. How many men know what the future holds for them? How many would be able to endure such knowledge? Christ knows what awaits him and walks squarely towards it, confident in the Father’s plan. Even the loving dissuasions of his closest friends fail to divert him. Not only is Christ Lord of history, he is also master of himself. For those who know the unruliness of the human heart, this second mastery may be even more impressive than the first. We have to be open to him teaching us lessons we would rather not accept.

Christ the Teacher The Church has decreed that above each of her altars there should be a crucifix. When we enter a Catholic Church, therefore, the crucifix will be the focus of our field of vision. The crucifix: a depiction of ignominy, torture, pain, and death. The crucifix: not just an empty cross, clean and elegant, but a cross being used to crucify the one man who never sinned, the one man who didn’t deserve to die. Why such pride of place for such a cruel reality? Why not put scenes of Christ’s birth above every altar, or his resurrection or ascension? Because, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Christ dying on the cross was the perfect sacrifice offered to God in loving atonement for our sins. Christ dying on the cross was the perfect, loving act of obedience that reversed the vile disobedience of Eden. With his arms stretched wide and raised between heaven and earth, Christ reconciled us to God and bridged the gulf opened by sin. If we want to go over that bridge, we too must pass through the cross. We must follow the footsteps of our Lord: suffering, self-denial, opposition, humiliation, and difficulty – perhaps losing the “whole world,” but winning “life.” There is no other path. Uninterrupted joy is reserved for heaven; however, the road to heaven is paved with crosses – rather, with crucifixes, for the cross of a Christian is always borne together with Christ, so that we who die with him will also rise with him.

Christ the Friend Jesus Christ loves us enough to tell us the truth about ourselves. Those who use other people instead of seeking their authentic good rarely tell them hard truths. It’s too risky; pointing out their failings may result in offense and rejection – like parents who are afraid to discipline their child. But love will take the risk, because love always goes after what is best for the beloved. A true friend will tell you when you’re wrong, so that you can straighten out. Christ is a true friend. He just finished elevating Peter to a position of prominence in the coming Kingdom (this scene follows immediately the one where Christ dubs him the “rock” upon which he will build his Church), but when Peter lets his judgment be skewed by faithless, human prudence, Christ vehemently reproaches him.

Often the Church and its ministers insist on the hard truths (no contraception, no divorce, no in vitro fertilization, no cloning; the necessity of weekly Mass, confession, self-control, daily prayer…). Often we complain, whine, or even rebel. But if Christ loved Peter enough to admonish him so clearly, how can the Church do anything less? It was a risk for Christ (Peter might have taken offense and abandoned him), and it is a risk for the Church. If we take our medicine as Peter took his, however, we won’t regret it; Christ is coming again, and he wants to be able to give us a bounteous reward.

Christ in My Life Jesus, nothing could deter you from your mission. The Father’s plan for your life was always on your mind; it was your guiding star. Make me like that, Lord. Make me care only about living as you want me to live. Detach my heart from every other desire: I want to live the life you created me for, a faithful and fruitful life. Lord Jesus, give me light and strength…

I am your disciple. You have promised that I will have crosses in my life. You love me too much not to let me share in your passion. In some ways I am already sharing in it. Am I ready for my cross? Convince my weak and fearful heart that you are enough for me. I look at your crucifix, Lord. I am so used to it. Help me get past the routine; let me know and imitate your love…

You were willing to risk losing Peter’s esteem for the sake of the truth. You had his priorities straight. Why am I so worried about what others think of me? What matters is following you! What matters is what you think of me! Free me from these old selfish desires for the esteem of others. I hate them, Lord, because they keep me from you. Free me to love as you love. Thy Kingdom come in my heart…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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

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Art for this post on Matthew 16:21-28: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Get Thee Behind Me, Satan, James Tissot, between 1886 to 1894, PD-US author’s term of life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

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

 

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

Looking to Mary to Help Quell Our Fears

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 22:07

Have you ever had an experience in prayer that you returned to repeatedly?  Has God given you a phrase or consoling thought in prayer that remains with you to the present day?  In an earlier essay on Catholic Exchange, I shared “How God Interrupted My Day,” I wrote about an experience of visiting a religious sister and her recommendation to visit the chapel on their grounds.  I deliberated between heeding the religious sister’s advice and pray a holy hour or to go to the movies.  I chose the better part—spending time with the Lord, in which I had a profound prayer experience.  In my prayer I believed Mary spoke to me interiorly, and the words she spoke have been a continued source of comfort and consolation.

As I returned to those words most recently, I wondered: “Did Mary ever have this experience?”  That question led me to reflect on the Annunciation event, and whether the words of the angel Gabriel might have brought her consolation: “Do not be afraid, Mary.”  Throughout her life, Mary faced a lot of fearful events, and when she did, did she simply repeat those words of the angel in her mind and heart?  “Do not be afraid, Mary.”

When the child was presented in the temple, and Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be a sign of contradiction and a sword would pierce her heart, must have been a frightening experience, not knowing what was to come.  Did she say in her heart, “Do not be afraid?”

When the Holy Family fled into Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Jesus, was she fearful?  Or did she repeat those words, “Do not be afraid, the Lord is with you.”

When Jesus remained in Jerusalem at the age of twelve and they believed him lost, did she repeat in her heart, “Do not be afraid” as she searched for the Christ child?

As she stood at the foot of the cross, did she repeat those words in her mind and heart: “Do not be afraid,” God has a plan?

These are just a few of the fears we know of from the gospels.  Certainly, Mary must have faced many other fears in her life, but as I sat with Mary in my mind’s eye, I imagined her allowing those words of the angel to be the recurring mantra in her heart.  I would like to believe she confronted that fear with the words spoken by that angelic being who announced she had no reason to be afraid.  Mary was a fearless woman, and her example should help us confront fear, and remind us, that like her, we have nothing to fear.

Just like Mary, who possibly repeated those angelic words in her mind and heart at moments of fear, we can do the same.  And because Mary is with God, and now our advocate and intercessor, it gives us even more reasons not to fear.

The fears of life can creep up at a moment’s notice.  And what are we to do?  We can repeat those words of the angel reminding ourselves not to be afraid.  We can also turn to Mary’s intercession, that as she quelled fear in her own life, she can help to do the same for us.  I’m reminded of the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux who said:

When the storms to temptation burst upon thee, when thou seest thyself driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look at the star, call upon Mary. When buffeted by the billows of pride, or ambition, or hatred, or jealousy, look at the star, call upon Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of thy soul, look at the star, call upon Mary. If troubled on account of the heinousness of thy sins, distressed at the filthy state of thy conscience, and terrified at the thought of the awful judgment to come, thou art beginning to sink into the bottomless gulf of sadness and to be swallowed in the abyss of despair, then think of Mary. In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary.

What does this look like in our modern life today?

When you learn from the doctor about a health problem, call upon Mary.  Fear will be there, but we have nothing to fear because she intercedes for us.  Like so many Catholics, call upon Mary, and if you are able, visit a Marian shrine and ask for the grace of healing.  Many shrines I have visited have testimonials left behind like crutches or braces by those who attributed their miraculous healing to Mary.  With Mary’s prayers, we have nothing to fear.

When storms threaten where you live, yes there is a lot to fear, but allow Mary to quell that fear.  Call upon her intercession under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor as so many have done in years past.

Is there fear in your marriage?  Not sure whatever difficulty is faced can be overcome?  Turn to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, and ask her to untie the difficult knots of your married life so that  joy and happiness may return. That’s the origin behind the painting and should encourage anyone in a troubled marriage.

Feeling tempted to sin?  Pick up the rosary, a weapon against evil, and ask Mary to slay the serpent in your life.

The most common fear in life is death.  For a person approaching death themselves or for their family members or friends who are journeying with them, they can experience a lot of fears.  Our faith in God and the promises of Jesus can quell this fear.  Not only that, but so often in life, we have asked Mary to pray for us now and at the hour of our death.  We have confidence that Mary will do as we asked, that when we or someone we love draws their last breath, Mary is present to them, praying for them in that moment.  With Mary’s prayers, at that hour, we have nothing to fear.

Fearful about evangelizing and sharing the faith?  Look up the story of Mary’s 1859 apparition in Champion, Wisconsin, when she appeared to Adele Brise.  Mary instructed Adele to do four things: 1) pray for the conversion of sinners; 2) offer her Holy Communion for the conversion of sinners; 3) make a general confession; 4) gather the children and teach them what they should know for salvation.  Mary’s departing words to Adele were, “go and fear nothing, I will help you.”  The Queen of Heaven, the fearless Mary of Nazareth, instructs Adele to have no fear, and to place confidence in her intercessory efficacy and mediation of grace.  That same exhortation resounds to us, not only about our missionary efforts, but also in our daily life.  Face your fears with Mary, and repeat in your mind and heart: do not be afraid.  Not only did the angel tell Mary those words, but she repeated them to Adele, and now to us.  Live your life, trust in God, and go, and fear nothing, for Mary will pray for you and obtain help from God.

image: By Miko Stavrev (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Reality of Spiritual Adoption

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 22:06

At the African orphanage where I worked, children received photo albums from their new families early in the process. They got a snapshot of what their life would be like when the adoption was finalized, a first glimpse of adoptive parents, siblings, homes, and bedrooms. And while it might seem that an orphan growing up in Ethiopia would be thrilled by your average American home with central heating, consistent electricity, and clean, running water, the children often had a different opinion.

After all, the United States represented a promised land for them. They had lots of ideas about what such a mythical place would be like, and what their new life would look like.

I remember one eight-year-old boy flipping through his photo album with a look of confusion on his face. He looked up at me and asked, “They don’t have a pool? Where’s the pool?” Another child was shocked to realize that he would be sharing a room with a new sibling, thinking his orphanage bunk bed would be a thing of the past.

Somehow, I doubt this was the reaction the adoptive parents were expecting.

As a convert, I remember all too well that feeling of falling in love with the Church, crossing the Tiber, coming home to Rome, and all of that. Saint Peter’s seemed that much more grand, as did the music and art and writings that came from the Catholic tradition—all now part of my inheritance. Though I had been baptized as an infant in the Lutheran church, conversion was a true homecoming.

I had all the expectations of those adopted children. In many ways I felt like an orphan for some time, longing for and needing instruction, guidance, and boundaries, and Holy Mother Church provided all those things. But just like those children lamenting the absence of the in-ground swimming pool, there was a sense of disillusionment.

Being a faithful Catholic is hard. Being a convert is hard.

The other day my own children, ages two and four, were marching around the living room, holding pretend swords in the shape of a cross, and chanting, “It’s a Cross, it’s a Cross.” And that applies to so much of life. Whatever “it” might be—adoption, conversion—it is a blessing, certainly, but it also comes with a Cross.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:15-17).

Conversion was an incredible blessing, the greatest blessing, for my husband, myself, and our family. But it demands much of us, and the challenges are different than those we imagined during the conversion process. I remember how nervous I was to admit to family and friends that I was converting. I agonized over it. But that was over in a day, and the spiritual work, the hard road, was just beginning.

For all truly spiritual things are produced by the grace of the Holy Spirit; and this grace descends only on those, who have crucified themselves in sufferings and voluntary privations, without any self-pity, and have thus become united with our Lord and Savior, crucified for their sakes. —Lorenzo Scupoli, Unseen Warfare: The Spiritual Combat

Not quite the vision I had of my new life in the Church—one which involved meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary in flickering candlelight with a side of Gregorian chant.

I, too, had expected a swimming pool.

Adoptive parents are often surprised to find their children less grateful and thankful than they had expected. Yet, our heavenly Father, who knows all our faults and weaknesses, still desires us to be His sons and daughters through spiritual adoption—despite our lack of faith, trust, and love. He sacrificed his only and perfect Son for the likes of us, and promises us joy beyond compare if only we pick up our Cross and follow Him. Only then will we receive our reward and find our true home, entering into the room prepared for us in our Father’s heavenly mansion.

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.