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First Martyrs of the See of Rome

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 22:00

In the first few decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus in 30 A.D., Christianity began spreading throughout the Roman Empire, and before long reached the city of Rome itself. Because Christians were at first considered by the Romans to be merely a sect of Judaism, they were tolerated, but the mysterious nature of the Christians’ beliefs and practices made them a target for prejudice and suspicion.

In 64 a major fire devastated the city of Rome, and the rumor quickly spread that the Emperor Nero had himself ordered it so as to make room for the expansion of his palace. To divert attention from himself, Nero accused the Christians. According to the contemporary historian Tacitus, few Romans actually believed the Christians to be guilty of arson; nevertheless, large numbers of them were arrested, mocked, and cruelly tortured before being executed. Some were dressed as animals and then thrown to wild dogs for the entertainment of the crowd in the amphitheater; others were covered with flammable material, impaled on stakes, and set afire to provide light for the evening feasts Nero held in the imperial gardens; still others were crucified.

Lessons

1. Even when Christians are innocent of sin or illegality, they may still be subject to persecution or mistreatment by state authorities.

2. Those who, by following Christ, reject the ultimate authority and values of this world, may easily find themselves resented, misunderstood, and persecuted (Mt 24:9-10; Jn 15:18-19).

3. Innocence often brings out the worst in persons inclined toward evil; they may go out of their way to oppose true followers of Christ, treating them with extreme cruelty. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit will strengthen and sustain those who are committed to Christian discipleship.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Commemoration of St. Paul (65), Apostle

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 02:35
Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Solemnity

 

Saints Peter and Paul

“This day has been made holy by the passion of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. We are, therefore, not talking about some obscure martyrs. ‘For their voice has gone forth to all the world, and to the ends of the earth their message.’ These martyrs realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it.

“Saint Peter, the first of the apostles and a fervent lover of Christ, merited to hear these words…: ‘I say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church…

“Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their suffereings, their preaching and their confession of faith.”

(From a sermon by Saint Augustine, from the Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours)

Art for this post on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles: Saint Peter and Saint Paul, El Greco, between 1590 and 1600, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Liz Estler

Editor, SpiritualDirection.com. Liz holds a Master of Arts in Ministry Degree (St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts), Liturgy Certificate (Boston Archdiocese), and a BS degree in Biology and Spanish (Nebraska Wesleyan University – Lincoln). She has served as hospital chaplain associate, sacristan, translator and in other parish ministries. She was a regular columnist for a military newspaper in Europe and has been published in a professional journal. She once waded in the Trevi Fountain!

 

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

Evangelization: Reaching Out to the Broken

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 22:07

A good friend of mine from high school died recently. It was a tragic death. This was not at all surprising to me because I worried that he would meet an early and untimely death. He died at the age of 37. The sadness and grief I feel are even greater because I knew deep down it would happen. We were very close during a time when youth mingled with deep pain. Both of us struggled with backgrounds marred by broken and dysfunctional forms of love. It was our brokenness that brought us even closer as friends. We had an understanding that our other friends did not. Our wounds bound us together, even if our choices were very different.

As we grew into adulthood, our lives took different paths. We lost touch when I returned to my Catholic roots about ten years ago after a period of wandering and he began to remind me of the tragic character Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. In fact, it even appears that my friend suffered a violent end in Morocco. Strange since Sebastian spent time in Morocco before finishing his days in Tunisia. He so desperately wanted to be truly loved, but looked in all of the wrong places. The anger, resentment, abandonment, and weakness of the flesh made this journey even more difficult. It makes it even harder for many of us to see God through our own choices, our family backgrounds, and the real and perceived abandonment by others. I have no doubt that the “Hound of Heaven” was on his heels at every turn. Now, in death, I pray that he turned to the God of mercy and found the True Love he sought his whole life.

Our great need for mercy.

These last couple of weeks since I learned of his passing, I have spent a lot of time remembering. It has made me realize even more why we need mercy. Many of us are dealt difficult hands in this life. Our crosses vary. Some of us may be born into poverty, become chronically ill, battle mental illness, come up in dysfunctional homes, and the list goes on and on. We can become battle worn and wounded to the point of which we are barely making it. There are so many people around us, in our homes, or even ourselves who are deeply lonely.

We are made for love and by Love. This reality at the very depths of our being is the driving force of our actions. We may not consciously realize it at the time. In fact, our sinful choices can blind us to this truth. Even our sin points to a longing within us to be loved. We choose pleasure and the easy road precisely because we want to grasp at something tangible, something that looks like love. We want to feel good because we either mistake it for love, or, we want to deaden the ache within us.

Many of us do not have a healthy understanding of love. This may be because we have never seen real love in action. This is especially true in families torn apart by dysfunction, pride, and generational behavior that continues on down through the ages. A painful childhood has life-long consequences. It can make an encounter with the Living God difficult. Many of us struggle with dictatorial understandings of God. It takes being beaten, broken, and left bare in His presence to truly encounter grace, mercy, and love. For some of us, there is no other way. God must break us open so that he can heal the deepest of wounds within us.

Implications for evangelization.

This brokenness of so many in our midst is something we need to keep in mind for evangelization. In our boldness, righteousness, and desire to draw others in, we can forget that far too many people are deeply wounded and afflicted. They need tender and merciful care. Beating someone over the head with their sins only furthers this pain. The wounded who have darkened our doors already know they’ve made wrong and sinful choices. It may take them a while to heal enough to seek forgiveness from God. They must learn to trust. If a person has never seen love mirroring the Holy Trinity, then they find it difficult to trust others. Mercy does not mean abandoning objective truth and the moral law, but browbeating others points more to our own pride than it does to loving a person where they are in their brokenness. Do we truly want those wounds to heal or do we want to inflict even more in our desire to be right?

I know something of this because I am one of those wounded. I am still learning to trust God and His unconditional love. I know something of dysfunctional understandings of love, abandonment, feeling unworthy, and fearing a dictatorial God seeking vengeance upon me for my actions. I am not the only one. Far too many people are unable to drag themselves, even crawling, to our churches because they truly believe they are worthless, hopeless, unlovable, unforgiveable, and left to a wrathful God. Not because these things are true, but because they have spent their lives being told these things and they have used, and been used, by other people to the point that love is a meaningless to them. Love is relegated to the status of fable or fairy tale.

When I read Catholic threads online, I see that this understanding of our brokenness is missing in far too many circles. We are all broken in one way or another since we are all in a battle with sin and Satan. We make assumptions or we discard others because our experiences differ greatly from them. We do not seek to understand how someone can fall so low. We don’t try to extend a hand to the drowning. The balance of justice and mercy is found in Our Savior. Both. It is not one or the other. Far too many people pick one of these and discard the other. Yes, objective moral truth exists and we must work to encourage people to live the tenets of the Faith, but on the flip side, we must invite others to experience the Living God. It is an encounter with Christ that leads to conversion and healing. The One who takes away our sins and heals our gaping wounds. For many, that healing must come first. For all, that encounter with Christ must come first. We cannot expect people to submit to God in blind obedience. We must help them to come to know Jesus Christ, the real, tangible, God-man who loves all people. How many people in our families, churches, communities, cities, etc. are seeking love in all of the wrong places? What are we doing about it before tragedy strikes?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught,” He said,
“And human love needs human meriting,
How hast thou merited–
Of all man’s clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for the at home;

Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

Francis Thompson, excerpt from “The Hound of Heaven”

image: photogolfer / Shutterstock.com

St. Benedict and the Spirit of Community

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 22:05

Whether you’ve read The Benedict Option or not, there is a good chance you’ve heard of it or even had a discussion about it. This book written by Rod Dreher has spurred many important discussions on how we as Christians should build community. It has also brought Saint Benedict of Nursia and monasticism into the mainstream conversation among Christians.

What Dreher is describing is real Christianity. A Christianity that asks everything of you and affects every part of your life. Christianity that is about fulfilling the two great commandments: to love God with all your heart, and, to love your neighbor as yourself. In his book, Dreher tells of a conversation a “Benedict Option event organizer” shared with him. The organizer whose name is Leah explained, “People are like, ‘This Benedict Option thing, it’s just being Christian, right?'” Her response was, “Yes!…But people won’t do it unless you call it something different. It’s just the church being what the church is supposed to be, but if you give it a name, that makes people care.”

I have enjoyed reading the book and agreed with most of it. What I have seen as being extremely useful to readers is the way Dreher breaks down different aspects of people’s lives. For example, he discusses careers and the kind of jobs Christians may need to avoid due to increasing infringement on religious freedom. He talks about going back to the trades and Christians helping support one another’s work as a way to foster Christian community. He brings up the dangers of pornography and the internet. He asks Christians to consider the importance of our children’s education and how we can educate them in a world which is quickly becoming more hostile to our faith.

I believe the author’s intent is to wake up a sleeping Christianity (especially in America). We need to take a long look in the mirror and ask ourselves, ‘Am I living out the Gospel message.’ ‘Am I ready to face persecution if it comes?’ These questions and others are meant to make us examine our lives, our families, and of course the communities we belong to and worship with, in the hope of strengthening our commitment to God and one another.

What seems to be a point of frustration for some readers is that no clear plans are laid out. Dreher does not tell anyone how exactly to form a Christian community. I think this was wise of him. He knows there are many different ways Christians can come together to serve God and neighbor. He gives examples of several in the book. He writes knowing most of us already belong to a community even if we need to be a part of it with more intention.

The Reason for Saint Benedict

What Rod Dreher has also done is set Saint Benedict, the Benedictines, and monasticism in general as an example for Christians to follow. As an Eastern Christian, this makes perfect sense to me. In Orientale Lumen, St. Pope John Paul wrote “…in the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a symbolic synthesis of Christianity.”

In the post-Christian world we are living in, it is ever more necessary that we turn to the tried-and-true wisdom of the Church which we can see lived out in the lives of the saints and practices of monastics. One of the greatest Church Fathers from the East, Saint John Chrysostom said, “You greatly delude yourself and err, if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk; since the difference between them is in that whether one is married or not, while in everything else they have the same responsibilities … Because all must rise to the same height; and what has turned the world upside down is that we think only the monk must live rigorously, while the rest are allowed to live a life of indolence.” The rigorous lifestyle of the Benedictines which is laid out in the Rule they follow is an example for all Christians on how to begin to live the Christian life.

When we view monasticism as a “reference point for all the baptized,” Christians must not look at the externals of monastic life as an end in itself (i.e. the habit, the cloister, the formal vows, etc.). Neither should we consider the individual lives of each monk, seeing their faults and shortcomings.  Rather, we must learn from what all monastics are striving after: Communion with God (theosis) and love of neighbor. The example of striving for this goal at great personal cost is the one we need to focus on.

We can also learn from the traditional ways they have lived together in community and helped share Christ with the world. As a benefit of being alive in the Information Age and having the ability to travel, we no longer need to live near a monastery to learn from monks(though I do recommend you visit one). We can learn from their life stories in books and other writings. Christ in the Desert Benedictine monastery has the Rule of Saint Benedict with a commentary by Abbot Phillip Lawrence available online here. Many blogs are written by non-monastics sharing how they’ve translated monastic wisdom and practice into their lives such as this blog by an Eastern Orthodox matushka, this blog by a Roman Catholic father, and my blog Every Home a Monastery. There is a wealth of good content online providing ample information on the Christian life.

There are many places we can each begin the work of building close-knit and stronger communities. I think the best place to start is with the end in mind. The entire Christian life is a journey to the heavenly kingdom. This is why we must begin with Liturgy where we participate in the heavenly reality in the here and now. It is also where we can experience and see the source of our communion with one another and the entire Church–Jesus Christ, most especially in the Eucharist and Sacraments. We need to walk on this journey with others, sharing the struggles and joys of life together. And bearing witness to the love God has for each of us. We need to lay a strong foundation by having the right intention for our communities.

We cannot act like we are just a group of individuals who meet for worship. We must learn to function according to our true reality. That reality being we are a communion of saints, the one body of Christ, a people who are made in the image and likeness of a God who is a communion of three persons in one God. That is far greater than just individuals who get together because they are of like-mind or live in the same neighborhood.

“…at they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Jesus’ prayer before His arrest and crucifixion is reason to strive for communion with one another. It will require we put forth hard work and the effort necessary to pass on the faith and build up the Body of Christ. If we start with the end in mind, what other kind of Christianity could we even consider living?

image: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

Beginning to Understand St. Paul

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 22:02
Meeting St. Paul

Much has been written about the great preacher, St.  Paul of Tarsus: that he was the true founder of Christianity who ultimately distorted the simple, loving teachings of Jesus and laid the groundwork for creating the “oppressive monstrosity” that became the Catholic Church; he was a fire-brand preacher and that he was a misogynist…among other things. Whew! But is this an accurate portrayal of who he was? Let’s look in the Bible and see whether we can discover him anew.

First, his name. He was given the name of Shaul (Saul) at the time of his circumcision on the eighth day. One “documentary” that I viewed recently said that “at the time of Paul’s conversion he was baptized and took the name of Paul”. First of all, Paul is not a convert in the sense that most of think of when we hear the term. Paul did not switch religions at all but his “conversion” was, rather, an interior one in the way he thought out his Jewish faith and the great covenant in the light of Jesus Christ and the gospel. Paul/Paulus is simply the Roman translation of Saul because, being born in Tarsus he was a Roman citizen. No-one who was baptized in the early years of Christianity ever took a name at their baptism. There was literally no such thing…no context for it…so this is obviously an historical inaccuracy.

True Founder of Christianity

Was St. Paul the “true founder of Christianity”? The short answer is “no”.  The timeframe of the years A.D. 49-52 finds St. Paul on his second missionary journey with Silas, through Asia Minor and Greece; he had settled in Corinth and wrote his letters to the Thessalonians; he was a tent-maker by day and preached for several hours in the evenings. At the same time, the apostle Thomas was arriving in India. The apostle James went to Spain, Thaddeus and Bartholomew brought the Faith to Armenia, Mark to Egypt and, well…you get the idea. The spread of Christianity was not brought about by just Paul.

Paul was indeed set aside by God himself (Acts 13:2) to travel and preach to the Gentiles — but not necessarily to “pagans”, so to speak. Paul always preached in synagogues because he very much wanted to reach his fellow Jews about the good news of Jesus as the Moshiach/Messiah). When Jews rejected his message he turned elsewhere. There is a term in both the Old and New Testaments called “God-fearing” Gentiles/Greeks. These were Greeks who lauded the Jewish faith and its worship but would not enter into the covenant because of circumcision and dietary restrictions. The Greeks held that the body is striking in both its form and function and thus could not consent to removing even a small part of it such as the foreskin of the penis in circumcision — nor would they shun any aspect of food in the animal kingdom (including fish)…keeping Kosher as Jews call it. Even so, they would gather at the doors of the synagogues and the great temple to praise God as best they could from there. They highly esteemed the Jewish liturgy but would not commit to becoming “full” Jews.  Synagogues were divided between men’s sides and women’s. The “God-fearers” were toward the back. At the great Temple in Jerusalem, the Greeks (Gentiles) had their own courtyard and that was as far as they could go. This is important because the heretical sect called the Judaizers insisted that the Greeks first had to become Jews and live like Jews for some time before becoming Christian. This was debated by the apostles and other Church leaders in around A.D. 53 in Jerusalem (Read the entire 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles) where, after some time, it was decided to drop the requirement for circumcision, kosher food laws and unlawful marriage for these “God-fearers” and thus enabled Gentiles to become Christians. With the requirements for coming into the Church greatly amended the Catholic Church simply exploded with new growth.

However, this was neither an arbitrary nor populist decision made simply in order to grow the new group. Nor was it the decision of either Paul or Peter. Luke tells of the following in the Acts of the Apostles:

“While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?” (Acts 10: 44-47)

Thus, at the Council of Jerusalem a letter was sent forth from the Church leaders to the “God-fearers” stating that “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit (italics mine) and of us…” (Acts 15:28). It was the Holy Spirit who made that determination…plus that of the Council in union with Peter. It is for this reason (plus the Pentecost event and a few others) that the Acts of the Apostles is frequently referred to as the Gospel of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, there were issues within the various churches that Paul had founded…people wrote to Paul and Paul wrote back. His various letters were kept and exchanged among the communities. These are the letters that ultimately made it into the New Testament. Because so many Gentiles were in fact coming into the Church, there would necessarily be more issues at the outset because they did not come from a Jewish background and so Paul had to respond to several concerns. Peter apparently had no need to write such voluminous letters.

It was Peter who was the head of the new Christian Church…it was to Peter whom Jesus said in Mt. 16:18 — “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”. Peter was chosen directly by Jesus. When Jesus was testing Peter’s love for him after the resurrection and Jesus had asked Peter three times, “Peter do you love me?” and Peter had replied, “Lord you know that I love you” — twice Jesus had said to him, “feed my sheep” (bosko) (Jn 21:15, 17), but in verse 16 Jesus’ reply to Peter was, “Shepherd *(poimaino) my sheep”. In Greek there is a big difference between the verbs “Bosko” and “Poimaino”. Jesus further tells Peter “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32). No-one else among Jesus’ hand-picked apostles received so great a commission.

What Paul did was to bring the gospel message much further into the land of the Gentiles of the Middle East. It seems he was made for it. He was born a Jew; he had Roman citizenship and he spoke Greek. But again, his main concern was to preach to the Jews of the Diaspora that Jesus was the Messiah.

Let’s also clear up this misconception, too: Many believe that St. James was actually the head of the Church; but while he was the head of the local church in Jerusalem, Peter was the head over all: Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, etc.

Another “proof text” that Paul did not start the Church is that after three years of preaching, Paul went up to Jerusalem to meet with St. Peter to ensure that his teachings were correct (cf. Gal. 1:18). In other words, while he insisted that he was “in no way inferior to these ‘super-apostles'” (2 Cor. 12:5) he deferred to Peter.

Here are still more “proof texts”:

  • Acts 9:17-18 — He was baptized into an existing Christian movement
  • 1 Cor. 11:23-26; and 15:1-8 — He passes on tradition
  • Phil. 2:6-11; Col. 1:15-20 — He quotes hymns already in use by the Christian community
  • 1 Cor. 15:3-5 — He passes on creedal statements
  • 1 Cor. 7:10-11; 11:23-26 — He quotes Jesus
Did Paul Distort the Teachings of Jesus?

Some make the claim that Paul distorted the “the simple, loving teachings of Jesus” – not at all! First of all they are not just “simple and loving”. I find them to be challenging and life-giving; I greatly love this Catholic Faith of ours. Directives to love our enemies, do good to those who hate you, forgive seventy times seven times and to take up one’s cross in order to follow him are not categorized as “simple” little sayings. That being said, as difficult as many of Jesus’ (or Paul’s) teachings may be, the Church simply is not an “oppressive monstrosity” as some claim. In the past seven years I have been terribly hurt by several in the local Church — all in the ranks of Church leadership. But the Church is large enough in that it is precisely in this glorious Church that I have found my comfort and solace. If the Church has a lot of rules, so does the very strict regimen of my Diabetes. These, too, are literally “life-giving”. I am as healthy as the level of effort I put into my own self-care. All of this for a body that will one day perish. I put more self-care into my Faith in order to prepare myself — not just for eternity — but also for the increasing amount of powers and principalities in today’s world. With Sacraments, the Eucharist, Confession, Adoration, etc. I feel that I am very well “inoculated”, so to speak — are you?

Was St. Paul a Misogynist? 

I must admit that I greatly love St. Paul and his treatment of women. He is far from being a “misogynist”. Most people have a difficult time with his prohibition of women not speaking in Church: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1 Tim 2:12) and “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says” (1 Cor. 14:34).

First, one has to realize that having women in the group at all was stunning. At the time of Jesus there were many factions within Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots to name the four major ones. None of them allowed women to join. But this new sect (Christianity was just another sect within Judaism even at the time of Paul) allowed women to join! Breath-taking!!! As I always say, Baptism is the great equalizer for “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).

In his article entitled “Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis” noted author (and Anglican Bishop) N.T. Wright makes the same point: “…imagine the thrill of equality brought about by baptism, the identical rite for Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female”. That is, they are all equal in dignity.

Bishop Wright goes even further and suggests that

“…it is this passage far and away above all others which has been the sheet-anchor for those who want to deny women a place in the ordained ministry of the church, with full responsibilities for preaching, presiding at the Eucharist, and exercising leadership within congregations and indeed dioceses”.

It is here that I part company with Bishop Wright and I now refer to my favorite author and apologist, Dr. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College. In his book, Catholic Christianity, Dr. Kreeft says this about women priests:

“…a religion with priestesses would be a different religion (italics his) and would implicitly signify a different God…It is…a fact that Jews alone of ancient peoples had no priestesses. For priestesses represent goddesses and priests represent gods” (Pg. 367).

In the above referenced letter to the Corinthians and in 1 Timothy, Paul is speaking to particular issues in particular churches. N.T. Wright alludes to the fact that women in churches, although equal in dignity in baptism, still had to likely sit separate from the men according to local custom and culture. Likely, too, the women were not fluent in Aramaic but spoke only a local dialect or patois (because until that time, they were largely uneducated) and so would have been disruptive by their asking their husbands what was going on. Paul felt that the women could easily ask their questions at home. This, of course, was church discipline — never doctrine. And it was a local issue. It is NOT a directive for all women for all time.

What we do know for sure is that Paul does accept and allow for women to pray and to prophesy out loud in churches — he simply does not wish for them to do so with uncovered heads in the city of Corinth where the prostitutes would wear their hair cropped short and uncovered:  “every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying, disgraces her head; for she is one and the same with her whose head is shaved” (1 Cor. 11:5). He even addresses the men first on head-coverings at prayer: “Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head (v.4). As much as Paul was all about bringing the Gospel message to the people, he was at the same time all about avoiding scandal. (We note here as an aside that Paul considered the gift of prophecy, which apparently some women did have, as higher than that of teacher! See 1 Cor. 12:28). So much for Paul’s reputation as a misogynist in some circles!

But what about some of those “prickly” passages — about wives being “subordinate to their husbands” (Eph. 5:22)? It is impossible to answer this concern properly without first pointing out the verse that immediately precedes it (v. 21):  “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Why do so many people (both men and women) miss this verse??? Paul is not picking on women…in fact he and St. Peter are harder on men!

Women must be subordinate to their husbands and, according to St. Paul in this same letter to his beloved Ephesians, he exhorts husbands — “Love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her” (v. 25). We already know about Christ’s love of the Church — he not only laid down his life for his bride unto a most shameful death but endured great, unspeakable agony in doing so. His life, it seemed to many — even to some of his own disciples — was a folly…he was mocked and scourged but he endured it for love of his holy bride. One could ask today’s men what they are willing to endure for love of their bride…

St. Peter comments (in 1 Pet. 3:6) that “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him ‘lord'” and at the same time he insists that men must treat their wives with great dignity “that their prayers might not be hindered” (v. 7). In other words…mistreat your wife and God will not hear your prayers!

In terms of marriage, St. Paul insists on the mutuality of self-giving: “The husband should fulfill his conjugal duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. Do not deprive each other…” (1 Cor. 7:3-4).

For more on this topic of women in the Church, kindly refer to my article here:   http://www.catholic365.com/article/5937/eight-things-to-love-about-the-catholic church-part-viii-the-role-of-women-in-the-church.html

References

image: TheLiftCreativeServices / Shutterstock.com

Catholic churches all over the world

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 22:00

Catholic churches all over the world are usually open to the public and all are welcome to participate in Church services. The Catholic Church has had a long tradition of accepting anyone to membership and its religious services without regard to color or race, age or sex. It sends missionaries to all corners of the world to share the Good News of Jesus.

Sts. Peter and Paul were the original pillars of the Church who moved the Church to become the universal Church that it is today. Both died as martyrs in Rome in witness to their faith in Jesus about thirty years after the death of Jesus: Peter crucified upside down where the St. Peter’s Basilica stands; Paul martyred by the sword where St. Paul’s Basilica is.

Peter, a fisherman called by Jesus himself, was the first Bishop of Rome and head of the Church. Starting with Jews as the first disciples of Christ and the first members of the Church, the Church soon spread to the Gentiles and the world, under the leadership of Paul, a former persecutor of the Church.

Though God had chosen a particular people to prepare for the Messiah and to receive the Good News, God’s Good News was meant for all mankind of all times and places.

These two pillars of the Church had their distinct personalities and gifts. Peter was fiery and impetuous. Though he vowed he was willing to die for Jesus, he betrayed him three times before simple servant-maids. After the resurrection, Peter re-affirmed his love and devotion to the Lord who gave him charge of his Church.

Paul, well-schooled in Jewish traditions, had been an ardent persecutor of the early Church. He witnessed the martyrdom of the first martyr St. Stephen. Struck down from his horse and made blind, he became the zealous Apostle to the Gentiles.

Sts. Peter and Paul remind us of our own failures and deficiencies and challenge us with their zeal and love of the Lord and of his Church. God calls each of us to be instruments in proclaiming the Good News to the world. We ask them to pray for us that we may live in true love and faithful service of the Lord and his Church.

Saints Peter and Paul

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 22:00

Saints Peter and Paul were the two greatest Apostles, and the two most important leaders of the early Church. Peter and his brother Andrew were fishermen, and followed Jesus throughout His public ministry. Saul of Tarsus (who changed his name to Paul upon becoming a Christian) was originally a Pharisee who persecuted the early Church before his conversion. Peter was largely uneducated; Paul’s careful education helped him become one of the greatest religious thinkers of all history, as his numerous New Testament writings attest.

Peter was directly appointed by Christ in the presence of the other Apostles (Mt 16:18-19); Paul received his authority from Christ during a personal conversion and spiritual experience (Acts 22:6-10, 14-16). Both men considered themselves to be profoundly unworthy (Lk 5:8; 1 Cor 15:9). Each was capable of fulfilling his mission only through Christ’s grace (Lk 22:31-32; 2 Cor 12:7-10).

Peter and especially Paul helped the Church realize that the gospel was to be shared not only with the Jews, but with the whole world. According to legend, Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome during Nero’s persecution about the year 64; Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded around the year 67.

Wandering in the Galaxy for Forty Years

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:07

And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was consumed.

(Numbers, Chapter 32, Verse 13)

HAN: Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.
LUKE: You don’t believe in the Force, do you?
HAN: Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.

(Star Wars, Episode IV, 1977)

In The Restoration of Christian Culture, John Senior wrote, “It isn’t necessary to document how much our music, architecture, poetry, art from Picasso, Stravinsky, and the Bauhaus to the popular stuff like Star Wars, are idolatries of force.” While it is interesting to see Star Wars ranked with the likes of Picasso and Stravinsky, it is even more interesting to think of Star Wars as part of a pantheon of a forced idolatry that has become the destiny of a generation of lost souls. Dr. Senior suggests that boundary-breaking, avant-garde trends in art, from Picasso to Star Wars, reflect that the world is wandering in a wilderness and forced to worship the golden idols of distraction—an idolatry that was given a new force with the advent of Star Wars.

Forty years ago this summer—what seems to many a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—Star Wars was released, and America was sold into the slavery of pop-culture merchandising. With this era-changing movie, the American cinematic focus shifted away from sophisticated dramas—such as The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Taxi Driver—back to a pre-60’s golden-age trope where exhibitionism and carnival capers made motion pictures make money. Some say that George Lucas effected a return to what the movies were meant to be, while others argue that his swashbuckling “space opera” was a backslide that cinema has never recovered from. In either case, Star Wars was the flagship film to sell itself as a franchise, driven and dominated by mass marketing, special effects, action sequences, and cornball dialogue. Gaining the rank of highest-grossing film of all time, Star Wars solidified the summer blockbuster, conceiving movies as commercial events that serve copiously to the lowest common denominator in the public. The effects of Star Wars run deep in the entertainment industry and have made explosive, eye-candy spectacle an idol of forceful distraction for many whose lives are so meaningless that distraction is a crucial drug.

Popcorn flicks like Star Wars are central, even integral, to American leisure—which is arresting if Josef Pieper’s notion about the basis of culture is correct. Where would society be without their screens, their celebrities, and their space sagas? It is rare to walk into a home that does not have a television dominating, or even enshrining, its living room. It is almost a matter of principle akin to a religious obligation in the civilian temples of Americanism. The parallels between the television and the tabernacle show how deft the forces of darkness are at leading man from the truth by imitating it. Leaving aside the comparisons that exist between the local church and the local theater, entertainment has become something like a new religion, a ritual for people to fill the voids in their lives—only entertainment is fast becoming nothing more than an addiction to nothingness, a placebo against the emptiness of the times. In these ways, modern entertainment is not simply distorting the elements of religion, but actually commandeering the role of religion in human society. A new idol has risen for the idle neo-pagans, and it is the idolatry of distraction.

Idolatry is not limited to worshipping false gods. The word and the practice also applies to the veneration, or pseudo-veneration, of anything that distances or obstructs man from God. Idolatry is the act of divinizing things other than the Divine (CCC 2113), which can occur through rendering the reverence due to God elsewhere, an error that has entrenched itself through the widespread embrace of personal tech-products and mass-marketing entertainment. As in any form of idolatry, there is a misplaced faith and fervor toward something unworthy of that fidelity and feeling that postures as a fitting recipient—a fitting end. The only result is that such things drag man away from his true end—his ultimate End. It is often said that modern entertainment is addictive, and addiction is a reverse image of devotion—and that perversion of devotion can be interpreted as a species of idolatry.

There is a devious irony in the parallels between religion and popular entertainment and personal technologies. The movies and the Internet fulfill a primal human desire for another “reality” and another “life.” Social media and cellphones provide “communion.” Updates, upgrades, and data-deletion bestow a “clean slate.” Wi-fi and on-demand features brings a permeating, invisible source of “power” and “security.” The cloud lays up “treasures” where neither rust nor moth consumes. Search engines are the man-made “mind of God.” Is it going too far to intimate that religion has, in some ways, been forcibly replaced as the guiding force of human destiny? To be fair, no one worships the Internet or prays to their favorite film characters, but there is a dependency on such distractions that mirrors a standard of dedication owed to God. To say that these trends, this popular stuff, appears idolatrous is not to say that they are a new religion. No one looked to George Lucas to fill a God-sized hole in their soul, but Star Wars and its ilk have presented a new way of acting religiously without revelation, dogma, or reality. Modernity’s enchantment with everything that Star Wars represents is rooted in a religious hunger for transcendence—but God has been left out of the modern menu (CCC 2114).

It is a Marxist principle that man is determined by his technologies, his means of production, and the technological trappings and cultural impact of Star Wars are emblematic of what man’s attentions have been seduced by. Again from Dr. Senior, “I have found a large plurality of students who find, say, Treasure Island what they call ‘hard reading,’ which means too difficult to enjoy with anything approaching their delight in Star Wars.” Therefore, the studios ceaselessly spend millions upon millions of dollars to produce high-voltage trash to distract the masses. The box offices collect millions upon millions of dollars to provide a prison of escapism. People who hunger for fact gorge on fantasy; and they come away confirmed only in their confusion and reinforced in the roots of their malady. This is a central problem of movies and moviegoers today—a problem perpetuated by Star Wars culture. There is a constant search for distraction from a gnawing sense of un-fulfillment, of being lost, of groping for affirmation in a culture that has lost touch with those realities that are intrinsically meaningful.

Though not on the same cultural level as Picasso or Stravinsky, Star Wars holds an unmistakable edge with the masses and is yet a force to reckon with forty years later. Star Wars is strange stuff, indeed, but it is popular stuff, an icon of the modern idol, distraction, for distraction has become the stuff of religion for a generation wandering in the wilderness. It is an idolatry of force, as Dr. Senior put it, and that force, whether we believe in it or not, is with us.

image: af8images / Shutterstock.com

Crippling Our Fears…for a Change!

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:05
A homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is it not amazing how we can have so many experiences of God’s faithful love for us and still succumb to fears in our daily lives? We are afraid of what people will say or think about us. We are afraid of being rejected, criticized, and persecuted, etc. We are afraid of failing and disappointing loved ones. We are afraid that our efforts will not be appreciated by others. These are only some of the fears that linger in our hearts.

But we don’t have to let fear cripple us always. We can actually cripple fear too if we learn the lesson that Jesus offers us in the tenth Chapter of Mathew’s Gospel from which today’s Gospel is taken. Jesus does not just command us to avoid fear: “Have no fear of them.” He also shows us how we can cripple fear itself.

First of all, we must open our hearts and minds to the words that Jesus speaks to us even in the dark and frightening moments of our lives and be ready to echo these words to the world, “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light.” Even in the darkest moments, Our Lord Jesus continues to communicate words of healing, hope, forgiveness, strength to us and these words are not just for us but are meant to be conveyed to all others by our own words and actions even if they have or may reject us, “As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”

Secondly, we must live with the conviction that God is so one with us that He knows us very well as well as all that we are going through, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered.” By virtue of the Incarnation, the Word of God has united Himself to every one of us and He shares in all our experiences too except sin. We must live with this conviction that God knows us as well as our past failures, current worries, present strengths, and future achievements as well as all that we are going through presently. In Jesus Christ, God has experienced what we experience today and gives us the grace to follow in His footsteps, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

Thirdly, we must also live with that conviction that God loves us just as we are and we do not need to pretend to be something or someone else, “Fear not therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.” The frightening moments of our lives is the time when the Spirit of love within us will surely speak to give witness to Jesus Christ, “When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Lastly, we also live with the conviction that God will surely reward us for whatever good that we do or endure for the sake of Jesus Christ. Jesus, who assures us that “we will be hated by all for His name’s sake,” also assures us that He will approve us before the face of the Father for what we do for His sake even if the entire world should condemn and criticize us, “So everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.”

The young prophet Jeremiah in today’s First Reading is facing the frightening prospect of death at the hands of his people for his prophetic message calling them to submit to the approaching Babylonian force. His friends become his persecutors, “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” But he is aware of God’s presence with him, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” He sees his trial as God “testing him and probing his mind and heart.” He cripples his fear by praising God, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our fears overcome and cripple us despite God’s amazing blessings in our lives when we begin to doubt God’s words and His promises to us. The same words of Jesus that calmed storms and drove out demons are meant to set us free from fear if we listen to them with faith as the words of the Risen Christ and willingly reflect these words to others by our own words and actions. Compromise with the world or seeking to just blend with the crowd only makes our fears increase. Fears cripple us when we see God as distant and uncaring, not knowing us and what we are going through. We are crippled by fears when we doubt God’s unconditional love for us and think that we have to do something good to win His love and show others that we are worthy of love. Lastly, fears overwhelm and stifle us in the midst of God’s gifts when we are not doing things for the sake of Christ and seeking our rewards from Him alone.

I remember lying down prostrate on the floor as the Litany of Saints was being sung at my priestly ordination. My legs were trembling at the thought of being ordained a Catholic priest. I was thinking, “Am I really ready for this? Would I be faithful to the end? What would people say about me?” Listening to the list of saints being chanted, I pondered how all those saints, beginning with Mama Mary, the Queen of Martyrs, dealt with different forms of fears too. They all faced fears that I could not even imagine: fears from the malice of wicked men and temptations from demons, and fears from their own weaknesses. Their fears did not cripple them but they crippled their fears by “the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.”(Rev 12:11) My fears dispelled as I sensed that hope that divine grace offered by the blood of the Lamb was more than enough for me to follow the footsteps of the saints.

Our Eucharist today as always is a participation in the blood of the Lamb who says to us, “Do not be afraid.” The Eucharistic sacrifice is where the God-man, who knows us more than we know ourselves, loves us as we are, shares in our frightening experiences, and assures us that our faithful witness to Him before others will never be in vain.

Let our life of witness be strong by sharing with others His words and fruits of the graces that we receive, by living in that conviction that He knows us perfectly and loves us unconditionally, and that He has assured us of our heavenly reward. This is how we can cripple our fears…for a change.

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

image: Claudio Giovanni Colombo / Shutterstock.com

Live Free or Die

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:02

I was driving earlier this week in rural New Hampshire, where I’m spending the summer, and I was passed on the road by a Chevy Tahoe from the mid-90s. The driver wore a cowboy hat and a bristling mustache, like a patch of white fire blazing forth from his upper lip. His wife sat composed and peaceful in the passenger seat to his right. As they passed, I then saw the inscription on his license plate: 68-NAM. A proud veteran of that conflict, protecting his country and the homestead upon which he’s resettled. Above the inscription was the state motto, written on every plate in this state: Live Free or Die.

This week I’ve also seen the same motto used differently. A local student was interviewed by the newspaper concerning a state vote on decriminalizing marijuana. It would only be, he said, in keeping with the state’s long-held motto: Live Free or Die.

The same libertarian motto can be invoked for very different purposes, well beyond these two examples. What, then, is the original context and meaning of it? According to the trusted online information source, Wikipedia:

The phrase comes from a toast written by General John Stark, New Hampshire’s most famous soldier of the American Revolutionary War, on July 31, 1809. Poor health forced Stark to decline an invitation to an anniversary reunion of the Battle of Bennington. Instead, he sent his toast by letter: Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.

In 1971, many surely rejoiced to see this new motto replace its predecessor, which had crowned every New Hampshire license plate up to that year: “Scenic.” It’s a nice thought. More a description of place and its undulating hills, though, than the spirit of a people!

New Hampshirites aren’t the only denizens of our ample and far-reaching country to share that spirit. Americans at large value freedom almost to the point of worship.

Harold Bloom, the reputable Yale literary critic, recently commented on this in an article on rock-and-roll for the Wall Street Journal. Analyzing the lyrics of “The Weight,” he says:

The song is part of what I call the American Religion, which is neither Christian nor non-Christian but a mix of things. No American ever feels free unless he or she is alone.

Since our foundations, we have been a country of Christian background, mixed with a shared thirst in striking out anew and finding our own path in life. That’s our freedom. So many other songs articulate this, whether it’s a road song like the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” or more reflective, as Bob Dylan’ “Not Dark Yet.”

We’re left wondering still, what exactly is freedom?

A classic explanation has been to divide the concept in two: there is freedom from something or for something. Of course, true freedom always involves both. Slave emancipation, for example, sought freedom from ownership by another and for the autonomy to determine one’s own life, work, family, location, etc.

America has recognized both sides of the spectrum, seen for example in The Four Freedoms proposed by FDR. In the use of the word, however, our culture may easily be slipping towards a freedom from emphasis to a fault. We do so for legitimate needs – freedom from violence, from poverty, from racism – but also for our worse trends, as with freedom from marriage commitments, from the burden of pregnancy, from listening to other points of view, etc. Mixed as this list is, we’re still left asking what are we free for? Some may answer: family, prosperity, security, opportunities… but underneath it’s often my family, my prosperity, etc. That’s not so insidious as to make for a good movie villain, a man of average and acceptable selfishness, but it’s not exactly Christian. Our freedom is often for ourselves and those of our inner circle. That’s what we first think of when we think of freedom.

In a different spirit, Paul writes to the Philippians:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (4:8)

He’s speaking about God and about the richness of Christian life which is simply: love of God and neighbor. This is what our freedom is for, to live for God and for others, not ourselves. Freedom is God’s gift. And he gave it for one purpose: to love. That’s what it’s for. To make others the priority of our life instead of our life.

Our calling is not to “Live Free or Die,” but to really live and to really be free exactly in our dying, to self and to sin and to all false freedoms which are really varied egoisms. Only then are others built up and their freedom respected. Only then is God glorified, showing that “they are happy… who follow God’s law (Ps 119:1). We could Christianize the motto, then, in a new way: “Live Free: Die!”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicanathe Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

image: “Live Free or Die,” by Paralog / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

We live in a world of contradictions.

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:00

We live in a world of contradictions. Lots of people today say one thing but mean another. It is easy to be victims of so-called religious leaders who show compassion but have hidden agenda; they know and say the right words, like a performance they do.

But as much as we need to be wary of false prophets and others who use religion to advance their selfish intentions, we do have to reflect on how we should live our Christian faith.

A leader I knew and respected told me that the worst thing you could do to a person is to make him/her believe that you care for him/her, when indeed you do not. A so-called leader by name could do that, but a true leader strives to make a genuine connection with others, know them well and see where they are coming from.

Jesus lived and taught the people in the way he wanted us to live. He made efforts to know his followers, to know their dreams and their fears. He connected with those he met, sinners and true followers. He did this out of his love for

people. It is this kind of love he urges us to live.

There are no prerequisites to the following of Christ: it is free of hypocrisy and of trappings. All we have to do is to love Christ and allow ourselves to be loved by him: no pre­-conditions or pretenses needed.

“The repeated and varied assaults

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:00

“The repeated and varied assaults of the enemy serve only to swell the number of victims that the faithful warrior immolates to God. What a treasure of merits in these hand-to-hand struggles with passion!”

-Rev. P.J. Michel, Temptations: Where they Come From, What They Mean, and How to Defeat Them

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

Tue, 06/27/2017 - 22:00

St. Irenaeus (130?-202) was one of the most important theologians in the early Church. He was born in the city of Smyrna (in modern-day Turkey) and, as a youth, became a disciple of St. Polycarp. He went to Gaul (modern-day France) and, during the persecution of the Church by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, became a priest in the city of Lyons.

After becoming Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus was instrumental in leading the fight against the heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics claimed that only those who had secret knowledge, and who renounced all material things as evil (including the human body), could be saved. Irenaeus opposed them by developing the concept of apostolic succession (in which Church teaching is guaranteed to be authentic when Church leaders can trace their authority back to the Apostles), and by emphasizing the incarnational principle (which states that God’s creation is good, and that He can use physical or material items as a source of grace).

Though he vigorously opposed heresy, Irenaeus remained gentle and personally concerned for the spiritual well-being of his opponents. He is said to have been martyred during the persecution of the Emperor Septimus Severus, though details are unknown.

Lessons

1. As St. Irenaeus realized, submission to the legitimate authority of the Church is an important way of knowing the truth and conforming ourselves to God’s will.

2. According to Irenaeus, material and earthly things (money, power, authority, etc.) are not necessarily bad; they can be morally neutral, and even a source of blessing and grace when used for God’s glory.

3. Even as we oppose error by correcting those who practice it and limiting their power to promote it, we must remain personally concerned with our opponents’ spiritual well-being, seeking their conversion above all else, as St. Irenaeus did with the Gnostics of his day.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Vigil of Saints Peter and Paul

The Value of Time Spent in Overcoming Temptations

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 22:07

Some persons, much subject to temptations, lament the time they spend in resisting them. “I cannot,” they say, “preserve recollection. When I try to meditate, to recite some prayers, to spend a few moments in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I cannot fix my mind on God. That is the very time that temptations come to assail me; and I pass it in a vain endeavor to banish them. I meet these troublesome and obstinate visitors even at the holy table, when I go to receive my Lord and my God. What profit can I expect from pious exercises performed in such a manner?”

This thought brings great discouragement. To cure this, to reassure and console such persons, it is important to recall to them the principles by which to correct their error and the advantages of such a state when borne as it should be.

It is a maxim universally acknowledged that we are not called to serve God according to our feelings and inclinations, but in the way that He requires and according to His goodwill. God attaches His graces and rewards not precisely to the good works that we prescribe for ourselves but to those that He authorizes and enjoins.

Based on this principle is the decision that, if obedience prescribes an employment that keeps us from prayer or meditation, by performing the action in a spirit of recollection, we please God just as much as if we had spent the time in communion with Him. And if we were to omit the action for the sake of praying or meditating, we would not be serving God as He requires; we would offend instead of serving Him.

This article is from “Temptations.” Click image to preview other chapters.

This principle should suffice to convince you that you do not lose the time that you pass in resisting temptations that occur during your exercises of piety. The devil has no more power over men than God allows him. It was only by an express permission that he was enabled to subject the patient Job to so many trials and temptations. God permits this state in which you find yourself; and as distractions are a species of temptation, you must apply to them what I have just been saying.

How then does God wish that you should serve Him? Is it by a sustained and uninterrupted meditation on holy things? Is it by tender colloquies with Him that no earthly affection shall be allowed to disturb?

No. He wishes you to serve Him by a faithful and persevering resistance to all the inspirations of the enemy, by which he strives to seduce and separate you from the divine love; that, like the Jews rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, one hand should grasp the sword of defensive warfare while the other labors to erect the spiritual edifice of perfection in a sentiment of lively faith and unshaken hope (Neh. 4:17) — a hope, I mean, unshaken in your will, however it may seem to waver in your imagination.

Has such been your fidelity?

Then you have done the will of God; you have honored Him as He required; you have put Him above everything else; you have in your submission and patience and fidelity in resisting temptation been as pleasing to Him as though you had been occupied in an ecstasy of fervent prayer distinguished by the most affectionate sentiments.

I ask you, how can that time be lost that is spent in conformity to the will of God and in the exhibition of so marked and solid an attachment to Him? After such an exercise, in which you have courageously resisted all the attacks of your enemies, you should be as well satisfied as if you had performed it in the greatest recollection and tranquility. It had less savor and sweetness, but the fruit was all the richer.

You have done the will of God, and He will acknowledge it in the graces with which He will enrich your soul. The accomplishment of that will was painful; the pain will not be forgotten in the recompense. The Holy Spirit assures us by the mouth of the Apostle: “God is not unjust, that He should forget your work, and the love which you have shown in His name” (Heb. 6:10).

The time, therefore, so employed is not lost, not only because we render God the honor and service that He asks at our hands and in the very way He asks it, but also because in these combats we acquire merits that are being multiplied in every minute. Persecutions that increased the sufferings of the martyrs enriched their crown of triumph; temptations are a persecution that has the same effect in a faithful soul.

The Holy Spirit declares him blessed who “could have transgressed, and hath not transgressed; who could do evil things, and hath not done them” (Ecclus. 31:10 [RSV = Sir. 31:10]). His happiness is proportioned to the merit that he amassed by his perseverance.

On this principle, when you observe the law of God and do His will in a way that is displeasing to nature, you acquire a double claim to reward: first, you have obeyed, and secondly, you have obeyed with difficulty and against resistance and combat. The sac­rifice you have made of the natural inclination that solicited and impelled you is rewarded here by new graces and hereafter by an increase of eternal glory and happiness.

Following up this reasoning, what an immense treasure of merit that person accumulates who, assailed by all kinds of temptations, is steadfast in clinging to God! He is certain that every sacrifice was noted: every one had its merit; every one shall have its recompense. On each separate occasion that he resisted temptation, it could be said of him, “Blessed is he, for he could have transgressed, and hath not transgressed; he could do evil things, and hath not done them.”

And what a vast number of sacrifices are made by that one who, often drawn and urged by passion, constantly resists its seductions and refuses the object that it presents to his concupiscence. Few moments pass unmarked by victory. The repeated and varied assaults of the enemy serve only to swell the number of victims that the faithful warrior immolates to God. What a treasure of merits in these hand-to-hand struggles with passion!

We do not ourselves perceive every sacrifice that we make, but the all-seeing eye of God does not suffer one to escape. Is anything more needed to console us in this state and to encourage us to perseverance?

If the contest is severe, the crown is brilliant; one minute of pain and an eternity of glory! And who would wish to exchange eternal glory for a minute’s gratification?

Nor is the merit restricted to these repeated sacrifices; new treasures are found in the interior virtues practiced at such a time. We feel very well that we cannot maintain successful resistance without the aid of heaven, without the light and the motives of faith, the inspirations of hope, and the support of divine charity. Our heart is occupied in a continual exercise of prayer and in forming repeated acts of these exalted virtues. If only one act of divine charity is so powerful as to reconcile a sinner with God, how much merit does he not acquire who in his combats is constantly repeating this act!

What ignorance, then, to suppose that time so employed in resisting temptation is lost for heaven and perfection, when, on the contrary, it is evident from what has been said that we are laboring most actively to practice the one and gain the other!

Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Temptations: Where they Come From, What They Mean, and How to Defeat Themwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

Summer Activities with a Catholic Twist

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 22:05

Several years ago, our family went on an adventure that my husband and I had dreamed of and saved for all our married life: a 36-day cross country RV trip. One of my fondest memories of that family experience was reading the Scripture readings for each day during the week, and having our boys play ukulele while we sang a praise song or two. We had an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus taped on the front wall of our rented RV and it contributed to the sacred atmosphere. Most of the time we performed this ritual on the road, since we often had six- to eight-hour drives between destinations. But sometimes we did this praying and singing at beautiful locations, like alongside a rushing river at Yosemite. On Sundays, our family attended Mass at a parish in the area. I felt like God was with us on the whole trip.

As Catholic families, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel or reorganize all our current plans in order to have Catholic summer experiences with our loved ones. Rather, we can capitalize on activities we already love to do and have on the calendar and give them what I like to call “a little Catholic twist.”

For example, maybe your family enjoys camping, hiking, or visiting zoos or parks. Why not read about and have a discussion on St. Francis of Assisi and his great love for God’s creation – the animals, the flowers, the stars, and yes, even the bugs. With the beautiful weather, many families participate in sports during the summer months, like biking, softball, soccer or boating. Consider discussing Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He loved sports, particularly mountain climbing, and he’s a wonderful role model for young people.

Hopefully we all continue going to Mass on Sunday throughout the summer. That shouldn’t change just because the seasons do. Even though summer ushers us into Ordinary Time, there are still some special feast days tucked into these warm months, such as the Feast of the Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Transfiguration, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Might you do something special in honor of a summer feast day? For instance, consider having your home enthroned in celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Another idea is to visit different parishes this summer. Do you normally go to a very large suburban parish? Try a small rural parish, or an urban one. Why not visit a parish where you will encounter different ethnic backgrounds, or the Eastern spirituality of one of the Eastern-rite Catholic churches? And while there, don’t forget to go to Confession together!

Family outings are always popular during the summer. Consider taking your family on a pilgrimage to a shrine in your area. Or a convent or monastery, if they permit visitors. Cathedrals and basilicas are also great destinations. While traveling, talk about the purpose of a pilgrimage, and how it is a time of getting away from our normal routine and spending time with the Lord.

On a similar note, why not find out if there are Catholic retreat centers or campgrounds in your area. In my home state of Ohio, we have Catholic Family Land, a terrific opportunity to vacation and worship with others who are enthused about faith and family.

All of us spend time in the car, and summer is no exception. The next time your family is driving to visit friends or relatives or to attend an event, consider using this time to pray the Rosary together. Or tune in to Catholic Radio, where you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about our Catholic faith. It’s likely to generate some interesting conversation!

Check out Catholic activities that might already be in place for your children this summer, such as Vacation Bible School or teen programs sponsored by your Youth Group.

At home, many families enjoy pizza and movie nights in the summer. Use some of these opportunities to incorporate a good Christian family film.

Playing games together as a family can be fun and rewarding. It doesn’t have to be a Bible Trivia game necessarily (although that’s a great source for learning) but do make it a point to play board games or backyard games with the entire family and take a break from those electronics.

Summer is also a time for projects around the house, inside and out. Maybe you have a garage, basement, or playroom that needs cleaned and organized. Take your donations as a family to a homeless shelter or similar organization, discussing the importance of the Works of Mercy. In the yard, plant a Mary Garden or other sacred space that inspires prayer and meditation.

Lastly, summertime is a great time to catch up on reading, whether curled up in a cabin or lounging by the pool. Many families enroll their children in a summer library reading program. Make sure a good Catholic book makes it in the mix for each of you.

Enjoy your summer – with a Catholic twist!

Spiritual Healthy Living Today

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Healthy organic foods, physical health centers, taking various vitamin pills, exotic vacation resort getaways, and many others are all attempts to maintain good bodily health. No doubt, all of this can be good for this simple reason: our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we should be responsible guardians and custodians of this gift of our body that God has in His generosity given to us.

However, there often exists this error: we place the needs of the body over those of the soul and this is a wrong hierarchy of values. The words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ teaches this truth: “What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul. What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mk 8:36-37)

Avoid the Damage  

On a human and natural level, we should make a concerted effort to avoid that which could damage our body. Good parents have taught this to their children from the start. Do not play with fire… look twice before you cross the street… do not hang out with bad companions… eat your vegetables… get to bed on time… brush your teeth before going to bed… wash your hands before you eat… clean your room; cleanliness is next to godliness.

All of the above are common words of advice that parents have given their children for years on end. Let us lift this to a higher supernatural plane and offer advice on how to avoid that which damages our immortal soul, which has more value than the whole created universe! Indeed, we can sin through thought, word, deed, and omission—by not doing what we are required by God to do! Avoiding the near occasion of sin is an indispensable quality in our pursuit of holiness and acquiring the crown of glory that we call eternal life.

1. Avoid Gossip and Gossipers 

Jesus says clearly that we will be judged on every word that issues forth from our mouth and He also says that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If we have formed the habit of meeting with people who are perpetual “Gossipers” then make a change; do not frequent this company anymore. Read James chapter 3—excellent chapter in Scripture on the sins of the tongue!

2. Dress Properly

We do not want to be an occasion of sin for others. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit from Baptism. Saint Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors of Christ—that means representatives of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. We should dress accordingly. When we say dress properly we do not mean only in Church, as if it were the only place where we should dress with decorum and modesty, but rather in all times and places. Never forget: we are Christians 24/7—meaning always!

3. Avoid Bad Company in General

Saint Paul says that bad company corrupts morals. The proverb succinctly expresses this truth: Tell me with whom you associate and I will tell you who you are. We do not have to be rocket scientists to know that we tend to imitate our friends and our associates. Pray for the grace to find a friend or two who are really noble, honest, pure, hard-working Christians and you will have discovered a real treasure. Old Testament Wisdom teaches us that to find a true friend is to find a treasure.

4. Wandering Eyes  

Another proverb is apropos of this concept: Curiosity killed the cat. Worse yet, the wandering eyes of King David resulted in adultery with Bathsheba, and eventually even killing her husband, the valiant and honest Hittite soldier Urias, (II Samuel 11). The holy man Job asserted: “I have made a pact with my eyes: not to look upon a woman,” (Job 31:1). Finally, Jesus drives the point home with one of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure of heart; they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) In a world abounding with impure images, human and electronic, more than ever do we need to practice strict custody of the senses, especially our eyes!

5. Impulsiveness

Another attitude or disposition that we must avoid is that of giving into our impulsivity, in all ways, but especially in speech. A good proverb:Think before you speak. Another somewhat down to earth proverb for those who speak before thinking is the following: Open up mouth, insert foot. Lifted to a more spiritual level Saint James admonishes us: We should be slow to speak and quick to listen.” Saint Thomas Aquinas offers this important insight: God has given us two ears and one mouth so as to listen twice as much as we speak. Meditate on this before speaking up!

6. Electronic Media

Of paramount importance for all of us who now live in this electronic cosmos is the dire need to pay strict attention over our use of all the present electronics media. “Obviously we would never open up our mouths to shovel in garbage”, Venerable Fulton Sheen once stated, but we can easily be imbibing and absorbing with our eyes moral garbage. A good vomit can release the physical garbage consumed. However, it can take years to expunge and delete ugly images that we have seen from one of the many sources in the modern world of electronic media.

Our mind is a huge archive that stores all of our experiences—all that we have done, as well as all that we have seen. Therefore, we must be very strict with ourselves and with our children in what we bring into our minds and hearts through what we see.

7. Couch-Potato Syndrome!

Another proverb for you: Idleness is the workshop of the devil. In other words, if you don’t have anything to do, then the devil will give you plenty of things to do! Saint John Bosco had a mortal fear of vacation time for the youth—teens! Work is good for all of us. Work perfects our nature; it helps us to cultivate our talents. Work serves as a means of helping others. Work was what God commanded of Adam after Original Sin: “You will earn your bread by the sweat of your brow.” (Gen. 3:19)

8. Mental Laziness

As a follow-up to Number 7—the couch-potato syndrome is the reality of mental laziness. Another youthful slogan: If you don’t use, it you lose it. God has endowed all of us with a mind which He desires that we cultivate. A garden that is not cultivated well quickly grows weeds. A mind that is not cultivated allows for the growth of mental weeds. This mental laziness can be prevented or corrected through the excellent habit of good reading.

We have never lived in a world with so much confusion. However, we have never lived in a world with so much good literature. It is up to us to find good literature and form the habit of reading. Some of our best-friends can be good books. Saint Ignatius received the grace of his conversion by reading good books—the lives of the Saints!

9. Avoid Over-Eating

Gluttony is one of the seven capital sins. Definition of gluttony: It is a disordered desire to eat and drink. Many health problems result from bad eating habits. Also Gluttony, Lust and Laziness often work together as a team to drive us into actual sin. Want a remedy? Here it is! Pray for an authentic hunger for Jesus, The Bread of Life. (Read John chapter 6:22-71—the Bread of Life discourse). In the Our Father we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  This can be interpreted in a sacramental way—the habit of going to daily Mass and receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, the true Bread of Life! He will help us to subordinate the desires of the body to the command of the will.

10. Avoid Contrary Views of Mary

Many Protestants reject vehemently the power of the intercession of Mary, to their own serious spiritual detriment. Mary will never, and I say never, distance us from Jesus. On the contrary, as Saint Louis de Montfort asserts: “Mary is the quickest, safest, and shortest path to Jesus.” If you like, Mary is the SHORT-CUT to union with Jesus. The last words of Mary recorded in Sacred Scripture were spoken at the Wedding Feast of Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” (Jn. 2:5) No doubt, the best advice in the entire world! Our Lady serves as a bridge to union with Jesus. Listen to the words of the Cure of Ars, Saint John Marie Vianney: “Everything that the Son asks of the Father is granted. Likewise, everything that the Mother asks of her Son is granted.” Saint Ephrem, with his mystical and poetic flare exclaims: “The incomparable Mother of God is the purest golden censer. In her prayers are offered to the Eternal God.” Finally, prayerfully meditate upon the words of Saint Maximilian Kolbe: “Place yourself in Mary’s hands; she will think of everything and provide for the needs of body and soul. Therefore, be at peace, be at complete peace, with unlimited confidence in her.”

In conclusion, it is most true that we must avoid all the dangers that can so easily jeopardize the health of our body, that which pertains to our natural life. However, we should make it a more firm decision on our part, and for the benefit of those entrusted to our care, to avoid all the moral poison that can possibly kill the spiritual life in our souls. May Our Lady attain for us the grace to love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls so that one day heaven will be our perpetual home and perpetual resting place!

Holy Mary, pray for us poor sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

“Love is expressed in a

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“Love is expressed in a fundamental way in the act of giving.”

-Kevin Vost, Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Every Spiritual Warrior’s Guide to God’s Invincible Gifts

In the first reading Abram and Lot

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In the first reading Abram and Lot separate and settle in different lands. God promises Abram land for himself and his descendants.

The Gospel reading gives various sayings of Jesus.

He cautions them about not giving thing of great worth to those unable to understand or appreciate them. Our teaching must be appropriate for those receiving them. Jesus taught in parables so that those who can see could know what he was teaching and those who could not see would not know what he was teaching.

Secondly, he summarizes the Law and the Prophets in a simple statement, “Do to others whatever you would that others do to you.”

Thirdly, he reiterates that the road to life and happiness is narrow and rough. Many choose the most pleasant pleasurable things as their values and forget God and his values. The narrow gate mirrors the life of the Lord who chose to be poor so that we could be rich from his poverty.

St. Cyril of Alexandria

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St. Cyril of Alexandria (376?-444) was a very strong-willed and controversial bishop and theologian. He was the nephew of the Bishop of Alexandria in Egypt (an important religious center), and in 412 he succeeded his uncle in this position. The early part of Cyril’s episcopacy was impulsive and often violent; in his zeal for orthodoxy Cyril closed the churches of schismatics, drove Jews out of the city and confiscated their property, quarreled with the imperial prefect, and antagonized local monastic groups.

However, Cyril gradually learned to control his volatile but well-meaning temper, and as he modified his abrupt ways, he provided important leadership to the Church, particularly during the Nestorian controversy. The heretical teaching of Nestorianism claimed that Mary is not the Mother of God, but only the Mother of Christ.

At the Council of Ephesus in 431, Cyril presided as the pope’s representative; Nestorianism was condemned, and — because Jesus is equally God and man — Mary was solemnly declared to be the Mother of God. St. Cyril died in 444; he is best known for his many writings on scripture and theology, and it was in recognition of these that Pope Leo XIII in 1882 declared him to be a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. Even persons with great faults or weaknesses — such as a fierce temper — are called to holiness. St. Cyril had to change his harsh and overly-zealous style; once he did so, with the help of divine grace, he became a worthy and valuable servant of God and the Church.

2. Cyril recognized that honoring Mary is also a way of honoring her Son, and claiming Mary as the Mother of God acknowledges Jesus’ divinity; this insight has always been preserved by the Church.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (13th Century)

St. Ladislaus (1095), King of Hungary

image: Ted / Wikimedia Commons

The Sacred Heart and the Eucharist

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The Sacred Heart and the Eucharist

Presence of God – Sacred Heart of Jesus, teach me how to live with You through the Sacrament of Your love.

MEDITATION

Devotion to the Sacred Heart should bring us to a life of intimate union with Jesus who, we know, is truly present and living in the Eucharist. The two devotions—to the Sacred Heart and to the Eucharist—are closely connected. They call upon one another and, we may even say, they require each other. The Sacred Heart explains the mystery of the love of Jesus by which He becomes bread in order to nourish us with His substance, while in the Eucharist we have the real presence of this same Heart, living in our midst. It is wonderful to contemplate the Heart of Jesus as the symbol of His infinite love, but it is even more wonderful to find Him always near us in the Sacrament of the altar. The Sacred Heart which we honor is not a dead person’s heart which no longer palpitates, so that we have only the memory of him, but it is the Heart of a living Person, of One who lives eternally. He lives not only in heaven where His sacred humanity dwells in glory, but He lives also on earth wherever the Eucharist is reserved. In speaking of the Eucharist, Our Lord says to us, “Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). In Holy Communion, then, this Heart beats within us, it touches our heart; through the love of this Heart, we are fed with His Flesh and with His Blood, so that we may abide in Him and He in us. “In the Eucharist,” said Benedict XV, “this divine Heart governs us and loves us by living and abiding with us, so that we may live and abide in Him, because in this Sacrament … He offers and gives Himself to us as victim, companion, viaticum, and the pledge of future glory.”

COLLOQUY

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, hast by Thy death given life to the world, deliver me by this Thy most sacred Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil. Make me always adhere to Thy commandments and never permit me to be separated from Thee” (old Roman Missal).

“O what a wonderful and intimate union is established between the soul and You, O lovable Lord, when it receives You in the Holy Eucharist! Then the soul becomes one with You, provided it is well-disposed by the practice of the virtues, to imitate what You did in the course of Your life, Passion, and death. No, I cannot be perfectly united to You, O Christ, or You to me in Holy Communion, if I do not first make myself like You by renouncing myself and practicing the virtues most pleasing to You, and of which You have given us such wonderful examples.

“My union with You in Holy Communion will be more perfect to the degree that I become more like You by the practice of the virtues” (cf. St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

“O Jesus, You alone do I love and desire, for You alone do I hunger and thirst, in You I wish to lose myself and be consumed. Envelop me in the flame of Your charity and make me cling so closely to You that I can never be separated from You!

“O Lord Jesus, O immense ocean, why do You wait to absorb this little drop of water in Your immensity? My soul’s one desire is to leave myself and enter into You. Open, O Lord, open Your loving Heart to me, for I desire nothing but You and I wish to cling to You with all my being. O wonderful union! This intimacy with You is, in truth, of more value than life itself! O my Beloved, permit me to embrace You in the depths of my soul so that, united to You, I may remain there, joined to You by an indissoluble bond!” (St. Gertrude).

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

Art for this post on the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist: modified detail of St. Patrick’s Church, Eskaheen, County Donegal, Ireland. Middle stained glass window in the north wall, depicting two angels holding the Sacred Heart (left) and the Eucharist (right). Part of a series where one window is signed by James Watson & Co., Youghal, undated, photographed by Andreas F. Borchert, 10 September 2014 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

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.