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Why Is the Sacred Heart Burning?

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 22:07

Images of the Sacred Heart meticulously recount key details of the crucifixion. The wounded heart itself, the crown of thorns, and the cross itself all appear. Some depictions even include the lance that pierced the side of Christ penetrating His heart.

But there’s one detail that seems out of place. There was no fire at the crucifixion, yet the Sacred Heart is often shown with flames. Why?

A burnt offering. Recall that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was mean to recapitulate and supersede all the sacrifices of the Old Testament. What was a common feature of these sacrifices? Fire. Think of the fire that devoured the sacrifices offered by Elijah and the fire that Abraham would have set had an angel not intervened (see 1 Kings 18 and Genesis 22). In ancient Israel, a burnt offering was the supreme form of sacrifice, it symbolized a total commitment to God—particularly the death of the victim animal and the all-consuming nature of the fire. (Key sources here, here, and here.) The burning Sacred Heart reminds us that this sacrifice too was incorporated into Christ’s supreme offering of Himself on the cross.

Symbol of divinity. Of course, fire is also a familiar Old Testament symbol of God. We encounter God’s fiery presence at Sinai and in the account of Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 1). This symbolism carries over into the Old Testament, where the Holy Spirit descends upon the heads of the apostles as tongues of fire. Perhaps it’s especially fitting that the Sacred Heart is burning given that from it poured water and blood, symbols of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharistic wine, both the work of the Holy Spirit.

 Symbol of the divine Incarnate. The fire burns, but the Sacred Heart is not consumed. Does this sound familiar? It recalls Moses’ first encounter with God, in a bush that burned but was not consumed. This foreshadowed the Incarnation, in which God assumed human nature, without his divinity extinguishing the humanity that had been assumed: Christ was fully man and fully God. It is fitting that at this climactic moment of the Incarnation that its deepest reality is reaffirmed in such an acute way.

Jesus’ passion for us. In the context of the gospels, the Passion refers to the suffering of Christ. But, in our society, we usually use the word passion to refer to something or someone that drives our enthusiasm, interest, desires, and commitments. Is this meaning still valid for the Sacred Heart? I think so. There is evidence in the gospels that a burning heart signified intense emotions. One clear example of this is the two disciples who encountered Christ on the road to Emmaus and afterwards remarked that their hearts had been burning. (See Luke 24; my source for this interpretation is here.)  So yes, the flames on the Sacred Heart are a true reminder of God’s burning love for us.

Light of the World. Fire does two things. First, it consumes that which it burns. Second, it gives off light. This second aspect is certainly relevant to the symbolism of the Sacred Heart, given that Christ is the true light of the world. Remember that during the crucifixion, darkness descended upon the land (see Mark 15:33). In the darkest hour, the Sacred Heart burned bright with hope.

image: By Djangel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Of Coddling Demons and Auricular Confession

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 22:05

No being could attain a “perfect badness” opposite to the perfect goodness of God.
~ C.S. Lewis

The Gospels are filled with weird scenes – which you’d expect from eyewitness accounts of an incarnate God. There’s no precedent for Jesus, no template or benchmark. He’s extraordinary in so many ways, so it’s no surprise that his actions and words would be extraordinary as well – at least on first hearing.

You know this from witnessing your own children thrill at the coming of Christmas when they were very young. The story of the Bethlehem invasion was fresh and exciting – and fantastic! The same goes for Passiontide as our young ones grew morose upon hearing of Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, which transmuted into delight upon their discovery of Easter and the resurrection.

Then there’s us. We don’t think of the Gospel accounts as unusual anymore because we’ve heard them countless times, and we’re accustomed to their quirky narrative shifts – even if we don’t really understand them. Like Judas, for instance. We hear about Jesus choosing him as an apostle, despite his knowing (as God) that Judas would betray him down the line. The Lord even sends out the future traitor with the other apostles to minister to the crowds – what? Yet we just glaze over when we hear it proclaimed at Mass or referenced in a sermon. Yawn.

Once in a while, however, every once in a while, the Scriptures come alive again, even for us, even for me. Maybe it’s a particular lector’s voice and intonation; maybe it’s an enlightening commentary or sermon; always it’s grace.

Such a grace came my way recently as I reviewed the Gospel accounts of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac. There’s a version of the story in Matthew, but fuller accounts appear in Mark and Luke. The action takes place in Galilee in the latter days of the Lord’s public ministry there. He and the disciples had just arrived in the region of Gerasa (or Gadara, or Gergesa – there’s some confusion about this) after a rough passage across the Sea of Galilee. A deadly tempest had terrified the disciples, but a sleepy Jesus had taken it in stride and quelled it almost as an afterthought. The disciples were duly impressed: “They were filled with awe, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’” (Mk 4.41).

As if to answer that question, Jesus followed up his demonstration of power over natural forces with a startling demonstration of his supernatural dominion.

As soon as he and his crew hit the Gerasene shore, a wild man accosted them from a graveyard. I picture him as a combination of J.K. Rowling’s Hagrid and Marley’s ghost from A Christmas Carol – all hair and height, bruises and blood, with shackles and chains rattling about. The possessed Galilean tomb-dweller, hardly still a man, rushed the Lord and demanded an accounting. “What have you to do with me, Jesus,” he shouted, adding a confession, “Son of the Most High God?” Finally, a plea. “I beseech you, do not torment me” (Lk 8.28). When Jesus asked for his name, the wild man claimed, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

We’re definitely in strange territory here. I see a walking stadium full of demons testifying to Jesus’ divine identity. Also, I see a tortured, lonely soul, a castoff loser and social threat, rebuffing the ministrations of the one he knows could totally heal him. Stranger still, Jesus is choosing to chat with him – or them (pronouns with Legion are tricky). But what’s there to chat about? Let’s free the poor guy from his spiritual affliction and restore him to his family already – ba-boom.

Yet, the strangeness only widens as the Gospel writers next draw our attention to a herd of pigs – pigs! a herd! – on a nearby hill. You’d think Jesus and his Jewish companions would’ve avoided this area altogether rather than risk even the slightest association with pork. Nope, and the pigs actually end up playing a central role in the tale. “Send us to the swine,” the Legion of demons begged Jesus, “let us enter them” (Mk 5.12). I envision a Messianic shoulder shrug and toss of the head, followed by the Aramaic equivalent of “Why not?” before Jesus gives in to the odd petition. “Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine,” continues St. Luke, “and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned” (8.33).

The Gospel narratives move on to the swift reaction of the swineherds and local townspeople (they “were seized with great fear” and asked Jesus to “depart from them”), as well as the equally swift recovery and commissioning of Legion (whom Jesus sent home to proclaim “how much the Lord has done for you”). But I’m stuck back on that hillside. “The demons puzzle us,” writes Frank Sheed. “The pigs puzzle us.” Right, as does Jesus himself, for it seems to me that he took pity on those demons when he acceded to their request. Was the porcine possession a show of compassion for the hellish habitués? A bizarre amnesty, no matter how fleeting, granted by the Good Shepherd himself? I’m with Sheed who comments, “We long to read deeper into the mind of our Redeemer.”

Frankly, I’m also interested in reading deeper into the minds of those devils. They must’ve known that they were still destined to return to Hell eventually, for even if their pig-hosts hadn’t immediately rushed to a watery demise, they would’ve been butchered soon enough. Since Legion’s demons had no doubt about who and what Jesus was (and is), what could’ve motivated their plea for temporary clemency? Surely not love – but…hope? Is it possible that these damned creatures were displaying a last vestige of hope, however unlikely?

We’ll never know. What we do know, however, is that the graphic transfer of Legion’s burden to the doomed pigs was a stark display of release and liberation. Perhaps, as Jerome Kodell suggests, it was meant to broadcast Legion’s fresh start, providing his community “visible proof that the demons have left the man.” Granted it required significant destruction of property (which prompted the objections of those swineherds), yet maybe such was justified in order to reassure Legion’s people of his radical transformation – and even Legion himself.

Weird as it is, I think the pig-demon transfer in this Gospel story is a valuable illustration of why we have auricular confession. As the Catechism affirms, the sacrament of reconciliation requires the penitent to be contrite, practice humility, and “confess with the lips” (CCC 1450). Certainly there are exceptions – speech impairments, for example, and extreme debilitation – but ordinarily, in “accord with the law and practice of the Church, the faithful must orally confess their sins” (Congregation for Divine Worship). It follows that the confessor must ordinarily hear those sins and voice an absolution.

“But why do you have to confess your sins out loud?” my Protestant students often ask me. “Why can’t you just confess them directly to God – in private? Or just write them down?”

Next time I get that question, I’ll have a ready answer. “Because we’re Legion,” I’ll say. “Because our sins are like demons, and we need concrete, sensory reassurance that they’ve been excised from our souls.”

When I confess my sins, as humiliating as it is, I’m always glad to be getting them out of my head and into the open air. To hear myself pronounce my self-accusations, knowing that the alter Christus is craning an ear, means that my sins are gone, they’ve been sent over the confessional cliff, and they’re drowning in grace – what a relief!

Then it’s my turn to listen, and the priest’s verbal funneling of the Lord’s forgiveness is an electrifying largesse (CCC 1465). It’s a new beginning, every time. And every time, I’m sent out unburdened after my penitential encounter, but with an implicit (sometimes explicit) commission, similar to Legion’s: “Go in peace,” the priest may intone, “and proclaim to the world the wonderful works of God who has brought you salvation.”

They’re words I never tire of hearing, and the strange mercy they bespeak never grows old.

image: The Exorcism (folio 166R) from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry / Wikimedia Commons 

You Can Make A Lifetime Marriage

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 22:02

Sociology professor, Pepper Schwartz, has a rather depressing piece in CNN titled, Lifetime Marriage a Crapshoot. It reflects on the fact the the biggest percentage increase in divorces is among people over 50.  It used to be that people felt that if you made it to 25 years, you were home free.  Not any more.  Althought the divorce rate is significantly lower among longer-marrieds than among those married fewer than 10 years, it isn’t unusual for couples to divorce after 25, 40, even 50 years.   Schwartz writes,

Lifetime marriage is turning into a crapshoot for many people, especially Baby Boomers. Maybe holding on till “death do them part” is least likely for Hollywood stars whose work takes a hard toll on their relationships and whose exit from marriages is not generally impeded by financial concerns. But really, no marriage is immune against what seems to be an epidemic of marital unraveling.

She’s right.  No marriage is immune.  Not any couple.  Not anytime.

Crisis or Opportunity?

It would be easy to get depressed about this, but I tend to think of it as empowering because the key to lifelong marital satisfaction is actually hidden within the fact that no one can count on marriage lasting a lifetime.  What do I mean?  In my experience, when we say we can “count” on something, we usually mean “I don’t have to be concerned about it.”  ”I don’t have to take care of it.”  ”I don’t have to attend to it.”    I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to adopt this attitude toward my lawnmower much less my marriage.  Seriously,  what if you saw an article that said, “‘Neglected, 40-yo Lawnmower Breakage At All Time High’ Study Says”  would you be surprised?   Of course not.  Then why do we tsk-tsk so much about articles that essentially say the same thing about marriage?

No Such Thing As “It”

I note in my book, For Better…FOREVER!  that one of the most important attitudes couples have to develop about their marriage is that there is no “it.”    Couples often claim, “It just died.”  ”IT just didn’t make sense to stay together any more.”  ”We couldn’t save IT.”   There is no “it” in marriage.  There is only you, your spouse and what you create together by asking yourselves what you can do to take even better care of each other today than you did yesterday–everyday for the rest of your lives.   If you do this, you will have a happy marriage that lasts a lifetime.  If you don’t, you won’t. Period.  As a friend of mine says, “It aint rocket surgery.”

The Answer: Intentional Loving

I understand that the ins and outs of taking care of your relationship can be a challenge.  Prioritizing your marriage in the face of work and life pressures, developing the self-control that it it takes to not lash out at your partner when things get tough, and learning to love your mate more than your comfort zone are all hard work, but assuming you intentionally commit to taking care of each other everyday, you can’t help but learn these things.  In fact,  although it gets a little lost among the paragraphs of hand-wringing, Dr. Schwartz makes this same point, herself, in her article when she writes,

[W]e have to be intentional about our relationship every day, year, and decade we are together. We have to aim high, have a lot of fun, work hard at being each other’s lover and friend and always do everything we can to repair problems along the way.

And that’s good advice whether you’ve been married 5 days or 50 years.

Resources You Need to Succeed

For more information increasing the likelihood of you and your spouse making it to happily ever after, check out For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage,  The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples,  and  Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage.

Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the author’s Patheos blog, Faith on the Couchand is reprinted here with kind permission. 

All of us somehow pass judgments on

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 22:00

All of us somehow pass judgments on others, whether verbalized or simply in our minds. We are fond of comparing people with ourselves and with others.

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us not to make judgments on others; and, if we do, to be ready to be judged in the same measure we judge others.

As a matter of right only God may judge other people. In God’s greatness and goodness, he forgives rather than judges.

In the Gospel story about the woman caught in adultery, the Jewish leaders wanted to see what Jesus would do. Rather than judge and punish her, Jesus wisely says, “Let anyone among you who has no sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one the accusers went away, starting with the elders. (Jn 8:1- 11)

It takes personal good will, effort and prayer to avoid making hasty judgments on others. Let us look at the example of Jesus who inspires us with his wisdom and mercy, who shows love and kindness to all.

“Jesus has invested marriage with

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 22:00

“Jesus has invested marriage with a dignity which represents something quite new in reference to all that we have considered until now. He raised it to the rank of a Sacrament. He made of this sacred bond a specific source of grace. He transformed marriage — already sacred in itself — into something sanctifying.”

-Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love

St. Josemaría Escrivá

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 22:00

Josemaría Escrivá was born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902. At a young age, he felt a calling to the priesthood and to some other unknown work that the Lord had planned for him. After his ordination in 1925, he went to Madrid where, while on retreat in 1928, he finally realized what God wanted him to do: To bring about the sanctification of the laity through their ordinary duties of everyday life. And so, with the permission of his bishop, he founded the organization, Opus Dei (which means “the Work of God”), and for the rest of his life devoted all his energies to the fulfillment of his mission.

As he worked to carry out his apostolate to the laity, Fr. Escrivá continued his priestly ministry and was particularly active in caring for the poor and sick of Madrid. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, he had to work clandestinely until he was finally able to escape across the Pyrenees. At the end of the war he returned to Madrid and received his doctorate in law, at the same preaching widely to the clergy, religious, and laity throughout Spain. He later founded the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, which is united to the work of Opus Dei. This society made possible the ordination of lay members of Opus Dei and also allowed priests to share in the spirituality of the Opus Dei movement.

In 1946 Fr. Escrivá moved to Rome where he obtained a doctorate in Theology from the Lateran University. From Rome, he traveled widely throughout the world to spur the growth of Opus Dei. When he died in Rome in 1975, thousands of lay people as well as numerous bishops requested that the Holy See open his cause for canonization, which it did in 1981. He was beatified by John Paul II on May 17, 1992 after the necessary miracles were approved by the Church. In his homily, the pope told the faithful, “With supernatural intuition, Blessed Josemaría untiringly preached the universal call to holiness and apostolate. Christ calls everyone to become holy in the realities of everyday life. Hence work too is a means of personal holiness and apostolate, when it is done in union with Jesus Christ.”

In the homily of his canonization Mass on October 6, 2003, Pope John Paul II said, “St. Josemaría was a master in the practice of prayer, which he considered to be an extraordinary ‘weapon’ to redeem the world. He always recommended: ‘in the first place prayer; then expiation; in the third place, but very much in third place, action’ (The Way, n. 82). It is not a paradox but a perennial truth: the fruitfulness of the apostolate lies above all in prayer and in intense and constant sacramental life. This, in essence, is the secret of the holiness and the true success of the saints.”

Lessons

1. For those of us who think sainthood is beyond the grasp of the ordinary person, consider the words of Saint Josemaría Escrivá: “Your duty is to become a saint. Yes, even you…. To everyone, without exception, our Lord has said, ‘Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect'” (The Way, 291).

2. From the decree on the Cause of Canonization for Saint Josemaría we find these words: “His task was to open to the faithful of all walks of life a sure way of sanctification in the midst of the world, through the practice of one’s professional work or job and the fulfillment of the ordinary duties of every day, without changing one’s state in life, doing everything out of love for God.” Whether active members of Opus Dei or not, may we all endeavor to sanctify our daily lives in order to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Saints John and Paul (362), Martyrs

St. Pelagius (925), Martyr

St. Anthelm (1178), Bishop, Abbot

image: Spongie555 / Wikimedia Commons

St. William of Vercelli (Abbot)

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 22:00

Born in Vercelli, Italy in 1085, William was orphaned at an early age and raised by relatives. At the age of 14 or 15, he went on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. After his return, he decided to become a hermit and so retreated to Monte Vergine, where his holiness of life and many miracles attracted so many followers that he eventually built a monastery and wrote a rule based on the Rule of St. Benedict. After a time, however, the monks began to grumble against the strictness of the rule; in order to maintain harmony, William himself left with a small band of followers, including his friend, St. John of Matera, to found a second community on Monte Laceno, a most inhospitable place. When fire eventually destroyed the hermitages, William and his monks were again forced to move.

King Roger I of Naples greatly respected William and took him under his patronage, aiding him in founding many monasteries for both men and women in his kingdom. The king was so edified by William’s saintly life that he had a monastery built directly across from his palace in Salerno in order that William could serve as his advisor.

William, like so many saints, had a special premonition that his death was approaching, so he retired to his monastery at Guglietto where he died June 25, 1142. Although his other foundations did not survive, the monastery at Monte Vergine still exists today.

Lessons

1. William’s friend, St. John of Matera, served to warn William about two apparent mistakes he was making. First, William had wanted to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem after returning from Compostela. He set out despite his friend’s advice that God wanted him to serve in Italy and was promptly set upon by robbers, which forced him to turn back and reconsider. Second was the move to Monte Laceno, a harsh, barren place where nothing would grow and the monks could barely survive. Despite John’s counsels that they should move, William refused — until their hermitages burned down. Apparently, it took some time before William learned to hear the voice of the Lord in the counsel of his holy friend. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to hear His voice in the advice and encouragement of the holy people He puts in our way.

2. From the time of his youth, William practiced severe mortifications, and it seemed that nothing was too difficult for him to bear in the name of Christ. When the monks of Monte Vergine found his way of life too taxing, rather than impose his will upon them, William appointed a prior over the monastery and then left to found a new one. In that same spirit of humility, may we not look with disdain on those who do not seem to do as much or accomplish as much as we do, but remember the story of the widow who, though it was only two small coins, gave all she had to give (Lk 21:1-4).

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Prosper of Reggio (466), Bishop

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 02:35
Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

 

Today, we mark the nativity of Saint John the Baptist. So great is John’s contribution to salvation history that Holy Mother Church does not celebrate anyone else’s birth as a solemnity–except that of Jesus. John the Baptist recalls Isaac, Eli, Samson and their mothers whose births came about because nothing is impossible for God. He is the one leaping and dancing for joy before the Lord, at the sound of the Blessed Mother’s voice, not unlike how King David danced with joy before the Lord. Sanctified in the womb of Saint Elizabeth, John is the forerunner of Christ. He is the voice crying out in the wilderness preaching repentance, preparing the way of the Lord, calling us to behold the Lamb of God, thereby answering Isaac’s question, which echoes throughout the Old Testament: “Where is the Lamb?”

Like Saint John the Baptist, we are also called to prepare the world for the Lord. By following Mary’s instruction to do whatever the Lord tells us, we get the world ready to hear Him and to receive Him at His second coming, just as John made straight the way of the Lord. By decreasing ourselves, we permit Christ our Light to increase so that all might come to know and believe in the Lamb of God, slain for our salvation in order to give us eternal life and love, in order that our joy might be complete. May Saint John the Baptist help us behold the Lamb of God and prepare His way!

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Art for this post on the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist: Birth of John the Baptist, Jacobo Pontormo, 1526, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, PD-Worldwide, 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.

St John the Baptist

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 22:00

The feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is one of the oldest feasts in the liturgy of the Church. Unlike other saints whose feast days are usually celebrated on the anniversary of their deaths — considered the day they entered into final glory — St. John’s feast day is the day of his birth, as he was born without the stain of original sin. The angel Gabriel declared of him, “He will be filled with Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Since the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in the presence of sin, it is concluded that he was therefore freed from original sin while still in Elizabeth’s womb. Therefore we celebrate the date of his birth, as we do our Blessed Mother, born free of original sin from the moment of her conception.

The miraculous birth of John the Baptist is recounted in Luke’s Gospel where we learn of the elderly priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who was barren. While Zechariah was performing his priestly duties in the temple, the angel Gabriel came to him and prophesied the birth of a son. Because Zechariah doubted the word of the angel, he was struck dumb until the day of the birth, at which time, filled with the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed his prophetic canticle (Lk 1:68-79).

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel made his announcement to Mary; after her humble fiat, she “went with haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth. The gospel tells us:

And she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:40-44).

Thus, from the womb John served as the precursor, the forerunner of Jesus, the Messiah. Some thirty years later our Lord said of him, “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee'” (Lk 7:27).

St. John is considered the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of him, “In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of the prophets begun by Elijah. He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the ‘voice’ of the Consoler who is coming” (CCC 719).

As Gabriel announced that John’s birth would bring joy to many (Lk 1:14), this feast of St. John’s birth is ranked as one of the most joyous feasts of the year. In days past, it was marked with great solemnity and rejoicing: on the eve of the feast “St. John’s fires” were lighted on the hills and mountains of many countries. Of these celebrations Dom Gueranger tells us, “Scarce had the last rays of the setting sun died away, when all the world over, immense columns of flame arose from every mountain top, and in an instant every town and village and hamlet was lighted up.”

Lesson

1. In these days when we are faced with the scourge of abortion, the circumstances of the birth of John the Baptist provide us with a profoundly pro-life message. At the stage of merely six months in the womb of Elizabeth, he leaped with joy in the presence of our Lord who Himself had only just been conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. He not only acknowledges the presence our Lord, but he affirms the presence of life, that great gift from God, from the moment of conception.

2. Many of us are grieved by the apathy and irreverence we see all around us, not only in the secular world but in our churches as well. Rather than becoming depressed, let us take a lesson from the baby John who leaped with joy in the presence of Christ so that, by our joyful example, we may change hearts and bring others to know “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).

Sacred Heart: Love that Crushes Evil

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 22:07

“Sacred Heart devotion isn’t our devotion. It’s God’s. It’s God’s devotion to us”, writes Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., in his book, A Heart on Fire. He also reminds us that the Sacred Heart devotion didn’t begin in the seventeenth century with revelations to a Visitation nun named St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—it began “before time, in the eternal Heart of God.” This truth aids the joyful rediscovery of God’s perfect love for us. God doesn’t need our love in return, but in the mystery of divine mercy, He desires our reciprocal love. God intends an abiding, loving communion with us. While our hearts are often fickle, forgetful and fearful, His heart is intently focused on us.

In the present culture, so lacking in love, our concept of love is easily distorted, distracted, and destroyed. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a powerful provision against the destruction of authentic love. Christ is present, living and active and his Sacred Heart beats a love song that is uniquely personal.

The devil, our ancient enemy (cf. Eph 6:11-13, Job 2:1-7, Zech 3:1-2, 1 Thes 2:18, Rev 12:10) methodically plots the crushing destruction of authentic love of God and neighbor. Diabolical temptation is aimed at the distortion of God’s image, distraction from our eternal goal, and the destruction of love. When the soul experiences the absence of authentic love, it readily succumbs to the seduction of diabolical liaisons. In the Church’s ministry of deliverance and exorcism we see this repeatedly. A heart on fire with and for divine love repels the demons.

The Catechism addresses the reality of evil and our need to “fix our eyes of faith on him who alone is its conqueror”.

385 God is infinitely good and all his works are good. Yet no one can escape the experience of suffering or the evils in nature which seem to be linked to the limitations proper to creatures: and above all to the question of moral evil. Where does evil come from? “I sought whence evil comes and there was no solution”, said St. Augustine, and his own painful quest would only be resolved by his conversion to the living God. The revelation of divine love in Christ manifested at the same time the extent of evil and the superabundance of grace. We must therefore approach the question of the origin of evil by fixing the eyes of our faith on him who alone is its conqueror.

When we fix our eyes and heart on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we perceive that God’s heart is loving, omnipotent, omniscient, and protective of beloved creatures. The Sacred Heart burns with incomprehensible power to create good and destroy evil. Our focus is always the Eucharistic heart of God, not the work of the devil. Though we perceive the spiritual battle all around us, and discern well the spirits within and without, our hearts must commune with the Sacred Heart. During terrible temptations and worse diabolical onslaughts, the Sacred Heart is a refuge. Especially in Adoration, we can gaze, pray, converse, refresh, discern and be filled with the fuel of grace to resist the devil and proclaim Christ’s victory.

I’d propose seven ways that devotion to the Sacred Heart protects us from sin and evil.

1. Sacred Heart: Incarnational

War broke out in Heaven at the revelation of God’s plan for the Incarnation of the Word.

The rebellion of one third of the angelic beings (now called demons), occurred because they would not accept that the Son of God would become “flesh” in the lowly form of a creature born of a “woman”.  Devotion to the Sacred Heart cultivates incarnational love. Honoring the human heart of Jesus Christ, loving the Incarnate Word’s living heart, empowers us to imitate Him in loving the Father, self and others. This thwarts the devil’s plan to draw us away from our Creator with doubts that God is impersonal and disinterested. Our heart united to Christ’s heart becomes an impenetrable fortress. Demons may surround the fortress but they cannot enter.

2. Sacred Heart: Eucharistic

We enter the epic drama of the greatest love story ever through communion with Jesus in the Eucharist. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Rekindling Eucharistic amazement is a term that Pope John Paul II used in his encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia.” This amazement of the human heart enkindles the fire of divine love within. Demons despise the Humble Host. According to the saints, demons fear the disciples who live an intentional Eucharistic life. The Sacred Heart is the vessel from which flows the life-saving Precious Blood. The devil works tirelessly to keep us from Holy Communion. To the dismay of demons who curse, Eucharistic life forms a garment of praise that blesses.

3. Sacred Heart: Revelation

Jesus Christ Incarnate reveals the face and heart of our Father in Heaven. We desperately need this revelation of truth for knowledge of who we are: children of God. When we accept the revelation of Jesus Christ, we know our dignity and destiny. These ground us in the truth so that when the Liar, Deceiver and Thief assails us, we stand firm in the revelation of God’s mercy. Devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to remember the revelation; the Gospel of love. The devil methodically plots to distract us from the revelation and its relevancy. When the devil tempts us to doubt God’s existence or insinuates that He is mean or punishing, we can fly unto the protection of the Sacred Heart, remembering the revelation of divine love. Knowing who God says that I am strengthens me to resist the devil’s lies.

4. Sacred Heart: Word

Pope Benedict reminded us, “We must never forget that all authentic and living Christian spirituality is based on the word of God proclaimed, accepted, celebrated, and meditated upon in the Church” (Verbum Domini, 121). From the beginning, the Word is love. The creation of mankind is deliberately orchestrated to draw all things to God wherein is the fulfillment of all desire. In the Scriptures, we read about Christ’s life on earth; His many human encounters where love manifested. His heart is touched, He weeps, heals, serves, sleeps, eats, prays—he understands men and women. This flies in the face of the devil who seeks to obliterate our awareness of the dignity given us by God. The Word has a heart of infinite love focused on you and me. The devil hates this reality because he exists in loneliness and alienation from love.

5. Sacred Heart: Altar of Sacrifice

The Sacred Heart is a heart for others. Father Simon Tugwell, O. P., teaches, “The liturgy, faithfully celebrated, should be a long-term course in heart-expansion, makes us more and more capable of the totality of love that there is in the heart of Christ.” The perfect sacrifice of Christ’s love is perpetuated on the altar. This is also the proclamation of His victory over evil. The devil, personified pride, is undone by the humility of Christ on the altar of sacrifice. Love sacrifices; lays down His life. The Sacred Heart radiates love that is aimed at the other; the poor, forgotten, sick, and grieving. His heart dies and rises for our sake. Proud and spiteful, the devils envy Christ’s power to save through sacrificial love. Whenever we love sacrificially, our spiritual armor is strengthened.

6. Sacred Heart: Reparation

“True devotion to the Sacred Heart depends on a proper understanding of reparation, an old theological term that is related to atonement, expiation, salvation, and redemption” writes Fr. Kubicki. In his “Jesus of Nazareth”, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “God cannot simply ignore man’s disobedience and all the evil of history; he cannot treat it as if it were inconsequential or meaningless. Such ‘mercy’ would be that ‘cheap grace’ to which Bonhoeffer rightly objected in the face of the appalling evil encountered in his day.” Christ paid the debt of sinners. Sin continues. Believers can unite with Christ’s reparation and offer up our sufferings and sacrifices to help repair. Devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to enter Christ’s reparative love. Thus, we reclaim territory, robbing the devil of so many souls that he’d carry to the abyss.

7. Sacred Heart: Union with Immaculate Heart

The Church places the feast of the Sacred Heart on Friday and the feast of the Immaculate Heart on Saturday to reminds us their unity. Jesus Christ and His mother Mary are united in the will of the Father and they cannot be separated. Devotion and consecration to the Sacred Heart is spiritually complimentary to devotion to the Immaculate Heart. This holy liaison forms a powerhouse of protection against evil spirits. Between the Eucharistic Sacred Heart and the Virginal Immaculate Heart, there is a space reserved for you and me where no evil spirit dare to enter. Let us remain in the loving protection of the united Sacred and Immaculate Hearts where we are safe as we walk in the valley of death and evil.

Enthronement of the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is highly recommended by priests. For more information about this, I highly recommend Fr. James Kubicki’s book, A Heart on Fire.

Devotion affords spiritual benefits, for as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Our God is not a remote God intangible in his blessedness. Our God has a heart.” To whom does your heart belong?

image: Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

John the Baptist: Pointing Away From Himself

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 22:05

On December the 25th, we celebrate the big one—the birthday of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh.  The Church actually does not celebrate the birthday of the saints, except that of Jesus’ mother.  Generally, their special day in the calendar is the date of their death, their entry into eternal life.  But there is one notable exception.  Since we celebrate the birthday of the Word, we also celebrate the birthday of the Voice.  We’re referring to Jesus’ cousin of course, John the Baptist, the Voice crying out in the wilderness.

John plays a unique role in the history of salvation.  We call him the Baptist.  Eastern Christians call him the Forerunner.  Only Luke’s gospel tells us of the marvelous circumstances surrounding his birth.  But each of the four gospels tells us of his essential work in preparing the way for Jesus.  But they also tell us something further—that John was a model of  the key virtue of humility extolled by the first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount—Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.

Let’s examine the record.  Crowds were coming to hear John from all over Israel before anyone even heard a peep out of the carpenter fromNazareth.  In fact, John even baptized his cousin which launched Jesus’ public ministry, heralding the demise of John’s career.

Most of us would not appreciate the competition.  The Pharisees and Sadducees certainly did not. They felt threatened by Jesus popularity.  But John actually encouraged his disciples to leave him and follow the Lamb of God.  When people came, ready to honor John as messiah, he set them straight.  He was not the star of the show, only the best supporting actor.  Jesus, he said, was the one to watch.  John may have been center-stage for a while, but now that the star had shown up, the Baptist realized that it was time for him to slip quietly off to the dressing room.

Or to use John’s own example, he was like the best man at a wedding.  It certainly is an honor to be chosen as “best man.”  But the best man does not get the bride.  According to Jewish custom, the best man’s role was to bring the bride to the bridegroom, and then make a tactful exit.  And John found joy in this.  “My joy is now full.  He must increase and I must decrease.”

The Baptist was joyful because he was humble.  In fact, he shows us the true nature of this virtue.  Humility is not beating up on yourself, denying that you have any gifts, talents, or importance.  John knew he had an important role which he played aggressively, with authority and confidence.  The humble man does not sheepishly look down on himself.  Actually, he does not look at himself at all.  He looks away from himself to the Lord.

At one time or another, every human being battles a nagging sense inadequacy. Pride is sin’s approach to dealing with this.  Proud people are preoccupied with self, seeing all others as competitors.  The proud perpetually exalt themselves over others in hopes that this will provide a sense of worth and inner peace.  Of course, it doesn’t.  Human history has proven that time and time again.  Even the pagan Greek storytellers knew that hubris or pride was the precursor of tragedy.  Pride always comes before the fall, as it did in the Garden of Eden.

Humility brings freedom from this frantic bondage.  Trying at every turn to affirm, exalt, and protect oneself is an exhausting enterprise. Receiving one’s dignity and self-worth as a gift from God relieves us from this stressful burden.  Freed from the blinding compulsion to dominate, we can feel a sense of satisfaction when others recognize that God is God and honor him as such.  We can even be free to recognize God in someone else and rejoice when others notice and honor God’s goodness this person.

There is another aspect of John’s character to reflect upon as we celebrate his birthday.  Repeatedly, the gospels associate the Baptist with spiritual joy.  At the presence of Jesus and Mary, he leapt for joy in his mothers womb (Lk 1:44).  And it says that he rejoices to hear the bridegroom’s voice (Jn 3:29-30).

But how do we reconcile this joy with John’s stark call to repent? Because repentance is all about humility and humility is all about freedom.  And freedom leads to inner peace and joy, joy in the presence of the Bridegroom.

Scripture Speaks: Shrink Not From Fear

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 22:02

Today, Jesus tells His disciples that there is empty fear and worthy fear. How will they know the difference?

Gospel (Read Mt 10:26-33)

The tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel begins with Jesus calling the Twelve apostles. Then, He sends them out to preach the Good News He’s going to teach them. He gives them detailed instructions for their mission, telling them where to go, what to say, what to do, and, instead of the expected, what not to take with them. He also gives them a solemn warning, which was bound to leave them a little shaken: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (vs. 16). He describes the serious opposition they will face as bearers of His message, even within their own families. However, He reassures them with this promise: “… 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 the Father speaking through you (vss 19-20). Would this be enough to assuage their fears? Today’s reading tells us more.

First, Jesus tells the apostles to “fear no one.” He goes on to help them avoid the fear that can come from doubt about the truth of the message they will preach. Strong opposition can make us doubt that the Gospel (which is truly an outrageous message in every sense of the word) is actually what people need to hear. How could the Twelve, a small, ragtag band of traveling disciples, have confidence enough in their itinerant rabbi to sustain them during times of resistance, ridicule, and even violence when they delivered His word? He tells them, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known” (vs ). This is a promise meant to give courage to the apostles. He knows that the Gospel message He will give them, in relative quiet and secrecy, they will one day have to boldly announce to a world that doesn’t want to believe it. Jesus gives them assurance that no matter how skeptical people are of their message of salvation resting on faith in a Man Who came back from death, one day its truth will be crystal clear to (and adored as glorious by) the whole universe. The apostles simply need patience and perseverance. We do, too.

Next, Jesus addresses the fear that comes from bodily persecution: “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (vs. 28). This is perhaps a fear stronger than the fear that comes from doubt. Fear of physical suffering is instinctive in us, and it runs deep. However, Jesus explains that their opponents’ power over them is only temporal and physical, as harsh and as final as it may seem. So this fear, along with doubt’s fear, is essentially empty. It cannot have the last word. There is another fear, however, that is a worthy one. What is it?

Jesus tells them, “… be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (vs 28b). Who has that kind of power? Some would say Satan, although his power over us is limited by God Himself. It is ultimately our own choice to either resist or receive the corruption he offers us disguised as a satisfying path to happiness. If we grant him a foothold in our lives, he can certainly lead us to destruction, for that has always been his goal (see Gen 3:1-7). We should, therefore, constantly be alert to his lying hatred for us (see Eph 6:1-11; Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8-10) and never underestimate him or overestimate our own mortal strength against him. In this sense, the “fear” of Satan means an informed vigilance against the great damage this enemy can do to us if we let him.

We might also see these words as a reminder to “fear” God, Who ultimately is the only One on earth or in heaven Who has the power over our eternal fate. Notice that here, too, our own personal choices is a factor in what becomes of us. Jesus tells the Twelve that their heavenly Father knows everything that happens in the world. Not even a tiny, insignificant sparrow dies without the Father’s knowledge. We have to wonder what the apostles made of that statement. Did it seem like wild hyperbole to them? If so, His next words must have pushed them over the top: “Even all the hairs of your heard are counted.” What more could Jesus say to give them great confidence in God’s love and care for them? He didn’t want them to fear any danger from anyone; He wanted them to have courage to do what He asked of them. Still, He reminded them that it would be their own personal response to Him that detrmined their future: “Everyone who acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before My heavenly Father. But whoever denies Me before others, I will deny before My heavenly Father” (vs 23-33). To “fear” God and act appropriately, with an understanding of our accountability to Him and His right to deal justly with what we choose for ourselves is another possible interpretation of Jesus’ warning to “be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

Ultimately, these words contain both comfort and yet a warning. This Cistercian chant puts it well: “Victorious love shouts to the four winds. You who follow Jesus, do not fear what leads to death, rather fear to yield to fear.”

Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me not to shrink in fear from shadows. Even a sparrow can remind me of what is real.

First Reading (Read Jer 20:10-13)

The prophet, Jeremiah, was one who knew quite well the opposition that those who speak God’s words will inevitably face. Jeremiah and his words were hated in his day, because he had the unenviable task of telling the Jews that God’s just judgment on their covenant infidelity was about to fall on them in a catastrophic way. Jeremiah knew his enemies were eager to silence him. As terrifying as this must have been, he found courage in the nearness of the Lord: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” This is just the kind of courage Jesus had when He was faced with murderous opposition and the courage He urged on His apostles. Jeremiah was not only able to continue his prophet’s work, but in the midst of it, he was able to sing: “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for He has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” This is truly fearless faith.

Possible response: Father, singing Your praise is the perfect antidote to fear.

Psalm (Read Ps. 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35)

The psalmist described the fate of those who fearlessly stand with God, consumed by their zeal for his house. Here we have a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus, Who likewise incurred the wrath of His brothers, the Jews, by daring to cleanse the Temple and to charge them with profaning it with their irreverent religiosity. The psalmist calls out for God’s help: “Lord, in Your great love, answer me.” Surely the apostles would need to follow his example when they set out on their mission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth—many times over. The psalmist is confident of God’s kindness to one in desperate need: “For the Lord hears the poor, and His own who are in bonds, He spurns not.” Just as Jeremiah had faith to sing God’s praises in the midst of great persecution, so, too, the psalmist’s tongue was loosed when he was insulted and treated as an outcast: “Let the heavens and the earth praise Him, the seas and whatever moves in them!”

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

Second Reading (Read Rom 5:12-15)

St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is the most theological of all his letters. From beginning to end, he sets out in clear, systematic fashion Who God is, who man is, the problem man created for himself, and how God fixed it. In the practical section of the epistle (the last several chapters), St. Paul explains how a person who has been fixed by God’s grace ought to live. Today’s reading touches on two truths that expand our understanding of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel not to be afraid of persecution and to count on God’s great love for us to enable us to do what He asks of us.
First, St. Paul gives us an explanation for why God’s message to man has always stirred up resistance: “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death.” It is the sin we inherited from our first parents that distorts our vision of God, making Him look like an enemy instead of our loving Father. Sin makes us want to silence God by persecuting His messengers. Next, St. Paul reminds us of the magnificent love of God for His sinful human children. He tells us that one act by Adam stained all of us with sin and death, but Jesus’ sacrificial life has caused grace to flow to all of us. That is why Jesus could say in the Gospel, “… do not be afraid [of persecution]; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Possible response: Father, You have shown Your love to us, Your rebellious children, not by getting revenge but by showering us with grace. How foolish fear seems!

St. Joseph Cafasso

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 22:00

Most of our information on Joseph Cafasso comes from his protégé, Don Bosco, who wrote the saint’s biography. Joseph had served as Don Bosco’s teacher, advisor, spiritual director, and faithful friend since they met in 1827 when Don Bosco was only 12 and Joseph was a young cleric, just a few years older.

Joseph had been born in Castelnuova d’Asti in the province of Piedmont, Italy, in 1811. A devout and docile child, he was diminutive in stature, somewhat weak in constitution, and had a deformity of his spine. However, none of these physical limitations ever held him back in his future work for the Church and for the salvation of souls.

Deciding at the age of 15 to become a priest, Joseph studied at the seminary in Turin and was ordained in 1833. He continued his theological studies at the seminary and then at the Institute of St. Francis and became a brilliant lecturer on moral theology. Ten years later he was appointed superior of the college and he remained so until his death. He made a profound impression on all his students — young priests — often helping those in poor circumstances to finish their studies by providing them with the necessary books and money.

Don Cafasso was a popular preacher and confessor, seeming to have a special gift for discerning exactly what each penitent needed. He also had the ability to change hearts; Don Bosco said of him, “A single word from him — a look, a smile, his very presence — sufficed to dispel melancholy, drive away temptation and produce holy resolution in the soul.”

In addition, Don Cafasso had a special charism towards prisoners and spent a great deal of his time hearing their confessions and helping them in any way he could. He was called the “Priest of the Gallows” because he attended 68 condemned prisoners at their deaths, hearing their confessions, encouraging them, listening to them, staying with them the entire night before their executions, even accompanying them in the cart to the place of execution. He offered up penances and mortifications for the salvation of their souls and spent time before the Blessed Sacrament praying for each one of them, that none might be lost.

As well as his own life of service, the Church must be grateful to Don Cafasso for guiding and supporting Don Bosco in his vocation of working with the youth of Italy, which Don Bosco became drawn to after assisting his mentor in his ministry to prisoners. After each visit to the prisons, Don Bosco’s heart would be heavy with the thought of so many young men who had gone astray because they had no one to care for them or take an interest in them. With Don Cafasso’s encouragement, he began the Salesian order (named for St. Francis de Sales) to aid boys and later the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians to care for poor and neglected girls.

Don Cafasso, after seeming to have a premonition of his death, died at the age of 49 from multiple ailments, including a stomach hemorrhage. Despite the intense pain he must have experienced, he made no complaints but received Holy Communion and went to confession several times during his last days, which ended June 23, 1860. He was greatly mourned, and his funeral, at which Don Bosco preached, drew great crowds. He was canonized in 1947.

Lessons

1. St. Joseph Cafasso worked devotedly in the training of young priests, and his life of charity and mortification inspired them in their vocations. Let us pray that all our priests and seminarians will find inspiring, holy mentors as did the students of Don Cafasso.

2. Tireless in his duties towards his students, to preaching and hearing confessions, to his prisoners, and to writing, John Bosco concluded that Don Cafasso was able to do so much by a special gift of the Holy Spirit: “Such a priest may in a certain sense be omnipotent, according to the expression of St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.'”

3. Don Bosco also testified to the fact that St. Joseph Cafasso never once indulged himself in amusements or sought to satisfy any personal desires. Despite his physical handicaps, he never sought comfort but said, “The body is insatiable; the more we give in to it, the more it demands.” Let us pray to this saint who said “Our rest will be in Heaven” and ask him to help us overcome our cravings for comfort, rest, and idle amusements which do nothing to further the Kingdom of God here on earth or bring us to heaven to be with Him.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Vigil of St. John the Baptist

St. Ethelreda (Audrey) (679), Virgin

Repentance and the Fatherhood of God

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 03:05

One of the most common mistakes we make is thinking of sin as merely a legal matter. That is, that it sin is only about breaking a code of laws and rules and righteousness about conforming to them. But to think of sin and righteousness in strictly legal terms is to miss the point. Sin is not fundamentally legal; it is rather fundamentally relational.

Put another way, sin is a breaking of communion. It is a movement away from love into that which is not love. It is a turning away from the face of God into the darkness of the void. That is not to deny that God gives us commandments. Yet, these commandments do not form an arbitrary legal code. They rather signify the boundaries of  a relationship. They are guardrails around the covenant of love which God makes with us.

Fear and Legal Thinking

One problem with a strictly legal framework is that we begin to think of God as a judge, distant and severe, waiting to mete out punishment for our every infraction of his law. We believe in an abstract sense that he is good and that he loves us, and yet we can’t escape the fact that he is ready to pounce upon us the moment we break the least commandment of the law. Fear begins to dominate our relationship with God. Sinners that we are, we can’t help but see him as an adversary to be avoided rather than as a father to be loved.

Scrupulosity is the inevitable outcome of legal thinking. We no longer trust God’s goodness but instead fear his wrath. When we sin, we repent because we don’t want to go to hell. We repent to appease God’s anger, and more importantly, to earn his love and favor.

The Father and the Prodigal

What is the alternative to legal thinking? It is to realize that we are no longer slaves, but sons. Whether or not we live like it, our entire identity is that of sons of the Most high God. To you God utters the words, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” To you, God says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” This is a stupendous reality—one we hardly meditate on enough.

There is no better illustration of the Father’s love for us than the tale of the prodigal son. The selfish prodigal took advantage of his father’s goodness. He couldn’t wait for his father to die and so demanded his inheritance immediately. Such greed, such craven disrespect. Moreover, when he finally received his inheritance, he wasted it in the worst possible way: on gambling and drunkenness and prostitutes. A larger insult could not possibly be imagined.

When the prodigal son finally came to his senses, he realized that he was better off in his father’s house. Even at this moment, however, it could hardly be said that his motives for repentance were pure. They were very much like our motives too often: Simply seeking to avoid misery and to stay out of hell. He wanted to grovel a bit and then be a slave in his Father’s house. Surely this would be better than eating from a pig’s trough. So he trudged home expecting wrath and a good shaming from his father. For how could anyone forgive such wrongs?

But then he did return home, and he received a shock. His father did not wait for him, arms crossed in righteous anger, to humiliate him and remind him of his wrongs. No, he ran to him and embraced him. He clothed him in his rich garments and prepared for him a feast.

The Heart of Repentance

Do you not understand? God loves you. He is not a policeman waiting to pounce like the ruthless Javert in Les Misérables. He is not a cold and calculating judge dedicated to a blind and impartial justice. He is a Father who has never stopped loving you and who runs to meet you the moment you turn toward him.

I believe it was only when the prodigal son received the father’s mercy that he experienced true repentance. Up until that moment, he was still thinking like a slave. He did not trust his father’s goodness and only expected the justice he truly deserved. But when he experienced his father’s radical forgiveness, when he realized he was and always would be a beloved son, everything changed.

Likewise with us. When we stop thinking like groveling slaves that have to earn God’s love, a paradigm shift occurs. We no longer fear God in the sense of expecting fierce retribution, but walk in the freedom and confidence of love. “Perfect love casts out fear,” as the Apostle says. We don’t repent because we want God to love us again, we repent because God has never stopped loving us. And that makes all the difference.

The post Repentance and the Fatherhood of God appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

Go to Hell or Go to Prayer (Video)

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 02:35
Go to Hell or Go To Prayer

“Go to hell or go to prayer” is a striking title for a post but it is not an overstatement. Why is it that Saints and Doctors of the Church Teresa of Avila and Alphonsus Liguori believe that without daily mental prayer we will go to hell and with daily mental prayer we are assured of heaven? On the surface, these claims seem to be a bit over the top. How can they justify these statements? In this video, I explore the reasons behind these striking statements and how we can gain insight into the wisdom of these great saints.

Dear Friends, was this video a blessing to you? Do know others who might be blessed by it? Did you follow the link at the end of the video to the other resources we have prepared for you and those who also desire to know the life and peace that only God can give? Have we helped to encourage you to dig deeper in your faith? Please help us by sharing these videos on Facebook, through email, or whatever way that works best for you. Join with us in our desire to reignite the fires of prayer in the Church and bring about the renewal we so desperately desire to see from the Lord.

Yours in Christ,

Dan

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Art for this post “Go to Hell or Go to Prayer”: Detail of “El Infierno” (Hell), padre Hernando de la Cruz (Father Hernando de la Cruz), siglo XVII (17th century), PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. This prayer video used with permission. All rights reserved.

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.

Community: Having the Right Intention

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:07

In this continued conversation, I want to discuss having the right intention when undertaking the work of building up the Body of Christ and over-romanticizing community life. The two are closely related, and when our intentions are misplaced, we can be on dangerous building ground.

Humans are unique in our ability to dream, as we do. We do not merely toil daily for shelter and food, we dream of beauty, we build castles in our minds of how life can be, and we set those ideas in motion. And this is where we can fall terribly due to disappointment. To quote C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters, “In every department of life it [disappointment] marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.”

In the second chapter of The Screwtape Letters, Wormwood, the demon in training, is taking a lesson from Screwtape, his mentor, on the many ways he can use a new Christian’s ideas to tempt him away from the faith. Screwtape explains to Wormwood that the neophyte he is responsible for bringing to ruin has ideas about what “real” Christians ought to be–even down to the clothes they wear. He further explains that the new Christian will be continually disappointed and the more he knows of the ordinary sinfulness of the folks in the pew, the better.

Unfortunately, this isn’t something that only plagues new Christians. We may outgrow our initial, more shallow ideas of what a Christian is, but there is a good chance we will continue battling our own ideas about what holiness looks like. And the longer we know our fellow Christians, the easier it is to see what we believe to be their sins and faults.

It’s easy to have romantic ideas about Christian community, to think it is the answer to our problems. The reality is, it’s absolutely necessary for Christians but not a cure-all. Community is the place we need to work out our salvation and help others do the same.

The work of building a community of any kind–a parish, a monastery, a marriage, a family–will mean we are in the trenches of sin. We will encounter the reality of fallen mankind but not just in others; we’ll be confronted with our own sins…whether we are ready to deal with them or not. Nothing makes the false images we have of ourselves come crashing down like close relationships. It is easy to love others from afar, not so easy up close!

Thinking back on the many ideas I had before moving close to the monastery where we attend Sunday liturgy is amusing to me now. When we lived in California, we were almost an hour and a half away. Having the monastery in walking distance was a dream we had for many years and are now finally living it in Wisconsin. However, that dream didn’t become a reality without many hitches and quite a few surprises.

I had my own romantic ideas of community life, some which I laugh at now. The move we made across country did not change who any of us are. We all ended up in a new village, and new homes but our relationships did not change. We still had to face issues we ignored before; we still had the same communication issues we always had, we still got on each other’s nerves in the same ways except it was intensified because now we saw each other far more often. Geographic location did not save us from our sinfulness.

Thankfully, we have enough respect and love for one another to put forth the effort of working through those issues. We also have a long history of struggling along the same path together. We are still finding ways to not only live with one another but also thrive and grow together. The love has only deepened.

In seeing some of my dreams about our community crumble, I learned that even though my hopes were good, I was not allowing God to be in charge. I was not open to His will in all things. I could’ve saved myself a lot of frustration in the first couple of years of living by the monastery if I hadn’t built up my own ideas of how things should be and if I hadn’t envisioned all kinds of wonderful plans.

The funny thing is, God has been in charge all along and “surprise, surprise,” His plans have turned out to be far greater than my own. I know this from my life experience: when our stained glass images start to shatter to reveal reality, we tend to get angry and feel we’ve been cheated. If we don’t get over this feeling of entitlement, we will miss the true beauty before us. It may be flawed, but at least it’s real. Too often we want to throw in the towel and walk away from people. If love for Christ and love for others is not our foundation then we will walk away from when things get hard.

We can’t build communities out of fear, vain glory, or selfish motives, neither for high ideals. Those foundations will not stand the tests of time. We also have to stop thinking like consumers.

Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option explains, “American Christians have a bad habit of treating church like a consumer experience. If a congregation doesn’t meet our felt needs, we are quick to find another one that we believe will.” He is right. Consumerism is a part of the Culture of Death. If we are no longer happy with our spouse, don’t want a child who will not be “perfect,” want to end life before it’s time, we will discard life–our own or others. We will consume what we want and walk away from what doesn’t make us happy. The Culture of Death has influenced our lives, even among those of us who are against it. We need to ask ourselves, ‘How has the consumer mentality affected my community, and what can I do to remedy that?’

We need to reflect on the intention behind our relationships and interactions with others. Are we seeking to serve or be served? Are we looking where we can encourage others or nit-pick their faults? Are we seeking to listen and understand or only desire to be heard and have our way? Is love of God and neighbor the foundation of our community and if not how can that be changed?

Over the past 20 years of being part of the small community I belong to, I have seen many people come and go. People who have ideas of what a monk should be, ideas of how Christians should behave, thoughts about families and their place in the church. Unfortunately, some of these people have allowed their ideas to keep them from entering into the life we all share. They’ve missed out on a place of love. It’s a community that is nowhere near perfect and doesn’t claim to be; it is a community built with the right intention, a community built on Christ.

The Intersection of Catholic Faith and Modern Classical Music

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:05
An Interview with Mark Nowakowski

I recently had the opportunity to interview Polish-American maestro Mark Nowakowski, a musician at the frontier of modern classical music, to say nothing of his family’s devotion to their Catholic faith. Mark recently released his new album, “Blood, Forgotten,” performed by the Voxare String Quartet. Here is the transcript of the interview, in which Mark answers some questions about his Catholic faith and how it intersects with his musical compositions.

Nowakowski: Thank you, Justin, for allowing me this wonderful opportunity.

McClain: What is the role of faith for you and your family?

Nowakowski: It is the root, the lens through which everything can be seen and understood. It is the subject of dinner table conversation, and we do our best to pray with the kids every morning and evening. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a Facebook picture of a perfect family. Having two parents working full-time just to make ends meet for the raising of three small children, and having deep and purposeful desires for how we want to educate and form these children, means that we reach the end of every day having failed in our goals and in a state of exhaustion. And if you’re not careful, that exhaustion can become a spiritual exhaustion as well. So part of this role is to allow faith to also help us balance everything and live this current time as well as we can, and to help us find the strength to pursue truth, beauty, goodness, and the paying of bills in a culture designed to shun the former and facilitate the latter.

As to my work, faith is everything. Again, it is the root and the lens, the expression of the echoes of origin and destiny. It is also the means through which aesthetic discernment can be sought, so that you can try to create the works that – as Henryk Gorecki said – people may need, as opposed to the ones that a confused society may want. This is the point at which art can become an authentic vocation.

McClain: How has your heritage as a Polish-American Catholic shaped who you are?

Nowakowski: There is a particular flavor to Polish Catholicism; it drifts a bit eastward while somehow preserving some of the mystery that was lost in so much of the Catholic world from the aesthetic and cultural flattening effects felt after Vatican II. Having John Paul II – my own hero and the source of my conversion – definitely helped, but also the long line of Polish saints from which to draw inspiration. The Polish musical tradition, from its earthy folk music to its deeply ascetic religious songs to its romantic musical and literary traditions, also had a deep formative effect on me which later helped me to discover my authentic voice as a composer.

McClain: What is your favorite piece of classical music, and why?

Nowakowski: That’s almost an impossible question to answer. There has been so much great music written that – almost like the depth of the magisterium – a lifetime does not suffice to experience it all. (That is also why I am generally against our current popular music and entertainment culture; there is too much quality available to give even a single precious moment to artistic mediocrity.) I can’t pick between all of the great medieval and renaissance music out there, while like many composers I’m always returning to the greats – [J.S.] Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – for inspiration and pleasure. Obviously, Chopin’s piano works are vital, as well as the art songs of that era, such as [Robert] Schumann’s “Dictherliebe.” Then there is our great American tradition, from Ives to Barber and everything in between. Perhaps my favorite modern works come from the recently deceased Polish composer Henryk Gorecki, whose iconic and best-selling “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” provided me with the answer to how to move forward with aesthetic authenticity while surrounded by the diktats of academic modernism, while his choral works (which I think belong on every Catholic bookshelf) are a fountain of great peace and repose. (The stunning “Miserere” album, recorded at Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago, remains my favorite album.)

Among those still living, Arvo Pärt exercises a particular influence, especially in his marriage of Christian mysticism and the process of composition, and how this has (despite a hostile culture) still allowed him to become the most performed composer in the world. James MacMillan comes to mind, as well as Pawel Lukaszewski, whose “Via Crucis” may be the first sacred music masterwork of the twenty-first century. To explore all of this beauty is an unending and great joy available to everyone.

McClain: As a composer, how did you come to embrace sacred music?

Nowakowski: I first learned about sacred music – real, authentic Catholic music – in my music history classes as an undergraduate. At that time, I was a lapsed Catholic, and I couldn’t understand how I had attended church for eighteen years and had never heard Gregorian chant, or polyphony, or any of the great sacred masterworks. Eventually, as I returned (or arrived for the first time) to the deep well of Catholicism, I frankly couldn’t stand attending parishes which didn’t understand their own liturgy and had no concern for the aesthetic magisterium. I would later become a parishioner of Saint John Cantius in Chicago, where the marriage of authentic Catholic liturgy and authentic Catholic culture is pursued with both verve and great humility. It is really something to experience midnight Mass with Mozart, or to hear some of the great polyphony written by underground composers during the Elizabethan persecutions, or the full repertory of plainsong. It is equally gratifying to watch the effects of this combined religious and aesthetic formation on the young people there, who are growing up suffused in such authenticity and quality and sometimes not realizing how lucky they are. As for myself, I knew that my meaning as a composer was to be found as a part of this tradition.

Yet most of my music isn’t strictly “sacred” music, because authentic sacred art is that which is applied to the liturgy. Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for living composers in the Church recently, though there are signs of this situation slowly improving. However, religious music, or music emerging from religious experience and fervor, is quite potent and common, and I can easily say that everything I have written in my career is religious in nature, simply because I am a religious person for whom the act of composition is an act of contemplation and prayer. My greatest hope is, whether the listener is encountering something simple (like a short choral work) or something much more aesthetically difficult (like one of my string quartets), that they can join in the contemplation from which these works emerged.

McClain: Why does the Church need to value sacred music now more than ever?

Nowakowski: Because it is our great treasure, because it is authentically Catholic, because our children deserve nothing less, and because the New Evangelization is absolutely dead in the water if we don’t leave pedestrian artistic expressions at the church door and instead embrace a full flowering of authentic Catholic culture. We’re likely entering a new cultural dark age, Justin, and I wouldn’t be alone in surmising that Western civilization is circling the drain at an alarming and increasing rate. During the last Dark Age, Catholic communities became centers for not only maintaining, but creating, authentic beauty. However long this new cultural malaise lasts, this is what we have to do now. I will be frank: one shouldn’t pick one’s parish because it has better music. That being said, if one’s parish is pursuing actual Catholicism, it will have better music. And if it doesn’t have the resources to hire musicians and pursue polyphony, it will at least have chant at the heart of its liturgy, because its leadership will know that this music has “pride of place” in our liturgy, and that it is supremely practical for the parish of humble means to pursue. Knowing these things, I must admit to retching in my soul every time I attend a Catholic church where I am forced to participate in a guitar-led “all are welcome” farce. Such expressions of liturgical music are not Catholic, they are culturally limited rather than universally humble, they are against the specific wishes of the Catholic Church regarding liturgical music, and they’re worth about as much as that monstrous tie-dyed tapestry hanging where an icon or real altar once stood.

James Flood, the founder of the Foundation for Sacred Arts, once taught me something that changed my life as an artist: the Church is not a blank aesthetic canvas upon which to impress my own opinions. Rather, Mother Church has asked for something in particular where sacred art and music are concerned, and that is what we should be pursuing.

McClain: Tell us about your new album, just released.

Nowakowski: This is a long project finally coming to fruition. The fantastic Voxare [String] Quartet from New York City has released a recording on the Naxos label, the largest distributor of classical music in the world, and a wonderful champion of new music. It features some of my string works that have something in common with Polish culture and history. The title work, “Blood, Forgotten,” is a searing multimedia memorial to the victims of World War II in Poland. The first string quartet – “Songs of Forgiveness” – draws from both folk songs and my own spiritual musings. The second quartet – “Grandfather Songs” – is really an homage to the passing Solidarność generation in Poland, as well as the great cultural foundation which made their accomplishments possible, while also being a nostalgic reflection on the blessings of my childhood. The final piece on the album – “O Sleep for Me, Sleep” – is a setting of an ancient lullaby which I put together after the birth of my first child. Voxare plays this music better than I could ever hope for, and I am beyond satisfied with the production quality of the entire effort. I think that this is highly serious music that nevertheless extends a hand to the casual listener, giving them a chance to enter into such a deeper musical experience. I’ve gotten humbling and wonderful feedback on this album from a variety of listeners, letting me hope that a diverse audience can really get something valuable from our efforts. I’d be thrilled if your listeners gave it a chance.

McClain: And your forthcoming book, In Pursuit of Beauty: A Catholic Examination of the Arts and Aesthetics?

Nowakowski: I’m working on the final draft right now, and hope to submit it to publishers before the year is out. Essentially, I have discovered for myself that there has been very little written about beauty and aesthetics in the history of the Church. This is probably because the Church has been simply so active in pursuing authentic Catholic art over the millennia, that such a conversation wasn’t really necessary. Yet after a century of rupture and the rise of modernism and populism, we are left confused and in need of an aesthetic reassessment. In the book, I begin with the question of what beauty actually is from the perspective of the great Catholic mystics, and build an exploration of Catholic aesthetics from there. The book also strives to express a grand, but also practical, vision of how to move forward with continuing our great tradition in modern times. Hopefully, when it is done, we can talk about it again together.

McClain: The Church needs more Catholic artists. Why is art – whether visual or performing – in the Catholic tradition so critical to the transmission of faith?

Nowakowski: All you have to do is look at those parishes which have embraced full Catholicity (including their artistic and especially liturgical lives), and you will see vibrant centers of faith, creativity, learning, and charity. What does the world have in comparison to our great aesthetic magisterium? It offers reality television, short thrill music, and the kind of “canned” culture that author Michael O’Brien so ably describes. It is cheap and shallow, though it is made with incredible gloss and finish and cannot be competed with for its short-attention-span appeal. We shouldn’t imitate it or bring it into our churches. We should, rather, be authentically Catholic and offer the world a radically different and superior choice. I think that some will accuse me of over-stating the importance of artistic expression in the Church’s life. I would invite them to read Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Artists (1999), or heed the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who described how martyrdom and artistic expression were the two most powerful witnesses of Catholic truth. God is calling many talented young men and women to become artists for his sake, and any parish embracing and encouraging their efforts will be the richer for it.

McClain: What is your favorite scriptural passage, and why? Also, from the perspective of a Catholic composer, what are signs of hope that you have observed in today’s Church?

Nowakowski: This is probably a very common pick, but Psalm 23 has always spoken to me as both a Catholic in a hostile culture and a composer in an indifferent culture. It reminds me that the Lord is our sustainer, and always leads me to Psalm 46:11 – “Be still, and know that I am the Lord” – and 1 Corinthians 3, where “it is the Lord that grants the increase” (v. 6). It reminds me also to be grateful not only for occasional successes, but also for the more common privilege of the struggle, because the one we struggle for is worth every sacrifice.

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:02

Q:  I know that Pope John Paul II had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa. Please explain how this devotion came about.

Pope John Paul II visited the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa on his first trip to Poland in 1979. He said, “The call of a son of Poland to the Cathedral of St. Peter contains an evident and strong link with this holy place, with this Shrine of great hope: Totus tuus (“I am all yours”), I had whispered in prayer so many times before this Image” (June 4, 1979).

The devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa centers on the icon of our Blessed Mother. Painted on wood, the icon itself depicts Mary pointing with her right hand and holding the Infant Jesus in her left; technically, this depiction of the Blessed Mother is identified in iconography as Hodegetria. As in other icons, Jesus looks like a small man held by his Mother, an imagery that reminds the faithful that Jesus is fully mature in His divine nature. Over time, due to exposure to devotional candles, the image has darkened, and consequently, Our Lady of Czestochowa is also known as the “Black Madonna.”

As to its origins, tradition holds that St. Luke painted the icon on a wooden table top made by St. Joseph, which Mary had kept when she moved to Ephesus and lived under the care of St. John the Apostle. Remember St. Luke included in his Gospel details of the annunciation, visitation, Christmas, the presentation in the Temple and the finding in the Temple, which were not included in the other Gospels and which he must have learned from Mary herself. St. Helena is credited with finding the icon in the early 300s. Theodore Lector (c. 530) mentioned the existence of the Hodegetria icon being in a church in Constantinople before the year 450.

In 988, the icon came into possession of Princess Anna, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Basil II and the wife of St. Vladimir of Kiev (c. 975-1015), who had converted and became the first Christian ruler of Russia. In 1382, Prince Ladislaus Opolczyk took the icon to his castle in Belz. Later, he decided to transfer the icon to his birthplace, the city of Opala. On the way there, he and his companions stopped and spent the night at Czestochowa, a city in south central Poland on the Warta River. The next day, the horses hitched to the wagon carrying the icon refused to move, which Prince Ladislaus interpreted as a miraculous sign that the icon should remain in Czestochowa. He thereupon entrusted the icon to the care of the Paulite monks (the Order of Hermits of St. Paul), who had a monastery on Jasna Gora (the hill of light) overlooking the city. In 1386, King Jagiella (a.k.a. Wladyslaw II) built a more beautiful shrine church for the monastery. The first reports of miracles surrounding veneration of the icon date to 1402. About this same time, the faithful began to call Mary, “Healer of the Sick, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Poland.” Soon, hundreds of pilgrims came to venerate the icon and to implore the prayers of our Blessed Mother.

For this reason, in 1430, Hussites (heretical followers of John Hus who denounced devotion to the Blessed Mother and any veneration of icons) attacked the shrine. One of the Hussites desecrated the icon with his sword, making three cuts on the Blessed Mother’s right cheek. After making the last cut, the Hussite collapsed and died. Actually, this incident promoted even greater devotion to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

In 1655, King Charles Gustavus of Sweden invaded Poland with his armies and conquered most of the country. The Swedes were followed by the Russians and Tartars who also occupied parts of Poland. However, when an army of 2,000 Swedes attacked the monastery at Czestochowa, the Paulite monks repelled them and credited their success to the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This victory transformed the war into a fight for the faith: the Catholics against the Swedish Lutherans, the Orthodox Russians and Muslim Tartars. Trusting in the Blessed Mother’s protection, the Poles were invigorated. King Jan Casimir on May 3, 1556, declared to Our Lady of Czestochowa, “I, Jan Casimir, King of Poland, take thee as Queen and Patroness of my Kingdom. I place my people and my army under your protection.” Victory was at hand. Since then Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, has been a symbol of Polish nationalism, patriotism and religious liberty. Faith and patriotism were seen as inseparable and “For Faith and Fatherland” became their rallying cry.

On September 14, 1920, the feast of the Holy Cross, the Russian army was poised at the Vistula River, ready to invade Poland. Tradition holds that the Russians saw a vision of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the sky and retreated. This incident is known as the “Miracle at the Vistula.”

During the Nazi and Communist occupations, the government banned pilgrimages to the shrine and imposed severe penalties for any violation. Nevertheless, millions of the faithful continued to take the risk to honor Our Lady of Czestochowa.

On August 26, 1982, the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Pope John Paul II celebrated the 600th anniversary of the arrival and veneration of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. From his chapel at Castel Gandolofo, which has an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa on the main altar, he preached a special message to his Polish compatriots, who at that time were struggling for independence from communist tyranny:

My dear compatriots! However difficult the lives of Poles may be this year, may consciousness win in you that this life is embraced by the Heart of the Mother. As she won in Maximilian Kolbe, Knight of the Immaculate, so may she win in you. May the Mother’s heart win! May the Lady of Jasna Gora win in us and through us! May she win even through our afflictions and defeats. May she ensure that we shall not desist from trying and struggling for truth and justice, for liberty and dignity in our lives. Do not Mary’s words, “Do as He (my Son) tells you,” mean this too? May power be fully manifested in weakness, according to the words of the Apostle of the Gentiles and according to the example of our compatriot, Father Maximilian Kolbe. Queen of Poland, I am near you, I remember you, I watch!

(This article is courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

“In every Holy Communion, we

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:00

“In every Holy Communion, we taste the supernal sweetness of the divinely communicated life as it pours itself out in tidal waves of supernatural strength and the limitless riches of Christ’s blessings.”

-Fr. John A. Kane, Transforming Your Life Through the Eucharist

In the first reading, St. Paul seems to

Wed, 06/21/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, St. Paul seems to be singing his own praises. This was because he loved his catechumens so much and he was protecting them from those who would try to preach to them another gospel. The true teacher of faith is very protective of his disciples or converts because he feels responsible for their spiritual well-being. He has preached the Good News to them with no ulterior motive except to help them to receive salvation in Jesus Christ. Now he must make sure that they are not side-tracked in their desire for holiness. We are also called to be responsible for those who are under us – at home, in the workplace, in the parish, etc. We are called to be responsible for others, esp. those in need of our guidance and love.

As St. Paul was a spiritual father to his disciples and converts, we are also called to be “father” to others. But before everything else, we must truly believe that God is our Father. We must have experienced the loving and providential care of God in order to be able to pray the Our Father. We must also believe that God is aware of all that happens to us and is taking care of us even if things do not seem to be going very smoothly.

If God is our Father, then surely he wants us to be happy as all fathers would like to happen to their children. Also, a child of God desires that God be truly worshipped and adored. He has experienced God’s forgiveness for his sins and so he shares this forgiveness with others. He wants others to experience the fatherhood of God.

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.