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St. Augustine of Canterbury

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 22:00

The sixth-century bishop St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 605) is famous for his missionary work in England. (He is not to be confused with St. Augustine of Hippo, the great Church thinker of the fourth century.) Augustine was the prior or abbot of a monastery in Rome. In 596 the Pope, St. Gregory the Great, chose him to lead a group of thirty monks on a missionary journey to England. (There were some scattered Christian communities there, but the land as a whole was still predominantly Anglo-Saxon and pagan.)

Augustine’s group set out, but on reaching France, heard terrifying stories of the treacherous waters of the English Channel and the ferocious temperament of the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine hurried back to confer with the pope, but Gregory reassured him that his fears were groundless, and sent him back on his way.

The missionaries arrived in England in 597. King Ethelbert, a pagan married to a Christian, received them kindly, and their work flourished. On Pentecost Sunday the king was baptized, along with many of his subjects. Augustine journeyed briefly to France, where he was consecrated a bishop, and then returned to England, establishing his see, or diocese, in Canterbury. The see at Canterbury continued to prosper, and additional dioceses were later established at London and Rochester.

Not all of Augustine’s efforts were successful; his attempts to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon converts and the original Christian inhabitants of England failed, and for a time the missionaries’ work progressed slowly. By the time of St. Augustine’s death in 605, however, a solid foundation for England’s later widespread conversion to Christianity had been established.

Lessons

1. Even saints can be reluctant to fulfill their mission; St. Augustine had to be encouraged by the pope, who helped him overcome his fears by telling him, “He who would climb to a lofty height must go by steps, not leaps.”

2. God is able to use us in spite of our weaknesses and failures, as long as we’re willing to let His grace work in and through us.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Bede the Venerable (735), Priest, Doctor

St. John I (526), Pope, Martyr

Why Do Catholics Have a Devotion to Mary?

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:07

All relationships, of course, are a two-way street. They require something from us — phone calls and visits, acts of thoughtfulness, time spent together. They demand that that we give something of ourselves to the other. In our relationship with Mary, she helps give new life to our souls, prays for us, and provides us with what we need to grow in grace. In return, she deserves our honor and love, just as our earthly mothers do. She deserves our devotion.

To make sure we’re all on the same page, I want to spend a little time explaining what I mean by devotion. The word can have more than one meaning, and the Church uses Latin terms to help us distinguish between the kind of devotion we give to Mary and the kind of devotion we give only to God. These words are dulia and latria.

Latria basically means adoration. Traditionally, it refers to the worship and homage that we give to God and God alone. When we adore God, we acknowledge him as an excellent, perfect, uncreated, divine person. We give him what he alone, as God, is due.

Dulia is very different. Essentially, dulia means love and honor; that is, praising the excellence of a created person. We see this particular kind of honoring every day, when, for example, people are recognized for their achievements in sports, academics, and the arts. But we never think that honoring a baseball player goes against or takes away from the adoration we give to God.

Now, Catholics believe that we should not only honor those who excel in the things of this world, but that we should also honor those who excel in the things of the spiritual world (for example, in their devotion to God, their obedience to his will, and their charity to others). That’s why we honor the saints — men and women who, during their earthly life, excelled in their pursuit of holiness. Honoring the saints does not detract from God any more than honoring athletes does. In fact, when we honor saints, we are honoring God, too, for it is by his gifts, and for his glory, that saints are able to excel in holiness in the first place. When we praise those who spent their life pursuing an intimate union with God, we ultimately praise God, who is both the giver and the object of that love.

Now, if it’s fitting to venerate those who have achieved spiri­tual excellence, isn’t it even more fitting to venerate the woman who achieved it to the highest degree: the woman whom Jesus chose to become his mother in the order of nature and our mother in the order of grace? Of course it is. And in recognition of Mary’s pre-eminent holiness, the special recognition we give to Mary is called hyperdulia: the greatest amount of honor we can give to any created person.

Again, this special veneration of Mary is completely different from, and inferior to, the adoration we give to God. We adore God and only God, and since Mary is not God, we don’t adore her. It’s as simple as that. Don’t get confused if you happen to see the ex­pression “worship of Mary” in an old Catholic book. The English language is flexible, and the word worship in many of those old books can mean either hyperdulia or latria. In reference to Mary, though, it never means the kind of adoration due to God alone.

The Catholic Church, in fact, strictly and expressly prohibits the adoration of Mary as divine. Still, because of who Mary is, what she did during her earthly life, and what she continues to do in eternal life, she is more deserving of veneration than any other created creature — man or angel — that ever will exist. That’s why the term hyperdulia is used to describe only the type of honor we give to Mary.

Higher than the Angels

This article is from a chapter in Meet Mary. Click image to preview other chapters.

Let’s go into a little more detail on why Mary merits her own unique level of veneration.

As the Catholic Church understands it, there are three fundamental reasons Mary deserves a higher level of devotion than all other holy men, women, and angels.

The first reason is that God chose to give Mary a fullness of grace. From the first moment of her conception, Mary possessed the fullness of grace — the fullness of life — that God originally intended all men and women to possess. Free from Original Sin, she passed on her own immaculate human nature to her son, Jesus. This can’t be said of any other created person. All of the other saints the Church honors, and all of the men and women whose holiness only God knows, received a great deal of grace in their lifetimes, certainly, but they never received the fullness of grace. They were all born with fallen natures, and only a nature free from all stain of sin can possess that fullness. Mary alone was given that privilege. Her possession of such a singular gift makes her deserving of a singular type of devotion.

Second, and more significant, Mary alone had the privilege of being the mother of God, of Jesus Christ. She was the one who gave flesh to the “Word made Flesh.” She was the one who carried him in her womb and watched him day by day as he grew “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Because she was ever in his presence, Mary’s relationship with Jesus was entirely different from the relationship that any other person has ever had with him. Only Mary had an interior and essential role in Jesus’ taking on flesh and becoming our redeemer. Only Mary had a physically and spiritually intrinsic role in the Incarnation. All other men and women, even St. Joseph, no matter how closely as­sociated with the Incarnation, had only an external relationship with God becoming man for the sake of our salvation. This uniqueness cannot be underestimated. To underestimate the role of Mary in God’s becoming man is, in fact, to underestimate the significance of God’s becoming man.

The third reason Catholics believe Mary deserves a greater de­gree of veneration than all other creatures is her obedience. The words Mary uttered at the Annunciation, she also uttered with her heart every day of her life. “Let it be to me according to your word” was not just a one-time deal with Mary. She lived all of her years on earth in perfect obedience to the Father. His will was her will. Sustained by his grace, Mary perfectly modeled a life of virtue. She still models that for all believers. She shows us what it means to surrender ourselves and receive everything as a gift from God. She shows us the path to true freedom, true happiness, true life. And for that, too, she deserves a devotion like no other.

Because God gave Mary such an important role in the story of our salvation, devotion to Mary should not be an arbitrary or ex­traordinary thing. It should just be a normal part of the faith life of all believers.

Editor’s note: This article has been adapted from a chapter in Dr. Miravalle’s Meet Mary: Getting to Know the Mother of God and is available from Sophia Institute Press. Image credit: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Solemnity of the Ascension

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:05

The celebration of the Ascension used to leave me a bit flat.  It was clear what Good Friday did for me.  And Easter Sunday’s benefits were indisputable.  But as for the Ascension, what’s in it for me?

Christianity is about a kind of love we call agape or charity.  It is love that looks away from itself to another and gives itself away for another.  The Divine Word did not become man or endure the cross because something was in it for Him.

Charity shares in the beloved’s joys and sorrows (Jn 14:28).  The first thing to remember about the Ascension is that it is about sharing in Jesus’ joy.  It is about celebrating his return to the heavenly glory to which he refused to cling (Phil 2:6-11).  It is about rejoicing that his crown of thorns has been replaced with the kingly crown, that the mocking crowd at Calvary has been replaced with myriads of adoring angels.  The Ascension is about Jesus’s triumph and glorification. If we get our attention off ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit’s love of the Son to animate our souls, we’ll experience greater joy than when we see our child hit a home run or graduate from college.

But the Ascension is not just about charity.  It is also a feast of hope.  Yes, there is something in it for us.  He goes to prepare a place for us (Jn. 14:2).  We will also one day wear crowns made of gold instead of thorns.

For us to endure until that blessed moment, we need divine power.  That’s another reason we ought to rejoice in his Ascension.  He takes his place at God’s right hand so that he can pour out the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, upon his disciples (Eph. 4:10).

As he ascends, he tells the disciples to wait for this power.  But notice that he does not tell them to wait passively for the rapture.  He does not instruct them to pour over Bible prophecies, debating about how and when he will return.  In fact in Acts 1:11, after the Lord ascends out of their sight, the angels ask why the disciples just stand there, staring into space.

The waiting is not to be a squandering of precious time.  It is waiting for a purpose, nine days of prayer (the first novena!) leading to empowerment.  Why empowerment?  Because they have challenging work to do.  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”   (Matt. 28: 16-20).

We used to think that evangelization was something that happened in mission countries far away, carried out by priests and religious.  But the Second Vatican Council told us that our own neighborhoods are mission territory, and that every single Catholic is called to be an evangelist.  Pope John Paul II proclaimed this as the “New Evangelization” because the place is new–right next door–and the missionaries are new since they include all us all.

I’m really not sure that St. Francis of Assisi ever said “Preach the Gospel always; when necessary, use words.”  But if he did, note this–Francis often thought it very necessary to use words.  His words could be heard in marketplaces, on street-corners, in Churches, wherever there were people.  Of course, preaching without an authentic witness of life is certainly counterproductive.  But forget about the idea that just the witness of our lives is enough.  It is not.  You may not called to preach on street corners, but Vatican II and subsequent popes, echoing 1 Pet 3:15, say that we all must be ready  to articulate what Jesus has done for us, what he means to us, and why he is the answer to the world’s problems.

Feel inadequate to the task?  You’re in good company. Benedict XVI’s first public statement was an admission of his inadequacy.  Do as he did–pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to move in and through you, and take the time to keep learning more about your faith so that you can share it with ever greater confidence.

image: Renata Sedmakova / Shutterstock.com

Scripture Speaks: The Ascension of Our Lord

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:02

Ascension Sunday presents a paradox:  Jesus leaves His apostles for Heaven, but He assures them He is always with them.  What kind of departure was this?

Gospel (Read Mt 28:16-20)

Today’s Gospel records the end of Jesus’ forty days of post-Resurrection appearances and teaching.  The account of what actually happened during those days is quite spare.  We know that although Jesus appeared to His friends, His relationship with them was not as it had been before.  He appeared and disappeared.  He was often not immediately recognizable.  Things had changed.  As we work our way through today’s readings, we see that an even bigger change was about to take place.

As Jesus prepares to depart for good, He assembles the “eleven disciples” at a mountain in Galilee.  He is now only with His inner circle of companions.  Interestingly, we see a combination of faith (“they worshipped”) and doubt.  Does this surprise us?  It shouldn’t.  In fact, this detail should strengthen our confidence that this is a truly honest, human account of what happened that day.  Aren’t all of us, as we follow Jesus, curious admixtures of faith and doubt from time to time?

Jesus then makes a statement that is either true, or, if false, marks Him as a lunatic:  “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Mt 28:18).  Of course, a Man Who has come back from the dead can reasonably make a claim like this.  What does He want His disciples to do, in view of His great power?  He wants them to go out to “all nations” and make more disciples.  They are to offer the blessing of baptism, which washes away sin and initiates the believer into life in Christ.  They are to teach believers to obey all that He had taught them.  In other words, they are to preach a life of faith and the good works that issue from that faith to all the families of the earth.  The scope of this plan recalls the promise God made to Abraham to bless the whole world through him (see Gen. 12:3).  What an expansive mission!

Think about what this plan must have sounded like to the Eleven gathered there.  They were a motley crew of mostly uneducated and certainly non-influential men—fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot, etc.   It is doubtful any of them had ever left the boundaries of their own nation.  Were these men ready to change the world?  Surely this scenario was far beyond their ability even to imagine.

Fortunately, Jesus said something else that made all the difference:  “And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).  The apostles could justifiably been confused at this point.  Was He leaving or staying?  How could He be departing and yet promise to be with them?  We will need to examine our other readings for more on this story.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, when I doubt You can use me to spread Your kingdom, help me remember that You started with just eleven disciples.

First Reading (Read Acts 1:1-11)

The first verse of this reading tells us that its author, St. Luke, wants to continue a story he began in his “first book,” the Gospel of St. Luke.  That book was devoted to a careful account of “all that Jesus did and taught until the day He was taken up” (Acts 1:1).  This book (Acts) will show us how Jesus could both depart from and yet remain with His followers.  The lesson begins with today’s reading.

We remember that even before His Passion and Resurrection, Jesus promised the apostles that Someone Else was coming.  Now He tells them explicitly not to try to get started on their mission to “all nations” right away.  They must wait for that Someone Else:  “John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).  The apostles’ first question about this event revealed them to be focused on the wrong thing (again):  “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  It was not unreasonable for the apostles to be curious about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, as this was a Messianic hope of long-standing for the Jews.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for their interest in David’s kingdom, but rather for their desire to know when it will happen.  Jesus wants them instead to focus on their own work of being His witnesses:  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Ironically, this work He gives them will actually bring about the restoration and fulfillment of the kingdom they earnestly seek.  In due time, they will learn that this kingdom, as Jesus had told them earlier, is not of this world.  The kingdom Jesus rules is not political; it is not confined to the borders of Israel.  Through the preaching of the Gospel, Jews of all the tribes of Israel would find their way to it, as would Gentiles.  His kingdom is the universal Church, spread out everywhere, “to the ends of the earth.”

Then, as the apostles were “looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him from their sight” (Acts 1:9).  What does this mean?  It helps to understand the symbolic significance of the “cloud” Jesus entered.  It reminds us of the Transfiguration, when we get a glimpse of the glorified Jesus.  It reminds us, too, of the “overshadowing” cloud of God’s presence in the worship of the Old Testament Tabernacle, filling the Holy of Holies as God and man met.  That same cloud of God’s presence led the people of Israel to the Promised Land.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us,

This reference to the cloud is unambiguously theological language.  It represents Jesus’ departure not as a journey to the stars, but as His entry into the mystery of God.  It evokes an entirely different order of magnitude, a different dimension of being… He enters into communion of power and life with the living God, into God’s dominion over space.  Hence, He has not gone away, but now and forever by God’s own power He is present with us and for us. (Jesus of Nazareth:  Holy Week, Ignatius Press, pgs 282-283, emphasis added)

Now we get it!  Jesus’ departure has only been a departure from our mode of existence.  It is not cosmic but metaphysical.  That is how He can be gone and yet still with us.  In promising the apostles to send the Holy Spirit, He promises not only this new kind of presence with us but also a share in the great power of which He spoke in the Gospel reading.  Did the apostles grasp this?

Not exactly.  We see them staring off into space, probably trying to take it all in.  Two angels caution them against “standing there looking at the sky” (Acts 1:11).  Jesus has ascended into His rightful power and authority, having finished His earthly work for our Redemption.  The apostles will not have to stare at the sky to see Him return in power (the meaning of the “cloud”).  They will see Him return in power very soon—on the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus reigns on His throne now!

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, it is a mystery to me how You can be gone and yet entirely present to me always.  Help me believe it.

Psalm (Read Ps 47:1-2, 5-8)

It is impossible to read through this psalm without wanting to “clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness” (Ps 47:1).  It expresses the jubilant praise of God’s people for the victory won by Jesus and His ascent to His rightful place of power and authority at God’s right hand.  Ascension Sunday is the day for us to celebrate our God’s reign over all creation.  The challenge for us now, of course, is to believe this is true.  When we look around us, sometimes it is hard to see that Jesus, the King, is now establishing, expanding, and strengthening His kingdom on earth.  Believe it!  Let this psalm be our antidote to doubt.  Sing out the response with all your heart on this day:  “God mounts His throne to shouts of joy:  a blare of trumpets for the Lord!”

Possible response:  King Jesus, reign over me today.

Second Reading (Read Eph 1:17-23)

Read these verses carefully, and feel St. Paul straining to find language adequate to explain the dramatic, superabundant implications of our Lord’s Ascension into heaven.  This is actually St. Paul’s prayer for his convert friends in Ephesus (and for us, too).  What does he most desire for them?  He wants them to ponder deeply, with the help of God, “the hope that belongs to [God’s] call, what are the riches of His glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe” (Eph 1:18).  This is exactly what we need on Ascension Day!  We need to feel St. Paul’s urgency over the difference it makes for our daily lives that Jesus is now seated on His throne, ruling over the world through His Church, “which is His Body, the fullness of the One Who fills all things in every way” (Eph 1:23).  St. Paul will not allow us to think of the Ascension as simply a line in the Creed we recite at Mass.  In every way he knows how, he wants to point us toward the hope, the riches, and the power that belong to us now because of the Ascension.  May his prayer for us become our own, for ourselves and all the Church, today and always.

Possible response:  Father, please grant me the understanding for which St. Paul prayed.  My problems seem much smaller when I remember that Jesus is on His throne.

image: volkova natalia / Shutterstock.com

In the first reading, God assures Paul

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:00

In the first reading, God assures Paul of his presence and support in his missionary work, “Do not be afraid … I am with you.”

In the Gospel reading, Jesus assures his disciples of his continuing presence and support, even after he has left them. Indeed, in reality he was not leaving them: he continues to be for them at the right hand of the Father in heaven: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.”

Today is the memorial of St. Philip Neri, Priest and founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. In his time, like St. Paul in the early Church, St. Philip Neri “filled the people of Rome with new ardor and re-evangelized the city.”

Jesus assured his disciples of his continuing presence and guidance. He tells them that, working for him and with him in preaching the Good News, they will be filled with joy. Though St. Paul and St. Philip Neri encountered many problems and much opposition in their ministry, they remained joyful in their love and service of Christ and the Good News.

We pray that we, too, in whatever tasks we have in living and preaching Christ and the Good News, may remain joyful in the Lord, confident of his presence and his help.

Quote of the Day

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:00

“The joy that God takes in every man, the magnanimity with which He sets him free should teach us, for God has granted us the privilege of being His image.”

-Romano Guardini, Learning the Virtues.

St. Philip Neri

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 22:00

The Italian priest St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) greatly contributed to the spiritual reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century. He was born in Florence to a wealthy family, and after receiving a good education, was apprenticed to a relative with a flourishing business which Philip was intended to inherit.

However, after having a mystical experience, Philip decided to devote himself entirely to religious matters. He went to Rome to study philosophy and theology, and supported himself by tutoring. Saddened by the immoral state of the city, Philip formed a group of young men who met regularly for prayer, study, and recreation. This “oratory” (named after the upper room where they met) was unique in combining a quest for virtue with laughter and an enjoyment of life. In 1551 Philip, at the urging of his confessor, was ordained a priest. He soon made a name for himself as a confessor, for he had the gift of reading hearts, and was gentle and friendly with penitents.

Philip continued his work with young men, several of whom were ordained priests; with their help, he established an order called the Congregation of the Oratory. There was some opposition to the Oratory, for people were suspicious of a group in which laymen were actively involved, and in which the members enjoyed themselves while serving God and His people; nonetheless, Philip and his followers continued to influence many people through their example. Because of the great spiritual renewal that resulted from his efforts, St. Philip Neri was called “the Apostle of the city of Rome.” He died in 1595, and was canonized in 1622.

Lessons

1. Religion doesn’t have to be a somber and unpleasant experience. As St. Philip Neri realized, faith and virtue can be combined with humor and a wholesome enjoyment of life — for life is meant to be a gift from God, not a burden to be endured.

2. St. Philip showed that holiness is both possible and practical. He emphasized that all Catholics — not only priests and religious — have a role to play in the life of the Church, for one of the ways we glorify God while also growing in grace is by using the gifts He has given us.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Eleutherius (188), Pope, Martyr

Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord: Forty Days After Easter

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 02:35
Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord

Forty Days After Easter

Presence of God – O Jesus, who ascended into heaven, grant that I, too, may live there in spirit.

MEDITATION

The central idea in the liturgy today is the raising of our hearts toward heaven, so that we may begin to dwell in spirit where Jesus has gone before us. “Christ’s Ascension,” says St. Leo, “is our own ascension; our body has the hope of one day being where its glorious Head has preceded it” (Roman Breviary). In fact, Our Lord had already said in His discourse after the Last Supper, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I shall go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself; that where I am, you also may be” (John 14:2,3). The Ascension is, then, a feast of joyful hope, a sweet foretaste of heaven. By going before us, Jesus our Head has given us the right to follow Him there some day, and we can even say with St. Leo, “In the person of Christ, we have penetrated the heights of heaven” (Roman Breviary). As in Christ Crucified we die to sin, as in the risen Christ we rise to the life of grace, so too, we are raised up to heaven in the Ascension of Christ. This vital participation in Christ’s mysteries is the essential consequence of our incorporation in Him. He is our Head; we, as His members, are totally dependent upon Him and intimately bound to His destiny. “God, who is rich in mercy,” says St. Paul, “for His exceeding charity wherewith He loved us … hath quickened us together in Christ … and hath raised us up … and hath made us sit together in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). Our right to heaven has been given us, our place is ready; it is for us to live in such a way that we may occupy it some day. Meanwhile, we must actualize the beautiful prayer which the liturgy puts on our lips: “Grant, O almighty God, that we, too, may dwell in spirit in the heavenly mansions” (Collect). “Where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Matthew 6:21), Jesus said one day. If Jesus is really our treasure, our heart cannot be anywhere but near Him in heaven. This is the great hope of the Christian soul, so beautifully expressed in the hymn for Vespers: “O Jesus, be the hope of our hearts, our joy in sorrow, the sweet fruit of our life” (Roman Breviary).

COLLOQUY

O my God, O my Jesus, You are going away and leaving us! Oh! what joy there will be in heaven! But we have to remain here on earth. O eternal Word, what has Your creature done for You, that You should do so much for him and then ascend into heaven to glorify him even more? Tell me, what has he done for You, that You should love him so much? What has he given You? What do You look for in him? You love him so much that You give Yourself to him, You who are all things, and besides whom there is nothing. You want from him his entire will and intellect because when he gives them to You, he gives You all that he has. O infinite Wisdom, O supreme Good, O Love, O Love so little known, little loved, and possessed by so few! Oh! our ingratitude, cause of every evil! O Purity, so little known and so little desired! O my Spouse, now that You are in heaven, seated at the right hand of the eternal Father, create in me a pure heart and renew a right spirit within me” (St. Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi).

Alas! how long this exile is, O Lord, and how the desire to see You makes it seem longer still! O Lord, what can an imprisoned soul do?… I want to please You. Behold me, Lord! If I have to live longer in order to serve You further, I refuse none of the crosses which may await me on earth. But alas, Lord, alas! These are but words; I am capable of nothing else. Permit my desires, at least, to have some value in Your sight, O my God, and do not regard my lack of merit!

Ah! my works are poor, my God, even if I could perform many! Then why should I remain in this life, so full of misery? Only to do Your will. Could I do anything better than that? Hope, therefore, my soul, hope. Watch carefully, for you know not the day nor the hour. Everything passes quickly, even though your desire makes a short time seem very long. Remember that the more you struggle, the greater the proofs of love you will be giving to your God, and afterward, the more you will enjoy your Beloved in happiness and felicity without end” (Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 15).

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

Art for this post on the Ascension of Our Lord, which takes place forty days after Easter: Ascension of Christ, Benvenuto Tisi da Garofalo, between 1510 and 1520, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.

About Dan Burke

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

 

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

The Ascension and Our Journey Home

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 22:07

The Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord oftentimes is an understated event in the Church’s liturgical year. We profess the reality of this historical and supernatural event each Sunday as we profess the Creed. It is a significant event, in fact, it is the climax before He sends the Paraclete. In returning to the Father, Jesus leads us into the Father’s presence and forever tears the veil dividing mankind from God. It is through the Ascension in light of the Paschal Mystery that we are able to go home. Our Lord, now sitting at the right hand of the Father, in His Glorified Incarnate form, brings us to the Father. We are now able to enter into the Heavenly sanctuary and behold the Beatific Vision at the end of our holy lives.

The Ascension reminds us this is not our home.

In the glory, awe, mystery, and joy of the Resurrection we celebrate the gift of our salvation. We have been redeemed in Christ. The Lord’s Ascension reminds us that earth is our temporary home. We are sojourners with our gaze fixed on the faraway land. We seek the white shores, the place of peace, eternity with our Beloved. Christ has paved the way for us and He calls each one of us to follow Him back to the Father, so that we may truly rest in the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the “Father’s house,” to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where he, our Head and our Source, has preceded us.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 661

We are now able to follow Christ back to our permanent home in Heaven. We too are called to return to the Father.

Christ intercedes for us through our joys and sorrows.

The path home is an arduous journey. In our struggle to become holy through God’s grace, we will constantly stumble and begin again. The spiritual life is a constant beginning again. St. Francis de Sales reminds us: “It is right that we should begin again every day. There is no better way to complete the spiritual life than to be ever beginning it over again.” In the seemingly mundane experiences of daily life, we can become overburdened and frustrated with our failures in the spiritual life. In reality, Our Lord now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf constantly. Through His grace, we are able to make progress. This progress may not even be obvious to us each day, but bit by bit we continue on the journey home. The point is to begin again and keep our eyes fixed on Christ and His desire to draw us to Him.

Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

CCC 667

We always live in hope.

The Ascension is cause of great joy and hope. The Ascension points to Christ’s kingship and the renewal of the world. We now wait in joyful hope for His glorious return. In a world marred by sin, pain, and suffering we are able to look in hope to our Heavenly home and the end of time. When we read the news, and see violence, pain, suffering, or when we ourselves experience sorrow and suffering, we can look in hope as the Apostles did when Our Lord returned to the Father at the Ascension.  It is because Christ now reigns at the right hand of the Father that we can stand firmly in hope, faith, peace, and charity as the storms of this life rage on around us. The battle is won!

Since the Ascension God’s plan has entered into its fulfillment. We are already at “the last hour.” “Already the final stage of the world is with us, and the renewal of the world is irrevocably under way; it is even now anticipated in a certain real way, for the Church on earth is endowed already with a sanctity that is real but imperfect.” Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs that attend its proclamation by the Church.

CCC 670

This hope does not take us away from our duty to bring the world into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity. It is precisely because we are redeemed and live in the hope of Christ that we must make “disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and bring others to the Eucharistic banquet. We live in an age when many people live in despair and loneliness. They do not know they are made for Heaven. They do not know the joy of Christ and the hope of the Paschal Mystery. It is on this great Solemnity that we once more look to Heaven in hope, pray for the strength to persevere on the journey home, and bring others along the pilgrim way.

How the Lord Works Wonders in the Midst of His People

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 22:05

In the book of Exodus, the Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Before all your people I will perform wonders, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people, among whom you live, shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you (Ex. 34:10). In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus freed the crippled woman from her bondage, and put His adversaries to shame, the crowd rejoiced at the wonders He performed among them (see Lk. 13:10-17). God has done, and continues to do, awesome things with his people.

The miracle of the crippled woman took place in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Everyone in the neighborhood would have gathered on the Lord’s Day to hear about the Law; and the leaders of the synagogue would have taught the people what the Scriptures mean. But here, it is the Lord Himself who teaches: and not only by word, but by deed.

Among God’s chosen people, while he was teaching, Jesus saw a woman, bent over, crippled, and afflicted with a spirit of infirmity. It prevented her for 18 years from standing up straight and looking upward. According to the methods of interpretation used by the Church Fathers, one could understand this miracle and the woman’s illness spiritually as well as literally.

It is man’s nature to stand upright. Unlike the animals, his physical eyes can easily look upward. So too, the eyes of his mind can look upward, toward spiritual things, the things of God. The crippled woman’s bondage caused her to be bent over and forced her to look downward. Man, too, is bent down and in bondage. He is afflicted by the evil in this world, the habits of sin, and the cares and anxieties of worldly things. Bound by his spiritual infirmity, forced to look downward, his eyes look only toward this temporary and fleeting life. Instead of living according to wisdom, reason, and truth, he lives like an animal. He lives according to his base passions of greed, anger, lust, gluttony, and the like.

But God has created us to live not like animals, but like men and women gifted with reason and the grace of the Holy Spirit. In the Psalms, David sings to God, “For man’s inner thought shall bear witness to you, and his meditation shall be a feast to you” (see Septuagint, Ps. 76:10). And again: “I will meditate on all your works, and think about your doings. O God, yours is the way of holiness. Which God is as great as our God?  You are the God who works wonders: you have revealed your power among the nations. By your arm, you have redeemed your people…” (Ps. 77:11-15). In every generation, the Lord continues to perform wonders through His holy people, the Body of Christ; a people redeemed and sanctified in the blood of Christ; a people transformed by the renewal of their minds (cf. Rom. 12:2).

Notice that when Jesus saw the crippled woman, he called her to come to him. Before she could be healed of her infirmity, she had to physically come to him. Before we can be healed from sinfulness, spiritually sick and bent over as we are, we must hear the call of Jesus and come to him. We come to him in prayer, in reading the Scripture, in Confession, and in the Eucharist. We do not come to the Lord through the mind only, or only with the lips, but with the heart and the body. We come to the Lord as a whole person. By entering into the life of the Holy Trinity through Christ, God makes manifest his presence among his people.

After Jesus called the crippled woman, by His word, He announced His will for the woman: “you are delivered from your infirmity.” Here, Jesus revealed Himself not only by His word, but as the Word who has the power and authority to work wonders. He revealed Himself as the same Word that created all things in the beginning. The same God who said, “Let there be light,” now says, “be delivered from your infirmity.”

So, after calling the woman to himself, and announcing his will for her to be healed, Jesus laid his hands on her. It is through his hands that we see the power of God. This story is not only a nice tale from ancient days in some distant land. Even today God performs wonders among us through his Word, and through the hands of His priests. In the liturgy each Sunday, we hear the Word of God: “take, eat, this is my body…drink of this all of you, this is my blood.”

Just as the incarnate Word of God laid His physical hands on the crippled woman for her healing, so too today, in the holy, catholic and apostolic Church, through the physical hands of the priest, Jesus gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist. Through the Word and the hands of the priest, we are delivered from our infirmity, freed to stand upright, joyfully seeing the things of God. In the Melkite Divine Liturgy, after receiving communion, often the priest will say to the faithful, “behold, this that has touched your lips will wash away your iniquities and wipe away all of your sins.”

And what was the woman’s response when she had been healed of the infirmity that she had suffered for 18 years? She glorified God. What do we do after receiving the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the body and blood of the Lord? Let us fill our mouths with praise; let us ask God to keep us in sanctification, that we may sing his glory, and meditate on his holiness all the day. May we let God work His wonders through our way of life. And what wonders God has done and continues to do among His people!

 

Why Holy Water?

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 22:02

Q: A Protestant friend came with me to Mass last Sunday and asked about the Holy Water fonts and why we make the sign of the cross with it when we enter and leave the Church. What answer would you give to her?

Traditionally, we have placed fonts of holy water near the entrances of our churches. This placement and usage corresponds actually to Old Testament Jewish practices of purification: The Book of Leviticus prescribed various ritual purifications using water to remove the “uncleanness” associated, for instance, with coming into contact with a dead body, menstruation, childbirth, or leprosy (cf. Lv 12-15). A person also purified himself with water before entering the Temple precincts, offering prayer and sacrifice, and eating. For this reason, in the Courtyard of the Priests (the area before the actual Temple building) was the Laver, an immense bronze basin filled with water. Here the priests purified their hands and feet before offering sacrifices at the nearby altar, bathed before entering the Temple itself, and also drew water for other purifications prescribed in Jewish rituals. Interestingly, the Qumran community, located near the Dead Sea and responsible for producing the Dead Sea scrolls, also had purification pools for the cleansing not only of external “uncleanness” but also of sin.

We too have fonts filled with holy water for blessings for three reasons: as a sign of repentance of sin, for protection from evil, and as a reminder of our Baptism. The repentance of sin symbolized in the washing with water is reflected in Psalm 50: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. Cleanse me of sin with hyssop that I may be purified; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (3-4, 9). (Hyssop is a small bush used for sprinkling water). Remember too how St. John the Baptizer called all to conversion and used a ritual washing of water to signify the repentance of sin and purification.

These actions have been incorporated into our own Mass. In the Penitential Rite, one of the options is the Asperges, which includes the Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling with holy water. As the priest passes through the congregation sprinkling them with the holy water, they customarily chant the Asperges Me, which is based on Psalm 50. In all these actions, each person again makes an act of repentance of sin.

Second, the holy water protects us against evil. In the prayer of blessing of water in the Sacramentary, we read: “Lord, God Almighty, creator of all life, of body and soul, we ask you to bless this water: as we use it in faith forgive our sins and save us from all illness and the power of evil. Lord, in your mercy give us living water, always springing up as a fountain of salvation; free us, body and soul, from every danger, and admit us to your presence in purity of heart.”

Finally, holy water reminds us of our Baptism, when by the invocation of the Holy Trinity and the pouring of holy water, we were set free from original sin and all sin, infused with sanctifying grace, incorporated into the Church, and given the title Son or Daughter of God. In making the sign of the cross with the holy water, we are mindful that we are called to renew those baptismal promises of rejecting Satan, all His works, and all his empty promises, and to profess our credal faith. Once again, we repent of sin, so that we can offer our prayers and worship to God with pure and contrite hearts. Just as water and blood flowed from the Sacred Heart of our Lord as He hung upon the cross — signifying the great sacraments of baptism and holy Eucharist — the taking of holy water and making the sign of the cross remind us of our baptism in preparation for the reception of the holy Eucharist.

Never should we doubt the power of this great sacramental. St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography, The Book of Her Life, wrote of the power of holy water: “I was once in an oratory, and [the devil] appeared to me in an abominable form at my left side. Because he spoke to me, I looked particularly at his mouth — which was most frightening. It seemed that a great flame, all bright without shadow, came forth from his body. He told me in a terrifying way that I had really freed myself from his hands but that he would catch me with them again. I was struck with great fear and blessed myself as best I could; he disappeared, but returned right away. This happened to me twice. I didn’t know what to do. There was some holy water there, and I threw it in that direction; he never returned again. … I often experience that there is nothing the devils flee from more — without returning — than holy water” (Chapter 31). Upon the testimony of such a great saint, we see the importance not only of pausing to bless ourselves with holy water as we enter and leave church but also of having holy water available in our homes.

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

St. Bede the Venerable

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 22:00

St. Bede (672?-735) was an English scholar and monk widely acknowledged as a saint even in his own lifetime. As a youth, he was sent to the monastery of St. Paul in Jarrow, and it was there that he remained for virtually the remainder of his life. Bede became a monk and a priest, and the monastery provided the ideal setting for his great spiritual growth. It also provided the opportunity for him to write and study. He once said, “I have devoted my energies to the study of the Scriptures, observing monastic discipline, and singing the daily services in the Church; study, teaching, and writing have always been my delight.”

Bede was an expert in many fields of learning, including natural philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, Church history, and Scripture; he authored many books, including the famous History of the English Church and People, and was the first known writer of English prose. As his reputation spread, various kings and even the pope desired his presence as a scholar-in-residence, but except for a few months teaching in the school of the Archbishop of York, Bede remained in the monastery of St. Paul until his death.

Only a century after he died, St. Bede was unofficially given the title “Venerable” (worthy of honor), and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor (an eminent and reliable teacher) of the Church.

Lessons

1. As the life of St. Bede shows, scholarship can lead to holiness; the Book of Wisdom states, “Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her” (6:12).

2. Serving God is more important than one’s own reputation; rather than seeking honor as a scholar-in-residence, St. Bede preferred to continue his studying and writing in the obscurity of the monastery.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Gregory VII (1085), Pope

St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi (1607), Virgin

St. Urban I (230), Pope, Martyr

St. Madeleine Sophie Barat (1865), Virgin, Foundress

Carry Your Scars With Dignity & Honor

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:07

I was a junior in high school when I got my first major scar. It was during AP chemistry class, and I was fiddling around with my unknown substance, trying to determine its anion and cation properties. All at once, I received an inspiration and grabbed the pipette my lab partner and I shared, dipping it into the nitric acid. Immediately the solution spewed out and onto my wrist, bubbling and leaving an interesting wound that didn’t hurt but sure looked strange.

After my chemistry teacher put a neutralizing powder on my wrist and filled out an accident report, I discovered that my sheepish lab partner forgot to rinse out the pipette before I picked it up. To this day, I’ll never forget the details of that memory and how the scar on my wrist came to be. The reality of how and why I got that mark is emblazoned in my mind and remains very much a part of my life’s story.

Jesus’s scars represented something worthy of mentioning during the Easter season. We don’t often think of the fact that the marks on His body didn’t disappear after He received His glorified body. No, even after the Resurrection, His marks were visible and very real. It’s important to note that the purpose of His scars extended beyond the story of His crucifixion. His scars represented His entire life, and thus we, too, should carry the marks of Jesus.

After listening to the gospel about Thomas doubting who Jesus was until he touched His scars, I thought of a contemporary Christian song called “What Scars Are For” by Mandisa that summarizes quite beautifully that scars are imprints of where we’ve been, who we are, and how we carry the visible marks of a life of suffering and healing:

They remind me of Your faithfulness
And all You brought me through
They teach me that my brokenness
Is something You can use
They show me where I’ve been
And that I’m not there any more
That’s what scars, that’s what scars are for

Our hands, feet, and hearts should be marred from a life lived for Jesus. They should tell a story about how we’ve cared for others, followed in Jesus’ footsteps and traveled relentlessly upon the path He has set before us. They should speak of how our hearts have wept, rejoiced, and carried the burdens of others through compassion and mercy. Scars tell that story; they, as the song states, are an indelible reminder that we’ve been somewhere rough, but we’ve also been healed.

When Sarah was born, I remember how odd her hands looked to me. She had four fingers fused together, covered in this incredibly smooth layer of skin that resembled a little mitten. I used to stroke that layer of skin as I’d hold her and talk to her, knowing that one day it would be gone. Sure enough, as the time approached for her first orthopedic surgery to separate her fingers, I grieved what her unblemished hands had been, knowing that the surgery would lead to greater autonomy so that she could lead a fairly normal life one day.

And the scars on every finger remain on her uniquely shaped little hands. When I hold her hand as we cross the street or wipe each finger after mealtime, I see them so clearly. Ben and I did as the orthopedic occupational therapist instructed us to do: we massaged them daily with a thick cream so as to reduce the effects and appearance of the scarring. But it was inevitable that the evidence would remain, even in some minuscule amount.

Sarah’s hands quite literally reflect the scars of Jesus, in that she – as an innocent one who suffered a very painful surgery as a baby – is a visible but silent witness of how suffering can and often does bring about healing in our lives.

I think of how we try to eliminate those marks on our bodies that indicate what we’ve endured, our battle marks so to speak. Women desperately try anything to rid of dreaded stretch marks after they give birth. And we’re encouraged to cover up scars or at least conceal them. What are we hiding? Shouldn’t we be more like Jesus, who unabashedly showed His hands, side, and feet to the apostles and even invited Thomas to touch them?

What if our scars remind, not only us but also others, that we’re human, that we’re imperfect and yet resilient? Every wrinkle on our face, every stretch mark on our bellies, every scar from a cut or accident all contribute to the journey of our lives, a story that hopefully reflects love filtered through sacrifice.

If we hide the reality of our battle marks, we are ashamed then of a love that has undergone death and has been resurrected to new life in Christ. I don’t believe God wants us to be ashamed of our imperfect marks. Rather, He wants us to embrace them, to show them to others, and to one day give them back to God as the only gift we really had to offer Him – the wounds, the misery, the pain, the suffering, all given out of love and for His glory to be radiant through us.

Maybe God even sees our scars as beautiful, because they comprise who we are and what we’ve been through. Rough, weathered hands can be a sign of one who had her hands in the laundry or sink or garden in order to care for her family. Calloused feet might indicate that one has toiled for decades in difficult work in order to support his wife and children. And a heart that is wounded is one that most closely unites itself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Our scars, like those of the resurrected Jesus, will never fade completely away. The retention of such marks is what leads us to Heaven. They show the world what we’ve offered in love, what we’ve given up, and how we have died to vainglory in order to rise in humility. That is why we should carry our scars with dignity and honor, knowing that we, too, will touch the hands, feet, and side of Jesus – as He will ours.

Confounding the World

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:05

The Lord our God defies our assumptions. Jesus Christ and his saints just don’t act right. What I mean is, they don’t respond to things the way the world thinks they will – or should.

What happens in Philippi is a good example (Acts 16:16-34).

If you and I were unjustly locked in prison and, by a miraculously timed earthquake, our bonds were broken, would we continue to hang out in prison? Or would we take the opportunity to go free? Naturally, most of us would run. That would be natural and even just.

Certainly, the jailer expected Paul and Silas to have run when they were freed. “He drew his sword and was about to kill himself supposing the prisoners had escaped” (Acts 16:27) Perhaps death would have been his punishment anyway had he failed to keep his prisoners imprisoned. I don’t know. But, in any case, Paul demonstrates more love and solicitude for his jailer than for himself, crying out with a loud voice to the one who imprisons him, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28).

This is simply not how a worldly man behaves. A worldly man looks out for himself – looks out for number one, as it were. But Paul – and we like Paul – have our life in Jesus Christ. We’re already taken care of. Our selves are already provided for and infinitely loved. We are already free and should fear neither prison nor death. It takes a profound faith to see the truth that we are actually free even while yet in prison in this world. And this faith frees us to care for those who are still enslaved to death, even while it seems they walk free in this world.

The jailer was enslaved to death – about to kill himself for failing at his job because of something he had no control over – an earthquake. He was the jailer, not the one inside the jail, and yet it was him that was actually imprisoned. Meanwhile, Paul and Silas, though being kept in prison, were actually free – free to act contrary to the expectations of this world – free to love and care for even those who seem to be their enemies.

Paul and Silas made these enemies in the first place by disturbing those who would seem to be their friends. When you really follow Christ you always end up sticking out like a sore thumb – caring for those the world expects you to hate and opposing those the world imagines to be on your side.

Before they were locked up, Paul and Silas and some other disciples were followed around by a girl for many days. She kept crying out to all who would listen, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). So, it would seem she was their friend, right?

The words this girl proclaims are true. Paul and Silas and Luke were and are indeed servants of the Most High God – the same God of Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God (Gen 14:18), and of Jesus, Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:32). And they do indeed proclaim the way of salvation. At this time, Christianity is called “the way” (Mark 1:2, John 14:6, Acts 9:2; 19:23).

But Paul doesn’t allow her to keep speaking this truth. Why? That seems against his own interests – from a worldly point of view. It’s kind of funny, but he turns to her and charges the spirit out of her in the name of Jesus Christ because she was annoying him. Why was he annoyed? What was she doing that was so annoying? She was, as I say, proclaiming true words to the people. What’s wrong with that?

You might think that Paul would appreciate the publicity that the word of God would get from her endorsement. After all, this was a girl people listened to. She had such a good reputation for speaking the truth that her owners were able to make a lot of money from what she would say. She spoke with such veracity that the people in Philippi believed her word. You have a burning question, you take it to this soothsaying slave-girl, pay her owners a sum of money of course, and you get an answer that you can trust.

And here she is speaking the truth about Paul, about God, and about salvation. And Paul is annoyed and does what he has to do to shut her up. She’s giving them good press. But somehow Paul doesn’t want it. I thought he was trying to get the word out! What’s he doing stifling the message? As I said in the beginning, Jesus and his saints defy assumptions and often act contrary to worldly expectations.

For one thing, Paul is considering the source. “Jesus our Lord does not accept witness from demons” and neither does Paul.[1] Even when demons speak the truth, it’s better to shut them up. Remember, the demons often recognize Jesus for who he really is long before the crowds do. And Jesus shuts them up (e.g. Mark 1:25). When a demon is speaking truth you can bet he’s getting ready to slip in a lie.

The right words are one thing and the right understanding is another. Some among those who refer to the Most High God, especially in antiquity, fail to also recognize that God is the one true God – that is that there is truly but one and only one God. Some who speak of the Most High God are not monotheists at all, but are rather what they call henotheists. These are those believe there are many gods but who regard one God as superior to all the other gods. The devil loves a half-truth better than an outright lie. Because a half-truth can go further toward deceiving those who have only a passing acquaintance with the truth. As the poet Arator says, “[Though] she who was a servant of falsehood prophesies what is true, let us not be corrupted by the bitter honey of deceit.”[2]

When the demon is talking about the Most High – and this isn’t the only time in the New Testament that a demon refers to the Most High God (e.g. Mark 5:7) – you can bet that demon has a twisted understanding of the name. Remember, Lucifer says he will make himself “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). The term Most High can be twisted by a blasphemous spirit to suggest there is not one but many – and that the others are just less high. Twisting further, it might question which of the many is really most high. And down and down, twisting and twisting we go with demonic reasoning. So, it’s better to shut up the demon while it’s still speaking truth before it gets to half-truths and before it gets to believable lies.

This girl proclaiming that Paul and his companions are servants of the Most High God had a spirit of divination – that is a spirit of Πύθων or Python – the Pythian serpent or dragon (Acts 16:16). By the help of this demon, she was able to soothsay with believable accuracy.

By the way, demons are able to predict the future so well not because they know the future but just because they are so extremely intelligent and experienced. Human events have a pretty predictable pattern. History repeats a lot. And if you could remember all the detail of all the millennia back to the dawn of creation with perfect recall, you’d be pretty good at predicting the future too. Sometimes they get it wrong though – like when God becomes man. They didn’t see that coming. That had never happened before. They weren’t prepared for the ramifications of that. That one was coming from before the dawn of creation. They may be old, but there’s someone who’s older – truly Ancient of Days (Dan 7:9).

Regardless, this girl’s owners were able to use her and this spirit to gain a great deal of money from her soothsaying. Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Spirit of God and the spiritual beings that love and serve God – that is, the angels – and those who live and act in the Holy Spirit are not in it for the profit. This is a remarkably reliable way of discerning whether a prophet is a true prophet or false prophet. Are they in it for the money? Are they prophets for profit? I recommend you give those who are in it for the money a wide berth rather than a fat check.

This girl was enslaved in more than one way by more than one force. She was enslaved in body to her owners and she was enslaved in spirit to a spirit of Πύθων. Paul delivers her from her enslavement to the demon. He does not oppose her, but undoes the work of her owners and of the demon in her.  Which is why her owners press for Paul’s and Silas’ imprisonment.

If we follow the way of the Lord and live in his Holy Spirit, our way of life will confound all those around us. But like the slave girl, they will be delivered. And like the jailer, they will be converted and set free. “Acquire a peaceful spirit and then thousands of others around you will be saved.”[3]

[1] Origen, Homilies on Numbers 16.7.10

[2] De Actibus Apostolorum 2 (CSEL 72:102)

[3] St. Seraphim of Sarov, as quoted by Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom (2000), p. 133.

image: Byelikova Oksana / Shutterstock.com

A Mother Who Knows When to Show Up

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:02

It was dark, and there was no heat.  I was curled up, wrapped in a blanket that was too thin to keep me really warm.  I hid my discomfort underneath a joking demeanor, hoping no one would suspect how miserable I really was.  Looking back, I’m not sure I appreciated how heartbroken I was.

The place: my heart.  The time: only a few years ago.  The reason: life.

Life is tough, and it’s full of both joy and suffering.  I reached a point where life looked pretty hopeless.  Oh, I wasn’t going to kill myself.  But there was a lot of pain — not because I had been abused, or traumatized, or even ill.  I experienced the pain of life.  I experienced the pain that my sin sowed into my very being.

In my mid-twenties, I met a young man who would lead me, quietly and with no persuasion, to the Catholic Church.  I knew, somehow, that he was the man I would marry.  I knew that if I was going to give in and actually get married, even though I considered it an outdated institution, it was going to be with this guy.  He was different, and in being different, he was right.

It was sitting in Mass, going through motions I didn’t understand and saying words I didn’t appreciate, that something shifted in me.  I blame it on the statues of Mary at the front of the two little churches that were in the parish we attended.  They stood there, in front, not judging.  They looked so gently at me, and my heart seemed to break a little each time I thought about a mother who loved me — loved me, despite all of my failings and sins.

The fondness I have for the statues in our little churches must have been similar to what the people in the small town of Meritxell felt in the twelfth century when a statue of the Blessed Mother just started showing up under a rosebush.

They were on their way to Mass in the next town.  It was January 6, the cold of winter, and they were probably hurrying to get to the church.  I wonder if it was a child who was alert and looking around — adults would surely have been hunkered down and focused on getting to the warmth.  Whoever it was who noticed it, there was a blooming rosebush, with a statue of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus underneath.

It was an odd place for a statue, so the villagers took it with them, thinking it needed to be returned to the church in Canillo, where they were going.  The next day, though, it was back, and the rosebush was still blooming.

Were they getting curious about this statue?  Did they suspect pranksters from the area?  Regardless, they returned it to what they assumed was its home at the local parish.

On January 8, the third day, despite snow accumulation, there was a chapel-sized patch of bare earth beside the rosebush.  It was continuing to bloom and there was the statue, back at its base.  The villagers wasted no time building a chapel there.

A woman I love once told me that I have always looked like I need mothered.  I have two perfectly good mothers (my real mom and my stepmother), so I have never understood this statement.  In fact, for many years, I thought this woman was just being kind.

And then I became a mother.

I was never going to do that.  You wouldn’t find me oohing and ahhing over someone’s new baby, and I certainly wasn’t offering to hold it.  No way!  Not only was I convinced that I would probably drop the kid, I was certain that I wasn’t good enough to be a mother.

It was a series of small shifts that led to my change of heart.  At Mass on Mother’s Day in 2001, Father gave a homily on motherhood and he talked about Mary as the mother of all of us, loving us unconditionally, walking beside us.  He held her up as a model to everyone there, encouraging everyone to go to her, just as we would go to our mothers.

Through my tears, I had an image of a young woman gently holding me, stroking my forehead, patting my back.  She didn’t say anything, and she didn’t need to: it was that soothing embrace, the knowledge that forgiveness was not only possible, but waiting for me, that gave me the courage to look for more.

Mary has a way of showing up, throughout history, in the most unexpected ways.  She appears to the humble and the poor.  You’ll find her radiating beauty from unlikely settings and to people who aren’t expecting it.  She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty — she’s a hands-on mother who will gently nudge, quietly appear, repeatedly ask.

Mary’s persistence inspires me as I struggle down the road of forgiveness.  In the eight years that I’ve been Catholic, I have discovered a well inside myself of things unforgiven.  They are the battle scars of life, the wounds of sin, the problem children of my past.  Though I may think I’m fine, it’s when I least expect it that I find a hard place in my heart, one that needs to be melted through the gradual heat of forgiveness.

Just as the villagers of Meritxell found a bare patch of earth in the midst of the snow, I find a bare patch of heart, ready for a rosebush of forgiveness to be planted.  That rosebush will need some fertilizer, some watering, some pruning, before it will be able to bloom.  If I leave it untended, it will die.

Forgiveness takes work; it’s not a feeling, but a decision and a journey.  It becomes a habit that can open me to the grace God has waiting for me.

Mary, Our Lady of Meritxell, holds her Son and smiles compassionately at me.  She’s surrounded by roses, and she’s the perfect consultant gardener for my new rose bed.  She shows me how to forgive the person on the other side of the mirror, and she encourages me to pray, pray, pray.  She points to the Child in her arms, about the same size as mine, and reminds me to fertilize my roses with frequent Confession and Communion.  She points to her Spouse and reminds me of the graces within my marriage.

From Our Lady of Meritxell, I learn again about the importance of forgiveness.  I think of the Child in her arms, whipped and tortured, crucified and buried.  He embraced His persecutors with hands scarred by nail holes.  I think of the certainty Mary must have had in her infinite faith, though she certainly grieved.  What joy did she feel at the resurrection?  Was she really surprised, this mother of His and mine?

As I stand in the fire of pain, struggling with forgiveness in so many areas of my life, I can look to the Cross, and to the mother beneath it, and remember the blooming rosebush in the dead of winter.  May I have the grace to see her in front of me, leading me to her Son, teaching me more about the joy of forgiveness.

“One beat of your heart, properly

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:00

“One beat of your heart, properly directed, the slightest movement of your free will, can mean more to the triune God than all the gyrations of sun, moon, stars, and sea from time’s first moment until time’s final end. In order that you might say, ‘I believe in God . . .’ the heavens were one time moved.”

-Fr. M. Raymond, O.C.S.O, Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk

The Gospel reading today is from Jesus&

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:00

The Gospel reading today is from Jesus’ farewell discourse to his apostles after the Last Supper, on the night he instituted the Eucharist as a parting gift to his apostles and the Church and the night before he suffered and died for us.

After the profession of faith of Peter and after his transfiguration before Peter, James and John, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples that “the Son of Man had to suffer many things … would be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mk 8:31) Jesus told his apostles that he would leave them but would send the Spirit of Truth, the Helper, to comfort and guide them.

Three days after he was crucified and died, he rose again and showed himself several times to his apostles and some others, that he was truly risen. After forty days, before his disciples, he returned to his Father in heaven. He missioned them to make disciples and believers from all nations. He also promised to be with them until the end of the world: “I am with you always until the end of the world.”

Today and forever he sits in power at the right hand of the Father, as Son of God – made Man, as our Savior and Intercessor with the Father. Forever he is our Brother before our heavenly Father. Indeed he has really never left us!

This Gospel speaks about the arrival of

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:00

This Gospel speaks about the arrival of the Paraclete. The Holy Spirit can come only when Jesus would have ascended. It is for our own good that Christ has to leave us, because without his departure, he cannot send us the Holy Spirit. We can see that the Holy Spirit exists today because we see the seven fruits of the Holy Spirit alive around us. We can all receive see the fruits of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord to help us be happy with the Lord. All our good deeds have the ultimate goal to give glory not to others or ourselves, but to God. Christ lived his life on earth for this moment – to give glory to God. And God glorified Christ in return by resurrecting Him from the dead. There is a perfect unity and communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity acts together for our benefit.

Sts. Donatian and Rogatian (Martyrs)

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 22:00

Donatian and Rogatian were brothers of a notable Roman-Gallo family living in Nantes, Brittany. Donatian had become a convert to Christianity and led such an edifying life that his brother Rogatian was eventually moved to desire the sacrament of baptism. The story is told that, because the persecution of Emperor Maximian was raging, the bishop had been forced into hiding, so Rogatian was unable to be baptized. However, it does seem that Donatian would have been aware that he could have administered the sacrament to his brother himself. At any rate, both brothers were arrested when they refused to worship the gods. They were thrown into prison where it is said that they spent the night in fervent prayer. The next day, after declaring their willingness to suffer anything for the Name of Jesus, they were stretched on the rack, their heads pierced with lances, then they were finally beheaded. Their martyrdom occurred around the year 287. At the end of the fifth century, a church was built over their tomb. Bishop Albert of Ostia translated their relics to the cathedral in 1145.

Lessons1. So many of us are willing to follow Christ ” as long as it doesn’t require too much of us. But as Jesus reminded the rich young man, we have to go beyond merely keeping the commandments: God wants everything we have to give. Donatian and Rogatian would have been fully aware of the kind of tortures that awaited those who professed belief in Christ, yet they bravely continued to preach the Faith, both by word and deed.

2. St. Donatian should give hope to those who are praying for the conversion of a family member or close friend. As his exemplary Christian life finally brought about the conversion of his brother, let us pray that we too may live lives that proclaim Christ’s love to all the world.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady, Help of Christians

St. Joanna (1st Century)

Into the Deep Book Club: Join Us as We Read Together!

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 02:35

 

Into the Deep (Week 1 of 4)

We’re excited to announce that the next book we’re reading together is none other than Into the Deep, by our founder Dan Burke.

The back cover contains two sentences, which is appropriate, considering that this slim volume has less than 100 pages:

“If your heart is restless like mine, there is a path to peace and joy available to you. This path can only be found in and through prayer.” — Dan Burke

In this book, Burke strives to make the difficult and challenging concept of prayer a simple and approachable practice.

And, I’m glad to say, he succeeds.

We’ll be flying through this book, but don’t let that stop you from a considered reading and revisiting of this topic.

What Burke does so well is plant the seeds. It’s each of our responsibility, though, to water them with our efforts. God will provide the sunshine and the miracle of growth.

Writes Matthew Kelly in the foreword:

Prayer is difficult, joyful, challenging, and life-changing. The journey into prayer, into the heart of God, is the reason we were made; it is the reason God brought us into existence.

[…]

This place, this journey, this battle is worth every ounce of effort you can give it. It is worth everything you own, everything you aspire to be, everything you are. If you commit, persevere, and embrace this journey, you will know the life that Jesus has promised, a life of peace and joy that cannot be taken away by the trials of this world.

Burke offers each of us a simple approach to prayer.

If you struggle with prayer…well, that means you’re just like the rest of us.

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.