Catholic Exchange Articles
It was the fifth century and Yezdegerd, son of Sapor III, was ruling Persia. There was little persecution of Christians during this time, however, a Christian bishop named Abdas changed that. Abdas, in his zeal and out of righteous anger toward idolatry, burned the Temple of Fire, the sacred sanctuary of the Persians. This act infuriated King Yezdegerd and he declared that Bishop Abdas would either rebuild the Persian temple or the king would burn all the Christian churches.
When Abdas refused to obey the king’s command, he carried out his order and had all the Christian churches utterly destroyed. Abdas was put to death and a great persecution of Christians in Persia began which lasted for the next forty years. Even though Yezdegerd died in 421, his son, Varanes continued the persecution. Under the reign of this ruler, Christians were subject to heinous and cruel torture.
One Christian who was living during this time was Benjamin. Benjamin was a deacon who was serving time in prison for openly declaring his Christian faith. He had been in prison for a year when an ambassador of the Emperor of Constantinople was able to secure his release. The condition of his release, however, was that he would not speak about his faith. Apparently the ambassador consented to this condition on Benjamin’s behalf in order to obtain his release, but Benjamin was not about to be silenced. He said it was his duty to evangelize and tell others about Christ and there was no way he would be quiet. Therefore, he continued his preaching and was again arrested and brought before King Varanes. This evil King ordered that reeds be pushed under his fingernails and in other areas of his body to inflict great pain and then be pulled out. This cruel procedure was repeated many times. He was then impaled by thrusting a long stake into his bowels up through his body, ripping through vital organs. Thus, Benjamin became a martyr for his Christian faith in the year 424.
Benjamin took seriously the words of our Lord Who said, “whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven” (Mt 10:33). Benjamin would not deny the Lord and so he suffered the terrible consequences thrust upon him by evil rulers. Unless we are willing to lose our lives for Christ’s sake, we will not inherit His Kingdom, nor should we. Today, give your heart to Jesus and live your life for Him, that He may prepare a place for you in His Eternal Kingdom.
Dear Jesus, May we never fear voicing our love for You. We pray that, like Saint Benjamin, we witness our faith always, even in the face of adversity. Amen
Other Saints We Remember Today
Blessed Jane of Toulouse (1286), Foundress of the Carmelite Third Order
Dan Burke’s events have drawn thousands to a deeper relationship with God.
Dan is a man broken by sin and loved and redeemed by God. Founder the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, SpiritualDirection.com, and Divine Intimacy Radio, Dan is also the author or editor of ten books on Catholic Spirituality. Dan’s work also includes his role as Executive Director of EWTN’s National Catholic Register. Dan’s life mission is to encourage, inspire, and equip the faithful to come to know and be transformed by the life of God.
“Engaging, accessible, and rooted in the great doctors of the Church… I would recommend Dan for any audience that has a desire to grow in intimacy with the Lord, whether they are advanced or beginners…I hope that Dan’s message – which is the message of Christ and his saints – will continue to reverberate, and that many people will be blessed by it. As a priest, my one fundamental desire for God’s people is that they grow in intimacy with Christ, and Dan is a great ally in that effort. I wholeheartedly recommend him and his resources.” ~ Fr. Timothy D. Hepner – Vocation Director – Diocese of Peoria, IL
Because of his overwhelming love for our Lord, Dan has dedicated his life to helping others also find what they need to make a lifelong, unwavering commitment to Him. Dan travels to parishes across the country highlighting two areas most needed for that commitment – prayer and discernment of spirits.
Below is a brief synopsis of both talks:
Into the Deep: Finding Peace through Prayer
Dan delivers three moving talks on the secrets of the saints regarding how to deepen our prayer lives and answer Jesus invitation to “put out into the deep.” Through his passion for his faith, Dan brings you into his personal journey through finding Jesus. He delves into his struggles to accept love and love others as He loves us. Dan then takes his journey and ties it into the essential need for prayer and how to begin a prayer life of your own or increase your prayer so that you develop a closer relationship with Christ. In this event Dan also provides a very powerful approach to extending the impact of the event into our daily lives for months and years to come.
Setting the Captives Free: Spiritual Warfare and the Voice of God
Giving three powerful talks on the discernment of spirits, Dan’s uses his own testimony to help you understand the forces of
darkness and light and how they drive us to despair or liberation. Practical progress in spiritual warfare and hearing the voice of God using Discernment of Spirits is then followed by the final rules and examen prayer to implement concrete steps in finding peace of mind and discerning God’s will moving from encounter to commitment. The foundation to fighting spiritual warfare and hearing the voice of God are given so that you can find a lifetime of peace.
Dan is now taking requests for speaking engagements in 2018!
About Debbie Aguiar
Debbie has been married to Ray for over 20 years and is the mother of two young adults, Allie and Raymond. She also serves as the Events and Operations Manager for the Avila Foundation.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
“Mom, are we allowed to eat that?” During the first weeks of the fast in Great Lent, I am asked this question at least a dozen times by any one of my kids. They know the fasting rules. I tell them at the very beginning what we are fasting from (for us it’s no meat, limited dairy) but still, they ask.
Recently after walking home from Presanctified Liturgy, and nearly being blown away by the icy Wisconsin wind, I made them a treat of hot cocoa. After saying thank you, Vivi said, “But I thought we weren’t allowed to have chocolate on the fast.” I explained that technically only milk chocolate isn’t allowed, dark chocolate doesn’t have dairy. Then this led to a mini history on cocoa beans because I love food history and am that kind of mom.
Being a persistent child who wants a satisfactory answer, and after listening to my food lesson, she continued, “But I thought we aren’t supposed to have sweets during the week.” In our house, I reserve all sweets for Sundays. With a sigh, I repeated what Manny’s response is to such questions, “You let me worry about that, you just eat and drink what you are given.” She smiled and enjoyed her cocoa. Manny is a smart man.
Since this conversation with Vivi, I have had similar ones with other kids. Instead of getting into the technicalities of the fast (an attitude I do not want to foster in my children anyway) I have simply said, “Your fast is to eat what you are given, I’ll worry about the rules.”
As often happens, these situations provide an opportunity for me to reflect. I think my childrens’ desire to keep the rules, their concern for doing what is allowed, is sweet and shows they are making a conscious effort to be obedient. Their persistence amuses me, even while it wears me out often. Thinking about this from my perspective as their mom who wants to be merciful and kind to them with a cup of cocoa (or a cheese sandwich, or any other break from the fast), has turned my thoughts to God and His mercy and kindness to me.
I can see myself in my children. The concern for the rules, the persistence, the desire to please God and the double checking of the soul (triple, quadruple checking!). The regular taking of my spiritual temperature, especially during times like Lent.
I do these things far less than I used to but instead, I do other things. I have a hard time accepting God’s mercy and seeing His love; especially if that mercy and love are given through others (which is often how God works). My kids aren’t always sure if they should accept that merciful cup of cocoa (or whatever I’ve chosen to give them) in the first couple weeks of the fast. It takes me reminding them to let me and their dad be in charge and a bit of practice on their part to simply accept what we give them with gratitude. Yeah, that sounds far too familiar to my relationship with God.
Manny and I always return again to the direction we were given when we first started attending the monastery. Abbot Nicholas started every fasting season by telling the extended community that gathered to worship with the monks, “Aim high and do what you can.” Father Peter (he was a visiting priest) would tell us “Stop taking your spiritual temperature.”
Abbot Nicholas’ guidance wasn’t always heeded. Some years we would aim high and beat ourselves up for whatever we couldn’t do, instead of accepting our limitations. Or aim high and lose focus on the point of askesis, keeping ourselves distracted with keeping the fast “perfectly,” and not enough on our relationship with God and others. Learning to keep the ideal in view but with reasonable expectations of what we can and should do, especially with a growing family, has taken many Lents to figure out.
The temptation during these fasting periods, most especially Great Lent, is to approach the time with a checklist:
- Prayer Rule completed.
- Fasting Rules kept.
- Charitable Giving fulfilled.
We may not think we are doing this, but when our focus is on the tools given to grow in Christ more than Christ Himself, then we have missed the point. We do not fast merely to be strict with ourselves and avoid certain foods. We fast to overcome our passions, and grow in love, grow to be more like Christ.
The other half of the guidance we received reminds us to stop thinking about our spiritual progress–stop taking our spiritual temperature. These two ideas may seem contradictory or at least appear to have little in common. On the one hand, we are told to keep the ideal in sight and reasonably work towards it, on the other hand, stop checking on the progress of one’s work.
They are, however, closely related. Both are calls to patience and mercy. We must be patient and merciful with others shortcomings and also with our own. As a parent, I have found the need to be patient with myself to be of utmost importance because I am modeling behavior for my children and if I teach them nothing else, I want them to know God is a God of mercy, patience, and love. I want them to aim high and know their spiritual progress isn’t a sprint but a marathon race–they need to train without checking for immediate gratification but work towards honest growth which comes over time. I want them to learn God isn’t a tyrant, wanting them to be miserable but wants to help them grow in Him. I want them to keep their eyes on Christ and trust Him to lead them.
Reflecting on the last 20 years of Lenten seasons, I know growth rarely looks like what I expect it to and rarely happens how I think it should. I also never see it happening except in hindsight. Isn’t that how growth and change usually happens? One day you see your teenager shoot up, and his pants are too short. Or you see your kid maturing and waking up early to bake something for breakfast without you asking. Or you realize that messy, unwiped table no longer makes you lose your temper and you patiently remind your child to clean it right.
Sure we know what to do to help growth along, and we should use those tools, not discard them. But we cannot approach our relationship with God or one another like a task to fulfill and accomplish with high marks. If only it were that easy!
Just like growth doesn’t always look like I think it will, same for God’s mercy and love. That is more my own blindness, though. I have a hard time seeing God’s love and an even harder time seeing when other people are loving me. This is because I have an idea in my head of what love looks like. Usually, I think it should be the way I would express love. Foolish of me, I know.
It was during confession this Lent when I learned this and began to understand that I fail to hear God and accept the love not only He but others are giving to me. I had been too wrapped up in my thoughts, feelings, concerns, and agenda that I was missing the forest for the trees. Too busy worrying about what I needed to be doing, how I believed things should be, that I was missing the way things are.
I wasn’t expecting to get any of those lessons out of confession that day any more than I expected a cup of cocoa for my kids would help me understand the abundance of God’s mercy and love. He sure works in mysterious ways.
“Flog your enemies with the Name of Jesus, for there is no weapon more powerful in heaven or on earth.” – St. John Climacus
“Blessed be the Name of Jesus.” – The Divine Praises
Among the spiritual weapons in our arsenal, there are none as powerful as the Holy Name of Jesus. The saints have healed the sick, conquered temptation, demolished heresies, driven away demons, and converted sinners by invoking this powerful name. It is the name that signifies our hope and our salvation. In fact, Jesus is the most powerful name in heaven and earth, and Scripture tells us that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”1
But what does Jesus mean? How can we grow in holiness by calling on the name of Jesus? Let’s find out.Meaning
The name Jesus means, “God saves” in Hebrew. To the Jews, this name was deeply significant. It recalled their freedom from enslavement in Egypt, the conquering of their enemies, and their entrance into the promised land, led by the military hero, Joshua. Not coincidentally, Jesus in Hebrew is the same name as Joshua.
Yet, Jesus was no military leader. Rather than driving out temporal enemies, he conquered the spiritual enemies of sin, Satan, and death, and he leads us to the true promised land of heaven. As the Angel announced to Mary, the Savior would be called Jesus because, “he will save his people from their sins.”
The Catechism summarizes these truths in a beautiful paragraph:
But the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in his incarnation: JESUS. The divine name may not be spoken by human lips, but by assuming our humanity The Word of God hands it over to us and we can invoke it: “Jesus,” “YHWH saves.” The name “Jesus” contains all: God and man and the whole economy of creation and salvation. To pray “Jesus” is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One, and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.2
The more we meditate on the name of Jesus, the more we grow to love it.Prayer and Invocation
Since the earliest centuries of the Church, the name of Jesus has been invoked to drive out demons and heal the sick. But above all, it has been called upon to conquer sin, overcome temptation, and grow in holiness. In fact, many of the saints became saints by doing nothing else but calling on the name of Jesus, either by ceaselessly repeating his name or by praying a prayer such as, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”
The name of Jesus is incredibly powerful for combatting temptations and in conquering sinful passions. No matter what you’re struggling with— anger, alcoholism, lust, pride, laziness, fear— the name of Jesus can conquer it.
“Naught but the name of Jesus,” says St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “can restrain the impulse of anger, repress the swelling of pride, cure the wound of envy, bridle the onslaught of luxury, extinguish the flame of carnal desire – can temper avarice, and put to flight impure and ignoble thoughts.”
Now, to clarify, repeating the name of Jesus should never be mindless. We should not treat this name as a magical incantation, but should rather realize that we are calling on a living Person—one who loves us and gave himself for us. By invoking this name, we are acknowledging our sin, helplessness, and our need for constant mercy. By calling on Jesus, we are crying like St. Peter as he drowned in the waves, “Lord, save me!”
If you want to overcome sin and grow in virtue, look first at your own neediness and helplessness. Acknowledge it— it’s healthy to do this. Then, call sincerely and constantly on the great and holy name of Jesus. I promise you, he will come to your aid.
I will conclude with the words of St. Bernardine of Sienna, who had a great devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and who summarizes it far better than I ever could.
Jesus, Name full of glory, grace, love and strength! You are the refuge of those who repent, our banner of warfare in this life, the medicine of souls, the comfort of those who morn, the delight of those who believe, the light of those who preach the true faith, the wages of those who toil, the healing of the sick. To You our devotion aspires; by You our prayers are received; we delight in contemplating You. O Name of Jesus, You are the glory of all the saints for eternity. Amen.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Catholic Gentleman and is reprinted here with kind permission.
On a recent Sunday evening, another brother and I walked up to a snow-covered golf course at the edge of the grounds at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. Up for the week visiting our campus ministry there, we had driven out to the course at the suggestion of the chaplain, who promised us a spectacular view of the night’s sky.
We were not disappointed! Looking up to the heavens on that clear night, we were treated to a panoramic display of the immensity and grandeur of our cosmos, a star-studded exhibition usually hidden from our sight at home due to the light pollution that emanates from the nation’s capital. It was truly an awe-filled experience. Even amidst the vast darkness of night—when the insignificance of man is made manifest and his own mortality is most palpable—the stars that dot the sky are like beacons of hope, faithful assurances that the unseen dawn will soon break forth again.
During Lent, we can often feel as though the darkness of existence will never give way again to the splendor of light. In this season, it is common to feel more profoundly the consequences of our own feeble (and often failing) wills. We are tossed into something like a pitch-black night. Like St. Paul, we cannot do the good we want and avoid the bad we do not want (Romans 7:19). Yet, we hold out hope for the dawn of a new, better day—the Easter day—not because we will instantly be capable of achieving good on our own, but rather because God has promised to do so himself for us and for the whole world.
The starry scene I experienced—the light perforating the darkness—has a Lenten analogue. The fourth Sunday of Lent, commonly called “Laetare Sunday,” pierces through the penitential character of Lent. This Sunday, the priest and deacon may wear rose vestments at Mass, a color that combines violet, signifying penance for sin, with the luminous white of the Resurrection. Against the backdrop of sin’s darkness, light shines forth.
The Lord will give us an assurance through St. Paul in the second reading at Mass this Sunday: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). During the night of the Lenten season, we do well to recall that we are not left alone in our darkness. Rather, we are under the light of the Lord, and it is by that light that we become like lights in the world for each other (cf. Philippians 2:15).
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana, the Dominican student blog of the Province of St. Joseph, and is reprinted here with kind permission.
“The great work of the Incarnation, which held heaven and earth in suspense for so many centuries, could not be achieved until Mary’s consent had been given. It was necessary for mankind that she desire our salvation. She did will it, and it pleased the eternal Father that Mary should contribute to the work of giving the world its Savior.”
In the Gospel reading Jesus answers the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews, telling them that they have refused to listen to him and accept him, despite the many witnesses for him – God himself, John the Baptist, Moses – and the many good works he has done.
Indeed, the Pharisees and the leaders were behaving like their stiff-necked ancestors with Yahweh and Moses.
We could reflect in what areas of our lives have we been like those stiff-necked Jews? And have we really accepted Christ’s “credentials”?
John of Climacus was born in Syria around 525. The name Climacus comes from the title of a famous book he wrote called The Climax (or The Ladder of Perfection). His true surname is Scholasticus. When John was only sixteen, he decided to leave his secular life and enter into a life of solitude. There were many Christian monks at that time, so John went to a monk named Martyrius for training in the life of holiness. After the death of his mentor, John went to a hermitage where he practiced greater mortifications and studied about the saints for the next twenty years.
When John was seventy-five years old he was asked by the monks of Sinai to be their abbot. He was such a saintly abbot and so well respected for his great piety that even Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote to him and requested his prayers. The pope also sent money to build the hospital of Sinai. At the age of seventy-nine, after only four years as abbot, John retired from his duties as abbot and went back to his hermitage. He died there around 606 A.D.
Saint John authored two important works. The best known is the one mentioned above, The Climax. This was composed at the request of another John, Abbot of Raithu, a monastery on the shore of the Red Sea. The Climax made John well known in the Church, and discusses how to attain the highest degree of religious perfection. It is written in thirty parts, in memory of the thirty hidden years of Christ’s life. This work contains both parables and practical applications, primarily drawn from the monastic life.
Heavenly Father, Saint John Climacus not only left his written works as an inspiration, but his life is an example to us as well. We pray that our lives be lived in such holiness that those around us will seek our wisdom and imitate our ways to Thy greater glory. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Quirinus of Neuss (117), Martyr
An advantage of spiritual desolation is that it produces a deep and true humility in us. When we hear a sermon on humility, or read a spiritual treatise, or meditate seriously, we come to the conclusion that we are very miserable beings. But this conviction is no more than theoretical. When we are told that there are torrid regions in Africa, and that the temperature is oppressive, and that traveling is difficult and painful in those desert areas, we form some idea of those torrid climates. But what a difference there is in hearing about all this and in going there and suffering from the heat and feeling all its effects in our body!
The same thing occurs with humility. To be given theoretical knowledge of our misery is quite different from feeling it, coming in contact with it, and knowing it by experience. And in desolations, we feel our helplessness and misery in such a way that when we have thus perceived it, we never forget it.
When peace returns to souls that have passed through desolation, and when our Lord pours out special graces upon them, they receive them with gratitude and love, but they do not raise their head. They are mindful of their misery; it remains pressed upon them to such an extent that there is no fear that they will become proud over divine favors. This is true because in time of trial, we feel our misery; in that period, we know by experience that we are not capable of a good thought.
When we read about this in St. Paul, we are inclined to think that it is an exaggeration of the saint. But no; desolation shows us truly that we are incapable of having a good thought or a pious affection; and thus we understand the truth of what the apostle says.
Ordinarily we give vent to sentiments like this: “If love is to our soul what air is to our lungs, what can be easier than to love our Lord?” But in time of trial, we are not capable of making an act of love, no matter how hard we wish to. Then there is so much dissipation of mind that even the most insignificant thing distracts, no matter how serious our nature may be: the slightest noise, a fly that swirls around, the opening of a door, a person passing by — anything whatever distracts us as though we were children. Is not this to feel our own miserable state?
Furthermore, with desolation come struggles and temptations; and the worst feelings well up in our heart. At such a time, the soul thinks, “My life has been a deception. I thought I had achieved some virtue; I thought I knew how to pray. But I have accomplished nothing. All is a deception. For me, all is lost.” Is not this to realize our miserable condition? What a difference between describing it and feeling it! In this way, desolations exercise us in the life of faith; they detach us from the spiritual gifts of God, and they produce in us a deep understanding of ourselves, a great fund of humility. Are not these great advantages enough for us to come to an appreciation of desolation? How could we ever obtain them by means of consolations in that pleasant and easy life we dreamed of?
So let us be reconciled to trials, for they are a most important factor in the spiritual life: they have their beauty, they are fruitful, and they possess incomparable advantages. Ordinarily, we should not pray for them, because perhaps this would be asking amiss, but we surely should accept them with gratitude when God sends them to us.
Spiritual dryness also exercises us in another important virtue: patience. Whoever has felt desolation knows to what an extent it makes us practice this virtue. Patience is of three types: patience with God, with ourselves, and with our neighbor. Of these three classes of patience, the first two are the hardest and precisely the ones that are exercised in time of trial. In it, our Lord is the one who immolates us, and we need much patience so that we may submit to being treated as He wills with us. And much patience with ourselves is also needed to remain faithful and firm in a period of desolation.
It is no little advantage to us to be exercised in patience in this way, for sacred Scripture says that patience produces a perfect work: “My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into diverse temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work.” All this is applied in a special way to desolation, which is one of the greatest trials we can undergo.
And in the Beatitudes that our Lord teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, the eighth, which is the consummation and the epitome of all the others, is the beatitude of patience. Hence, patience, which is nothing else than tenacious perseverance in good, is what takes us to the height of perfection, the supreme happiness of earth and the prelude to the blessedness of Heaven.
To pass months and years with dryness of spirit, with helplessness of soul, with turbulence of passions, in continual darkness, and still to remain generously faithful to God: this is something heroic that greatly pleases our Lord and effects the perfect work in our souls. We cannot arrive at perfection if we do not pass through tribulations.
There is also a divine richness in spiritual dryness that produces a marvelous transformation in the soul. In time of spiritual dryness, souls often think as follows: “I go to prayer, and I do nothing, absolutely nothing.” The soul does nothing, but God does a great deal, although the soul may not be aware of His secret and mysterious operations.
But when the period of trial passes, we find that we are different. Without our knowing how or when, a profound change was wrought in us: our love is more solid; our virtue has become stronger. According to the familiar expression, we have come out of the trial “as new.” What does it matter that those afflictions may endure for years on end, if finally the soul emerges as new, fit to be united with God and to realize fully the role it was destined to fill on earth?
Desolation, then, is the indispensable means whereby the soul attains its transformation in Jesus, the supreme goal and the perfection of holiness. This transformation cannot be achieved by our poor human efforts. God must come and work in the deepest recesses of our being, and, in order that we may not hinder Him, He anesthetizes us by means of spiritual desolation. Therefore, when a soul has passed through the great trials of the spiritual life, it stands on the threshold of union, of transformation in Jesus.
We appreciate, then, the value of spiritual affliction. It will be painful and hard, but it is of the utmost value and altogether necessary for arriving at sanctity.
We must make our choice: either we choose transformation, and then we also accept the desolation without which it cannot be arrived at; or we refuse desolation, and then we must also reject transformation and thus give ourselves over to dragging out our life in a common mediocrity.
Desolation is a cross, but one of the most precious, one of the most divine. It is not wrought by the hand of men, but by God Himself. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. The trial, therefore, is made in accordance with the measure of each soul, perfectly fitted to its circumstances, requirements, and mission, and to the degree of perfection to which God has destined it. Hence, trial possesses an eminently sanctifying power.
Let us open our arms to it, then, and salute it with the same cry as the Church uses: “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” In this way, by reason of all that has been said concerning spiritual afflictions, this truth is once more established: God’s ways are not our ways.+
Art for this post on spiritual desolation and humility: View to night desert by Andrej Kuzniecyk, 25 Mary 2013, own work, CCA-SA 3.0 International, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Worshipping a Hidden God, used with permission.About Charlie McKinney
Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers, CatholicExchange.com, CrisisMagazine.com, and EpicPew.com. Charlie is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is a regular guest on Catholic radio and television. He and his wife have four children and they reside in New Hampshire.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
In 1754, an event took place in Colombia that continues to baffle geologists and other scientists. This event was the miraculous appearance of the image of Our Lady of Las Lajas (Our Lady of the Rocks).
Have you heard of it? Most Catholics outside of Colombia are completely unaware of its existence. To be honest, I had never heard of it either until a few years ago. I came across the story of this incredible image while doing research for my book Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon.
All my friends know that I absolutely love leading pilgrimages. In fact several times a year I lead pilgrimages to such places as Rome, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, Poland, and the Holy Land. One place I’ve never been on pilgrimage is Colombia. But after I learned about the miraculous image of Our Lady of Las Lajas, making a pilgrimage to Colombia is now on my bucket-list. It might become a bucket-list destination for you, too. Here’s why:
As the story goes, one day a woman named María Mueses de Quiñones was walking with her deaf and mute daughter, Rosa, through a very treacherous and rocky area on their way home from a nearby village. When a storm broke out, Maria and her daughter took shelter in the rocky cliffs of a canyon. All of a sudden, little Rosa spoke for the first time, declaring that she saw a beautiful woman who was calling her. Maria did not see or hear the woman, but was amazed that her daughter could now speak. A few days later, Rosa disappeared from the village. Her mother instinctively knew to return to the rocky canyon where she would find her little girl. Incredibly, when Maria went to the rocks, she found Rosa playing with a little child whose mother stood nearby. It was an apparition of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus! Maria and her daughter decided to keep this event secret, but would frequently return to the rocks to pray and ask Our Lady for her intercession.
After a few months, little Rosa suddenly fell ill and died. Distraught, Maria took her deceased daughter to the rocks to ask Our Lady to intercede with her divine Son to bring Rosa back to life. Miraculously, Rosa came back to life! When Maria returned to the village and the people saw that Rosa was alive, their interest was piqued about this place where little Rosa had miraculously recovered her speech and even come back from death.
The villagers followed Maria and Rosa to the rocks to see the place themselves. While they were there, someone noticed a beautiful image of Our Lady on the rocks. Neither Maria nor Rosa had seen the image there before. No one knew who had painted it or where it had come from. In the beautiful image, Our Lady is holding the Child Jesus and handing St. Dominic a rosary; the Child Jesus is extending a friar’s cord to St. Francis of Assisi.
After extensive investigations, civil authorities and scientists determined that the scene was not a painting at all. The image is miraculously part of the rock itself!
Geologists have since bored core samples from several places in the rock and discovered that there is no paint, dye, or pigment on the surface of the rock. The colors of the mysterious image are the colors of the rock itself and extend several feet deep inside the rock! The only man-made aspects of the miraculous image are the crowns above the heads of Jesus and Mary that were later added by local devotees. For more than two centuries, the location has been a place of pilgrimage and devotion. In 1951, the Church authorized devotion to Our Lady under the title of “Our Lady of Las Lajas,” and the church built around the image has been declared a minor basilica.
Isn’t this amazing! The entire Catholic worlds knows about the miraculous tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but hardly anyone outside of Latin America knows about the incredible – and scientifically baffling – image of Our Lady of Las Lajas.
Whether or not I will ever make it to Colombia to see this incredible image remains unseen, but if you ever find yourself in Colombia be sure to visit this holy shrine. The basilica itself looks like something out of Lord of the Rings!
Our Lady of Las Lajas, pray for us!
The Catholic world is all a buzz with Fatima. 2017 commemorates the 100th anniversary of Mary’s monthly apparitions to three shepherd children in Portugal from May-October 1917. Pope Francis will be visiting Fatima in May and this past week the Vatican announced that two of the three visionaries will be canonized during this centennial year. On your Facebook or Twitter feed, at Church, or on Catholic radio, you might hear talk about Fatima. How good is your Fatima vocabulary? Here are a few words to familiarize yourself with:
Apparition- The great mystery of heavenly visitations received by a few people throughout the centuries. The Catholic Church investigates claims of apparitions, also referred to as private revelation, and either approves or denounces them. Sometimes the Church renders no verdict on the apparition, neither confirming nor denying the supernatural. It is important to note that since apparitions are private revelation, they add nothing new to the faith, and do not need to be believed by the faithful. Some people find the messages helpful for living their Christian life. Other popular approved apparitions include: Guadalupe, Rue de Bac, Lourdes, and Champion (Wisconsin). The apparitions of Fatima have been approved by the Church.
Fatima– A village in Portugal, now a celebrated Marian shrine welcoming millions of people each year.
The Angelic Apparitions– Fatima is quite popular because of Mary’s apparitions. In the year preceding the Marian apparitions, the Fatima children received apparitions of the Angel of Portugal, who instructed the children to pray for the conversion of sinners and to make reparation. The Fatima children received Holy Communion from the hand of the Angel. The angel also taught the children a few different prayers, to learn more, visit this link.
Cova da Iria– The actual location of the apparitions in Fatima. Today on the Sanctuary grounds this location is set apart as an outdoor shrine with a small chapel commemorating the location of the first apparitions. The rosary is prayed nightly at the Cova from which a procession on the property with a statue of Our Lady commences.
Francisco and Jacinta Martos- Two of the Fatima visionaries, who died shortly after the apparitions, in 1919 and 1920 respectively. They will be canonized during the centennial anniversary of the apparitions.
Sr. Lucia– One of the three visionaries, a cousin to the Martos children. Sr. Lucia was the only seer who lived into the third millennium. After the 1917 apparitions, she received a few other apparitions, both of Jesus and Mary, in which the First Saturday devotion was further expounded.
Secret/Third Secret- During some apparitions, the visionaries have received “secrets” which are meant for the visionary alone. In Fatima, the three seers received a secret which had three parts. The first was a vision of Hell. The second, was the prediction of WW1 ending, but the possibility of a greater war if Russia and others did not convert. The third part of the secret revolved around bishops, priests, and consecrated religious going up a mountain, on which they were martyred. Lucia saw one man, dressed in white, who also was killed. It was believed the man in white was the Holy Father. A great controversy ensued around the third part, because it was not released at the appropriate time, but decades later. It is believed that the attempted assassination of John Paul II was the fulfillment of the third secret, since his assassination occurred on May 13th, the day on which the Fatima apparitions began. An interview with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, published in book form, addresses “The Last Secret.”
Reparation– A spiritual act by which a person prays to make amends not only for their sins, but the sins of others. In addition to prayer, a person might offer a small sacrifice or suffering in reparation for sin. Our Lady taught the children to pray the following prayer to make reparation:
Oh my Jesus, I offer this for love of Thee, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Additionally, Mary requested the observance of the First Five Saturdays in reparation for sins against her Immaculate Heart.
First Saturday- During Mary’s 1917 apparitions, she requested the observance of the First Five Saturdays, meaning to commemorate in a special way the first Saturday of each month, for five consecutive months. The five Saturdays are meant to make reparation for five different offenses against Mary’s Immaculate Heart. There are certain requirements for observing the five Saturdays, as outlined to Sr. Lucia by Our Lady in 1925- confession, reception of Holy Communion, praying five decades of the Rosary, and keeping Mary company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. If you would like to observe the First Five Saturdays during the centennial year, you could begin on June and end in October. Coincidentally, the first Saturday of October is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which was the devotion Our Lady promoted and the title by which she revealed herself to the children.
Consecration- During the apparitions, Mary requested the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Even though several popes have consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart, some Fatima followers believe the consecration never officially happened in the way Our Lady requested. Those ascribing to that belief do not represent the popular opinion of Fatima scholars. Today, many Catholics makes a form of personal consecration to Jesus through Mary in the spirit of St. Louis de Montfort, who wrote about Marian consecration in True Devotion to Mary. Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, has popularized Marian consecration in his work, Thirty-Three Days to Morning Glory.
Conversion- Mary consistently asked for the conversion of sinners in her apparitions. Conversion means to turn towards the Lord, thus turning away from sin. It means examining our hearts and making a conscious effort to live better the commandments of God and teachings of Jesus.
Rosary- A devotion practiced mainly by Catholics, but there are some Protestants who also pray some form of the rosary. The most common form of the rosary is the Dominican rosary, as revealed to and promoted by St. Dominic and consists today of 4 sets of mysteries: Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. During the apparitions in Fatima, Mary requested monthly for the children to pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world. During the final apparition in October 1917, Mary told the children, “I am the Lady of the Holy Rosary.”
The Fatima Rosary Prayer- To obtain the conversion of sinners, Mary requested the children to pray a special prayer at the end of each rosary decade. Many Catholics pray this prayer to this day. O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of thine mercy.
Miracle of the Sun/Solar Miracle- Throughout the monthly apparitions from May to October 1917, Our Lady promised a miracle during the last apparition. Many call it the miracle of the sun, because the sun spun in the sky and seemed to be coming towards earth, when it returned to the sky. This miracle was witnessed by all who were present in Fatima for the final apparition.
These are just few words comprising the vocabulary of Fatima. If there are other words or concepts about Fatima which you would like defined, leave them in the comments.
Succinctly, a novena is a nine-day period of private or public prayer to obtain special graces, to implore special favors, or make special petitions. (Novena is derived from the Latin novem, meaning nine.) As the definition suggests, the novena has always had more of a sense of urgency and neediness.
In our liturgical usage, the novena differs from an octave which has a more festive character, and either precedes or follows an important feast. For example, in our Church calendar we celebrate the Octave before Christmas, where the recitation of the “O” Antiphons helps us prepare for the birth of our Savior. We also celebrate the Octaves of Christmas and Easter, which include the feast days themselves and the seven days that follow, to highlight the joy of these mysteries.
The origin of the novena in our Church’s spiritual treasury is hard to pinpoint. The Old Testament does not indicate any nine-day celebration among the Jewish people. On the other hand, in the New Testament at the Ascension our Lord gives the Apostles the Great Commission and then tells them to return to Jerusalem and to await the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles recounts, “After that they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet near Jerusalem — a mere Sabbath’s journey away. Together they devoted themselves to constant prayer” (Acts 1:12, 14). Nine days later, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost. Perhaps this “nine-day period of prayer” of the Apostles is the basis for the novena.
Long before Christianity, the ancient Romans also celebrated nine days of prayers for various reasons. The author Livy recorded how nine days of prayers were celebrated at Mount Alban to avert some evil or wrath of the gods as predicted by the soothsayers. Similarly, nine days of prayers were offered when some “wonder” had been predicted. Families also held a nine-day mourning period upon the death of a loved one with a special feast after the burial on the ninth day. The Romans also celebrated the parentalia novendialia, a yearly novena (February 13-22) remembering all departed family members. Since novenas were already part of Roman culture, it is possible that Christianity “baptized” this pagan practice.
Whatever the exact origins may be, the early Christians did have a nine-day mourning period upon the death of a loved one. Eventually, a novena of Masses for the repose of the soul was offered. To this day, there is the novendialia or Pope’s Novena, observed upon the death of the Holy Father.
In the Middle Ages, particularly in Spain and France, novenas of prayers were offered nine days before Christmas, signifying the nine months our Lord spent in the womb of our blessed Mother. These special novenas helped the faithful prepare for the festive, yet solemn, celebration of the birth of our Lord. Eventually, various novenas were composed to help the faithful prepare for a special feast or to invoke the aid of a saint for a particular reason. Some of the popular novenas still widely used in our Church include those of the Miraculous Medal, Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Joseph and St. Jude.
It is difficult to say why we do not find novenas as much a part of public worship now as before Vatican II. I remember asking this question to an elderly priest, who basically said that he remembered people who would skip Mass yet attend the weekly novena. As Catholics, the primary focus of our spirituality and public worship should be the Holy Eucharist and the Mass. With the advent of the liturgical renewal and the increased participation of the congregation at Mass, perhaps this is why novenas fell by the wayside.
Also, some people think superstition has hurt the reputation of novenas. In every parish I have been assigned, I have found copies of a St. Jude novena which basically states that if a person goes to Church for nine days and leaves a copy of the novena to St. Jude, then the prayer will be granted — sort of like a spiritual chain letter. This is dispensing-machine Catholicism: just as a person puts the coin in the vending machine and presses the button to get the desired soda, here a person says the prayers, goes to church and is supposedly guaranteed that the request will be granted. So much for God’s will. What is really sad these days is that the person simply photcopies the letter; one would think they could at least hand-write it. On occasion, I have had to pick up these letters that are left all over the Church.
Nevertheless, novenas still hold a legitimate place in our Catholic spirituality. The Enchiridion of Indulgences notes, “A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly take part in the pious exercise of a public novena before the feast of Christmas or Pentecost or the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Here the Church is again emphasizing that the novena is a pious spiritual exercise to bolster the faith of the individual, and that the individual should be truly devout, always remembering the goodness of the Lord who answers all of our prayers according to His divine will.
Editor’s note: This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.
We learn about Joseph of Arimathea in Sacred Scripture. Arimathea was his place of birth, which was most likely the same city also known as Ramatha, birthplace of the prophet Samuel.
All the authentic information that we have about Joseph is from Sacred Scripture in the New Testament. These are some of the facts about Joseph: He was a member of the Sandhedrin, a council of 71 members that had supreme executive, legislative, and judicial power over the Jewish faith. He apparently was a wealthy man and also a good and just man, according to Luke’s gospel (Luke 23:50). He was a disciple of Jesus, but this was concealed for fear of the Jews or members of the Sandhedrin who were against Jesus. It is unlikely that Joseph attended the meeting of the council that sentenced Jesus to death, as he did not agree with the others in their condemnation of Him.
After the crucifixion, Joseph was bolder in his support of Jesus. This is evinced by the fact that he went to Pilate and asked to have the body of Jesus released to him. He then not only provided his own new tomb for the burial of Jesus but, along with Nicodemus (another secret disciple), he provided the spices and burial cloth, which was a very fine white linen shroud. He and the others placed the body of Jesus in Joseph’s new, unused tomb, which was hewn out of rock in a nearby garden. After rolling a great stone in front of the opening, they left the garden. This is the last mention in Scripture about Joseph of Arimathea.
Scripture also states that Joseph of Arimathea was “himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43) which is why he realized that Jesus was more than just a prophet, something that most of the others in the Sandhedrin did not see. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks, finds and to him who knocks, it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7). Therefore, since Joseph was sincerely seeking, he was able to truly find … he found the Truth and the Truth is Jesus.
Dear Lord Jesus, we pray for the intercession and guidance of Saint Joseph of Arimathea, that we will we see clearly as he did and not be spiritually blind as so many of his brethren were. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Gundleus (Woolo) (5th Century), Welsh Prince, later a hermit, Husband of St. Gladys and Father of St. Cadoc
We have not much difficulty in seeing that temptation is no evil and that consent alone makes the sin. That which troubles and disquiets those whom God subjects to this painful trial is the fear of offending God and their ignorance of the principles by which they may reassure themselves, not being able to distinguish between temptation and consenting to temptation.
This uncertainty as to their consent fills them with an anxiety, which causes them great suffering, destroys their interior peace, and so weakens their confidence as to prevent them from approaching God freely and with confidence, and, in fine, throws them into extreme despondency, utterly prostrating their strength. A few reflections would suffice to clear their doubts and enable them to come to a right decision.
We have not a complete command over our mind and our heart. We cannot wholly prevent the intrusions of certain thoughts and feelings. Sometimes indeed they take such forcible possession of us that without perceiving it, we are led to pursue in spirit the thought or design that thus presents itself. Our preoccupation is so great that we hear and see nothing of what is passing around; we do not even remember how or when these thoughts or feelings commenced. Thus, we often suddenly find ourselves, to our surprise, engaged in thoughts and feelings that are opposed to charity or to other virtues, or in projects of vanity, pride, or self-love.
This state continues a longer or a shorter time according to the strength of the imagination or the sensible impression that occasioned it, or until some circumstance arises to awaken our soul from this apparent enchantment. We then perceive, by reflection, the nature of our thoughts.
If in this moment of self-consciousness, we condemn the thought or feeling, if we disavow it and strive to reject it, we may safely say that in all that went before we were not to blame. The satisfaction that we experience in being freed from it is a fresh proof that our will had no part in our reverie. In this preoccupation there was no deliberation, no choice on the part of the will.
In order to offend God it is necessary that the will should deliberately consent to something sinful that it is free to reject. In the case we have supposed, there was neither freedom nor deliberation; hence there could be no sin.
Moreover, the promptness of their rejection, when consciousness returned, showed the good dispositions of the soul and that it would not have admitted these thoughts and feelings, still less have dwelt on them, had reflection furnished the opportunity of accepting or rejecting them at will.
We must then consider these temptations as beginning only when we became conscious of their presence. It is to this moment, therefore, that our examination must be directed, and if we rejected them at that time, we may be at peace.
This abstraction may continue for a long time, as often happens at prayer, where we are carried away by distractions that entirely absorb the soul. This circumstance does not make it voluntary or deliberate. It no more depends on our will to shorten the distraction then, than it does to prevent it from coming at all; there is no more choice in the one than in the other. There will be no more sin either, for as the preoccupation that comes unforeseen is blameless, so the length of time in which it remains unperceived cannot make it culpable. There should be no difficulty, therefore, in deciding these cases.
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Fr. Michel’s Temptations: Where they Come From, What They Mean, and How to Defeat Them, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
My first essay for Catholic Exchange, Between Good Fridays, was a Lenten reflection on how motherhood is a short cut to taking up your cross. With the challenge of kids you have no option but to pick it up and go. Lent is about picking up some optional crosses and isn’t that, in some ways, so much harder than the inescapable ones? When have the option NOT to suffer, well it’s an enticing choice. This Lent, I’ve discovered another short cut tied to these optional practices. It’s so very obvious an epiphany I’m a little embarrassed to share it, but given that it took 33 years for me to realize it maybe I’m not the only one.
Most of my life I have seen most pious practices as challenges you could take on once you were strong enough for them. I viewed them as extra work, extra weight. Since they weren’t required and I was clearly not at that level of spiritual maturity, they were not for me. How can I get to daily mass when I can’t even say a good Hail Mary half the time? Furthermore, now was just not the right time in my life. I have little kids. Getting to church other than Sunday just wasn’t in the cards.
Then I found myself needing to pray for something very important. As always, the more I wanted to pray fervently the more I found myself at a loss. In my deep desire to do it right, I could barely get started. So I went to mass. In the middle of the week. Five kids in tow. And it went, great! The toddler whispered a bit, the baby fussed and needed to be taken to the back. But the other members of the congregation were kind and welcoming. The children could see what was going on so much better than on Sundays. Most importantly, for the rest of the day I felt peace because I knew that not just any prayer but the greatest prayer had been said for the intention so dear to my heart.
Now I see that the Church is not presenting me with extra challenges, although that is not to say it isn’t challenging to take on new things. Rather, she is offering me more and more short cuts. If I can just get to mass or adoration, Jesus Himself will do the heavy lifting. Any time I can join in communal rosary or stations of the Cross with my fellow parishioners my only feeble prayers are multiplied and strengthened by theirs. Communal devotions are not harder prayers, they are easier. I’m not a perfect prayer but my Lord is and my brothers and sisters will chip in too. The hard part is just getting there.
Some days getting there is just about all I manage. Beyond that, on days like today, my contribution is pretty pitiful. Distracted, tired, maybe a little cranky if I’m honest, but I got there. The sacrifice of carving out a part of your day at a specific time to sit with Our Lord in adoration, mass, or liturgy of the hours orients your whole day towards Him. This is in itself a powerful act. Yet that was in itself a sacrifice of time and energy I can lay upon the altar along with the rest of the prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day. I got there, and I did my best. I go home and I do my best with the day. This is my prayer.
I’m not pretending daily mass is a breeze. In fact, daily is not a thing I can manage right now and is a luxury beyond the schedules of many. We are going once a week extra to mass and once a week for stations. I hope we can continue the practice long after Lent whenever possible. We shall see. What I do know is that my disposition towards such devotions has fundamentally shifted. I used to see my parish on weekdays as a place to pick up new burdens instead of a place I can share some of my load. Where once I saw a bonus activity for the ready, I now see an opportunity for anyone. What seemed a harder practice for spiritual athletes now seems a simple way to magnify the prayers of the feeblest sinner. Driving to church and participating in communal prayer isn’t the long way round, it’s a short cut. Go head, give it a try. Just take a quick right at your local parish.
One of the greatest desires of Almighty God is the conversion of sinners. That poor sinners will leave their sinful lifestyles and turn back to the love of God is high on the list of God’s desires.
Furthermore, Our Lady, who is the one closest to God Almighty, shares this same desire: that poor sinners will renounce their sinful lifestyles and return to God. Our Lady of Lourdes, who appeared 18 times in the year 1858 to the little peasant child, Bernadette Soubirous, asked the little girl to pray and to offer up sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. Very similar to the message of Lourdes was that of Our Lady of Fatima, who appeared 6 times in the year 1917 to three simple shepherd children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. Our Lady said with great sorrow in her heart that many souls were lost because there were not sufficient prayers and sacrifices offered for these poor sinners.
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady appeared to the three children of Fatima and revealed to them a graphic vision of Hell! From then on the children, but most especially Jacinta, offered many sacrifices for the conversion of sinners. This vision of hell left such a profound and indelible impression upon Jacinta that she offered all she possibly could in her short life for the conversion of poor sinners, to win souls for God.Jacinta’s Sacrifices
The sacrifices of this little girl, beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II together with her brother Francisco, were constant and heroic:
- She sacrificed her favorite food: those sweet and delicious grapes.
- She wore around her waist a rope which caused her discomfort all day.
- She sacrificed her lunch for the poor whom she met on the roadside.
- On a hot summer day, dying of thirst, she sacrificed drinking water.
- She prayed the prayers the angel taught her, prostrate on the ground.
- With the reminder of her brother Francisco, she offered up her headache.
- She prayed many, many Rosaries to Our Lady for the conversion of sinners.
- Interrogated and threatened by the local authorities, she was willing to suffer being boiled to death rather than to deny that she saw Our Lady.
- Finally, Jacinta suffered a painful death, in which she died almost alone in a hospital far from her home. All this she did out of love for Almighty God and for the conversion and salvation of sinners. How much love this little girl had for God and God’s crown of creation in this world—the human person!
The saints are different in many ways, coming from different historical periods, diverse family backgrounds, widely diverse cultural environments, endowed with different temperaments as well as intellectual gifts. However, all the saints have this in common: a great love for God and a great love for what God really loves most in all of His creation, the salvation of the souls of all the human persons that He has created. This is what He desires first and foremost: their eternal salvation.
On one occasion a child entered into the office of a priest. The young boy, looking up on the wall saw a few words written in Latin. Inquisitive, the boy asked the priest the meaning of those few words; these words were the motto and motor-force of the life of this great priest. The interpretation would be: “Give me souls and take all the rest away.” The name of this priest was the great Saint John Bosco; the name of the boy was Saint Dominic Savio. This boy turned to Bosco and said: “I am the cloth and you are the tailor; make me into a saint.” Before the boy turned 15 he was already dead. However, he reached his ardent desire: he died a saint! Both Bosco and Savio had this point in common: a great love for God and an inflamed love for the salvation of souls.
One of the most pervasive maladies in the modern world, even all-pervasive within the Catholic Church, is the cancer of mediocrity. This is an all-pervasive, poisonous and contagious spiritual disease in which many Catholics, millions upon millions have no fire, have no zeal, have no burning desire to work with God for the salvation of immortal souls.
The Word of God speaks powerfully against this spiritual condition with these words from the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation: “The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God’s creation, says this: I know your works: I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:14-15)
Mediocre Catholics are lukewarm; they are tepid; they are lifeless. They are languid, slovenly and lazy. They have no fire, no zeal, no life, no strong desires. They have lost their first love, if indeed they had love in the first place! They suffer from an appalling spiritual anemia. They are living but not really alive spiritually! As the Word of God says so forcefully, God vomits or spits them out of His mouth. Living in this spiritual environment, all of us must fight forcefully so as not to slowly descend into this dangerous pit of mediocrity. The lives of the saints can spur us on as in the following…Conversion to God and a Zeal for Souls
Both Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francis Xavier underwent powerful conversions which transformed both of them into fiery warriors of God, with an ardent desire to save many souls. Ignatius was converted by receiving a near-fatal wound in the battle of Pamplona and by reading the lives of saints. Upon reading about the saints, a fire and ardent zeal were ignited in Ignatius’ heart to work with God for the salvation of immortal souls. In his classic, the Spiritual Exercises, he presents a meditation/contemplation The Call of the Temporal King so as to follow the call of the Eternal King. One of the primary purposes of this meditation is for us to listen attentively to the Call of the Eternal King, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to work side by side with Jesus in striving for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of immortal souls.
Saint Francis Xavier went through his conversion by means of the doing the Spiritual Exercises under the direction of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in Paris. After completing the Exercises, Xavier was radically transformed and converted into a fiery warrior and disciple of the Lord of Lord’s, the King of King’s, Jesus Christ. After Xavier was ordained a priest, he became the secretary of Ignatius. The Pope wanted to send priests to India and other countries in the Far-East, following the missionary mandate of Jesus to go out to the whole world to preach and baptize. So Ignatius sent Francis Xavier. The last words that Ignatius said to Xavier, who would become one of the greatest missionaries in world history, were: go set the world on fire! Thousands upon thousands of souls were saved in India, Malaysia and even Japan by Xavier, who desired ardently the conversion of sinners and the salvation of immortal souls. Many nights he could no longer lift up his arm because he had baptized so many individuals during the course of the day—that is truly love for the conversion and salvation of souls!
Now it is your turn! Enter into silence which will lead you into prayer. The Lord of Lord’s and the King of Kings is calling you right now. He wants you to work with Him in the conversion of sinners and the salvation of immortal souls. What can you do right now to bring at least one soul to conversion? Listen to these encouraging words in the Letter of Saint James: “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
In imitation of the saints, let us work hard now and we can rest for all eternity with the angels, the saints, Our Lady who is the Queen of angels and saints, and with God Himself. May we all be motivated by the virtue of apostolic zeal and an ardent desire to work with God in the salvation of countless sinners! Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us that one soul is worth more than the whole created universe. Why? Saint Peter teaches us: “You were ransomed from your futile conduct handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless and unblemished lamb. (I Peter 1:18-19). May the reality of the Precious Blood of Jesus that He shed on the cross on Good Friday for the conversion of sinners, with all of the pain and anguish He suffered for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of their immortal souls, ignite within us zeal for the conversion and salvation of sinners. Right now God is speaking to your heart with these words: GO NOW AND SET ALL ON FIRE!!!
‘In the Blessed Eucharist our senses are unable to perceive the Real Presence. We look at Jesus present in the tabernacle, perhaps just a few yards away, and we tell him that we know, through faith, that he is present — the same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth; the same Jesus who rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.”
-Fr. Thomas J McGovern, The Most Holy Eucharist
Both readings today speak of life-giving water: the first reading speaks of water from the Temple which gives life to fruit trees and plants; the Gospel reading speaks of an extraordinary pool with special healing power.
In the Gospel reading Jesus cured the sick man but enraged the Jews because he healed on the sabbath and told the cured man to take up his mat, something not allowed on the sabbath.
The Jews did not appreciate Jesus’ kindness when he cured the man sick for thirty-eight years: all they saw was Jesus violating the sabbath. How much do we appreciate God’s continuing goodness and care for us? Are we hypocrites like the Jewish leaders?
Saint Guntramnus, also known as Contran or sometimes Gontran, was the son of King Clotaire and the grandson of Clovis I. In 561 he was became king of Orleans and Burgundy. He married a woman named Mercatrude, but later divorced her. However, when she became ill, he sent a physician to her. She was dying and the doctor could do nothing for her, so the queen insisted that the physician die and Guntramnus had him murdered.
He later converted to Christianity and was overcome with remorse for the things he had done in the past. He wanted to spend the remainder of his life serving God and his fellow man. Therefore, he governed his kingdom with love. He was most reverent towards the clergy and treated the priests not as servants, but as the spiritual fathers they are. He helped the poor and gave generously of his wealth to the oppressed and poverty-stricken.
Guntramnus recognized the Lord had been merciful him, so he in turn was merciful to others. Even those who tried to assassinate him were only imprisoned and not killed as others might have done. One man, who attempted to stab the king, took refuge in a church and Guntramnus let him go free. He was fair to everyone and treated his subjects as his own family. He spent much time in prayer and fasting, and built several churches and monasteries. St. Gregory of Tours writes that he was an eyewitness to miracles performed by St. Guntramnus. On March 28, in the year 592, King Guntramnus died at the age of sixty-eight. He was buried in church of St. Marcellus, which Guntramnus founded.
In the sixteenth century, Huguenots scattered his ashes, but his skull remained untouched and is kept in a silver box in St. Marcellus Church. Guntramnus is the patron saint of divorced people, guardians, and repentant murderers. He is usually depicted in art as a king with three treasure chests, one of which has a globe and a cross on it.
Father in heaven, you are so merciful. We are given great hope in the life of King Guntramnus. We shall not despair, Father, knowing that when we turn to You in true repentance, You will not only forgive us, but also give us the opportunity to extend that same mercy and kindness to others. Thank You, Father, for Your great love and forgiveness. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. John of Capistrano (1456), Priest, Patron of Jurists
Presence of God – O Jesus most obedient, make me understand the value of obedience.
St. John of the Cross has said, “God wants from us the least degree of obedience and submission, rather than all the works we desire to offer Him” (Spiritual Maxims: Words of Light, 13). Why? Because obedience makes us surrender our own will to adhere to God’s will as expressed in the orders of our superiors; and the perfection of charity, as well as the essence of union with God, consists precisely in the complete conformity of our will with the divine will. Charity will be perfect in us when we govern ourselves in each action–not according to our personal desires and inclinations–but according to God’s will, conforming our own to His. This is the state of union with God, for “the soul that has attained complete conformity and likeness of will (to the divine will), is totally united to and transformed in God supernaturally” (Ascent of Mount Carmel II, 5,4).
The will of God is expressed in His commandments, in the precepts of the Church, in the duties of our state in life; beyond all that, there is still a vast area for our free choice, where it is not always easy to know with certitude exactly what God wants of us. In the voice of obedience, however, the divine will takes on a clear, precise form; it comes to us openly manifest and we no longer need to fear making a mistake. Indeed, as St. Paul says, “There is no power but from God” (Romans 13:1), so that by obeying our lawful superiors, we can be certain that we are obeying God. Jesus Himself, when entrusting to His disciples the mission of converting the world, said, “He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me” (Luke 10:16).
He teaches us here that ecclesiastical superiors represent Him and speak to us in His Name. Furthermore, St. Thomas points out that every lawful authority–even in the natural order, such as the civil and social spheres–when commanding within the just limits of its powers manifests the divine will. In this very sense, the Apostle does not hesitate to say, “Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords … as to Christ … doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:5-6).
“Oh! how sweet and glorious is this virtue of obedience, which contains all the other virtues! Because it is born of charity, and on it the rock of holy faith is founded, it is a queen, and he who espouses it knows no evil, but only peace and rest. The tempestuous waves of evil cannot hurt him because he sails in Your holy will, O my God…. He has no wish which cannot be satisfied because obedience makes him desire You alone, O Lord, who know his desires and can and will fulfill them. Obedience navigates without fatigue, and without danger comes into the port of salvation. O Jesus, I see that obedience conforms itself to You; I see it going with You into the little boat of the holy Cross. Grant me, then, O Lord, this holy obedience anointed with true humility. It is straightforward and without deceit; it brings with it the light of divine grace. Give me this hidden pearl trampled underfoot by the world, which humbles itself to submit to creatures for love of You” (St. Catherine of Siena).
O Lord, I have only one life; what better way could I use it for Your glory and my sanctification than to submit it directly to obedience? Only by doing this shall I be certain that I am not wasting my time or deceiving myself, for to obey is to do Your will. If my will is very imperfect, Yours is holy and sanctifying; if mine has only the sad power to lead me astray, Yours can make holy my life and all my acts–even the simplest and most indifferent–if they are accomplished at its suggestion. O Lord, the desire to live totally in Your will urges me to obedience and compels me to love and embrace this virtue, in spite of my great attachment to my liberty and independence.
O holy, sanctifying will of my God, I want to love You above everything else; I want to embrace You at every moment of my life; I do not want to do anything without You or outside of You.+
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Art for this post on The Value of Obedience: Saint Catherine of Siena, from Chiesa di Santa Maria del Rosario in Prati, Roma, 19th century?, anonymous, PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.About Dan Burke
Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio Author Insights Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
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