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How to Participate in the Eucharistic Prayer

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 23:07

You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.
— Psalm 110:4

Near the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the famous image of Adam’s creation at the hand of God is a majestic reminder of our humble dependency on God for our very being. Whether as faithful pilgrims or curious tourists, the chapel’s guests can’t help but gaze up at this work of art. What do they see? Some see color, form, and beauty; others see faith and inspiration; and still others see beauty and faith commingled in some of Michelangelo’s more subtle meanings.

An interpretation of The Creation of Adam gives insight into liturgical participation, especially of the priestly sort. At the center of this central picture of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling are God’s and Adam’s fingers about to touch, putting the capstone on the Trinity’s visible creation. But these figures are not yet touching, and the space between them — and the power to fill it — begins to speak directly about priesthood. The adjoining panels in the chapel’s ceiling help us to see why.

The fresco next to The Creation of Adam depicts Eve being created out of the side of the sleeping Adam, and the one after it depicts their fall from grace at the tree and their subsequent expulsion from the garden. These panels can be given a priestly reading by those fingers about to touch. If that first contact created life, and if the continued contact sustained and developed it, then Adam’s sin withdraws the human hand from God and ushers in death. Consequently, if fallen man and moaning creation wish to return to a new life, they must reach out and contact God once again. The gap — or, better, the chasm — must be bridged. And this is the job of the priest.

There are a few words our Roman Rite uses to describe its priests, and one of them is pontifex. In Latin, the noun pons means “bridge,” and we can see this word surface in such words as “pontoon boat,” which, in essence, is a small floating bridge. Fex is the foundation of today’s “factory,” the place where things are built. Put the two words together — pontifex — and you get “bridge builder,” which is precisely what a priest is. In this job description, a priest has the power to overcome the separation between humanity and divinity, allowing men and women to pass over to heaven and unite themselves with God. In terms of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, the priest bridges the gap between the outstretched fingers of God and man, a void that appeared because of sin.

Throughout history, many have noticed that things aren’t quite right with the world around us and have sought either a priest or at least priestly power to commune with the divine. In fact, the priestly instinct is a part of human nature, since our constitution is perfectly suited to reconnect heaven and earth. On the one hand, we share much in common with the rest of visible creation, since we are composed in part of a material body. We love dogs and cats, flowers and trees, clouds and air, food and drink. On the other hand, we resemble invisible creation, the angels, since we possess immaterial souls.

We desire to know and seek justice, we love (or at times hate) one another, and we are universally dissatisfied with the superficial happiness that material possessions bring. We look like animals but think like angels, with one foot in the earthly world and another in the heavenly world, and so we occupy a unique place in all of creation to bridge, mediate, and intercede between the opposite sides of the abyss separating us from God (see CCC 355). Some in the Church’s Tradition have even called man not Homo sapiens (since we are often as foolish as we are sapient), but Homo adorans, the “worshiping man.” But we are also fallen “priests of creation” and are in need of a supernatural cure for our priestly shortcomings.

A key thread throughout the Old Testament — perhaps the key thread — is the formation of priests. The Trinity works to restore and perfect the priesthood, both individually and collectively, a work that reaches its perfection in Jesus, the greatest bridge builder of them all, the Pontifex Maximus. Let’s consider a few of these priests of the Old Testament and how they led the Chosen People to pass over to God.

Something of a mystery man when it comes to priests in the Bible, the figure of Melchizedek is a remarkable example of how the sacerdotal is able to bridge the gap between man and God. It should come as no surprise that Melchizedek has much in common with the Christ yet to come. First, he is not only a priest but also a king, just like Jesus, and he’s not any old king either, but the royal head of Jerusalem, the place where Christ will one day offer Himself. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, Melchizedek is also “without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life; thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever” (7:3). He also offers bread and wine, which Jesus will also do at the Last Supper. The fourth-century Doctor of the Church St. Ambrose saw in Melchizedek’s offering a universal sacrifice, one given in all times and places (“from the rising of the sun to its setting,” as the prophet Malachi would put it [1:11]). Melchizedek would be making an offering not bound to the future Temple of Jerusalem and its restrictive priesthood of a single tribe, the Levites. Rather, Melchizedek’s priesthood reaches further than Adam’s hand. In other words, this priesthood is big, one that calls the universe’s priests — men and women — to their original place as adoring bridge builders.

Serving as another type of priest is Abraham, whom the priestly Melchizedek blesses in God’s name. A different sort of priest from Melchizedek, Abraham (or, Abram, his original name) was called by God from a foreign land and promised blessings and descendants. He routinely builds altars and offers sacrifices to God (e.g., Gen. 12:7; 12:8; 13:18), and through these altars and their sacrifices made by Abraham the priest, heaven and earth one day would be rejoined. (Altars, sacrifices, and priests are always found together.) Abraham’s most significant sacrifice was his only son, Isaac, who was most dear to his heart.

God tells Abraham to “offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Gen. 22:2). Isaac travels to Mount Moriah on a donkey, carries the wood of his death up the mountain upon his shoulders, and freely gives himself over to his father’s hands. This domestic or paternal priesthood, to be passed from father to son, was present from the start. Already naturally born priests, God’s people were called upon to offer priestly sacrifice as the means to unite themselves — finger to finger — with the hand of God.

A third kind of Old Covenant priest, Moses leads his people from worldly woes to a new life. Standing at the head of his people (“in the breach” between God and the Israelites, Psalm 106:23 says), he directs the fathers of households to sacrifice an unblemished lamb to ransom their firstborn children. With the blood of the lamb marking the doorways of their homes, the Lord passes over their houses, sparing them. The next day, Moses, with staff (a type of cross) in hand, leads the Jews out of Egypt’s slavery, passing through the Red Sea to freedom and new life on the opposite shore. This entire people, God says to them, “will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6), the conduit through which heaven and earth will one day reconnect.

In all these early prefigurements of Christ’s priesthood, “passing over” from one state to another and reconnecting with God is a vital element. The crossing of the Red Sea is, until the coming of Jesus, the most significant passover, where the journey from point A to point B is the result of priestly bridge building between man and God. But it is not the only example of pass-over. After forty years of desert wandering, for example, Joshua (in Hebrew, his name is the same as Jesus) leads the Chosen People across the Jordan on dry ground, the waters of the river piling up on both sides of them, into the promised land at Jericho (Joshua 3). Elijah also passes over the Jordan at Jericho before being taken up in the fiery chariot to God. After Elijah rolls up his mantle and strikes the water, the Jordan again parts, allowing the prophet to cross. Only then did the “fiery chariot and fiery horses” appear and “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:11).

In another example of passover, the book of Ruth relates how Naomi and Ruth, living east of the Jordan River in the land of Moab, hear that the Lord has visited His people in the land of Judah “and given them food” (1:6). Then, crossing over the Jordan, they enter Bethlehem (the name means “house of bread”) and receive abundant food from Boaz — so much food, in fact, that they gathered the leftovers. (Does this account remind us of another priest from Bethlehem who gave food in abundance?) In each of these three instances — Joshua, Elijah, and Naomi and Ruth — we see bridges, passovers, and journeys from slavery and hunger in this earthly life to refreshment and new life with God. Each example recounts priestly actions of bridge building and reconnecting God and man, fingertip to fingertip.

These Old Testament priests and their meditations find fulfillment in the Pontifex Maximus, Jesus Christ. Like Melchizedek, the eternal Jesus offers bread and wine in Jerusalem. Like Abraham, He obediently offers His heart to the Father on the wood of the Cross. Like Moses, Jesus “stands in the breach” between God and man and builds a bridge from earth to heaven so that we can pass over to God. His redemptive bridge building is called the “Paschal Mystery,” and it includes His suffering, sacrificial death, Resurrection, and Ascension to the Father’s right hand. Because Jesus’ priestly Paschal Mystery is the high point of His saving work, it is naturally also at the heart of the Mass.

Our devotional journey into the heart of the Mass has taken us to the Sacred Heart of the Redeemer. His heart is, as it were, a bridge, over which we pass from earth to heaven. Consider the type of bridge builder Jesus is, and why we call Him the greatest of all. If the bridge of all human desire connects earth to heaven, rejoins man to God, Jesus is the only one who could build it, since He works perfectly for both sides of the void. He is, on the one hand, entirely God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He has every authority and power to reach out from heaven to earth (much as Michelangelo depicted God striving for man on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling). On the other hand, Christ is faultlessly, wholly, and completely man. But unlike that first Adam, who withdrew his hand from the life-giving touch of God, this Second Adam does not collapse under the weight of misguided desires but wills nothing but union with God. Christ the God-man is the true High Priest who bridges the great chasm created by sin. Is there a greater bridge — or bridge builder — imaginable?

With this image of the bridge builder in mind, let us return to Mass. During the Eucharistic Prayer, this great bridge opens before us. Jesus has the power to reconnect both sides, and the material He uses is His heart, the great gift that fills the space between heaven and earth. His Cross is the altar, the location — the X that marks the spot — where His heart is placed. As a willing agent in the Paschal Mystery, His ordained priest makes the Pontifical Jesus present. But even though Jesus is the offering, the altar, and the priest in history’s Paschal Mystery at Mass, He still desires our assistance. Christ the High Priest is always the principal worker in the Mass, but He calls all — the ordained and the baptized — to be His co-workers, salvation’s cooperators, priestly collaborators.

But who is this willing accomplice in the Paschal Mystery? Ordination to the priesthood conforms a man to Christ the priest and gives him unique power to exercise Jesus’ priesthood at the head of the Church. Long before ordination, that man began participating in Christ’s priesthood in virtue of his bap­tism. In addition to removing all sin, the sacrament of baptism gives a number of saving gifts: divine life of grace, gifts of the Holy Spirit, membership in the Body of Christ, and a share in the priesthood of Christ. All of the sacraments help us look and act and think and be like Jesus. And since priesthood is one of Christ’s characteristics, so too is it a Christian characteristic.

If Christ is the Pontifex Maximus, then you and I and each of the baptized is a pontifex minimus, a “little bridge builder.” Our bridge is the same one that Christ builds, a bridge to which we contribute by offering ourselves. Baptismal character empowers us — and demands of us — to exercise Christ’s priesthood in ourselves.

The sacrifice that God wants is our whole heart. But He won’t reach out and take it against our will, nor will the priest at Mass. To get my heart to the Father, I join it to Christ’s on the altar that serves as the crossroad between heaven and earth. And since Jesus is the priest who empowers me to act, I actualize His priesthood in myself. In Mass, as the preparation of the altar and the gifts concludes, the priest commands us to pray that his sacrifice and ours be acceptable to God. Assuming a priestly posture, we stand “in the breach” and say: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” The Eucharistic Prayer that follows is the time to roll up our sleeves and usher our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings over the great bridge with Jesus. St. Leo the Great once put it like this:

For all, regenerated in Christ . . . are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special ser­vice of our ministry as [ordained] priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are . . . sharers in the office of the priesthood. For . . . what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?

Sacrifices need priests, and priests need sacrifices. After our hearts are prepared, the Eucharistic Prayer is the moment to realize our priesthood and join ourselves to God.

As daughters and sons of Adam, we were made to praise, adore, and mediate on behalf of creation. As brothers and sisters of the Second Adam, our natural desires attain supernatural power, enabling us, with the help of Christ, to redirect a fallen world to the hand of its Maker. As priests of creation, we point to the Father, who in Christ is no farther than our fingertips. Like the snapping synapses that flash between living cells in the body, the Paschal Mystery’s priestly bridge illuminates our journey’s main junction: the reunion of heaven and earth.

The word “liturgy” has at its root the word “work.” Bridge building is in large part the work taking place at Mass. But this labor also has its reward: much as the Chosen People’s crossing over the Jordan gave them the new land’s milk and honey, or as Naomi and Ruth’s passage gave them Bethlehem’s bread, so our own work in the Eucharistic prayer will yield food: the fruit of the tree of the Cross.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in A Devotional Journey into the Mass, which is available from Sophia Institute Press. image by RobertCheaib / Pixabay

A Novena to Saint Peregrine: Please Pray for Cancer Patients

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 23:05

Late last summer, my friend, Christy, told me that her three-year-old son, Paul, had been diagnosed with leukemia.

My heart broke for their family. I wanted to do something to help them, but they were hundreds of miles away. Thankfully, the God of mercy allows us to help others from far away with one mighty word: prayer.

Sometimes, when a person is suffering greatly, I am tempted to doubt that my prayers have any effect at all. Then I remember the lowest points of my life, when others were praying for me. I remember the tangible graces that I saw and felt then, and I have no doubt left in my mind: Prayers move mountains.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth,” Psalm 97:5 assures us, and I have seen it happen. I have seen mountains that seemed impassable crumble to pieces before the God of the universe as a direct answer to fervent prayers. I believe the heart of the Father is deeply moved when His beloved children pray for one another.

Since Paul’s diagnosis, he has lost his hair. He has a port inserted near his heart for chemotherapy to drip into. He has rounds of steroids that send his emotions into a tailspin. Last week, he had to be hospitalized for days because he caught a cold and had a fever; every illness is potentially life-threatening. He cries miserably when he is separated from his siblings, who cannot visit him in the hospital because of risk of infection. At three years old, he endures needles, lumbar punctures, and caustic drugs coursing through his tiny veins.

And his dear family has to watch him suffer.

There are no words that convey the depth of what this family is enduring. And sweet little Paul, they say, is one of the “lucky ones.” He has a very high chance for full recovery. There are many children whose prognoses are far worse.  Let us pray that God will melt the mountains that loom ahead of them.

I’ve never had cancer, but it has affected my life profoundly. A wicked cancer took a beloved friend’s life five years ago; she left behind a husband and young children. Cancer has threatened my friends and relatives, leaving them with wounds and scars and fears.

“Cancer is no respecter of persons,” a friend once said to me. When cancer stretches out its menacing grip, when we feel its claws digging in and taking hold, we must turn to the One who does respect every person—to the One who created every person and longs to heal them all—and place every cancer patient in His arms.

When we pray for those with cancer, we can also seek the intercession of St. Peregrine, patron saint of cancer patients.

St. Peregrine had a cancerous ulcer on his leg. The night before his leg was scheduled to be amputated, he prayed intensely and received a vision of Jesus touching and healing his wound. The next morning, no sign of the cancer remained. Since his death, he has been renowned for obtaining miraculous cures and especially assisting those with cancer.

Those who want to invoke St. Peregrine’s intercession for cancer patients can pray a novena to St. Peregrine leading up to his feast, May 1, and also at any other time during the year.

Today, January 16, PrayMoreNovenas.com is beginning a novena to St. Peregrine (http://www.praymorenovenas.com/st-peregrine-novena/). The website will send the novena daily by email to those who sign up to receive it.

Even if you aren’t able to begin today, any day will do. Please join me in asking St. Peregrine’s intercession for little Paul, for his family, and for all cancer patients and those who care for them. I imagine every person reading this article has someone in particular to pray for, and I join with you in lifting up these people who are so close to Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

May the Divine Physician, in His endless mercy, ease their suffering and bring them healing, hope, and strength.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and those crushed in spirit he saves.

-Psalm 34:18

Add the Daily Examen to Your Prayer Life

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 23:02

Saint Ignatius insisted on never neglecting the Daily Examen. For no reason whatsoever would this great saint justify skipping over and neglecting this all important prayer. Starting now, why not make a proposal to make your own personal Daily Examen. If done, the fruits are countless and blessings copious from such a tool, an indispensable tool to erect a solid structure for a life of authentic holiness.

In this brief essay we will highlight and briefly explain the five classical steps of making the Daily Examen. Then, as a means for motivation, we will highlight some of the blessings that will descend upon you in your spiritual life.

If you read through essays, writings, articles and even books on this topic, the order and words vary, but the concept never changes. The key element is that the Daily Examen should be proposed by all those with good will and put into practice. Let’s go!

The Five Classical Steps for the Ignatian Daily Examen 1. Recall the Presence of God

All authentic prayer starts with calling to mind the all-abiding Presence of God.We are never far from God, and God is never far from us! Saint Paul, quoting the Greek poet, expresses it as such: In Him we live and move and have our being. Therefore, start your Daily Examen by gently calling to mind the all-abiding, all-permeating, presence of God. God is present in all times, all places, all circumstances, all events of our lives. Even when our life seems to be a dark night of the soul, God is as present as the sun shining at midday!

Add to this that our God is a loving Father who always desires what is best for His children. Therefore, we should respond with trust, confidence, and love.

2. Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good!

Saint Ignatius insists on the importance of gratitude. We should cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Saint Ignatius states that the very essence of sin is ingratitude—a lack of rendering to God a heartfelt thanks! In all humility, every gift that we have in our lives—natural, athletic, artistic, spiritual, supernatural, etc.—all are gifts from the Father of all gifts.

Therefore, rewind the film of your life since your last daily examen and allow your heart to expand in an overflowing act of thanksgiving. In a word, all that we have (except for the sins) are gratuitous gifts from our all-bountiful Heavenly Father. Indeed, God loves a grateful heart and is ready and willing to shower thankful hearts with more and more blessings! How much Jesus suffered when after healing ten lepers, only one came back to pay Him thanks!

3. Beg God to Send the Holy Spirit, to See as He Sees

The third step in our Daily Examenis to beg for the Gift of Gifts, the Holy Spirit, to shed light on your intellect, to help you to rewind the past block of time—your past day! Humility is truth and you want to beg in all honestly to see what you have done, but even beyond the exterior actions, you want to beg for the grace to see even your hidden intentions. We should never forget that man can see the surface, the mere exterior, but God can read our hearts and even our most hidden intentions.

4. Gratitude and Repentance

During the Examen, most likely you will become aware of God’s incredible goodness and His many gifts; give thanks to God for His blessings. However, in all sincerity and truth, the Holy Spirit will also point out some actions, and even some intentions, that were off the mark and not pleasing to God. Only God is perfect and the Bible teaches us that the just man falls seven times a day, but we must get back up.

5. Resolve, Reconciliation, and Renewal 

The last step points to the future. With a keen awareness of God’s infinite love, His infinite goodness in giving us so much, but also aware of our own human weakness, we propose to love God more starting now, and to avoid any person, place, thing, or circumstance that can lead us off the path of true discipleship of the Lord. In other words, the Daily Examen heightens our self-knowledge and can serve as a great preventive medicine.If we know where the pit is in our path, then we can sidestep it or simply jump over it! The Desert Fathers insist on a two-word axiom: know thyself. 

The Benefits of the Daily Examen

Now, let’s discuss the benefits of the practice of the Daily Examen, which are incalculable!   We will mention only three.

1. Constant Awareness of God and Prayer

If the Daily Examen is done faithfully, on a daily basis with hard work and good will, then we will become more and more aware of God’s loving presence in our lives. God is not some distant, ethereal, mythical figure of the past, and He will become all the more real to us.

If you like, He will become our best Friend always at our side. The truth is, we are never alone; Jesus is our Best Friend who wants us to share every moment of our existence with Him.  Furthermore, we will sin less. Saint Teresa of Avila asserts that one of the primary reasons for sin is becoming oblivious to the all abiding Presence of God!

2. Avoid Pitfalls

With a more acute awareness of the intentions and movements of our heart, which is like a garden that has both beautiful flowers and ugly weeds, we can avoid giving in to our bad tendencies. When the bad spirit is knocking at the door of our heart, then we can close the door with lock and key! Many sins are committed due to weakness of the will, but also due to ignorance of who we really are. The Daily Examen heightens self-knowledge, a key component for growth in holiness!

3. Compassion Towards Others

The Daily Examen is like shining a daily floodlight on our heart, our soul, and the inner workings of our conscience. We become aware of how good and loving God really is. However, with a penetrating awareness, we become cognizant of how weak we really are at times, and how prone to slip and fall into the mire of our own sinfulness. This keen self-knowledge can help us to be more kind, patient, and compassionate with our struggling brothers and sisters! God allows what is evil to bring greater good from the evil.

In the first reading Samuel anoints the

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 23:00

In the first reading Samuel anoints the young David in his family’s presence.

In the Gospel reading we see Jesus reprimanding the Pharisees for their narrow interpretation of the sabbath law. The Pharisees say his disciples violate the sabbath by picking heads of grain and crushing them in their hands.

On other occasions they accused Jesus of breaking the sabbath by curing on the sabbath: “There are six days in which to work; come on those days to be healed and not on the sabbath” (Lk 13: 14)

Rather than having the sabbath law as a command to honor and thank Yahweh and to give due rest and relaxation to man and even animals, the Pharisees had reduced the sabbath observance to myriad rules and activities not allowed during the sabbath.

Moses declared the sabbath law, “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you will labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath for Yahweh your God. Do not work on that day neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals, nor the stranger with you. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. but on the seventh day he rested; that is why Yahweh has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex 20: 8 – 11)

How did they arrive at such regulations for the sabbath day? Jesus declared his complete opposition to the Pharisees’ observance of the sabbath, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. So the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.”

Pope Saint Marcellus I

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 23:00

Marcellus lived during the time of the Emperor Diocletian, a great persecutor of Christians. In the year 305, Diocletian abdicated and Pope Marcellus was elected three years later in 308.

When Marcellus took office, the Church in Rome was in chaos. Through the terrible persecutions, churches had been confiscated and some burial places of Christians defiled. All Church activities had been interrupted and there was great confusion. There were also divisions among the faithful and many whose faith had grown lukewarm during the persecutions had fallen away.

Marcellus took charge right away and devised a plan to renew the Church. He divided the territorial administration of the Church into 25 districts and appointed a priest over each to prepare the catechumens for baptism and direct the performance of public penances. The priests were also responsible for the Christian burials of the faithful dead and for celebrations commemorating the deaths of martyrs.

Though the faith was being rekindled among many through the actions of this new pope, controversy soon arose. Those who had fallen away amidst the great persecutions wanted to return to the Church now that the persecutions had abated. Pope Marcellus was glad to have them return, but insisted that they first perform public penance for having denied their faith. This did not sit well with many and soon serious conflicts arose and in some cases blood was shed. Fanning the flame of these uproars was the tyrannical Maxentius who finally had the pope arrested and sent into exile.

Marcellus I reigned for only 18 months and died shortly after being sent into exile.

Lessons

There is another account concerning the end of Marcellus’s life. According to a fifth-century writing, Passio Marcelli, Maxentius was so enraged by the actions of Pope Marcellus in restoring the Church that he demanded that he make an offering to the gods. When the pope refused, Marcellus had him put to work as a slave, attending horses. According to this account, he died while serving in this menial occupation. This story, however, is probably legendary with little truth other than the account of his restoration of the Church.

Prayer

We pray today, Lord, that there will always be defenders of the truth in Your Church, ready to restore where Satan has demolished. We thank you for Pope St. Marcellus and his work within the Church, and all his successors who have stood firm in the face of adversity.  Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Our Lady of Refuge

Mastering Manhood Through Mary

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 08:15

Some years back, I heard a priest say something shocking during a homily. It was before I was Catholic, and I was present at the Mass on a holy day of obligation as a way of keeping a faux peace in my marriage. My wife converted to Catholicism in 2004, a year before we met, and, even after we wed in 2006 and after I agreed to raise our kids in the Faith, I still had no intention of becoming Catholic.

“Mary is a gift to all men,” the priest said rather plainly. I recall we gathered together to celebrate the feast of the Assumption. At first, I thought he meant Mary was a gift to all humanity. Many priests emphasize how our Lord presented his mother, the Woman, to the beloved disciple at the foot of his cross, and how we are all called beloved disciples who must also dutifully take Mary into our own homes. However for me, this argument had no real impact. I resigned ready for this priest to make the same argument. Instead, he took a different approach, even intensifying his tone.

“Mary offers men, in particular, a way out of a difficult problem. For women, loving Jesus comes easily and naturally. But it does not feel so easy or natural for a man to love another man as intimately as we ought to love our Lord. Mary presents men with a solution to this difficult challenge.”

What on earth was he saying? I recall thinking. I sat up straight in the pew and leaned in close. The priest continued to make other good points, but mentally I lagged behind and lingered on his penetrating statement. Mary is a gift to men.

For many years, his words simmered on the back burner of my mind. Eventually, in 2014, I would fully enter the Church on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. However, I never forgot the priest’s words. It was not until years later, after encountering Saint John Paul II’s teaching on Theology of the Body, that the priest’s wisdom finally led to great insight into what it means to be a man.

The New Eve

Mary’s role in the Church is always to reflect and advance the glory of her son. In fact, Mary never ceases to defend and protect Jesus. For example, the Church’s teaching on Mary’s title as Theotokos—Mother of God—merely reflects the truth of her son’s divinity, and is not exclusively a praise of Mary alone. In the Church’s teaching on Mary’s perpetual virginity, the Church protects the miraculous nature of Jesus’ earthly birth, which early church fathers describe as “light [passing] through glass without harming the glass” (Miravalle 2012). This analogy has bears greater meaning as we profess in the Nicene Creed belief in Jesus Christ, who is consubstantial with the Father, as being “God from God, Light from Light.”

Jesus Christ is the divine Light, “the life of the light of the human race” (Jn 1:3b), that passed through the precious womb of the blessed Virgin. As such, we can imagine Mary as a sort of prism for that Light. In view of her singularly unique qualities illuminated by the divine Light, we can see certain mysteries concerning God’s plan for humanity come to life.

In an Apostolic Exhortation titled Marialis Cultus (1974), his Holiness Paul VI writes, “Mary, the New Woman, stands at the side of Christ, the New Man, within whose mystery the mystery of the human being alone finds true light; she is given to us as a pledge and guarantee that God’s plan in Christ for the salvation of the whole human person has already achieved realization in a creature: in her.”

God designed humanity in His image, “in the image of God He created them, male and female, He created them” (Gn 1:27). This incredible passage from Genesis signifies not merely that God created each individual alone to bear the imago dei, but also He imprinted His image upon the communal life of man with woman. In a homily delivered on June 14, 2015, Pope Francis explains, “…not only is man taken in himself the image of God, not only is woman taken in herself the image of God, but also man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God.” Moreover, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Man and woman were made “for each other” – not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be “helpmate” to the other, for they are equal as persons (“bone of my bones…”) and complementary as masculine and feminine” (CCC 372).

This of course makes perfect sense in view of God’s divine nature. Through Sacred Revelation, we know that God is not merely one Being, but also a trinity of Three Divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In Himself, He brings to perfection both singularity and plurality. This is a rather abstract idea, but what it means for us concretely is that man bears Gods image singularly, as does woman, but then so does the complementarity of the sexes.

We further know from Theology of the Body that the complementarity of the sexes is given a particular grace in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. From the very origins of the human race, man and woman were made “to be a communion of persons, in which each can be “helpmate” to the other” (CCC 372).

The Mother of Men

Here is where the Priest’s words from earlier comes into perfect focus. Mary is the Immaculate Conception, the New Eve, perfectly complementary to every human male. As the New Eve, Mary is our helper, perfectly compatible with every human male and yearning to help us master manhood to become who God called us to be in our families, in our marriages, and in society.

With her aid and graces, we can secure the victory delivered for us by the pure sacrifice of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As men, consecration to her is not merely a spiritual act of faith, but an essential act of manhood. She completes us, which is not to say God left us half-made and incomplete. Instead, God created us to be in communion with perfect femininity, which, we find in her. Like the priest said, Mary is a gift to men.

The post Mastering Manhood Through Mary appeared first on The Catholic Gentleman.

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

Jesus the True Vine

Mon, 01/15/2018 - 02:35
Jesus the True Vine

Presence of God – O my Lord and Redeemer, grant that I may understand the deep intimate ties that bind You to us, whom You have redeemed.

MEDITATION

Jesus is the “one Mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5); however, He did not will to effect the work of our redemption independently of us, but used it as a means of strengthening the bond between Himself and us. This is the wonderful mystery of our incorporation in Christ, the mystery which Our Lord Himself revealed to His apostles the night before His Passion. “I am the true vine; and My Father is the husbandman…. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:1,4).

Jesus strongly affirms that there is no redemption, no supernatural life, no grace-life for one who does not live in Him, who is not grafted onto Him. He points to the vine: the shoots will not live and bear fruit unless they remain attached to the trunk. Jesus wishes to actualize this close connection between Himself and us, a connection which is necessary for our salvation and sanctification. We cannot receive the least degree of grace except through Christ’s mediation, even as the smallest drop of sap cannot reach a branch which is detached from the tree.

Moreover, Jesus declares that, if we abide in Him, we shall not only have supernatural life, but we shall become the recipients of special attention from our heavenly Father, the “Husbandman” of the mystical vine. In fact, our heavenly Father acknowledges us as His adopted children, loves us as such, and takes care of us, precisely to the degree in which He sees in us Christ, His only-begotten, His well-beloved Son. The grace of adoption, then, is wholly dependent upon our union with Christ, a union so close that we form, as it were, a “living part” of Him, as the branch forms a living part of the vine.

COLLOQUY

“O most high and eternal Trinity, Deity, Love, we are trees of death, and You are the tree of Life. O infinite God! How beautiful was Your creature when a pure tree in Your light! O supreme purity, You endowed it with branches, that is, with the faculties of the soul, memory, intellect, and will…. The memory, to recall You; the intellect, to know You; the will, to love You…. But this tree fell, because by disobeying it lost its innocence. Instead of a tree of life, it became a tree of death and brought forth only fruits of death.

“This is why, O eternal, most high Trinity, in a sublime transport of love for Your creature, seeing that this tree could produce only fruits of death because it was separated from You, who are Life, You gave it a remedy with that very same love by which You had created it, grafting Your Deity into the dead tree of our humanity. O sweet, gentle grafting!… Who constrained You to do this, to give back life to it, You who have been offended so many times by Your creature? Love alone, whence by this grafting death is dissolved.

“Was Your charity content, having made this union? No, eternal Word, You watered this tree with Your Blood. This Blood, by its warmth makes it grow, if man with his free will grafts himself onto You, and unites and binds his heart and affections to You, tying and binding this graft with the bond of charity and following Your doctrine. Since it is through You, O Life, that we bring forth fruits of life, we wish to be grafted onto You. When we are grafted onto You, then the branches which You have given to our tree bear fruit” (St. Catherine of Siena).

How encouraging it is to think, O Jesus, that my longing to be united to You is not a vain fantasy, but is already a reality! It is a reality because You have willed to graft me onto You as a shoot is grafted onto the vine, so that I live wholly by this union with You. Oh! grant that my soul may become always more closely united to You, and may always be ready to receive the vital sap of grace which You produce in me, Your branch!

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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 Jesus the true vine: Vine branch on the way “Algunder Waalweg”, Huberbe, 10 August 2012, CCA-3.0 Unported, 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, the High Calling Seminary Preparation Program, and the FireLight Student Leadership Formation Program, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep, Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux, and his newest book The Contemplative Rosary with St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Avila. 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, speaker and pilgrimage director 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.

What Is Wisdom and How Do We Get It?

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 23:07

Wisdom, like virtue, is something that we are constantly being encouraged to acquire.

The call to wisdom is explicit in Scripture. “Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart,” says Psalm 90:12. “Get wisdom, get understanding!” urges Proverbs 4:5. Proverbs 8:11 declares that “wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” Such is its power that wisdom itself is depicted as calling out to men later in Proverbs 8.

The primacy of wisdom is also reflected in the New Testament, in verses like James 1:5 and Colossians 3:16.

What is wisdom? It seems related to knowledge but also quite distinct. In everyday parlance, wisdom implies a certain attitude or stance towards reality and issues in action of some kind. I may know that it is unsafe to venture into a crack house, but I am not a wise man unless I put that knowledge into action by actually avoiding such an excursion. A young man is foolish if he lives as if his earthly body were immortal. He is wise if he doesn’t.

In the Old Testament, wisdom is connected with God’s role as Creator. This is particularly clear in Proverbs. For example, Proverbs 3:19 states, “The Lord founded the earth by wisdom; He established the heavens by understanding; by his knowledge the depths burst apart, and the skies distilled dew.” In Proverbs 8 wisdom is cast as the essential companion of God as He undertook the work of creation:

I was there when He set the heavens into place;
When He fixed the horizon upon the deep;
When He made the heavens above firm,
the foundations of the deep gushed forth;
When He assigned the sea its limits,
So that its waters never transgress His command;
When He fixed the foundations of the earth (vv. 27-29).

The connection between wisdom and the act of creation is also reinforced in Job:

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
The birds of the sky, they will tell you,
Or speak to the earth, it will teach you;
The fish of the sea, they will inform you.
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this?
… With Him are wisdom and courage;
His are counsel and understanding (Job 12:7-9, 13).

We can thus define wisdom as being the knowledge of the Creator in a twofold manner. First there is the wise plan according to which he made the heavens and the earth, the land and the seas, and all the living things that populate them. This in turns leads to a secondary knowledge: because He made all these things, God knows them intimately and perfectly—better than they know themselves, to the extent that creatures do.

But this definition leads us to a paradox. If wisdom is the applied knowledge of the Creator, then how can we ever hope to have it? Would not the pursuit of wisdom be an exercise in futility?

Even Scripture seems to raise this question, in a speech by God no less, in which he scolds Job:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Speak if you have understanding.
Do you know who fixed its dimensions
Or who measured it with a line?
… Who closed the sea behind the doors
When it gushed forth out of the womb,
When I clothed it in clouds. …
Who is wise enough to give an account of the heavens? (Job 38:4-5, 8-9, 37).

And yet Scripture beckons us on to seek wisdom. “The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom,” says Proverbs 4:7.

Fortunately, Scripture does elaborate on how to do this.

The crucial key comes earlier in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Proverbs 4 then expands upon this point—if we understand wisdom to be one with God, as Proverbs 8 implies and John 1 confirms. “Extol her, and she will exalt you; she will bring you honors if you embrace her” (Proverbs 4:8).

The acquisition of wisdom is narrated in personal terms. Wisdom does not come from reading books, taking notes, or thinking great thoughts. Instead it comes from God. Specifically, it arises when we fear God.

This is exactly the type of response God’s scolding speech to Job cited above should elicit: a sort of holy fear, an awe and reverence. For the God-fearer this requires a stance of humility: a recognition that we don’t know the world as well as God does—that we cannot know the nature of things as He does. For us, then, wisdom consists in a kind of not knowing. It is knowledge of our own ignorance before the infinite knowledge of God.

We can then discern between two forms of wisdom: human wisdom and divine wisdom. Scripture supports this interpretation:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Likewise, in the New Testament:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?”
(Romans 8:33, quoting several Old Testament texts)

What we doing here is speaking of wisdom analogously. Analogous ways of speaking are best explained by contrasting them with two other ways: univocal and equivocal. Univocal terms have one fixed meaning. For example, zoology always refers to the study of life. It does not have a range or diversity of meanings. On the other hand, the word bark can have two completely different and unrelated meanings: it can refer to a boat or the sound a dog makes. (My examples are borrowed and adapted from these two sources here and here.)

The third way of speaking is by analogy. Take the word stellar. Technically it is an adjective for stars, as in a stellar orbit. But we also use the word to talk about amazing things that really stand out, just as the stars stand out in the night sky. So I could talk about how Joe’s presentation is stellar. Now his presentation is completely different than stars—one is a ball of gas that emits light through nuclear fusion. The other is an arrangement of rational thoughts (one hopes at least) expressed through a series of symbols (letters, words, sentences) and images.

Yet the two are related. Like the stars, Joe’s presentation was exemplary in its brilliance, in a way that could not be ignored.

So it is with wisdom. Our wisdom is completely different than God’s: His thoughts are not ours. And yet they are related—this is the key insight of analogy.

In the case of wisdom, ours is related to God’s. His wisdom consists in perfect knowledge of the order of creation. Ours derives from knowing that we do not have such knowledge. What we do know is that we are but one small part of creation a mere individual creature within the cosmic order of creation. Thus both human and divine wisdom are related in that they entail a certain kind of knowledge about creation yet they are otherwise vastly different.

The principle of analogy then comforts us in our quest for wisdom. While we cannot arrive at divine knowledge, we can be confident we are on the right path. And while we cannot know all things, we know one important thing: that God does know all things. As our weakness is perfected in His strength, to paraphrase St. Paul, so also our ignorance is perfected in His knowledge. Or, put another away: our wisdom is made perfect in His.

Lifted Up in the Tree

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 23:05

Jesus was certainly able to draw crowds, as the story of Zacchaeus illustrates (Luke 19:1-10).

There are people today with that same sort of popular draw. For example, whenever Pope Francis is announced as the celebrant of a Liturgy, the place is packed. The crowds often spill into the street. And anyone short of stature, like Zacchaeus, likely has difficulty even getting a glimpse of the pontiff – unless they put up those big screens all over the place, as they usually do.

But, you know, at every Divine Liturgy, there’s someone who’s even better than the pope. The great high priest is not the pope but is our Lord Jesus Christ, who is personally present among us and in the Eucharist. This should draw more crowds than it does. If we only realized in whose presence we are standing in the midst of the Church.

If we really believe the Lord is present in the Church, we will demonstrate that faith by how we live and behave. Maybe there are usually no great crowds in our parishes because it doesn’t seem to the world that we ourselves even believe he is present there.

Yet in the world as it is, it is movie stars and singers, presidents and kings who are able to attract large numbers, anyway.

After World War II, King George personally visited the damaged cities to oversee the reconstruction efforts. When he would come into town, as you can imagine, the crowds would gather. The shops would close, the schools would close, and the people would line the streets hoping for a glimpse of their king as he went by. Well, in one of these cities, a young schoolboy, excited to be freed from school and excited to see the king, stood in the crowd and excitedly waved his flag as energetically as he could. But after the fanfare had died down, his teacher found him crying inconsolably. She asked him “what’s the matter, didn’t you get to see the king?” He replied, “Oh yes, I saw the king, but he didn’t see me.”[i]

This is how it goes, ordinarily, when a great and powerful person passes briefly in our midst. At first, it is exciting just to be near someone so famous. Years later, we may tell of the time we saw the president or the singer or the movie star, but really the experience will probably be a letdown if we enter into it hoping for any kind of real human connection with the person we so admire, as did the English schoolboy in his innocence.

And yet, Zacchaeus found that this is not what it is like with the Lord Jesus. I have no idea what was going through Zacchaeus’ mind when he decided to climb up that tree – whether he, like the schoolboy, was hoping to make himself conspicuous to the King, or whether he was merely curious. The gospel only tells us that he desired to see who Jesus was. It doesn’t say whether he also desired to be seen.

In any case, seen he was. And known. And called to. And loved. Jesus didn’t pass by Zacchaeus, leaving him unfulfilled, but rather called him down and fulfilled him ultimately, bringing salvation to his house.

He calls out, “Zacchaeus, you hurry down here for I need to stay at your house today.” Now, our etiquette might insist that one shouldn’t invite himself over, but remember that this is not a conversation between peers. Even an ordinary king may speak thus to his subjects, but here is the peerless One and Lord of all calling out to a simple sinner like us.

And listen to his insistence: Jesus says “I need” (δεῖ με – it behooves me) “to stay at your house today.” Now, in his humanity, of course Jesus needs food and shelter like all humans do, and Zacchaeus, being a rich man, had plenty of this to provide. But let’s not forget that this is God become man telling a sinner that he needs him. What love! What kenosis! God empties himself. Becomes nothing. Takes the form a slave. Makes himself dependent on a sinner like Zacchaeus. Like us. So if Jesus seems a little forward here, a little insistent, let him! It is all grace. He is knocking at our doors, inviting himself into our houses, and it is all for us and for our salvation, because when Jesus the Savior enters our house, it is salvation coming to our house. “For where Christ enters,” as St. Cyril writes, “there necessarily is also salvation” (Commentary on Luke, 507). The name Jesus means “God saves.”

This isn’t the first time that God has called out to one of us. God always initiates the conversation that leads to our salvation. He always is the one to invite us to accept him into our homes and hearts.

He called down Zacchaeus, who, thanks be to God, joyfully accepted him into his house.

He called out to some fishermen, “Come, follow me.” And they left behind their nets and followed him.

He called out to Adam in the garden “Where are you?”

God has been looking for us and inviting us to reunite with him from the moment we departed from him in our sins. And his invitation demands a response on our part. We must repent as Zacchaeus did. We must follow Christ, as the fishermen did. We must put our faith in Christ and make room for him to come and stay in our houses – in the house of our heart – in our inmost being.  St. Cyril also writes, “Christ… is in us when we believe; for he dwells in our hearts by faith, and we are His abode” (507).

This divine condescension to dwell in and with our fallen humanity is consummated in Jesus, our Savior, in his incarnation, in his ministry to Zacchaeus and to all of us, and in his cross.

Here is a strikingly inverted image for us to contemplate:

Jesus, our Savior, is standing at the foot of a tree looking up. In the tree is Zacchaeus – a sinful man – and the Savior calls him down and saves him.

Later, Jesus, the sinless One, will hang on a tree. And we, a sinful people, will stand at the foot of that tree, looking up at him and mocking him, telling him to come down and save himself.

Zacchaeus, being short, was lifted up from the earth by a tree, the better to see Jesus – and quite rightly, for Jesus, too, will be lifted up from the earth by the tree of the cross. Like Zacchaeus, we cannot see Christ unless we climb the tree – that is, unless we embrace the cross. Because of our sins, we all come up short, like Zacchaeus, and only the cross can lift us up to see Christ.

Ultimately, Jesus saves us from suffering and death, from ignominy and punishment, from every evil that our sins have brought into the world, and from all that the tree of the cross represents – by going up onto the tree himself. Seeing Zacchaeus in the tree, Jesus freely identifies with him. He trades places with Zacchaeus. He calls down Zacchaeus, and all of us together with him, and goes up himself in our place. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree,” as Peter writes, “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

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[i] Fr. Anthony Coniaris connected this story with the story of Zacchaeus. Anthony Coniaris, Gems from the Sunday Gospels in the Orthodox Church(Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Co., 1975), 1:24.

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

Holiness is Ordinary

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 23:02

Each year in early to mid-January, the Church’s celebration of Christmas comes to a close, meaning that we now find ourselves in what the English-speaking world calls “Ordinary Time.” The priests return to wearing green vestments; we hear a continuous flow of the Gospel readings from Sunday to Sunday; and hymn choices switch out of holiday mode. Yet, if we were to look at a missal or breviary in Latin or from before the liturgical reforms following Vatican II, we would be hard pressed to find the phrase “Tempus Ordinarium.” The Latin instead reads “Tempus per annum” or “the time during the year.”

Why do we call it “ordinary,” then? Instead of getting into the often fiery debates of translation, let’s look at a less well-known text that teaches us about the liturgy: The Ceremonial of Bishops.

Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a particular element of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, these weeks are devoted to the mystery of Christ in its entirety. This period is known as Ordinary Time. (ch. 13, n. 377)

Our everyday use of “ordinary” means commonplace or standard, not special. The Church tells us that the “ordinary” of Ordinary Time is the celebration of the “mystery of Christ in its entirety.” In other words, the normal life of the Church is the entire mystery of Jesus Christ, which Christ himself pours forth into our lives by the liturgy. In Lent, we consider the temptations of Jesus, the suffering and passion he endured. During Easter, we contemplate the glorious life of the Resurrection and the world to come. In Advent, we prepare for the glorious and terrible second coming and for the celebration of the first. At Christmas, we revel in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son. Ordinary Time does not have such a focus, but widens our view to the whole Christ, present in each of those mysteries and working in our lives today.

So what do we make of the “ordinary” of Ordinary Time? By celebrating the entire mystery of Christ, we are reminded that Christ does not reserve his grace like a miser, limiting his gifts to Lent or Easter or other particular weeks of the year. Ordinary Time is not a meaningless period between the Advent/Christmas cycle and the Lent/Easter cycle, filled haphazardly with celebrations that simply do not fit elsewhere. It is a time for us to learn to live in grace as our new normal, for the whole mystery of Christ to take hold of us in every aspect of our lives. Holiness is not reduced to an uninteresting ordinary. The ordinary, rather, is caught up into the mystery of the Holy.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

The first reading tells us that before

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 23:00

The first reading tells us that before God, obedience to his command is much important than sacrifice and burnt offerings, for reasons we do not understand God told Saul through Samuel to “attack Amalek and destroy completely all that he has, Do not spare them- man, woman, infant or suckling, ox or sheep, camel or ass.” In total victory Saul “spared the best sheep and oxen to sacrifice to Yahweh … But the rest have been destroyed.”

God was most displeased with Saul, “Why then did you not obey the voice of Yahweh but instead swooped down on the spoil, doing what is evil in his sight?”

For Saul’s disobedience, “since you have rejected the word of Yahweh, he too has rejected you as king.”

God’s ways are indeed not our ways: “Obedience [to him] is better than sacrifice, and submission better than the fat of rams.”

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells the people that he has come to bring a new dispensation: his followers may not be fasting now; as in a wedding feast they do not fast. But times will come when they have to fast. Even more, they will endure trials and sufferings as himself would.

Fasting and penance are good and most helpful. Jesus has come to stress the law of love as he declared when he washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper: “If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also must wash one another’s feet.” (Jn 13: 14) “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15)

His law of love simply reiterates love of God and neighbor as the supreme commandment.

St. Ita

Sun, 01/14/2018 - 23:00

Ita was born around 475 in Decies, Waterford, Ireland, of royal lineage. After receiving permission from her father, she became a nun. She moved to Cluain Credhail in County Limerick, now known as Killeedy, or “Church of St. Ita.” There she founded a community of women like herself — virgins consecrated to God.

Later, she also founded a school for boys and one of her pupils was St. Brendan. She was blessed with the gift of prophecy and was held in great esteem even by contemporary saints. Through her, the Lord performed numerous miracles. When she was near death, she summoned her community of nuns and prayed for God’s blessings on those present and all the clergy and laity in the entire area of Killeedy. She is known as “Brigid of Munster” in Ireland and to this day she is widely venerated there.

Lessons

St. Ita became much like a foster mother to many other saints including St. Brendan the Voyager, St. Cummian Fada and St. Pulcherius. At the request of Bishop Butler of Limerick, Pope Pius IX granted a special Office and Mass for the feast of St. Ita, which is celebrated on January 15.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we are grateful for holy women like Saint Ita who can be such an inspiration to young women today. Through her pious life and teachings, many others were influenced to live holy lives and also become saints. May we all strive to lead lives that inspire others to holiness. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Paul the First Hermit (342)

St. Maurus (580), Abbot, first disciple of St. Benedict

Our Lady Of Prompt Succor

image: Andreas F. Borchert / Wikimedia Commons

St. Barbara

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 23:00

Although there are no authentic historical accounts concerning St. Barbara, it is evident that she has been venerated since the seventh century. There are many legends surrounding this virgin and martyr, however. According to some of these, Barbara was the daughter of a wealthy pagan named Dioscorus who kept her locked in a tower most of her life. He wanted to be in complete control of her and treated her more like one of his possessions than a beloved daughter.

Once, before going on a journey, he had a bathhouse built for her near the tower where he kept her hidden from the world. He specified that it would have two windows, but in his absence Barbara requested that another window be added to symbolize the Trinity. Her father returned from his journey with news that he had received a proposal of marriage for her, but she refused the offer. She then acknowledged to her father that she was a Christian and as such had consecrated herself to God, intending to remain a virgin for life. This so enraged her father that he handed her over to the prefect of the province, Maximinus.

This cruel prefect had her tortured and eventually condemned to death by beheading her. Her executioner was none other than her own father! On his way home after carrying out this heinous deed, he was struck by lightning and his body was consumed.

Lessons

The account of Barbara’s father having been struck by lightning probably led to her being considered by the people to be the patron saint for those in danger of thunderstorms or fire. In 1448, a man named Henry Kock nearly lost his life in a fire at Gorkum. But given his great devotion to St. Barbara, he credited her with his escape and with keeping him alive until a priest was able to come and administer the last sacraments.

St. Barbara is often portrayed in art as standing in a tower with three windows, holding the palm of a martyr in her hand. In other depictions, she is often shown holding a chalice and a sacramental wafer.

Prayer

St. Barbara, please intercede for us, and guide us, not only in times of danger of fire destroying our physical bodies, but more importantly for those times when our souls are in danger of eternal fire. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Hilary of Poitiers (368), Bishop, Doctor

St. Felix (260), Priest, Martyr

St. Sava (1235), Bishop, Patron of the Serbian people

Christian Prayer

Sat, 01/13/2018 - 02:35

Christian prayer is a true conversation with God. This holy dialogue is based on a real relationship between the Giver of all good gifts and the one who offers sacrifice, between the Protector and the one who seeks His will. Both the similarity and difference of the human person to God together create the boundaries for this relationship.

Above the horizon of creation, the Creator draws His work to Himself. The Trinity, who is a multiplicity of eternal relations in unity, draws into unity the multiplicity of temporal relations in creation. The closer the Word draws creation to the Father, the more complete and beautiful it becomes.

Awe over passing wonders disposes the heart to awe over wonders that do not pass. The Word of the Father raises up into divine harmony things that are visible in this world below: duration, extension, light, mass, and all kinds of mysterious forces like gravity, magnetism, atomic, electricity are bound together in tensions both primordial and eschatological, completed and not yet, present but not fully so. Over all this visible, observable, measurable cosmos, something invisible constantly draws it into existence and propels it to something beyond its own finitude – so that its own visible beauty is a fleeting sign of a spiritual beauty.

The more creation resonates with the eternal harmony of this Word, the more the Father rejoices in the Holy Spirit that His work is different, totally other than Himself. The Father contemplates in creation’s very otherness the inexhaustible fullness of the unity of the Holy Spirit through, with and in His only Begotten Son. In other words, He sees that His work is good, so very good that He blesses creation with His Divine Presence. Thus, His work of creation is where God discloses Himself and where His blessing is received.

Over all His work, the human person, each individual man and woman, is the particular object of the Holy Trinity’s inexhaustible love. The Father’s love draws all people together into the mysterious boundary where humanity and divinity touch. It is a garden enclosed by painful differences and delicate similarities fashioned together in the very person of His only begotten Son. This boundary, the Creator permits to exist between Himself and creation, is the spiritual space in which those sons and daughters, adopted into Christ’s Sonship, can dare to approach His Heavenly Father.

What is this spiritual space where Creatures participate in the unending and superabundant circumcession of filial and paternal love? Although more difficult to discern in some contemporary liturgical environments, ancient and medieval Church architecture celebrate this paradise, this enclosed garden, this sanctuary. Carved in wood and stone, adorned with columns and arches and stained glass, the whole spiritual drama of the Trinity’s love for humanity (and for each soul) unfolds as one approaches the altar, the very heart of these churches, the symbol of Christ in the Universe and in the soul.

One enters such a place of worship more by prayer than by physical awareness of art and architecture. Only within that holy sanctuary, enclosed by the tender horizons in the heart, does humanity find the freedom to enter into a true relation with God, the integrity of a frail creature being protected before the absolute transcendence of the One who made Him.

In the heart at prayer, there are boundaries placed, not as obstacles, but instead for a holy relationship with One whom we are not worthy to approach but who has called us all the same.  Thus, we remember our sinfulness and plead for the Father’s mercy, trusting more in divine mercy than in our frailty. Such a soul who knows this gift of holy fear can come to discern the divine whisper that calls,

“Come, thou blessed of my Father.”

Grace, the gift of participating in the Trinity’s life of love and truth, is the source of likeness and communion. To be raised into and enjoy a graced relation with the eternal relations of the Holy Trinity, this is the greatness of the human vocation.  This mysticism of relationship and communion is not merely a future idea to which we aspire. It is a mysticism of relation we can already know in this present moment through the blood of Christ poured out for us.

This mysticism of relationship does not confuse or co-mingle a creature’s identity with the Creator, but deepens and makes each individual personality a more unique and un-repeatable expression of divine image and likeness. This is why the divine conversation that Christians enter into does not involve the surmounting, suppressing or overcoming of frail humanity. Instead, the prayer of faith is a source of healing, a restoration of personal integrity, a purification from all that mars and weighs down humanity, a freedom from self-occupation and self-deception, a radical self-emptying in humility, an elevation above the evils that try to define one’s existence, a participation in that higher, supernatural life in love and truth that is the source and summit of all creation.

Editor’s Note: For more from Dr. Lilles, see his books: “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer” and “Fire from Above”. He also collaborated with Dan Burke on “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and “Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux”.

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Art for this post on Christian prayer: Interno del Duomo di Lodi, own work, Zuffe, 22 January 2009, PD-Worldwide; mirror detail of Sense of Sight, Annie Swynnerton, 1898, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; both Wikimedia Commons.

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John’s Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy.

Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book “Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer,” a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Therese of Lisieux. And, his book “Fire from Above” was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at BeginningtoPray.blogspot.com

 

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

St. Hilary of Poitiers

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 23:00

Hilary was born in Poitiers to a pagan family, but through years of searching for truth and his study of Scripture, he converted and was baptized.  Because of his zeal for the faith, he soon attracted much attention and while still married, and despite his objections, he was elected bishop of Poitiers.

The great heresy of Arianism was prevalent during this time and Hilary was immediately thrust into the middle of the controversy.  Many in the Church were promoting this heresy and it was for that reason that Hilary refused to attend a synod at Milan in 355.  The bishops attending this synod were being required to sign a condemnation of St. Athanasius.  Another synod the next year, presided over by Arian Bishop Saturninus of Arles and made up mainly of Arian bishops, condemned Hilary because of his orthodoxy.  Later that same year the emperor exiled Hilary to Phrygia.

However, in the year 359, Hilary courageously defended orthodoxy and was so successful in refuting Arianism at a council of Eastern bishops that the Arians persuaded the emperor to send him back to Gaul.  He was welcomed with great enthusiasm by his flock.  Later, Saturninus, the Arian bishop of Arles who had so persecuted Hilary, was excommunicated.  Hilary then went to Milan to confront Bishop Auxentius, who was a defender of Arian doctrines, but Emperor Valentinian ordered Hilary out of Milan.  Hilary returned to Poitiers where he eventually died.

Hilary not only defended the faith and fought against heresy through debate and preaching, but also through his writings.  He wrote numerous treatises, among them De Trinitate, written during his exile to Phrygia.  He was made a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius X in 1851.

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

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

I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of you.

— From a homily of St. Hilary

Do I, like St. Hilary, consider it a duty to make my every thought and word speak of God? Why or why not? How can practicing the virtues accomplish this in a practical way?

Prayer

Father, heresies continue throughout the ages and the heresy of Arianism continues to rear its ugly head today in different forms.  Grant us the grace that we may be as courageous and bold in our defense against such false teachings as Saint Hilary, and never grow weary of pursuing and defending truth.  We ask this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.

Other Saints We Remember Today

Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord

Bl. Veronica of Binasco (1497), Virgin, Religious

The Quixotic Call of Education

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 23:07

A good education, like a good life, is about charging after truth. And the road is beset with more snares and pitfalls the more education becomes less about truth. For those who wish to win truth in both learning and in life, which requires bearing up under difficulty, there is a hero that few might think of turning to for educational inspiration when ends become frayed, crosses heavy, and purposes blunted or even broken. Don Quixote is that hero as one who can bring the drive of noble devotion to teachers or students tempted to surrender to sordid denials and obstructions.

Inspired by reading books of chivalry, Don Quixote of La Mancha dons ancient armor, mounts his gaunt nag, and gallops across the dusty plains of Castile to live out what he has loved. He rides in the name of a forgotten glory as he upholds a forgotten code of chivalry. The self-dubbed knight errant trips headlong into Renaissance Spain with grand visions of things gone out of style. He goes in quest of knights, wizards, ladies, kings, and castles, but only finds rogues, goatherds, convicts, chambermaids, and inns. Again and again, Don Quixote’s morals are denied, his manners ridiculed, and his purposes foiled. He is beaten and broken at every turning, even though he upholds honor, justice, and Catholic virtue. Such ideals and their upholders do not fit in easily in a world where the good, true, and beautiful have been relinquished.

But Don Quixote is resilient despite his sorrows, failures, and errors. Reality is reality even if the world denies or abolishes it—the good will always be good, evil still evil, and truth ever true. Don Quixote is a champion of this principle of the real, even though he is derided as a madman. As with every member of the Church Militant in the trenches of a godless age, such derision and delusion must be faced and fought. Thus, Don Quixote continues to recognize giants where the world sees only windmills and to charge them despite falls and in spite of scorn. He sees what he has taught himself to see and does what he believes by faith and reason to be right.

The quest of Don Quixote is a metaphor of the educational quest of every Christian: to unfurl the truth over false fields—even when the truth is unfashionable or uncomfortable—and to strive to bring harmony to times of discord—even if it takes some discord in doing so. Don Quixote finds a world sundered and senseless, much like the present world. He learns that the work to rebuild among the ruins is treacherous, as those who labor to restore education can confirm. Though trampled and trounced time and again, Don Quixote rides resolutely on for the unity and wisdom of bygone days as he battles through the divisions and disconnections of modernity. Would that every teacher and student could be so strong in spirit and ready to resist the libel of lunacy.

Christianity is a chivalric religion because it requires the highest of human attitudes, which is precisely how G. K. Chesterton defined chivalry. Christianity requires nobility and courage from soldiers of Christ. It requires strength and fortitude from those who serve a King. It requires a code of honor and a core of values. Christianity is a brotherhood. It is a knighthood. It is chivalric. In the words of Catholic educator John Senior from The Restoration of Christian Culture:

The Camino Real of Christ is a chivalric way, romantic, full of fire and passion, riding on the pure, high-spirited horses of the self with their glad, high-stepping knees and flaring nostrils, and us with jingling spurs and the cry “Mon joie!”—the battle cry of Roland and Oliver. Our Church is the Church of the Passion.

Though knighthood is extinct, that is no reason why chivalry should be dead. Don Quixote’s anachronistic knighthood is a call for a more traditional Catholic education when it comes to defying the world when the world is wrong and taking the risk of embracing rejected truths. This course, this straggling road of sudden perils, is the course of ancient education in a modern world. These days, Catholic teachers often and easily feel bruised and even beaten. But, like Don Quixote, they are called to carry on in the classroom, to sally forth to school undaunted, beating down discouragement and determined to be the challenger of falsehood and a champion of truth. Catholics must learn to ride even if it be in seeming vain, as Chesterton quixotically intimated in his “Lepanto,” to tilt and be toppled for the truth, even romantic truth. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” says St. Paul, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”

Don Quixote may see things that are not visible, but only because he does not see through a glass darkly as most do, and those who would educate or be educated should seek a similar vision. The world may be obscured by sin, the pessimism that fragments reality may be overwhelming, but an education that pursues restoration and truth and hope is a chivalric call that must be heeded. Don Quixote is a hero of Christian optimism and Christian imagination that perceives the highest reality in the lowliest realities. Don Quixote is a hero of Christian education for he is a man of great faith in a faithless land. It is only when that vision is lost, in fact, when pragmatism shakes off perfection, when dreams are replaced with dejection, that Don Quixote is conquered and tragedy sets in.

It is never foolish to fight for the greater glory of God and in defense of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. “If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.” Don Quixote stands, fights, falls, and gets back up serving as an allegory of the Christian condition and, thus, of Christian education. He exhorts the need to charge on, to be mocked for the sake of righteousness, to do what heaven commands even when the world condemns, to be a defender, to be principled, to be brave, to be unwavering, to be conquered again and again and, again and again, to keep rising from the dust. Nothing less is required in the perilous adventure of education, and Don Quixote should inspire teachers and students alike.

Being quixotic does not mean being quaint. It means being committed—committed to the ideals of reality, to the highest realities. It means being a lover of lofty truth and unafraid to suffer for it. Education and its devotees would only benefit from a new knighthood of quixotic champions in this dour day and age. For, though Christianity may seem insane in the context of secularism, it is the Christian chivalric worldview that makes the world make the most sense.

Called to Sainthood

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 23:05

When I was growing up, we were urged to pray for vocations.  That meant to pray for more priests and nuns.  After all, they were the ones especially called by God.  The rest of us had to figure out for ourselves what to do with our lives, what school to go to, who to marry, what job to get.

This was a misunderstanding that the Second Vatican Council was determined to clear up.  It emphasized that we all have a vocation (Lumen Gentium, chapter 5).  The very first call we have is not so much to do something, but to be something.  Each one of us is called to be holy.  And holiness is not to be identified with any particular state in life.  Whether we are a student, a full-time mom, a nurse or a bishop, our daily activities furnish us with plenty of opportunities to grow in faith, hope and love.  It is the perfection of these three virtues that make for true sanctity.  Of course, there are many students, moms, nurses and bishops who fail to become saints.  Obviously then, the activities are not enough in themselves to make people holy.  People have to make a conscious decision not just once but each and every day to surrender themselves, their wills and their lives to God and allow Him, the potter, to use their everyday activities to shape them as if they were clay in His skilled hands.

When we are baptized, we receive that call to holiness.  From that moment, our lives are no longer our own.  “It is no longer I who live,” says Saint Paul, “but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me (Gal 2:19b-20).”  Like Samuel (I Sam 3), we are dedicated wholly to God, set apart to glorify Him in every aspect of our being, including our bodies.  His Spirit lives within us and so we become God’s dwelling place and acquire a new dignity.  The biblical insistence on sexual purity comes from no prudish disdain of sexuality but rather from the simple fact that we must treat our bodies with the reverence due to God’s temple (I Cor 6:13C-20).  We have no right to allow the temple of the Lord to be used as a means for a cheap thrill.

There is something else that we are all called to be — evangelizers.  In baptism and confirmation, we are anointed prophets, which means that we are to announce the Good News of the Gospel.  When Andrew met Jesus (Jonn 1:35-42), he immediately told his brother Simon about this new prophet and introduced him to Jesus.  The call to bring others to Jesus is not limited to missionaries or those with an outgoing personality.  The Second Vatican Council is unequivocal about it — both in deed and word, we are each called to be a witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, the One Who fulfills all the hopes and aspirations of every person on the face of the planet (see its Decrees on the Apostolate of the Laity and Missionary Activity).

So should we stop praying for more priests and nuns?  No way!  Religious are a powerful sign to the world that holiness has to be everyone’s #1 priority.  And priests and bishops have a special call to share in the ministry of the apostles in order to equip us all for our apostolic tasks.

So we need to pray for those who have answered the call and pray for more to answer the call.  But praying for vocations means more than that.  Imagine if the billion or so Christians in the world took seriously their vocations to be saints and witnesses.  I think we’d see some changes.

Scripture Speaks: What Are We Looking For?

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 23:02

“What are you looking for?”  Jesus asked this question of two men who had begun following Him.  Did He already know the answer?

Gospel (Read Jn 1:35-42)

Today, St. John the Apostle, describing the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, tells us that John the Baptist made a comment to two of his own disciples as Jesus walked by them:  “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  We are used to hearing Jesus spoken of in this way, but it would have been very odd in that day.  Jews knew lambs as sacrificial animals.  Occasionally, they thought of themselves metaphorically as God’s sheep (as in “The LORD is my shepherd,” Ps 23).  However, for John the Baptist to speak of a particular man in this particular way—well, we can see what effect it had:  “The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.”

Jesus, aware of the men, “turned and saw them.”  Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask, “Who are you?”  The question He does ask goes much deeper than a request for their names:  “What are you looking for?”  These men had been disciples of the Baptist; they had responded to his call to repent in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  Recall how often, in our Advent lectionary readings, we heard John explain that Someone was coming.  The people of Judah who flocked to the Jordan, who desired a fresh start as God’s people, were on the alert.  The Baptist assured them he was not the One they sought—he baptized with water, but Someone Else was coming to baptize them “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Mt 3:11).

We are not surprised, therefore, that when two of the Baptist’s disciples heard him say, about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” they were eager to find out more.  It is noteworthy that in response to Jesus’ question, they did not quiz Him about His own identity.  They did not ask for a sign.  “Rabbi…where are You staying?”   Something happened to them during this face-to-face encounter with the One whom John called the Lamb of God.  The question they asked was not for a geographical address.  In asking it, they revealed their desire to identify with this new Rabbi.  They wanted to hear what He had to say, not as curiosity seekers but as His new disciples.  Jesus gave them an invitation that would change their lives forever:  “Come, and you will see.”  In this, we are reminded of what happened to man’s eyesight in Eden.  The serpent suggested to Adam and Eve that through disobedience, their eyes would be “opened.”  In reality, of course, they were struck blind to the truth about God and themselves.  How remarkable that when Jesus began His public ministry, He said, “you will see.”

It didn’t take long for these two men to realize that Jesus was the Someone for whom they had been preparing.  The very next day, Andrew, one of the two (tradition tells us the other one was St. John, the author of this Gospel) searched out his brother, Simon, and must have astonished him by saying, “We have found the Messiah.”  It is quite probable that Simon had also responded to the Baptist’s preaching.  Perhaps that explains his willingness to go with his brother to meet Jesus.  When Simon approaches, Jesus seems to know him already!  “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, the son of John; you will be called Cephas’—which is translated Peter.”  What was in that look?  Was it the same kind of look that, years later, reduced Peter to tears after he betrayed Jesus (read Lk 22:61)?  How did Jesus know that Simon would become the Rock of His Church?  What is going on here?

In St. John’s beautiful telling of Jesus’ encounter with His first disciples, we cannot miss one simple truth:  God had already been calling these men to Himself before they decided to follow the new Rabbi.  They were on a mission to find the Messiah, but this was, itself, a response to God’s call to them, His search for them, His loving knowledge of them.  Jesus asked Andrew and John, “What are you looking for?”  He knew the answer to this question before they did.  Eventually, they, like us, would realize:  Lord, we are all looking for You.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, I need to hear often the question You asked Your first disciples.  I am prone to look for what I don’t need.

First Reading (Read 1 Sam 3:3b-10, 19)

Our Old Testament reading gives us a wonderful example of how God calls us, even when we don’t realize it.  Samuel was a miracle child born to his barren mother, Hannah, in answer to her anguished prayer (about 1000 B.C.).  She, in turn, “lent” him to the LORD out of gratitude for the gift of his life (read 1 Sam 1:27-28).  In this episode, he is only a youth, living with the priest, Eli, as his helper.  While he was sound asleep (our most profound state of doing absolutely nothing!), the LORD called him, but since “at that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD,” he assumed it was Eli calling him, a perfectly reasonable assumption.  Eli eventually realized that it was the LORD calling Samuel, so he gave the boy a response should he again hear his name called.  While Samuel slept, “the LORD came and revealed His presence, calling out as before, ‘Samuel, Samuel!’”  This time, Samuel responds directly to Him, using words that would become his vocation as the last of the judges of Israel and the first in the office of prophet:  “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

God’s persistent call preceded Samuel’s pledge of service.  So it was with the apostles; so it is with us.

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, help me hear and listen when You call my name.

Psalm (Read Ps 40:2, 4, 7-10)

This psalm is an interesting combination of a man’s desire to obey God, and God’s work enabling him to do it.  See how, in response to a cry for the LORD, the psalmist says “He put a new song into my mouth.”  In addition, God, not desiring “sacrifice or offering,” gave him “ears open to obedience.”  By a remarkable back-and-forth flow, the psalmist, in response to God’s work in him, is able to say, “Here am I, LORD; I come to do your will.”  We saw this in Samuel, as well as in the apostles.  Jesus was, of course, the definitive expression of this communion between God and man.  The writer of Hebrews quotes this psalm to describe the obedience of Jesus to His Father’s will, “and by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:5-10).

Because of what Jesus has done in response to His Father’s initiative, we can now say with the psalmist, “to do Your will, O my God, is my delight, and Your law is within my heart.”

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

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20)

In this epistle reading, St. Paul gives us the reason why we must understand that God’s call and search for us precede our search Him.  We are not initiating communion but only responding to His initiative.  Why is that?  St. Paul tells us:  “you are not your own… you have been purchased at a price.”  We are not autonomous creatures who may or may not begin a search for God!  We are made in His image and likeness, and God has redeemed us, body and soul, at a very high cost.  He is always calling us—and why wouldn’t He?  As St. Paul said once, when he preached in Athens, “in Him we live and move and have our being” (read Acts 17:28).

In other words, God is always inviting us to “come” and “to see,” to listen for His call, and to understand that our bodies are “for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.”  What are we to make of this glorious truth?  St. Paul tells us:  “Therefore, glorify God in your body.”

Possible response:  Heavenly Father, how little I understand that I am not my own!  Please help me learn and live this more deeply.

General Audience

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 23:00

Dear brothers and sisters: In our catechesis on the Holy Eucharist, we now turn to the Gloria and the Opening Prayer. Having confessed our sinfulness and asked God’s forgiveness in the penitential rite, we recite, on Sundays and holydays, the ancient hymn “Glory to God in the highest”. Echoing the song of the angels at our Lord’s birth, we praise the mercy of the Father in sending his Son who takes away the sins of the world. The Opening Prayer is also called the “Collect”, because it gathers up and presents to the Triune God all our individual prayers. The priest’s invitation, “Let us pray”, is followed by a moment of silence, as we open our hearts and bring our personal needs to the Lord. The Opening Prayer praises the Father’s provident love revealed in history and then implores his continued help as we strive to live as his sons and daughters in Christ. By ancient tradition, the prayer is addressed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. By reflecting on these rich prayers, and uniting ourselves with the Church in lifting them up to God, we see how the liturgy becomes for each Christian a true school of prayer.

In the Gospel reading we see the

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 23:00

In the Gospel reading we see the importance of people to help others. The paralytic could not have approached Jesus without the help of others. Four men, presumably friends or relatives, brought him to where Jesus was and, account of the large crowds, used their imagination to bring him to Jesus by lowering him though a hole in the roof. Jesus praises their faith and forgives the paralytic, When Jesus saw the faith of these people, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mk 2: 5)

Understandably many present, teachers of the Law, were shocked, “How can he speak like this insulting God? Who can forgive sins except God?” (MK 2: 7)

Jesus corrects them, ‘”But now you shall know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..’ And he said to the paralytic, ‘Stand up, take up your mat and go home.”‘

Jesus’ power to forgive sins continues in the Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the evening of Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to his disciples “and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit; for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained” (Jn 20: 22b- 23)

We marvel and thank God for his generous gift of the forgiveness of sins through the Church, indeed a continuing wonder and miracle in the Church.

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.