Catholic Exchange Articles
From time to time, in various spiritual writings and elsewhere, I’ve come across the term “choir” and it seems like it has nothing to do with music, which is what I associate it with. I think it might have something to do with Mass, perhaps where it is said?, but I’m not exactly sure what. Is it used in certain settings? Could you explain what it means to be “in choir” and “choir dress”? And also, what is the history behind it? Thank you very much. God bless you and your ministry.
Yes indeed, the word “choir” can be used in many different ways. We usually use it to refer to a group of singers. And in this sense, choir robes could simply refer to the uniform worn by members of a choir.
In the past, however, the term was primarily architectural. It referred to the part of the church reserved for the members of the choir. Depending on the time period and architectural style, this could be a balcony in the back of the church, or balconies above the naves, or any number of places. But it gets even more interesting when we dig into the monastic tradition.
For communities of monks and nuns who pray, chant, or sing together the Liturgy of the Hours, the “choir” often referred to the section of the church or chapel reserved for that purpose. This section, in some architectural traditions, is separated both from the sanctuary (where the priest celebrates the liturgy of the Eucharist) and from the nave, where other Catholic faithful, not monks or nuns, would sit for liturgical celebrations. Sometimes these sections of a church were elaborate structures containing large numbers of carved stalls, one for each monk or nun. Other times they were barely distinguishable from the sanctuary. Sometimes they were directly between the sanctuary and the nave, other times they were behind or to the sides of the sanctuary.
Some liturgical assistants (acolytes or lectors, for example) would sometimes sit in this area of the “choir” during a liturgical service, even if they were not monks or nuns themselves. The specific vestments they used were then, sometimes, referred to as choir robes – the kind of robe you would wear if you had to sit in the choir during a Mass or vespers.
So, yes, the term “choir” has many uses. I hope this brief summary helps you understand the references you were puzzling over.
Fr John Bartunek, LC, SThD
Art for this post on the term “Choir”: Choir and rood screen in the Albi Cathedral, France, artist not identified, photographed by Pom2, 2 July 2008 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; Coro ligneo di Baldino di Surso: legno intagliato e scolpito (Baldino wooden choir Surso: carved and sculpted wood), artist not identified, 1477, photographed by IRE FEDU 14, 20 March 2015 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; ClerusProcesie2008Brugge (Clerics Processing 2008 Bruges [in choir dress]), Feast of the Ascension 2008, photographed by Carolus, 2008 own work, CCA 3.0 Unported; all Wikimedia Commons.About Fr. John Bartunek, LC
Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
What is ultimately at issue in Christ’s temptations, according to Pope Benedict XVI, are false images of God and man.
A traditional reading of the temptations is to see each one concerning a virtue and its corresponding vice. The first temptation, involving bread, might seem to represent gluttony. The offer of all worldly kingdoms then might be a temptation to pride as is the devil’s suggestion that Christ should cast Himself off the roof of the temple.
Benedict helps us to see what is really at stake here is the whole understanding of who man really is and what his right relationship is with God.
Using Benedict’s dictum as a guide, each temptation can be viewed as a rejection of a false image. Following the order of the temptations in Luke, let’s take the first one:
He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over He was hungry.
The devil said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone’” (Luke 4:2-4).
On the level of human nature, the devil is operating within a materialistic understanding of human nature: man is a beast who craves material goods for his sustenance—whether bread to feed his body or other material goods, such as money or possessions to feed his Freudian lust for physical pleasure. For the Church Fathers, this is what happened in Eden: rather than their spiritual natures elevating their bodily natures to the contemplation of the eternally divine, Adam and Eve let the lower rule the upper—in a perversion of the natural order.
Christ, in His response, affirms a different view of man: as a compound being who yes, indeed, has bodily needs, but who also subordinates those to spiritual desires. Matthew gives us the rest of the quotation from Deuteronomy: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
It is by the word of God—ultimately the Word of God—by which man is ultimately nourished.
This temptation also entails a rejection of a false image of God—specifically of Christ Himself. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict explains,
Is there anything more tragic, is there anything more opposed to belief in the existence of a good God and a Redeemer of mankind, than world hunger? Shouldn’t it be a first test of the Redeemer, before the world’s gaze and on the world’s behalf, to give it bread and to end all hunger? (Jesus of Nazareth, 31).
Of course, Christ in His ministry did feed the hungry and we are called to follow His example. But more than the bread of the earth, Christ came to bring down bread from heaven. There is a hierarchy of goods—and one is infinitely superior than the other. It is this order of the good that the devil seeks to overturn. In the process, we would end up seeking God as a means rather than an end. Or, as Benedict puts it,
When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely those more important things that come to nothing (Jesus of Nazareth, 33).
We see a similar pattern in the second temptation—again following the order in Luke—in which Satan presumes to offer all the worldly kingdoms to Christ in exchange for worshipping him. But this time what is at stake is more than just the offer of merely a political organization. What the devil is presenting is a false image of man as chiefly motivated by what atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would call the ‘will to power’—to be overlord over his fellow men.
In rejecting this false image, Christ affirms a different one:
Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written:
‘You shall worship the Lord, your God,
and him alone shall you serve.’”
This is a vision of man as a humble servant of God—one entrusted with dominion of the earth only as a form of temporary stewardship in the service of the One whose dominion it truly is.
In a world in which he believed God had been killed, Nietzsche said man had effectively become God. In this worldview, man was not called to worship another. Instead his only real choice is be the consummate narcissist in worshipping himself. It is this perversion of the natural and supernatural order of things that Christ denies in this temptation.
Also at work in the second temptation is a false image of God. Again, the devil conceives of God as only as a means to an end, which in this case would be worldly power. Of course, Christ did come to proclaim a kingdom of God. But His kingdom was not of this world—quite the antithesis of what Satan is suggesting here.
In a sense, this pattern continues to play out in the remaining temptation. Once again God is being relegated to a secondary role as a provider of a material good—in this instance, bodily security and integrity—when Satan taunts Jesus to jump off the roof of the temple.
In the first and second temptations, Christ denies that man is either a Nietzschean overlord or a Freudian pleasure-seeker. He also rejects a false conception of God as merely a means to an end—a provider of other things that man seeks.
Christ, as God-made-man, was uniquely suited to this dual task of rejecting false images of both God and man. It’s why we have gospels accounts of the temptation of Christ and not, for example, John the Baptist. This is something only Christ could do. And it is most fitting that his public mission of redemption should begin by a restoration of the image of God in man that was distorted when sin first entered the world, in the Garden of Eden.
And for us, then, the temptations do not only provide us with a model for how to act—what virtues to cultivate, what vices to shun—but also hold up for us the true images of man that we are to be and of a God we are to seek for His sake alone.
My husband and I recently finished watching the fourth season of Arrow, a show that follows the adventures of the DC Comics superhero, Green Arrow (whose real name is Oliver Queen). We’ve been watching the show since it originally aired, and I highly recommend it. The actors are very talented, and the relationships and character development are well done. Most compelling, though, is the underlying question of the whole series, “Is redemption actually possible?” Oliver Queen has gone through a good amount of trauma in his life, and he is always trying to “turn to the light” and fears succumbing totally to the “darkness.”
Season four is spent pursuing and trying to defeat Damien Darhk, a particularly sinister villain who channels evil magic (literally, through a false idol) in order to fuel his plan to destroy the world. In one of the episodes of this season, an episode where the battle between choosing light and darkness is especially pronounced, one of the other characters muses, “Maybe it isn’t possible to be a hero like Oliver, without retaining some of the darkness?”
This question has an obvious answer (spoiler: it is possible to be truly good and in the light and still be a hero), but there is also an echo of truth to this question. It is not a touch of darkness that allows a hero to be a hero, but the presence of suffering does seem to be a prerequisite. In four seasons, Oliver Queen has made tremendous strides toward real goodness. He is not perfect, but he is clearly yearning for redemption, and is well on his way. Drawing nearer the darkness is not what has made him the hero he is – his own suffering is what has enabled him to be the hero he is.
Without giving out any spoilers, Oliver suffers from many significant losses in the course of the series. Many of his sufferings are the result of him trying to do what is right. What makes Oliver Queen no longer the playboy heir to a millionaire that he once was, is not his encounters with darkness. What has transformed him is his various encounters with suffering, coupled with glimpses of the light. His suffering has made him humble and compassionate, and it is his own suffering and weaknesses that have shown him how much he needs the help of others.
Not every super hero suffers from as much personal tragedy as Green Arrow, but many of the most popular ones do. The Flash loses his mother as a child, and his father is sent to prison (for a crime he didn’t commit). He also suffers other losses as his story unfolds. Batman loses both parents as a child, and his passion for defending goodness and justice comes in great part from that loss. Superman loses his entire planet when he is only a baby, as well as most of his race. That suffering certainly motivates him to save earth.
Were these characters only possessing of great powers or skills or wealth, we would certainly enjoy watching their shows, but we might not find ourselves rooting for them quite as eagerly. In fact, it is typically the villains who simply possess and desire power and wealth, with refusal to come to grips with suffering in their lives. It is the superheroes who suffer, grapple with how to handle that suffering, and allow it to motivate them to relieve the sufferings of others. The villains suffer and ask themselves, “How can I ensure I never suffer ever again?” The heroes suffer and ask themselves, “How can I make sure others never suffer again?”
Oliver Queen does not need darkness to be a superhero. He needs the thorn.
In St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he confesses to a personal struggle (which he does not name – it could be anything but is often assumed to be some kind of ongoing temptation), and shares how he has begged God to remove this “thorn” from his side. He is surprised by God’s response – not removing the thorn, but teaching Paul to allow God to work through his weakness. Once he realizes this, he exults, “…but [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Paul’s suffering opened the door for humility. Through his suffering, he realized that it was not his strength that God loved. The greatest human strength is weaker than the greatest weakness of
God (who, by definition, does not have weakness). St. Paul realizes that this is the condition of fallen humanity – we are weak, we suffer, and we fall. All too often, things are going well for us, and so we forget how weak and helpless we actually are. But sometimes, if we are fortunate, God allows us to have an obvious “thorn” in our lives. In the theology of Martin Luther, this sort of thing proves the fact that we are worthless, and our only value is in being covered and hidden by Christ’s greatness. That, however, is not what Paul experiences, and it is not the teaching of the Church. Rather, because of the cross, our wounds can be glorified. God loves us despite our weaknesses. We do not need to hide behind Jesus in order to be accepted by the Father. We are beloved sons of the Father because of Christ, though, and he rejoices in our likeness to his Son.
But what is that likeness that the Father rejoices in the most? It is not power and glory. It is the image of suffering humbly, with a heart full of love. God does not need us to hide our suffering selves. His wisdom confounds the wisdom of the world. He beckons us to bring him our suffering, and allow him to glorify that suffering. God does not need to work through strength. He chooses to work in those who are humble and weak. Paul is right – it is exactly in that weakness that we are truly strong.
It is also not the case that when we are weak and submissive, God can just negate our evil little selves so that we can be his slaves. He works through us, in the midst of our suffering and weakness. He does not think that we are worthless. He thinks we are so profoundly worthwhile that he has a particular love for those whom the world does not deem worthwhile. Not only does he love them – he works through their weakness. God works through their prayers, through their weak attempts at resisting temptation and asking for forgiveness, through hands too weak to work or feet not strong enough to walk. The cross has completely transformed suffering to strength. For, as Paul says, “…when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Green Arrow’s and St. Paul’s message is one that applies to us as well. The absolute beauty of Lent is that we are forced to stop running from our weakness. If we do Lent right, we have to embrace the cross and turn to Christ in our weakness. True strength comes from realizing we are not entirely self-sufficient, but that our strength lies in our weakness, and our need for the love of others. Green Arrow is surrounded with his skilled and compassionate friends, St. Paul is held up by the Church and the grace of God.
Want to be a superhero? Take up your cross. It is only there that you will find your strength.
It’s nearly impossible to have a civil conversation nowadays with someone who disagrees with you. For example, take Sally, who is pro-choice, and her friend Alice, who is pro-life. Sally and Alice had never talked about this issue before, but now that they have, they suddenly find themselves at odds. Does this have to spell an end to their friendship? They both thought the other was a good person, but now they aren’t so sure and don’t know how to even begin discussing the issue. How can they begin a conversation when they each hold opinions that appear so monstrous to each other? The first and most difficult step is to suspect the good. This can be where a conversation starts.
Let’s first look at what the phrase “suspect the good” means. Often when we think of the word “suspect,” we think of the subject of a criminal investigation. We also don’t think of being suspicious as a good thing. The word “suspect,” however, is defined as to “have an idea or impression of the existence, presence, or truth of (something) without certain proof.” This is the definition of “suspect” we should use when talking about suspecting the good.
But what does it mean to suspect “the good”? Let’s look at the definition of “suspect” above and plug in “the good.” To suspect the good would be to “have an idea or impression of the existence, presence, or truth of the good without certain proof.”
It can be easy to think the worst of someone who disagrees with you: Alice (pro-life) might think that Sally (pro-choice) desires the expansion of the government-condoned mass murder of infants, or Sally might think that Alice desires a return to the institutionalized subjugation of women to men. Oftentimes, we focus on the evils that we fear will result from others’ opinions. But the results we are scandalized by are rarely the reasons our friends make the decision that produces those results. Sally isn’t pro-choice because she wants to murder infants, but because she thinks that pregnancy and motherhood keep women from being successful in jobs where men dominate. Alice isn’t pro-life because she wants to be dominated by men, but because she is horrified by the massive numbers of infants being murdered daily through abortion. To be able to see this is what it means to suspect the good.
No one chooses to act unless they think it will bring about good, even if it’s just one’s personal sense of what’s good. We shouldn’t assume that we know the reasons why people do what they do. The reasons people act are as different as the people you meet. This is why one of the key phrases in the definition presented above is “without certain proof.” You don’t need to know what someone’s motivations are to suspect that they believe them to be good.
To be clear, people can still be wrong. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t disagree, but it does mean that you should not give up hope for reaching an agreement. You can start a conversation assuming that they aren’t deliberately choosing evil. Often, it’s not the reasons behind our opinions that put us into conflict, but the actions we take as a result of holding those opinions. There is nothing mutually exclusive in the desire for women to be successful and the desire to not see infants murdered. Perhaps Sally and Alice, after recognizing these underlying reasons, can come to a mutual agreement on a course of action that adequately addresses the concerns of both parties. This would resolve their conflict. Unfortunately, not all conflicts can be resolved by suspecting the good, but at least there is hope enough to try.
How is your health? Do you have any serious illness? Or you may be depressed? We all wish to be healed of our pains, sufferings and sickness.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus cures the seriously ill son of an official at Capernaum. He had asked Jesus to come and heal his son. When Jesus told him his son would live, with faith in Jesus’ word he returned home and, upon his return was told his son had recovered at the hour Jesus said his son would live. “And he became a believer, he and all his family.”
Like the official, we are called to have faith in God and his Son Jesus who came to redeem us. Like the official, we are called to have faith that God cares for us in the same way that Jesus cared for the official and his ill son. We are called to have faith in God and in the power of prayer, that, though God may not answer our prayer, precisely to give what we have prayed for, God listens and answers our prayers because he is our heavenly Father who loves and cares for us.
“The Holy Spirit gives us Himself as a free, gratuitous, nonreturnable gift of love, as we do when we give loving gifts to others with no expectation of personal gain, because we wish them well. Love itself, then, is the first gift through which all free gifts are given.”
—Kevin Vost, The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Rupert lived in the eighth century during the time of Childebert III, King of the Franks. He was born of a noble family, and is said to have been pious and devout. His manner was upstanding and he was always truthful. He became Bishop of Worms and was well known for his piety. Many came from all over to speak with him and he became renown for his holiness. Soon, news of his reputation reached the ears of Duke Theodo II of Bavaria.
The duke felt Rupert could help revive Christianity in Bavaria. The people had become lukewarm, and many had fallen victim to the heresy of Arianism. Theodo II sent many messages to Rupert imploring him to come to Bavaria and finally Rupert agreed.
When Rupert arrived he was greeted with celebrations in his honor planned by Theodo. Rupert went about attending to his mission immediately. He traveled through the territory of the Danube to the borders of Lower Pannonia and Lorch. He later traveled to the shores of Wallersee. He had a church erected in honor of St. Peter on the shores of the Wallersee. Rupert later requested that the duke give him the territory of Juvavum to build a monastery and an episcopal see. The duke bequeathed two square miles of this territory, (which is now Salzburg) to Rupert.
In the area where St. Severin and his companions were martyred, Rupert erected the first church in Salzburg. It was named the Church of St. Peter. On the outskirts of town, in a high area, he established a convent of nuns which, like the monastery, he placed under the protection and rule of St. Benedict. He made his niece Erindruda abbess over the Benedictine Convent of Nonnberg and he and his companions formed the first congregation of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Peter at Salzburg which is there today.
Rupert lived for the next several years in this monastery and died there, according to some accounts, on Easter Sunday, March 27, 718.
Saint Rupert is also responsible for establishing the salt-mining industry in the city from which it is named, Salzburg. Because of his connection with this, he is often portrayed in Christian art holding a container of salt.
Dear Lord Jesus, Your holy bishop, Saint Rupert, built many sacred places and enabled many to learn about You and their faith through the nuns and monks that resided in these holy institutions. Through the intercession of Saint Rupert, we pray that we will build up the faith through our actions and love of others. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. John Damascene (749), Priest, Doctor
St. Augusta (Date Unknown), Virgin, Martyr
Margaret was born in 1556 in Middleton, England. Her father was a wax chandler and both her parents were Protestants. She was not only very attractive but also had a charming personality. In 1571 she married John Clitherow, a well-to-do butcher, and they had three children.
About three years into their marriage, Margaret converted to the Catholic faith. She was a fervent Christian and believed in living her faith to the fullest. She often risked her life harboring priests. She had two chambers where she provided shelter for priests who were fleeing persecution and arrest. One chamber was attached to her home and the other was in another part of the city. Margaret enabled these priests to offer Mass continually, even during the height of the persecutions. Some of the priests were martyred and Margaret herself wished for such a grace. To die for her Lord would be her greatest deed.
Finally, Margaret was arrested and although it is believed that she was pregnant, her sentence was to be pressed to death. On Good Friday, in the year 1586, Margaret, joyous and smiling, was led barefoot to the tollbooth on Ousebridge. She bequeathed her hose and shoes to her daughter, Anne, implying that Anne should follow in her mother’s footsteps and be willing to die for her faith. Margaret was laid atop a large boulder with her arms outstretched in the form of a cross with her hands tied to posts. A wooden door was laid on top of her and weighted down until she was crushed to death. After fifteen painful minutes, Margaret’s last words were, “Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me!” Margaret’s wish was fulfilled. She became a martyr for Christ.
Saint Margaret’s hand has been preserved at St. Mary’s convent in York. Both of her sons, William and Henry, became priests. Her daughter Ann, to whom she left her shoes, became a nun.
Dear Lord Jesus, give us the courage and grace not only to live holy lives, but to be willing to die holy deaths as St. Margaret of Clitherow did. We thank you, dear Lord, for the examples of your holy saints. May we follow in their footsteps. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Ludger (802), Bishop
Presence of God – O Mary, you who called yourself the handmaid of the Lord, teach me how to consecrate all my strength and life to His service.
All the splendors—divine filiation, participation in divine life, intimate relations with the Trinity—which grace produces in our souls are realized in Mary with a prominence, a force, a realism, wholly singular. If, for example, every soul in the state of grace is an adopted child of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin is so, par excellence and in the most complete manner, because the Triune God communicated Himself to her in the highest degree possible for a simple creature, to such a degree that Mary’s dignity, according to St. Thomas, touches “the threshold of the infinite” (cf. Summa Theologica Ia, q. 25, a. 6, ad 4). This can easily be understood when we think that, from all eternity, Mary was chosen by God to be the Mother of His Son. As the Incarnation of the Word was the first work of the mind of God, in view of which everything was created, so also Mary, who was to have such a great part in this work, was foreseen and chosen by God before all other creatures. It is fitting that the words of Sacred Scripture are applied to her: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning” (Proverbs 8:22).
When Adam, deprived of the state of grace, was driven out of Paradise, only one ray of hope illumined the darkness of fallen humanity: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman,” God said to the serpent, “and … she shall crush thy head” (Genesis 3:15). Here Mary appears on the horizon as the beloved Daughter of God, as she who will never be, for a single moment, a slave of the devil; as she who will always be spotless and immaculate, belonging wholly to God: as the Daughter whom the Most High will always look upon with sovereign complacency, and whom He will introduce into the circle of His divine Family by bonds of the closest intimacy with each of the three divine Persons: Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Incarnate Word, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
O Mary, all pure and all holy, Paradise of God, His beloved Daughter, chosen by Him from all eternity to be the Mother of His only Son, preserved by Him from every shadow of sin, enriched by Him with all graces … how great and how beautiful you are, O Mary! “You are all beautiful, O Mary, and there is no stain of sin in you. You are the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honor of our people” (Tota Pulchra).
The Most High has always looked upon you with complacency and He willed to give Himself to you in a unique way. “The Lord is with you, O Mary! God the Father is with you, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Triune and One God. God the Father, whose noble Daughter you are; God the Son, whose most worthy Mother you are; God the Holy Spirit, whose gracious Spouse you are. You are truly the Daughter of the sovereign, eternal God, the Mother of sovereign Truth, the Spouse of sovereign Goodness, the handmaid of the sovereign Trinity” (cf. Conrad of Saxony). But from all these titles, you choose the last, the humblest, and the lowest, and call yourself the handmaid of the Lord.
“Oh! how sublime is your humility, which never yields to the seductions of glory, and in glory knows no pride. You were chosen to become the Mother of God, and you call yourself servant! O Blessed Lady, how were you able to unite in your heart such a humble idea of yourself, with so much purity and innocence, and especially such plenitude of grace? O Blessed Lady, whence comes such humility? Truly, because of this virtue, you have merited to be looked upon by God with extraordinary love; and you have merited to charm the King with your beauty, and to draw the eternal Son from the bosom of the Father” (cf. St. Bernard).
O Mary, you proclaimed yourself to be the handmaid of the Lord, and you have truly lived as such, always humbly submissive to His will, always ready to respond to His call and invitation. Who more than you could say with Jesus: “My meat is to do the will of My Father” (cf. John 4:34)? O Mary, sweet Daughter of the heavenly Father, impress upon my heart a little of your docility, a little of your love for God’s holy will, in order that I may serve Him less unworthily.+
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: Tota Pulchra (La Inmaculada) [Tota Pulchra (The Immaculate Conception)], Baltasar de Echave Ibía, ca 1620, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, published in the US prior to January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.About Dan Burke
Dan is the President of the Avila Foundation, the parent organization of SpiritualDirection.com, the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, Divine Intimacy Radio and Divine Intimacy Radio Author Insights Edition, author of the award-winning book, Navigating the Interior Life – Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, and his newest books Finding God Through Meditation-St. Peter of Alcantara, 30 Days with Teresa of Avila, Into the Deep and Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux. Beyond his “contagious” love for Jesus and His Church, he is a grateful husband and father of four, the Executive Director of and writer for EWTN’s National Catholic Register, a regular co-host on Register Radio, a writer and speaker who provides online spiritual formation and travels to share his conversion story and the great riches that the Church provides us through authentic Catholic spirituality. Dan has been featured on EWTN’s Journey Home program and numerous radio programs.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
All that we know with any authority about this saint is what we have from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Tradition tells us that his name was Dismas and that he was the good thief who was crucified next to Jesus on Good Friday.
There is a story, which is not substantiated and considered myth, which comes from the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy. The story is that the two thieves who ended up on each side of Christ at His crucifixion actually had a run-in with the Holy Family when Jesus was just an infant. In this story, the thieves held up Mary and Joseph as they were fleeing to Egypt with the infant Jesus to escape Herod’s soldiers. Apparently Dismas bribed the other thief, named Gestas, with forty drachmas to not harm the Holy Family. At this point in the tale, the Infant Jesus predicted that the thieves would be crucified with Him in Jerusalem and that Dismas would accompany Him to Paradise. Again, this story is not substantiated and is considered myth.
The only valid information we have on Dismas is the account in the Gospels. This account is from Saint Luke’s Gospel:
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place, which is called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who was hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingly power.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:32-43).
Questions frequently arise from this Scripture verse concerning Dismas. One usually posed from non-Catholics is that the good thief (Dismas) was taken to heaven and was apparently not baptized, surmising that this must mean baptism is not necessary for salvation. Another question concerns good works. If this man apparently lived a life of sin and was being crucified for his sins, thereby not able to do anything good before his death, how is it he could go straight to heaven?
In response to these questions, the Catholic Church teaches that in cases where there is no baptism of water, there may be a baptism of desire. This can occur in situations where there is no opportunity for baptism. Vatican II documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church state: “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
Dismas certainly proved by his words to Jesus and to the other thief on the cross that he fit the criteria and received baptism of desire. Secondly, according to Scripture, (1 Peter 3:19-20 and Ephesians 4:8-10) and the Nicene Creed, Jesus descended into Hades, which is also known as Sheol (or the place of the dead, where both the righteous and unrighteous went) between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So if He descended into the abode of the dead and preached to the prisoners (1 Peter 3:19) then He didn’t go straight to heaven. The Paradise he spoke of to Dismas was Hades or Sheol, which we might call Purgatory. It wasn’t heaven, but a place or state of being where the dead would be before they could go to heaven. Furthermore, Scripture states that Jesus didn’t actually ascend into heaven until forty days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3, 9-11; John 20:17).
Remember Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene when she saw Him outside the tomb on Easter Sunday: “Do not hold Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (Luke 20:17). So when Jesus said to Dismas, “This day you will be with Me in Paradise,” He must have meant that Dismas would first go with Him to Paradise (Sheol) to preach to those there, before taking the righteous to heaven.
Some feel that it is not “fair” that Dismas was a criminal who not only was apparently not baptized but also had lived a life of sin and then in his last minutes of life on earth was saved. They feel that it doesn’t seem right that someone could lead their whole life in sin and then be saved at the “last minute” whereby they have striven all their lives to be good and righteous. Recall the parable of our Lord in Matthew’s Gospel about the householder who went out to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. In this parable the master (who symbolizes God) hired some workers early in the morning to work in his vineyard. Around noon he hired more laborers and then at the last hour of daylight, he hired more laborers. At the end of the day, he called them all together to pay them their wages. When all received the same wage, those who had been hired in the morning and worked all day protested that they should be paid more than those who had been hired at the end of the day and only worked for an hour. The master replied, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Lord Jesus, help us to be merciful as You are merciful. Let us see that all are Your children and remember that we are not to judge. When we look on one such as Dismas, let us see an opportunity to offer hope and salvation. Let us witness the good news of salvation to the sinner and never judge anyone as unworthy or hopeless. Just as Dismas repented at the last moments of his life on earth, let us see that this is great hope for all and grant that we never grow weary in our efforts to bring the light of salvation to all. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
St. Margaret Clitherow (1586), Wife, Mother, Martyr
One of the most striking aspects of the Passion accounts is how largely alone Our Lord is in His final hours. Most of His beloved disciples, followers, and friends flee from Him and abandon Him in His hour of need. St. Peter goes so far as to deny Jesus three times in order to avoid any connection to this man whom he had referred to as the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). It is the few dedicated followers, including Our Heavenly Mother and St. John, who stay with Him to the foot of the Cross and watch Jesus be crucified and placed in a tomb.
As we make our way through this Lenten season, it is necessary to ponder those times when we too flee from the Cross and from Our Savior. We all do it at one point or another. A period of suffering for ourselves, a loved one, our neighbor, or even the people we encounter in our daily lives occurs and more-often-than-not we flee. We may not be able to flee physically, as in the case of illness, death of a loved one, unemployment, trauma, or any other manner of suffering, which is dished up so generously in this life. When that suffering occurs, we often block it out with distractions such as television, Internet, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, and the list goes on and on. We do anything to avoid confronting the reality of the Cross. We flee.Fleeing from the suffering of others.
This is especially true when it comes to encountering suffering in others. Americans are largely individualistic, as are many Western European cultures. This is a trait that is diametrically opposed to the Catholic understanding of the Mystical Body. We are a communion. We are connected to one another through the Holy Spirit at the deepest levels of our being. We are the arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. of Christ here on earth. He is our head. When one part of the Mystical Body suffers, we all suffer. We may not acknowledge this reality and we may ignore it all together, but it is true nonetheless.
In loving one another as disciples of Christ, we are called to enter into the suffering of our neighbor. It isn’t easy, but there is nothing about the Cross that tells us the spiritual life and the path to holiness will be easy. Our Lord and Savior died on the Cross and He tells us we must follow Him. There is a final Cross for each and every one of us that we will face before we can enter into eternal life. Death awaits us all. The Cross comes before the Resurrection. This life is largely a series of Crosses leading us to the same fate as Our Lord. Even in this knowledge we live in hope thanks to what occurs after the Cross.
When Our Lord instituted His Church here on earth, He meant to unite all of mankind through a visible sign to the world of the ontological reality of the interconnectedness of humanity and the gift of salvation. Christ took on human flesh, which united Him to us in solidarity and united us to one another. It is because of this deep unity that He commands us to love our neighbor. Love requires a desire within us for the good of our neighbor. That means asking the Holy Spirit to help us gain fortitude because love requires the Cross. We need courage to enter into the Cross of our neighbor, but love compels us to do just that. We lighten the load of one another and we expand our own capacity for love when we choose to walk with those around us who suffer. Entering into the suffering of others is not just for the likes of St. Teresa of Calcutta; it is for you and me.What does this entering into the suffer of others look like?
Most of us are not called to give up everything in order to live in the slums and serve the poor full-time. Those of us in the laity have family obligations which are an integral aspect of our vocations. The Cross of another may appear in a wide variety of ways and we must foster a habit of seeing the need in those around us. We must carry the heavy weight of our own Crosses, while also looking out for ways to lessen the burden of our neighbor. A start may be visiting someone in a nursing home or hospice, checking in on our elderly neighbors, consoling the sobbing stranger at Mass, offering assistance to the single mother, bringing a basket to a family grieving a recent miscarriage, meals for the sick, a card or note to someone you know is suffering, a phone to call, asking the clearly stressed our cashier if he/she is alright, looking into the eyes of the homeless person you give food or money too and truly seeing them as a person made imago Dei, visiting the friend who is being crushed under the weight of mental illness, and the list continues. The single greatest poverty in the West is loneliness. St. Teresa of Calcutta saw it and I have seen it with my own eyes and experienced it myself. When will we stop fleeing? The possibilities for loving our neighbor are endless because there seems to be no end the possible ways to suffer here on earth.Will we continue to flee?
Do we flee from the Cross? Every single one of us can answer yes to this question. All of us have ignored the suffering of someone else. All of us at one point or another have found ways to avoid our own Crosses through distractions. Christ uses these Crosses to increase our capacity for love. He uses them to make us holy. It is not easy. I write this piece on the day I was due to have a brand-new baby boy, but he died last summer. At the same time, my good friend next door and her husband grieve their daughter who died at 12 weeks’ gestation a couple of days ago. I had a choice. Focus on my own grief or walk with them and grieve alongside of them. I could ignore their suffering and flee into my own shell of pain or I could seek the grace to be like Our Heavenly Mother and stand with them in this hour. By God’s grace, I chose the Cross. I have only been given this grace because He continues to teach me that it is through the Cross that we are made like Him. It is through the Cross that we become holy. It is through the Cross that we truly learn how to love. It is agonizing, torturous, heart-breaking and heart-rending at times. The pain is so intense I feel like I won’t survive, but I do and God widens my heart a bit more each time. He opens me up to more love. He will do the same in you.What do we imagine Heaven to be?
I will tell you what it is not. It is not a bunch of individuals minding their own business holding onto their rugged individualism. The do-it-yourself attitude of the West is the anti-thesis of Heaven and discipleship. Heaven is the communion of human beings who have been conformed to the love of the Most Holy Trinity. It is communion fully realized. It is the constant giving of self. It is the continuation of love in action as the saints intercede for the living. It is the entering into the Crosses of others until the end of time. Love requires the Cross. One of the ways God prepares us for Heaven is in teaching us to enter into our own suffering and the suffering of our neighbor. The Cross is transformative. The Cross makes us saints. This Lent, let us pray for the strength and grace to enter into the Cross with Our Lord and our neighbor so that we may grow in love and holiness.
In many paintings of the Annunciation, our Blessed Mother is depicted reading or having an open book on her lap, as in Fra Angelico’s frescoes or Rogier van der Weyden’s paintings. What we see in the Blessed Mother is attentiveness to the word of God, which will become flesh in her womb: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, RSV). On this feast of the Annunciation, we ought to take the time to consider our contemplative Blessed Mother, who was open to receiving the Word, and ask ourselves if we are open to receiving the Word in our hearts.
Aristotle tells us that the highest human action is contemplation, which is an act that leads man outside himself to contemplate the eternal and unchanging things. Contemplation is one of the ways that we are able to learn about God, but the Blessed Mother’s act of contemplation is much deeper, because she contemplated the word of God day and night (Psalm 1:2). It is said that Mary knew the Scriptures so well that they took flesh in her womb in Christ. She “is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). From the Blessed Mother came forth the shoot of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), Jesus Christ, who came to save all men from sin. Because of the Blessed Mother’s attentiveness to the Word, she conceived the Word so that He could bring salvation to all.
When the angel greets the Blessed Mother, “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28), “she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Why is Mary troubled by this saying? She knows that this has never been said in the Scriptures before, and so she is troubled that the angel would come to her with such a greeting. Even still, she considers within herself what sort of greeting this might be: as Pope Benedict XVI comments, this points to “her inner engagement with the word” (Infancy, p. 33). Mary is well aware of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, having contemplated the Scriptures so deeply. She is therefore ready, willing, and open to giving her response to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary accepts the word of the angel; she accepts the proclamation of God; she receives the Word of God into her heart, such that he becomes he incarnate within her womb. As Benedict XVI further comments, “It is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made” (p. 36). In contrast with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who did not ponder the word of God in their hearts and chose to turn away from God, Mary’s act of contemplation leads her to obedience to the Word.
Each of us is called to contemplate the word of God and take delight in it, just like the man of Psalm 1. In the dictatorship of noise present in our culture, how often do we sit down to contemplate the word of God, so that we might take it wholly into our hearts and make our wills one with God’s will? On this feast of the Annunciation, we should pray to our Blessed Mother, so that we might have the grace to receive the Word as she did, whatever our state of life might be. We are all called to receive the Word of God and keep it—“My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21—and if we do, then we will be made sons and daughters of God (John 1:12-13). If we keep the word of God, we will be imitating our Blessed Mother, who carried the Word of God beneath her heart; let us learn to imitate her that we might carry the Word of God in our own hearts.
Today’s Gospel tells an engaging, sometimes humorous, story of a blind man who can see and men with vision who are blind.Gospel (Read Jn 9:1-41)
In the Gospel we are immediately introduced to a contrast that appears in all four lectionary readings: sight and blindness, darkness and light. There are layers of meaning for us as we follow the action of this story; it is no surprise that we are given this passage as a meal from the Table of the Word during Lent. There is much nourishment here.
“As Jesus passed by He saw a man blind from birth” (Jn 9:1). In just these few words, we can understand we are about to hear a story about ourselves. Ever since our first parents fell from grace in the Garden, each one of us has been “blind from birth.” Recall the serpent’s tempting offer to Eve. He encouraged her to eat the fruit because “…when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” (Gen. 3:5). In fact, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, a profound blindness settled over them. The Church tells us that through their disobedience, they lost the supernatural grace in which they were created. That grace was their lens on reality. Without it, they could not see God, each other, or even themselves in truth. All their descendants came into the world without the grace of clear vision. We are all spiritually “blind from birth.”
The disciples assume the man’s physical blindness comes as a result of someone’s personal sin. Jesus’ answer likely surprised them. He suggests that the presence of this physical disability has been allowed by God in order to demonstrate His glory. The original Fall of man brought down both God’s mercy and His justice. He had a plan to counter and defeat His enemy in the Garden (“the woman and her seed”), but, in the meantime, suffering and death would be an ever-present reminder that this world and these sinful bodies are not as God created them to be. Suffering will become our opportunity to “see” ourselves as we really are: we are utterly, completely dependent on God.
Jesus tells His disciples that He is the “light of the world” (Jn 9:5b), then He demonstrates what that means. He heals the man born blind with clay and water, which are full of sacramental symbolism for us. Ordinary elements in nature become the supernatural means of healing for our congenital blindness caused by sin. In the waters of baptism, Jesus restores our “sight.” We reject the blindness offered by the serpent and instead choose the sight God always meant us to have.
The newly sighted blind man is hauled before the Pharisees; they help us to see what being blind from birth looks like. Rather than seeing a miracle, the Pharisees see a miscreant—Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. He is a lawbreaker and an outsider: “We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from” (Jn 9:29).
The story unfolds with a deepening of blindness in the Pharisees and a deepening of vision for the blind man, who first describes his Healer as “the man called Jesus” (Jn 9:11). As Jesus seeks him out after his expulsion from the Pharisees, the man discovers Jesus is not just “a prophet” (Jn 9:17), but the “Son of Man” (Jn 9:36), and he worships Him. The Pharisees, however, continue in their willed blindness, in spite of all the evidence and testimony about Jesus. They completely reject their need for sight: “Surely, we are not also blind, are we?” (Jn 9:40). Sadly, Jesus tells them that in this refusal, their “sin remains” (Jn 9:41).
Possible response: Jesus, please heal my eyesight so that I see You, others, and myself in truth. Sometimes my vision is blurred.First Reading (Read 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a)
The story of God’s choice of David to replace disobedient Saul as king of Israel reminds us why our natural vision needs to be healed. The LORD sent Samuel, priest and last of the judges, to Jesse of Bethlehem. The new king was to be chosen from among the sons of Jesse. Samuel saw the first son, Eliab, and “thought surely the LORD’s anointed is here before Him “ (1 Sam. 16:6). However, Eliab was not the LORD’s choice. “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Real vision is looking beyond appearances. David, the youngest son of Jesse and a mere shepherd boy, was God’s choice. The one who looked least like a king was going to lead God’s flock. The blindness with which we are born—this penchant for seeing only appearances—explains why the Pharisees in the Gospel story couldn’t “see” Jesus. The man whose sight was restored in the water could. When the healed man tried to bear testimony to the Pharisees, what did they “see”? Only the appearance of one “born totally in sin” (9:34) who had nothing to teach them. They were blind, indeed.
Possible response: Father, forgive me for the times I have judged by appearances. Help me see as You do.Psalm (Read Ps 23)
The psalmist elaborates on the paradox of a shepherd being chosen as king of Israel. What kind of king can a shepherd be? When He is God’s choice, He is the shepherd described in this psalm. The Good Shepherd, because He is “the light of the world” (Jn 9:5b), enables the psalmist to “see” even in the dark: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for You are at my side with Your rod and Your staff that give me courage” (Ps. 23:4). Wherever the Good Shepherd is, there is light, clarity, vision: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.Second Reading (Read Eph 5:8-14)
St. Paul describes the believer’s movement from darkness (sin) to light (holiness), just as we watched the blind man move from darkness to light in the Gospel. In baptism, we were healed of our blindness to God and have now, as St. Paul says, become “children of light” (Eph. 5:8). He exhorts us to “try to learn what is pleasing the Lord” (Eph. 5:10) in this new life. That life of blindness to God (which is self-absorption, as we saw in the Pharisees) was like death. St. Paul uses words that may have been from an ancient baptismal liturgy to call us to a life of true vision: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Eph. 5:14). We are to live as people who have nothing to hide.
Possible response: Father, can I remember to live as a child of light? I do want to learn what pleases You in this season of Lent.
Saint Peter’s Square
Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on Christian hope, today we reflect on two words used by Saint Paul in the opening reading: steadfastness and encouragement. Paul says that both are contained in the message of the Scriptures, but even more, that ours is a God of steadfastness and encouragement (cf. Rom 15:4-5). In the Christian life, we are called to spread hope by supporting and encouraging one another, especially those in danger of faltering. But we do so with the strength provided by the Lord, who is our unfailing source of hope. Faithful to the Apostle’s injunction, may we always live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus (v. 5).
On the new season of the Catholic Exchange Podcast, host Michael J. Lichens starts off by discussing the awkward questions of dating, marriage, and love. Joining him are the hosts of the Fishers of Men podcast, Lara Sumera Samms and Mary Ashley Burton. Lara and Mary are two actors, producers, and creative workers who have decided to tackle some of the hardest questions about how it is that one can be single, seek a relationship, all while maintaining their faith in a place like Los Angeles. Today’s episode has some fine insight and more than a few laughs.
You can hear Mary Ashley and Lara on their Fishers of Men podcast on iTunes, their site, or your favorite podcast app. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to also check out their Real-Life Dating Fails on YouTube.
As always, we mentioned several resources and books, which include:
Indeed it is very difficult to love our neighbor, when so many seem unlovable. How do we follow and live out such a comprehensive commandment?
This is exactly what God teaches us through Jesus: “to love your neighbor as yourself”: to support the grumpy relative, to look after the irresponsible drugged-up brother, to be concerned for the office associate who has wronged us, to leave no one in our love, to be concerned for the very least of Christ’s brethren.
This is not easy on our own power. Let us continue to pray to learn to love and serve our neighbor as we should and could. When we are well-fed, may no one feel hunger; may the sick and advanced in years have the care they need; may those grieving and distressed be consoled.
May we learn to be like the good Samaritan to the traveler who had fallen to robbers. And on judgment day may we receive the reward promised by Jesus: “Come, blessed of my Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” (Mt 25:34)
Catherine Ulfsdotter was born in 1331 in Sweden to Bridget (later St. Bridget). She was the fourth of eight children. When Catherine was only fourteen years old she married Eggard von Kurnen. Because Catherine was deeply devoted to God, she convinced her new husband to join her in a vow of chastity.
Catherine’s mother, Bridget, went to Rome shortly after her husband’s death. Catherine went to visit her mother and decided to extend her visit. While there, her own husband, Eggard, died. Eggard’s death had been prophesized by Bridget. Catherine, being close to her mother, turned down several suitors who proposed marriage and remained unmarried for the rest of her life. For twenty-five years she was her mother’s constant companion until Bridget’s death in 1373. After her mother’s death, Catherine returned to a monastery Bridget had founded in Vadstena, Sweden. Catherine took her mother’s body there to be buried.
Catherine then took over management of the Bridgettines, an order of women started by her mother. After five years, she was able to secure approval of the order from Pope Urban VI. Catherine died at Vadstena after a long illness on March 24, 1381.
In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII canonized Catherine Ulfsdotter, now known as Saint Catherine of Sweden. Her mother, Bridget, is the Patron Saint of Sweden.
Dear Father, may we spend what remains of our earthly lives not on our own desires. Like Saint Catherine and Saint Bridget, may we spend our lives devoted to You and helping others. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Gabriel the Archangel, Patron of Telecommunications and Diplomats
St. Simon of Trent (1475), Martyr
It’s impossible to be selfish and happy at the same time. I know this from experience, for if I’m honest with myself, I find the days that I am most miserable are the days that I am too focused on myself: on my problems, my frustrations, my weaknesses. I’m certain the same is true for you. Think about the last time you felt sad or weighed down. Maybe it was yesterday, or maybe it’s today. If you take a few moments to reflect, you may find that you are focusing too much on yourself.
We all experience this gravitational pull toward the self. Self-centeredness is one the effects of original sin. But the more self-absorbed we are, the sadder we will be. God did not create us to live for ourselves; He created us to live in service. Jesus said that He did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28).
There is a great scene from the Book of Numbers that illustrates the effect of self-centeredness (Numbers 21:4-9). The Israelites, who feel that they are wandering aimlessly in the desert, are pretty angry with Moses and the Lord. Food and water is sparse, and they complain about the food that they do get to eat. So, to discipline them, the Lord sends saraph serpents among them and consequently many people die. The Israelites then acknowledge their sin and ask the Lord to take the serpents away.
Then something interesting happens. The Lord tells Moses to make a bronze saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone is bitten they should gaze upon the saraph serpent and they will be healed. Now, jump ahead to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). The healing power of the serpent on the pole in the book of Numbers prefigures Jesus on the cross who heals us from our sins.
The Israelites were stuck in themselves; they were focused on their problems and the result was their misery. So the Lord teaches them to stop focusing on themselves by making them gaze upon the saraph, which is a foreshadowing of Jesus hanging on the cross. We too experience punishment when we focus on ourselves; not the punishment of poisonous snakebites, but the punishment of sorrow and self-pity. This sadness that we experience from selfishness is punishment enough; it just doesn’t feel good to us and it drives us deeper into ourselves. As one of my seminary professors said, “sin is its own punishment.”But there is a solution.
Just as the Israelites were healed by gazing upon the saraph mounted on a pole, you and I are healed of our self-absorption by looking upon Jesus crucified. When we contemplate Jesus on the cross, our hearts are touched by His healing love. When we look lovingly upon the cross, the only response is to imitate Christ’s selfless love. Jesus gave Himself completely in love for our salvation, and as we contemplate Him on the cross, we are compelled to imitate His love by serving others.
… Jesus Christ offered Himself in love to the Father for our salvation. We are called to imitate His self-giving love. In fact, the way to holiness is to live in union with Christ imitate His love. The more we meditate on Jesus crucified, the more we will be compelled to live selflessly and advance in the way of holiness.
If we are experiencing difficulties in our lives, if we feel stuck in ourselves, if we are weighed down or sorrowful, there is a spiritual solution that can lift us out of ourselves. There is a way that we can be set free from sorrow. It will take some effort on our part, but the Lord will help us. The solution is simple: live selflessly.
Today, make a decision to live for others. Today, make a decision to serve. Today, make a decision to focus on the needs of others and not on your own needs. Today, make a decision to contemplate Jesus on the cross and let Him live in you so that you can bring His love to others. You will find that your sorrow begins to lift and your eyes will be opened to the beauty of life and the dignity of every person…
Art for this post on The Solution to Your Sorrow: Figura de una mujer de pueblo (Figure of town woman), Pedro Lira, 12 December 1910, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Moses and the Brazen Serpent, Esteban March (1610-1668), undated, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923; The Crucifixion, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1646, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less; Detail of Jésus lavant les pieds aux apôtres (Jesus washes the feet of the apostles), Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, 1531, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; all Wikimedia Commons.About Fr. Michael Najim
Fr. Michael Najim is a priest of the Diocese of Providence. He is Pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Westerly, Rhode Island and has been the Director of Spiritual Formation at Our Lady of Providence Seminary and Chaplain of LaSalle Academy, a coed Catholic high school in Providence, RI. He is the author of Radical Surrender: Letters to Seminarians, published by the Institute for Priestly Formation. He also blogs at Fr. Michael Najim’s Blog.
This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
“I answer that, the name Love in God can be taken essentially and personally. If taken personally it is the proper name of the Holy Ghost: as Word is the proper name of the Son.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q. 37, art. 1
“I answer that, Gift, taken personally in God, is the proper name of the Holy Ghost.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q. 38, art. 2
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 684) explains that although the Holy Spirit was the last person of the Holy Trinity to be revealed to us, “through his grace, the Holy Spirit is the first to awaken faith in us and to communicate to us the new life,” which is to “know the Father and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ” (see John 17:3). We come to know the Father and the Son through the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in our soul.
The term spirit translates the Hebrew word ruah, which means “breath,” “air,” or “wind.” It comes to us from the Latin word spiritus, and in English has typically been translated “spirit,” although some translators, especially in days gone by, have also used the synonym “ghost” to mean exactly the same thing. All readers have certainly heard of the Holy Ghost, and this name happens to be used in the translation of St. Thomas’s Summa Theologica by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province that I routinely use, which is why it appears in this chapter’s opening quotations.
Although Christ has instructed us to call this Third Person by the name “Holy Spirit,” the Holy Spirit is also known by many other titles. Christ called Him the “Paraclete” or “Counselor” as well as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16). The Catechism (693) relates that in other books of the New Testament He is called the “Spirit of the promise,” the “Spirit of adoption,” the “Spirit of Christ,” the “Spirit of the Lord,” the “Spirit of God,” and the “Spirit of glory.”
In his masterful modern summary of the writings of Pope Saint John Paul II on the Holy Spirit, Fr. Bill McCarthy, MSA, has provided a full list of the fifty-two scriptural titles and images of the Holy Spirit, including Spirit of Love (Gal. 5:22) and Gift (John 3:34; Act 2:38; 10:45).
St. Thomas Aquinas, like great teachers who came before him and since, has zoomed in on two names of the Holy Spirit especially suited for our examination of His seven loving gifts: Love and Gift.Love with a capital L
St. Thomas tells us, following Pope St. Gregory the Great: “The Holy Ghost Himself is Love.” He elaborates further that the Holy Spirit is said to be the bond of Love between the Father and the Son and that “from the fact that the Father and the Son mutually love one another, it necessarily follows that this mutual Love, the Holy Ghost, proceeds from both. As regards origin, therefore, the Holy Ghost is not the medium, but the third person in the Trinity.”
To make matters more amazing, more loving, and more beautiful, St. Thomas also expounds upon St. Augustine’s profound declaration that the Father and the Son love each other by the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas explains that the phrase “to love” can be taken two ways. In one sense, it means that the Father and the Son love each other by Their own essence. In another, it means that the Father and the Son “spirate,” or breathe, the love that is the Holy Spirit. Further, “the Father loves not only the Son, but also Himself and us, by the Holy Ghost.”
Perhaps these thoughts are over our heads, but it is well worth it to try to wrap our heads around them (or, as we’ll soon see when we examine the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to allow Love Himself to help us understand).
Love is expressed in a fundamental way in the act of giving. After addressing Love as a name of the Holy Spirit, Thomas next considers His holy name of Gift, starting with a quotation from St. Augustine: “ ‘As the body of flesh is nothing but flesh; so the gift of the Holy Ghost is nothing but the Holy Ghost.’ But the Holy Ghost is a personal name; so also therefore is Gift.”
Thomas explicates that the word gift denotes a capacity for being given, “and what is given has an aptitude or relation both to the giver and to that to which is given. For it would not be given by anyone unless it was his to give; and it is given to someone to be his.” (After all, as some Scholastic theologians are wont to say, “You can’t give what you don’t have!”) Thomas explains further that only a divine Person may give divine things, and of all creatures on earth, only human beings have been given by God the capacity to receive, enjoy, and use the divine gifts of the Holy Spirit. Only we have the capacity freely to know and love God rightly. Still, although we possess these receptive rational powers, we can receive these divine gifts and possess God only when He gives them and thereby gives Himself to us as a gift. In other words, the Holy Spirit, “Love proceeding,” freely gives us the gift of Himself!
St. Thomas elaborates that the Holy Spirit gives us Himself as a free, gratuitous, nonreturnable gift of love, as we do when we give loving gifts to others with no expectation of personal gain, because we wish them well. Love itself, then, is the “first gift through which all free gifts are given. So since the Holy Ghost proceeds as love . . . He proceeds as the first gift.” Further, as St. Augustine says in his book on the Trinity, “By the gift, which is the Holy Ghost, many particular gifts are portioned out to the members of Christ.”
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Dr. Vost’s Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Every Spiritual Warrior’s Guide to God’s Invincible Gifts, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Playboy Magazine rippled the American underbelly one year ago when it announced that it would no longer publish photographs of naked women. Yes, Playboy Magazine was covering up. What was the world coming to? Or, rather, what had it come to? In an age of online on-demand pornography, with every possible perversion only a click away, this move by the former industry leader was paradoxically calculated to boost sales by reigning in the smut which had grown so rampant—even commonplace. One year later, Playboy is getting naked again. COO Cooper Hefner, son of notorious founder Hugh Hefner, made the announcement on Twitter saying, “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem.” And there you have it. It is bad enough when the pornolithic Playboy is forced to capitulate under the pervasiveness and popularity of Internet pornography. It is worse when it is forced to return to its filth with a forthright expression capturing the capitulation of an entire culture. If you can’t beat them, join them. The new cover of Playboy echoes Hefner’s thesis with, “Naked is normal” and an au naturel model. And he is correct—there is a nakedness that is normal for a culture that has lost its innocence. How singular and sickening to think that that which was once the sign of human innocence is now the sign of its corruption.
Pornographic nudity is normal nowadays—the erotic depiction of human nakedness that arouses and titillates sexual desire by providing artificial access to what is morally inaccessible for the sake of stimulus and self-gratification. The pornographic, and the nudity it revels in, is a sensationally skewed experience of beauty, sex, and the sacred, as opposed to those works of art that ennoble through a nudity freed from eroticism, hearkening back to the original, sacred beauty and dignity of the human condition and the human body. Pornography is the norm, however, when it comes to nudity, and the encounter of pornography is also normal. This is a simple unavoidable truth because pornography is simply unavoidable. To suppose that people, especially young people, even from solid families, are not exposed to pornography in some form or another is naïve. The presence of pornography is a given, as it is widespread, strategic, and insidious. Pornography is inescapable because it is immediately accessible. It is always a click or a flick away, and hence it is everywhere. That is the reality that must be faced before it can be fought. And it is a battle that must be fought, even if only to reclaim and preserve a vestige of innocence. Little more is the claim of humanity after all.
Though beginning to be questioned as a public health threat, pornography is perhaps the prime destroyer of the innocence proper to certain years of every person’s life. Before Adam and Eve lost their innocence by original sin, naked was normal in a very different sense for it was not even noticed. It was not just normal, it was natural. When they gained the knowledge of good and evil, they also immediately knew, with the clarity of that distinction, that they were naked. They were exposed by sin both spiritually and physically. And they were ashamed and afraid. This engendering of shame and fear, this loss of blissful innocence, is experienced in every one of their children throughout the ages as reason dawns and the tragedy of the recognition between good and evil is grasped. It is by this dangerous and devastating knowledge that sin becomes profusely possible. Though man is fallen and no longer able to retain the unadulterated innocence of his childhood, it does not require that he be guilty. Men and women can yet preserve an innocence that is befitting a holy people of God—an innocence that guards against the occasions of shame, an innocence that rejects the tendencies of fallen nature and strives to struggle with its effects towards perfection. The preservation of that vestige of innocence is the mark of virtue, and it is not a relic to be dismissed or taken lightly.
The perversion of nakedness both symbolizes and embodies the diametric opposite of this essential struggle. It marks a certain fulfillment of the serpent’s promise at the tree, of the eye being opened and all things being laid bare—the tree that was “fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold.” Pornography involves the absolute embrasure of fallen nature with an abandon that is so wild it has even learned to excuse and eradicate shame. Shame has become just another thrill that thickens over time. The serpent did not wholly lie—the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened. But what they saw was sin and shame. In these days, an eerie reversal has taken place. The eyes of men and women are still open by the inheritance of fallen nature, yet they have lost the vision of shame through a mind-bending, conscience-crushing hedonism that has effectively rendered the distinction of good and evil indistinct in a stupor of sin as opposed to the simplicity of innocence. It is in this state of affairs that Playboy proclaims with a shrug that naked is normal, and surrenders to the sensualist spate with a will more hell-bent than ever before. Playboy is playing to the principle of a relativistic subculture that holds pornographic nudity and the hyper-sexualization of the female body need not be shameful.
The core of the parody called pornography is the blatant blasphemy of love. The desecration and profanation of love and its most sacred act is the deepest sign of an innocence that has been trampled underfoot. Unless people awaken their hearts through discipline and dominion to the truth again, they will never know anything that can truly fulfill either in this world or the next. Pornography is the lie of the serpent—it is a barrier to the reality all are commanded to know as inheritors of Adam and Eve’s stewardship and our Maker’s Image and Likeness. The first step to being a good steward, though, is to have a healthy respect for the things of the earth and heaven; which respect forbids exploitation for pleasure’s sake (which is a working definition of a playboy). For those who truly love the realities that God made, pleasure—or rather, enjoyment—is derived by virtue of the reality loved, even in the state of broken innocence. The loss of innocence does not necessitate ignorance. Men and women did not become like gods as the serpent seduced, but they remained children of God, able to find the voice of the Father in their hearts. It is the heart that reveals what is worth loving and worth knowing intimately. No category of pornography can offer intimacy for pornography does not access the real with love. Pornography reveals nothing even in its nudity.
Why didn’t Playboy’s marketing maneuver work? It seems men didn’t read the magazine for just the articles after all. Perhaps the succession from a 90-year-old Hefner angling for more traditional pornography to a 25-year-old Hefner angling for more competitive pornography had something to do with the reversal. Could it be that interest and intrigue are gone from subtlety? Must appetites be gorged if they are to be engaged? Has the age of porn pride finally dawned? With the rise in scrutiny and criticism on the effects of pornography, there is a rising defense as well. Censorship supports the rejected idea that pornography is detrimental for men and debasing to women. The cry for uncensored celebration rings loud. Let women put themselves on display if they choose and make a buck through their bodies at the same time. It’s all in good mutuality, to name a venomously vague vogue. By returning to nudity, Playboy joins the bandwagon (and the market) of condemning the prudish hatred and hiding of what should be flaunted.
Pornographic nudity robs people of their innocence through the elimination of the mysteries of the heart, severely impairing their ability to be awed or find joy in the beautiful. Fantasy and blasphemy results in a loss of desire. Appetites surfeit and sicken. Men wallow from debauchery to depravity. Playboy realized something of these cultural effects after 63 years in the business, but failed to find a satisfactory profit on the fringe of the meat market. Back they came to reclaim the ignominy of what young Hefner calls a “lifestyle brand” with a shamelessness that is all too telling. Naked is normal for those who have fallen from that nakedness which is normal no more.
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.