Update on Fr. Ronnie

Fr. Ronnie Calkins, our former pastor, appreciates all of the love and support from Mary, Queen of Peace. He would like to share this update as of Monday, August 14, 2017:

Fr. Ronnie is still at M.D. Anderson in Houston, where his diagnosis was changed from small cell carcinoma to an aggressive form of prostate cancer. He had his first hormonal injection today and will continue with those once a month. On Monday, August 21, he will have his first chemo treatment, which will continue every three weeks. It is not known yet whether those treatments will continue in Houston or take place at East Jefferson Hospital.

Please continue to keep Fr. Ronnie in your prayers along this journey.

God bless.

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Encountering Christ with Sr. Judy Gomila

It's time for new beginnings: A new school year, new activities, and a new chance to deepen our relationship with Jesus. Our Encountering Christ journey continues this month. Sr. Judy Gomila, MSC, will help get us fired up on August 16 after 6 p.m. Mass in the Cafeteria. A light dinner will be provided. Children are welcome! Please RSVP by clicking here!

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Ave Crux Spes Unica (Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope): A Column by Fr. Ian

Ave Crux Spes Unica (Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope!)

A PRAYER TO OUR LADY DURING HOLY WEEK

Prayer to Our Lady during Holy Week

 

As we enter Holy Week, I thought I’d share with you one of my favorite Lenten prayers to our Lady as we accompany Her to Calvary with our Savior:

 

O Mary, ever Virgin, most august Sovereign and Queen of Martyrs, no human mind can conceive, no human tongue express, the immensity of the sorrow which filled thy heart with bitterness and bathed thy face with tears during the Passion and at the Death of thy most beloved Son, Jesus.  After His sad farewell, when He parted from thee to go to the Sacrifice, came that awful night when thou didst in spirit contemplate Him sweating blood in the garden, taken captive, tortured in a thousand ways, and imprisoned as a malefactor.  And when morning was come, thou didst see Him dragged from tribunal to tribunal, equaled with, nay, rejected for Barabbas, treated as a fool, cruelly scourged, and crowned with sharp thorns.

 

Thou didst hear the sentence of His condemnation, the echoes of the trumpets. Thou didst follow Him as He carried the Cross on His wounded Shoulders, fell on the ground, and received fresh wounds from His falls.  Thou didst see Him on that Way of Sorrow, unable to look at thee because of the spittings, the blood, and the tears which filled His Divine eyes.  Thou wast present there, when the executioners pierced His Hands and His Feet with large nails, lifted Him on the Cross between two thieves, and thy garments were sprinkled with His Most Precious Blood.

 

Thou didst hear His Seven Words on the Cross, which as seven arrows pierced through thy compassionate Heart; that especially by which He gave thee John, and in his person all men as thy sons in His stead.  Thou didst witness the cruelty of His enemies when, parched with thirst, He was given gall and vinegar to drink.  Thou didst behold Him in the last pangs of His three hours' Agony; and when, bowing His head, He gave up His Spirit, thy soul too seemed to be rent from thy body.  But, as if He had not been insulted enough, thou didst see an impious soldier, even after His Death, pierce with a lance His Sacred and most loving Heart.

 

All the wounds of thine own heart were reopened, when, receiving in thine arms His lifeless Body, thou didst count the numberless wounds and scars with which It was covered, and didst, disconsolate, bathe them with burning tears.  And now thy desolation reached its height, when, after having left Him in the sepulcher, thou didst return alone and bereft to Jerusalem, and there in thy solitude didst again, one by one, go over the sad scenes of His torments and Death.

 

To what shall I compare thee, O most Sorrowful Mother?  To what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O Virgin Daughter of Zion?  For indeed great as the sea is thy destruction; who shall heal thee?  I wish, O afflicted Mother, I wish I could weep with thee in these thy most cruel sufferings, with tears of blood, thus to blot out my iniquities, which were the accursed cause of the anguish and desolation of thy soul.  I beseech thee, most compassionate Virgin, by the torments of thy Divine Son and these thy bitter Sorrows, obtain for me grace to hate sin, to become thy devoted servant, and to console thee by a holy life.  Deign also to assist me in all my necessities, spiritual and temporal; but, above all, stand by me at the hour of my death, that by thy powerful protection I may reap the fruit of so great sufferings, and bless my loving Savior and thyself, my Sorrowful Mother, with eternal gratitude in the heavenly Kingdom.  Amen.

 

GETTING THE MOST OUT OF MASS

Coming to Mass week after week runs the risk of our simply going through the motions and not fully participating in the Mass.  The Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, writes, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” (no. 14). 

     This simple phrase has been the subject of much effort and discussion in the past 50 years.  What does this mean?  Certainly, there is an element of this that is fulfilled in the participation of the faithful in the responses at Mass, both in recitation and in song.  

     There is also an important element of active participation that allows the faithful to fulfill many of the ministries that serve the Liturgy.  The emphasis placed upon this active participation in the time since the Second Vatican Council has borne much fruit in this arena.  All of this external active participation leads us to a deeper and more important level, though.  His Excellency, Archbishop Alfred Hughes, former Archbishop of New Orleans, helps to explain this wonderful phrase.  He writes:

 

Unfortunately, in the first stage of implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council, a great deal of emphasis was placed upon external activity on the part of the people.  As a result, the focus on full participation has gravitated more toward the involvement of lay liturgical ministries than to the interior dispositions required for making participation more fruitful.  In the Sacred Liturgy, it is Christ who acts.  What is incredibly important is that we are interiorly united with him in the sacrificial offering that he once made historically and is re-presented in the sacramental celebration of the liturgy.

 

Perhaps this phrase becomes clearer when we read Pope St. John Paul II’s discussion of the same topic:

 

Full participation certainly means that every member of the community has a part to play in the liturgy […] But full participation does not mean that everyone does everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council had in mind […] Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it.

 

     What is clearly seen here is that lay liturgical ministries have an important role to play in the Liturgy when they are fulfilled properly and in accord with the norms of Holy Mother Church.  However, this desire for active participation does not stop with the specialized ministries of a particular parish, nor is it the principal example of active participation.

     Every single person is called to active participation which takes place primarily with our interior disposition as we foster an interior union with our Blessed Lord and a union with the priest who offers our prayers to God at the altar.  In fact, it is precisely in this interior disposition that we actualize our full membership in the common priesthood, which is the end goal of active participation.

     At the Offertory, when the bread and wine is offered to God our Father, we too should offer ourselves in union with the bread and wine offered by the priest. 

     Additionally, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy tells us that the highest mode of our active participation at Mass is in the reception of Communion, calling it the “more perfect form of participation in the Mass” (no. 55)!  In this interior disposition and active participation, fostered by prayer and reverence for the Sacred Mysteries, the greatest of fruits will abound.

 

 STILLNESS

Written by Romano Guardini

When Holy Mass is properly celebrated there are moments in which the voices of both priest and faithful become silent.  The priest continues to officiate as the rubrics indicate, speaking very softly or refraining from vocal prayer; the congregation follows in watchful, prayerful participation.  What do these intervals of quiet signify?  What must we do with them?  What does stillness really imply?

 

It implies above all that speech end and silence prevail, that no other sounds of movements, of turning pages, of coughing and throat-clearing be audible.  There is no need to exaggerate.  Men live, and living things move; a forced outward conformity is no better than restlessness.  Nevertheless, stillness is still, and it comes only if seriously desired.  If we value it, it brings us joy; if not, discomfort.  People are often heard to say: “But I can’t help coughing” or “I can’t kneel quietly”; yet once stirred by a concert or lecture they forget all about coughing and fidgeting.  That stillness proper to the most beautiful things in existence dominates, a quiet area of attentiveness in which the beautiful and truly important reign.  We must earnestly desire stillness and be willing to give something for it; then it will be ours.  Once we have experienced it, we will be astounded that we were able to live without it.

 

Moreover, stillness must not be superficial, as it is when there is neither speaking nor squirming; our thoughts, our feelings, our hearts must also find repose.  Then genuine stillness permeates us, spreading ever deeper through the seemingly plumbless world within.

 

Once we try to achieve such profound stillness, we realize that it cannot be accomplished all at once.  The mere desire for it is not enough; we must practice it.  The minutes before Holy Mass are best; but in order to have them for genuine preparation we must arrive early.  They are not a time for gazing or day-dreaming or for unnecessary thumbing of pages, but for inwardly collecting and calming ourselves.  It would be still better to begin on our way to church.  After all, we are going to a sacred celebration.  Why not let the way there be an exercise in composure, a kind of overture to what is to come?  I would even suggest that preparation for holy stillness really begins the day before.  Liturgically, Saturday evening already belongs to the Sunday.  If for instance, after suitable reading we were to collect ourselves for a brief period of composure, its effects the next day would be evident.

 

Thus far we have discussed stillness negatively: no speech, no sound.  But it is much more than the absence of these, a mere gap, as it were, between words and sounds: stillness itself is something positive.  Of course we must be able to appreciate it as such.  There is sometimes a pause in the midst of a lecture or a service or some public function.  Almost invariably someone promptly coughs or clears his throat.  He is experiencing stillness as a breach in the unwinding road of speech and sound, which he attempts to fill with something, anything.  For him the stillness was only a lacuna, a void which gave him a sense of disorder and discomfort.  Actually, it is something rich and brimming.

 

Stillness is the tranquility of the inner life; the quiet at the depths of its hidden stream.  It is a collected, total presence, a being “all there,” receptive, alert, ready.  There is nothing inert or oppressive about it.  Attentiveness that is the clue to the stillness in question, the stillness before God.

 

What then is a church? It is, to be sure, a building having walls, pillars, space.  But these express only part of the word “church,” its shell.  When we say that Holy Mass is celebrated “in church,” we are including something more, the congregation.  “Congregation,” not merely people.  Churchgoers arriving, sitting, or kneeling in pews are not necessarily a congregation; they can be simply a roomful of more or less pious individuals.  Congregation is formed only when those individuals are present not only corporally but also spiritually, when they have contacted one another in prayer and step together into the spiritual “space” around them; strictly speaking, when they have first widened and heightened that space by prayer.  Then true congregation comes into being, which, along with the building that is its architectural expression, forms the vital church in which the sacred act is accomplished.  All this takes place only in stillness; out of stillness grows the real sanctuary.  It is important to understand this.  Church buildings may be lost or destroyed; then everything depends on whether or not the faithful are capable of forming congregations that erect indestructible “churches” wherever they happen to find themselves, no matter how poor or dreary their quarters.  We must learn and practice the art of constructing spiritual cathedrals.

 

We cannot take stillness too seriously.  Not for nothing do these reflections on the liturgy open with it.  If someone were to ask me what the liturgical life begins with, I should answer: with learning stillness.  Without it, everything remains superficial, vain.  Our understanding of stillness is nothing strange or aesthetic.  Were we to approach stillness on the level of aesthetics of mere withdrawal into the ego we should spoil everything.  What we are striving for is something very grave, very important, and unfortunately sorely neglected; the prerequisite of the liturgical holy act.Fr. Ian Bozant

 

Four Last Things: Death

 

It used to be that when the month of November rolled around, Catholics would naturally turn their thoughts and reflection to the Four Last Things, but this is hardly the case today.  The Four Last Things are Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.  You might wonder why on earth we would want to focus on these things or spend time reflecting upon them in prayer.  Now, if we look at them solely from a negative perspective—from fear and not from faith—then it is easy to see why these realities would be unattractive to our prayer.  However, if we come to them from the perspective of truth and of God’s love for us, these realities become a near-essential tool for us to grow in holiness and motivate our spiritual lives.  Thus, in a series of four posts, I will lead us in a small reflection upon these Four Last Things, beginning today with death.

 

Death is not humanly attractive.  In fact, we often shy away from it as much as possible, but it is a necessary step in order to get to Heaven.  In order to attain the promised reward of eternal life, we must die, but if we look at it this way, it does not seem nearly as macabre as we might have expected at first. 

 

Where does death come from?  Death is a result of sin.  “Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  God did not make death; He did not will it; it was not part of His original plan (Wisdom 1:12-15; 2:23-24).  The original plan was for man to be immortal. 

 

What is death, then?  Since man is a unity of body and soul with the soul giving life to the bod, death is defined as the separation of the soul from the body.  That’s it.  We do not cease to exist at death.  We do not become unaware of things at death.  The Church does not believe in “soul sleep” or “soul annihilation” or “nirvana and nothingness” as do some non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians.  Our bodies will cease to live as a result of age, sickness or accident, but we will endure.  Life will go on; our souls will continue to be alive, but apart, for a time, from our bodies which will no longer be animated.  A trip to the cemetery reminds us of the reality of this—our bodies cease living, but our souls endure forever.

 

So, what should our reflection upon death bring about in us?  First, it should remind us of our fleeting nature.  If we reflected upon death, we would have a better ability to keep things in perspective and have a truer sense of what ultimately matters.  Think here of Katrina—how many of us remember that in that moment, suddenly everything became clear about what was important.  Death has a way of doing that for us.  Secondly, it should remind us that we need to prepare for death.  Listen to the Catechism on this: “The Church encourages us to prepare ourselves for the hour of our death.  In the ancient litany of the saints, for instance, she has us pray: ‘From a sudden and unforeseen death, deliver us, O Lord;’ to ask the Mother of God to intercede for us ‘at the hour of our death’ in the Hail Mary; and to entrust ourselves to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death.  ‘Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience. Then why not keep clear of sin instead of running away from death?  If you aren't fit to face death today, it's very unlikely you will be tomorrow’” (CCC 1014).  As Catholics, we should wish for a holy death—one preceded by much prayer and with loved ones around us interceding on our behalf as our souls enter their last test of this earthly life.

 

As November began, we celebrated All Souls’ Day, reminding us of the reality of death but also teaching us the need to reflect and pray upon this topic so that we may not live in fear of our mortality, which may come at any moment.  Let us not be caught unprepared and during this month of November, let us take some time to spiritually prepare ourselves, growing in our firm resolve to be ready to meet the Lord at any moment.

 

 

St. John Vianney on Prayer

The following is an excerpt from the Little Catechism of the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests.  I find his writings extraordinarily simple and fervent.  I hope that you’ll enjoy it as well:

Our Catechism teaches us, my children, that prayer is an elevation, an application of our mind and of our heart to God, to make known to Him our wants and to ask for His assistance.  We do not see the good God, my children, but He sees us, He hears us, He wills that we should raise towards Him what is most noble in us—our mind and our heart.  When we pray with attention, with humility of mind and of heart, we quit the earth, we rise to Heaven, we penetrate into the Bosom of God, we go and converse with the angels and the saints.  It was by prayer that the saints reached Heaven: and by prayer we too shall reach it.  Yes, my children, prayer is the source of all graces, the mother of all virtues, the efficacious and universal way by which God wills that we should come to Him.

He says to us: “Ask, and you shall receive.”  None but God could make such promises and keep them.  See, the good God does not say to us, “Ask such and such a thing, and I will grant it;” but He says in general: “If you ask the Father anything in My name, He will give it you.”  O my children! ought not this promise to fill us with confidence, and to make us pray fervently all the days of our poor life?  Ought we not to be ashamed of our idleness, of our indifference to prayer, when our Divine Savior, the Dispenser of all graces, has given us such touching examples of it?  For you know that the Gospel tells us He prayed often and even passed the night in prayer?  Are we as just, as holy, as this Divine Savior?  Have we no graces to ask for?  Let us enter into ourselves; let us consider.  Do not the continual needs of our soul and of our body warn us to have recourse to Him who alone can supply them?  How many enemies to vanquish—the devil, the world, and ourselves.  How many bad habits to overcome, how many passions to subdue, how many sins to efface! In so frightful and painful a situation, what remains to us, my children?  The armor of the saints: prayer, that necessary virtue, indispensable to good as well as to bad Christians…

Within the reach of the ignorant as well as the learned, enjoined to the simple and to the enlightened, it is the virtue of all mankind; it is the science of all the faithful!  Everyone on the earth who has a heart, everyone who has the use of reason ought to love and pray to God; to have recourse to Him when He is irritated; to thank Him when He confers favors; to humble themselves when He strikes.

See, my children, we are poor people who have been taught to beg spiritually, and we do not beg.  We are sick people, to whom a cure has been Promised, and we do not ask for it.  The good God does not require of us fine prayers, but prayers which come from the bottom of our heart.

St. Ignatius was once travelling with several of his companions; they each carried on their shoulders a little bag, containing what was most necessary for them on the journey.  A good Christian, seeing that they were fatigued, was interiorly excited to relieve them; he asked them as a favor to let him help them to carry their burdens.  They yielded to his entreaties.  When they had arrived at the inn, this man who had followed them, seeing that the Fathers knelt down at a little distance from each other to pray, knelt down also.  When the Fathers rose again, they were astonished to see that this man had remained prostrate all the time they were praying: they expressed to him their surprise, and asked him what he had been doing.  His answer edified them very much, for he said: “I did nothing but say, ‘Those who pray so devoutly are saints: I am their beast of burden: O Lord! I have the intention of doing what they do: I say to Thee whatever they say.’”  These were afterwards his ordinary words, and he arrived by means of this at a sublime degree of prayer.  Thus, my children, you see that there is no one who cannot pray—and pray at all times, and in all places; by night or by day; amid the most severe labors, or in repose; in the country, at home, in travelling.  The good God is everywhere ready to hear your prayers, provided you address them to Him with faith and humility.

 Doing Away With Spiritual Platitudes

All around us, people are suffering, carrying crosses and difficulties and burdens that often remain hidden and unseen from the outside.  Perhaps, we are the ones who are suffering.  Regardless, suffering surrounds us and it always has and always will.  To be human is to find a life that is not solely joyful and easy, but a mixture of this with pain, uncertainty, sorrow, and difficulty.

 

I talk a lot about suffering, but why?  First, I talk about it because it’s a central mystery of our faith: the Cross and the Crucifixion.  There’s just no way around it.  Secondly, I talk about it because our culture virtually ignores every aspect of it.  Thirdly, I talk about it because there is so much misunderstanding about suffering that it can very easily lead people into doubt and a rejection of the faith, not to mention the plan of God for their lives.

 

You see, when people suffer, our first inclinations tend toward spiritual platitudes: “Everyone suffers;” “God never gives you more than you can handle;” “God wants this so that He can bring something good from it;” “God needed another angel in heaven.”  But these don’t always give comfort to the one in the midst of trial—try telling the mother of a child who committed suicide that “God needed another angel in heaven.”  You see, the truth of the matter is that, as a society, and even as a people of faith, we have lost the true meaning of suffering and, as a result, we have forgotten how to handle it.  So let’s remember it, now.

 

Here’s the hard truth: God desires that we experience the Cross.  That seems harsh and false, but there’s no way around His words: “If you wish to be My disciple, you must take up your Cross daily and follow Me.”  That’s one of the reasons why the crucifix is a central part of each Church and the Catholic faith in general.  The Cross is an integral part of what opens the way to eternal life with God in Paradise—we celebrate this reality every Holy Week.  And St. Paul tells us: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).  What is lacking in the sufferings of Christ?  Nothing.  He is perfect and His sacrifice is perfect, but in His wisdom, God allows for one thing to be missing: our participation in it.  Why does God withhold that?  Because He cannot force us to offer our suffering in union with His.  We have a choice, free will, to offer our sufferings with Christ’s for our salvation or not.  In His great mercy, God has risked our turning away from Him so that we can, by our suffering, take part in our own redemption because it was on Calvary and the atoning death of Christ on the Cross that we were redeemed. 

 

Sometimes our crosses are quite heavy—even heavier than we can bear (unlike the cliché) because God wants us to recognize our need to turn to Him, to hand over ourselves and this cross to Him.  Why?  Read Hebrews 12.  It says that God chastises those He loves in an effort to teach us, to strengthen us, to make firm our faith.  In confronting our Cross and learning to carry it with Him, we begin to learn how to surrender, which is at the heart of the Christian life.  God does this in many ways throughout our spiritual journey, but suffering is one of those ways and it should not be trivialized.

 

So, as we experience our own crosses or the crosses of others, try to remember what we’ve forgotten about the theology of suffering: that it’s a way for us to participate in our own redemption and strengthen our union with God.  Pray daily for the grace to unite our sufferings to our Lord’s and for the strength to carry our cross joyfully to the end of our race. 

 

On Relics

We Catholics have a very rich tradition and history.  Sadly, most of us remain in the dark about some of our timeless practices and I think it is important for us to rediscover them so that we may grow in our personal piety and enjoy the richness of our Catholic faith.  Relics are one of these “forgotten” traditions.  The Code of Canon Law in canons 1281-1289 reveal to us that relics are important and significant in the life of the Church and so, we should rekindle our interest and devotion to them.  So what are relics and what meaning do they have for us?  

 

The word relic comes from the Latin relinquo, literally meaning I leave, or I abandon.  A relic is a piece of the body of a saint, an item owned or used by the saint, or an object which has been touched to the tomb or body of a saint. Traditionally, there used to be solemn processions with the relics of saints, especially martyrs, on their feast day asking for their intercession and reminding us of our call to the same life of holiness.

 

The veneration of sacred relics has a long history in the Church.  It is commonly held that the first account of such veneration stretches back to the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, bishop and martyr, who was killed by being burned at the stake in the amphitheater at Smyrna around the year 155 A.D.  One such reference states: “When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his undergarment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body.  Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honor in tribute to his holiness of life.”  Thus, the faithful had a great devotion to the physical body of Polycarp.

 

The Fathers of the Church take up the theme of the reverence paid to the sacred relics as early as the fourth and fifth centuries.  By the 1100s, relics were being venerated in churches and shrines which attracted numerous pilgrims.  As time went on, the clothing and personal effects of holy men and women and boys and girls of the Lord were also enshrined. After the death of Emperor Constantine (fourth century), cases of wood, ivory, and various metals containing relics were deposited in altars at the time of their dedication or buried near the tombs of the dead or even worn around the neck. It is well-known that altars at the time of their consecration by the bishop were to have inserted a relic of a saint, preferably a martyr, which was kissed by the priest as he began to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is still earnestly recommended that every altar possess a relic of one of the saints.

 

Isn’t the veneration of relics optional for Catholics?  Must the Catholic faithful really esteem the bodies of the saints? Once and for all, the Council of Trent (16th century) responded to the claims of the Protestants that both the veneration of the saints and their relics is contrary to Sacred Scripture.  The Council taught: “Also the holy bodies of the holy martyrs and of the others who dwell with Christ . . . are to be honored by the faithful.”  It didn’t give an option!

 

There are several scriptural passages that support the veneration of relics. For example, the Israelites took Josephs bones when they departed Egypt (Ex. 13:19). The bones of Elisha came in contact with a dead person who then was raised to life (2 Kings 13:21). The same Elisha took the mantle of Elijah and fashioned a miracle with it (2 Kings 2:13). The Christians of Ephesus, by using handkerchiefs and cloths touched to St. Paul’s skin, effected the healing of the sick (Acts 19:12).

 

To venerate the relics of the saints is a profession of belief in several doctrines of the Catholic faith: (1) the belief in everlasting life for those who have obediently witnessed to Christ and His Holy Gospel here on earth; (2) the truth of the resurrection of the body for all persons on the last day; (3) the doctrine of the splendor of the human body and the respect which all should show toward the bodies of both the living and the deceased; (4) the belief in the special intercessory power which the saints enjoy in heaven because of their intimate relationship with Christ the King; and (5) the truth of our closeness to the saints because of our connection in the communion of saints we as members of the Church militant or pilgrim Church, they as members of the Church triumphant.

 

The relics of the saints and their veneration is just another in the long line of treasures which Jesus Christ has given to His chaste bride, the Church.  Let us remember the saints and their powerful witness before God and us of the life that God is calling each of us to.

Evangelization at a Drive-Through Window

As you all know, I wear my clerical attire at all times.  I do this purposefully because it is my firm opinion that the priest should be visible to the world around him. 

In the same way that a person can look at a married man or woman and see that they are promised to another by their wedding rings, the world should be able to look at me and see that there is something different and that I have given my life to the Lord. The reason that they should be able to do this is so that they too can draw inspiration to do the same and they can easily identify those who have given their entire lives to help them do that.  Simply by being a visible presence, the priest is a sign to the world that there is something more than this life.

  Recently, I was returning from Mass at one of our local nursing homes around noon, so I decided to pick something up to eat since I had another engagement soon after.  After missing my turn (which I’ve never done before or since), I ended up at a fast food drive-through that I never frequent.  I gave my order and the lady told me to drive around to the window.  When I rolled down the window and went to pay, the lady looked at me and stopped.  She asked, “Are you Catholic?”  I responded that I was indeed a Catholic priest.  Immediately after I said this, she asked, “How can I become a nun?”  I admit that I was taken aback at first and didn’t know if she was being serious. I think she saw that on my face and immediately went into an explanation.  She explained that she was tired of how her life was going and needed a change. She had tried so many different things and never found peace or happiness and had come to the point where she knew that she needed the Lord.  

     She said that she felt like she was being called to just pray and serve others and she said all of this with tears in her eyes.  It was one of the most heartfelt, exasperated admissions I had ever heard and I thought of the Gospels when the Evangelist writes that Christ’s “heart was moved with pity for them.” 

     I assured her that it is only through our relationship with Christ that we will find lasting peace in this life and that it was a great grace that she had been given to be able to recognize this. I handed her my card with my contact information and told her that I would be more than happy to meet with her to talk about this further or if she just wanted to come in and pray together.

    It was a simple exchange.  It lasted no more than 5 minutes, but it gave me the opportunity to reflect upon two things: the visible presence of Christ and the reality of the world’s false illusions.

     This entire exchange occurred because I was visible as a priest, which is why it is so important for the priest to be visible—you never know how God will use that.  But you, too, are called to witness to the world by your lives of holiness and prayer so that others may approach you and ask you the key to your peace. 

    Secondly, I was able to see once again that we never know what is going on beneath the surface of the people we encounter and many people are suffering because of the false promises of the world.

    There is only one voice of truth and it is Christ’s and it is spoken through His Catholic Church.  Again, it is not just the priest who is called to help others find the voice of truth; you must do this too!  By your words and your lives, you must proclaim to others that Christ is the source of true and lasting joy in this life and the next.

     As I end this article, I ask that you simply pray for this person that she may find peace in Christ and that she may hear His voice clearly.  Pray also for yourselves that you may give effective witness in your ordinary, daily encounters with those around you.

The St. Benedict Medal

As the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has reminded us repeatedly and as Sacred Scripture attests, the Devil is real and the powers of the demonic are waging a war for our souls (cf. 1 Peter 5:8).  Our faith gives us many tools to fight against the powers of the Enemy: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc.  Sacramentals are one of the weapons that we have in our spiritual arsenal—these are objects, like medals and rosaries, that are blessed by a priest that have long been used by the Church to encourage the faithful to holiness and protect them from the wiles of the Enemy.  On of the most important is the St. Benedict medal that has been used for centuries and has been endowed with a minor exorcism in its blessing.

    The exact origins of the St. Benedict medal are uncertain, although it is said that the first medal was worn by the 11th century Pope, Leo IX, who attributed his miraculous recovery from a snake-bite to it.  St. Benedict medals of various types have been in use ever since, but the medal in its current form, known as the Jubilee medal, was not struck until 1880, when it was created to honor the 1,400th anniversary of St. Benedict’s birth.

    The St. Benedict medal is rich in meaning.  The front contains an image of St. Benedict holding a cross and his famous monastic rule.  On his left and right are words meaning, “The cross of our holy father, St. Benedict.”  The outer edge contains the words in Latin, “May we at our death be fortified by his presence.” The back of the medal contains a series of initials that stand for a Latin exorcism prayer, as well as a prayer for guidance.  Emblazoned on the prominently placed cross are the letters C S S M L – N D S M D, which stand for the Latin prayer:

     Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!  Translated, it means: The Holy Cross be my light; Let not the dragon [Satan] be my guide.  Surrounding the outer rim of the back are the letters V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B.  These letters stand for an exorcism prayer based on an incident from St. Benedict’s life.

     After St. Benedict had been a hermit for three years and was known for his holiness, he was asked by a group of monks to be their abbot.  St. Benedict agreed, but some monks found him too demanding, and they decided to kill St. Benedict by poisoning his bread and wine.  As the saint made the sign of the cross over his food he immediately knew that it had been poisoned.  He threw the wine on the ground, saying: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! This means: Begone, Satan, Do not suggest to me your vanities! Evil are the things you offer, Drink your own poison!

    St. Benedict medals are used in many ways, but always as a protection against evil.  Some people bury them in the foundations of new buildings to keep them free from evil influences, while others attach them to rosaries or hang them on the wall in their homes.  The most common way to use the St. Benedict medal is to wear it.  Regardless of how it is used, the medal should always be blessed.

 

    It is important to remember that St. Benedict medals (and any other medals) are not magic charms or talismans.  They do not give grace the same way that the Sacraments do; rather, they prepare us and enable us for grace and carry different effects based upon the prayers of the Church and the blessings conferred upon them.  I encourage you to learn more about the St. Benedict medal and other Catholic sacramental so as to always increase our piety and love for the many gifts our Mother the Church has given us!

 

Indulgences and the Year of Mercy

 

Most Catholics know very little about indulgences, but it is important for us to regain a sense of indulgences because of the great spiritual benefits they provide, especially during this Year of Mercy.  Pope Paul VI said: "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints" (Indulgentiarum Doctrina 1; CCC 1478).  That, in my opinion, is a very beautiful definition, but what does it mean?

 

First, we must understand a few things about sin in order to understand indulgences.  When a person sins, they incur guilt and punishment.  They have done something wrong (guilt) and have to make up for what they have done (punishment).  When someone repents and goes to Confession for their sins (even the most serious of sins), God forgives the guilt of their sin if they are sorry and have a firm resolution to overcome their sins.  However, the punishment is not forgiven and the debt is still owed.  The best passage from Scripture to help illustrate this is 2 Samuel 12, where the prophet Nathan confronts David over his adultery with Bathsheba: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan answered David: ‘The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.  But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die’" (2 Sam. 12:13-14).  God forgave David, but David still had to suffer the loss of his son as well as other temporal punishments (2 Sam. 12:7-12).  

 

Now, Christ and the Saints built up an inexhaustible treasury of merit and grace in heaven as a result of their good works and faith.  Christ’s Passion and Death in itself has infinite value and infinite graces and merits that are stored in Heaven.  Because of the Church’s power to bind and loose given to St. Peter and because of the desire of the saints and Christ in heaven to aid souls on the journey to heaven, the Church has the ability to apply these merits and graces from heaven to individuals to “pay off” their “debt” that they owe as a result of their sins.  This is what an indulgence is.  It is an application of the spiritual treasury of the Church to remove the debt of punishment we owe as a result of sin.  

 

Indulgences may be partial or plenary.  Partial indulgences remove some of the debt that we owe.  Partial indulgences can be gained by doing specific acts that the Church has asked.  These include things like: Praying the Angelus, Recitation of the Creed, Teaching or Studying Catholic Doctrine, Praying the Rosary, etc.  Plenary indulgences remove all of the debt that we currently owe.  As a result, plenary indulgences are difficult to obtain.  In order to obtain a plenary indulgence, the faithful must meet the following conditions in addition to the work directed by the Church: 1) The person must have sacramentally confessed their sins; 2) The person must receive Holy Communion; 3) The person must pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff; 4) The person must be free from all attachments to sin, even venial sin.  A plenary indulgence may only be gained once a day.  Even if one cannot fulfill the conditions needed for a plenary indulgence (like the 4th condition, for example, which is very difficult), they can still obtain a partial indulgence.  Any indulgence (partial or plenary) can be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.

 

Throughout the Year of Mercy (and only throughout the Year of Mercy), Pope Francis has decreed that doors throughout the world be named as Holy Doors and so, walking through these doors (along with the usual conditions described above) or making a pilgrimage to designated sites obtains a plenary indulgence.  In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the following sites have been designated: St. Louis Cathedral (Holy Door), the Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, the Shrine of the Vietnamese Holy Martyrs, St. Jude Shrine, the Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, St. Joseph Church and Shrine on the Westbank, St. Joseph Abbey, Divine Mercy Parish, and St. Ann Church and Shrine.  In addition to a pilgrimage or walking through the Holy Door at the Cathedral, the Jubilee Indulgence may also be obtained by performing one of the Corporal or Spiritual Works of Mercy (Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, bury the dead, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, admonish sinners, forgive offences willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead).

 

For the sick and those unable to participate in a pilgrimage or Work of Mercy, Pope Francis has granted the ability to obtain the same Jubilee Indulgence by receiving Holy Communion or participating in Mass through various means of communication (TV – WLAE Sunday 11:00 AM/Radio – 690 AM Sunday 11:00 AM). Lastly, Pope Francis granted the Jubilee Indulgence to prisoners, stating that they can receive the indulgence in their prison chapels.  I strongly encourage you to make use of these indulgences so graciously granted to us by the Holy Father during this Year of Mercy!

On Adoration and the Tabernacle

As I begin this article, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am firm supporter of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Adoration had an incredible role to play in my own discovery of God’s call to priesthood and led to a remarkable love story between the Eucharist and me.  Thus, this article is not to denigrate in any way the value and importance of Exposition and Adoration.  With that disclaimer aside, let’s forge ahead!

 

As Catholics, we should be keenly aware of the great value of spending time with the Blessed Sacrament.  The reason why this is so important is because the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ Himself.  Stop reading right here and pray about that statement.  The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ Himself.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the words of consecration, spoken by the priest during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Second Vatican Council boldly declares the perennial teaching of the Church when saying that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.  If this is the most important aspect of our lives, we should spend at least some time in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament and in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. 

 

It is important for us to remember that prayer before the Blessed Sacrament should flow out of our experience of worshiping God in the Holy Mass and it should also lead us to a fuller love and appreciation for the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion.  Pope St. John Paul II spoke of this in his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church): “The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church.  This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.  The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass—a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain—derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual.”  Here, St. John Paul II reiterates that our prayer with the Eucharist should lead us to a deeper love and awe for what occurs at Mass and should then lead us to a change of life in how we live the message of Christ and His Gospel.

 

“Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament” simply means offering prayer and worship to God before the Blessed Sacrament, whether in the Monstrance or in the Tabernacle.  We should always remember that Christ’s presence in the Monstrance is the same presence as Christ in the Tabernacle.   When we pray quietly in Church before or after Mass, we should have the same spirit of reverent adoration as we would in when the Eucharist is exposed in the Monstrance.  Unfortunately, it has been my experience that there is a bit of a disconnect in this reality.  Often, people show incredible signs of reverence and quiet and prayer when the Eucharist is exposed on the altar, but neglect the same reverence and quiet and prayer when He is in the Tabernacle. 

 

The Church has come to recognize that looking upon the Blessed Sacrament is a way for our faith to be strengthened.  This is why, for example, the priest elevates the Host and the Chalice immediately following consecration.  Looking upon our Lord who is present in the Monstrance can strengthen our faith in the Eucharist; but we should in no way downplay the value of praying before the Eucharist when It is hidden from our gaze in the Tabernacle, for it is the same Christ who is lovingly and mercifully present to us.

Personal Sanctity and Its Effect on Others

Written by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, our divine Savior says to His Apostles, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” We are the salt of the earth in proportion to our holiness; but “if the salt lose its savor,” of what use is it? It is only fit to be cast out into the way and trampled upon.

 

But the pious apostle is truly the salt of the earth, a real agent of preservation from corruption. He is a shining light in the night of error, for the brightness of his example, more than his preaching, will dispel the darkness accumulated by the spirit of the world, and cause the ideal of true happiness, which Jesus Christ traced in the Eight Beatitudes, to reign in the hearts of the objects of his labor. That which is most capable of inducing the faithful to lead a truly Christian life is precisely the virtue of him who has to teach it. On the other hand, his weaknesses turn men away from God. “Through you the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.” Wherefore, the apostle should on every occasion show the lighted torch of his good example rather than regale men with fine speeches; that is, he should take great care to practice what he preaches.

 

It has been aptly remarked that a physician can take proper care of the health of his patients, and cure them, even if he is ill himself; but to succeed in curing souls, we should have a healthy soul, for in this matter, the spiritual physician must impart something of himself, at least by his example. Men have the right to be exacting from him who pretends to reform them, and they soon discern whether the reformer’s actions agree with his teaching, or if his preaching is only deceptive speech.

 

How powerful, for instance, is the priest’s preaching on prayer if the people often witness him communing with our divine Savior in the tabernacle! How persuasive he will be when preaching on avoiding idleness, on doing penance, if he is always usefully employed and mortified! And if he is ever kind, charitable to all, even to the poor and to children, as a true imitator of Jesus Christ, how deeply will his exhortations sink into the hearts of his hearers, “whose pattern he is!”

 

The teacher who is not an interior man considers that he has done his duty if he merely hears and explains the lessons to his pupils. If he were an interior man, a saying escaping from his heart, an expressive gesture or look, his very demeanor, his very manner of making the Sign of the Cross, of reciting the prayers before and at the end of class or school, might produce as good an impression as a good sermon!

 

A Sister in a hospital or in another institution possesses a power and an efficacious means of doing much good without transgressing the limits of duty, for she can inspire in the hearts of those entrusted to her care the love of Jesus Christ and His Church.

 

The Christian religion has been propagated, not so much by long and frequent discussions and learned explanations, as by the works of a truly Christian life of the apostolic men and of the faithful, a life so contrary to the worldly spirit of selfishness and sensuality. If now the Catholics, or at least all the apostles, were as holy as the early Christians, how irresistible would their apostolate be among our modern pagans and the sects that are so prejudiced against our holy Church and her doctrine!

 

Pope Leo XIII says, “Above all, very dear sons, bear in mind that the indispensable condition of true zeal and the best pledge of success is purity and holiness of life.” And Pope Pius X says like­wise, “All who are devoted to Catholic works should be men of such a spotless life, as to be fit to serve as an efficacious example to all men.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen: War and Providence

In reflecting upon recent events in our country, I was reminded of an address given by Venerable Fulton Sheen on War and Providence on December 29, 1940.  The following excerpt is from the end of his address which can easily be found online.  Though he is talking about war, I think the message is timely for us in our current situation as well:

"Our Declaration of Independence affirms that this country trusts in God. Let us Americans take it literally and never relinquish an absolute trust in the Providence of God even in adversity, sorrow, depression, catastrophe, and war. With Job we cry out: "Although he should kill me, I will trust in him: but yet I will reprove my ways in his sight” (Job 13: 15).

 

Starting from this basic trust in God, certain conclusions follow:

We will not start with the assumption that we are innocent, and therefore assert that all our misfortune is undeserved.

Henceforth, instead of asking, "On whose side is God?" we shall look into our own souls and say: ”On whose side are we?"

We shall constantly keep before our minds that the greatest tragedy of war is not economic loss or physical suffering but acquiescence in evil: ”And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

The unbeliever can explain the tormentor in war, but he cannot explain the sacrifice of the soldier or the martyr. The believer in God can explain both.

Suffering in all forms is, for the Christian, a mystery not a problem. To get a square peg into a round hole is a problem because one fact does not fit the other fact. Suffering is not like that. It fulfills a purpose; even sin may be a "happy fault” if it brings Redemption.

Given the spectacle of the Son of God Incarnate stretched on a Cross through the corporate evil of men, and yet conquering their hate and sin by rising to a new life and pouring out forgiveness and pardon—I say, given that vision on Calvary, suffering and war and evil can be faced without losing hope either in humanity or in God. It was the prosperous Solomon who complained of the emptiness of life, not the suffering Job. The Cross could once more marry us to God.

Thus we are brought back to the general theme of this series of broadcasts: America must return to God humbly and penitently, or if we forsake God, God will forsake us. He is not only the God of Mercy, but the God of Justice, and though He suffers some to sneer, "Where is your God now?"  He in His turn will answer, "Where are their gods, in whom they trusted…let them arise and help you” (Deut. 32:37-28). We will be under Providence either by free response to His love or by submission to His Justice."

Peace in our World

With the recent violent attacks on human life in this country, the debate over racism, police violence, gun control, etc. has dominated the media.  I found myself wondering what the solution was and how we could make real strides toward peace in our nation.  It is my own opinion that a true solution to peace will not arise in this country until we stop de-Christianizing the West and until we stop seeing in politics and economics the source of our salvation.  It is Christ who saves and Christ who gives peace, but this concept is childish and foreign to those who can’t even admit that sin is present in the violent attacks we have witnessed recently because they don’t think that sin is real anymore—just a medieval leftover in the minds of stiff-necked, stubborn Catholics who refuse to “get with the times.”  But to the truly believing Catholic the reality of Christ as the solution to peace is based on a firm faith in the sheer power of Christ.  The question may naturally be asked, then, how?  How will Christ bring about this peace?  I am firmly convinced that it will be through His Mother.

 

“Pray my Psalter and teach it to your people. That prayer will never fail.” With these words, Our Lady entrusted St. Dominic to spread the devotion of praying the Rosary among the faithful. Indeed since then, the devout praying of the Rosary has proven to be most efficacious and nowhere is this more dramatically illustrated than during the events leading up to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

 

In 1917, during the course of her six appearances to three shepherd children at Fatima, (the first of which occurred on May 13th), Our Lady conveyed messages of prayer, repentance, self-sacrifice, reparation and peace.  She also encouraged them to pray the Rosary, even calling herself the “Lady of the Rosary.”  Her messages then were timely for a weary, war-ravaged world, but they are just as relevant today, perhaps more so than ever.

 

At the time of the Fatima apparitions and well into the late 20th century, the world was under the assault of communism, which attempted to eradicate religion from public and even private life.  Today, that assault comes from secularism—undermining the sanctity of life and embracing a culture of death, forcing God out of the public square by eliminating all religious influences, by attacks on Christian morality and the family.   It is this secularism that has given rise to the new “god” of toleration and the new golden rule: let others be as they want to be and be happy about yourself and about them.

 

At the time of the Fatima apparitions, mankind had largely turned away from God, living not only in the world, but of the world.  Thus, Our Lady repeatedly called for prayer and offering sacrifices in reparation for sin.  And so it is today, by subscribing to the false promises of secularism, people embrace the things of this world, becoming indifferent and rejecting prayer and penance and sacrifice, leaving no room for Jesus in their lives.  The chaos, strife and division in the world today is, as St. John Paul called it, “the greatest spiritual battle in the Church’s 2,000 year history.”

 

However, at Fatima, Our Lady promised peace if we do as She asks.  It will bring us closer to Jesus the Source of the peace the world cannot give.  Mary also indicated the means by which we can achieve this—by praying the Rosary for peace, offering those prayers and sacrifices in reparation for the sins and indifference that offend our Eucharistic Lord and in promoting the First Five Saturdays devotion.  Aside from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Rosary is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. Our Lady told the shepherd children, “The Rosary can stop wars, bring world peace and convert sinners.”

 

 

If we comply with Our Lady’s request to pray the Rosary in sufficient numbers, she told the children (and all of us today): “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”  Let us heed Our Lady of Fatima’s words so that she will hasten her promise of peace through the triumph of her Immaculate Heart.

A garden of beauty

As our parish recently undertook the project of renewing our front garden in preparation for a coming statue of Mary, Queen of Peace, it gave me an opportunity to reflect upon the spiritual significance of such a task.  It strikes me that in order to prepare for something beautiful, we needed to dig up what was present.  Watching the professional gardeners engage that task, I was surprised by the violence and force used to uproot these mighty bushes—bushes that had been there for quite some time and had deep roots that were now intertwined with others and required no small effort to remove.  They attached large chains to the bushes and wrapped them throughout the branches, tying them to the back of their large trucks and then using the truck to pull these bushes from their place with great force. 

 

And why?  Why are we doing this?  Well, very practically, in order to plant the new garden, the old had to be uprooted, and in the process, much of the former garden died.  It was necessary in order to plant the new garden, which, at least at this time, is quite small—in seedling form, if you will.  A simple garden with essentially one simple purpose: to adorn an area that will house a statue of Our Lady who will beckon a welcome to all who come to our parish.  A simple, beautiful garden that points to a beautiful Statue of our Lady, which should then point us toward something even more beautiful—our life of faith with the Lord.

 

What a parallel to our own spiritual life!  Sometimes, in our spiritual life, we have to do great violence in order to make progress.  Sometimes, we have great big bushes that need to be uprooted—bushes that have been there for quite some time and whose roots are deeply intertwined with other things and really, the only way to get them out is to forcibly remove them with great effort.  What are these bushes?  For some, it might be anger—a deep, abiding anger that is easily set off by the slightest provocation.  For some, it may be that hidden root of lust, which no one wants to talk about, but it holds us captive in its snare.  For some, it may be pride—an absolute inability to admit our own weakness and faults; we can’t possibly have anything wrong; we know best at all times and there’s simply no alternative.  Whatever bush it is, it needs to be uprooted and it’s high time we stopped simply trimming the hedge; it’s time to wrap a chain around it and violently pull it out, destroying it, killing it.

 

 

Why?  So we can plant a new garden—a garden of graces and virtues.  It sounds pietistic and old-fashioned, I know, but when one of the hallmarks of our faith must be its unchangeableness, old-fashioned is a mark of justifiable pride!  Uproot the bush and then plant the garden of good habits: prayer, more time with your family, teaching the faith to those around you, penance, etc.  Sure, it may be small at first and our efforts may seem to be extraordinary for something so small, but soon that garden grows and bears fruit and, in doing so, it points us and others to our Lord and our Lady.  So, as we enjoy our new garden and await the arrival of its next stage, let’s set to work on the gardens of our souls.

St. Maria Goretti: Model of Purity and Mercy

This week, on July 6th, the Church holds up for us St. Maria Goretti.  Recently, the relics of this virgin and martyr were on tour in the United States during this Year of Mercy and I think it would do us well to reflect a bit upon her life and mission in this Year of Mercy.  

St. Maria Goretti was born on October 16, 1890, in Corinaldo, Italy to Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini and was baptized the next morning.  St. Maria Goretti was raised as a pious farm girl, one of six children, whose parents instilled in her a great love for holiness.  In 1896, the family moved to Ferriere di Conca and shortly afterwards, Maria's father died of malaria.  The Goretti family was forced to move onto the Serenelli farm to survive.

On July 5, 1902, St. Maria Goretti, at the age of 12, was attacked by Alessandro Serenelli, a farm hand, who wanted to rape her.  He had repeatedly suggested impure things to her previously and threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone, but this time hatred filled him, as he himself later admitted.  St. Maria Goretti desperately fought to stop Alessandro, a 20-year-old, from abusing her.  She kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it! You’ll go to Hell!"

Alessandro Serenelli began to choke St. Maria Goretti when she refused and fought back and then stabbed her 14 times.  The young girl survived in a hospital for two weeks.  Her mother, in tears, gave her a crucifix to kiss because that gave her comfort and the priest enrolled her in the Children of Mary and gave her a blessed medal that she wore around her neck and kissed often.  During these two weeks, she forgave Alessandro, as she fervently received Holy Communion for the last time.  She said, “It is Jesus, whom I shall soon see in heaven.”  Her mother, in tears, kissed her as she was dying asking her to pray for their family and soon after, St. Maria Goretti died at the age of 12.  

Years later, while in prison, Alessandro had a vision of St. Maria.  He saw a young girl, dressed in white, gathering lilies in a garden.  She then smiled, came near him, and encouraged him to accept an armful of the lilies.  As Alessandro took them, each lily transformed into a still white flame; St. Maria then disappeared.  This vision led to Alessandro's conversion.  He later testified at her cause for beatification.  At the end of his life, Alessandro wrote, "I ask pardon of the world of the outrage done to the martyr Maria Goretti and to purity.  I exhort everyone to keep away from immoral shows, from dangers, from occasions that can lead to sin."

She was beatified on April 27, 1947, and canonized on June 24, 1950, by Pope Pius XII.  Her mother was present at her canonization—the only time a mother has ever been present for her child's canonization. She was the youngest officially recognized saint of the Catholic Church!  In her canonization, Pope Pius XII said that she was “the perfect fruit of the kind of Catholic home where the family prays.”  This, he said, was the perfect "old way of education" which cannot be replaced.  He said that this little unlearned farm girl, "a humble daughter of the people has been supremely exalted."  He stressed the wholeness of her life.  She, above all, stands for purity, but also for love of the spiritual over the material, docility to parents, harsh daily labor and sacrifice in poverty, and a great love of Jesus in the Eucharist and devotion to His holy Mother.  In this Year of Mercy, she also stands as a radiant example of the forgiveness and mercy that we are called to show to even our worst enemies.  St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!

On the Most Holy Rosary

For anyone who knows me even a little, they know that I have a great love for Our Lady.  My love for Her is somewhat of a mystery to me since I do not really know how it grew.  What I do know is that my love for Our Lady began when I started to pray the Rosary each morning during the car ride to school beginning in 6th grade.  What motivated me to start has long since been shrouded in mystery and forgetfulness, but I am certain that my love for Her began with that.  I’d pray that Rosary each morning and then I would pray it at night at times as I fell asleep and then, in college, I’d keep my hands in my pockets and pray the Rosary as I walked between classes.  Whenever I needed something, I turned to Our Lady.  Whenever I was idle, I turned to Our Lady.  I can sometimes be found without my cell phone or my keys in my pocket, but I am never without my Rosary.  It became a habit and somewhere along the line, it moved from rote to love and I can only attribute that to God’s grace and Our Lady’s inestimable love for Her children.  But what is the Rosary and why is it so important?

 

The Rosary probably began as a practice by the laity to imitate the Divine Office (Breviary or Liturgy of the Hours) of the monks, during the course of which the monks daily prayed the 150 Psalms.  The laity, many of whom could not read, substituted 50, or even 150, Hail Marys for the Psalms.  The first clear historical reference to the Rosary, however, is from the life of St. Dominic who died in 1221, the founder of the Dominicans.  He preached a form of the Rosary in France at the time that the Albigensian heresy was devastating the Faith there.  Tradition has it that the Blessed Mother Herself asked for the practice as an antidote for heresy and sin.  It has been promoted ever since.  The word rosary means a “crown of roses,” a spiritual bouquet offered to the Blessed Mother and has been called the preparation for contemplation and the prayer of the saints.  While the hands and lips are occupied with the prayers, the mind meditates on the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption represented by the decades.  In God's own time, when this purification of the heart, mind, and soul has advanced sufficiently the Lord may give the grace of contemplative prayer, that special divine insight into the truth which human effort cannot achieve on its own.  Now, I don’t claim any special grace of contemplation, but I do believe that it was the Rosary that prepared my heart for a deeper love for Our Lady and, therefore, of Our Lord.

 

Why pray the Rosary, though?  Don’t take my word for it.  Listen to the words of the Holy Father:

 

"Among all the devotions approved by the Church none has been so favored by so many miracles as the devotion of the Most Holy Rosary" (Pope Pius IX).

 

"We do not hesitate to affirm again publicly that we put great confidence in the Holy Rosary for the healing of evils of our times" (Pope Pius XII).

 

“The Rosary is a magnificent and universal prayer for the needs of the Church, the nations and the entire world" (Pope John XXIII).

 

"The Rosary is the compendium of the entire Gospel" (Pope Paul VI).

 

"How beautiful is the family that recites the Rosary every evening" (Pope St. John Paul II).

Try it.  Pray the Rosary; give yourselves to the Blessed Mother and let Her draw you closer to Herself so that She may present you to Her Son!

A Father’s Day Reflection on St. Joseph and St. Zechariah

Both Zechariah and Joseph faced potentially scandalous marriages. Zechariah, the old man, faced a scandalous marriage due to its sterility. Under the contemporary interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1, Zechariah could have divorced Elizabeth because she had not given him a son. Yet Zechariah was a “righteous” man (Luke 1:6). Marriage fidelity trumped any social mores. He loved his wife according to the Law of God. Their marriage echoed the teaching in Genesis: “That is why a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

Similar is the case of Joseph and Mary. St. Matthew recounts how Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy. We aren’t certain about the temptations Joseph faced; all we know is that the angel reassured this Son of David. That was enough for him. He stayed with Mary and became the adoptive father of God.

Like Zechariah and Joseph, husbands throughout the world struggle in marriages plagued with problems. With a world obsessed with easy solutions pressing down on them, these husbands feel compelled to give into the “easy solution” of divorce. May they find in Zechariah and Joseph examples of marital fidelity in the face of a world obsessed with infidelity.

Additionally, both Zechariah and Joseph show how silence can transform us. In the silence of Zechariah, the result of him doubting the angel’s word, we see a type of the contemplative life. In the nine-month silent retreat Zechariah held during Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the priest meditated on the mystery of his son’s life. We see this in the great Benedictus prayer, which Zechariah sings as soon as he regains his voice (see Luke 1:62-79). The fruit of Zechariah’s prayer and meditation is a song of praise. So also the contemplative life produces adoration in its participants and new life in the Church.

Joseph incorporates a different sort of silence. While Joseph’s silence does involve meditation and reflection, like that of Zechariah, the meditation manifests itself in a very different way. Where Zechariah’s silence, caused by Zechariah’s improper use of speech, begets proper speech, Joseph’s silence produces action rather than words. In every instance of Joseph’s appearance in Matthew’s Gospel, he remains silent; this silence is not one of passivity but one of movement, of production, of fulfillment. Once the angel speaks to Joseph about staying with Mary, he “rises and takes Mary into his house.” He says nothing. Likewise, when told to flee to Bethlehem or return from Egypt, Joseph says nothing, but he rises and does what the angel instructs. His prayer and silence manifests itself in deeds, not words.

We can see in this a model for the active life, the vocation of most men. We are not called to change the world on our own. We are invited to share in the inner life of God through meditation, and then take that inner life to the world, our families, our workplaces and communities. Just as Joseph spoke his assent to God’s will through his deeds, so also we preach Christ to the world through our lives.

We often see in the story of St. Zechariah a man of uncertainty and disbelief, and see in St. Joseph a man of trust and faith. In doing so, we sell Zechariah short. They were both just men, human like the rest of us. When faced with the trials of challenging marriages, both men answered God’s call to fidelity. When given the grace-filled opportunity to meditate, both men served their heavenly King. In Zechariah we see a priest and a prophet; in Joseph we see a humble king, a Son of David clothed in majestic humility. May we who are baptized as priests, prophets and kings, and serve the great High Priest, the Word of the Prophets, the King of Kings, follow them both to Heaven.

Written by Mr. Matthew Rose, Those Catholic Men

Why we can have nice things

It is not uncommon today to find people who accuse the Catholic Church of hypocrisy in Her mission to the poor and Her penchant for ornate Churches and liturgy.  The criticism, veiled as a question, isn’t without foundation.  There have been all manners of abuse regarding wealth within the Church.  But usually, they aren’t thinking of these abuses.  They are thinking of the cathedrals and the basilicas, the thrones and tabernacles of gold, the chalices of sliver and the old hand-embroidered vestments, the pomp and pageantry of the Catholic liturgy. 

It’s a noble complaint, but the reality is this: The Church’s wealth comes from the poor and exists for the poor.  The wealth of the Church comes from the donations of the rich and poor alike and most of that is used directly on the day-to-day operations of Catholic parishes, hospitals, schools, etc.  The wealth of the Church exists for the edification and benefit of every Catholic.  Cathedrals are not solely for bishops.  A throne exists for more than the man sitting on it.  Faulting the cathedrals and basilicas of the world for containing “too much” wealth is an awkward denial of the fact that the cathedrals and basilicas of the world are explicitly for the use of the poor, and to steal from them is to steal, not merely from the Church, but from the poor themselves — the poor who, despite the perceptions of Hollywood, do not merely need bread, cash, and contraception, but beauty, ritual, and God as well.  Where else can the poor go and appreciate beautiful art and at the same time, receive the beauty of the truth of our God?

We should note that when many people criticize the Church's extravagant architecture and art, they often invoke Jesus.  Let's examine His response to a similar criticism:  “While Jesus was in Bethany, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”  Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Here Jesus welcomes and praises the excessive love poured out for Him —what Judas calls "waste."  But that's precisely what Catholics continue doing today.  What we must remember is that we believe the words of Christ, that in the Mass He becomes bread for us, transforming mere wheat and wine into His Body and Blood.  Thus, when we build for Him a tabernacle of gold, and chalices of silver, pillars of marble, and windows of stained glass, we do it not to placate men but to honor God.  God does not disdain these treasures any more than he disdained the Wise Men’s gold or the Bethany woman's perfume, for our praise is His gift to us, the spiritually poor, who by it are granted the desire for communion with Him.  The Church’s mission is to save souls and She does this by Her unparalleled devotion and service to the poor, but also by Her constant worship and extravagant love of Almighty God, pointing us to something beyond this world.

On the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In the month of June, which is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we celebrate the Feast of the Sacred Heart!  It is always helpful to ponder this mystery more deeply as we try to draw ever closer to our Lord’s Sacred Heart.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart, as we know it, began about the year 1672. On repeated occasions, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in France, and during these apparitions He explained to her the devotion to His Sacred Heart as He wanted people to practice it. He asked to be honored in the symbol of His Heart of flesh; He asked for acts of reparation, for frequent Confession and Communion, specifically Communion on the First Friday of the month, and the keeping of the Holy Hour.

When the Catholic Church approved the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, She did not base Her action only on the visions of St. Margaret Mary. The Church approved the devotion on its own merits. There is only one Person in Jesus, and that Person was at the same time God and Man. His Heart, too, is Divine—it is the Heart of God.

There are two things that must always be found together in the devotion to the Sacred Heart: Christ's Heart of flesh and Christ's love for us. True devotion to the Sacred Heart means devotion to the Divine Heart of Christ insofar as His Heart represents and recalls His love for us.

In honoring the Heart of Christ, our homage lingers on the Person of Jesus in the fullness of His love. This love of Christ for us was the moving force of all He did and suffered for us—in Nazareth, on the Cross, in giving Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, in His teaching and healing, in His praying and working. When we speak of the Sacred Heart, we mean Jesus showing us His inestimable love for us.

Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God's infinite love. The Human Nature which the Son of God took upon Himself was filled with love and kindness that has never found an equal. He is the perfect model of love of God and neighbor.

Every day of His life was filled with repeated proofs of "Christ's love that surpasses all knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19). Jesus handed down for all time the fundamental feature of His character: "Take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of Heart" (Mt 11:29). He invited all, refusing none, surprising friends and rivals by His unconditional generosity.

The meaning of love in the life of Jesus was especially evident in His sufferings. Out of love for His Father He willed to undergo the death of the Cross. "The world must know that I love the Father and do just as the Father has commanded Me" (John 14:31).

The love that Jesus bore toward us also urged Him to undergo the death of the Cross. At the Last Supper, He said, "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends" (John 15:13)

The Heart of Jesus never ceases to love us in heaven. He sanctifies us through the Sacraments. These are inexhaustible fountains of grace and holiness which have their source in the boundless ocean of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Adapted from EWTN

Corpus Christi

This weekend we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In many ways, this is a solemnity that should be the dearest to our hearts.  At the Second Vatican Council, the Church put in explicit terms what She had always believed about the Eucharist: that It is the “source and summit” of the Christian faith.  This means that the Eucharist is the point from which all things in our faith flow and the point to which all things in our faith lead—the apex; its highest point!  And why should this be the case?  It only makes sense if what we say is true: that Sacred Host reserved in the tabernacle is truly the living God—the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord!  The Feast of Corpus Christi celebrates this reality!

Most are not aware that this feast was desired by Christ Himself who told St. Juliana of His desire.  St. Juliana, from her early youth, had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and her desire is said to have increased by a vision she was given of the Church under the appearance of a full moon that had one dark spot, which signified the absence of a solemnity celebrating the Blessed Sacrament.  When she eventually told it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop and to the Archdeacon of the diocese of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon. This same Jacques Pantaleon would some twenty years later be elected to the Papacy as Pope Urban IV in 1261 and he instituted the feast of Corpus Christi for the Church.  She had such devotion that when St Juliana was dying, she was unable to retain any solid food, and for this reason, also unable to receive Holy Communion.  She therefore asked that the Eucharist might be brought to her in her sickroom, that she might at least adore Christ in the Real Presence.  As the priest brought the Host close to her, it disappeared, and Juliana peacefully died.  When her body was being prepared for burial, the impression of a circle the size of a Host, with an image of the Crucifixion on it, was discovered over her heart. She is therefore represented in art with a Host over her heart.

This weekend, as we celebrate this incredible gift of the Eucharist, let us look for ways to increase our devotion to the Eucharist.  Perhaps, we will resolve to spend more time preparing for Mass by arriving earlier or by resolving to remain after Mass to pray in thanksgiving for the Eucharist.  Maybe it means that we will come to Mass more often during the week when we have the time.  It could mean that we will make more frequent visits to the Church to pray before our Lord in the tabernacle.  Whatever we do, we should make that effort to grow in our love for the Eucharist so that we can better appreciate this divine gift of God Himself—the source and summit of our entire lives!

On Dryness in Prayer

I have often spoke about the need to commit to our prayer life.  I have often stated that we need to pray each and every day and that this is key to our growth in holiness and our spiritual life.  For many, prayer is an abstract concept—we don’t really know what we mean when we say that we need to pray.  Prayer is more than just asking God for things; it’s more than just an Our Father and a Hail Mary.  Prayer is the building up of a relationship with God.  It will involve prayers like the Our Father as well as prayers of petition, asking God for things.  But it will also involve prayers of thanksgiving and prayers of meditation, simply sitting and pondering who God is, what He wants from us, and how we are called to imitate His example.  This requires great effort, especially against distractions, but it is imperative to our growth in holiness.  We cannot grow in holiness without a relationship with God and that relationship is built up in the Sacraments and prayer.

Again, this is not easy and at times, it may seem as though we are receiving nothing in prayer—like God isn’t really there and we are talking to ourselves.  None of us who commit to prayer and the spiritual life enjoy those periods during which prayer, liturgy, or spiritual reading seem dry or dull.  But such moments are necessary—or so it would seem—for God permits them.  If something were always pleasant, we would not be sure if we loved God or merely the pleasantries.  An old saying asks if we love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation.  Do we love God or what He gives us?  It is the dry and difficult times that help us to determine the answer.

There are other reasons for dryness or “aridity” and they are well stated by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, a master of the spiritual life:

We must allow ourselves to be led by the path which our Lord has chosen for us. There is, to be sure, the common and indispensable way, that of humility and conformity to the divine will.

But on this common road, one part is shaded, the other has nothing to protect it from the burning rays of the sun; one section is flat, followed by long steep hills that lead to high plateaus where we may enjoy a marvelous view. The good shepherd leads his sheep as he judges best.

 

He leaves certain souls for a rather long time in difficulties in order to [accustom] them to the struggle … [But] if aridity is prolonged we should [ensure] that it does not spring from lukewarmness, provided that we have no taste for the things of the world but rather concern for our spiritual progress.

 

Aridity [in this case] … is very useful, like fire that must dry out the wood before setting it ablaze. Aridity is needed precisely to dry up our too lively, too impetuous, exuberant, and tumultuous sensibility, so that finally, the sensible appetites may be quieted and may become submissive to the spirit (Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Vol. 1, pp. 459-60).

What Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is stating is simply that sometimes this aridity and dryness in prayer is a way that God uses to strip us of our attachments to this world and those loves that we have that are higher than God.  A little silence, a little waiting, and a little experience of the passing quality of earthly thrills is good for the soul.  Let us then recommit ourselves to daily prayer especially in those moments of dryness and aridity.

On the Holy Spirit

As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, I thought it would be spiritually helpful to turn to a document from 1897 on the Holy Spirit, written by Pope Leo XIII.  The following are a few excerpts from this document on the Holy Spirit for our prayer and reflection:

Invoke the Holy Ghost

We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Ghost, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness.

 

The Forgiveness of Sins

And chiefly that first requisite of man, the forgiveness of sins, must be sought for from Him: “It is the special character of the Holy Ghost that He is the Gift of the Father and the Son. Now the remission of all sins is given by the Holy Ghost as by the Gift of God” (Summ. Th. 3a, q. iii., a. 8, ad 3m). Concerning this Spirit the words of the Liturgy are very explicit: “For He is the remission of all sins” (Roman Missal, Tuesday after Pentecost).

 

Sweet Guest of the Soul

How He should be invoked is clearly taught by the Church, who addresses Him in humble supplication, calling upon Him by the sweetest of names: “Come, Father of the poor! Come, Giver of gifts! Come, Light of our hearts! O, best of Consolers, sweet Guest of the soul, our refreshment!” (Veni Sancte Spiritus). She earnestly implores Him to wash, heal, water our minds and hearts, and to give to us who trust in Him “the merit of virtue, the acquirement of salvation, and joy everlasting.” Nor can it be in any way doubted that He will listen to such prayer, since we read the words written by His own inspiration: “The Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings” (Rom 8., 26).

 

The Pledge of Our Inheritance

Lastly, we ought confidently and continually to beg of Him to illuminate us daily more and more with His light and inflame us with His charity: for, thus inspired with faith and love, we may press onward earnestly towards our eternal reward, since He “is the pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:14).

 

With the Blessed Virgin Mary

Unite, then, Venerable Brethren, your prayers with Ours, and at your exhortation let all Christian peoples add their prayers also, invoking the powerful and ever-acceptable intercession of the Blessed Virgin. You know well the intimate and wonderful relations existing between her and the Holy Ghost, so that she is justly called His Spouse. The intercession of the Blessed Virgin was of great avail both in the mystery of the Incarnation and in the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles. May she continue to strengthen our prayers with her suffrages, that, in the midst of all the stress and trouble of the nations, those divine prodigies may be happily revived by the Holy Ghost, which were foretold in the words of David: “Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 103:30).

St. Thomas Aquinas on Sorrow and its Remedies

Last week, we discussed some of St. Thomas Aquinas’s distinctions on sadness and, as promised, this week we will look at some of his remedies.  When looking at anxiety, torpor, and pity, St. Thomas proposes these remedies:

Weeping:

St. Thomas observes that when people laugh, there is increased joy—it usually leads to others laughing, but with weeping, it usually does not increase sorrow; rather, it diminishes it.  How is this?  “First, because a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened.”  Thus, tears are the soul’s way to exhale sorrow.

Sharing Sorrows With Friends:

The danger to avoid in sorrow is turning in on ourselves. We often need the perspective of others. And even if they don’t have many answers to give, or solutions to offer, simply speaking with them of our sorrow is itself a form of release, when it comes to sorrow. St. Thomas also adds: “when a man’s friends condole with him, he sees that he is loved by them, and this affords him pleasure…. [and] every pleasure assuages sorrow.”

Contemplating the Truth:

St. Thomas (following Aristotle) taught that the greatest of all pleasures consists in the contemplation of truth and since every pleasure diminishes pain, the contemplation of the truth can diminish sorrow.  We hear the echoes of Christ in the Gospels, “The Truth will set you free.”  This is even more so, with the contemplation of sacred truth, where we are reminded of our final glory and happiness if we persevere.  Hence, we are given perspective and reminded of the passing qualities of sorrow in this life, and that the sufferings of this world cannot compare with the glory to be revealed.

Pleasure:

St. Thomas has already told us that pleasure diminishes pain.  In sudden and heavy loss or sorrow, some period of quiet convalescence maybe called for. But, there comes a time when one must go forth and savor the better things in life once again.  Sometimes, into pain, God will often send consoling pleasures which should be appreciated and savored, with proper moderation of course.

Warm Baths and Naps:

Here is perhaps the most surprising of St. Thomas’s remedies!  Strange though it may seem, it is very good advice.  We are not simply souls; we are also bodies.  Our bodies and souls interact and influence each other.  Sometimes if the soul is troubled, caring for the body will bring soothing help, even to the soul.  On the one hand, we live in a culture that tends to overindulge the body. And yet, to overindulge the body stresses the body, and also aggravates the soul.  Surely, what St. Thomas has in mind here is the proper care of the body.  Whether that means a warm bath, or a gentle walk, or naps, the soothing care of the body can help alleviate sorrow.

In the end, all sorrow reminds us that this is not our home—we ought to set our sights on heaven where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).

St. Thomas Aquinas on Sorrow and its Remedies

Our emotions are part of our lives, whether we like them or not.  Some go to one extreme and negate all emotions and their validity, while others go to the other extreme and place far too much importance on the role of emotions in our daily life and our spiritual life.  It might be good to look at the role of emotions and perhaps, one of the most powerful in our lives, sadness, in a particular way. St. Thomas Aquinas was a medieval theologian and brilliant writer who was later declared a Saint and Doctor of the Church; despite his reputation for being aloof, he was also practical.  He identified four kinds of sorrow in his major work, Summa Theologica (I-IIae 35:8): Anxiety, Torpor, Pity, and Envy.  Let’s look at each.

Anxiety:

This is a specific kind of sorrow that emerges when the mind is weighed down with something so as to make the way forward seem obscure or even impossible.  Anxiety also tends to look toward the future, whereas pain tends to look to the present.  In pain, one can suffer in the moment about the situation, but knows that it will pass.  But anxiety arises when we sense no determined end to the painful situation, no room to maneuver, and no way out.  Aquinas calls anxiety a form of sadness.  And so also in modern culture we often link anxiety and depression.  This is because anxiety, as a sorrow, weighs us down. And just as joy and hope tend to expand and lighten, the sorrow of anxiety tends to crush and turn us inward. It makes us feel limited, hemmed in, confined, and heavily weighed down.  Someone once said that depression is anger turned inward. This makes sense, because anger results from fear and anxiety, and anger that cannot be expressed or managed becomes like a heavy weight or depression.

Torpor:

This is not a common word today, but it refers to slowness of movement.  When we are sorrowful or depressed, we are less motivated to do anything.  Even ordinary talking with others seems arduous.  The sorrow he calls torpor, slows us down and makes us feel sluggish.  This can lead to a kind of downward spiral because inactivity tends to build and the less motivated we feel, the less we do.  This is why those who are experiencing depression are often encouraged to find a friend that will make them move about, make them go places, even if they don’t feel like it. This helps to stave off the downward spiral the torpor brings.

Pity:

This is the sorrow that we feel for the misfortune that another person endures.  It is deeper than mere regret; it is almost literally experiencing the misfortune of another as if it were our own.  Thus, it implies a close relationship.  Pity is a proper and good sorrow when born in love, but it can be tainted by sinfulness.  Sometimes it results more from ego and patronizing attitudes.  Pity has to be moderated and helped by our reason.  Properly understood, pity is a very beautiful emotion rooted in love for others.

Envy:

This is a very dark sorrow that is rooted in sin.  It is as sorrow or anger at the excellence and good fortune of another because somehow we perceive this as a lessening of our own excellence.  It is particularly dark because it seeks to destroy the goodness in others rather the celebrate it.

Next week, we will look at some of the remedies that St. Thomas Aquinas proposes to these forms of sadness and you might be surprised by his responses!

Following your Conscience

I think that most of us, when we think of our conscience, conjure up an image of Jiminy Cricket and his now famous, if trite, moral ditty, “Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide.”  The idea of one’s conscience is essential to a moral life and to the development of a sense of ethics in a person.  But what is a conscience and what does the Church teach about it?

Every human being has a conscience, an inner guide to determining right from wrong.  About this faculty, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church had this to say: "In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love, and to avoid evil, the voice of conscience can, when necessary, speak to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that.  For man in his heart a law written by God.  To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged."

So we hear the Church telling us that it is our duty to follow the dictates of conscience—that, in fact, God will judge us according to how we follow the leads of our conscience.  Does this mean, then, that it’s alright for people to do anything just so long as their consciences tell them it’s right?  No, it does not mean this.  The Church recognizes the existence of objective moral norms which conscience is bound to uphold.  If, for example, one person killed another after a minor dispute, then argued that his conscience told him to do so, the objective moral law would still condemn him for killing.  We sometimes find people in whom conscience is ill-formed because they have never been taught right from wrong in a proper manner and have not taken the time to do so themselves.  Conscience, like all our other human faculties, must be disciplined and trained through time.  There are also individuals in whom the voice of conscience has become distorted, or even silenced, because of habitual sin.  This does not excuse us from wrongdoing, though.  The Church tells us to follow the dictates of our conscience, but that we must take steps to form and inform our conscience so that we know right from wrong.

What are some of the ways in which Christians can form a good conscience?  "In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church."  So reads the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Religious Freedom.  In the consistent teachings of the Church concerning the moral life (which may never change), we find a clear expression of the manner in which both the natural and divine laws can illuminate and direct our conscience.  This is why learning our faith and the objective teachings of morality is so important—for young people and adults as well.  We may also work toward the formation of a good conscience through daily prayer and reflection on the Scripture, through effective preaching and by spiritual reading.

Finally, good conscience formation requires that we make an effort to live a life of moral virtue.  Many people have the mistaken notion that a well-formed conscience inhibits human joy by burying one in an avalanche of "shoulds," "oughts" and "shall nots."  But those who avail themselves of the benefits of the teachings of the Church, prayer, reading and moral living will discover that a good conscience is essential to experiencing greater freedom and happiness.  A good conscience can help us to discover God’s will in our lives and it is by doing God’s will that we most truly realize our fullest measures of freedom, growth, peace, and joy.

An Easter Season Reflection

The following is an excerpt from 40 Days, 40 Days: A New Look at Lent by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio

The serpent’s bite was a deadly one. The venom had worked its way deep into the heart of the entire human race, doing its gruesome work. The anti-venom was unavailable until He appeared.  One drop was all that was needed, so potent was this antidote. Yet it was not like Him to be stingy. He poured out all he had, down to the last drop. The sacrifice of His entire life, poured out at the foot of the cross—this was the Son’s answer to the Problem of Sin.

Three days later came the Father’s answer to the Problem of Death. It was equally extravagant.  For Jesus was not simply brought back to life like Lazarus. That would be resuscitation, the return to normal, human life, with all its limitations. Including death. Yes Lazarus ultimately had to go through it all again . . . the dying, the grieving family, the burial. Jesus did not “come back.”  He passed over, passed through. His resurrection meant that he would no longer be subject to death.  Death, as St. Paul said, would have no more power over him.

You may say that physical death was not the worst consequence of sin, and you’d be right. Separation from God, spiritual death, is much more fearsome. But enough with the talk that physical death is beautiful and natural. It is not. Our bodies are not motor vehicles driven around by our souls. We do not junk them when they wear out and buy another one (that’s one problem with the reincarnation idea). Rather, our bodies are an essential dimension of who we are. Our bodies and immortal souls are intimately intertwined, which makes us so different from both angels and animals. Therefore death separates what God has joined. So it is natural that we rebel against it and shudder before it. Even the God-man trembled in the Garden.

So Jesus confronts death head on, for our sake. The Roman Easter sequence, a traditional poem/song stretching back into the first millennium, highlights the drama:  “Death and life dueled in a marvelous conflict; the Dead Ruler of Life reigns Alive!” […]

For resurrection is not something that He intends to keep for Himself. All that He has he shares with us: His Father, His mother, His Spirit, His body, blood, soul, and divinity, and even His risen life. And we can begin to share in this Life now, experiencing its regenerating power in our souls and even in our bodies. We have access to it in many wonderful ways, but especially in the Eucharist. For the body of Christ that we receive is his Risen, glorified body, given to us so that we too might live forever (read John 6:40-65).

Each of us will have to pass through physical death, but not alone. He will be with us, just as the Father was with Him as He made his perilous passage. And while we will experience indescribable joy when our souls “see” him face to face, this is not the end of the story. He will return.  And the resurrection will have its final and ultimate impact. Joy will be increased still further when he makes our bodies like his own, in glory. “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen!”

Holy Week: A Journey of Love

We begin our entrance into the most solemn week of the year—a week which includes the death of Christ on Good Friday, but also His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  We have spent a long 40 days in preparing ourselves for this week, for this moment, so that when Easter Sunday comes, we may rejoice with the Church at the realization of our redemption and the possibility of our salvation!

Today, the Church is triumphant as Christ enters the Golden Gate of the City of David!  Like the King He is, He enters to shouts of Hosanna as the palm of victory is waved before Him and laid before the hooves of His donkey!  In bitter irony, the people proclaim Him King—and indeed, He is, but this is not His throne.  He is a King like no other—a King who mounts His throne in blood and sweat and tears; a King whose crown is thorns and whose coronation is death.  Irony, indeed.  They will welcome Him triumphantly today at the Golden Gate, proclaiming Him King, but on Friday, they will forcibly drag Him through the same Gate to Pilate and the Sanhedrin to face trial for having made Himself King.

And yet, the theme that pervades this entire week is one that only truly appears brilliantly on Easter Sunday.  It lies hidden beneath the surface throughout much of this sorrowful week.  It is love.  Love.  Christ is God and at any point could have turned away from this mortal agony.  Instead, He lovingly embraces His path, knowing that it is the will of His Father.  Love for souls—for my soul, for your soul—impels Him ever forward away from the joys of this world and toward the pain and suffering caused by sin and death.  At the same time, as His mortal body is disfigured and sullied, the beauty of His love shines forth.  Instead of turning away, His love steadied Him.  With every blow, His love increased as it took more and more of that Divine Love to keep Him on the path of His Father’s will.  Until finally, the intensity of that Divine Love gave itself totally upon the wood of the Cross, and having poured Itself out completely, He handed over His spirit.

And it was love again that showed forth its brilliant rays on that incredible Easter morning as the Magdalene witnessed the mighty power of that love to conquer even death itself.  Yes, we begin a sorrowful journey this week, but one of intense and true love—a love poured out in abundance for you and for me.  Come, let us adore!

Devotions for Confession: Resolution and Amendment

Having confessed our sins and received absolution, we must make a firm purpose of amendment.  Now, a firm purpose is not just a fleeting wish; it is a strong intention or determination.  Clearly, then, it takes time and thought.  This “firm purpose” is part of our contrition because there can be no true sorrow unless we also intend not to do it again.  So, how do we make this firm purpose of amendment?

First, we must remember that when we have fallen into sin, we should look back to see what it was that led us to the sin.  Any circumstance leading to sin is called an occasion of sin and these occasions of sin should be avoided.  Some occasions of sin are more serious than others.  Close, or proximate, occasions of sin are those that usually lead us into sin.  Remote occasions are those in which we sometimes, though seldom, commit sin.  Persons, places, and things may all become occasions of sin, some to one person and some to another.  Certain things are always occasions of sin for all people: impure jokes and media, bad companions, etc.  Should there be any person, place, or thing which, no matter what we do, always leads us into mortal sin, we are bound to keep away from it any cost.  We should, of course, resolve to avoid venial sins too, and if we have only these to confess, we should pick out one at least, and make a firm resolve about that.

We should not be surprised that we will take the same faults to confession again and again.  What we need to do is lessen the number of times that we commit them, rid ourselves of them by degrees.  Mending our ways is a gradual and difficult process.  It does not need to be all at once.  If God is patient with us, and willing to wait while we work on this, we should also be patient with ourselves.  This, of course, is not an excuse for us to sin.  We must do our best at all times to grow in holiness, but this is often a process.

As we close our reflection on Devotions for Confession, let us remember the great many graces that are available to us in this great Sacrament.  In this Sacrament, the soul is raise to new life and the mercy of God is poured forth upon the soul in abundance!  Let us be unafraid to approach the Seat of Mercy and strengthen our relationship with Christ!

Devotions for Confession: A Good Act of Contrition

Contrition is the most important part of our Confession.  It seems obvious that we need to be sorry for our sins.  It is so important that if we gather all our sins together that we have committed and confessed them in the Confession without contrition, the sins would not be forgiven!  Why should God forgive our sins if we are not sorry?  And conversely, if we forget a sin (even a serious one) but come with contrition, that forgotten sin is also forgiven!  So what do we mean by contrition?

An old catechism once defined it as “a hearty sorrow for our sins, because by them we have offended so good a God, together with a firm purpose of amendment.”  True sorrow looks back at our sins to grow in our hatred of sin, but it also looks forwards, to avoid sin in the future.  The best motive for sorrow is God Himself—because He is infinitely good and deserving of all our love.  This is known as perfect contrition. Imperfect contrition, also called attrition, is supernatural sorrow, but mainly for our own sake, because we have lost Heaven, or deserved Hell or Purgatory.  Perfect contrition is being truly sorry because I have offended the God I love; imperfect contrition is being sorry because I fear punishment.  Perfect contrition is based on the love of God primarily, whereas imperfect contrition is based on fear of punishment. Though attrition is less perfect than perfect contrition, it is still good, put into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and suffices for the forgiveness of our sins in Confession because our God is merciful and knows our weakness.

So how do we work towards this contrition?  That same old catechism says “by earnestly praying for it, and by making use of such considerations as may lead us to it.”  Like all good things, sorrow for our sins motivated by love for God is a gift from God—a grace!  Thus, we must ask for it in prayer, but we can also foster true contrition by meditating upon the effects of our sins and how it impairs our relationship with God.  We can also foster it through our daily prayer with the Lord, growing in love for Him, which inspires within us a hatred for sin and a deep love for God.

"My God, give me true sorrow for having offended You.  I must come to You for it.  I cannot get it myself.  But I know You want to give it to me more than I want to have it.  I know there is nothing You are so pleased to give.  You tell me to ask and I shall receive, to seek and I shall find, to knock and it shall be opened to me.  I am asking, seeking, knocking now.  Give me what I need—perfect contrition for all my sins, sorrow for them because they have offended You Who are so good.  Grant me what I ask, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Devotions for Confession: Examination of Conscience

After praying to make a good confession, we must carefully examine our conscience.  If we make this a regular part of our life (like each night, for example), preparation for Confession is very easy.  At each Confession, we are bound by the law of God to confess every mortal since once. We are not bound to confess our venial sins, but it is well to do so.  Some aids to our examination of conscience is a careful look at the Ten Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, the Seven Deadly Sins and their Opposite Virtues, our duties to God, ourselves, and others.  For our reminder, here are these lists that may help us:

The Ten Commandments

 

  • I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have other gods before Me.
  • Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.
  • Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day.
  • Honor thy father and mother.
  • Thou shalt not kill.
  • Thou shalt not commit adultery
  • Thou shalt not steal.
  • Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
  • Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

 

The Precepts of the Church

 

  • To hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of  Obligation.
  • To fast and abstain on the days appointed by the Church.
  • To confess at least once a year.
  • To receive Holy Eucharist during Easter time.
  • To contribute to the support of our pastors and the needs of the Church.
  • To observe all marriage laws of the Church.

 

7 Deadly Sins and Opposing Virtues

Deadly Sin

Opposing Virtue

Pride

Humility

Greed

Generosity

Lust

Chastity

Anger

Meekness

Gluttony

Temperance

Envy

Brotherly Love

Sloth

Diligence

Obviously, the practice of an examination of conscience is going to take more than just looking at lists of commandments and vices.  It will require prayer and seeing what sins fall under these commandments and precepts.  Some have a desire to make a more thorough examination of conscience during this Year of Mercy.  There are a few resources that I think are very helpful as we try to take ourselves through an examination of conscience in this regard.  I have included links below:

 

 

 

 

Devotions for Confession: Praying for the Grace of a Good Confession

Fr. Ian Bozant

(Adapted from Forgive us our Trespasses by Mother Mary Loyola and Treasure and Tradition by Lisa Bergman)

In this Year of Mercy, throughout the Archdiocese and indeed throughout the Church, there is a push for a renewed zeal for the Sacrament of Confession so that we may experience the great graces of this Jubilee Year.  The Holy Father, in his document inaugurating the Year of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus—The Face of Mercy), writes, “Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace” (no. 17).  For many of us, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a regular part of our lives and so, the words of the Holy Father already ring true for us.  However, some of us have been away from this Sacrament for some time.  For some, they may have had a bad experience in Confession and for that, I am truly sorry and beg forgiveness on behalf of those responsible.  I echo the words of our Holy Father, “We priests have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this. None of us wields power over this Sacrament; rather, we are faithful servants of God’s mercy through it. Every confessor must accept the faithful as the father in the parable of the prodigal son: […] Confessors are called to embrace the repentant son who comes back home and to express the joy of having him back again” (no. 17).  For some, they have been away from Confession because it is intimidating or because they do not know how to adequately prepare.  First, there is nothing to be afraid of in this great Sacrament—it is truly the seat of God’s mercy and the priest is witness to the graces of God at work in the penitent’s life.  That is a great and awesome privilege!  Be unafraid of the Sacred Heart of Christ waiting in the Sacrament of Confession!  Secondly, I’d like to help those who struggle with how to make a good Confession.

In trying to make a good Confession, we might point out four things that are truly essential: (1) We must pray fervently for the grace to make a good Confession, (2) We must carefully examine our conscience, (3) We must take time and care to make a good act of contrition, and (4) We must resolve with God’s help to renounce our sins and begin a new life of virtue.

We can do no good work without the aid of God’s grace, so it is important for us to pray for His help to make a good Confession and especially when it is sometimes difficult for us to admit our sins and tell them to the priest.  A good prayer to pray as we prepare for Confession is a Prayer or Hymn to the Holy Spirit so that we may be enlightened as to our sins by God Himself.  A popular prayer to the Holy Spirit is the familiar Come, Holy Spirit: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. V. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. R. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Let us pray. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”  Another old, traditional prayer for help immediately before Confession is: “I believe that there, behind the tabernacle door, is the Judge of the living and the dead, before Whom I shall have to appear when I die, to give an exact account of my whole life.  I believe that He will have to judge me then with strict justice, that there will be no time for confession and contrition then.  O my Judge and my Savior, now while I have time, help me to find out my sins and to confess them with true sorrow, that I may stand without fear before You in the terrible hour of Judgment.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a sinner, now and at the hour of my death.  Amen.”  While that prayer speaks in terms that we often do not hear today, it expresses the reality of Judgment and the great mercy extended to us now—we have the opportunity for forgiveness before it is too late!  Whatever prayer we pray in preparation, it is important for us to go to God first to seek His assistance and grace so that we can make a good Confession.

 

Next time, we will look at the importance of the Examination of Conscience as we continue to give ourselves to the great mercy of God made available to us through the Sacrament of Reconc

Silence in Church: Recognition of God’s Presence

Fr. Ian Bozant

I once wrote an article for this bulletin entitled On Silence in which I talked about the need for silence in our lives in order to hear God’s voice and to foster greater depth in prayer.  In that article, I quoted Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange:

We must create silence in our soul; we must quiet our more or less inordinate passions in order to hear the interior Master, who speaks in a low voice as a friend to his friend.  If we are habitually preoccupied with ourselves, seek ourselves in our work, in our study and exterior activity, how shall we delight in the sublime harmonies of the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity present in us? […] The disorder and clamor of our senses must truly cease for a life of prayer […] they [must] eventually become silent and submit with docility to the mind or the superior part of the soul.

If this silence is needed for greater depth in prayer, then it is certainly important as well for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the highest and most important prayer of the Church.  In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which contain the guidelines on the celebration of the Mass, we find the Church saying this to us: “Even before the celebration itself, it is a praiseworthy practice for silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred celebration in a devout and fitting manner” (45).

What is the purpose of this silence?  Silence before Mass is crucial to our preparation for entering into the sacred mysteries.  It helps us to recognize that the Church is not the parish center, nor is it the local shopping center.  When we enter into the Church, we are entering into the very House of God—God Himself, creator of all things, dwells within this consecrated building, set apart for His worship.  Silence helps us to recognize that there is a holy difference in this building and helps us to recognize His presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  For many of us, this time of silence is one of the only times already set apart solely for removing our distractions to help us enter into prayer.  Imagine what this could do to help us actively participate in the Mass!  This is not to say that we are to be unfriendly or that we are trying not to encourage a wholesome community.  There are appropriate places and times for all of this, of course, but the Church does ask us to foster silence before the Mass so that we can prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist.

This is true also for the time after Mass.  Allow me to quote St. Teresa of Avila on this point: “There is no other time than thanksgiving after Mass when we can so easily enrich our soul with virtues, or so rapidly advance to a high degree of perfection.”  What better time is there to give thanks for the many ways He has blessed us than the time immediately following Mass?  What better time is there to enter into Communion with Him than when we have just received Him in Holy Communion?

Let us ask the Lord to help us to desire to grow in union with Him, that we may be reminded of His desire to be with us.  And, maybe the next time we walk into the Church or receive Him in Holy Communion, we might spend our time in silence, nurturing this union with our God who waits for us in this sacred space.

The Feast of the Epiphany

The Church celebrates the end of the Christmas Season with the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.  The word “epiphany” means “manifestation,” and this solemnity celebrates the manifestation of our Lord as something more than just a mere man—He was and is the Son of God Most High.  There are two times that this manifestation is evident in the early life of Christ: the arrival of the wise men (magi) to worship Christ and the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan.  While Eastern Orthodox churches focus on the Baptism of Jesus on this feast day, in the Roman Catholic rite, Epiphany is the day on which we commemorate the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East.

The coming of the magi to worship and honor the King of the Jews is an important event in salvation history.  It reminds us that the Gentiles as well as the Jews could embrace the salvation offered to them through the Incarnation and birth of Christ.  We learn from the magi that if we choose to seek Christ in all sincerity, we too will find Him – not simply through our own efforts, but through our willingness to follow the light of His life and teaching.  Following their example, we are inspired to worship Him.  Like them, we do not want to come empty-handed, but want to bring gifts to our Lord that will show Him how much we love and honor Him.

Each of the three gifts that were given to the Christ Child hold some significance and Tradition gives many meanings to these gifts.  Gold is a sign of wealth and was regarded as a symbol of kingship; frankincense is a type of incense that symbolized divinity and was also associated with prayer, as it was burned alongside the grain offerings in the Tabernacle as a fragrant offering rising to God.  Myrrh is an aromatic resin that was one of the ingredients of the holy oil used for anointing priests, prophets, and kings, and it was also used to embalm the dead (thus symbolically foreshadowing the death of Jesus).  But what about us?  What gifts can we bring to our Lord and King?

In truth, we have nothing to give Jesus that is not already His; everything that we have and are is a gift from God.  We have nothing to offer Him other than ourselves; we have nothing to bring Him other than our love and worship.  Yet these are the gifts that He desires the most, the gifts that are truly fit for the King who gives Himself completely to us so that we can be united with Him forever in eternity.   The gifts that He desires from us are our prayer, our sacrifices, our life of fidelity to His commands!  And so, as we approach the end of the Christmas Season, let us come and adore our Lord with worthy gifts of ourselves so that we too may receive the salvation He offers by His entrance into the world.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a celebration of life and death in many ways.  From the beginning, God gave Adam and Eve the great gift of life and the ability to give life by giving birth to their children.  But when Eve obeyed the serpent, Satan, death came to them and to us, their children.  But God promised a women who would crush the head of the serpent, Satan, and her son would bring us a new beginning.  Let’s look at the promise itself from Genesis: “And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat:  But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die.  And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death” (Genesis 3:2-4).  But how did that new life of grace come to us?   By Jesus being conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  God gave us this new life through Mary.

When Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in Mexico, there were massive amounts of human sacrifices going on.  She appeared to stop death and bring Life, Jesus.  She actually appeared on the crumbling site dedicated to the serpent god, Quetzalcoatl, who asked for human blood.  Again, Our Lady crushed the serpent who was demanding the blood of these human beings.  When Mary miraculously put her image on the tilma of Juan Diego, miracles of life began to happen.  Juan Diego’s uncle Bernardino was dying.  Mary saved him from death.  An important royal Aztec was dying from a arrow injury and was miraculously healed.  Many other people were receiving miracles in the presence of Mary’s holy image.  But the real miracle was the supernatural life given to the pagan nation of Mexico.  As people heard about the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the began to come to receive her help.  They then began to be baptized Catholic Christians and receive the supernatural gift of life in their souls.  All of the warring tribes of Mexico began to stop killing each other and to be united under the One true faith of Jesus Christ, and the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe.

During this Advent season, we are invited to journey with Our Lady of Guadalupe to this supernatural life of grace so as to conquer the sins in our lives that lead us away from our Lord.  Let us pray for Her intercession as we continue our journey during this Advent season.

Spiritual Works of Mercy: Forgive All Injuries

Fr. Ian Bozant

Forgiveness is easily one of the most difficult messages of the Gospel to put into practice, but it is also one of the most central.  If we want God to have mercy on us, then we must be merciful and forgive those who have done us wrong.  This comes directly from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and that is just one among many lines of Scripture that call us to forgiveness if we want to receive God’s mercy.  But what is forgiveness?

Too often, I think we misinterpret what forgiveness means.  Many think that forgiveness somehow condones or mitigates the harm done by others.  Forgiveness is not that, though.  True forgiveness is the action of God within us, whereby He frees us from the anger and sadness and grief that wells up within us as a result of the injury we sustained.  Forgiveness helps us to let go of our incessant need to change the past.  We cannot change what has happened to us, but too often, we continue to replay our past hurts over and over again in our heads, feeding that poisonous anger within us.  Hanging on to this anger, though understandable, is harmful to us and robs us of the peace that the Lord is trying so hard to give us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that we are able or even should resume relationships with people who have done us great harm. At times we are able to do so, but it is not always advisable. Sometimes relationships are poisonous for both parties involved. Sometimes, because the other person has not or cannot repent (perhaps because of addictions or deep-seated drives), it is too dangerous to be close to him or her. Thus Scripture says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:18).

Receiving the gift of forgiveness requires a growing relationship with God and a trust that He sees and knows all things. As my relationship with God grows, it increasingly becomes enough for me to know that if someone who has harmed me does not repent (and I pray that he does), he is going to have to answer to God one day. God sees all things, understands all things, and will deal with things in the best way. Increasingly, I am content to leave most things to Him.

One hint in the area of forgiveness: Accept the fact that all of your life people will hurt you, some knowingly and some unknowingly.  The most common place that we are wounded is in the context of our family, with family members.  The key is this: forgive immediately!  As soon as anybody hurts or wounds you, then pray for that person and forgive immediately.  This stops the poison of anger from gaining any foothold within us.  In this regard, I might suggest a reading of the story of St. Maria Goretti to see how quickly she was able to forgive her attacker and the peace that it brought her in her final moments.  Let us pray for the great gift of being able to put this spiritual work of mercy into practice so that we may experience that interior peace that comes from only from the Lord!

Spiritual Works of Mercy: Bear Wrongs Patiently

The fifth spiritual work of mercy is to bear wrongs patiently, which is perhaps one of the most difficult for us to do.  However, this spiritual work of mercy is most directly linked to the Cross of Christ which He bore most patiently for the redemption of the world.  To follow through with this spiritual work is to be truly counter-cultural in today’s world, not giving in to the ever-present temptation of anger.

The first aspect of this spiritual work is to not retaliate when we have been wronged.  There is a cycle of violence and retribution in which the devil seeks to engage us.  The cycle begins with one person harming or slighting another, perhaps tempted to do so by the devil or by the world or flesh, manipulated by him.  And then, the victim retaliates and escalates.  This creates a cycle of vengeance and hatred, but into this cycle, the Christian is called to place a wedge.  Even if it is just the bearing of very small wrongs, it slows the cycle of hatred and retribution, and causes the wheels of Satan to grind more slowly.  The person who does this engages in a revolutionary act, a paradoxical act of sabotage.

It is the same paradox we see on the Cross, where Christ won victory by bearing patiently and bravely the venom, hatred, and violence of this world to the end.  He bore it, not opening His mouth, not retaliating, not hating, but loving and enduring unto the end.  Note the logic of this revolution: darkness cannot drive our darkness, only light can do that; hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love can do that; pride cannot drive out pride, only humility can do that. And thus Jesus, and every Christian who bears wrongs patiently, drives out darkness by light, hatred by love, and pride by humility.

Is such a stance to be absolute?  No.  There are times when we must defend ourselves and others, when the only way to repel the grave harm caused by a serious injustice is to disable it and remove it.  There are times when we must refuse to cooperate in evil.  There are also times when we must actively resist evil and stand in its way.  But in all this, retaliation must not be our goal.  Rather our goal must be justice, established in love and respect, with a desire to end the cycle, not merely to continue it as the victor.  The Christian who bears wrongs patiently says, in effect, “It ends with me.” I will take the blow (like my savior on the Cross) but I will not return it. This does not make me spineless, but rather courageous and crafty.  Let us pray for the grace to know when we are called to resist evil and when we are called to bear wrongs patiently and let us pray for the courage to follow through with this spiritual work of mercy, imitating our Lord more closely on His Cross.

Spiritual Works of Mercy: Counsel the Doubtful

While the name of this spiritual work of mercy seems similar to the second spiritual work of mercy (instructing the ignorant), counseling the doubtful is especially aimed at helping someone in their decision making.  This can certainly include some aspect of teaching, but its primary purpose is to help someone make a decision.  In this way, the virtue of prudence is intimately connected with this spiritual work of mercy.  Prudence is the virtue which directs our actions toward good ends—it helps us to seek the best way forward toward a goal based on the situation, the circumstances, and the options open to us.

When discussing the spiritual works of mercy, then, the goal in this case refers to that which brings us to deeper holiness, morality, and salvation.  Finding a good way forward is not merely what is the easiest or the one that will give us the path of least resistance; rather, it is the one which is moral, upright, and holy.  Sometimes we must counsel others to say nothing in a certain situation.  At other times, we should counsel others to make a bold statement in defense of the faith.  St. Thomas More counseled silence in the face of the King Henry VIII’s persecution of the faithful in England because that was what was needed in that situation; however, the early Christian bishops often counseled martyrdom in the face of Roman persecution because it was needed for their time.  Prudence is required to give the right counsel to those in doubt so that they can work toward their salvation and the salvation of others.  Thus, in a more defined way, this spiritual work of mercy is a work that helps those who are undecided or conflicted to come to a good and upright decision that helps them and others to grow in holiness and move toward their goal of eternal salvation in heaven.

It is a beautiful work of mercy to help direct others toward their heavenly goal by assisting them in choosing the most virtuous and holiest way forward in a difficult or puzzling situation!  Clearly, though, if we are to be able to do this well, we must first be docile to the will and mind of God.  We must be well-instructed in heavenly wisdom, which is often paradoxical to the worldly-minded.  The capacity to give spiritual counsel grows out of a deep prayer life, the study of Scripture, and the experience (and suffering) of living as a faithful Christian in the world.  We cannot give good counsel if we are not striving to live a life of holiness ourselves and making ourselves available to God’s graces through prayer and the Sacraments.

Spiritual Works of Mercy: Instruct the Ignorant

When we first hear this spiritual work of mercy, instructing the ignorant, we probably focus on the word, “ignorant.”  Too often today, this word is used a demeaning sense; however, in this context, it is not meant to be derogatory.  It simply describes a person who does not know something, usually through no fault of their own.  Some ignorance is inexcusable—for example, refusing to seek the truth because we have a pretty good idea of what it is and we don’t want to change our incorrect behavior: a student who thought he heard his teacher say his test was on Monday, but doesn’t want to ask because that would mean he has to study over the weekend.  This ignorance would be willful, but not all ignorance is willful.  Think here of children as a prime example.  They are quite ignorant of many things through no fault of their own and so, they require instruction.  This spiritual work of mercy is very much like that scenario.

While all instruction—math, science, literature, etc.—can be considered part of this topic, instruction that leads to salvation is particularly meant by this spiritual work of mercy.  The goal of religious instruction is always to place us into a saving relationship with Almighty God, helping us not only to know about the Lord, but to know the Lord Himself.  This is the first part of this spiritual work of mercy—helping others to foster their relationship with God, especially in prayer.  But the second part of this spiritual work of mercy is often neglected today.

Too often today we hear that parents are not raising their children in the faith because they want their child to choose for themselves.  Why, though, is my question?  We don’t hesitate to make other choices for them.  Children are placed on soccer teams and dance teams as young as four years old without a whole lot of questions about what they want to do.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Why then is it a bad thing to make a choice for them about their faith, which is far more important than anything else in this life?  Or why do we find people stressing the importance of math and science and other school subjects, but show little concern about not attending Mass each Sunday in keeping with the Third Commandment of God Himself?

This second spiritual work of mercy has as its aim knowledge of the truths of our faith and the ways of God so that we can enter into that relationship with Him and by it, be saved.  Salvation is not assured and so, we should do all we can to help others, especially those we love, learn the truths of their faith.  As the Church focuses more and more on the family, we find a great emphasis from Her on the need for parents especially to reclaim their role as the primary educators of their children, especially in the ways of faith.  Please, do not neglect your sacred and important role!  Teach your own soul by reading and praying with Scripture.  Teach your own soul by learning the teachings of the Church found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Then, teach others so that they can enjoy the happiness that comes from knowing our Lord and His Church.  Instructing the ignorant is a much needed spiritual work of mercy that we need today so that souls are saved through the gift of knowing the truths of faith and the path that God is calling us all towards.

Spiritual Works of Mercy: Admonish the Sinner

The first spiritual work of mercy is to admonish the sinner, which has as its purpose the supreme good of others and is itself an act of love.  For this reason, the act of admonishment cannot be an act of humiliation and degradation; rather, it must be motivated by charity in order to alert them of the danger of continuing in their sinful course of action.  The goal here is not to solely induce guilt in the other person; rather, the goal is salvation and the life of virtue.  Our Lord did this countless times throughout His public ministry, but our society tends to shy away from this because it is uncomfortable at times and also because we have bought into the lie of relativism—the idea that there are no absolute truths: what I think is right or wrong is my opinion and I cannot force that on others.  This is clearly contrary to the Gospel, which teaches a clear norm of morality that governs all people at all times.

Let’s look at some passages from Scripture in which our Lord tells us about this.  Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:15-18).  Here, our Savior tells us Himself that we are called to alert others of their faults and even gives us an outline of how we are to do it—privately first, then with others, and finally through the ministry of the Church Herself.

St. Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any sin, you who are spiritual should recall him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Thus, we are called to recognize when a person has fallen into sin and we are to aid them with a “spirit of gentleness.”  Gentle and humble, but clear, seems to be the instruction here.  It also seems that patience is called for, since we must bear the burdens of one another’s sin.  We bear this burden in two ways.  First, we accept the fact that others have imperfections and faults that trouble us.  Second, we bear the obligation of helping others to know their sin and to repent.

Finally, what is in this for us?  Though we should not be primarily motivated by our reward, our Lord does indicate a great blessing for those who engage in this spiritual work of mercy:  “My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19).  It is interesting to note that the passage is actually unclear about who will be saved—the corrector or the corrected.  Perhaps, this is intentional, since both will benefit from this work of mercy.

In the end, how can we say that we truly love another person if we allow them to persist in their sinful behavior.  Does our love not rise above the possible awkwardness that may result from correction?  Let us ask our Lord to grant us prudence in knowing when to engage in this work of mercy.  Let us also ask our Lord for the courage to admonish sinners in love and the humility to be corrected ourselves.

Prayer for the Dead

The death of a loved one is a difficult time for us as we struggle with the idea of mortality and the reality of death, but it is also a time of great thanks as well as we thank God for the gift of their lives and all that they meant for us.  As Christians, when we hear of the death of someone, our first instinct should be to pray for the deceased person’s soul and for the consolation of their family and friends.  Often times, however, we forget to pray for the deceased’s soul.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us the importance of praying for the dead in connection with the doctrine of Purgatory: “This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Mac 12:46). From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God (Cf. Council of Lyons II). The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (CCC 1020).  It used to be a very common practice in Catholic families and in popular Catholic piety to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, but this practice has faded into the background in recent years, though I am not sure why.

What are some ways that we can recover this important element of our Catholic life?  We should try to pray every day for our departed loved ones and for all the souls in Purgatory—offer a Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet for them.  We can also offer up penances and daily sacrifices for them as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in Spe Salvi.  At the school, we reinstated the long custom of praying for the dead after meals: “We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for these and all Thy benefits who live and reign forever and ever.  Amen.  May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.”

We can also remember to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the dead.  This is the most powerful way to assist those who have died and to show our love for them.  There used to be a custom known as the Gregorian Masses in which 30 consecutive Masses were offered for a departed soul after their death.  This is still possible, but usually in monasteries and religious orders due to the sustained time commitment that is needed.

Another important way to pray for the dead and the Holy Souls in Purgatory is through the Church’s indulgences.  These indulgences can be offered to relieve the souls in Purgatory and there are many ways that one can obtain these indulgences.  (For more information on indulgences, you can look in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1471-1479.)

Finally, we should be unafraid of visiting cemeteries to pray for our deceased loved ones.  This helps us to remember the reality of our own mortality but also, in a powerful way, helps us to remember our loved ones.  Let us try to regain these somewhat forgotten practices and pray for our dead who are in need of our prayers.

Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

“Will you not spend one hour with Me?” (Matthew 26:40)

In recent times, there has been a major push for increased Eucharistic Adoration.  We find more and more churches with Perpetual Adoration Chapels and those parishes that are unable to have these chapels are providing more and more times for their faithful to come before the Blessed Sacrament, exposed in a monstrance for prayer and adoration.  This, in my view, is a beautiful initiative that has come largely from the rank and file of the laity.  But what is Eucharistic Adoration and why should we do it?

The first and most common form of adoration is a practice that has been largely lost in recent decades.  It is simply the practice of stopping by a church with the Blessed Sacrament contained in the Tabernacle and simply praying in His presence.  You see, our Lord is not present differently in an exposed monstrance than He is in the Tabernacle.  His Eucharistic Presence is the same in both.  When He is exposed in a monstrance, this is called Solemn Exposition and it calls our attention to His Eucharistic Presence in a more visible and tangible way.  Both of these forms of adoration are beautiful and important as they help us to foster a greater sense of faith in the Real Presence and in realizing the astounding love that our God has for us.

The connection between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Eucharist is most profound—the Eucharist is the clearest expression of the love contained in His Sacred Heart: a total gift of Himself to us.  In the Sacred Host dwells the God-man, Jesus; in His Person pulses His Heart through which we are loved with the perfection of His humanity and the fullness of His Godhead, one Person who not only loves, but is love itself.  So great is His love in His Sacred Heart for humanity that He humbles Himself to so lowly a state that He can be chewed and swallowed—indeed, He can even be spilled, dropped, and trampled upon!  How humble our God is!  How great His love!  We must rekindle our Eucharistic awe as we contemplate the scandal of His love for us!  Through reception of the Holy Eucharist and adoration of the Sacred Host, the love for God increases within us in ways that cannot be achieved by other means.  To love the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to love the Eucharist!

In His revelation to St. Margaret Mary in which the now familiar image of the Sacred Heart was revealed to her, He explained that it signified His immense love for us who are the cause of His sufferings that He, in His humanity, willed freely to undergo for our redemption, and especially the outrages He is exposed to in the Blessed Sacrament. He lamented that man largely ignored His great thirst to be loved in the Blessed Sacrament. He told the saint that in Gethsemane, as He sweated blood, His greatest suffering was caused by the ingratitude of mankind, particularly toward the Blessed Sacrament.  He asked her to spread devotion to His Sacred Heart and the Eucharist so that reparation could be made for these great sins committed against His overwhelming love for us.  Eucharistic Adoration helps to answer that call from our Lord and to show Him our love and gratitude for the gift of Himself to us, by simply sitting in His presence and adoring Him in that Sacred Host!

 

The Feast of the Assumption

We recently celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady.  To be “assumed” means to be taken up by God bodily into Heaven. As far back as the Church can remember, we have celebrated the fact that Our Lady was taken up into Heaven body and soul.  There is no earthly tomb containing Her body; neither are there relics of Her body to be found among the Christian faithful. This is our ancient memory and what we celebrate with this feast: the Blessed Mother was taken up body and soul into Heaven.

The Feast of the Assumption may be of theological interest to some and may provide for interesting reflection, but eventually the question is bound to arise: “So what? How does what happened to Mary affect my life and what does it mean for me?” The answer to this question is bound up in nearly every Marian doctrine. Simply put, what happened to Mary, in a profound and preliminary way, will also happen to us in the end. As Mary bore Christ into the world, we too bear Him there in the Holy Communion we receive and in the witness of His presence in our life. As Mary is (and always was) sinless, so too will we one day be sinless (immaculate) with God in Heaven. As Mary cared for Christ in His need, so do we care for Him in the poor, the suffering, the needy, and the afflicted. And as Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven, so too will we be there one day, both body and soul.  For now, our soul goes to Heaven (once purified in Purgatory) but our body lies in a tomb. But one day, our bodies will rejoin our purified souls.

Thus, the Feast of the Assumption is not only an opportunity for us to praise the great gift of our Blessed Mother.  It is also the pledge of our future glory and the promise of what awaits us in the next life, reminding us to take seriously our call to extraordinary holiness so that we may attain this extraordinary gift!

 

Hungering for Justice

After my bulletin article “On Spiritual Sloth,” a few asked me about the Beatitude I suggested as key to helping us overcome that sin: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Some translations say “justice” instead of righteousness, but the question remains—what does this truly mean?

What is this righteousness or justice that is as necessary to our souls as food and drink are to our bodies? Why does Our Lord call blessed those who hunger and thirst after justice? Unfortunately, there are many who confuse justice with vengeance. There are many who see justice as a settling of accounts, or as the fruit of a revolution in society, or as a loss of power on one side and an increase of power on the other. There are those who see justice in terms of a pie divided and distributed to each in rigorously equal pieces. None of these notions correspond to the justice after which Jesus would have us hunger and thirst.

The justice of this beatitude is, rather, the fruit of a radical readjustment to the holiness of God; this readjustment is, essentially, the grace of reconciliation with God as He is and as He has revealed Himself. It is the grace of conversion to the glory of God.  What is sin if not thoughts, words, and deeds that causes a soul to become maladjusted to the holiness of God?  Sin is a state of maladjustment to the Divine Plan; it alienates man from the cause and source of his happiness, and casts him into a downward spiral of restlessness, fear, and vice.

Justice is the right relationship of all persons and things to the holiness of God. One who hungers and thirsts after holiness, hungers and thirsts after a real participation by grace in the holiness of God. This is the burning desire of the psalmist: “O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted; for thee my flesh, O how many ways! In a desert land, and where there is no way, and no water: so in the sanctuary have I come before thee, to see thy power and thy glory” (Psalm 62:2–3).

There is in every human being a profound yearning for the readjustment of all that one is to the adorable will of God. One who allows himself to be readjusted, by the secret inward action of the Holy Spirit, to the will of God, discovers the glory of the holiness of God and, through Christ, is transfigured into the glory of the holiness he contemplates. “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Adoration of Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is, at the deepest level, an expression of hunger and thirst for justice, of an abiding hunger and thirst for the Bread of life and for the Chalice of Salvation. One who perseveres in gazing upon the Sacred Host in adoration is, in effect, saying to Our Lord: “Adjust me, adjust a multitude of souls, to the glory of Thy holiness; do what Thou must to reconcile souls to that love stronger than death with which Thou has first loved us, and with which Thou hast loved us even to the end.”

The prayer of adoration promotes justice because it is, in a hidden but real way, the adjustment of souls and of the world to the holiness of God revealed in Christ and this adjustment is not a human achievement.  It is the work of grace in the souls of the little, the hidden, the poor, and those whom the world counts as nothing.  It is the work of grace in our souls. Astonishingly, those who hunger and thirst after justice by persevering in adoration of the Hidden God, discover that their hunger and thirst is nothing in comparison to His. He desires nothing more than to adjust us, gently and mightily, to Himself so that we may attain eternal life with Him in heaven.

Evangelization and Films

If one looks at the history of the Catholic Church, it is easy to see that we have always been profoundly interested in culture.  Sometimes, She borrows things from a culture to explain Her teaching or to embellish it and present it to Her children.  Think here of the art of paintings.  She used the techniques of each time period to illustrate the faith from the simplistic etchings in the Roman Catacombs to the magnificent uses of light and darkness in a Caravaggio masterpiece.  Sometimes, She overthrows cultural symbols to illustrate the Truth.  One thinks immediately here of the famous and pious legend of the Christmas tree’s origins in St. Boniface’s overthrowing of the pagan worship of an oak tree in Germany.  From that moment on, the Christmas tree has been a symbol not of paganism, but of Christianity.  In each and every time period, the Church has embraced and rejected elements of the culture of the world around Her so as to present the authentic faith of Christ that She has been asked to safeguard and promulgate.  Even in our times, the Church has the same role.  In fact, there is a Pontifical Council for Culture who dedicates a large part of its time to analyzing elements of culture and evaluating their suitability for teaching the faith and helping us to encounter God in a deeper way.

Sometimes, it is admittedly easier to lament the fall of culture today.  When the most popular music and films in our country espouse such themes as drugs, sexual promiscuity, and indifferentism, it is easy to dismiss culture altogether.  When much of modern artwork and sculpture lacks objectivity and a grounding in reality, it seems altogether fruitless to look to the culture to help us obtain an encounter with the objectively real Godhead.  However, I think that this is perhaps the most important reason for us to look at the culture around us and praise those elements that do elevate us to God, while at the same time critiquing those elements that do not.  It is my firm opinion, based on the history of the Church, that a restoration of Christian values and the New Evangelization cannot occur in a vacuum—it must occur alongside the renewal of culture, in all of its elements: music, film, art, sculpture, literature, language, etc.

In this vein, one of the most popular forms of entertainment today is film.  Since the advent of the modern motion picture, this vehicle of art and culture has captivated audiences throughout the world and especially in the United States.  As such, it can be a powerful tool to inculcate values into a society—both good and bad values.  As responsible Christians, we have an obligation to monitor what we watch and especially what we allow our children to watch so that we can encouraged in our path to sanctity.  This does not mean that the only movies we can or should watch are the explicitly religious, Catholic movies (though there is nothing wrong with a good viewing of a classic Catholic film).  It does mean, however, that we should not be unscrupulous in our viewing and if we do find elements of a film that are not in agreement with the faith and morals of Catholic thought, then we should point that out to ourselves and others.  In this way, movies can be tools for evangelization—in praising those values that uphold the Gospel or in critiquing those that fall short of the Christian ideal.

Let’s look at some examples that can serve our evangelization effort.  A Man for All Seasons tells the story of St. Thomas More and his infamous stand against Henry VIII for the supremacy of the Pope over the Church and the indissolubility of marriage.  It is an explicitly Catholic film that tells the story of a Catholic Saint.  Brilliantly acted and poignantly told, it serves as gem in the toolbox of evangelization by putting flesh on Christian values in a historical context.  The Dark Knight is the brilliant sequel in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.  It can serve as a powerful analysis of the conflict between good and evil and the reality of living in a world where so much evil and disregard for human life and morality reign supreme.  It is not without its critiques, however, as the figure of Batman is a flawed hero—but a hero, nonetheless.  And this is OK because it forces us to apply our beliefs in the muddy waters of reality.  Finally, a film like the recent Inside Out offers us a reflection on the role of growing up and the role of emotions in our daily life, which are essential reflections in our path to sanctity, and it does so without any explicit reference to religion.

Thus, movies and other expressions of art can be used to help us reflect more deeply on our faith and can, at the same time, be a point of encounter between us and those who do not necessarily believe the way we do.  Who knows?  Perhaps our next discussion of a film with a friend can be the seed planted in their hearts to look more deeply at the values of the Gospel.  Stranger things have happened.

 

July: The Month of the Precious Blood

Just as June was traditionally a special time of prayer and dedication to the Sacred Heart, the month of July is traditionally dedicated to the Precious Blood of Christ.  This tradition is rooted in the liturgical calendar that was used prior to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (and now used by the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite).  In the past, the first Sunday of July was a liturgical feast dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Christ.  Indeed, even as recently as St. John XXIII, we find the Church encouraging with fervor and zeal pray to the Precious Blood of Christ in the forms of approved public litanies.  In our time, the Feast of Corpus Christi has subsumed this unique feast, but it may do us some good to reflect still upon the Precious Blood of Christ, especially in our times.

Blood, and especially the blood of the Paschal Lamb, is incredibly important in Sacred Scripture.  In the Old Testament, the sprinkling of the blood of sacrificed animals represented the recognition and acceptance of the covenant between God and His people.  In Exodus 24:8, for example, we find this, “Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant that he Lord has made with you on the basis of all these words of his.’”  Our Lord explicitly uses this formula at the Last Supper when He offered the chalice to His disciples: “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).  And who can forget the Blood He shed?  From His gruesome scourging, to His Sacred Head being crowned with thorns, to His bloodied falls on the road to Calvary, to His Crucifixion, and finally His pierced side?  Christ truly has shed His Blood as the true Lamb sacrificed for universal redemption.  The saving value of this Blood is affirmed in various passages of the New Testament, but especially in Hebrews and Revelation.

In the book of Genesis, we find that life is in the blood—this is why it was so important to the Jews and how fitting, since it was by Christ’s blood that we received the pledge of eternal life!  In Genesis too, we find the first shedding of blood—the death of Abel, murdered by his brother Cain.  So heinous was this crime that the blood of Abel cried out to God from the earth (cf. Genesis 4:10).  Unfortunately, this testimony is not only in our past.  Human blood continues to pour into the ground and cry out to God.  How many die from murders throughout this nation alone each year?  How many people, even Christian martyrs, die from terrorist groups throughout the world?  How many of the unborn have their blood shed in the sanctuary of their mother’s womb?  When will mankind learn that life is sacred and belongs to God alone?  And what is God’s answer to the cry that calls out to Him from the earth?  God answers this with the Blood of His Son—He answers evil with salvation and His infinite love.  Man takes life; God offers life by giving His Son.

Thus, our Lord’s Precious Blood is just that—precious, salvific.  One drop of His blood poured out so lovingly in abundance for us is enough to redeem all of mankind and to save each of us!  And we are so very blessed as to have that same Blood for us on the Altar, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!  I’ll close with a beautiful quote from Pope Benedict XVI: “Looking upon the wounds of the Crucified, every man, even in conditions of extreme moral misery, can say: God has not abandoned me, he loves me, he gave his life for me — and in this way rediscover hope. May the Virgin Mary, who beneath the Cross, together with the apostle John, witnessed the testament of Jesus’ Blood, help us to rediscover the inestimable riches of this grace, and to feel profound and perennial gratitude for it.”

Spiritual Sloth

We often think of sloth as mere laziness or wasting time.  We see it in things like idleness or pushing the snooze button too many times.  These may be classified as slothful behaviors, but they are not the fullness of what we mean by the deadly sin of sloth.  Sloth is laziness founded on sorrow—a twisted, perverted sorrow that finds the goodness of God distasteful in some way and the goodness of our vocations as overwhelming.  St. Thomas Aquinas defines sloth as disgust for virtue, a laziness of the soul which deprives it of the power to do good.  “Pride may be the root of all evil,” observes R. R. Reno, “but in our day, the trunk, branches, and leaves of evil are characterized by a belief that moral responsibility, spiritual effort, and religious discipline are empty burdens, ineffective and archaic demands that cannot lead us forward, inaccessible ideals that, even if we believe in them, are beyond our capacity.”  This is sloth.  Sloth is not mere laziness because people who suffer from sloth can often be very busy and work constantly, but when it comes to the duties and glories of their own vocation, they find themselves overwhelmed and they find the things of heaven even beyond their grasp and desire.

Medieval writers often speak of sloth as a waning of confidence in the importance and power of prayer.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux speaks of a sterility and dryness of his soul that makes the sweet honey of psalm-chanting seem tasteless.  Dante, on the fourth ledge of Purgatory, describes the slothful as suffering from a “slow love” that cannot uplift, leaving the soul stagnant under the heavy burden of sin.  The ancient monastic spiritual writers, recalling Psalm 91:6, nicknamed sloth the “noonday devil” who tempts monks to sadness and despair.  In the heat of midday, as the monk tires and begins to wonder whether his commitment to prayer and solitude was a mistake, the demon whispers, “Did God really intend for human beings to reach for the heavens? Does God really care whether you pray or not?”

To us moderns, the whispering voice says, “God is everywhere. Couldn’t you just as well worship on the golf course as in a church?” Or, “God accepts you just as you are. Why change?” In our sloth, we avoid any spiritual discipline, Christian or otherwise.  Missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, laxity in prayer, disregard for the Church’s laws of fast and abstinence, a tendency to follow the lines of least resistance — these are all manifestations of sloth.  An indolent soul is barren in good works (Proverbs 24:30-34) and easily falls prey to the devil, “for idleness teaches much evil” (Sir 33:27).  As motionless water soon becomes stagnant, so the Christian who lives idly will soon become corrupt.  Remember Our Lord’s emphatic warning about the slothful servant and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-30), and His promise to spew the lukewarm out of His mouth (Rev 3:16).

Hungering for righteousness, or likeness to God, is the beatitude that remedies sloth (Mt 5:6).  God alone satisfies the deepest desires of the human heart.  Sensuality, technology, money and power are just a few of the false gods that leave us ultimately empty.  Seek the true God and you will find Him (Mt 7:7-8), and in finding Him you will have the joy that overcomes sloth.  “Learn of me,” Jesus tells us, “because I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).  Imagine our divine Savior on His way to Calvary.  Three times He falls under the weight of the heavy load; yet instead of giving up, He gets up with renewed resolve to fulfill His mission.  Then pray: From the sin of sloth deliver me, O Lord.   We must also ask for and seek the fruits of the Holy Spirit, especially love, joy, and peace. These gifts kindle a fire of love in our hearts for God and for the gifts He offers.  Finally, since sloth can also be caused by the feeling of being overwhelmed at the perfection of our call, we do well to consider two points: First, we ought to meditate carefully on what our specific call is. Since we cannot do and be everything, we need to come to an understanding of our own particular gifts and how God expects us to use them.  Second, must understand that spiritual progress grows in stages and by many steps, not in one giant leap. Hence we need not be so sorrowful or averse to the good things God offers us. As a loving Father, He leads us and forms us most often in gentle ways as one spiritual victory leads to another.  Pray for zeal, joy, hope, confidence, and a hunger for holy things. The Christian journey is meant to be a thrilling one as we experience how God is utterly transforming us!

On Angels

Salvation history is full of the angels. For the patriarchs of old, for the kings and prophets of Israel, the providence of God was personalized in angels sent to guide and watch over them.

An angel announced the advent of the Word and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary, and in humble reverence waited for Her “Yes” to carry it back to heaven (cf. Lk 1:26-38). An angel revealed to St. Joseph his mysterious and fearful role in the plan of God, enlightened him in his dark night, guided him to safety in Egypt and then back again to Galilee (cf. Mt 1: 20-24, 2:13-22). Angels attended Jesus in the mysteries of His birth, life, suffering, and resurrection. Jesus defended the

innocence of the little ones by saying to those tempted to despise them that “in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18: 10).  When Peter was imprisoned by Herod, an angel appeared to him in the night and guided him out of the prison into freedom. “When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting’” (Ac 12:11). The Letter to the Hebrews proclaims that we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb 12:22). Finally, one cannot read the book of Revelation without encountering the angels of God.

 

God announces, in the Book of Exodus, that He is sending an angel before us, to guard us on the way and to bring us to the place that He has prepared (cf. Ex 23:20). In the historical context of the Exodus, the place prepared by God was the Promised Land. For us, the place prepared by God is, in the end, heaven, and more immediately, every place along the way where we encounter His will.  The Exodus was marked by halts along the way; every halt was an occasion of grace, an opportunity to turn away from sins of murmuring, idolatry, greed, and disobedience, an invitation to begin again in hope, in humility, and in trust.

 

Speaking of the angel, God himself says, “Give heed to him and hearken to his voice” (Ex 23:20).  In order to hear that voice, we have to be silent.  We are all but incapable of silence because the buzz and drone of many things has distracted us from “the one thing necessary” (Lk 10:42) and we have forgotten how to “sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to his teaching” (Lk 10:39).

“Give heed to the angel I send before you,” says the Lord. “Hearken to his voice and do not rebel against him. . . . If you hearken attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries” (Ex 23:21). God asks obedience of us, the obedience that St. John Paul II called “the listening that changes life,” but to listen one must be silent, and to be silent, one must be humble.

 

If all of this seems to you as daunting as it does to me, go to the Gospel mentioned earlier and among the “little ones” (Mt 18:10) defended by Christ, see yourself.  The way of humility, silence, and obedience, is not for the worldly strong and powerful.  Paradoxically, it is the little way; the way uncovered for us by St. Thérèse the Little Flower.  I am comforted by the words of our Lord who tells me that in my weakness, I am represented before the Face of the Father by one who is strong, my Guardian Angel.  In my inconstancy, I am represented before the Face of the Father by one who is unswerving and steadfast, my Guardian Angel.  In my inability to listen and to adore, I am represented before the Face of the Father by one whose gaze never, even for an instant, leaves that Face, one whose adoration is ceaseless, my Guardian Angel.

The strength, constancy, and adoration of the Guardian Angels is ours. Their contemplation of the Face of God is ours. Claim these gifts of the Guardian Angels — their joy is to share them with us — and go forward without fear.  If we let them guide us, our holy Guardian Angels will bring us safely to the place — and to all the places along the way — prepared for us by God.

Mary: Our Model

For many centuries, artists have tried to capture the beauty of Our Lady, but how can an artist depict the beauty of Our Lady in all Her aspects—Her radiant countenance, Her spotless purity, Her quiet simplicity, Her noble features, or Her divine Motherhood, which is pivotal in Her beauty?  If families and mothers want to survive, both naturally and supernaturally, they must enter into the School of Our Lady.  Consider how perfectly Our Lady embraced and intertwined the contemplative and active life: deep, mental prayer with fraternal charity in Her daily life.  This is the true path to authentic joy in the life of a mother.

First, Her contemplative life.  Every day, while Her hands were busy with daily natural tasks, She left Her mind and heart free to contemplate supernatural realities.  St. Luke tells us how She pondered these things in Her heart (cf. Luke 2:19).  She reflected on Her vocation and on the things that happened to Her—the things She accepted and believed, but may not have fully understood.  It is consoling for us that although She is the Seat of Wisdom, even She did not understand why certain trials happened.  Consider, for example, the finding of our Lord in the Temple after three days of sorrowing.  She did not fully understand His actions, but through Her constant prayer, She was able to accept in faith the trial of that acute suffering.

Scrubbing a dirty pot, preparing a mundane meal, watching the small child—these are actions that every mother has performed.  However, Our Lady stands as the perfect example for all mothers and for all of us, by constantly transforming daily and small household actions into so many opportunities to obtain supernatural grace.  In Her role as Mother of God in the Holy Family, the Blessed Mother was able to truly grasp the Divine Presence She was constantly with and thus, was able to intensely direct Her actions toward Him and for Him.  These small insignificant tasks became meritorious jewels that now shine for all eternity.   Her mind and soul was a well-protected garden that found Her constantly conversing with our Lord.  Like any good Mother, She was a busy homemaker, caring for Her Son and Her husband.  But busy-ness did not prevent Her prayer and Her constant practice of seeking the Lord in each moment.

She was also a supreme example in Her active life in Her dealings with others.  We see this in the second joyful mystery of the Most Holy Rosary: the Visitation of Our Lady to Her old and pregnant cousin Elizabeth.  The first chapter of Luke reads, “In the days that followed, Mary rose up and went with all haste to a town of Judah, in the hill country where Zachary dwelt; and there entering in she gave Elizabeth greeting” (Luke 1:39-40).  Notice how on this journey of almost 70 miles, Our Lady makes haste into the hill country.  St. Ambrose remarks that charity is always in a hurry.  Why is Our Lady in such a hurry?  Walking 70 miles to do someone else’s laundry, to clean their house, to cook their meals?  These are not very exciting things on the natural level; however, Our Lady had great love.  Love is the pouring out of self for the good of another and so, She was in haste to love—to assist Her cousin Elizabeth and to bring Her the Divine Presence of God, now present in Her womb!  In every good home, every good mother does this as the mother sacrifices and gives herself for her family every day.  She does this so that they may arrive in heaven, their true home.  All of us today need to look to Our Lady and need to learn from Her, especially in our daily routines, learning to combine our daily tasks with great charity and interior contemplation.  In this way, we can begin to see how our Lord is speaking to us in each moment and how He uses each moment to bring us closer to His Sacred Heart!

Cultivating Silence

“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” says Blaise Pascal.  I have written of him before and while I do not always agree with his views, I think the French Renaissance man has a very important point here for us today.

I do not think that many would disagree with a statement such as this: we live in a very hectic, fast-paced, and noisy world.  Many are often in a hurry at all times to get somewhere.  Stress fills our lives and has become a staple for almost everyone.  And everywhere, we find noise: radios, televisions, iPods, computers, iPads, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, the Internet, etc.  Very few of us live without being plugged in to these things for any significant amount of time.  So over-stimulated are we that many literally cannot relax when it is quiet; silence unnerves us.  It feels unnatural.  Try it.  Sit for fifteen minutes without anything—no phone, no computer, no television, no book, etc.  Sit there with nothing and see how it feels.  For many, the “silence” is filled with distraction and worry—thoughts race through our heads and there is no silence at all.  Others find the very act of being disconnected to be a source of anxiety and worry—they find themselves physically restless.  Others find themselves furtively glancing at a clock to see how long they have left in this seemingly endless challenge.  It only gets worse as we increase the time in our little challenge.  Some people today cannot even sleep without background noise—they fall asleep with music or a television or a radio, etc.

None of this is to say that there is anything wrong per se about any of these things.  It is just an observation that our culture is very “noisy.”  Silence, though, is precious and is a necessary ingredient for our spiritual lives.  We would do well to cultivate more of it in our lives in order to grow spiritually.  Why?  Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange explains it quite well:

We must create silence in our soul; we must quiet our more or less inordinate passions in order to hear the interior Master, who speaks in a low voice as a friend to his friend.  If we are habitually preoccupied with ourselves, seek ourselves in our work, in our study and exterior activity, how shall we delight in the sublime harmonies of the mysteries of the Blessed Trinity present in us? […] The disorder and clamor of our senses must truly cease for a life of prayer […] they [must] eventually become silent and submit with docility to the mind or the superior part of the soul.

Cultivating this silence is not easy, especially silent reflection in prayer.  When we first try to implement this in our spiritual life, we are met with an arduous and seemingly impossible task.  The thoughts and worries that fill our minds are heightened and we find that we are unable to quiet ourselves for anything longer than a few solitary moments.  This, however, is natural and normal in the beginning.  It is like training a muscle—it requires consistent practice and effort.  We do not run a marathon without those initial months of great strain and effort.

What can help is a certain “mortification” of our senses—some self-imposed penance.  Incorporate more silence into your usual day—not necessarily time set aside for prayer (although that is always welcome), but just silence: instead of listening to music while you cook, just cook; instead of listening to the radio on the way to work, turn it off.  Cultivate silence throughout the day and it will not be as uncomfortable when we try to do it within the context of prayer.

Make these valiant efforts to cultivate silence in your lives and you will find that the silence will begin to resound with a new noise: the tenor of God’s own voice and the grace of meditation upon His words.

A Horror for Sin

Growing up, my great-grandmother would bring me to St. Ann Church and Shrine in Metairie all the time.  Our frequent, almost weekly, visits included the lighting of various votive candles and praying for our family, praying the Most Holy Rosary, and kneeling up the stairs while praying the Stations of the Cross.  I loved those visits and I think a lot of my own personal faith stemmed from these small pious acts that increased a love for God, His Mother, and the saints within me.  One of the prayers I remember praying each time was the novena to St. Ann whose particular wording I have only found on the holy card in that shrine.  The novena prayer has three distinct parts, but the middle part is as follows: “Through this novena, St. Ann, I ask you to help me each day to come closer to Jesus through Mary.  Give me a horror for sin which separates me from God and teach me to love my neighbor as myself.   I place before you the special intentions of this novena.  Please recommend them to Mary that she may bring them before her son, Jesus.”  That phrase, “a horror for sin” always stood out to me.

We ought to ask the Lord to inspire us with a holy hatred of sin because, in many ways, this hatred of sin is a necessary key to our growth in holiness.  As we grow in the love of God, we grow in the love of holiness, for God is holy.  As our love for Him deepens, we become increasingly opposed to all that is unholy.  We begin to detest anything that would separate us from God.  Sadly, though, we often become accustomed to something other than holiness; we become accustomed to our sin and even comfortable with it.

Imagine that you are in a well-lit room, when suddenly the lights go out.  Because you have become accustomed to the light, the room seems pitch black at first; you feel disoriented and confused.  But in a moment or two, you begin to become accustomed to the dark.  You can start to make out a few things, and then more and more.  After a while you can even navigate around pretty well in the darkness.  This scenario parallels the spiritual situation with truth and holiness as compared to lies and sin.  And while the ability to become accustomed to the darkness is a good thing in the physical world, it is a terrible thing to happen to us spiritually.  Spiritual darkness is something to which we should never become accustomed. We should not want to be able to navigate the darkness.  We should detest the darkness, dreading it with a holy fear that makes us quickly seek the light again.

Too many of us Christians are willing and able to navigate the darkness and do not have a proper fear of it.  We are not shocked by sin.  Instead of quickly seeking to restore the light, we settle down in the darkness and learn to navigate the shadows.  And thus our love for the light diminishes; we no longer hate sin or are shocked by it.  We begin to navigate its shadows just fine.

Once used to the dark, even we who are to be children of the light can be heard to say that the undiluted light of God’s truth is too harsh, too revealing of painful things, too intolerant, etc.  And when we speak like this, it is certain that the darkness has us in its grips and that we prefer its shadows to the glory and clarity of the light.  St. John warns us of this scenario: “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light” (John 3:19).  Pray for a hatred of sin, for a fear of being lost in its darkness.  Pray for shock at its darkness.  Pray for an inability to accustom yourself to its lifeless shadows.  Pray to be crippled by it, unable to move about in it or compromise with it.  Pray for a deep fear of it.  Pray for the ability to cry out for light and only light.  Perhaps, we can call out to St. Ann for her intercession since she was the one who safeguarded the Blessed Mother and taught her to love holiness and hate sin!  St. Ann, inspire within us a hatred for sin and a love for holiness!

May is Mary's month

“April showers bring May flowers.” You remember that little rhyme, don’t you? Growing up in Buffalo meant that sometimes these showers were of the snowy variety, but those flowers did spring up in May. And at my house there were plenty of them, especially roses, my mother’s favorite part of the garden. But May is not just the month of spring flowers; it is also the month of Mary. And the connection of Mary and the flowers of May, especially roses, is admirably fitting.

First, roses don’t come fully grown. They, too, start out as small seeds. But these seeds have a destiny—they have been preordained to flower into one of the most sought-after natural beauties. These beautiful flowers are hidden away, buried in the earth, waiting for the “appointed time” to appear. Mary, too, did not come unto the salvation history fully grown. Her beginnings go back into the midst of time, as Lumen Gentium says: “she is already prophetically foreshadowed in the promise of victory over the serpent which was given to our first parents after their fall into sin” (LG 55). Mary was chosen and hidden “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); a seed of the redeemer to come.

Second, even when the seed turns into a bulb and begins to grow out of the soil it is not yet anything like a rose: stem, thorn, and leaves resemble not a rose. And thorns can be quite tricky to work with. Mary’s coming too was not without thorns and ugliness. Tradition ascribes the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew to Mary’s lineage, and the cast of characters found there are not all of the pious type. Abraham lied about his wife to Pharaoh, Jacob tricked his father, Tamar deceived her father-in-law into sleeping with her, Rahab is a prostitute in Jericho, the incident with David and Bathsheba is well known, Rehoboam breaks up the kingdom of Israel, Manasseh brings about the Babylonian exile, and so on. This is truly a thorny line of descent—a line of royalty, rancour, yet also repentance. This is no problem for God; he chose Mary from the beginning and worked through the rough and tumble of Israelite history to get to her.

Third, it always seemed like one morning the rose flowers just appeared. When the buds arrived you got a foretaste of future glory, but it was always a decisive moment in the garden when the outer leaves fell away, revealing the most beautiful flower. So too with Mary: the stories of her childhood are all tradition-based and shrouded in legend, but obviously this Jewish girl was no ordinary child. As the Protoevangelium of Jamesrecords: “She made a sanctuary in her bed-chamber, and allowed nothing common or unclean to pass through her.” Yet no one, not even Mary, was ready for the Annunciation, the moment when “Mary is definitively introduced into the mystery of Christ” (Redemptoris Mater, 8). Mary’s Fiat is the opening of the flower of God’s salvation.

Fourth and finally are the color and smell of this beautiful flower. While there are many colors created through cross breeding, it is the natural red roses which have the sweetest perfume. My mother always said you had to choose between the eyes and the nose; you can’t have wild colors with pungent aromas. So too with Mary, for it is only by the redemption wrought in Christ that she has any special holiness and power. Her “salvific influence…flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it” (LG 60). The Catechism summarizes this Mother-Son relation nicely: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (CCC 487). Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman says the same: “The glories of Mary are for the sake of Jesus… we praise and bless her as the first of creatures, that we may duly confess Him as our sole Creator.” Separating the redemptive role of Christ from Mary is akin to breeding a rose with a color other than red: no matter how beautiful this new hue, the rose will lack that wonderful fragrance, the analogical “aroma of Christ” which we venerate in our devotion to Mary.

Mary is, as the Litany of Loretto has it, the Rosa Mystica, the Mystical Rose, the Flower of May. Cardinal Newman, in his reflections on the Litany, sums this up beautifully:

Mary is the most beautiful flower that was ever seen in the spiritual world. It is by the power of God’s grace that from this barren and desolate earth there have ever sprung up at all flowers of holiness and glory. And Mary is the Queen of them. She is the Queen of spiritual flowers; and therefore she is called the Rose, for the rose is fitly called of all flowers the most beautiful.

This month, Mary’s month, spend some extra moments in the rose garden of Marian devotion, for it is there that Christ loved, and still loves, to dwell fragrantly.

~Written by Br. Bonaventure Chapman, O.P.

 

On “Gay Marriage” and the Supreme Court

Fr. Ian M. Bozant

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments April 28th, on the constitutionality of states defining and recognizing marriage as the union of one man and one woman.  The President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, made the following appeal: “Today is a moment of great consequence. Marriage is a perennial institution, with deep roots in who we are and in our nation’s culture and laws.  Marriage is and always will be the union between one man and one woman.  This truth is inseparable from the duty to honor the God-given dignity of every human person.  We pray that the justices will uphold the responsibility of states to protect the beautiful truth of marriage, which concerns the essential well-being of the nation, especially children.  Children have a basic right, wherever possible, to know and be loved by their mother and father together.  The Church will always defend this right and looks to people of good will to continue this debate with charity and civility.”

In the Wall Street Journal, there was an opinion piece back in 2004 entitled “Save Marriage?  It’s Too Late.”  In that article (a link of which can be found at the bottom of this article), the author made the argument that the demise of the institution of marriage resulted ultimately from the widespread use of contraception—a link also made by the Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) in 1968.  The legitimacy of that claim is not the focus of this bulletin article; rather, I want to focus in on something even this secular author has clearly outlined.  He writes, “Marriage is primarily a social institution, not a religious one. That is, marriage is a universal phenomenon of human cultures in all times and places, regardless of the religion of the people concerned, and has taken the same basic form in all those cultures […] Society's stake in marriage as an institution is nothing less than the perpetuation of the society itself, a matter of much greater than merely private concern.”  The issue of “gay marriage” is one that affects us not only in the moral sphere, but also in the very life of society.  It is nearly impossible for us to guess at the full ramifications of a Supreme Court decision in favor of “gay marriage,” but it is fairly safe to say that at the very least religious freedom would be threatened as the USCCB already stated in their open letter in support of marriage.

Our national Bishops Conference has called us to defend the true definition of marriage as upheld in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  In speaking about the Supreme Court decision in 2013, Archbishop Aymond said, “This is another way in which traditional marriage is being eroded in our society […] As Catholic Christians, we are called to share our faith and to defend marriage as a privileged relationship between a man and a woman in which they share in procreation with God. We will continue to speak out respectfully and with love with those who do not agree with us, but the Catholic Church’s position on the dignity of marriage remains unchanged because it is rooted in the Bible and particularly in the teaching of Jesus.”  Marriage as a sacrament and as a civil institution is one that needs to be defended as being between one man and one woman for the good of society.

Admittedly, there is very little that we can do now in terms of the legal battle.  We shall have to wait until the Supreme Court decision is made, which is expected in June.  However, we have our prayers and our fasting and our penances!  We can pray and offer all of these that the institution of marriage be protected in this country and we can pray for the wisdom and the strength to know what our role is in this debate.  We can also do our best be informed about the Church’s teachings on this matter so as to engage in dialogue with those around us in a civil and charitable way.  For help with this, I have included a link to the USCCB Website that is specifically devoted to catechesis on this topic, including a prayer for the safeguarding of traditional marriage.

Let us pray for the Supreme Court Justices as they debate this issue and let us pray for our country that we may always uphold the values of the Gospel.

“Save Marriage?  It’s Too Late:” http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB122721519267045365

USCCB Website with links concerning this issue: http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/index.cfm

Fr. Ian Bozant

The following article was written by Lauren Enk Mann.

Oft forgotten amid the fanfare for The Chronicles of Narniaand his sci-fi trilogy, C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces was the last novel he wrote; and it is an unforgettable fiction that feels, in some ways, a little too real.  Much as The Screwtape Letters dissects the shameful foibles of the human soul with insight sharper than a surgeon’s knife, Till We Have Faces takes up with shocking clarity a grim problem as old as Job: man’s complaint against a seemingly inscrutable God.

The result is not easy reading. Although the plot races through a powerful drama based on the pagan myth of Cupid and Psyche, readers must keep pace with difficult spiritual questions as the narrator navigates painful memories and grave soul-searching. Lewis thus takes a bold and unfiltered look at some of humanity’s darkest struggles: pride; doubt; anger against God; the problem of suffering; and the mysterious battle between love and selfishness in the human heart.

A line popularly attributed elsewhere to Lewis provides an insight to understanding the novel: “Prayer doesn’t change God, but it changes me.” The main character Orual’s lifelong contention against the gods is in a way a sort of bitter prayer—an address to the gods, a challenge that must be answered. In examining her life to give a just account of cruelties and injustices she believes she has suffered at the hands of the gods, Orual begins to change. She sees her own love for the first time as the selfishness it really was; she sees in what she thought was only deprivation and pain both the mercy and the justice of the gods.

 

There is a question implicit in Orual’s reckoning: why? Why do the gods’ actions in men’s lives seem so incomprehensible to us—and, therefore, so unjust? If the gods are real and are really good, why don’t they tell us so plainly? Why can’t they simply reveal things to us face to face, without the hidden clues and mysteries of providence and faith that require us to believe rather than to simply see?

 

Identity is both the answer and the riddle round which Orual’s story revolves. Who are these gods, really, who seem to play with human lives? And who are we human beings—and who do we become through our choices? Can we demand that the gods reveal themselves fully to us, when we are so unwilling to expose our true character to them, or even to our fellow human beings?

 

At first with resentment, Orual begins to understand that she is not God. She is not perfect goodness, or truth, or beauty, but she acted as if she could be exemplify these things. In her choices, she wanted to be God—to be the most important thing in someone else’s life. And when she could not have that, she exacted from the persons she loved everything she could—time, energy, devotion, even taking their other happiness—until she was “glutted with the lives of men.” Doing this all in the name of love, she called the gods cruel when she lost the very people to whom she had turned her attentions.

 

In a way, selfish love, in attempting to circumscribe the object of love, is really more akin to envy, jealously, or even hatred than to love. Real love wants only the best for the beloved, while selfish love wants only the beloved for ourselves, to hoard rather than to diffuse. Selfish love refuses to admit that we imperfect creatures cannot be the center of someone else’s universe. Orual sought, all her life, only to say “This is all mine, and the gods cannot touch it!”

Disfigured, she hides her face, just as she hides her true identity, her true motives and emotions, from everyone, including her conscious self. Her hidden hatreds and ambitions and jealousies—these fester inside her and prevent her from seeing reality as it really is. Until she admits this—until she comes clean and lays bare her true identity, faults and all, before the gods—they cannot speak to her face to face.

 

She realizes that the gods could not reveal themselves fully to her, could not share with her the goodness they had stored for those hearts pure enough to handle it, because she would not reveal her true self to them. She gave them only her complaints, accusations, and excuses; her empty facades of noble victimhood and offended love. As she poignantly confesses:

 

When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

 

To see the face of God, we must be free of duplicities, freed of our pride, freed of the gnawing flaws and poisonous self-centeredness that prevent us from seeing ourselves—and Him—as we truly are. In the end, Till We Have Faces simply reveals the real challenge of the Beatitudes: We must be pure of heart before we can see God.

Hope in the Hopeless

“If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not; how will you believe if I speak to you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

The Church gives us this most joyful season of Easter in which we celebrate the lasting hope of the Resurrection, the very source of our joy and the motivation for our lifelong striving after the virtues of the Gospel.  In this blessed season, it may be helpful for us to consider this lifelong striving—the lifelong battle for virtue and against sin.

So often, we are faced with a sinister voice of despair and hopelessness telling us, “You’ll never overcome these sins.  You confess the same things over and over again.  You’ve made no real progress.”  Truly, that is the voice of the Enemy, for our Lord never speaks with such discouragement.   Imagine entering a confessional and after opening up your soul to the priest, he recommends giving up the faith and living a secular life in peace with your sins because you will always sin.  There should be a sense of shock as we imagine that scenario and we should wish to cry out to that person, “Do not listen to that priest!”  But why?  Why should we not listen to that priest?  When it comes down to it, our answer is really only this, “You’ll probably sin again and break your Baptismal vows renewed at Easter.  But you might not!  And that’s the only thing to aim for, really.”

“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” our Lord tells us in Matthew 5:48.  We do not strive for mediocrity, but for perfection, though usually we find we have only achieved mediocrity.  We strive for what is only possible for God and His Mother.  Every Catholic attempts to do what he cannot do in this life—to be perfect.  In this way, the war he wages against himself cannot succeed in this world, but only in the next.  Yet, we do not tell him to stop trying.  We do not tell him to admit defeat and carry on.  We do not tell him to rid himself of his lofty aspirations and utopian fancies.  No, for every day the Church encourages and strengthens him.  Every day choirs of angels and a host of saints defend and pray for him.  Every day the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered and applied to him.  Every day the Church encourages him on to his unattainable goal. Do not seek what is possible, for that you will certainly lose. Seek the impossible, for that is what is being given.

Almighty God could have given us any number of possible things in Christ, but He gave us the impossible.  He gave us grace, a participation in His own life and as a result of this impossible gift, He gives us the impossible goal: perfection.  And why?  So that we may get the next impossible gift: glory—eternal glory with Him in paradise!  The Resurrection and Easter is the pledge of the gift of grace and hope of eternal glory!

You see, we Christians are called to hope in the hopeless.  We will likely sin again, but we might not and we strive for that because we have been given an impossible gift of grace to match our impossible goal!  It is not practical or easy.  That is what the Enemy will tell you.  And I tell you to shout back at that voice, “Good!  Neither was the Cross!”  The Enemy will tell you that it is impossible.  It cannot be done.  And I tell you to shout back at the Enemy, “So was the Resurrection!”  Silence that voice with the hope that is ours during this Easter Season!  Hope in the hopeless!  It is our Christian duty!  If we do not strive for the perfect and hope in the impossible, how will we recognize the Perfect and the Impossible when at last they arrive?

 

March 29: A Palm Sunday Homily from Pope Francis

Jesus enters Jerusalem. The crowd of disciples accompanies him in festive mood, their garments are stretched out before him, there is talk of the miracles he has accomplished, and loud praises are heard: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk19:38).

Crowds, celebrating, praise, blessing, peace: joy fills the air. Jesus has awakened great hopes, especially in the hearts of the simple, the humble, the poor, the forgotten, those who do not matter in the eyes of the world. He understands human sufferings, he has shown the face of God’s mercy, he has bent down to heal body and soul.

This is Jesus. This is his heart which looks to all of us, which sees to our sicknesses, to our sins. The love of Jesus is great. And thus he enters Jerusalem, with this love, and looks at us. It is a beautiful scene, full of light – the light of the love of Jesus, the love of his heart – of joy, of celebration.

At the beginning of Mass, we too repeated it. We waved our palms, our olive branches, We too welcomed Jesus; we too expressed our joy at accompanying him, at knowing him to be close, present in us and among us as a friend, a brother, and also as a King: that is, a shining beacon for our lives. Jesus is God, but he lowered himself to walk with us. He is our friend, our brother.

He illumines our path here. And in this way we have welcomed him today. And here the first word that I wish to say to you: joy!  Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement! Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst; it is born from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments, even when our life’s journey comes up against problems and obstacles that seem insurmountable, and there are so many of them! And in this moment the enemy, the devil, comes, often disguised as an angel, and slyly speaks his word to us. Do not listen to him! Let us follow Jesus! We accompany, we follow Jesus, but above all we know that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joy, this is the hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! The hope that Jesus gives us.

The second word. Why does Jesus enter Jerusalem? Or better: how does Jesus enter Jerusalem? The crowds acclaim him as King. And he does not deny it, he does not tell them to be silent (cf. Lk 19:39-40). But what kind of a King is Jesus? Let us take a look at him: he is riding on a donkey, he is not accompanied by a court, he is not surrounded by an army as a symbol of power.  He is received by humble people, simple folk who have the sense to see something more in Jesus; they have that sense of the faith which says: here is the Saviour. Jesus does not enter the Holy City to receive the honours reserved to earthly kings, to the powerful, to rulers; he enters to be scourged, insulted and abused, as Isaiah foretold in the First Reading (cf. Is 50:6). He enters to receive a crown of thorns, a staff, a purple robe: his kingship becomes an object of derision. He enters to climb Calvary, carrying his burden of wood. And this brings us to the second word: Cross. Jesus enters Jerusalem in order to die on the Cross. And it is precisely here that his kingship shines forth in godly fashion: his royal throne is the wood of the Cross! It reminds me of what Benedict XVI said to the Cardinals: you are princes, but of a king crucified.  That is the throne of Jesus. Jesus takes it upon himself… Why the Cross? Because Jesus takes upon himself the evil, the filth, the sin of the world, including the sin of all of us, and he cleanses it, he cleanses it with his blood, with the mercy and the love of God.

Let us look around: how many wounds are inflicted upon humanity by evil! Wars, violence, economic conflicts that hit the weakest, greed for money that you can’t take with you and have to leave. When we were small, our grandmother used to say: a shroud has no pocket. Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation! And – as each one of us knows and is aware – our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbor and towards the whole of creation. Jesus on the Cross feels the whole weight of the evil, and with the force of God’s love he conquers it, he defeats it with his resurrection. This is the good that Jesus does for us on the throne of the Cross. Christ’s Cross embraced with love never leads to sadness, but to joy, to the joy of having been saved and of doing a little of what he did on the day of his death.

Let us ask the intercession of the Virgin Mary. She teaches us the joy of meeting Christ, the love with which we must look to the foot of the Cross, the enthusiasm of the young heart with which we must follow him during this Holy Week and throughout our lives. Amen.

March 15: Prayer and the Silence of God

One of the most difficult aspects of prayer is the question of Almighty God’s apparent silence.  We talk to Him and request His help, but at times, it seems as though He is distant and aloof, unwilling to respond.  This is not a new phenomenon and is one of the greatest obstacles to prayer for Christians throughout the ages.  So important is this topic, that the Catechism of the Catholic Church dedicates an entire section to it, entitled: “The Battle of Prayer.”  The Catechism calls this “dryness” in prayer and says, “This is the moment of sheer faith clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if dies, it bears much fruit.’ If dryness is due to the lack of roots, because the word has fallen on rocky soil, the battle requires conversion” (CCC 2731).  Thus, sometimes, dryness in prayer is because we are not in right relationship with God.  We cannot expect to hear God’s voice if we are in a state of serious sin or if we have not made sincere efforts in prayer to remove distractions and to draw ever closer to Him.

Sometimes, however, the seeming silence of God is not related to our sinfulness.  Pope Benedict XVI reflected upon this a bit using the famous Psalm 22—the psalm referenced and prayed by our Lord on the Cross when he exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The psalm continues, “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”  God is silent and this silence pierces the soul of the person praying, who ceaselessly calls, but receives no answer. Day and night succeed one another in an unflagging quest for a word, for help that does not come.  God seems so distant, so forgetful, so absent.  The prayer asks to be heard, to be answered; it begs for contact and seeks a relationship that can give comfort and salvation, but if God fails to respond, the cry of help is lost in the void and the loneliness becomes unbearable.  Yet, in his cry, the praying man of our Psalm calls the Lord “my” God at least three times, in an extreme act of trust and faith.  In spite of all appearances, the Psalmist cannot believe that his link with the Lord is totally broken and while he asks the reason for a presumed incomprehensible abandonment, he says that “his” God cannot forsake him.

The initial cry of the Psalmist in the beginning is followed by references to the past action of God, “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you did deliver them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.”  The God who appears today to be so remote to the Psalmist, is nonetheless the merciful Lord whom Israel experienced throughout its history.  And the Psalmist refers to the steadfast faith of his ancestors who “trusted”—this word is repeated three times—without ever being disappointed. Then, however, it seems that this chain of trusting invocations and divine answers has been broken; the Psalmist’s situation seems to deny the entire history of salvation, making the present reality even more painful.

The lament then becomes a heartfelt plea: “Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help.”  The only closeness that the Psalmist can perceive and that fills him with fear was that of his enemies.  It is therefore necessary for God to make himself close and to help him, because enemies surround the praying man.  Here then, impelling, once again comes the request for help: “But you, O Lord, be not far off! O you my help, hasten to my aid! […] Save me.”   This is a cry that opens the Heavens, because it proclaims a faith, a certainty that goes beyond all doubt, darkness and desolation.  The lament is transformed; it gives way to praise in the acceptance of salvation: “He has heard […] I will tell of your name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”  The Lord went to the rescue; he saved the poor man and showed his merciful face.  Death and life are interwoven in an inseparable mystery and life triumphs, the God of salvation shows himself to be the undisputed Lord whom all the ends of the earth will praise and before whom all the families of the nations will bow down.  It is the victory of faith which can transform death into the gift of life, the abyss of sorrow into a source of hope.

March 1: Lent and the Blessed Mother

During our Lenten journey, the Church gives us many examples of piety and devotion to fix our eyes upon so that we may faithfully arrive at Calvary and joyfully share in the fruits of Easter Sunday.  This is no different than the season of Advent.  In that somewhat similar season of anticipation and waiting, we had the figures of St .John the Baptist, Isaiah the prophet, and our Blessed Mother.  In Lent, we find that Isaiah will again play an important role especially with his Suffering Servant prophecies in Isaiah 52-53.  We will also find that the Virgin Mother will also play an important and pivotal role in this Lenten journey.  Thus, it might be good for us who look to her as the patron of Mary, Queen of Peace to meditate a bit upon her role in the solemn season of Lent and specifically to her title of Our Lady of Sorrows.  In this regard, its history with regard to the liturgy can help us to enter into this mystery.

The title, Our Lady of Sorrows, given to our Blessed Mother focuses on her intense suffering and grief during the passion and death of our Lord.  Traditionally, this suffering was not limited to the Passion; rather, it comprised the seven sorrows of Mary, which were foretold by Simeon who proclaimed, “This child [Jesus] is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Luke 2:34-35).  These seven sorrows of our Blessed Mother included the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt; the loss and finding of the child Jesus in the Temple; Mary's meeting of Jesus on his way to Calvary; Mary's standing at the foot of the cross when our Lord was crucified; her holding of Jesus when he was taken down from the cross; and then our Lord's burial.  In all, the prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce our Blessed Mother's heart was fulfilled in these events.  For this reason, Mary is sometimes depicted with her heart exposed and with seven swords piercing it.  More importantly, each new suffering was received with the courage, love, and trust that echoed her fiat, “Let it be done unto me according to thy word,” first uttered at the Annunciation.

Interestingly, in 1482, the feast was officially placed in the Roman Missal under the title of Our Lady of Compassion, highlighting the great love our Blessed Mother displayed in suffering with her Son. The word compassion derives from the Latin roots cum and patior which means “to suffer with.”  Our Blessed Mother's sorrow exceeded anyone else's since she was the mother of Jesus, who was not only her Son but also her Lord and Savior and because she alone was born without sin.  I find it quite beautiful to meditate during Lent upon her Immaculate Heart being crushed by the swords of sorrow that pierced it.  She truly suffered with her Son.  In 1727, Pope Benedict XIII placed the Feast of Our Lady of Compassion in the Roman Calendar on Friday before Palm Sunday.  The feast was re-inserted into the Roman calendar in 1814, and Pope Pius X fixed the permanent date of September 15 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary (now simply called the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows).  The key image here is our Blessed Mother standing faithfully at the foot of the cross with her dying Son: the Gospel of St. John recorded, “Seeing his mother there with the disciple whom he loved, Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, there is your son.' In turn He said to the disciple, 'There is your mother.'” (John 19:26-27).  The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) wrote, “She stood in keeping with the divine plan, suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son.  There she united herself, with a maternal heart, to His sacrifice, and lovingly consented to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth” (#58).

 

Focusing on the compassion of our Blessed Mother, Pope St. John Paul II, reminded the faithful, “Mary Most Holy goes on being the loving consoler of those touched by the many physical and moral sorrows which afflict and torment humanity. She knows our sorrows and our pains, because she too suffered, from Bethlehem to Calvary. 'And they soul too a sword shall pierce.' Mary is our Spiritual Mother, and the mother always understands her children and consoles them in their troubles. Then, she has that specific mission to love us, received from Jesus on the Cross, to love us only and always, so as to save us! Mary consoles us above all by pointing out the Crucified One and Paradise to us!”

 

Therefore, as we honor our Blessed Mother, our Lady of Sorrows, we honor her as the faithful disciple and exemplar of faith. Let us pray as we do in the opening prayer of the Mass for this feast day: O God, who willed that, when your Son was lifted high on the Cross, his Mother should stand close by and share his suffering, grant that your Church, participating with the Virgin Mary in the Passion of Christ, may merit a share in his Resurrection. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

 

February 22: Ash Wednesday and Lent

Yesterday, the world was busy in its pleasures, and the very children of God were taking a joyous farewell to mirth: but this morning, all is changed. The solemn announcement, spoken of by the prophet, has been proclaimed in Sion: the solemn fast of Lent, the season of expiation, the approach of the great anniversaries of our Redemption. Let us, then, rouse ourselves, and prepare for the spiritual combat.

But in this battling, we need good armor. Our holy mother the Church knows how much we need it; and therefore does she summon us to enter into the house of God, that she may arm us for the holy contest. What this armor is we know from St. Paul, who thus describes it; 'Have your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice. And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. In all things, taking the shield and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The very prince of the apostles, too, addresses these solemn words to us: 'Christ having suffered in the flesh, be ye also armed with the same thought'. We are entering, today, upon a long campaign of the warfare spoken of by the apostles: forty days of battle, forty days of penance. We shall not turn cowards, if our souls can but be impressed with the conviction, that the battle and the penance must be gone through. Let us listen to the eloquence of the solemn rite which opens our Lent. Let us go whither our mother leads us, that is, to the scene of the fall.

The enemies we have to fight with, are of two kinds: internal, and external. The first are our passions; the second are the devils. Both were brought on us by pride, and man's pride began when he refused to obey his God. God forgave him his sin, but He punished him. The punishment was death, and this was the form of the divine sentence: 'Thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return'. Oh that we had remembered this! The recollection of what we are and what we are to be, would have checked that haughty rebellion, which has so often led us to break the law of God. And if, for the time to come, we would preserve in loyalty to Him, we must humble ourselves, accept the sentence, and look on this present life as a path to the grave. The path may be long or short; but to the tomb it must lead us. Remembering this, we shall see all things in their true light. We shall love that God, who has deigned to set His heart on us notwithstanding our being creatures of death: we shall hate, with deepest contrition, the insolence and ingratitude, wherewith we have spent so many of our few days of life, that is, in sinning against our heavenly Father: and we shall be not only willing, but eager, to go through these days of penance, which He so mercifully gives us for making reparation to His offended justice.

This was the motive the Church had in enriching her liturgy with the solemn rite of Ash Wednesday. When she instituted this impressive ceremony of signing the forehead of her children with ashes, while saying to them those awful words, wherewith God sentenced us to death: 'Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return!' But the making use of ashes as a symbol of humiliation and penance, is of a much earlier date than the institution to which we allude. We find frequent mention of it in the Old Testament. Job, though a Gentile, sprinkled his flesh with ashes, that, thus humbled, he might propitiate the divine mercy and this was two thousand years before the coming of our Savior. The royal prophet tells us of himself, that he mingled ashes with his bread, because of the divine anger and indignation. Many such examples are to be met with in the sacred Scriptures; but so obvious is the analogy between the sinner who thus signifies his grief, and the object whereby he signifies it, that we read such instances without surprise. When fallen man would humble himself before the divine justice, which has sentenced his body to return to dust, how could he more aptly express his contrite acceptance of the sentence, than by sprinkling himself, or his food, with ashes, which is the dust of wood consumed by fire? This earnest acknowledgment of his being himself but dust and ashes, is an act of humility, and humility ever gives him confidence in that God, who resists the proud and pardons the humble.

 

~ Dom Prosper Guerenger, The Liturgical Year

 

February 8: Death Comes for Us All

Blaise Pascal was a French Renaissance man and is widely considered one of the most brilliant minds of the modern era.  In his most famous work, Les Pensees (literally, Thoughts), he poses a thoughtful reflection on the utter finality of death.  He writes, “The last act is bloody, however fine the play.  They throw earth over your head and it is finished forever.”  While he may be incorrect about the “finished forever” bit, Pascal does get a few things right here.  There is a certain finality about death and they do throw dirt on your head.  I remember attending my first funeral of a monk at the Abbey during my time as a seminarian there.  The monks gathered together in the graveyard in a somber procession, clad in their appropriately black monastic robes.  They each took turns casting a shovel-full of dirt onto the lowered casket, quietly passing the shovel from one monk to the next.  There is nothing quite like that sound of dirt hitting the casket to remind us that death comes for us all.

The ancients tell us in a famous Latin phrase, Respice finem—Look to the end!  St. Benedict reminds his monks, “Keep death always before you.”  The Latin phrase Memento mori—remember that you have to die—was the motto of the Middle Ages.  And why?  The last act often determines the quality of the play.  Everything in life leads inescapably to the hour and the moment of death.   How we take leave of our life, the truth and authenticity with which we assume our death, determines how well we have lived our life. Not to mention, of course, the final trajectory of the journey on the other side.  Regis Martin, professor at the University of Steubenville, writes, “Death, then, is not simply a disaster that sooner or later overtakes us all; it is at the same time an event so profoundly and irreducibly personal that it can only happen to you or to me. It is not transferable to any other. You cannot deputize your best friend to take your place in the queue; it is your death that you await, and you alone must come forward to take ownership of it […] And so each of us goes out to meet his own death, taking possession of it as though it were being offered uniquely to each one of us, and not to any other.”

I think St. Thomas More is an example for us of a man who lived this truth as he was able to go out and meet his death only by the grace of God granted to him. In St. Thomas More’s willingness to die, he showed the world in an utterly conclusive way that his life stood for something worth dying for.  For him, it was the strange “Catholic” thing—he refused to acknowledge Henry VIII of England as the head of the Church and refused to water down the Church’s teaching on marriage.  There was simply no other way, in his mind, to validate the things he knew to be true.   Only in death could he consummate the witness of a life long consecrated to God. This is why Margaret, the daughter he esteemed more than any other, found it so maddeningly difficult to try and persuade her father to give in, to give in to the King’s marriage, as so many others had done, including bishops and nobles. “But in reason!” she pleaded. “Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?” More’s answer is devastating. Not only does it pull the rug out from under every pretense of sentiment or political expedience, but in its ardent and direct appeal to God himself, More’s reply transcends the whole world.  “Well … finally … it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”

Here was a man who possessed, as Robert Bolt shows us in his play A Man for All Seasons, “an adamantine sense of his own self.” Yes, a man of great charm, learning, and wit. And yet, as Bolt is right to point out, Master More, unlike so many of his more pliant fellows, “found something in himself without which life was valueless and when that was denied him was able to grasp his death.”

Seeing his daughter, Margaret, on his way to the scaffold—to the place where, by his own admission, “the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” is destined to die—he exhorts her to have patience, “and trouble not thyself. Death comes for us all; even at our birth—(He holds her head and looks down at it for a moment in recollection)—even at our birth, death does but stand aside a little. And every day he looks towards us and muses somewhat to himself whether that day or the next he will draw nigh. It is the law of nature, and the will of God.”

 

Each of us owes God a death, our death. Let us pray that we be found worthy when at last he comes to collect.

 

~ Adapted from The Witness of Heroism by Dr. Regis Martin

February 1: Pope Francis on the Family

While on his trip to the Philippines this past month, our Holy Father made some off-the-cuff remarks to those gathered to see him.  This is not unusual for this Pontiff, but the remarks he made in the Philippines (87% of whose population is Catholic) are especially pertinent for us today as they concern those basic threats to the family that our Holy Father has repeatedly brought to our attention.  Rather than offering a summary of his talk, I thought that I would let Pope Francis speak for himself.  Here are some pertinent passages of his talk:

“The angel of the Lord revealed to Joseph the dangers which threatened Jesus and Mary, forcing them to flee to Egypt and then to settle in Nazareth. So too, in our time, God calls upon us to recognize the dangers threatening our own families and to protect them from harm. We must be attentive to the new ideological colonization.

Beware of the new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family. It’s not born of the dream that we have from God and prayer – it comes from outside and that’s why I call it a colonization. Let us not lose the freedom to take forward the mission God has given us, the mission of the family. And just as our peoples were able to say in the past “No” to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say “No” to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family. And to ask the intercession of St Joseph to know when to say “Yes” and when to say “No”....

The pressures on family life today are many. Here in the Philippines, countless families are still suffering from the effects of natural disasters. The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households. While all too many people live in dire poverty, others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality. The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life. 

I think of Blessed Paul VI in the moment of that challenge of population growth, he had the strength to defend openness to life. He knew the difficulties families experience and that’s why in his encyclical (Humanae Vitae) he expressed compassion for specific cases and he taught professors to be particularly compassionate for particular cases. And he went further, he looked at the people on the earth and he saw that lack (of children) and the problem it could cause families in the future. Paul VI was courageous, a good pastor and he warned his sheep about the wolves that were approaching. And from the heavens he blesses us today.

Our world needs good and strong families to overcome these threats! The Philippines needs holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be a support and example for other families. Every threat to the family is a threat to society itself. The future of humanity, as Saint John Paul II often said, passes through the family (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 85). So protect your families! See in them your country’s greatest treasure and nourish them always by prayer and the grace of the sacraments. Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death. What a gift this would be to society, if every Christian family lived fully its noble vocation! So rise with Jesus and Mary, and set out on the path the Lord traces for each of you.

Finally, the Gospel we have heard reminds us of our Christian duty to be prophetic voices in the midst of our communities. Joseph listened to the angel of the Lord and responded to God’s call to care for Jesus and Mary. In this way he played his part in God’s plan, and became a blessing not only for the Holy Family, but a blessing for all of humanity. With Mary, Joseph served as a model for the boy Jesus as he grew in wisdom, age and grace (cf. Lk 2:52). When families bring children into the world, train them in faith and sound values, and teach them to contribute to society, they become a blessing in our world. God’s love becomes present and active by the way we love and by the good works that we do. We extend Christ’s kingdom in this world. And in doing this, we prove faithful to the prophetic mission which we have received in baptism.”

 

~His Holiness, Pope Francis

16 January 2015

January 25: Our Catholic Identity

“Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They said in reply, ‘John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘You are the Messiah.’" - Mark 8:27-29

This oft-heard passage given to us by the Evangelist Mark is perhaps glossed over or even ignored by many today as they sit down to study the words of Our Lord.  Why?  I posit that perhaps the answer lies precisely in its familiarity.  Precisely because it is familiar to us, we neglect or fail to meditate seriously upon this passage and glean from it the many meanings of this aspect of the Living Word.  In this particular passage, the most obvious message is that of Christ’s definitive identification as the Messiah and Son of God.  However, I find there to be a more personal message in addition to this very important theological statement.  If we shift the focus away from Peter’s response (at least initially) and onto the question itself, the central message of identification and identity shines clearly and begs our attention.

“Who do you say that I am?”—Christ asks this question of all of us and demands a response borne of faith and expressed in action.  How does one respond to this question when (not if) Christ asks it of us?  You cannot answer this question without first answering a more fundamental and prior question.  Christ first asks us, “Who are you?” because we must understand ourselves in order to understand Him.  Essential to this response is the role of faith.  Central to our reply to this question must be our faith and the faith of the entire Roman Catholic Church.  I can say that I am a Catholic, but what does this mean?  Is it a mere label delineating my views from other religions or is it something more?  The Church and indeed, Christ Himself hope and strive for our answer to be more than this label; rather, this statement should be an essential identification with the faith that the Catholic Church professes and which Christ Himself gave as a result of the Paschal Event.  Our faith must be so imbued in who we are that we should fundamentally recognize ourselves as altered and different from every other person.  Christ Himself will see us this way as the Church professes her teaching in the indelible mark imparted by the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation (and Holy Orders for those called by God to this special vocation).  With this mark, we are forever changed and identified with Christ at the very core of our being, in our very immortal souls, so much so that in heaven we will retain this mark.  If this is so, how can it not be part of who we are as mere mortals?

Even so, stating the theological doctrine of the indelible mark and self-identification with Christ in our faith is not enough if it is just words.  These words must be filled with conviction and our lives should bespeak this identification in all aspects.  In order to fully identify ourselves as a Catholic and a follower of Christ, we must know Him through prayer, Scripture, and the teachings of the Church.  This is not a suggestion—we fail in our role of Christian if we do not take time studying and reflecting in each of these aspects.  How can we understand our true identity and full human dignity as images of the ineffable Creator if we do not know Him?  Additionally, we must live these beliefs by our words, actions, and thoughts.  St. Francis of Assisi is often attributed with saying, “Preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.”  How true these words are!  We will not attain salvation merely by believing in Christ, but by living as Christ lived.

Only by growth in faith and love of Christ and His Church will we be able to understand our own identity.  Only after we understand who we are may we faithfully render with Peter that statement of conviction, “You are the Messiah” and thus attain our salvation with His reply, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

 

January 18: Why Mass?

“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” ~ St. Pio of Pietrelcina

In days long past, the parish priest might answer an inquisitive parishioner about why one should attend Sunday Mass simply by saying that it is commanded by God in the Ten Commandments, but today’s world will not suffice with such a simplistic answer, and for good reason, as so many things vie for our attention and claim to be the true priority in our life.  Many faithful Catholics still wonder about the reason why they should go to Mass despite showing up each Sunday at their local parish.  This question touches on several very deep theological themes that, if understood, can help to strengthen our resolve to engage the Mass in a more prayerful way.

God’s command to keep holy the Sabbath day is primarily fulfilled by our participation in the Sunday Eucharist.  This celebration is not merely a private event.  We join with others to faithfully and prayerfully render our worship to God attesting to God’s fidelity to His Church and our fidelity to Him.  Often, an objection is raised that we can say our prayers at home and this should fulfill our obligation to God.  Why must we go to a church?  This is not a new question and the early Church asked St. John Chrysostom the same thing.  He said, “You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of priests.”  Here, we see the testimony of this great saint giving witness to the importance of the community at worship, revealing their identity as the Body of Christ.  Even when this question is answered, the question of why go to Mass at all still remains.

Our Blessed Lord’s Sacrifice on the Cross, which wrought our redemption, was the greatest act of both human and Divine love that He accomplished for us.  This sacrificial offering of the Lamb of God took away our sins and reconciled all of humanity with our Heavenly Father and thus, no further sacrifice was necessary.  However, the Sacrifice of Our Savior on the Cross did not exempt our own personal duty to render unto God the highest form of outward worship as testified to by the Scriptures—sacrifice.  Throughout the Old Testament we see God demanding sacrifices of the Israelites, not because He was in need of something, but because sacrifice signifies our dependence upon God and our reliance upon His Providence.  It shows us that everything we have is God’s and we are mere stewards of His great gifts.  In this way, we render correct worship to God, recognizing His power, His love, and His mercy.  Therefore, even with the perfect Sacrifice of the Cross, the unimaginable love and wisdom of God would not allow our worship to lose a sense of sacrifice and so, He provided this means by renewing the Sacrifice of the Cross in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Cross merited the graces that we need from God and Holy Mass applies these graces to us, since Holy Mother Church teaches that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the same Sacrifice as Calvary, differing only in manner.  We have the same Priest and Victim as the Sacrifice of the Cross at Mass—Jesus Christ.  At the altar, our Blessed Lord offers Himself through the ministry of the priest, all in an unbloody manner, applying the merits gained at Calvary to the souls at Mass.  It is for this reason that the Church developed Her theology of the priest standing in persona Christi, in the person of Christ, which is why he can say truly, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood”—it is Christ Himself who declares it!  For these reasons the Church calls the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the most important prayer She prays.  Now, we can understand why St. Pio says what he does about Holy Mass, for in this one miraculous event, the greatest act of God’s love is offered back to Himself in order to apply an outpouring of graces to His beloved children!

 

January 11: Encountering the beauty of God

Nascantur in admiratione, “let them be born in wonder,” the Latin motto proclaims to us.  It is based on Aristotle’s Metaphysics in which he says that all of philosophy begins in wonder.  But what is this wonder?  “Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them […] For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.”  These words from the Book of Wisdom, I think, define this wonder—an authentic sense of beauty that leads the beholder to the reality of Almighty God.  It is the wonder we experience when we look up at the starry sky or when we enter Chartres Cathedral or in hearing the sacral overtones of Renaissance Polyphony.  This passion of wonder that Aristotle wrote about, and that every man, no matter how debased, has the capacity for, is the reason that men create art.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the greatest literary figures in Russian history, was a man plagued by a life well acquainted with suffering, but he placed a classic line in one of his novels on the lips of an epileptic Christ-like figure that seems to contradict his own experience: “Beauty will save the world.”  Dostoevsky knew little of life’s joys and so, hearing these words from his own mouth seem odd—how is this the case?  I think the answer is connected to a line in one of his journals, “The West has lost Christ and that is why it is dying; that is the only reason.”

If beauty is what saves the world and the loss of Christ is the reason the world is dying, then there is an intrinsic connection between Christ and beauty and that reading from Wisdom declares this. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI echoes this when he writes, “Authentic beauty, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence, the Mystery of which we are a part.”

And what is this Mystery?  Who is this Other, if not Almighty God Himself?  Beauty, in itself, can be a path toward an encounter with the Transcendent God, since it draws us out of ourselves, weakening us to the point of humility so that we can receive that which is totally outside our mastery and yet draws us closer to Himself!  It is precisely in this point that we find a need for an objective criterion of beauty.  A thing is beautiful insofar as it draws us out of ourselves to that which is truly real—the Lord—and it is precisely in this way that then-Cardinal Ratzinger could lament pop-music today since it drowns the soul in the senses, wrapping us up in ourselves and not in drawing us out of ourselves toward Him.  Our modern world today, and perhaps even we, disparage this notion that beauty has an objective standard.  The traditional requirements of beauty for St. Thomas Aquinas (and consequently the criteria for sacred music and art laid out by St. Pius X in Tra le Sollecitudini)that a thing be in right-proportion, possess integrity, and radiate clarity are no longer tenants of our judgment and so, mankind’s taste in art—even sacred art—has descended to the level of navel-gazing paralleling the course of modern philosophy.  And who can deny this?  Who listens to Lady Gaga, for example, and contemplates the eternal nature of the virtues?  The West has fallen because it has lost Christ, Dostoevsky laments, but so has art—art has lost its beauty because it has lost Christ and objectivity.  And what is the world without the beautiful?  What is left to remind it to look outside itself to discover meaning and awe—the very fabric of an authentic encounter with the Lord?

 

January 4: Our Lady of Prompt Succour

 

On January 8th, the Archdiocese of New Orleans will celebrate the 200th Anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving to Our Lady of Prompt Succour.  Our Lady of Prompt Succour is the Patroness of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana and Her powerful intercession has been keenly felt in the life of our local Church.  We would do well to briefly remember Her great protection today by looking at the origin of this devotion.

 

French Ursulines arrived in New Orleans in 1727 and established the oldest school for girls currently operating in what is now the United States.  During a period of crisis after a large group of nuns left New Orleans for Cuba in 1803, Mother St. André Madier, one of the seven nuns who remained, appealed to her cousin, an Ursuline in France whom the French Revolution had forced to leave her monastery at Pont-Saint-Esprit. She was Mother St. Michel Gensoul, a remarkable woman of great talent and interior piety, who, during her exile in Montpellier, opened a boarding school for girls there. Fearing for the flourishing school, Bishop Fournier refused her request to leave, saying that only the Pope, then a prisoner of Napoleon, could give such a permission. One day while praying before a statue of the Blessed Mother, she was inspired to say, “O most holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain a prompt and favorable answer to my letter, I promise to have you honored in New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”  The promise evidently was pleasing to the Blessed Mother. Two favors were granted: the letter which left Montpellier on March 19, 1809, received a reply from Rome dated April 28, 1809. The letter of the Holy Father praised her generosity and faith and approved her departure. Thus the answer was both prompt and favorable. Bishop Fournier, surprised at the outcome, asked to bless the statue which Mother St. Michel was having sculpted.  Thus began her devotion in the city of New Orleans, but it was likely the year of 1812 that endeared Her more to the city.

A terrible fire ravaged the city in 1812, and the wind was rapidly driving it in the direction of the convent of the Ursulines. One of the nuns, Sister St. Anthony, placed a small replica of Our Lady of Prompt Succor in her window that faced the approaching fire, while Mother St. Michel prayed aloud, asking Our Lady for help. Immediately the wind changed the direction of the flames and the city was spared further damage, but She would be needed again just a few short years later.

In 1815, General Andrew Jackson's 6,000 American troops faced 15,000 British soldiers on the plains of Chalmette. It seemed as though the city of New Orleans was doomed. On the eve of the Battle of New Orleans, New Orleans residents joined the Ursuline sisters at their convent in the French Quarter to pray throughout the night, imploring the help of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.  On the morning of January 8, the Very Rev. William Dubourg, Vicar General, offered Mass at the altar on which the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor had been placed. Cannon fire could be heard from the chapel. The Prioress of the Ursuline convent, Mother Ste. Marie Olivier, made a vow to have a Mass of Thanksgiving sung annually should the American forces win. At the very moment of Holy Communion, a courier ran into the chapel to inform all those present that the British had been defeated. They had become confused by a fog and wandered into a swamp.  The Mass ended with the singing of the Te Deum, a traditional hymn of thanksgiving to Almighty God.  Ever since then, an annual Mass of Thanksgiving has been offered on January 8th, with this year being its 200th Anniversary.

As we prepare for this joyous celebration in the life of our local Church, let us be reinvigorated in our zeal and love for the Blessed Mother!  Let us turn to Her with our needs and petitions and ask with full faith and confidence for prompt succour—quick intercession!  Our Lady of Prompt Succour, hasten to help us!

PUERNATUS IN BETHLEHEM: A CHILD IS BORN IN BETHLEHEM


Jesus Christ yesterday, and today, and the same forever! These words of the Apostle Paul express at once the noblest and the most delightful occupation of our lives. To think, to speak, to write, perpetually of the grandeurs of Jesus—what joy on earth is like it when we think of what we owe to Him and of the relation in which we stand to Him? Who can weary of it? The subject is continually growing before our eyes. It draws us on. It is a science, the fascination of which increases the more deeply we penetrate into its depths. Earth grows into Heaven, as we come to live and breathe in the atmosphere of the Incarnation.  Jesus makes Heaven wherever He is, whether it be in the tabernacle, or in the heart of the communicant.

But the contemplation of His grandeurs is not merely a joy. It is something beyond an ennobling occupation. It does an actual work in our souls, and a work which the grace of perseverance can make immortal. Someone has well said, "It is sufficient to look on Jesus, and to contemplate His perfections and His virtues. The very view is of itself capable of producing marvelous effects upon the soul, just as a simple look at the brazen serpent, which Moses reared in the wilderness, was enough to heal the bite of the serpents. For everything in Jesus is not only saintly, but sanctifying also, and imprints itself on the souls which apply themselves to the consideration of it, if they do so with good dispositions. His humility makes us humble; His purity purifies us; His poverty, His patience, His sweetness, and His other virtues imprint themselves on those who contemplate them. This may even take place without our reflecting at all upon ourselves, but simply by our viewing these virtues in Jesus with esteem, admiration, respect, love, and complacency." Let it be with this hope that we now draw nigh to Bethlehem to study the mysteries of His Sacred Infancy. Love labors under the sweet impossibility of ever comprehending the majesty of our dearest Savior. We shall see more at Bethlehem than we can understand; and even what we cannot understand will fill us full of love, and it is love which makes us wise unto salvation.

Whom shall we ask to go with us in our journey? Who shall be to us the doctor of the Sacred Infancy? Surely St. Joseph, so near to the Infant Jesus, so dear to His sinless Mother! If ever a Saint was penetrated with the spirit of Bethlehem, doubtless it was he. Before the toil of the Public Ministry began, before the shadows of the Passion had begun to thicken palpably on the horizon, St. Joseph had finished his vocation. He belonged to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/23/c0/04/23c0046eb80df154956d34999bbf196c.jpgSt. Joseph is kneeling by the Child in the Cave of Bethlehem. Let us draw near, and kneel there with him, and follow his thoughts afar off. It is but an hour since that Babe was born into the world, and gladdened Mary's eyes with the Divine consolations of His Face. It is but nine months since He was incarnate in the inner room at Nazareth. Yet neither Nazareth nor Bethlehem were His beginnings. He was eternal years old the moment He was born. Time, which had already lived through such long cycles, and had perhaps endured through huge secular epochs before the creation of man, was younger by infinite ages than the Babe of Bethlehem. The creation of the Angels, with the beauty and exultation of their first graces, the orderly worship of their hierarchies, their mysterious trial, the dreadful fall of one-third of their number, and Michael's battle with the rebels, lie dim and remote beyond the furthest mists of human history. Yet the Babe of Bethlehem is older far than that. Indeed, it was around Him that all angelic history was grouped. He was at once their Creator and the pattern after which they were created, the fall of those who fell, and the perseverance of those who stood. Hereafter He will spend a three years' Ministry in Galilee and among the towns of Judah and Benjamin; yet, in truth, all the history of man's world, from the times of paradise to the hour of the Immaculate Conception, had been His Ministry. He preached before the flood. He gave His benediction to the tents of the patriarchs. He imparted grace, and saved souls, and wrought miracles for some thousands of years. But now by the sand-glasses of men He is one hour old.

Bethlehem then was not His first home. He is the Eternal Word. He is the first Word ever spoken, and He was spoken by God, and He is in all things equal to Him by Whom He was spoken. He was uttered from eternity, uttered without place to utter Him in, without sound accompanying the utterance, and the Father Who uttered Him, or rather Who is forever uttering Him, is not prior to the Word He utters. His home has no scenery, no walls, no shape, no form, no color, no spot which can be loved with a local monument. It is not in space, nor in imaginary space, nor within the world, nor at the world's edge, nor beyond it. It is the Bosom of the Father.

What words we have heaped together! Yet we may hope it has not been altogether without ideas. It is a thought to make us very grave, that this life of God holds us like a hand, penetrates us like a sword. It has undergone no modification. It has acquired nothing, experienced nothing. Its ungrowing magnificence is ever fresh as the dawn, ever new as the first creation. It is always the same, yet never monotonous.  A paradise of intellectual delights, a boundless fire of uncreated loves, an ocean of glad, wise, resistless being, it is glorious in its liberty, and glorious in the grandeur of its necessities. It is a silence of amazing colloquies, a sanctuary of restful joys, a life of omnipotent and omnipresent simplicity, a unity of Three distinct adorable Persons. Come let us adore!

Adapted from Bethlehem: The Bosom of the Eternal Father by Fr. Frederick Faber, D.D.

December 21: St. John the Baptist

Fr. Ian M. Bozant

One of the figures who stand prominently in the season of Advent is the person of St. John the Baptist.  He was the precursor of the Lord, the one who would prepare the way for the coming of Christ by preaching repentance to the Jewish people.  Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy, he was the lone voice crying out in the wilderness to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  With this one phrase, St. John the Baptist sums up the entirety of the theme of Advent, which is fitting for this final Sunday when we encounter that great figure in the final moments of this great liturgical season.  By examining his life, we find some of the greatest ways that we can prepare our own hearts and souls for the coming of the Lord.

The cousin of the Lord, St. John the Baptist had been prepared for His coming from the womb when Our Lady went to visit Her cousin Elizabeth, carrying the Christ Child in Her womb.  Scripture tells us that upon Her arrival, St. John the Baptist leapt within Elizabeth because he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we find in the life of St. John the Baptist, the first great aid to our preparation for the Lord’s coming: Our Lady.  She is one of the greatest aids to the Christian life, if not the greatest aid!  By turning ourselves over to Her and growing in our love and devotion to Her, we necessarily come closer to our Lord as She always points us toward Him.  She is our Bethlehem star that guides us to the Messiah!

Then, very little is spoken of St. John the Baptist until we encounter him again in his adult life preaching near the Jordan River and baptizing his followers.  Here too, we find another aid in our preparation: Baptism and the Sacraments.  Though St. John’s Baptism was not the Baptism of the New Law, it very clearly points forward to it, when we would be baptized by “water and the Spirit.”  Baptism is the sacrament that prepares our hearts for the entry of the Lord into our souls.  By its waters, original sin is wiped away and we are made worthy vessels again for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, becoming members of His Mystical Body.  The graces given at Baptism must be nourished and fostered throughout our lives by faithfulness to the Gospel message and a Sacramental life.  The Sacraments are the great vehicles of grace that God has set up through His Holy Church by which He communicates His Divine Life to us and strengthens us to choose Him above all else and to avoid what leads us away from Him.

But, this was not all that the Baptist was doing at the Jordan River.  He was also preaching—preaching a lifestyle of repentance.  Repentance is another way that we too can prepare for our Lord’s coming.  St. John the Baptist was very direct in his condemnation of the vices of those who came to him, telling them to bear forth fruit worthy of penance.  He himself bore faithful witness to Christ, the long awaited Messiah and was a very penitential man, living in the desert, wearing a coat of camel hair and eating a diet of locusts and honey.  It was this penitential lifestyle that fostered the virtues of humility and faith in him so that he could proclaim with confidence, “Behold the Lamb of God,” upon seeing the Savior approach him on the banks of the Jordan River.  Repenting of our sins and willfully embracing small acts of penance help to soften our hearts and allow us to begin seeing with the eyes of faith so that we can recognize the Lord in all things.

Finally, St. John the Baptist was bold in his proclamation of the truth and it was this that led to his martyrdom as he boldly told Herod of his unlawful marriage in the eyes of God.  By our witness to the Truth and fidelity, we too are made ready to endure the trials of life and to see with the eyes of faith that God is at work in all things—working to sanctify us and make us holy.

In these final days of Advent, let us turn to St. John the Baptist and ask for his intercession so that we too may prepare the way of the Lord in our own lives, taking to heart the lessons of his life.

December 14: Gaudete Sunday

This weekend, the Church switches out its violet vestments for the rose of the Third Sunday of Advent and the rose candle stands as a solitary reminder that something is different about this one Sunday at our halfway point of Advent.  Advent and its counterpart, Lent, are seasons of penitence, which is why violet is used throughout both seasons. On the Advent wreath, the three violet candles mark the preparation Christians undergo in prayer and penance while awaiting the arrival of Christ in His threefold coming: at Christmas, into our souls each day, and on the Last Day.

However, Advent usually does not get the marked penitential character that Lent normally sees.  Often, Advent is filled with parties and food, music and decorations, and shopping for gifts.  In the purely secular world, Christmas began at the beginning of November and then gets disgustingly persistent after Black Friday.  Many people mimic this in their own personal lives, turning on the Christmas music on Thanksgiving and decorating the house as soon as humanly possible after we have digested Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, this cycle may be fine for society, but it has nothing to do with the Church’s preparations at the heart of Advent.  No amount of sales and advertising, non-stop Christmas music and decorations will bring our Lord any earlier to us than Christmas and none of these things, in themselves, will help us to appreciate that coming of Christ more.  True preparation for Christmas occurs in the Season of Advent through the Church’s liturgy and practices, not by making Christmas begin on Black Friday.  This is why it is traditional, though not required, hold off on putting the bambino, the Christ Child, into the Nativity Scene until Christmas Eve Mass.

What is the point then of this different Sunday—this rose-colored Third Sunday of Advent?  This Sunday trades in the violet for the rose because the rose color is a brightening of that violet hue, reminding us of the joy that should fill us as we prepare our hearts for the Lord.  It is a reminder that the happiness that comes from fun and friends and a full belly is not the same thing as Christian joy.

During a Mass in May 2013 at Casa Santa Maria in Rome, Pope Francis talked about the difference between happiness and joy:  “To be happy is good, yet joy is something more. It’s another thing, something which does not depend on external motivations, or on passing issues: it is more profound. It is a gift.  To be ‘happy at all moments, at all cost,’ can at the end turn into superficiality and shallowness. This leaves us without Christian wisdom, which makes us dumb, naïve, right? All is joy … no. Joy is something else; it is a gift from the Lord.”

If joy is a gift from the Lord, then the Lord Himself is our first and greatest gift, and the only one that will never tarnish or break or fade.  The Third Sunday of Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday, reminds us that the gift has not yet arrived, but it is very near.  It takes its name from the first word of the Introit or Entrance Antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino Semper,” which is Latin for the introduction of Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

To continue with Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Gaudete Sunday is a moment to stop and reflect on the source of true joy, which as Pope Francis rightly pointed out is not a saccharine, emotionally charged happiness.  Mistaking joy for this, cheapens true Christian joy.   True joy is marked by a sense of peace—a resting of our hearts and souls—as we find the object of our joy: Christ Himself.  We are no longer disturbed by other things trying to vie for our attention.  This fruit of the Holy Spirit helps to focus our attention on the Lord as the only one that can bring true joy.  Here, we look especially to the martyrs—they were certainly not emotionally happy as they were being tortured and killed, but there was a sense of peace and a sense of joy in knowing that our Lord was present in their trial and in the consoling knowledge that they were doing His will.

Rejoice, the liturgy tells us today, but often we have to change our view of what this means.  As Advent continues, we are invited to continue preparing our hearts to re-shape them so that we are better able to rejoice solely in doing the Lord’s will and finding Him present in all things, including both our trials and triumphs.

December 7: Advent: Ave Maria Gratia Plena

Fr. Ian Bozant

In the Season of Advent, we have a great opportunity for us to reflect upon the role of our Blessed Mother as a model for both the Season of Advent itself, as well as a model for our own spiritual lives throughout the year and throughout our lives.  In particular, the Season of Advent is anticipation of the great Solemnity of Christmas—as we mentioned last week—which celebrates the Birth of our Lord, but His Incarnation occurred well before this moment.  He was already on the earth prior to His birth, in the womb of the Blessed Mother—that great and loving tabernacle of the Most High!  This moment is remembered each time we pray the Ave—the Hail Mary—as we recite those very same words spoken by the mighty Archangel Gabriel: Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum!  Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!

Too often the Annunciation to Our Lady is passed over as familiar and not carefully reflected upon.  The words of the Angel to the Blessed Mother are clear: She is to conceive and bear a Son and the Archangel tells Her, “He shall be great and men will know Him for the Son of the Most High; the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally; His kingdom shall never have an end” (Luke 1:32-33).  Thus, contrary to the popular song, Mary did know what Her Son was to be—the Son of God, the great fulfillment of the promises of the Messiah (cf. 2 Samuel 7).  Now, think about this.  If an Angel appeared to you and told you that you were to conceive the Son of God who is going to be the Messiah, what would your first question be?  What would shock you most about that statement?  Would it not be something regarding the Messiah?  Would you not be most shocked that the Son of David was being born to you?  But is this Our Lady’s shock?  No.  She asks how this is possible since She “knows not man,” a biblical euphemism indicating Her virginity.  Let us look more closely at that question of Our Lady.  What caused Her to be uncertain regarding Her conceiving of a child? She was not infertile or old.  In every respect, She seems to be in prime condition and age to conceive a son.  Was She unwed? No! She was already betrothed to St. Joseph! And so strong was the bond of betrothal that She was already called the “wife” of Joseph (Matthew 1:20).  Why then was She so uncertain about conception?  She was about to be married and could lawfully have a child with St. Joseph, but was more confused about this than about the fact that Her child would be the Messiah!  Why?

We Catholics are not only people of Sacred Scripture.  We also trust in Sacred Tradition and value ancient traditions and beliefs that may shed light on the mysteries of faith.  There is an ancient and venerable belief that the Blessed Mother never intended on having a child with St. Joseph, that She had made a vow of virginity from Her youth!  On November 21st, the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple.  Much of the tradition of the Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple is recorded in the Protevanglium of James (an apocryphal book of the second century). Although this text was not truly written by an apostle, nor is it an inspired text of Sacred Scripture, the book does bear witness to the ancient traditions of the Christian faithful regarding Our Lady.  It records Our Lady being brought to the Temple when She had been weaned from Her mother at the age of three. This presentation is quite diverse from that of our Lord in His fortieth day.  The Blessed Mother was given over to the Temple for Her rearing and education, as Joachim and Ann returned to Nazareth, and She remained in Jerusalem until Her fourteenth or fifteenth year.  It was during these twelve years of dedicated service in the Temple that our Lady made her vow of virginity, which God then protected through the ministry of St. Joseph.

Now, the belief in the Blessed Mother’s vow of virginity at a young age is not dogmatic, but in my opinion, it helps to illuminate the Biblical passage more clearly.  Regardless, Our Lady gives birth to the Savior as a virgin, illustrating the importance of purity in giving birth to our Lord even in our own souls.  This Advent is an opportunity for us to recall the life of the Blessed Mother and beg Her intercession in restoring and reinvigorating our purity, so that we may prepare ourselves more worthily for our Lord’s advent into our own souls.

 

November 30: The Season of Advent

This weekend begins a new liturgical year with the season of Advent, marked by a subdued waiting for the coming of our Lord.  Throughout the entire season of Advent, the Church does Her best to communicate this through Her liturgy—the music should be more subdued and marked by a message of waiting, the color purple is worn throughout as a reminder of the somewhat penitential character of the season of Advent in waiting for the Lord, the readings remind us of the prophecies of old that promise the coming Messiah, among other liturgical practices that mark this wonderful season. As Catholics, our greatest aid in preparing for Christmas and making this season meaningful is the Church’s liturgy, which can help to form us again and prepare our hearts and souls if we truly give ourselves over to the Sacred Liturgy.

In many ways, Advent is a preparation for the coming of our Lord in three ways: 1) In the flesh at His Incarnation and His birth at Christmas, 2) In our souls, 3) At the end of time in His Second Coming.  The holy Church, therefore, during Advent, awaits in tears and with ardor the arrival of Her Jesus in His first coming. For this, She borrows the fervent expressions of the prophets, to which She joins her own prayers. These longings for the Messiah expressed by the Church, are not a mere commemoration of the desires of the ancient Jewish people; rather, they have a reality and efficacy of their own, an influence in the great act of God's generosity, whereby He gave us His own Son. From all eternity, the prayers of the ancient Jewish people and the prayers of the Christian Church ascended together to the hearing of God and it was after receiving and granting them, that He sent, in the appointed time, that blessed Dew upon the earth, which made it bud forth the Savior.

The Church aspires also to the coming of Christ in the souls of Her faithful, the consequence of the first, which consists, as we have just seen, in the visit of the Bridegroom to the bride. The Church, therefore, during Advent, prays that She may be visited by Him Who is Her Head and Her Spouse; visited in Her hierarchy; visited in Her members, of whom some are living by grace, and some are dead in sin, but may come to life again; visited, lastly, in those who are not in communion with Her, and even in those who persecute Her, that so they may be converted to the true light, which shines even for them. The expressions of the liturgy which the Church makes use of to ask for this loving and invisible coming of Christ to the soul, are those which She employs when begging for the coming of Jesus in the flesh; for the two visits are for the same reason. In vain would the Son of God have come, two thousand years ago, to visit and save mankind, unless He came again for each one of us and at every moment of our lives, bringing to us and cherishing within us that supernatural life.

But this annual visit of the Spouse does not content the Church; She aspires after a third coming, which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. She has hung upon the last words of Her Spouse, “Surely I am coming quickly;” and She cries out to Him, “Ah! Lord Jesus! Come!” (Rev. 22:20).  But the day of this His last coming to Her will be a day of terror. The Church frequently trembles at the very thought of that awful judgment, in which all mankind is to be tried.  Not that She fears for herself, since she knows that this day will for ever secure for Her the crown, as being the bride of Jesus, but Her maternal heart is troubled at the thought that, on the same day, so many of Her children will be on the left hand of the Judge, and, having no share with the elect, will be bound hand and foot, and cast into the darkness. This is the reason why the Church, in the liturgy of Advent, so frequently speaks of the coming of Christ as a terrible coming, and selects from the Scriptures those passages which are most calculated to awaken a salutary fear in the mind of such of Her children as may be sleeping the sleep of sin.

Let us utilize this season of Advent to help us prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord that we may not be caught off guard by His coming or His gifts of grace.

November 16: Changes at Mass

As some of you have probably already noticed, our servers have implemented a few changes at our celebration of Holy Mass on Sundays and even at our school Masses on Wednesdays.  Some of these are more visible changes, like the procession of candles at the Gospel or the procession with the Crucifix at the Offertory.  Other changes are a little more subtle, like the addition of a bell ring during the Eucharistic Prayer or the spreading of the corporal on the Altar.  As always, it is important for us to know the reasons behind these changes so that they do not become arbitrary and meaningless.  Change for the sake of change is rarely a good thing, but change that helps to enhance our worship is important and can be a vital way of rejuvenating our relationship with the Lord at this highest moment—the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

You may notice that the servers will no longer retrieve their processional candles from the Altar; rather, they carry in separate candles altogether so that the ones at the Altar will always remain at the Altar.  This is significant because it reminds us of the importance and permanence of the Altar.  So sacred and important is it that it is always adorned by candles to remind us of the august sacrifice that takes place upon it.

In one of our more visible changes, the candle bearers will now walk in procession to the Ambo when the Gospel is proclaimed.  This added sign of reverence indicates the dignity and sanctity of the Holy Gospel as the height of the Liturgy of the World—the very words of Our Lord proclaimed for all to contemplate and reflect upon.  By adding these candles, the hope is that we will re-focus our attention on the words of Sacred Scripture so that they do not become lost among the many familiarities of the Mass that we have grown accustomed to as we frequently attend Mass.

Additionally, the Crucifix (and candles at the 9:30 am Mass) will now be brought up in procession as the gifts are brought forward for the Offertory.  This added measure of solemnity reminds us that we continually follow after our Crucified Lord.  It is to Him that we look and it is Him that we follow in all things.  By following the Crucifix, this new change also helps to remind us that the gifts of bread and wine that are brought forward are going to be transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord offered at Calvary for our redemption.

In addition to our usual bell rings at the elevation of the Precious Body and Precious Blood, we will also have a short bell ring prior to these two.  This will occur at the moment of the Mass called the epiclesis, a Greek word meaning invocation.  This is the point of the Eucharistic Prayer at which the Priest calls down the Holy Spirit to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine that they may be transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.  The bells are used to call our attention to these most sacred moments of the Mass, shaking us from our complacency and renewing a sense of awe at the mystery unfolding before us.

Some minor changes include the spreading of the corporal as we prepare the Altar at the Offertory.  The corporal is a square white linen cloth that comes from the Latin word corpus, which means body.  The purpose of the Corporal is to hold any particles of the Blessed Sacrament that may have fallen during the celebration of the Mass, which is the reason for its name since it catches the Body of our Lord.  It reminds us of the linen cloths used to wrap the Body of Our Lord that were found in the tomb after He resurrected from the dead.  Additionally, the servers will now wash the hands of the Priest using a bowl and pitcher set called a lavabo set, which is the Latin word for washing.  Here, the Priest’s hands are washed as they were in the Old Testament before the priest would go to offer the sacrifice of animals.  Now, the Priest washes his hands in remembrance of the once-for-all sacrifice of our Lord on Calvary that is about to be re-presented and also to remind him of the need to purify our body, minds, and hearts in order to worthily stand at the Foot of Calvary.

These minor changes to our liturgical celebrations are some small ways that invite us to pray more fervently at Mass.  Every element of the Sacred Liturgy has not only a practical purpose, but also a deeper spiritual meaning that can be garnered as a fruit of our prayer at Holy Mass.  I invite you—urge you—to pray the Mass.  It is the highest prayer of the Church and the model of our own prayer.  You may be surprised at how “alive” the Mass becomes when we put forth such a conscious effort.

 

November 9: Forgotten Catholic traditions

One of the most beautiful aspects of our Catholic faith is the rich history of traditions that help to build up our faith in the Lord and His teachings as well as to aid us in our relationship with Him.  However, in modernity, we find a great push to view our past and antiquity with a level of secondary importance.  What is new is important and what is old is disregarded.  Look at technology, for a simple example—everyone needs the latest iPhone 6, but their current iPhone is working just fine.  The Church has always seen Her traditions and practices as concrete ways of helping the faithful to grow in their faith.  Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that one of the measures of the faith of a people is their reverence for popular piety and devotions and their steadfastness in following the Church’s traditions.  I thought I would help to remind us of some things that used to be common practice among the faithful and might enrich our Catholic identity and faith if we engage them again in our lives today.

First, I will start with some things that are required of every Catholic.  Each Catholic is still required to fast before reception of Holy Communion at Mass.  Canon 919 of the Code of Canon Law states, “One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.”  The exceptions to this rule are for the elderly and the sick.  The fast helps us to create a physical hunger and thirst for the Lord so as to help us to build a spiritual hunger and thirst for the Lord.

Another requirement of every Catholic is penance on every Friday of the year.  Canon 1251 says, “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The United States Conference of Bishops allowed the abstinence of meat to be substituted by any suitable act of penance, but it remains the law that every Friday, except Solemnities, is an occasion for us to engage penance so as to remember the death of Our Lord on Good Friday.

Secondly, there are some traditions that are completely optional but might be worth a look for us as we try to grow deeper in our faith and love for the Lord.  It used to be common practice, for example, that the faithful would bow their heads at the name of Our Lord whenever It was mentioned in order to increase reverence for His Holy Name and as penance for the times when we have used His Name in vain.  The priest is still required to bow his head at the Holy Name during the Mass itself.

Another common practice was prayer before and after Mass.  Prayer before Mass helps us to prepare for the great miracle that is about to occur and prayer after Mass is a way of thanking Almighty God for the gift of Himself and a way of asking Him for strength to live the Gospel and respond to the graces He has just given us.  Again, Canon 909 requires the priest to pray before and after each Mass.

Speaking of prayer, our school and parish office have implemented the praying of the Angelus at noon each day.  This traditional prayer in honor of the Annunciation to our Blessed Mother is traditionally prayed at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm and is the origin for the bells of the Churches to ring at those times in order to remind the faithful to pray the Angelus.  This is not only a good way to increase our devotion to the Blessed Mother, but also a way of uniting ourselves to the parish community and school who are praying this each and every day as well.

There are so many more of these rich devotions that could be mentioned and I will remind us of some of these throughout my time here, but these serve as some small ways of increasing our interior life and prayer.  They form concrete ways throughout the day to remind ourselves of our need to place God first and to love Him above all else!

November 2: Blessed Paul VI and Humanae Vitae

Fr. Ian Bozant

On October 19, 2014, Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI bringing him one step closer to canonization and his being declared a saint.  The Vatican affirmed the confirmation of a miracle attributed to Blessed Paul VI which involved an unborn child.  In 2003, a mother in the United States as told that her unborn child suffered brain defects that would adversely affect the child and the doctors advised the mother to have an abortion.  The mother refused and prayed through the intercession of Paul VI after a nun gave her a holy card with a piece of Paul VI’s cassock on it.  The child was born without any brain defects and the child still shows no sign and a panel of medical experts deemed the situation “medically unexplainable.”  To me, it is no surprise that his miracle is one relating to human life in the womb because it was Blessed Paul VI, “the great helmsman of the Second Vatican Council” as Pope Francis called him, who championed the cause of the pro-life movement amidst the greatest turmoil. On the heels of October, a month dedicated to the Church’s teachings on respect for human life, I find it fitting to use this blessed occasion to reflect upon Paul VI’s landmark encyclical, Humanae Vitae (HV), On the Regulation of Birth.

At its publication, on July 25, 1968, this letter of Blessed Paul VI caused much discussion and opposition, which the Pope foresaw (HV 18). Against the prevailing expectations of the sixties and seventies that the Catholic Church would change Her traditional teaching on conjugal morality and allow all forms of birth control, Blessed Pope Paul VI in Humane Vitae instead re-affirmed the Church’s traditional teaching regarding birth control and responsible parenthood.  Briefly stated, Humanae Vitae condemns direct and deliberate prevention of conception. Very clearly, direct abortion must be rejected as a means of regulating birth.  Likewise direct sterilization of males (vasectomy) and of females (ligation) must be rejected as well as all acts that attempt to impede to impede procreation—i.e. such acts before, during and after the couple’s sexual union: this includes the taking of contraceptive pills, I.U.Ds and condoms (HV 14). Humane Vitae also affirmed that it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do an evil act so that good may come out of it (c.f. HV 11). Natural family planning methods are morally allowed when they take advantage of the natural cycle of the reproductive system of the couple.

He based this teaching on the traditional doctrine of the Church regarding the sexual act which holds that there are two dimensions of the act that must always work in harmony with each other.  He writes, “This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.  The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman” (HV 12).  Thus, the sexual act is an expression of the mutual love between the spouses (the unitive dimension) and has as its natural end or purpose the generation of human life (the procreative dimension).  Sexual acts that purposefully hinder the procreative dimension separate these two dimensions and reject God’s will and plan for the sexual act (HV 13).

It is important for us to realize that this is a difficult teaching in today’s society because it has almost universally been rejected, but this teaching “is to be held as definitive and irreformable” so as to protect the sanctity of human life and its transmission, as well as an authentic sense of marital love (Vademecum for Confessors 2:4).  I invite you to read more fully this great encyclical from the newly Blessed Paul VI and discover the freedom and happiness that awaits those who fully embrace the wisdom of the Church and the wisdom of Almighty God: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html.

October 26, 2014: The Effects of Confession

By Fr. Ian Bozant

Thus far, we have looked in detail at some of the most important aspects of the Sacrament of Confession and the theology that surrounds this Sacrament.  However, one of the most neglected aspects of the Sacrament of Confession is a focus on its effects.  In looking at its effects, we can find an effective conclusion to our discussion of this important Sacrament.

Obviously, the most important effect of this Sacrament is a restoration of our relationship with God that has been wounded by sin.  This is the chief purpose and effect of the Sacrament and for those who approach the Sacrament with sincerity, it is usually followed by a sense of peace and spiritual consolation as the souls is renewed once again by the life of grace.  In this way, the chief effect of the Sacrament is forgiveness of mortal sins and venial sins and restoring the life of grace within our souls so that we may again merit eternal life.  Additionally, the Sacrament of Confession restores our relationship with the Church.  Remember in our discussion of why a priest is needed for Confession that all sin, in some mystical way, offends and wounds the Church, the Body of Christ.  Thus, that relationship needs to be restored again as well and this is accomplished through this Sacrament and the ministry of the Priest.

Additionally, this Sacrament strengthens us with sacramental grace so that we will not fall into sin in the future.  Only with God’s grace will we find ourselves able to overcome the sins that plague us and so, we need to avail ourselves of this aid found in the Sacrament of Confession.

In closing our section on the Sacrament of Confession, it is my sincere hope that this has helped us to understand the Sacrament of Confession a little more fully and to appreciate this great gift that our God has so graciously granted us.  In the Sacrament of Confession, there is nothing to fear for the person who desires only to bring their weaknesses and sin before God asking for His pardon and mercy!  Use this opportunity to examine our own lives and bring our sins to the Sacrament of Confession so that we can receive ever greater strength and divine aid to live the life of holiness our Lord calls us to.  Renew your prayer life such that it includes a daily examination of conscience so that we can become familiar with our own inclinations to sin so as to avoid them in the future as well as those areas of grace that we should strive to strengthen.  Above all, pray daily for the grace to respond to our Lord willingly and to live a life of virtue so that we may find peace in this life and the reward of heaven in the life to come!

October 19, 2014: The Sacrament of Confession: Parts of Confession

Fr. Ian Bozant

We have discussed the importance of the Sacrament of Confession in general and its roots in Sacred Scripture and we have also discussed the need to confess our sins at minimum once a year and also looked at the difference between mortal and venial sin.  At this time, I would like to discuss what makes up the different parts of a good confession.

Often, when we think of Confession, we think of the act of confessing our sins.  This is an essential aspect of the Sacrament of Confession, but it is not the only part that is needed for a good and valid Confession.  First, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Sacrament of Confession requires “in the first place” true contrition.  This is defined as “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again" (CCC 1451).  While this contrition may be perfect, it is often times not and even in this our Lord is able to take the small gifts we offer Him to make great things from them!  Imperfect contrition is all that is required and by this we mean that we recognize our sinfulness and desire to not sin again.  This desire to not sin again does not mean that we will not sin again; rather, it is a movement of our heart and will such that we make a firm resolution to do our best to avoid the sins we have confessed and all sins that we are tempted towards and that when we fail, we will return to this beautiful seat of mercy.  Included in this element of contrition is the need to begin examining our lives and removing those things that lead us to sin.  Traditionally, these are called occasions of sin and it is important for us to remove those in order that we may grow in holiness of life.  For example, if I confess the use of drugs, true contrition means that I will rid myself of these drugs and avoid those situations which would put me in contact with these drugs again.

The second part of Confession is the actual confession of the sins themselves, which has been the subject of much of our discussion thus far.  In order for us to receive God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, we must acknowledge our sinfulness and bring these areas of weakness and sin to Almighty God.  By bringing them to Him, we are asking Him to strengthen our contrition and our resolve to not sin again and He does this by the great graces available to us in this Sacrament.

The last part of Confession is traditionally called satisfaction, but it is more commonly known as the penance.  The penance imposed by the priest “must take into account the penitent's personal situation and must seek his spiritual good. It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed. It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear” (CCC 1460).  Its ultimate aim is twofold.  First, it should help the penitent in some way to overcome the sins they are struggling with.  Thus, if the person is struggling with pride, a good penance would be prayers for humility.  Secondly, it is a means of justice.  Every sin wounds the body of Christ, the sinner himself, and his relationship with God.  True justice requires that we repair some of the damages caused by our sin.  The Scriptures often talk about this reality in terms of a debt owed to God and that eventually we will have to pay off the debt.  The penance imposed is an effort to begin this process of repayment.  Any remaining debt will need to be repaid after this life in Purgatory, which is why the Church constantly encourages acts of penance in this life—to help repay the debt owed to God and to help us to grow in holiness of life.

The Sacrament of Confession: Types of Sin

Fr. Ian Bozant

As we diligently examine our consciences, it is important for us to know what we should be looking for and especially what types of sins the Church asks us to confess in the Sacrament of Confession.  Here, we can make a distinction between two types of sins: mortal and venial sins.  This distinction between types of sins is ultimately scripturally based.  In 1 John 5:16-18 we find the following passage: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that is not a deadly sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not deadly. There is sin which is deadly; I do not say one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not deadly. We know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.”  These verses cannot be any plainer that there is such a thing as “deadly sin” and “sin which is not deadly.”  This is precisely what the Church means by mortal (sin unto death) and venial (sin not unto death) sin.  Additionally, we can look at Luke 12:47-48: “And that servant who knew his master's will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”  The Bible also refers to (mortal) sins which, if not repented of, will exclude one from heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 1:8; Ephesians 5:5; Hebrews 12:16; Revelation 22:15, etc.).

In Catholic theology, in order to commit a grave, or mortal sin, where one ceases to be in a state of grace and is literally in potential, but real danger of hell, three requirements are necessary: 1) it must concern serious or grave matter, 2) the sinner has to have adequate knowledge of the sin, and 3) he must have fully consented in his will.  For us to know whether or not a certain sin is serious enough to be considered grave matter, the Catechism teaches that the Ten Commandments provide a baseline for us (CCC 1858)—they do not exhaust the list of grave matter nor is every single violation of the Ten Commandments a mortal sin.  While each of the Ten Commandments might be mortal, the principles they imply might be an even better guide. This is why our Lord breaks open the Ten Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  If we are in doubt as to whether or not a sin is mortal or not, it is best for us to simply ask the priest and he can help you to understand the sins we commit and how to best overcome them.

The Catechism teaches: “All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly” (CCC 1456).  We should confess at least once a year and everyone who is “aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession” (CCC 1457).  It is important for us when we go to Confession to confess these mortal sins by name and by telling the priest approximately how many times we have committed this sin (Canon 988).  This helps the priest and the penitent to know how seriously we are struggling against this sin.  Even though we are only required to go once a year, it is “strongly recommended” for us to go regularly to confess even venial or lesser sins because it helps us “to form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, and let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit” (CCC 1458).

 

September 21, 2014:The Sacrament of Confession: Preparing for Confession

Fr. Ian Bozant

Having gone through a basic apologetic on the Sacrament of Confession, it is important for us to discuss some of the practical aspects of this great Sacrament.  Perhaps the most important part of this occurs even before we enter the Confessional in a form of preparation for the Sacrament.  Usually, the preparation for the Sacrament is called an examination of conscience and it is a prayerful reflection on our thoughts, words, and deeds looking at those times in our lives when we have failed to live up to our call in the Gospel to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.”  So important is this to a good Confession that Pope St. John Paul II called it an indispensable part of preparation because it helps us to recognize that we are sinners and helps us to take full responsibility for our own actions.

Much has been said on the topic of “Catholic guilt” in modern society, usually in a disparaging way against the Church.  However, the Church’s teachings on Confession, the examination of conscience, and guilt for our sins is not meant to be one that leaves us weighted down; rather, the Church desires us to recognize our failings so that we can repent, do penance, and be reconciled with God and the Church.  In a certain sense, we should feel guilty when we sin—that is the sign of a healthy conscience and a genuine love for God and others because it recognizes that in some way we have hurt them and sinned against them.  Obviously, our guilt should not get to the point where we are unable to move forward or to ask for forgiveness, but an awareness of how our actions have injured God and others is basic to a healthy spiritual life, along with a firm trust in God’s infinite mercy.

The examination of conscience is a helpful tool to prepare for Confession, but it is also one that can be used each day as we strive to grow closer and closer to God.  St. Ignatius of Loyola used to call this practice the daily Examen and it usually consisted of five steps.  First, we should become aware of God’s presence.  This is an essential aspect to any quality prayer time because it focuses our attention and tries to clear from our minds the distractions that attempt to take us away from God.  Second, review the day.  This includes both a look at the times that we have failed God and others, but also a recognition of where we have seen God.  Including both of these things, we can begin to notice patterns of behavior that lead us away from Almighty God as well as those things that become occasions of sin for us.  Third, pay attention to your emotions.  Where do you find the most unrest?  Where do you find the most peace?  These can be indicators of the areas where we need to focus our energy in order to overcome sin and to capitalize on virtue.  Fourth, choose one feature of the day and pray with it.  Usually, we should choose the one that carries with it the greatest sense of peace or the greatest sense of uneasiness.  This is to help us recognize more fully what God is trying to communicate to us, helping us to draw more and more from the situation.  Finally, we should make a firm resolution to begin again tomorrow—trying to avoid sin and looking for more opportunities to follow God’s commands.

As we prepare more immediately for Confession, it is a good idea for us to look in more detail at the Commandments, the Precepts of the Church, the Capital/Deadly Sins, and the Virtues in order for us to make a good examination of Conscience.  Some samples of these can be found at the following websites:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/upload/Examination-of-Conscience.pdf

http://www.bereconciledtogod.com/pdfs/teensexaminationofconscience.pdf

http://www.ncregister.com/info/confession_guide_for_adults/

http://www.scborromeo.org/confess.htm

http://www.sensustraditionis.org/ExaminationConscienceLong.pdf

 

September 7, 2014: The Sacrament of Confession: The Need for a Priest

By Fr. Ian Bozant

The idea of confessing one’s sins to another person can seem odd or even unnecessary. Often, the most common argument against this idea is that Almighty God knows all things and desires all people to approach him in prayer, so it seems sufficient to simply confess one’s sins and beg for forgiveness in private prayer.  Many will point to the following passage from Scripture as a rebuttal of the Catholic Church’s position: “For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all” (1 Tm 2:5-6). Why, then, should one approach an additional mediator—a priest—in order to receive forgiveness? The answer here is that the priest is not an additional mediator; rather, he is the agent of the one mediator as he stands in the person of Christ in confession. It is our Blessed Lord who forgives sins in and through the person of the priest. Even so, Christ as the sole mediator and as the Son of God has the divine prerogative to choose how he wishes to mediate his plan of salvation and forgiveness to the world. Christ, as the sole mediator, chooses to use others in the accomplishment of his work in the person of the priest.

Throughout the writings of St. Paul, the truth that each baptized person is a member of the Body of Christ is repeated over and over again. Members of one Body, the graces and victories won by one member redound to the glory of all the members; however, the converse is also true. When one member of the Body sins, the other members are effected. The most obvious way sin affects others is when that sin is clearly directed toward another: slander, murder, theft, etc. Pope St. John Paul II also points out that sin has a social effect in more subtle ways than these though: “To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others. . . . In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family.” Thus, each and every sin in some way affects the whole Body of Christ.

It is precisely this truth that can help one understand the need to confess one’s sins to a priest. Certainly, the priest stands in the Person of Christ offering the forgiveness of Almighty God to the penitent in accord with our Lord’s command in the Gospel of John discussed earlier. But the priest himself does not lose his humanity or his membership in the Body of Christ when he hears the confession of penitents and pronounces the words of absolution. Thus, the priest is a representative of the Church and functions on behalf of God as well. In this way, the priest can reconcile the penitent with God Himself, who has been offended by the sins confessed, but the priest can also reconcile the penitent with the Church, whose members have, in some mystical way, been effected by those same sins. Recognizing the truth of one’s membership in the Body of Christ, the penitent should desire to make amends in some way for the effect that sin has had on the fellow members of the Body of Christ. Confessing one’s sins to the priest satisfies this demand of true contrition and sets the penitent back in right relationship with God and his holy Church.

August 30, 2014: The Sacrament of Confession: From Scripture

By Fr. Ian Bozant

Throughout the Sacred Scriptures, we find countless examples of sin and the need for forgiveness. The origin of the Sacrament of Confession has its root, not unsurprisingly, in the Old Testament. The message of repentance in the Old Testament is a constant theme and equally constant is the doctrine that it is God alone who forgives sins. Isaiah 43:25 tells us, "I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." However, this is not the end of the story. Even in the Old Testament, there was an equally important doctrine of the role of the priest in the ministry of forgiveness. In Leviticus 19:20-22, we find: "if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave, betrothed to another man and not yet ransomed or given her freedom, an inquiry shall be held. They shall not be put to death, because she was not free; but he shall bring a guilt offering for himself to the Lord, to the door of the tent of meeting, a ram for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the LORD for his sin which he has committed; and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him." Thus, even in the Old Testament, we find an understanding that God alone forgives sins, but that He chooses to have His priests involved in this important work in some way.

The New Testament contains the specific commission of the Sacrament of Confession in John 20:20-23, "When he had said, this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. AS the Father has sent me, so I send you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. IF you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

It is important to understand the context of this passage. It is after our Lord's Resurrection and He is speaking to the Apostles alone in the upper room. Very clearly, one can see the specific charge our Blessed Lord gave His Apostles to forgive the sins of others, but they were unable to do this on their own, which is why He sent the Holy Spirit upon them. Thus, this command is given only to the Apostles and to St. Peter in Matthew 16, meaning that the power to forgive sins is granted only to the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, and those who share in the ministry of the bishop by ordination (the priest).

The teaching of the Church has been clear on this point - John 20 represents the specific conferral on the Church of the power to remit and retain sins committed after Baptism as one of the seven Sacraments (see the Council of Trent, Session XIV; Catechism of the Catholic Church 1485). Next week, we will look a little more into this issues from Scripture and why we need to confess our sins to a priest at all.

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Suggestion Box Summary

Many thanks to all who have offered suggestions through the Suggestion Box in church. Those who leave contact information will be contacted and the appropriate ministry leader will be provided with the information to consider. Anonymous suggestions will be addressed in our weekly bulletin and here on our website. 

Some recent items during the month of September have included:

  • Handicapped parking: We will review the situation as far as handicapped parking and access. Please call the office with any questions.

 

  • Mass intentions: Intentions are printed in the bulletin, and the presiders are aware of the intentions for each Mass. They will not be announced at Mass

 

  • Noise in church before and after Mass: Please be sensitive to those who are praying in church before and after Mass begins. Thank you

 

  • Holy Communion for those who cannot walk forward: Please be sure to alert an usher or greeter if you need Communion brought to you. Thank you.