Sunday, September 16, 2007

Hiatus

I will be taking a break from posting for a while- how long I don't know.

Could just be a week, or a month or several months. As some of you know, I am taking a theology class now so that is an additional time constraint. That, as well as the prayer-intensive process of vocational discernment indicate that I need to be away for a while.

Thank you all for your attention and your comments.

Peace and Light in Christ Jesus.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lift High the Cross!



“To attract souls
and transform them into Himself through love,
Christ has revealed His own infinite love,
His own Heart inflamed by love for souls,
a love that impelled Him to mount the Cross,
to remain with us in the Eucharist
and to enter our souls
and to leave us in testament
His own Mother as our Mother.”

St. Maximilian Kolbe

We adore You O Christ, and we praise You,
because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Climb THIS mountain.

Today's gospel speaks of Jesus' prayer practice of retreating to the mountains (Luke 6:12):

In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night
in prayer to God.


Those were the days when Christ was getting ready to appoint his chosen Apostles, in the days BEFORE he turned his face to Jerusalem to die and take us with Himself to God. Before he did those courageous things, he took time to turn to the Father.

Saint Ambrose (c. 340-397), Bishop of Milan and Doctor of the Church, speaks of this turning to God. This mountain-climbing prayer belongs not only to Christ but to all of His true followers.

Which mountains are you facing today?

Mountains of decision?
Mountains of work?
Mountains of dispair?

There's another mountain which you need to climb BEFORE dealing with these other mountains. It's the mountain of prayer to the Lord.

(SC 45)

Not all those who pray climb the mountain…, but those who pray well, who rise up above the goods of earth to higher goods, climb onto the summit of watchfulness and love from on high.

Those who worry about worldly riches or honours do not climb the mountain; no one who covets another’s lands climbs the mountain. Those who seek God go up it and those who go up beg the Lord’s aid for their journey.

All great and noble souls climb the mountain for it is not to the first comer alone that the prophet says: “Go up onto a high mountain, you who announce glad tidings to Sion. Cry out at the top of your voice, you who bring good news to Jerusalem,” (Is 40,9).

Not by physical exploits but by high-minded actions will you scale this mountain. Follow Christ…; search the Gospel: you will find that only his disciples climbed up the mountain with the Lord.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Now, for the rest of the story....

This morning I read my St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press. They reprinted a nice article on on-line confession from the Los Angeles Times. Inexplicably (unless you know the Pioneer Press track record) the article stops in mid paragraph.

The initial part of the article details the decline and (supposed) demise of Confession and Absolution in the Catholic Church, then goes on to what the Press really "digs," groovy descriptions of on-line and Protestant alternatives. Just as the article veers back toward the Catholic Church and appears ready to pick up the Catholic response, it is cut off.

Sure enough, the on-line version at that point reveals the important distinctions which set the Catholic sacrament apart from its therapeutic and consumer-oriented imitators.

As some of you recall (hopefully from recent personal experience) in Reconciliation one is being reconciled by a real person representing Jesus Christ in his Church (the priest). As his representative, the priest speaks the words of Christ himself "I absolve you."

This is so very far away from the on-line confessionals. They appear to be supporting a therapeutic and apparently also voyeuristic self-catharsis. It reminds of a cartoon a priest-friend sent me yesterday. I couldn't post it without paying a $25 fee, but here's the gist.

A priest is sitting in the confessional listening to an earnest penitent and is thinking "this is SO in my blog!" Anyone who knows how tightly the confessional door "seal" is shut, understands the joke. But it does illustrate, however, how foreign our tell-all culture is to the private and personal nature of the confessal relationship. But I digress.

To summarize, other types of confession are about "me and my problems." They represent subjective, self generated solutions based on feeling.

The Catholic Sacrament of Confession, on the other hand, is about the recognition of sin, an objective failure on our part, and the joyful reception of an objective redemption offered to us by a loving God who came to save us in His Son Jesus. That same Jesus established a Church which offers that word of forgiveness.
<>
If you'd RATHER have that kind of bloodless forgiveness, where its just Jesus and you, go ahead and knock yourself out. I can't guarantee that you won't be forgiven. Not my job to determine that.... its God's. But on the other hand, if you want to experience the whole nine yards of forgiveness, then go seek out a priest and just ask.

While the on line article doesn't quite go that far in making the distinction, it does offer up some helpful observations from penitents and priest alike which point the reader in this direction.

For whatever reason, the Pioneer Press chose to cut this last part off, doing injustice both to the original article and its author, as well as its own readers. As in the past, only a crossword-loving roommate stands between me and a noisy protest-driven cancellation letter.

Get up and Follow Christ!

Here is some wisdom around today's gospel reading.

From Philoxenes of Mabbug (? c.523), bishop in Syria

Homilies, no.9 (cf SC 44)

To be his disciple

"Listen to God’s voice prompting you to leave yourself behind to follow Christ and you will be a perfect disciple: “Whoever does not forsake all he has cannot be my disciple.” What have you to say? What answer could you give to that? All your uncertainties and questions fall flat before that single word; the word of truth is the exalted path by which you will make progress.

Again, Jesus said: “Whoever does not renounce all his goods and take up his cross to walk after me, cannot be my disciple.” And to teach us to renounce not only our goods - to give him glory - and the world - to confess him before men - but our life too, he added: “If anyone does not renounce himself, he cannot be my disciple.”…

In another place he said: “Whoever hates his life in this world keeps it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him,” (Jn 12,26). And he then said to his own: “Get up, let us go,” (Jn 14,31). By this word he showed that his place is no more to be found here below than that of his disciples. Lord, where then shall we go? “Where I am, there also let my servant be,” (Jn 12,26).

If Jesus cries out to us: “Get up, let us go!” who will still be so foolish as to consent to remain with the dead in their tombs, dwelling among captives? So every time the world tries to detain you, remember Christ’s word: “Get up, let us go!” So long as you are living, this voice will be enough to stir you. Every time you feel like sitting down, settling, being content to stay where you are, call to mind that voice saying to you insistently : “Get up, let us go!” We shall have to go, anyway.

But go as Jesus went; go because he has told you to and not because death has carried you away in spite of yourself. Whether you like it or not you are walking the road of the departing. But leave at the word of your Master and not simply because you have to. “Get up, let us go!”… Why delay? Christ also walks with you."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

How do we know what to do?

Sometimes Christians can seem a little arrogant, claiming to know God's will for themselves, and sometimes for everyone else also.

All three of Sunday's lectionary readings for Mass provoke us to think a little deeper about certainty, risk, decision making.

The author of Wisdom (9:13-18b) kept on asking the right question....

For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth ,and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;

but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?

Really, who CAN know with certainty about things both earthly and heavenly? What DO we do with that relationship? that job? that heartache? that joy? that errant child? that troublesome thought?
Good question.

In our Second Reading Paul has written a letter asking the recipient to release Paul's friend Onesimus from slavery. He does so in order that Onesimus might help Paul out in his missionary journeys around Asia Minor. Apparently, this slave had run away from his master and was converted by Paul's preaching. Now Paul has sent the slave back to his Christian owner with his request. But notice the nuanced statement of the Apostle:

"...but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary."

Sure, Paul could have used his authority and the obvious moral certainty about freedom to force the owner to decide to release Onesimus. But he didn't. He respected the freedom of the other.

Good lesson for us.
God won't force our hands. He waits like the gentleman that He is, to be asked His opinion. We could do worse for our own selves.

But wait, there's more..... I knew we couldn't get off THAT easy. Life decisions can be tough.... and, as usual, Jesus is going to make them just a little bit more difficult...

I have to repeat the whole passage, its just THAT challenging, and THAT good.
Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,wife and children, brothers and sisters,and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundationand finding himself unable to finish the workthe onlookers should laugh at him and say,‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’

Or what king marching into battle would not first sit downand decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away,he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way,anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

The saying starts out tough, and gets tougher.
It seems that Jesus is really asking us to give up our relationships, our money, our decision making power, all that.... and to focus entirely on Him.
And maybe that's true. God is never content to be just a part of a well balanced life, as if he were a breakfast cereal, which needed toast and juice and maybe a little coffee in order to be "complete and nutritious."

But I think it's a much deeper and lengthier process than simply deciding that it all belongs to God and just chucking all responsibility away. Instead, to me this whole discipleship thing really begins when we face a tough decision in life , "what ARE we going to do with X?"

Then, and usually only then, does God give us the freedom of will to turn to Him- by admitting that we don't have any idea of what we are to do, and give him the preferential option we too often keep for ourselves.

What do YOU want me to do, Lord?

Tough ground to stand on. But high ground too. God, help us to arrive there.

Mother, Show us Jesus!

Today is the 20th anniversary of my mother's death. It's also the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In so many ways, I feel that Mary has become even more my Mother since my mom's passing... not taking her place, but continuing that unconditional merciful caring that my mom consistently showed to me.

However, that love isn't just or even primarily maternal. That love springs from a Source even deeper and more profound. I see the tableau of Jesus on the Cross over the figures of Mary and the Beloved Disciple. In that moment the purpose of Mary's birth was fulfilled. The Son whom she bore was bearing our sins away forever. That's the true Love of which maternal love is an imperfect although very beautiful image.

Then I see the great transaction- signaled by Jesus' handing over of His Mother to her new son, John. "Son, behold your mother.... Mother, behold your son." In those words Jesus not only commited his Mother to the care of the Beloved disciple. He also created a new relationship for me, for all of us, with the Mother of All Souls. She cares for us, and we care about Her.

So, today I am thankful for my earthly mother. And just as much for my heavenly Mother.

I know I've been posting a lot of B-16 recently. But here are some irresistable paragraphs from the Holy Father's Homily at Mariazell for the Nativity of Mary.

"To gaze upon Christ" is the motto of this day. For one who is searching, this summons repeatedly turns into a spontaneous plea, a plea addressed especially to Mary, who has given us Christ as her Son: "Show us Jesus!" Let us make this prayer today with our whole heart; let us make this prayer above and beyond the present moment, as we inwardly seek the Face of the Redeemer.

"Show us Jesus!" Mary responds, showing him to us in the first instance as a child. God has made himself small for us. God comes not with external force, but he comes in the powerlessness of his love, which is where his true strength lies. He places himself in our hands. He asks for our love. He invites us to become small ourselves, to come down from our high thrones and to learn to be childlike before God. He speaks to us informally. He asks us to trust him and thus to learn how to live in truth and love.

The child Jesus naturally reminds us also of all the children in the world, in whom he wishes to come to us. Children who live in poverty; who are exploited as soldiers; who have never been able to experience the love of parents; sick and suffering children, but also those who are joyful and healthy. Europe has become child-poor: we want everything for ourselves, and place little trust in the future. Yet the earth will be deprived of a future only when the forces of the human heart and of reason illuminated by the heart are extinguished -- when the face of God no longer shines upon the earth. Where God is, there is the future.

"To gaze upon Christ": let us look briefly now at the Crucified One above the high altar. God saved the world not by the sword, but by the Cross. In dying, Jesus extends his arms. This, in the first place, is the posture of the Passion, in which he lets himself be nailed to the Cross for us, in order to give us his life. Yet outstretched arms are also the posture of one who prays, the stance assumed by the priest when he extends his arms in prayer: Jesus transformed the Passion, his suffering and his death, into prayer, and in this way he transformed it into an act of love for God and for humanity. That, finally, is why the outstretched arms of the Crucified One are also a gesture of embracing, by which he draws us to himself, wishing to enfold us in his loving hands. In this way he is an image of the living God, he is God himself, and we may entrust ourselves to him.

"To gaze upon Christ!" If we do this, we realize that Christianity is more than and different from a moral code, from a series of requirements and laws. It is the gift of a friendship that lasts through life and death: "No longer do I call you servants, but friends" (Jn 15:15), the Lord says to his disciples. We entrust ourselves to this friendship. Yet precisely because Christianity is more than a moral system, because it is the gift of friendship, for this reason it also contains within itself great moral strength, which is so urgently needed today on account of the challenges of our time. If with Jesus Christ and his Church we constantly re-read the Ten Commandments of Sinai, entering into their full depth, then a great, valid and lasting teaching unfolds before us.

The Ten Commandments are first and foremost a "yes" to God, to a God who loves us and leads us, who carries us and yet allows us our freedom: indeed, it is he who makes our freedom real (the first three commandments). It is a "yes" to the family (fourth commandment), a "yes" to life (fifth commandment), a "yes" to responsible love (sixth commandment), a "yes" to solidarity, to social responsibility and to justice (seventh commandment), a "yes" to truth (eighth commandment) and a "yes" to respect for other people and for what is theirs (ninth and tenth commandments). By the strength of our friendship with the living God we live this manifold "yes" and at the same time we carry it as a signpost into this world of ours today.

"Show us Jesus!" It was with this plea to the Mother of the Lord that we set off on our journey here. This same plea will accompany us as we return to our daily lives. And we know that Mary hears our prayer: yes, whenever we look towards Mary, she shows us Jesus. Thus we can find the right path, we can follow it step by step, filled with joyful confidence that the path leads into the light -- into the joy of eternal Love. Amen."

Friday, September 07, 2007

What's sauce for the goose...

... is sauce for the gander. That's what my mother used to say when I didn't want to eay what everybody else was eating at the family meal.

It's true at the table of the Church also.

I thought of that today when I read Benedict XVI's comments during his audience with prelates from Asia. I don't think he's necessarily giving the same advice to leaders, irrespective of their country of origin. But I sure hear the wisdom in his words which can be applied to our own American situation. The highlighted comments about clear announcement of the faith, respectful dialogue and works of compassion are especially meaningful.

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).-

The Church wants the freedom to announce the faith, not impose it, says Benedict XVI. The Pope said that today when he received in audience bishops from Laos and Cambodia, in Italy for their five-yearly visit."You carry out your ministry at the service of the Church," the Holy Father told the prelates, "in often difficult conditions and in a great variety of situations. Be sure that you have my fraternal support and the support of the universal Church in your service to the people of God."The aid you receive in various fields from older Churches, especially as regards pastoral care workers and formation, is also an eloquent sign of the solidarity that Christ's disciples should show to one another."

Benedict XVI said that one of the most important elements of the bishops' ministry is the announcement of the Christian faith.He noted that "the recent celebration of the 450th anniversary of the presence of the Church in Cambodia was an occasion for the faithful to gain a deeper awareness of the long history of Christians in the region."

The Pope added: "In truth, the Christian faith is not foreign to your peoples."'Jesus is the Good News for the men and women of every time and place in their search for the meaning of existence and for the truth of their own humanity,' and in her announcement to all peoples, the Church does not wish to impose herself but to bear witness to her respect for human beings and for the society in which she lives."

The Holy Father said that in the social and religious context of the regions where the bishops work, "it is vitally important that Catholics express their own identity, while always respecting other religious traditions and cultures. ... This identity must be expressed, primarily, through an authentic spiritual experience based on accepting the word of God and on the sacraments of the Church." Thus, the Pontiff told the bishops their priority is the formation of the faithful, above all religious and catechists.He said that "with a solidly founded Christian faith, they can establish authentic dialogue with members of other religions so as to cooperate in developing your countries and in promoting the common good."

The Bishop of Rome also addressed the issues of education and family."Appropriate preparation for Christian marriage is particularly important," he said.He encouraged the prelates to teach young people "family values such as filial respect, love and care for the aged and the sick, love of children and harmony, [which] are held in high esteem in all Asian cultures and religious traditions."

Benedict XVI concluded with an appeal to care for the underprivileged, calling this "a specific sign of the authenticity" of faith.The Church's social activities, he said, "enjoy the appreciation of the population and of the authorities" because "they eloquently highlight God's love for all human beings with distinction. Therefore, it is very important that the Church's charitable work maintains all of its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Musical Pope

How cool is this? I was reminded one again about how much our Holy Father Benedict XVI loves music by this note today on Zenit:

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says that music has the power to lead us to the Creator of all harmony.The Pope said this Tuesday, following a concert he attended in the inner courtyard of the apostolic palace at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
According to the Vatican press office, the event was organized by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra as part of the celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the archdiocese of that German city.

The Pontiff said that music "has the power to lead us back ... to the Creator of all harmony, creating a resonance within us which is like being in tune with the beauty and truth of God, with the reality which no human knowledge or philosophy can ever express."Benedict XVI thanked the conductor and members of the orchestra, as well as the event's organizers and promoters.

He said the concert was a "gift which I interpret as being the sign of a special bond of affection between the Archdiocese of Bamberg and Peter's successor."He added: "May your jubilee pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles […] strengthen your faith and joy in God, that you may become his witnesses in daily life."

"Cantare amantis est" (trans- singing is a lover's thing)- St. Augustine, as quoted by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in The Spirit of the Liturgy

Mother Teresa's Heart of Darkness

"To be alone with Jesus in adoration and intimate union with Him is the Greatest Gift of Love - the tender love of Our Father in Heaven."

- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Interesting quote from Mother Teresa, especially in light of recent "revelations" about her dark moods and decades-long feelings of adandonment. If you put this quote right up next to those darkest of moments, what happens?

One response is to see in Mother Teresa symptoms of a systemic problem. We are all familiar with the best-seller question: why do bad things happen to good people? But the question becomes even more acute when one internalizes the whole experience, the problem of suffering writ small, on the tablet of the human soul

The question then goes like this: how could a loving God tolerate provoking feelings of abandonment in His children, imposing on them decades of emotional suffering? Christopher Hitchens blames the situation (as he frequently does) on organized religion. Hitchens is headed along the right trail, but he doesn't go far enough along it to view the true source of Teresa's angst.

The "crushing unreasonableness" is not a burden imposed on weak souls by the Church itself, as if some internal belief system were the source of Teresa's emotional suffering. It's much deeper, much more profund than that.

The imprint of this unreasonableness finds its source in the Heart of God himself, especially as that Heart reveals its powerful Self in the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary. These two hearts are not direct doorways to sweetness and light, as those who persevere in these twin devotions know.

There is in their midst a Heart of Darkness.

Inside of that Heart there are the teeming poor,wretched souls from Bosnia and hopeless people dying of AIDS. Inside of that Heart are all of the external circumstances which weigh down the world. These are the very wounds which Blessed Teresa of Calcutta herself loved and dressed in the body of this aching world. Like the Sacrament, there are in this Heart the Body broken, and the blood outpoured.

So, it should come as no surprise when a saint's life reveals an inward desolation, a barreness seemingly God-forsaken. It is precisely there where the fruit of love is born. It is precisely and only in the Heart of Darkness that we begin to experience the resurrection light. It is only those who have been there, or at least peered into the Mystery, who understand this divine necessity. It is the necessity which drove our Lord to His Cross. It is the divine necessity which drives His people to sacrifice themselves in lives of service.

Blessed Mother Teresa was not a saint in spite of her inward turmoil, but precisely because of it.
Enough said.

Monday, September 03, 2007

He helped the doing by showing

What made Saint Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) so great?

One could point to his many accomplishments. He was Benedictine, the first monk to be elected Pope, and during his fourteen years as pontiff he suffered many physical ailments. Despite his infirmities, he is credited with wise management of the papal holdings and distributing much of the increase to the poor. He also organized and codified the chant which still bears his name.

Above all, though, he strove to improve the "serve" of church leadership. His pastoral rule is renowned for its sensitivity to individual circumstance, as well as its high view of the pastoral office. It became the gold standard for clergy performance review throughout the early middle ages. Again and again, the Church would fall from this high standard, only to return again and again to this fountainhead. We are in the middle of another such cycle today.

Truly, as its own words advise, Gregory himself helped what he commanded to be done by showing it forth in his own life. Here are some translated excerpts from the Pastoral Rule, through which Gregory's spirit glows.

"The conduct of a prelate ought so far to be superior to the conduct of the people as the life of a shepherd is accustomed to exalt him above the flock. For one whose position is such that the people are called his flock ought anxiously to consider how great a necessity is laid upon him to maintain uprightness. It is necessary, then, that in thought he should be pure, in action firm; discreet in keeping silence; profitable in speech; a near neighbor to every one in sympathy; exalted above all in contemplation; a familiar friend of good livers through humility, unbending against the vices of evil-doers through zeal for righteousness; not relaxing in his care for what is inward by reason of being occupied in outward things, nor neglecting to provide for outward things in his anxiety for what is inward.

The pastor should always be pure in thought, inasmuch as no impurity ought to pollute him who has undertaken the office of wiping away the stains of pollution in the hearts of others also; for the hand that would cleanse from dirt must needs be clean, lest, being itself sordid with clinging mire, it soil all the more whatever it touches.

The pastor should always be a leader in action, that by his living he may point out the way of life to those who are put under him, and that the flock, which follows the voice and manners of the shepherd, may learn how to walk rather through example than through words.

For he who is required by the necessity of his position to speak the highest things is compelled by the same necessity to do the highest things. For that voice more readily penetrates the hearer's heart, which the speaker's life commends, since what he commands by speaking he helps the doing by showing."

May all our clergy, at every level, do as much. I know that many have been hurt by the harshness of clergy or by their leaders' failure to live up to the gospel standard of the Chief Shepherd.

The door through which many have left can also be the entry point through which they return. My prayer is that any and all who have had this experience may also encounter, in God's providence, those men of God who can bring them back once again into the One Fold.

Saint Gregory the Great, pray for us!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Taking the Last Place

From Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), hermit and missionary to the Sahara

On Retreat, Holy Land, Lent 1898

Following the servant Christ to the last place

[Christ:] See [my] devotion to men and consider what your own should be. See that humility for man’s good and learn to humble yourself to do good…; to make yourself small to win others; not to fear to go lower or lose your rights when it is a matter of doing good; not to believe that in descending you make yourself powerless to do good.

To the contrary, by descending you imitate me; by descending you make use of the same means, for the love of humankind, that I myself employed; by descending you walk in my way and, therefore, in the truth and you are in the best place to lay hold of life and give it to others…By my incarnation I place myself on a level with creatures; by my baptism …on that of sinners; descent, humility…Always descend, always humble yourself.

Let those who are first always stand in the last place, through humility and in disposition of spirit, with an attitude of descent and service. Love of men, humility, the last place: in the last place so long as the divine will does not call you to another, since then you must obey.

Obedience before all else; conformity to God’s will. In the first place be spiritually in the last, through humility: occupy it in the spirit of service, telling yourself that you are only there to serve others and lead them to salvation.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

What is YOUR profit?

This story was shared this past week at the funeral of a fellow parishoner, Firmin Alexander. I thought of it again today when I heard the parable of the talents at Mass.

Firmin definitely didn't bury his talent in the ground. He shared of himself as educator, father, volunteer. Not rich by earthly standards, Firmin found true riches in his Catholic faith, in his family and in service to both. May light perpetual shine upon him.

"The son told his father who operated a small grocery store, "Look, you keep bills in a cigar box, you keep all your money in the cash register, and you keep your receipts in a shoe box! No wonder you don't have any profits- you're so disorganized!"

The father replied, "When I came to this country thirty=fice yars ago, I only had the pants I wore! And now, your sister is a doctor, your brother is a fine teacher, and you soon will be an accountant!"

He continued, "Your mother and I have a nice place to live and a good car!"

"and so, I add this all up- and subtract the pair of pants- this is my profit!"

Friday, August 31, 2007

That We May Be Christ

"All these thoughts on the Eucharist make it clear to us that in this Sacrament,

in which He not only gives grace to us but also gives Himself,
we are led to a supreme peak of spiritual fulfillment.


This Sacrament is not given to us merely in order that we do something,
but that we may be someone: that we may be Christ.



That we may be perfectly identified with Him.


Comparing the Eucharist with confirmation, St Thomas says that confirmation brings us an increase of grace in order to resist temptation, but the Eucharist does even more: it
increases and perfects our spiritual life itself, in order that we may be perfected
in our own being, our own personality, by our union with God ...

In other words,
by our union with Christ in the Eucharist we find our true selves.
The false self, the "old man", is burned away by the fervor of charity
generated by His intimate presence within our soul.
And the "new man" comes into full possession of Himself
as we "live, now not we, but Christ liveth in us."

Thomas Merton, The Living Bread

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Keeping Christ at the Center

"During a prayer time the week before Easter, I was amazed by how much the monstrance seemed to symbolize the Catholic Church.

Like many Protestants, I had been concerned that Mary, the saints and the sacraments were roadblocks between believers and God so that to get to God, one would have to go around them. They seemed to complicate life with God unnecessarily like accretions on the sides of sunken treasures; they had to be discarded to get to what was important.

But now I could see that the opposite was true. Catholicism was not a distant religion, but a presence oriented one. Catholics were the ones who had Jesus physically present in churches and saw themselves as being tabernacles after receiving the Eucharist. And because Jesus is the Eucharist, keeping Him in the center allows all of the rich doctrines of the Church to emanate from Him, just as the beautiful gold rays stream forth from the Host in the monstrance."


- Kimberly Hahn
Rome Sweet Home, Our Journey to Catholicism

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Martyr-dumb

A little discourse on martyrdom in general, in honor of John the Baptist's beheading.

I remember back in my grad school days studying the cult of the martyrs and wondering "what gives?" Why is there this fascination by the early Christians with the idea... wait no.... the experience of giving themselves away to God by dying for Him?

The most egregious example I read about at the time was Ignatius of Antioch. I really liked the guy----- after all, one of dissertation study questions was dedicated to him. But, come on now, he was more than a little "over the top" about dying for the Faith.

One of his most famous sayings is this:

"I am the wheat of God,
ground fine by the lions' teeth
to become the pure bread of Christ"

Alright, I admit it. I was dumb, martyr-dumb. This sounded strange to me.

It took me almost 10 years of living this Catholic life to get the serious (and unavoidable!)connection between the Eucharist, the concept of martyrdom, and the daily death to self we are all called to undergo.

Now that I "get it" I understand how intertwined our own everyday sufferings (and the greatest suffering- martyrdom) are with the suffering and death of our Lord. No wonder Jesus had to ask Saul of Tarsus, "Why are you persecuting me?"

From the moment he hung on the Cross, Christ has been gathering up what we experience in this life and making it fodder to transform us into fit subjects for the next life. Paul himself recognized this throughout his ministry.

The remindesr are sprinkled here and there throughout the Pauline corpus. Suffice it to mention one- Colossians 1:24-27

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking
in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body,
which is the church,
of which I am a minister in accordance
with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion
for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.

Ah-ha! This passage always used to bother me as a Protestant- waddaya mean? isn't Christ's suffering ENOUGH?

Now it begins to make sense.... Identity with Christ takes up our lives into His divine life... that IS the Church... that is what the East calls the mystery, or we in the West the sacrament of God's presence.
Cool.

The New Catholic Manliness

Here is an article from the most recent Crisis magazine. This was shared with me by a priest-friend for whom I have the utmost respect.

Although the article's examples may be a little exaggerated, I think the author, Todd Aglialoro, hits on an important component in contemporary American Catholic parish life.

Ten years ago it was "where are the men?" Now it's "here come the men." It's about time.




Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mother Teresa's "Depression"

In the wake of JustMe's recent comment on my previous post about John the Baptist, here is some commentary on the current Mother Teresa "publicity" from the Papal preacher, Capuchin Fr. Cantalamessa. (By the way, does anyone know what his name means in Italian? Isn't it something like "sing the Mass"?)

Seriously, though, I think Father Cantalamessa does a great job of pointing out what is important and unique about Mother Teresa's unique path to God. Depression doesn't always equal a dark night of the soul. That's journalistic oversimplification at work.

But in our "happy-happy" society, the spiritual value provided by Mother Teresa's witness of constancy and discretion is worth noting.

Mother Teresa's Dark Night Unique, Says Preacher

Father Cantalamessa Calls Her Saint of the Media Age

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 27, 2007 (Zenit.org).-

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta's dark night of the soul kept her from being a victim of the media age and exalting herself, says the preacher of the Pontifical Household.Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said this in an interview with Vatican Radio, commenting on previously unpublished letters from Mother Teresa, now made public in Doubleday's book "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," edited by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of the cause of Mother Teresa's canonization.

In one of her letters, Mother Teresa wrote: "There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God -- so deep that it is painful -- a suffering continual -- and yet not wanted by God -- repulsed -- empty -- no faith -- no love -- no zeal. Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing -- to me it looks like an empty place."

Father Cantalamessa explained that the fact that Mother Teresa suffered deeply from her feeling of the absence of God affirms that it was a positive phenomenon. Atheists, he contended, are not afflicted by God's absence but, "for Mother Teresa, this was the most terrible test that she could have experienced."He further clarified that "it is the presence-absence of God: God is present but one does not experience his presence."

Martyrdom

Father Cantalamessa contended that Mother Teresa's spiritual suffering makes her even greater. He said: "The fact that Mother Teresa was able to remain for hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as many eye-witnesses have testified, as if enraptured … if one thinks about the condition she was in at that moment, that is martyrdom!"Because of this, for me, the figure of Mother Teresa is even greater; it does not diminish her."

The Capuchin priest further lauded Mother Teresa's ability to keep her spiritual pain hidden within her. "Maybe, this was done in expiation for the widespread atheism in today's world," he said, adding that she lived her experience of the absence of God "in a positive way -- with faith, with God."

Not scandalous

Father Cantalamessa affirmed that Mother Teresa's dark night should not scandalize or surprise anyone. The "dark night," he said, "is something well-known in the Christian tradition; maybe new and unheard of in the way Mother Teresa experienced it."

He added: "While 'the dark night of the spirit' of St. John of the Cross is a generally preparatory period for that definitive one called 'unitive,' for Mother Teresa it seems that it was one stable state, from a certain point in her life, when she began this great work of charity, until the end."

In my view, the fact of this prolongation of the 'night' has meaning for us today. I believe that Mother Teresa is the saint of the media age, because this 'night of the spirit' protected her from being a victim of the media, namely from exalting herself."In fact, she used to say that when she received great awards and praise from the media, she did not feel anything because of this interior emptiness."

Repentance: Set Free From Ourselves

Thursday we will remember the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. The gory details need not detain us here. You can read the full account in Mark 6:17-29, or listen to it at Mass if you prefer. Dancing girls, a wicked ruler, beheading... none too attractive but all too interesting.

Leave it to Benedict XVI to pull from the story a spiritual lesson of the first magnitude.

"The task set before the Baptist as he lay in prison was to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God's obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, unequivocal clarity, but,instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed.

John even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew to his own call for
metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognize his God in the night in which all things earthly exist. Only when we act in this manner does another- and doubtless the greatest- saying of the Baptist reveal its full significance: 'He must increase, but I must decrease' (Jn 3:30). We will know God to the extent that we are set free from ourselves."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Beauty Ever Ancient, Ever New

I was sitting in my ex's house over the weekend musing over beauty, hers, ...her home's,... and all of the "finer" things that a bachelor somehow seems to miss when his lady has left. It's more than just picked up socks, a clean sink, scented candles and matching wall colors, although that's part of it.

She's a fine woman. No doubt of it. There's a sense of beauty which she brought to the seven years of our home and life together. I appreciated it once again when I took time to notice the beauty and atmosphere of her current home.

But knowing that this week we are facing the memorial of St. Augustine I couldn't help but move on to ponder Beauty in its more abstract forms....

Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

~ St. Augustine, Confessions of St. Augustine

Beautiful scenery, beautiful places, beautiful buildings, beautiful persons, all of these provoke a reaction in our most human souls- a sense of desire but also a lingering sense of incompleteness.

That sadness only remains sad or deepens into depression, however, when it ceases to perform its proper function in our lives- to lead us back to God, who is True Beauty, to provoke thanksgiving toward the Father who created it AND us.

Beauty of whatever type only becomes pornographic when it somehow gets detached from the meaning and purpose of the Creator. Then, it becomes like an inscrutable symbol... pretty to look at, but contentless on its own, without a Meaning.

Conversely, Beauty can lead us towards a grand vision of All and Everything brought to God.

So, I sat on Sunday morning in a comfy chair in a beautiful home
and read that last and greatest vision of Isaiah (66:18-21).

Here the grand Prophet fulfills the hope of the Exile.
Here lies the final End of all 66 chapters of dancing images,....
punishment and redemption,
burning coals on sinful lips,
roads made straight for God's feet,
the faceless Servant's death.

This is the final fantasy fulfillment of God's City,
as Augustine also no doubt also saw
from its southernmost outskirts in North Africa:

"They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the Lord on horses and in chariots,
in carts, upon mules and dromendaries,
to Jerusalem, my holy mountain,
says the Lord,
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the Lord in clean vessels."

St Monica for Moms

Today is the Memorial for St Monica, mother of Augustine. She wept and prayed for her son's conversion. And, of course, her prayers were answered in abundance.

She reminds of my own mom. We all idolize our own mothers. However, like St Augustine, many sons often leave their mothers on the pier crying while we sail off into life's adventure. Sometimes we don't even leave a forwarding address. Only much later do we realize how well our spiritual garden was watered by their tears.

So it was with me.

Twenty years ago this week I arrived home in Texas fresh from Clinical Pastoral Education at Ebenezer Society in Minneapolis. After an absence of years, both physical and emotional, I was excited to share with my mother some of the insights from my CPE experience.

Little did I know that this sharing was to be our last.

Early one morning, I took off to return to Minneapolis for Fall seminary classes before Labor Day weekend. The following Tuesday, September 8th, I got a call from my dad while at work in the Luther Seminary Library. My mom had died of a sudden heart attack at home in her favorite easy chair while my father was 70 miles away at his office.

I barely remember the hundreds of people in two memorial services which followed my hasty return to Texas a few days later. But person after person shared their own stories of how much my mother's life had affected them. Yet, until the last possible moment, I myself had ignored my mother and her loving prayers and attitude.

Now her prayers mean more to me.
Now I ache to see her again, even 20 years later.
Now I look forward to seeing her again, where in heaven we'll share
in the fullness of the Eucharistic faith which I came only later to embrace.

Augustine records in his Confessions his own experience of own mother's passing with great pathos. It is an understanding which now he and I share together.

To Augustine and his brother, Monica says ...

"Bring my body wherever you will; let not care of it cause you any concern. One thing only I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."

At the Lord's Table is where I feel closest to my mom now. It is where my memories of her are most vivid. It is from that platform that I hope to launch into an eternity of praising God with her in company of the other saints and all the angels.

Here's a daily novena prayer, asking Monica's intercession on behalf of children. It was given to me by a dear friend, a long-suffering mom with children in various stages of way-wardness.

Don't ever give up, moms. If prayer worked on me, it certainly can work on your own sons and daughters.

Dear Saint Monica, once the sorrowing mother of a wayward son,
be pleased to present our petition to the Lord God of heaven and earth.
(Pause to mention intentions in silence).
Look down upon our anxieties and needs,
and intercede for us, as you did so fervently for Augustine, your firstborn.

We have full confidence that your prayers

will gain favorable hearing in heaven.
Mother of a sinner-turned-saint,
obtain for us patience, perseverance, and total trust in God’s perfect timing.
In His appointed hour, in His merciful way,
may He respond to your prayers and ours,
which we offer through you. Amen

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Better Late than Never


I just picked up this homily of Holy Father Benedict XVI for the Feast of the Assumption from today's Zenit. They say things move more slowly in Italy in August. So, there's my excuse.

Anyway, here it is. Quite the masterpiece of reading the Scriptures with the signs of our times.

"Take Heart, It Is Love That Wins in the End!"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered Aug. 15, solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Castel Gandolfo.

* * *

HOLY MASS ON THE SOLEMNITY
OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Castel Gandolfo
Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In his great work "De Civitate Dei," St Augustine says once that the whole of human history, the history of the world, is a struggle between two loves: love of God to the point of losing oneself, of total self-giving, and love of oneself to the point of despising God, of hating others. This same interpretation of history as a struggle between two loves, between love and selfishness, also appears in the reading from the Book of Revelation that we have just heard.

Here, these two loves appear in two great figures. First of all, there is the immensely strong, red dragon with a striking and disturbing manifestation of power without grace, without love, of absolute selfishness, terror and violence.

At the time when St John wrote the Book of Revelation, this dragon represented for him the power of the anti-Christian Roman Emperors, from Nero to Domitian. This power seemed boundless; the military, political and propagandist power of the Roman Empire was such that before it, faith, the Church, appeared as a defenceless woman with no chance of survival and even less of victory.

Who could stand up to this omnipresent force that seemed capable of achieving everything? Yet, we know that in the end it was the defenceless woman who won and not egoism or hatred; the love of God triumphed and the Roman Empire was opened to the Christian faith.

The words of Sacred Scripture always transcend the period in history. Thus, not only does this dragon suggest the anti-Christian power of the persecutors of the Church of that time, but also anti-Christian dictatorships of all periods.

We see this power, the force of the red dragon, brought into existence once again in the great dictatorships of the last century: the Nazi dictatorship and the dictatorship of Stalin monopolized all the power, penetrated every corner, the very last corner. It seemed impossible in the long term that faith could survive in the face of this dragon that was so powerful, that could not wait to devour God become a Child, as well as the woman, the Church. But also in this case, in the end love was stronger than hate.

Today too, the dragon exists in new and different ways. It exists in the form of materialistic ideologies that tell us it is absurd to think of God; it is absurd to observe God's commandments: they are a leftover from a time past. Life is only worth living for its own sake. Take everything we can get in this brief moment of life. Consumerism, selfishness and entertainment alone are worthwhile. This is life. This is how we must live. And once again, it seems absurd, impossible, to oppose this dominant mindset with all its media and propagandist power. Today too, it seems impossible to imagine a God who created man and made himself a Child and who was to be the true ruler of the world.

Even now, this dragon appears invincible, but it is still true today that God is stronger than the dragon, that it is love which conquers rather than selfishness.

Having thus considered the various historical forms of the dragon, let us now look at the other image: the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, surrounded by 12 stars. This is also a multidimensional image.

Without any doubt, a first meaning is that it is Our Lady, Mary, clothed with the sun, that is, with God, totally; Mary who lives totally in God, surrounded and penetrated by God's light. Surrounded by the 12 stars, that is, by the 12 tribes of Israel, by the whole People of God, by the whole Communion of Saints; and at her feet, the moon, the image of death and mortality.

Mary has left death behind her; she is totally clothed in life, she is taken up body and soul into God's glory and thus, placed in glory after overcoming death, she says to us: Take heart, it is love that wins in the end!

The message of my life was: I am the handmaid of God, my life has been a gift of myself to God and my neighbour. And this life of service now arrives in real life. May you too have trust and have the courage to live like this, countering all the threats of the dragon.

This is the first meaning of the woman whom Mary succeeded in being. The "woman clothed with the sun" is the great sign of the victory of love, of the victory of goodness, of the victory of God; a great sign of consolation.

Yet, this woman who suffered, who had to flee, who gave birth with cries of anguish, is also the Church, the pilgrim Church of all times. In all generations she has to give birth to Christ anew, to bring him very painfully into the world, with great suffering. Persecuted in all ages, it is almost as if, pursued by the dragon, she had gone to live in the wilderness.

However, in all ages, the Church, the People of God, also lives by the light of God and as the Gospel says is nourished by God, nourishing herself with the Bread of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, in all the trials in the various situations of the Church through the ages in different parts of the world, she wins through suffering. And she is the presence, the guarantee of God's love against all the ideologies of hatred and selfishness.

We see of course that today too the dragon wants to devour God who made himself a Child. Do not fear for this seemingly frail God; the fight has already been won. Today too, this weak God is strong: he is true strength.

Thus, the Feast of the Assumption is an invitation to trust in God and also to imitate Mary in what she herself said: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; I put myself at the Lord's disposal.

This is the lesson: one should travel on one's own road; one should give life and not take it. And precisely in this way each one is on the journey of love which is the loss of self, but this losing of oneself is in fact the only way to truly find oneself, to find true life.

Let us look to Mary, taken up into Heaven. Let us be encouraged to celebrate the joyful feast with faith: God wins. Faith, which seems weak, is the true force of the world. Love is stronger than hate.

And let us say with Elizabeth: Blessed are you among women. Let us pray to you with all the Church: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

On True Love

This article was so good, I had to include the whole thing, from Holy Spirit Interactive

On True Love by Alice von Hildebrand

Reason speaks in words alone, but love has a song. —Joseph de Maistre

We live in an age of confusion. It might even be said that we major not only in intellectual confusions but in affective confusions as well. Many do not know how to gauge their emotions; they cannot distinguish between valid and invalid feelings. They do not know for certain whether they are truly in love or whether they are animated by wishful thinking and believe themselves in love because they crave the excitement that love gives. They confuse "loving" with having a crush, or "discerning" forever without coming to a decision.

Far from claiming that I can answer this question, all I aim to do is offer some "signposts" that might be helpful when people ask the question: Am I or am I not in love?

Great experiences usually come as a surprise—incredible gifts that are in no way the fruit of wile or planning. They overwhelm us, and our first response is: "I am not worthy of such a gift. He (or she) is so much better than myself." Our hearts are overcome with gratitude, a gratitude that makes us humble. We feel unworthy of such a gift, which seems to awaken us from a deep sleep. No doubt, the person in love "truly starts living." The person who has never loved lives in a state of somnambulism and moves about as an automaton fulfilling his daily duties with dullness of heart—a heart that does not seem to beat.

When in love, we experience a deep, profound joy—a joy that is both ardent and calm, like a burning bush; but this ardor is not destructive, and is marked by deep recollection. It springs from the very center of our being. How different from the loud excitement of those who experience violent emotions that do not come from their depths and, like a straw fire, shine brightly for a short while but are soon extinguished.

The heart is not only on fire, but this fire has a melting effect. We feel as if a goodness that does not come from within has taken hold of us. Dietrich von Hildebrand speaks of "fluid goodness" of a loving heart.

True love makes the lover more beautiful; he irradiates joy. If this is not the case, we can raise doubts as to whether he is truly in love. One says in French: "Un saint triste est un triste saint"—a sad saint is a pitiful saint. Similarly, a sad "lover" should question whether he truly loves. Small, modest duties are done joyfully, because either they are done "with him" or "with her," or because they become acts of loving service.

True love makes one humble. All of a sudden our weakness, misery, and imperfection flash up before our minds, but with no depressing effect. We see our mistakes with the wish to unveil them to the loved one, and this unveiling is coupled with the wish to beg for his or her help in order to overcome them. We wish to unveil ourselves spiritually in a chaste way, to be truly known by the person we love; we fear to cheat our beloved into believing that we are better than we truly are. We feel that the loved one is entitled to know both our "valid name" and its caricature.

Love is also linked to a holy realism. The beauty of the loved one appears in front of us, but with no illusion; his beauty is not a fruit of wishful thinking, but a real vision—as on Mount Tabor—that the lover will have to remain faithful to, to hold on to when the vision is inevitably dimmed by the dullness of everyday duties.

The lover will always be willing to give the loved one what Dietrich von Hildebrand calls "the credit of love"—that is, when the loved one acts in a way that we do not understand or is a disappointment to us, instead of condemning him, the lover will trust that, human life being as complex as it is, his actions may be justified, even though at first glance they strike us as regrettable. The true lover eagerly looks for "excuses" when the conduct of the one he loves is a disappointment. He carefully refrains from being overconfident in blaming the other’s conduct, baffling as it might be at first sight. He rejoices upon discovering that he was mistaken.

How sad it is in Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline when Posthumus, being informed by the scoundrel Iachimo that his wife, Imogene, had betrayed him, believes the slanderer, even though he had ample previous evidence that she loved him and was pure. The play has a happy ending, but it sketches powerfully the bitterness, rage, and despair of someone who is convinced that the one he loved, the one whose image was the source of his joy, has betrayed him.

We can say that we truly love when a loved one’s impatience, ingratitude, or "rudeness" (in other words, when his true beauty is veiled) cause us greater grief because he is staining his beautiful garment and presenting us with a caricature of his true face, rather than because he has wounded us. Most of all, the true lover is grieved because the loved one has offended God. On the order of importance, the offense against God is the primary source of sorrow; the harm that he does to his own beloved soul is second; last—even though deeply painful—is the wound he inflicts upon the one who loves him so deeply.

The true lover is more concerned about the interests of his loved one—whatever truly benefits his beloved’s soul—than about his own. Hence the readiness to make sacrifices for him in the very many little things of daily life in which people’s tastes differ: a very warm room or a cool one; eating at home or in a restaurant; going to a soccer game or staying home; watching a television program when one’s spouse wishes to watch another one, and so on. Yielding should be limited to cases of subjective preferences, of course, and should never extend to principles. Still, we all know spouses often ill-treated by their husbands (or wives) who are so concerned about the eternal welfare of the loved one that they accept all these sufferings, offering them up for his or her sake.

A great sign of true love is the loving patience that one has toward the weaknesses of the beloved. It can be his idiosyncrasies, his temperament, his mannerisms (we all have them); it can be his physical frailties, his psychological oddities, his intellectual inability to follow a straight line of reasoning; his disorder, or his fanaticism for order. If a monk is constantly given occasions to "die to his own will" (as St. Benedict says), the same is true of marriages. John Henry Cardinal Newman writes that even in the deepest human relationships, when love is authentic, life in common will give one plenty of opportunities to prove one’s love by sacrificing one’s preferences.

Mannerisms, idiosyncrasies, moods; physical, psychological, and intellectual weaknesses are either interpreted as positively as possible or are borne with patience. Benedict writes about monks striving for holiness who nevertheless almost inevitably cause irritation for those living close to them. "Let them bear with the greatest patience one another’s infirmities, whether of body or character" (Holy Rule, chapter 72).

The
History of a Soul, from this point of view, is also a spiritual treasure. St. Thérèse of Lisieux clearly suffered much from the lack of education and manners in some of the other nuns. She learned the holy art of using every single irritation for God’s glory, including the nerve-racking noise that a sister made in the stall next to hers, which prevented her from praying and being recollected. Still, Thérèse emerged victorious through love.

Surprisingly, this can also bring happiness to the best of marriages, even though the being we love has wounded our hearts. A true lover whose love is baptized will use these insignificant sacrifices as they did in the Middle Ages, when artists used some bits of wool to make superb tapestries.

The true lover always has the word "thank you" on his tongue. It is also easy for him to say "forgive me," for in the best relationship, one inevitably falls into mistakes. If someone imagines that he can find himself in a situation in which he will never make a mistake, that person should not get married, or have children, or enter a convent. The holy art of living is to know that we will make mistakes, to recognize them, to repent, and, with God’s grace, to have the readiness to change.

Simultaneously, it is important that both lovers recognize their mistakes. We all know cases in which one of the lovers is always critical of the other and easily forgets that "the readiness to change" should be reciprocal, and that he too is affected by original sin.

Another characteristic of true love is that the loved one is "superactually" always with us; he is there, even when we are busy or absorbed by some duty. He creates the framework of our thoughts (after God). Just as faith in God and love of God should always be the background of all our thoughts and actions, the loved one is always with us; that is, everything that occurs is never unrelated to our love.

The lover feels a holy urge to say "thank you" and "forgive me." It flows from his heart without effort. The true lover experiences the deep truth of the words in the Canticle of Canticles: "If a man were to give the whole substance of his house for love, he would despise it as nothing."

Friday, August 24, 2007

the 500 Hats of Batholomew Apostle

Not much is known about the Apostle Batholomew, whose feast day it is today. He was called under the name Nathaniel and brought to Jesus by Philip, as recorded in the gospel of John chapter 1. Beyond that, not much is known about him except that he went as a missionary to India and there died a martyr's death.

Whenever we celebrate an apostle's feast I think of Paul's description of his apostolic life, which forms part of the Office of Readings propers for apostolic feasts. I always marvel at how varied Paul's life was, and how he was led (forced?) by his position to become all things to all people. Out of pastoral concern, he wanted to lead as many people as he could to Christ. A true Shepherd and spiritual Father.

1 Corinthians 4:9-16

For as I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. 10 We are fools on Christ's account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute.

11 To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless 12 And we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world's rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment. 14 I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.

As it was with Paul, so it is with the successors of these apostles. Our bishops (at least the ones I have seen close up) are men who labor night and day to make sure that all the people under their care can have the opportunity to understand and accept the love that God has for them.

As with Paul, it makes for a hard life. These men who don the mitres wear so very many hats.

Shepherd.
Teacher.
Reconciler.
Administrator.
Intercessor.

With all of these various hats to wear, they need our prayers. In honor of St Bartholomew and all the apostles, pray for your bishop(s) today.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's your response?

Today's gospel speaks of the eternal wedding feast where Christ the Bridegroom celebrates His love for us, His bride. The response of those invited to the feast varies. Some ignore the invitation, some slip in unannounced and underdressed for the occasion. Some even get down right angry and try to spoil the party.

What's your response to the Invitation? He's waiting to hear from you today.

Mt 22,1-14.

"Jesus again in reply spoke to them in parables, saying, The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come. A second time he sent other servants, saying, 'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast."'

Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business. The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, 'The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.'

The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, 'My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?' But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.' Many are invited, but few are chosen."

From Jacob of Sarug (around 449 – 521), Monk and Syrian bishop

"Women are not so closely united to their husbands as the Church is to the Son of God. What husband other than our Lord ever died for his wife, and what wife ever chose as husband someone crucified? Who has ever given his blood as a present to his wife, otherthan the one who died on the cross and sealed his bridal union by his wounds? Who have we ever seen dead, lying at the banquet of his wedding, with, beside him, his wife who embraces him to be consoled? At what other feast, at what other banquet, has anyone ever distributed to the guests, under the form of bread, the body of the husband?

Death separates wives from their husbands, but here it unites the Spouse to her Beloved. He died on the cross, gave his body for his glorious Spouse, and now, at his table, day after day, she receives him for food … She is nourished by him under the form of the bread which she eats and under the form of the wine which she drinks, so that the world may recognize that they are not anymore two, but only one."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's about life, it's about virtue


From Saint John Chrysostom (around 345-407),
Bishop of Antioch, then of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church

Homilies on Saint Matthew, no. 64

“You too go along to my vineyard.”

"It is obvious that this parable is addressed both to people who have been virtuous since their youth and to people who become so only in their old age: to the former, to preserve them from pride and to stop them from reproaching the people of the eleventh hour; and to the latter, to teach them that they can deserve the same salary in a short time.

The Savior had just spoken about giving up wealth, about scorn for all goods, about virtues, which require a big heart and courage. For that, the zeal and energy of a youthful soul are necessary. So the Lord rekindles in them the flame of charity, strengthens their sentiments, and shows them that even those who came last receive the whole day’s salary.

All of Jesus’ parables - those about the virgins, the fishing net, the thorns, the barren tree – invite us to show our virtue in our actions. He speaks little about dogmas because they don’t require much effort. But he often speaks about life. Or rather, he talks about it all the time because, since life is a constant combat, the effort is also constant. "

Generous in Graces

Today is the Memorial of the Queenship of Mary.

I think of this day like the scene between Frodo and Galadriel in the "Lord of the Rings" movie. Those who have read the book or seen the movies will remember this pivotal scene, where Frodo encounters Galadriel. Glimpsing his fate through her mirror and understanding her humility, Frodo is strengthened for the journey which is his and his alone to travel.

A Queen, terrible and great,
crystalline in Her perfection.
Yet, kind in intention and compassionate,
She shares Her vision with a pilgrim on a great journey.

She is Strength in adversity,
a Light in darkness,
a Reminder and Strength for mission.

Such is our Lady's Queenship.
She is humble before God.
She is exalted because of grace,
and so is able
generously to give Her graces to us
who are also travellers on the Way.