My View of My Breast Cancer Diagnosis

September 8, 2015

Calvaert, Agony in the Garden

Calvaert, Agony in the Garden

Today I find myself in a situation I never imagined I would be. After working hard for years to improve my health, the unexpected entered my life with a bang. I never saw it coming.

A mammogram in early August revealed some abnormalities and I was called back for more pictures plus ultrasound. On that day the radiologist spoke of “suspicious areas” and I knew that I was in some kind of trouble. Subsequent biopsies revealed cancer – not a really big one, but nonetheless, growths, cancerous and pre-cancerous that can’t be left alone. And so, it’s time to consider the spiritual aspect of my bilateral mastectomy coming up.

I’ve written here before about the permissive will of God. He never wills evil, but always brings good out of it. There’s no point in asking, “Why is God letting this happen?” because the answer will be revealed later in His good time and I don’t need to know the answer now. That all cancer is evil and a result of our fallen nature can’t be disputed. After all, if we didn’t have a fallen nature we wouldn’t have disease of any kind. We would, in fact, already be in heaven with our glorified bodies and this earth would be gone. Clearly the challenge here is to step forward in complete trust that He is giving me an opportunity to act on what I believe and that He will be with me all the way. My trust has not been unwarranted.

All the medical people I’ve encountered on this journey are outstanding in their competence and manner. Nobody could ask for more supportive individuals when going through a serious illness. I picked none of them. However it was that they were assigned to me, I believe that God arranged it, and that is truly comforting.

Without a doubt, meeting Dr. Ken Sharlin and taking such a positive turn for the better by following his advice within the functional medicine paradigm has positioned me to get through surgery with few, if any difficulties. Starting a new career doing what I love gives me something to look forward to, and really helped me arrive at the decision to let go of yet more body parts rather than engage in a prolonged struggle to hang on to them. Faithful friends and family standing with me just can’t be replaced.

Above all, I can do this because in prayer I came to this conclusion:

Contrary to what radical feminists and the pro-death agitators believe, our bodies belong to God. He gave them to us as part of our being. I believe we are to take care of them to better do His will. If He wants to take body parts away from us, it’s His right just as it is His right alone to take all of our body at death and bring our soul to be with Him. By surrendering this sacrifice freely we imitate Jesus in the Garden of Olives. There can be only one response by a servant of God in a situation like this; “Thy will be done.” Moreover, a chance to participate in the redemptive suffering of Christ when it comes right to one’s doorstep should not be passed up.

I am in a good place, thanks to the prayers and support of many people. This is nothing but a large boulder I must simply, with God’s help, move around and get on with my life. If you can say a prayer for me, too, I’d surely appreciate it.

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Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 suffering 12 Comments

Ite ad Joseph!

August 5, 2015

ite-ioseph3It all started last fall with an interior urge to ask St. Joseph to help us find an affordable newer car. Our 16 year old jalopy was approaching 190,000 miles and we knew we were on borrowed time. How we were going to replace it was up in the air, but considering that St. Joseph was the devoted foster father of Jesus, faithful spouse of Our Lady, and excellent provider for the Holy Family, it seemed the right thing to do. Surely he would arrange with God the Father for a brother and sister of Christ to obtain what we needed.

This is what I love about being part of the communion of saints. It pleases God that we supply each other’s needs through Him, and it must be especially pleasing when we turn to the two people closest to His beloved Son because honoring them honors Him. These thoughts motivated me to start a 30 day novena to St. Joseph last fall, which went on for months as Old Nellybelle gave us trouble off and on. However, when we ask for help, it often pleases God to give us a great deal more than we request in His own good time, and such largesse is always for His greater honor and glory as readers will see.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

While the spiritual interpretation of this passage refers to eternal life, it’s clear that when Jesus said  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-8), he underscored the passage from Jeremiah; our temporal welfare is precious to God. And so began a series of events and encounters that not only brought us a new car, but much more besides.

Struggling with health issues

Although I had lost 25 lbs. in the Weight Watchers program, by mid October numerous niggling issues were tiring me out. Allergies were the worst ever, fibromyalgia pain was up, and I was fed up with the side effects of a couple of drugs. By February, I felt like I was 90 years old without being able to put my finger on a reason. To show how God looks after us, though, at my primary care physician’s office the only professional who knew of Dr. Ken Sharlin happened to be the one in charge of me. She suggested I see him for a neurological evaluation and I agreed even though I have no love for neurologists. That visit proved to be life changing.

Dr. Sharlin founded the Functional Medicine clinic in Springfield a couple of years ago. The field itself is about 20 years old and represents a new approach to dealing with chronic illness starting at the cellular level, exactly the approach I had been looking for for years. The upshot of my dealings with him is that within four months of following his recommendations, drinking a daily green smoothie tweaked for my needs, and taking supplements custom-tailored for my exact deficiencies, I had more mental and physical energy than I have had in over ten years, and felt confident enough to begin an entirely new career at almost 70 years of age.

My new career

A year ago a dear friend suggested that I apply to be a teacher assistant at Mother of Divine Grace homeschool company. When I saw the hiring process, I knew that at that time I was not up to it, so I didn’t apply. After a couple of months on my new regimen this spring, I felt good enough to go through what was the most rigorous hiring process of my life. In June I signed a contract to provide on-line and telephone teaching assistance to parents who have enrolled their children in the MODG curriculum. It will be part-time work that I can fit into my current schedule and the majority of what I will be doing is what I love to do: editing and coaching students in writing skills as they demonstrate subject mastery. For me, no nobler profession exists than to share in the formation of future saints and I am deeply honored that MODG considered me worthy of that sacred trust.

This job is a Godsend for us in our financial situation, giving us the money we need to pay for a car and to upgrade our food quality to more organic fruits and veggies and pastured meats which is important for our continuing health improvement. The guiding hand of God through the paternal care of St. Joseph is evident to us in this series of events. But the story isn’t finished yet.

The new car

After driving numerous used and new cars and doing our due diligence, we determined that a 2015 Subaru Legacy was the best choice for meeting our criteria of good gas mileage, reliability, safety, and comfort. It was not as comfortable as our old jalopy, but we could live with it. The only problem was how to afford it. I was praying to St. Joseph to pull some kind of rabbit out of a hat when the salesman suggested leasing rather than buying. We are old school types: you buy and maintain an asset, you don’t rent and have no asset. However, after running the numbers on maintenance, repair and gasoline costs on the current car, it was clear that our cash flow would benefit from leasing, so we did.

Of the colors available in the model we chose, silver was my preference, with twilight blue my back-up choice, but the dealer had neither. In fact, in a five state area only one car could be found, and it was twilight blue. We agreed to accept it sight unseen. When we arrived to pick up the car, we saw the beautiful, medium toned blue with hints of gray, a color that reminded us of Our Lady’s mantle. It was as if St. Joseph was saying, “Your Mother had a hand in this, too.”


Some people would say that these events are merely coincidence, but as a person of faith, I know that God, in His generosity through the care of St. Joseph gave us far, far more than what we asked for or even dreamed of. My health continues to improve even though the allergies and fibro remain to be contended with, car worries are over, and I am blessed to be doing work that is a joy. What more could we want?

Ite – imperative of the Latin eo, “to go”

Ad – to, toward

Joseph – Joseph.

For an interesting article about Joseph and his forerunner who served the pharaoh, read this. The Church has good reason to admonish us to go to the patron of the Universal Church. He comes through big time for the glory of God.

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Wednesday, August 5th, 2015 Catholic Church, Catholic culture Comments Off on Ite ad Joseph!

The Lord is My Shepherd…

April 18, 2015

The Good Shepherd Russian icon 19th centurySince I am a supporting friend of people going through very difficult life situations and experiencing a great deal of turmoil, I thought Father Jacques Philippe’s book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart would be a help to me and them. This is indeed a great treasure full of short meditations from Scripture and words of the saints and I recommend it to anyone who wants to help himself or others through the sometimes very rough patches of life, especially when tempted to despair and give up on the spiritual life.

We are simply not going to be able to overcome the evils of hard times without a strong spiritual life, and yet the first thing Satan tempts us to abandon when suffering greatly is our relationship with God. Just because we may be up to our derriere in alligators doesn’t mean we should abandon God who is the very One to help us drain the swamp.

I found particular inspiration from meditation #8 on Psalm 23. Father Philippe says in regard to this prayer that

…God leaves us wanting for nothing. This will serve to unmask a temptation, sometimes subtle, which is very common in the Christian life, one into which many fall and which greatly impedes spiritual progress.

For example, I lack good health, therefore I am unable to pray as I believe it is indispensable to do. [Change the word “health” to any other perceived detrimental situation.] Or my immediate family prevents me from organizing my spiritual activities as I wish. [Operative words: “as I wish.”] Or, again, I don’t have the qualities, the strength, the virtue, the gifts that I believe necessary in order to accomplish something beautiful for God, according to the plan of a Christian life. [Operative words: “I believe.”] I am not satisfied with my life, with my person, with my circumstances and I live constantly with the feeling that as long as things are such, it will be impossible for me to live truly and intensely. I feel underprivileged compared to others and I carry in me the constant nostalgia of another life, more privileged, where, finally, I could do things that are worthwhile. [I, I, I, I…]

We often live with this illusion. With the impression that all would go better, we would like the things around us to change, that the circumstances would change. But this is often an error. It is not the exterior circumstances that must change; it is above all our hearts that must change.

Happy are those hearts purified by faith and hope, who bring to their lives a view animated by the certitude that, beyond appearances to the contrary, God is present, providing for their essential needs and that they lack nothing….They will see that many of the circumstances that they thought negative and damaging to their spiritual life are, in fact, in God’s pedagogy, powerful means for helping them to progress and grow.

The essential question to be asked in hard times is, “What is God teaching me here?” We can fall into the “if only” trap all too easily, filling ourselves with desires which on the surface may be laudable but upon closer examination reveal that we are not accepting God’s will for us at this time.

For about 15 years now I’ve been asking God to give us the money necessary to move out of this diocese. I gaze enviously at the neighboring Tulsa diocese where the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter has a parish, the Benedictine monks at Clear Creek have a thriving foundation, and the bishop is doing all sorts of things to stir up the spiritual life of his flock and ask, “Lord, why can’t You get us out of here and let us move there? If only I could be there my spiritual life would be so much easier…” Whine, whine, whine.

Last fall in front of the Blessed Sacrament I got my answer. The spiritual situation in this diocese is improving somewhat but God made me understand clearly that all pain, suffering, and longing is given to me to endure for the sake of the diocese I’m in – the old saying, “Bloom where you’re planted,” we have heard. That “Aha!” immediately freed me. I have my purpose, my assignment. He wants me to witness here and He will take care of the rest. Why He kept me in the dark for so long is gradually becoming clearer, but it is all part of His plan for me and everyone else I come in contact with, and for the spiritual growth of this diocese.

The fundamental problem is that we employ too much of our own criteria as to what is and what is not good and we don’t have enough confidence in the Wisdom and Power of God. [Bingo.] We don’t believe that He is capable of utilizing everything for our good, and that never, under any circumstance, would He leave us lacking in the essentials – that is to say, lacking anything that would permit us to love more. [That is the bottom line, isn’t it?] Because to grow or to enrich one’s spiritual life is to learn to love. Many of the circumstances that I consider damaging could, in fact, be for me if I had more faith, precious opportunities to love more: to be more patient, more humble, more gentle, more merciful and to abandon myself more into the hands of God.

Let us then be convinced of this and it will be for us a source of immense strength: God may allow me to occasionally lack money, health, abilities and virtues, but He will never leave me in want of Himself, of His assistance and His mercy or of anything that would allow me to grow increasingly ever closer to Him, to love Him more intensely, to better love my neighbor and to achieve holiness.

What more could we possibly ask?

Image: The Good Shepherd, 19th century Russian icon, private collection, via Wikimedia

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Saturday, April 18th, 2015 spirituality 2 Comments

Lessons on Chrism from PE Benedict XVI

April 2, 2015

Holy oilsEvery time I read a sermon or writing from PE Benedict XVI I fall in love with this great teacher all over again. The simplicity and clarity of his words unveil the greatest of mysteries perfectly comprehensibly. So it is with his April 1, 2010 sermon at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday. This is the Mass where the bishop consecrates the holy oils (sacramentals) for use in every parish. Let’s read how Papa Benedetto explains chrism and its symbolism:

At the center of the Church’s worship is the notion of “sacrament”. This means that it is not primarily we who act, but God comes first to meet us through his action, he looks upon us and he leads us to himself. Another striking feature is this: God touches us through material things, through gifts of creation that he takes up into his service, making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself.

There are four elements in creation on which the world of sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil. Water, as the basic element and fundamental condition of all life, is the essential sign of the act in which, through baptism, we become Christians and are born to new life. While water is the vital element everywhere, and thus represents the shared access of all people to rebirth as Christians, the other three elements belong to the culture of the Mediterranean region. In other words, they point towards the concrete historical environment in which Christianity emerged. God acted in a clearly defined place on the earth, He truly made history with men. On the one hand, these three elements are gifts of creation, and on the other, they also indicate the locality of the history of God with us. They are a synthesis between creation and history: gifts of God that always connect us to those parts of the world where God chose to act with us in historical time, where He chose to become one of us.

Within these three elements there is a further gradation. Bread has to do with everyday life. It is the fundamental gift of life day by day.

Wine has to do with feasting, with the fine things of creation, in which, at the same time, the joy of the redeemed finds particular expression.

Olive oil has a wide range of meaning. It is nourishment, it is medicine, it gives beauty, it prepares us for battle and it gives strength. Kings and priests are anointed with oil, which is thus a sign of dignity and responsibility, and likewise of the strength that comes from God. Even the name that we bear as “Christians” contains the mystery of the oil. The word “Christians”, in fact, by which Christ’s disciples were known in the earliest days of Gentile Christianity, is derived from the word “Christ” (Acts 11:20-21) – the Greek translation of the word “Messiah”, which means “anointed one”. To be a Christian is to come from Christ, to belong to Christ, to the anointed one of God, to whom God granted kingship and priesthood. It means belonging to him whom God himself anointed – not with material oil, but with the One whom the oil represents: with his Holy Spirit. Olive oil is thus in a very particular way a symbol of the total compenetration of the man Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

We are anointed with oil at Baptism, the sacrament that makes us children of God and enables us to enter heaven if we are faithful to our Baptismal promises. At Confirmation we are again anointed with oil and receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which strengthen us to live a true Christian life. In the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick we are anointed with oil which serves as medicine and strengthening of the soul and sometimes the body. Holy oil is also used in conferring the sacrament of Holy Orders. All of this oil is consecrated at the Chrism Mass.

In the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the holy oils are at the center of the liturgical action. They are consecrated in the bishop’s cathedral for the whole year. They thus serve also as an expression of the Church’s unity, guaranteed by the episcopate, and they point to Christ, the true “shepherd and guardian” of our souls, as Saint Peter calls him (1 Pet 2:25).

At the same time, they hold together the entire liturgical year, anchored in the mystery of Holy Thursday. Finally, they point to the Garden of Olives, the scene of Jesus’ inner acceptance of his Passion. Yet the Garden of Olives is also the place from which he ascended to the Father, and is therefore the place of redemption: God did not leave Jesus in death. Jesus lives forever with the Father, and is therefore omnipresent, with us always.

This double mystery of the Mount of Olives is also always “at work” within the Church’s sacramental oil. In four sacraments, oil is the sign of God’s goodness reaching out to touch us: in baptism, in confirmation as the sacrament of the Holy Spirit, in the different grades of the sacrament of holy orders and finally in the anointing of the sick, in which oil is offered to us, so to speak, as God’s medicine – as the medicine which now assures us of his goodness, offering us strength and consolation, yet at the same time points beyond the moment of the illness towards the definitive healing, the resurrection (cf. Jas 5:14). Thus oil, in its different forms, accompanies us throughout our lives: beginning with the catechumenate and baptism, and continuing right up to the moment when we prepare to meet God, our Judge and Savior. Moreover, the Chrism Mass, in which the sacramental sign of oil is presented to us as part of the language of God’s creation, speaks in particular to us who are priests: it speaks of Christ, whom God anointed King and Priest – of him who makes us sharers in his priesthood, in his “anointing”, through our own priestly ordination.

After pondering the Pope’s words, I can never again just take holy oil for granted. I will always see its supernatural purpose and regard it as a sign of God’s great love for us. How fortunate we are to have Christ among us in the sacred priesthood, particularly our bishops who consecrate this material of creation to be a symbol of God’s continual reaching out to us and gathering us to Himself as part of one great family.

A blessed Holy Week and Happy Easter to all.

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Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 Catholic Church Comments Off on Lessons on Chrism from PE Benedict XVI

Good Friday Rosary Crusade

April 1, 2015

This morning a friend sent me the following email:

Imagine what might happen if every Catholic in the world would pray a Rosary on the same day!  We have an example in October of 1573, when Europe was saved from the invasion of the mighty Turkish fleet, by the praying of the Rosary by all Christians!  So, on Good Friday April 3, 2015, let us all pray a Rosary for peace in the world and the return of moral values into our communities.  If possible, please pray your Rosary between Noon and 3:00 PM.  Also, please e-mail this message to every Catholic on your address list, and ask them to pass it along to every Catholic on their lists. Let’s unite in praying one of the most powerful prayers in existence, for these intentions, on one of the holiest days in our Church year.  God bless us all!

As we who are so fortunate to have a church to celebrate the sacred liturgies in during this most holy season of the year prepare to participate, let us particularly remember our fellow persecuted Christians in the Middle East, India, China, Pakistan, and elsewhere who may have no place or priest to celebrate.

Please pass this message on to all your Catholic friends and let’s make this a worldwide effort. Let us lift up to the Lord all those who are suffering for following Him. May the peace of Christ triumph over all and may our Mother Mary guard us under her mantle as she did over 400 years ago at the battle of Lepanto.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015 Uncategorized Comments Off on Good Friday Rosary Crusade

A Thief’s Remarkable Confession

March 30, 2015

Dismas the Good Thief Orthodox icon 16th centuryOften called the “Good Thief” and traditionally known as “Dismas” in the Latin Church, this man is billed as having stolen heaven in his last hour, living up to his profession. It was no sleight of hand, though, no con job that moved the heart of Jesus. As I’ve meditated on the Passion this year, Dismas has occupied my thoughts. How was it that he alone of the two criminals crucified with Christ that day confessed Jesus as king?

While Matthew (27:44) and Mark (15:32) write that both criminals reviled Jesus, Luke tells us something else, a something that reveals an outpouring of God’s grace at the last minute that freed a man chained by evil deeds to see and say the truth in full repentance for a life gone terribly bad. In contrast,

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23: 39)

This thief had no idea what being the Christ meant, or he wouldn’t have tried to incite Jesus to free him so he could escape accountability and go on about his life of crime and ruin. Jesus didn’t come to help us circumvent the laws of His Father and to get us unrepentant ones off scot free from the penalties of our sins.

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

How did the Good Thief know that Jesus had done nothing wrong? Only if this man were Jewish and knew the law well could he have known that Jesus was a victim of a set up. Perhaps he had mingled with the crowds following Jesus, snatching a purse here and there while noting what Jesus was doing. If so, he could not have failed to see the vast numbers of people Jesus cured from all sorts of diseases and paralyses. Maybe he even saw Jesus cast out demons and raise the dead. He knew Jesus was a good man and no criminal. Perhaps he flirted with the idea of giving up his predatory occupation and following Christ instead, but, since he ended up condemned, he apparently lacked the will to shake off the shackles of his greed. Yet God gave him the extraordinary grace among the crowd of vicious blasphemers to declare from the heights of his cross that Jesus was innocent while he and his fellow criminal were surely guilty.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingly power.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Dismas claimed in full faith in front of everyone there that day that Jesus is king with all the powers a king possesses. Among them is to forgive the repentant subject who throws himself on the mercy of the sovereign. Knowing that Jesus was dying and that he himself would die, against all worldly logic that makes no room for what cannot be perceived by the senses, Dismas professed that Christ’s kingdom is real, not of this world, but is of eternity just as He said, and that Jesus prevails over all. Simply astonishing and only possible through the grace of God. A man dying in horrible pain after living a dissolute life seizes eternal life through the eyes of full-blown faith at the last minute.

The same grace God gave Dismas in extremis is open to every sinner any time who honestly admits his trespasses and repents of them. We don’t go to Confession solely because we don’t want to go to hell for our mortal sins, although it can be one motivation. We confess our sins under the power of the grace of God in order to humble ourselves and renew true submission to His will. That grace is free and open to everyone. We have only ourselves to blame if we cut ourselves off from it as the other thief did.

Praise God for what He did for the Good Thief and for what He does every time we make a good confession. Praise God for the grace of humility and repentance and for giving us His beloved Son to teach and lead us along the narrow path. Praise God when we see through the eyes of faith the transcendent world we were created for. Just as Dismas was, we are the primary beneficiaries of His terrible death on the cross. Let us not squander our inheritance.

Image: The Good Theif, Russian Orthodox icon, 16th century

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Monday, March 30th, 2015 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 3 Comments

Prayer for Priests

March 23, 2015

Christ True vine (Russia, 19th c.)

My latest holy card project with Catholic Prayer Cards is this Russian icon with a prayer for priests on the back. The company now has it in their online catalog for anyone to purchase.

About the icon

The name of this 19th century icon is “Christ True Vine”. Here we see Jesus seated on the sepulcher with the vine emerging from the wound in his side. Instruments of the Passion are at his feet. Jesus presses His sacred blood from the grapes into a golden chalice held by a kneeling angel.

Christ the High Priest and Victim is to be emulated by all men in the sacred priesthood. They bring the saving blood of Christ to the faithful through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation. Every time we see a priest we should, regardless of whether we like him or not, see Christ on Calvary and remember the great sacrifice that opened the gates of heaven to us.

The prayer

Ever since I found this prayer in the late 1990s it has been one of my favorites. Carrying an imprimatur from Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York, December 15, 1954, it expresses beautifully the theology of the sacred priesthood.

Sanctify to Thyself,

O my Lord,

the hearts of Thy priests,

that by the merits of

Thy sacred humanity,

They may become

living images of Thee,

children of Mary,

and full of the fire of

the Holy Ghost, that they

may guard Thy house, and

defend Thy glory, and

that through their ministry

the face of the earth

may be renewed, and

they may save those souls

which have cost Thee

all Thy blood.


Our priests are a sacred treasure of the Church, and the ones more vulnerable to attacks by Satan than anyone else. Every fallen priest means a terrible loss of a conduit of grace God intended for the faithful. As laity we have an obligation to remember them in our prayers, especially our pastors and confessors.

Does your parish emphasize prayers for priests? Would you obtain these prayer cards and make them available to your fellow parishioners with the permission of your pastor? I’m sure that many priests would greatly appreciate knowing that they are remembered daily in prayer by the faithful they serve.

“Christ the Vine” image via Wikimedia.

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Monday, March 23rd, 2015 prayers 1 Comment

A Miracle in Egypt

March 5, 2015

Samir_Khalil_SamirA miracle has occurred in Egypt, a blessing bestowed by God through the fruits of the martyrs of the Coptic Church. Samir Khalil Samir has written about it in, but he doesn’t call it a miracle. Those of us who see with the eyes of faith, though, recognize an outpouring of grace that should inspire all of us to more fervent prayer for the conversion of Muslims. I’ll come back to that politically incorrect phrase hated by the false ecumenists later.

Samir wrote this:

What Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar University, said at a conference in Makkah three days ago is one of the most important things that could have happened in the Muslim world. In his speeches, he spoke of the urgent need to revisit the teaching of Islam in schools and universities, and correct extremist interpretations of the Qur’an and the Sunnah

What Sheikh Tayeb now seems to have realized is that the matter must be addressed globally, in schools and university, among lay people as well as clerics. Work must be undertaken at all levels, throughout the Muslim world, wherever minds are educated, especially those of clerics who every Friday preach in the mosque, whose sermons are broadcast on radio and television, with much media influence.

This is the first part of the miracle. Al-Azhar University is the leading Muslim university and the top Muslim is calling for a re-examination of the teachings of Islam, a position tantamount to heresy for the ISIS crowd and deserving of assassination of the proponent by Islamic law, but one destined to light a path out of the insane darkness the extremists are imposing everywhere if enough Muslims respond positively.

Another important point Tayeb highlighted is a cause for division within Islam, namely “the bad interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah”. Just to acknowledge this is a tremendous leap forward, an important act of self-criticism.

For the Christian, examination of conscience and self-reflection with repentance and a firm purpose of amendment of life is the first step towards conversion of heart. If Muslims begin to examine their religion seriously using the faculty of reason some genuine openness to objective truth may be a first step towards conversion of heart and an end to violence and war based on the Qur’an.

However, by virtue of our fallen human nature, we find this:

Regrettably, a few days before the conference, the grand imam himself had condemned the “barbaric practices” of the Islamic state, by calling for their “killing, crucifixion and chopping of the limbs” in accordance with the Qur’an. In doing so, he too took the Qur’an literally! Sadly, this ambiguity is present in the Muslim world. When, it suits them, people will quote literally the Qur’an; when it does not and they are criticized, they can always say that the Qur’an needs to be interpreted!

Nevertheless, that these ideas are even being floated cannot be chalked up merely to political motives nor to taqqiya. God is at work and we must redouble our prayers.

Samir ends this part of the article with this comment:

I do believe that what Tayeb said in Makkah is critical. If what he stressed about the Qur’an, namely its theological interpretative aspect, spreads across Islamic world, that would be a revolution.

The second part of the miracle involves what is nothing short of amazing, dumbfounding, and inspired.

Recently, something revolutionary happened: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered air strikes against the Islamic State in Libya. It is revolutionary because he gave the order after the killing of 21 Egyptian Christians. In the ongoing wars across the Muslim world, thousands of Muslims have died, but Sisi ordered the attack in retaliation for the killing of 21 Coptic Christians, acknowledging them as full citizens of Egypt.

President Sisi said that the Egypt had no interest in attacking or invading other nations but that it would defend itself and its citizens. The Egyptian leader suggested that Arab countries might want to fight the Caliphate together.

The Egyptian president also attended the funeral services for the decapitated Christians in Cairo’s Coptic Cathedral and decided to compensate the families who lost a husband or a father.

One could make all sorts of political observations on this subject, but here we have a Muslim president of one of the more advanced nations in the Middle East and North Africa openly claiming Christians as his people and standing for their rights. It is when leaders recognize people as having intrinsic value as human beings and take their obligations to their citizens seriously that we have hope that something right and just will come of it. If all power comes from God as Jesus told Pilate, then so does the grace to use that power to bring people together. Although Muslims in Egypt are killing Copts and destroying their churches on a regular basis, now their president has stood up in opposition to them and by his example is showing how he wants his people to treat one another.

I believe that these two things coming out of Egypt are a sign that God is hearing our prayers for the conversion of Muslims although many years may pass before we see major improvement in their behavior toward one another and toward Jews and Christians. We should not give up hope but redouble our prayers instead.

Immediately after 9/11 I called for mass praying for the conversion of Muslims in an online Catholic group I participate in. My request never saw the light of day. It was censored by the moderators. Yet Jesus instructed us in Matthew 5:44 to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The greatest good we can do, and in the interests of world peace, is to pray for the conversion of sinners. Most particularly now, we should pray that Muslims abandon what is counter to God’s law in their religion and come to the place where their eyes will be opened to the light and truth of Christ. Each of us has a part in this on our knees in front of the Lord. Failure to desire their conversion to Christ and actively work towards it by prayer could result in our hearing Jesus say to us in Matthew 25:12, “Amen I say to you, I know you not,” or in Matthew 7: 23, “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” Surely the one of the greatest iniquities we can perpetrate is that of not fervently praying for the salvation of our enemy. It is tantamount to wishing him in hell.

Image: Samir, S.J., Attribution: “Steenwerck – Forum « Jésus le Messie » 2014 – Père Samir Khalil Samir – 3” by Peter Potrowl – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Samir Khalil Samir (born 10 January 1938 in Cairo, Egypt), is an Egyptian Jesuit priest, Islamic scholar, Semitologist, Orientalist, Syriacist and Catholic theologian. Based in Lebanon (Université Saint Joseph) he is a regular visiting professor of several academic institutions in Europe and the USA.

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Thursday, March 5th, 2015 conversion, religion Comments Off on A Miracle in Egypt

The Newest Doctor of the Church

February 26, 2015

St Gregory of NarekOn February 21, Pope Francis designated the 10th century Armenian monk, St. Gregory of Narek, as a Doctor of the Church. This has been in the works for some time, no doubt, and is most timely considering the upcoming centennial of the Armenian genocide by the muslim Turks and the extinction of many Christians in the Middle East today. Honoring an Eastern master of the spiritual life in these days is a way of letting our persecuted brethren know we hold them in our hearts even though we cannot physically stand by them in their present agony. Now when I think of St. Gregory, I can ask him to pray for all our fellow Christians in the Middle East, and also those who are being slaughtered simply because they are not muslims.

We are extremely blessed to have saints speak to us over the centuries with their timeless, powerful thoughts and prayers. I find our Eastern Fathers and Doctors particularly appealing because their writings are steeped in both the Old and New Testaments which form the basis of our journey towards God.

At you can find information about his life and the stimulus of his greatest work, the Book of Lamentations. There we find this:

A leader of the well-developed school of Armenian mysticism at Narek Monastery, at the request of his brethren he set out to find an answer to an imponderable question: what can one offer to God, our creator, who already has everything and knows everything better than we could ever express it? To this question, posed by the prophets, psalmist, apostles and saints, he gives a humble answer – the sighs of the heart – expressed in his Book of Prayer, also called the Book of Lamentations.

In 95 grace-filled prayers St. Gregory draws on the exquisite potential of the Classical Armenian language to translate the pure sighs of the broken and contrite heart into an offering of words pleasing to God. The result is an edifice of faith for the ages, unique in Christian literature for its rich imagery, its subtle theology, its Biblical erudition, and the sincere immediacy of its communication with God.

In Section A of the first prayer St. Gregory writes:

The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries,
I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets,
placing the fruits of my wavering mind
as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul
to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.

Compassionate Lord, breathe in
this offering and look more favorably on it
than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice
offered with rich smoke. Please find
this simple string of words acceptable.
Do not turn in disdain.

May this unsolicited gift reach you,
this sacrifice of words
from the deep mystery-filled chamber
of my feelings, consumed in flames
fueled by whatever grace I may have within me.

As I pray, do not let these
pleas annoy you, Almighty,
like the raised hands of Jacob,
whose irreverence was rebuked
by Isaiah, nor let them seem like the impudence
of Babylon criticized in the 72nd Psalm.

But let these words be acceptable
as were the fragrant offerings
in the tabernacle at Shiloh
raised again by David on his return from captivity
as the resting place for the ark of the covenant,
a symbol for the restoration of my lost soul.

All of the Biblical references in his writing are referenced in the sidebar so that if one desires, he can turn to the section of sacred scripture and enhance his meditation. I am reading at least one section, if not the whole prayer of each of the 95 this Lent as part of my daily prayer time and will continue until I’ve completed them all. Their exquisite poetry moves the soul seeking to become lost in the embrace of God. With deep humility as the departure point, one can hardly fail to delight the Lord by offering these prayers as one’s own, making way for Him to transform the soul into the image of Christ in perfect unity with Him. Is that not, in the end, the heart’s desire of all Christians? Is that not what our final destination is meant to be?

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Getting Down to Business: Re-wiring our Brains for Lent

February 23, 2015

In my previous post, I introduced Father Oscar Lukefahr’s column, Re-program Your Brain for Lent. Today I want to present his further teachings which I hope will inspire readers to work purposefully towards the new man, hand in hand with Christ.

Spiritual direction is really difficult to come by, which is why I am grateful for the lack of pious platitudes and the inclusion of the scientific and practical insights Father Lukefahr uses to light the way towards a closer relationship with God. On rewiring he writes:

The first step in rewiring our brains is to realize that they are already wired for God! Recent experiments indicate that our brains are designed to contact God.

St. Augustine alluded to this when he wrote, “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” God didn’t create us to dump us here on earth with no way to connect to Him. We not only have been wired from early on in our formation to seek God, the impetus, unless extinguished by willful determination, remains a powerful driver for us that can combat negative programming and it is written in our biology.

St. John of the Cross wrote that we can have our most direct experience of God if we detach ourselves from sensory stimuli as much as possible. Brain scans now show that people deep in contemplation produce a distinct pattern of neural activity where information flowing from the senses slows dramatically and the mind experiences a sensation of unity with God. What St. John taught has a basis in biology. Our brains are wired for God in the same way they are wired for light. Seeing light stimulates a part of the brain designed to receive light. Contemplation stimulates a part of the brain designed to experience union with God. However, we will lose touch with God if we don’t keep the neural pathways busy.

From this we see that the atmosphere in which we pray is as important as forming habits of prayer. This seems like a good first step towards rewiring our brains for holiness: create a place and time for prayer that will dampen down information flowing into our senses, or find such a place such as an Adoration chapel, a dimly lit room in the home, or a peaceful rock in a forest where we can be alone and not intruded upon.

We must let God speak to us through the Bible, the beauty of nature, the goodness of others, and all the ways God wants to contact us. We must pray, and the more we do, the more God will fill our hearts with grace and peace.

For those who like word linked Scriptural prayer that can help start the rewiring process, Father Lukefahr gives us something easy to start with:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name (Mt. 6:9). At the name of Jesus, every knee must bend…and every tongue proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11). No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). The Spirit God gives is no cowardly spirit, but One that makes us strong, loving and wise (2 Tim 1:7).

It’s easy to see how these phrases can stimulate meditation on God and serve as an alternative to negative and bad thoughts that lead us to sin and negative thinking. While it’s not personal, private prayer, I can see how a family game can be made where someone starts with a quote from Scripture and each person builds on it with a subsequent quote, word-linked as here. Members can write down the result for future use.

Father Lukefahr gives us additional Bible quotes to close negative neural pathways and build God-connected ones, although these are not word linked.

I have come to depend on a few favorite verses to close negative neural pathways and open new ones, those that are positive and grace-giving. I simply let Jesus speak words of peace, hope, and courage. A few examples: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mt. 14:27). “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:17). “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).

Rewiring takes effort on our part, but God always meets us more than halfway. Reading the Gospels and writing down words of Jesus that are particularly powerful for us as Father suggests in his article means that we have a ready reference at hand whenever things aren’t going well. This Christ-centered approach is sure to create a great and beautiful pathway that is far more enticing than the ruts of negativity we’ve been stuck in.

Father Lukefahr goes on to make some very interesting statements about prayer and rewiring.

Adoration flips the switch that turns on the brain’s wiring for God. Contrition replaces sin’s darkness with the light of God’s love. Thankgiving helps us count the blessings that open new pathways to happiness. Supplication connects us to God as the source of all good things.

Who’d a thunk it. Traditional Catholic teaching on prayer has all along been using a biological function of the brain that we can direct with our hearts/wills to grow in happiness and virtue. That “stinkin’ thinkin’” the AA program talks about has a powerful antidote. Lent is a good time to get started on new habits of sanctity using the rewiring concept. Who’s with me on this journey?

Note: Father Lukefahr’s community, the Vincentians, has a Catholic Home Study Course called “We Pray: Living in God’s Presence” which would be ideal for building our prayer life this Lent.

Image: The Three Women in Church, Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl, 1881, Kunsthalle Hamburg

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Monday, February 23rd, 2015 prayers, spirituality 1 Comment

Re-program Your Brain for Lent

February 22. 2015

sky imageDon’t you wish you could exterminate every bad/sinful habit you have in one second and replace it with virtuous behavior? Unfortunately, fallen body and soul that we are, life isn’t that simple. Fortunately, we have solid brain research that reveals some surprising evidence that we can re-program ourselves toward positive, holy thoughts that lead to holiness of action. Lent is a great time to make changes in our brains because we have an extended period of focused spiritual practices that, with the help of God’s grace, will move us towards the new man in Christ that is the secret drive of every human heart.

In his February 6 column in The Mirror, Springfield/Cape Girardeau’s diocesan paper, Father Oscar Lukefahr, CM, tells us how to re-program our brains for Lent based on Bible teachings and the latest findings of science. These are some facts Father notes:

Neural connections in the brain that are most heavily used are reinforced and retained, while those that are rarely used will atrophy.

This is our first clue: abandon and replace our bad, negative thoughts with good and virtuous ones so that the bad will be rarely used and atrophy. Easier said than done, but at least we have a practical starting point.

As life goes on, we develop a network of connections established through experiences, thoughts, feelings, actions, and memories. If we worry a lot, the “wires” that carry negative thoughts will develop well-worn pathways. Each event of worrying smooths out the path along which worry loves to travel.

The same is true of sinful thoughts, such as rash judgment, lustful musings, gossip, foul language, unkindness, and every sin imaginable. Neural pathways provide the bodily highways for sins of the spirit, for bad habits called “vices” in traditional moral theology.

Brain pathways are also created by negative thinking processes like self-pity, second-guessing oneself, and unnecessary self-blame. The emotional pain that follows such negative thoughts also develops its own neural connections that grow stronger with time.

Why is this? Father Lukefahr notes that an expert in brain study says it’s because of human history. We’ll recognize it immediately as the result of the fall of man. In the early days after we were expelled from Eden, we survived by hunting/gathering food and avoiding predators, neither of which we would have had to do prior to Adam’s sin. If we missed a day or two of food, sooner or later we’d find something and stay alive. But if we failed to avoid a predator, we had no second chances. This living condition created a deeply-rooted negative bias. However, the brain expert says, we can overcome our innate negative bias by learning to focus on positive things.

It’s possible, of course, according to Father Lukefahr, to do this by ordinary human effort, but if we turn to God for assistance “the job of rewiring the brain becomes much easier. Most of us have struggled with bad habits, negative thinking, and other such problems. It’s easy to get discouraged, but what might seem impossible for us becomes possible when we turn to God.”

In the next post I’ll continue with the rewiring idea, but first, we need to take stock of our lives so we know what and why we want to rewire.

Where are we habitually dissatisfied with our response to doing God’s will? In what ways are we “shooting ourselves in the foot” so to speak? Walt Kelly in his famous comic strip, Pogo, is known for the comment, “We have met the enemy and he is us” and those of us schooled in traditional Catholic spirituality will recognize in this statement one of the three sources of sin, concupiscence.

What am I habitually griping or complaining about to myself or others? Am I trying to control others in order to control outcomes I desire rather than respecting other people’s boundaries and daily seeking God’s will for me?

Where am I not doing my best in my daily duties and why? How many broken promises have I made and to whom?

In what areas or situations of my life am I frustrated or anxious and why? Do I feel like a failure? Why? Do I accept bullying and constant criticism by others? Why?

Very often our negativity towards ourselves and others is a family practice handed down through generations. My mother was an habitual worrier and I learned it from her. One of the most difficult life lessons for me has been to, as they say in AA, “Let go and let God”, or as we pray in the Divine Mercy theme, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

 Take heart, we have no reason not to rewire our brains to strike the chains of sin and tether ourselves tightly to God. No matter how bad things may be in the state of our souls or in our lives, we can say with St. Paul in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

For the second installment on this subject, click here.

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Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 spirituality 4 Comments

Pre-Lenten Preparation

February 3, 2015

By the Waters of Babylon - Arthur HackerBefore we enter the forty days of fasting and penance preceding the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, our Holy Mother Church gives us a kind heads up in the 1962 liturgical books. We’re moving into a time of spiritual renovation that every Lent should be, and as with all important things in our lives, it’s no good to wake up the first Sunday of Lent and decide off the cuff that we’re giving up chocolate in all its myriad forms, or TV, or whatever else most easily comes to mind. Such carelessness is bound to lead to failure and a wasted season.

So then, the Church gives us three Sundays which we call the season of Septuagesima prior to Ash Wednesday to get ourselves ready. This has been part of the liturgical cycle in various ways for over 1000 years and we began this time for 2015 last Sunday. In the liturgy itself we now switch from green to the color of violet which symbolizes penance and mortification. The Gloria and the Alleluias are suppressed except for special feasts.

Dom Guéranger, OSB, in his massive work, The Liturgical Year, positions this season for us this way:

We are sojourners on the earth; we are exiles and captives in Babylon, that city which plots our ruin. If we love our country, if we long to return to it, we must be proof against the lying allurements of this strange land, and refuse the cup she proffers us, and with which she maddens so many of our fellow captives. She invites us to join in her feasts and her songs; but we must unstring our harps, and hang them on the willows that grow on her river’s bank, till the signal be given for our return to Jerusalem.

She will ask us to sing to her the melodies of our dear Sion: but how shall we, who are so far from home, have heart to “sing the song of the Lord in a strange land”? No, there must be no sign that we are content to be in bondage or we shall deserve to be slaves forever.

These are the sentiments wherewith the Church would inspire us during the penitential season which we are now beginning. She wishes us to reflect on the dangers that beset us; dangers which arise from ourselves and from creatures. During the rest of the year she loves to hear us chant the song of heaven, the sweet Alleluia; but now she bids us close our lips to this word of joy, because we are in Babylon. We are pilgrims absent from our Lord: let us keep our glad hymn for the day of His return. We are sinners, and have but too often held fellowship with the world of God’s enemies; let us become purified by repentance, for it is written that “praise is unseemly in the mouth of a sinner.”

We might well consider this season as one in which we tune ourselves up to run in that race St. Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 9: 24-27, the race being most immediately Lent of this year. We heard this in Sunday’s Epistle reading. Now is a good time to ask the Holy Spirit to show us what would be most beneficial to us personally as we look at the three ways we can keep Lent.

 1. What penances/mortifications will help me most to advance in virtue?

2. What spiritual practices should I fine-tune or add, or what habits should I build to open myself more to God who loves me and wants me united with Him in all things of my life?

3. What kind of almsgiving best fits my life situation? Although almsgiving is typically monetary and we should not ignore our widow’s mites, it can also be prayers, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and other things we can do to go the extra mile in regard to our neighbor.

If you need convenience in your spiritual growth for Lent or are looking for spiritual direction in general, Divine Intimacy Radio could well be for you. Their 24 minute podcast on preparing for Lent is excellent and you can listen to it any time. This is a new venture from Dan Burke of Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction and I’m looking forward to more discussions on the Divine Intimacy meditations.

Image: By the Waters of Babylon, c. 1888, Arthur Hacker (1858-1919).

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Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015 spirituality Comments Off on Pre-Lenten Preparation

St. Ephrem on Verbal Abuse

The Mocking of Christ - Giotto

A close high school friend who suffered unspeakable childhood abuse by both parents once said to me that sometimes the wounds you can’t see are much worse than the ones you can see. This is especially true when family members, co-workers, school mates and even church members start slicing and dicing others with their tongues. 

I first ventured into this topic when I wrote about Ending Verbal and Psychological Abuse in the Family. It’s not enough to say that this behavior, which is a kind of bullying, should have no place in the family. It has no place anywhere, whether it be the work place, the school, the church, cyberspace, the media, or any other place. Yet, especially in today’s political and ideological climate, it’s nearly impossible to have a reasoned discussion on anything we might disagree with someone about without the conversation degenerating into a bullying, derisive, shouting match. I’ve seen people with hidden agendas pound the table and deny the falsely accused a voice at all. I’ve seen public derision of the most adolescent kind by people without cause.

Too often we get caught up in this gross diminishment of others whether we are perpetrators, innocent bystanders, silent orchestrators, or vicarious enjoyers of seeing someone we hold in contempt being taken down. We share in the sin of bullying even if we aren’t the perpetrator, and this sin is very serious. How can we claim to be a Christian if we are part of it? We become no better than the mockers of Christ in His passion and death.

St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373), one of the great Fathers of the Church who writes with such passion and color, sets us straight in his Homily on Admonition and Repentance,#6. Mocking, scorning, and deriding have a much wider audience today than in St. Ephrem’s time, given the internet and airwaves so we have a much greater opportunity to fall into sin by it. We should heed his words.

…If you love derision, you are altogether as Satan; and if you mock at your fellow, you are the mouth of the Devil; if against defects and flaws, in (injurious) names you delight, Satan is not in creation but his place you have seized by force. [This is hyperbole because Satan by existing is in creation, but it is not hyperbole that we have seized his place by force. We are doing Satan’s job for him deliberately and willfully when we demean others. He can sit back and enjoy, as it were, the expertise of his pupils.]

Get you far, O man, from this; for it is altogether hurtful; and if you desire to live well, sit not with the scorner, lest you become the partner of his sin and of his punishment. Hate mockery which is altogether (the cause of weeping). And if you should hear a mocker by chance, when you are not desiring it, sign yourself with the cross of light, and hasten from thence like an antelope. [We should immediately turn off the television, the radio, go to another web site, take a walk and pray the rosary, mow the lawn, sweep the floor, clean the house/garage, anything to shut the evil out of our ears and mind.]

Where Satan lodges, Christ will in nowise dwell; a spacious dwelling for Satan is the man that mocks at his neighbor; a palace of the Enemy is the heart of the mocker. Satan does not desire to add any other evil to it. Mockery is sufficient for him to supply the place of all. Neither his belly nor yet his purse can (the sinner) fill with that sin of his. By his laughter is the wretch despoiled, and he knows not nor does he perceive it. For his wound, there is no cure; for his sickness, there is no healing; his pain admits no remedy; and his sore endures no medicine. [It will take much prayer by others to awaken an abuser to the harm he does to himself, such is his extreme blindness to its effects on himself.]

I desire not with such a one to put forth my tongue to reprove him: enough for him is his own shame; sufficient for him is his boldness. [Unfortunately, most abusers have no sense of shame until something rather large happens to them as a consequence of their actions. That becomes unlikely the more power an abuser has.]

Blessed is he that has not heard him; and blessed is he that has not known him. Be it far from you, O Church, that he should enter you, that evil leaven of Satan!

In the mealy-mouthed culture of today people are likely to say that St. Ephrem is being too “harsh”. But if we want to get to heaven a little harshness is in order. We have to confront the ways we co-operate with Satan and act as useful idiots for his agenda, which is to divide us and conquer us so that we give up entirely pursuing Christ and doing the difficult things we must to follow Him.

Regarding what St. Ephrem says about abusers entering the Church, we cannot allow abusive behavior in our parishes, on committees, or in the classrooms. If as adults we set a high standard of kindness and pursuit of virtue, if we admonish the abuser, if we don’t give him an audience, he may repent and convert. I am convinced that the majority of abusive people are carrying deep wounds in themselves that they are running away from by visiting on others much the same treatment they themselves were subject to early in life. If that’s the case, while we need not allow them to abuse us or give them opportunities to bully others, we can pray for them, and if it is within our authority, we can direct them to appropriate help. After that, it is between them and God as to what happens.

Painting: The Mocking of Christ, Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06, Fresco, 200 x 185 cm, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

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Sunday, February 1st, 2015 spirituality 6 Comments

The Submission of Jesus to His Parents

Christ in the Carpenter Shop de la Tour

And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth and was subject to them (Luke 2:51).

The tale of the loss and finding in the Temple would not be complete without the rest of the story and plumbing the depths of its meaning.

In Prince of Peace Archbishop Goodier remarks:

He had finished this particular work which His Father had given Him to do. He had sanctified religious instruction; He had, in this simple event, provided for all time a proof that indeed He was more than man, that His discovery of Himself, as some modern critics would assert, was no gradual process, but that He knew Himself and His mission from the beginning; to go on from that moment teaching, to begin His public life at the age of twelve, would not have been in accordance with His fixed plan, of living the complete life of man, of bearing all man’s burdens, of being “in all things like to man, sin alone excepted.”

Most men must live out their lives in hiddenness and seclusion; then our Lord must let men see that He would do the same. He has left us a complete account of these eighteen years–eighteen years, let us reckon it in our own lives, is a long time–but He has left it complete in only two short sentences.

It’s always seemed to me that the many people out there who claim that Jesus didn’t know who He really was nor His mission were attacking the divinity of Christ or somehow demeaning Him and trying to get others to lose confidence in Him. This event in Scripture shows that He knew perfectly well who He was and why He came to earth. That He looked like everybody else and lived in a quiet village with His family is to be seen as an example to those of us who are not destined to be recipients of the pomp and circumstance of the world. It is the example of quiet obedience to God’s plan for us. And if by some means God deems it good for the salvation of souls that we become well-known and the object of adulation, we must remain in Nazareth in our hearts being subject to His will.

Developing his thoughts further Goodier writes:

But when the child has grown up and still obeys; when the boy, the youth, the full-grown man still keeps his parents in the first place, considering them, serving them, working for them, then we have free obedience. And this we have from this time forward in our Lord; at the age of twelve He “put away the things of a child” but He “was subject to them” none the less.

We reverence our parents because they gave us life, and because they are given to us by God to form and guide us in His ways, and because they have made many sacrifices to raise us. It is another subject altogether if they are not forming and guiding us in God’s ways, but there is never a time when we can behave disrespectfully towards them, curse or demean them, even when we disagree with them or even if, as in some cases, they have abused us in the vilest ways possible. Jesus showed us the way in the simple words, “was subject to them.” If the Son of God can subject Himself to creatures such as Mary and Joseph, how can we do less in our own families?

In tying the idea of obedience together, Archbishop Goodier writes:

Obedience is the bond of union, the source of strength, the safeguard of peace, the power in action, the tree that bears fruit both material and spiritual. But it is a hard lesson for independent human nature to learn; no wonder, then, that the Savior of the world chose to teach it at such great expense.

That great expense culminated in the death on the cross. When we’re tempted to whine about the inconvenience of God’s will, we must remember that we serve the same Father as Jesus. No matter what He asks us to bear, like the good Father He is, He will cause us to be fruitful if we subject ourselves to Him.

Lord Jesus, help me to submit to the Father’s will for me. Curb my selfishness so that I may bring unity, strength, peace and good fruit to the rest of the family of the Body of Christ, especially those in my own family.

Image: George de La Tour, Christ in the Carpenter’s Shop, 1645, Oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, January 29th, 2015 spirituality Comments Off on The Submission of Jesus to His Parents

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Christ Among the Doctors Bodone

And it came to pass that after three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His wisdom and His answers. And seeing Him they wondered. And His Mother said to Him, ‘Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.’ And He said to them: ‘How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?’ And they understood not the word that He spoke unto them (Luke 2:46-50).

This entire episode is a foreshadowing of the Passover, the Sacrifice of the Cross, and the Resurrection. One Pasch arcs forward to the final Pasch. Underlying all is the theme of obedience to God’s will. The three days spent searching for Jesus in the darkness of anxiety point to the three days in the tomb before the resurrection when Mary, the apostles, and the disciples mourned His terrible suffering and death.

The “done so” Mary refers to is Jesus not telling them He was staying behind in the Temple. I’ve heard some people say that this was just the thoughtlessness of a typical teenager. But Pope Benedict in his exegesis of The Infancy Narratives in Jesus of Nazareth points out that Jesus replies not on an earthly level, but on a supernatural level. He declares His divine Sonship and divine mission when He asks, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

This was not a slap in the face to St. Joseph, but a small glimpse into His purpose, His relationship to His father, His divine obedience to His Father which Jesus reveals to His parents even though they don’t understand it at the time. Mary, the model believer, ponders His words as His life unfolds through the passion and resurrection. As such, Pope Benedict points out, she becomes “the image of the Church, which keeps God’s word in her heart and passes it on to others” just as she passed it on to St. Luke.

We find more to consider in this passage as Archbishop Goodier points out in Prince of Peace:

We have elsewhere seen how our Lord sanctioned and sanctified many phases of human life by His own hidden life at Nazareth. But here we have one special feature as it were taken apart and solemnly consecrated apart; the feature of education. Of course, later in life He sanctified it in abundance by His life of public teaching; but there is a special appropriateness in this earlier consecration, when He Himself was in the role of a pupil, and when in this formal way, in the Temple itself, He could solemnly sanctify that all-important work which the Church has ever claimed for her own.

In today’s world many Catholics reject the teachings of the Church, not being willing to sit at the feet of Christ, ask questions, and pray about the areas they don’t understand. God proclaims many inconvenient truths to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. We find them fully explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other places. Instead, some people prefer to listen to the world and its false declarations about life, family, what constitutes happiness, and many other things. I have found in my life that submitting to the yoke of Christ simplifies everything, and that with St. Francis de Sales, we must always speak the truth with charity. Jesus gave us the example in the Temple of how to be the pupil so that eventually we, too, might be the teacher of others.

Image: Giotto di Bondone, Christ among the Doctors, 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua. Source: Web Gallery of Art.

V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 spirituality Comments Off on The Finding of Jesus in the Temple


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