Spiritual reading

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 http://www.stgregoryofnarek.am/index.php 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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R. Now and forever!

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Falling For the Pomps of Satan in Entertainment

August 16, 2014

Tertullian, woodcut, via Wikipedia

Tertullian, woodcut, via Wikipedia

Is the entertainment of today as depraved as that of the times of the early Christians? I never gave this much thought as I often avert my eyes from billboards, newspaper and computer ads, and the sight of women and men walking around in broad daylight obviously influenced by the clothing and mannerisms promoted in books, movies, plays, sports events, video games, etc. Then, in reading daily meditations from A Year with the Church Fathers by Mike Aquilina I saw that what we battle today regarding the promotion of impurity and violence is nothing new. There’s just a lot more of it available to a lot more people.

The level of perversity is pretty much the same as Tertullian of Carthage (c. 160-225) condemned in his sermon On the Shows. However, the saturation of our culture with foul language, behavior so perverted and violent that we make ourselves lower than the beasts, and the dissemination of all kinds of non-Christian thinking tends to deaden our consciences and blind our eyes to the fact that we are often stepping into a spiritual sewer that is likely to carry us to a final collection pool we will never get out of. We are not being the Christian witness we vowed to be when we made our baptismal promises if we attempt to dance around in this miasma of depravity.

Tertullian contrasts the heathen, as he describes the non-Christians of his time, with the Christian in chapters 21, 22, and 24 of On the Shows.

The heathen, who have not a full revelation of the truth, for they are not taught of God, hold a thing evil and good as it suits self-will and passion, making that which is good in one place evil in another, and that which is evil in one place in another good. So it strangely happens, that the same man who can scarcely in public lift up his tunic, even when necessity of nature presses him, takes it off in the circus, as if bent on exposing himself before everybody; the father who carefully protects and guards his virgin daughter’s ears from every polluting word, takes her to the theatre himself, exposing her to all its vile words and attitudes; he, again, who in the streets lays hands on or covers with reproaches the brawling pugilist, in the arena gives all encouragement to combats of a much more serious kind; and he who looks with horror on the corpse of one who has died under the common law of nature, in the amphitheatre gazes down with most patient eyes on bodies all mangled and torn and smeared with their own blood; nay, the very man who comes to the show, because he thinks murderers ought to suffer for their crime, drives the unwilling gladiator to the murderous deed with rods and scourges; and one who demands the lion for every manslayer of deeper dye, will have the staff for the savage swordsman, and rewards him with the cap of liberty. Yes and he must have the poor victim back again, that he may get a sight of his face— with zest inspecting near at hand the man whom he wished torn in pieces at safe distance from him: so much the more cruel he if that was not his wish.

What wonder is there in it? Such inconsistencies as these are just such as we might expect from men, who confuse and change the nature of good and evil in their inconstancy of feeling and fickleness in judgment.

Everything Tertullian describes we can attest to in today’s world. Whether it is merely a drama or night club act, or whether it is in fact events actually occurring such as those ISIS and Hamas exult in and broadcast to all, we can’t say that most of what passes for entertainment today is all that much different from his day.

In how many other ways shall we yet further show that nothing which is peculiar to the shows has God’s approval, or without that approval is becoming in God’s servants? If we have succeeded in making it plain that they were instituted entirely for the devil’s sake, and have been got up entirely with the devil’s things (for all that is not God’s, or is not pleasing in His eyes, belongs to His wicked rival), this simply means that in them you have that pomp of the devil which in the seal of our faith we abjure.

We should have no connection with the things which we abjure, whether in deed or word, whether by looking on them or looking forward to them; but do we not abjure and rescind that baptismal pledge, when we cease to bear its testimony? Does it then remain for us to apply to the heathen themselves. Let them tell us, then, whether it is right in Christians to frequent the show. Why, the rejection of these amusements is the chief sign to them that a man has adopted the Christian faith. If any one, then, puts away the faith’s distinctive badge, he is plainly guilty of denying it. What hope can you possibly retain in regard to a man who does that? When you go over to the enemy’s camp, you throw down your arms, desert the standards and the oath of allegiance to your chief: you cast in your lot for life or death with your new friends.

Those of us baptized in the pre-1969 liturgy renounced “Satan and all his pomps.” Tertullian gives us a good idea of what some of those pomps look like regarding the theater and today’s manufactured theater we witness in the exercise of politics. What we could rightly ask ourselves is the following:

  • Have I become blinded and accepting of the entertainment, manner of dress, and conduct of what passes as OK in the judgment of today’s world?
  • If I have, is it because “everybody else” is going along with it and I don’t want to be viewed as different?
  • In setting priorities and managing my time, how much do I allocate to developing a deep relationship with God versus passively feeding myself with worldly entertainment? In the first instance we must move out of ourselves toward God, such as making an hour of Adoration, going to Confession, attending Mass, studying the Bible, doing spiritual reading, meditating, etc. That all takes effort on our part as we reach out to the hand God extends to us. In the second instance we amuse ourselves by wandering through shopping malls for no real purpose, parking ourselves in front of the TV, sitting in dark movie theaters not discriminating what is dished up for us, or heading off to night clubs with ribald entertainment. It’s equivalent to lying on a hospital bed with a poison IV drip in our arm. We don’t need to put forth any effort. We just take it in.
  • Would people who meet me or those who know me have any idea that I am a Christian by how I live my life?

Living in this world while not being of this world is our daily challenge. With the grace of God we can always do better defying the pomps of Satan.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Chaplet for the Conversion of Priests

June 18, 2014

Sermon of St. Martin, c. 1490, unknown Master, Hungarian, Tempera on wood, 101,5 x 89,5 cm Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest*

Sermon of St. Martin, c. 1490, unknown Master, Hungarian, Tempera on wood, 101,5 x 89,5 cm, Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest*

 

Back in 1999 when I spent an hour in Adoration one day, I was contemplating the sad state of orthodoxy in our diocese. The bishop at that time so strongly discouraged the preaching of Church teaching against contraception that any priest who dared speak the truth in the confessional or the pulpit was moved that very week to the opposite side of the diocese, sentenced to a small out of the way parish because of vicious complaints by parishioners.

Liturgical abuse was rampant. No traditional Catholic devotions were encouraged, and at one parish, the pastor forbid his priests to attend the three hour Sunday afternoon Adoration the laity had requested. It was left to the Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers to repose the Blessed Sacrament when it was over at 3:00.

Bizarre doctrines could be heard from many pulpits on any given Sunday, such as, we can argue with God after we’re dead so as to justify our sins. Seminarians were screened so prospects who did not believe in women priests were never accepted. The lighting of the Easter fire was concelebrated with an Episcopalian “priestess” at the church next door in one rural parish, and the event was touted as great “ecumenism” in the diocesan paper. That publication was where I first learned that there were two Jesuses. The Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith. That’s when I found out about the Bultmannian heresy.

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass was forbidden on the grounds that “it would confuse the Protestants and we Catholics had to present a united front to them because we live in the Bible Belt.” However, it was just fine with the bishop for us to drive three hours one way to attend it in nearby dioceses. And it was fine with him that we laity could educate others about the Extraordinary Form, but only because under canon law he couldn’t stop us from doing it. When Pope Benedict XVI issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007, the bishop had no choice but to provide the Traditional Mass, but he picked the most vocally opposed priest to do the job, and we were insulted from the pulpit every Sunday for one reason or another.

Things changed under a new bishop, who is orthodox but inherited a tremendous mess. All these years since that day in Adoration when the Lord inspired me to pray a chaplet for the conversion of priests, I’ve done it quietly and privately off and on. At first it was daily, but I fell prey to discouragement over the years. Sure, things are changing for the better but it’s too slow for me. I thought maybe my prayers weren’t doing any good and prayed that chaplet less and less often. Oh me of little faith!

This week I learned that the very popular pastor of a nearby parish was relieved of his duties a couple of weeks ago for embezzling money for quite some time. That parish was almost dead before he came there, and in the past four years since he has been there, it revived with more and more people joining. Everyone knows that his personableness, enthusiastic preaching and devotion to the suffering played a big part in the revival. This priest was also one of the best confessors I’ve been to which proves that no matter how much a sinner a priest may be, God can still use him to guide us wisely in Confession. Although I am not a parishioner, his loss leaves a big hole in my heart. I did not think about how much he could need my prayers and, for the most part, I rarely hear priests ask for prayers for themselves.

Our priests are always in danger of sinning big. Satan hates them with a vengeance because he knows the Mystical Body of Christ needs them. In Zechariah 13: 7 we read, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand to the little ones.” Indeed, last Sunday when we attended Mass in that parish, we saw that many people were gone – between 1/3 and 1/2 of the congregation. It won’t be until some time in August that a new priest will be assigned to the parish.

I am now resolved to return to praying my “Chaplet for the Conversion of Priests” regularly and want to share it with readers who may find themselves drawn to doing the same.

Explanation of the chaplet

First though, in case anyone is thinking, “How dare you imply that priests need converting?!!!”, I must say that everyone of us needs conversion of heart, priests included. As Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:7, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, and they all slunk off in shame.

To convert our hearts means to repent of our sins and be determined to follow that narrow way to the narrow door (Luke 13: 24). That narrow way is made of God’s instructions to us which we find in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, in obedience to the laws of the Church whether liturgical or canonical, in constant purification of our desires so that Christ becomes the center of our lives in all things.

David cries to God in penitence, “If thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; with burnt-offerings thou wilt not be delighted; a sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit; a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 1: 18). “Thou wilt not despise” is a way of saying, “Thou wilt love and cherish and gather to Thyself.”

Moses said to his people, “Now, when thou shalt be touched with the repentance of thy heart – and return to Him – the Lord thy God will have mercy on thee” (Deut. 30: 1-3).

The prophet Joel tells us, “Now, therefore,” saith the Lord, “be converted to Me with all your heart in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning, and rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, patient, and rich in mercy” (Joel 2: 12).

Second, this chaplet also links the priests directly with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The primary purpose of the priest is to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary to the Father. He stands as an Alter Christus, a mediator in the place of Christ as Christ has ordained, and is the only one who can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, confect the Holy Eucharist. He is also the mediator in place of Christ when he administers the other sacraments. Our belief in the Blessed Sacrament is central to the Catholic faith. Without the priest, we would not have the opportunity to receive the great graces from receiving the Holy Eucharist, going to Confession, the Last Rites, etc.

Third, the Blessed Mother holds all priests dearly as her special sons. While we are all sons and daughters of Our Lady by virtue of Christ’s words in John 19: 26-27, the priests are especially dear to her. They are her children in the most danger all the time because without them the Church could not exist. (See the link above.) Satan seeks to destroy the Church any way he can.

When I pray this chaplet I am fully aware that I myself need conversion daily, and it becomes an earnest prayer not only for priests, but also for my own spiritual growth. It has no approval of ecclesiastical authority, just from my pastor at the time, but I have been thinking about seeking approval so that others may have a wide access to it.

Chaplet for the Conversion of Priests

  1. Using the Rosary, begin with the Crucifix and say the Anima Christi.
  1. Offer the next four beads for the welfare of the Holy Father and his intentions: Our Father and three Hail Marys.
  1. On the “Our Father” beads say: O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.
  1. On the “Hail Mary” beads, say: O my Jesus, truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar, I beg Thee, convert Thy priests.
  1. Continue the chaplet through the 5 decades in this manner. At the end say three times: O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.
  1. After saying this say 3 times: Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us and on Thy priests.
  1. Then say 3 times: Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us and for our priests.

*About the art: There are two related panels, painted on both sides, in the Hungarian National Gallery which once were the wings of an altarpiece dedicated to St Martin and St Nicholas. One of the wings represents St Martin and the Beggar (outer side) and the Sermon of St Martin in Albenga (inner side). The other wing depicts St Nicholas and the Daughters of the Nobleman in Pataria (outer side) as well as the scene St. Nicholas Resurrects Three Deads.

The panel represents a legendary scene from the life of St. Martin. The Bishop, having given his clothes to a needy man, celebrates mass in poor, hastily acquired garments. At the elevation of the Host angels descend to cover his bare arms.

The altar table in the sanctuary, shown in great detail, is decorated with a picture within the picture: a horizontally arranged retable with a scene of the Crucifixion. This is of special importance in the history of the development of winged altars in Hungary, for it demonstrates that this early type of retables of which very few examples have survived, was still in use at the end of the fifteenth century. Seen against the embroidered white altar-cloth the shadows are effective. The artist’s representation of the missal is most realistic; also the representation of the mitre and the Gothic style objects made of precious metals, the ciborium between two candlesticks, the chalice and the paten, the latter only just visible under the edge of the communion cloth. Realism was not, however, an end in itself; the painter introduced these details to create an atmosphere of wonder before the legendary scene. The realistic characters are also imbued with piety. The portrait-like features of the male figure kneeling on the right suggest that it was he who commissioned the altarpiece. The painter’s endeavours to represent the interior in perspective, the sharp folds shown almost in relief and the subtle colour effects all place the master of this panel among the finest Hungarian painters active in the late fifteenth century.

–          Courtesy of the Web Gallery of Art

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Obtaining Peace of Mind

April 26, 2014

Compassion, Bouguereau, 1897

Compassion, Bouguereau, 1897

Many people I know are enduring some great challenge or other to the point of sleepless nights and nervous exhaustion. Being by nature a Mrs. Fix-it, I would like to take all these trials apart for them, sending these friends off with a cheery “Have a good day”, but such is not to be. In fact, the best I can do apart from listening and giving solid advice is to pray for them and trust that God will help them sort things out. This is probably how our good contemplative monks and nuns approach the many troubles we bring to them. Yet I am constantly tempted to worry excessively about people I care about.

One thing I’ve realized as more distraught souls find me – and I’m not out there looking for them by any means – is that if I don’t keep my own house in order I’ll never be any good to them. I get it that God’s will is for me to be present to them and to point them in practical ways towards solving their earthly problems while helping them come closer to God. I also get it that I’m no good to anybody without constantly working on my own spiritual life, especially maintaining my own peace of mind in the heart of Christ, and that’s wherein lies the challenge. My prayer life and spiritual reading become full of distractions over concerns for others. Mrs. Fix-it just has to intrude on my quiet time with God. Fortunately a very old book of spiritual direction has become an aid.

St. Francis de Sales’ (1567-1622) favorite book was The Spiritual Combat. He carried it around with him and read from it whenever he could snatch a moment here and there from his many duties as bishop of Geneva. The author, Father Lorenzo Scupoli, gives most useful spiritual advice to those of us struggling to live a God-centered life in an increasingly abusive and murderous world and to live rightly loving our neighbor.

Father Scupoli in chapter 25 of his book remarks:

Our peace of mind when lost demands every possible exertion for its recovery. We actually never can lose it or cause it to be disturbed except through our own fault.

True. True. God is teaching me through helping others that I have to depend on His power, grace and mercy for them and never become agitated over not being able to solve their problems for them nor to be impatient with how long it takes them to act. In fact, overstepping my bounds will lead to a dangerous pride and get in the way of them learning the lessons He has in mind for them as He perfects them.

…Our compassion for sinners and sadness at their destruction must be free of vexation and trouble, as it springs from a purely charitable motive….

Making my friends’ trials my own and letting them overpower my God time is not putting God first. If God is not first I become like a man struggling in quicksand. Sooner or later I will go under because I don’t see the rope extended to me to drag me out of the pit.

These trials and events occur at the design of our Master; the severest tribulations of this life bring His will to our aid, so that we can march with a calm and tranquil soul. Any disquiet on our part is displeasing to God. For of whatever nature it may be it is always accompanied by some imperfection, and it always has a tendency towards self-love in one form or another.

Disquiet when we are concerned about friends, family, or the trend of life in general should be an alarm bell calling us to question what is behind the agitation. For myself, I inevitably find that I want more power than I am entitled to. Although I quietly pray for those I want to help and watch for the signs of God’s grace in their lives, I am often stuck in a fantasy of how I think things should be and what I think they should be doing to end their pain. In other words, I think I’m smarter than God. After reflecting on this for awhile, I saw the pitfalls and resolved to change. Now disquiet becomes a trigger for me to pray that God be with them and that they submit to His will, whatever that is.

I am convinced that, if the heart is troubled, the enemy is ever able to strike us, and as much as he wishes. Moreover, in that state we are not capable of discerning the true path to follow, the snares that must be avoided to attain virtue.

You will find it greatly advantageous to preserve a calm mind through all the events in your life. Without it, your pious exercises will be fruitless.

The enemy detests this peace. For he knows that this is the place where the spirit of God dwells, and that God now desires to accomplish great things in us. Consequently he employs his most devilish means to destroy this peace. He suggests various things that apparently are good. It is a trap; you will soon discover that these desires will destroy the peace of your heart.

The devil slithers in under the cover of us desiring to do good to others and disturbs our very necessary time with God. This is the key problem with giving in to our emotions, our feelings of fear and anxiety both for ourselves and on behalf of others. God gave us the capacity to reason and think and He means for that to rule our feelings, not the other way around. Part of our self-discipline is to be able to hold feelings at bay while reasoning things out. If we cannot do this for ourselves with the help of God’s grace, how are we to really help our friends who are in emotional turmoil?

Father Sculpoli goes on to say that even when we discover that the desires we have to do a good are truly from God, we must “deter execution until our eagerness has been mortified.” Preceded by mortification he tells us, our work is more pleasing to God.

Finally he tells us:

Let us raise our hearts to God. Whatever He wills, without exception, should be received with the firm persuasion that every cross He wills to send shall prove an endless source of blessing, a treasure whose value one may not appreciate at the moment.

After pondering this chapter I have concluded that obtaining peace of heart and practicing it faithfully is a prerequisite for helping the many people God puts in my path who have little to no peace of heart. Whereas before I jumped right in to problems without sufficient reflection on the spiritual aspect of a friend’s trials, now I am asking myself how God is blessing them through their pain. In addition to making suggestions and observations that can help them, now I ask myself how God is providing for them in their trials and ask them what they think God wants from them. Doing this helps Mrs. Fix-it to help them better and always to point them to Christ. Most of all, I now can share with them that not knowing exactly what God is doing with them is no cause for disquiet, but rather an invitation to trust in Him and place themselves in His hands while doing all that is reasonable and allowable in His eyes to endure their trials and solve their problems.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, April 26th, 2014 Spiritual reading, spirituality 14 Comments

The Silence of Christ

March 26, 2013

Crown of Thorns, 1520-25, Lucas, Cranach the Elder (b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar), Oil and tempera on limewood, Private collection

Crown of Thorns, 1520-25, Lucas, Cranach the Elder (b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar), Oil and tempera on limewood, Private collection

Bossuet, in his Meditations for Lent, wrote:

Few people like to suffer, and to suffer in silence in the sight of God alone. And if it is rare to find those who like to suffer, it is still rarer to find those who suffer without trying to tell the world of it.

This comment isn’t just for Lent, but for all the times of our lives. I don’t think Bossuet was trying to be funny here, but really, the second half of the second sentence really is funny because it so perfectly describes our human nature. There is a reason for that marvelous Yiddish word, “kvetch”.

Who among us can truthfully say that we have never whined or complained to anyone who will listen about things that pain us most deeply? It is at those times we are trapped inside our own little world, maybe throwing tantrums over the injustices or ill fortunes of life, and wanting somebody to take pity on us and rescue us. While grieving over certain losses is normal and it is healthy to let someone care for us until we get back on our psychological feet, when we let our suffering control our lives to the point that it consumes our outlook and relationships with others, we are in trouble. Why? Because we are looking everywhere but to Jesus for the answer.

Jesus endured a thousand injuries, insults, and indignities from all manner of persons. He was falsely accused by his cruel enemies, the scribes and the Pharisees. They said He was a blasphemer, a rebel, a breaker of the law, and a disturber of the peace, that He had contempt for the Roman taxes, and finally, that He was misleading the people with His new doctrine.

And we get bent out of shape when somebody makes the slightest false accusation against us! But Jesus made no attempt to defend Himself. He bore the blows of the Jews and their accusations in His illegal midnight trial, the scourging and crowning with thorns all without a word. While the sadistic Roman soldiers spit on Him and struck Him viciously, He was silent. And when the hedonistic Herod, a slippery piece of work, tried to get Jesus to speak, He remained silent. He didn’t try to get out of fulfilling the purpose the Father sent Him here to accomplish.

We, too, have a purpose in our suffering: to share in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of souls. Our suffering with this purpose keeps us focused not on ourselves but on eternal life which we will spend with God and our whole, huge, joyful and loving family of saints and angels.

Bossuet writes:

…[O]ur souls are tested and marvelously improved when, by a truly Christian generosity, we are able to rise up above all that troubles and opposes us, and, like Jesus, we keep a profound silence, even when there is something to speak about, whether for our justification against an unjust accusation, or amid a raging tempest of trouble. A truly generous soul must defend itself with silence, which will be its calm and peace amid the storm. Jesus will send an interior sweetness into the depths of the hearts of those who, by a little courage, reject and abandon the help of creatures for the sake of His love.

In our sufferings and contradictions, let us not look to secondary causes. We must not pander to our self-love by a vain search for someone to blame for our sufferings. We must instead lift our sights to heaven to see that it is God Himself who has allowed these things to happen to us, and that they will be for the sake of our salvation if we know how to profit from them.

Suffering in this life is not optional, but our interior attitude towards it is. Let us imitate the silence of Jesus as a way to strengthen our character, build virtue, and enjoy an ever closer relationship with Christ.

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Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 Spiritual reading, spirituality, suffering 3 Comments

Was Mary Really an Unwed Mother?

December 30, 2013

Espousal of Mary, 1504, Raffaello Sanzio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Espousal of Mary, 1504, Raffaello Sanzio, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

 

Happy Nativity season to all my readers! May God bless you now and in the coming year.

This past Sunday, yesterday, we attended Mass at a nearby parish rather than driving a half hour to the Extraordinary Form Mass we normally attend because we were exhausted from the nine hour trip home on Saturday. The liturgical calendar called for the feast of the Holy Family and I was looking forward to hearing another great sermon by the pastor, but such was not to be.

Early on in his discussion of the Gospel he said, “Jesus was conceived outside of wedlock.” Then he proceeded to say that people looked down on Jesus and ridiculed Him because of this. The pastor could not have shocked me more if he had cast a bolt of lightening on my head. “Ay-yi-yi! Ach du lieber! Mama Mia! Merdre! Eheu! Aigoo! Good Grief!” If I knew the words for dismay in any more languages I’d write them here. Where do people get these cockamamie ideas? Especially a priest who was supposedly well-trained in Sacred Scripture in the seminary?

This is the second time in the past several months I’ve come across the “Mary was an unwed mother theme.” The first was when reading a supposedly Catholic book on families. What to do? When we got home I decided to research the subject so that I could write an informative and correct post and found an excellent article by Father Michael Griffin, O.C.D., in the EWTN library. St. Joseph: A Theological Introduction contained exactly what I was looking for, and could not have been a better source of meditation to celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. If any of you have come across this particular error, I hope this post will help clear the confusion.

Since the Bible is the inerrant Word of God we must be very careful to learn the exact meaning of all passages rather than making assumptions on meaning based on today’s life styles. Father Griffin writes in section one of his treatise (emphasis mine):

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary announcing that she was to become the Mother of God, she was, according to the account given by Saint Luke, “espoused to a man named Joseph”[Lk. 1:27]. The wording of the text is common to all modern versions of the Bible [and the 16th century KJV and Douay Rheims].

Commenting on this text, scripture scholars warn us that the word “espoused” is not to be equated with the word “engagement”. The words espousal and engagement are allied terms that are related to marriage, but they are not perfectly synonymous. The word espousal refers to the making of vows of marriage rather than to the ceremonies that surround the wedding; it implies that the couple have, in the strict legal sense, entered upon the state of wedlock.

Engagement, on the other hand, connotes only the “promise” of one day entering the state of matrimony, providing the present desires and wishes of the couple endure. Thus, to understand the phrase of Saint Luke “espoused to a man named Joseph” as meaning that Mary was engaged to him at the time, would not do justice to the text. Saint Luke is simply saying that Mary and Joseph were already married when Mary became the Mother of God.

Why, then, does Saint Luke use the word “espoused” instead of the word “married”? Would it not have been clearer and more simple for him to use the second?

It must be remembered that according to the Jewish custom of the time there were two steps that lead to marriage as we understand it today. First, the couple exchanged their matrimonial consent in a special ceremony. Today we would say they pronounced their marriage vows. In virtue of this they were joined together as man and wife in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the law. From that time they had all the rights and privileges accorded to husbands and wives. According to Jewish law if the man died, the woman was considered as his widow and was entitled to his inheritance. If the woman was unfaithful to him, she would be punished as an adulteress; neither could she remarry without first obtaining a bill of divorce.

The second step was the solemnization of the marriage or the celebration of the wedding festivities. According to the means of the couple, the wedding feast was celebrated as elaborately as possible. The man would come to the home of the bride and in public procession he would escort her to his home. Then they would begin their life together.

This second part of the ceremony took place many months after the exchange of the wedding vows. And it is for this reason that Saint Luke tells us that they were “espoused” at the time of the Annunciation. The meaning is clear. At the time of the apparition of the Angel they were not living together as man and wife for the wedding festivities had not as yet taken place, but they were married in the eyes of God since they had already exchanged matrimonial consent.

Clearly then, Jesus was not conceived outside of wedlock, nor was Mary an unwed mother. And nowhere that I know of was it written in the Bible that Jesus was looked down on because Mary became pregnant with Him before going to live in Joseph’s home.

This article by Father Griffin inspired me because it details God’s plan for making the Holy Family appear to be just like any other family of devout Jews and the important role St. Joseph played in all of it, especially in protecting Jesus and Mary. If you already have a devotion to St. Joseph or you are looking for a rich subject for meditation on this part of the Gospel of St. Luke, I highly recommend this article. Don’t be put off by the title which may make you think it will be dull and boring. By the time you finish it you will be filled with joy, wonder at God’s love for us, a greater appreciation for St. Joseph, and you will also be able to counter the nonsense about Mary being an unwed mother when you hear it.

Deo gratias.

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Source of Temptation: The Flesh

July 4, 2013

This post is a continuation of the series on sin and follows the article on The World.

Allegory of gluttony and lust - Hieronymus Bosch, 16th century, Yale University

Allegory of Gluttony and Lust – Hieronymus Bosch, 16th century, Yale University

Nobody explained to me when I was young exactly what is meant by “the flesh”, as in “the world, the flesh, and the devil” which are sources of temptation. If it was explained, somehow it didn’t take in my mind. Consequently I lived for many years thinking that “the flesh” and concupiscence had something to do with sex only. Wrong.

The flesh

The flesh pertains to the desires we have for everything that pleases ourselves in relation to physical, mental, and emotional satisfaction. Because of our darkened intellects and weakened wills, those wounds of original sin, we often make bad choices for ourselves even though we convince ourselves at the time we are doing good and we feel temporarily happy.

By its nature, fallen, the flesh is narcissistic. It is lustful (greedy) for its own pleasure. It is the unruly, stubborn, and rebellious part of us. It isn’t concerned with what is good for others first, but with what feels good to us first. It isn’t concerned with our duties towards God first, but with self-satisfaction. The flesh is the host of our concupiscence.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says about concupiscence:

In its widest acceptation, concupiscence is any yearning of the soul for good; in its strict and specific acceptation, a desire of the lower appetite contrary to reason.

The lower appetites incline us to pride, greed, gluttony, envy, lust, anger, and sloth. These are the seven deadly sins, all expressions of the desires of the flesh acting contrary to reason, reason being thinking according to the will of God.

St. Paul on the flesh vs. spirit

St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:16-24 about the flesh and the perpetual internal struggle we have with self-gratification vs. our spirit which seeks the goodness, truth, and beauty of God and His will which is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3):

But I say: Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, factions, parties, envies, murders, drunkenness, carousing, and suchlike.  And concerning these I warn you, as I have warned you, that they who do such things will not attain the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, modesty, continency. Against such things there is no law. And they who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.

Recognizing the pitfalls

As soldiers of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare we must look at ourselves and consider how much a hold the desires of the flesh have over us. Just as the world by its very nature contains pitfalls for us, so does the flesh.

The flesh cannot grasp the spiritual teachings of Christ. Our spirit is that part of us reaching for God and which sees the mysteries of revealed truth, apprehends them, and desires union with Him. The flesh is blind to the spiritual and sees only what the senses reveal. The flesh rejects transubstantiation, but the spirit knows that Jesus is present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. The flesh is repelled by the stinking poor of the slums of the world, but the spirit sees Jesus Christ suffering. The flesh cannot see that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but the spirit knows the truth of God, that “male and female He made them” in His own image (Gen. 1:27) and told them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). We can see from these examples that the flesh is inimical to God.

The deadly sin of sloth, meaning spiritual acedia, is fueled by the flesh. Have you ever heard people say that the Mass is boring as an excuse to skip it? Have you struggled within yourself concerning keeping a prayer schedule? Do you abhor receiving the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance? These temptations are common and are all examples of the flesh at war with the spirit, trying to drive us away from God because it cannot comprehend the higher things. A warm bed on Sunday morning or a lazy day on the lake seem much more pleasurable than keeping an appointment with God and honoring the third commandment. Watching TV, playing games, or gossiping on the phone are more fun than praying.  Any excuse will do for avoiding Confession.

The flesh refuses to be answerable to anything higher than itself.  It wants to be the sole judge of right and wrong, of truth and lies. In today’s world many people believe that truth is relative, that there is no objective reality at all but only what is true for that particular person which he decides for himself at that particular moment. Worse yet, when many people agree on a falsehood as being truth they often seek to impose it on others, and nothing can be allowed to challenge a truth the flesh has claimed for itself.

This is how we have sex education from pre-school through grade 12 in public schools inviting children to engage in sex, showing them how to do it, and claiming that same sex liaisons are normal. It’s how cheating on exams, in business, or in politics is justified.

The flesh intrudes on the freedom of others and abuses its own freedom. Untempered by reason, this lower appetite violates the boundaries of others’ freedom and lives by the rule, “I want what I want when I want it and the way I want it; I’m entitled to what I want and to Hades with you!” This is how rape, murder, abortion, euthanasia, communism, socialism, totalitarianism, and anarchy all become bedfellows. It is how the unjust law of Obamacare can force everyone to pay for contraception and abortion.  It is how entire nations try to impose “gay pride” on other nations, along with abortion and contraception. The flesh is clamoring for its own way and cannot stand to be opposed.

The flesh is inclined to death and destruction of itself and others. If we eat enough of the wrong foods long enough we can die from causes brought on by our own gluttony. If we drink enough alcohol or do enough drugs long enough we can kill others and/or kill ourselves. If we envy someone intensely, we can shred his or her reputation, lie, cheat, or steal to take possessions away or destroy a career. If we desire riches we can rob people with guns or con games like Bernie Madoff. We can end up in jail for this, our lives as we knew them destroyed.

We might appear on the surface to have everything, having been successful in our fleshly pursuits, but in the final analysis without being governed by the spirit we end up having sown the seeds of our own destruction both here and in the next world. The great pity is that we will have taken many others along with us into misery in the process.

Combating the flesh

The Catholic Church has her reasons for imposing fast and abstinence by law at various times of the year. Mortifying the body regularly helps us develop a stronger will to overcome the cravings of selfishness. We can say the same things about the laws regarding Mass attendance on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, the sacrament of Penance, and the Easter Duty. The Precepts of the Church are the bare minimum we must do, but if we’re really serious about conquering the flesh, we will voluntarily do more.

Keeping the old ways of fast and abstinence every Friday reminds us weekly of our need to conquer the flesh. Setting regular and appropriate times for prayer whether we feel like praying or not is a given. Daily spiritual reading by some of the great saints and Doctors of the Church allots time to our spirit and combats a lazy flesh. Practicing Lectio Divina sincerely moves hearts toward God and enables a firm resolve against sin. Seeking Mother Mary’s help by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary gives us a deeper appreciation of the Gospel and openness to Christ’s teachings. Stirring ourselves to do some volunteer work for those in need according to our talents can keep us out of a lot of trouble.

Two other weapons assist us in combating the flesh. By following the Benedictine motto, “That in all things God may be glorified,” making this the intention of everything we do, we can gradually subjugate the flesh and become more aware of its subtleties. We should also take advantage of the Church’s sacramentals such as holy water and blessed objects we can wear such as medals and scapulars. They are not items of superstition but objects of devotion – reminders of Whom we belong to – and reminders to pray.

The flesh is mightily strong, but God’s grace is stronger.  We lose the battle with the flesh only when we become too lazy to fight with what God has given us.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, July 4th, 2013 Catholic Church, Spiritual reading 2 Comments

Jesus on Anger

June 25, 2013

This post is linked to Sunday Snippets.

Couple arguing. Free from Microsoft Office

Getting angry – who hasn’t? Especially getting angry with those we are closest to and who are most likely to act in ways that seem designed to trip our triggers. Some family members just can’t get together without blow-ups, some of which lead to physical violence. Some neighbors carry grudges against other neighbors and taunt them in various ways. Opposing organizations heave insults at one another in an attempt to diminish each other in the eyes of the public. Then there are blog comboxes that host innumerable ugly words.

Anger seems to be one of the easiest emotions to kindle and one that leads to resentment and a desire for revenge on others, a very dangerous situation. How seriously Jesus views anger and its outward expression in epithets hurled at one another should give all of us pause. The consequence of ad hominem attacks is hell if we fail to repent as we learn in the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost in the 1962 calendar.

Jesus has just finished His Beatitudes sermon recounted in Matthew 5 and told the crowd that they are the salt of the earth and light of the world. Then He announces that He is here to fulfill the Law, not abolish it and that the Law will remain until the end of time.  All this leads up to the first sentence of Matt. 5: 20-24:

For I say to you that unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Scribes and Pharisees were all about externals in regard to the Law. Jesus tells us that we must be internally righteous or we will go to hell, no matter how holy we may look on the outside to everybody else. He says something related in Matt. 15:17-20 when the disciples ran to Him with the information that the Pharisees were upset that he said to them, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” In no uncertain terms Our Lord replied:

Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy? But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man.

Anger, one of the seven deadly sins, is at the root of many sins Jesus listed in Matt. 15:19. Anger proceeds from the heart. It leads to ugly, hateful, and demeaning words. Jesus warned the crowd and warns us in Sunday’s Gospel what will happen to us if we indulge in this emotion:

You have heard that it was said to the ancients, “Thou shalt not kill”, and that whoever shall kill shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, “Raca” shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, “Thou fool!”, shall be liable to the fire of Gehenna.

It doesn’t seem that many people take His words seriously today with all the cursing, foul language, and violence against others we see on television, our computers, and in books, let alone what might go on in our neighborhoods or parishes.

All rash anger is murder from the heart. The word, “Raca” (Syrian) is derived from Aramaic and means “empty headed, worthless”, a prideful, scornful expression.  “You fool” has similar meaning – “stupid, dull”. Getting into screaming matches where we use modern day expressions to cut someone else down, especially family members and those we must work amiably with, signals that our hearts aren’t in the right place.  We are abusive and irresponsible, mean-spirited, and definitely not a source of harmony in the family of God.

Jesus thought this issue of anger was so important that he told everyone present that day in verse 23-24:

Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

In our lifetimes we have no doubt offended more people than we can imagine with our prideful anger and cutting words. How many times have we gone to Mass without making peace with those we have put down? Fortunately we have the Sacrament of Penance to help us break the bad habit of anger, a sacrament we must make much more frequent use of if we are to advance in virtue. And then there is the supremely difficult act of humility, that of saying, “I’m sincerely sorry for saying XYZ…” to our brothers and sisters we have been murderously angry with.

Perhaps we might reflect on Jesus’ admonishments by asking ourselves,

  • Who am I angry with? Carry a grudge against? Want to take revenge upon?
  • What is my motivation behind getting angry and putting someone down?
  • Do I have a repetitive anger pattern with various people, or just with one or two persons?
  • Do I willingly associate with persons, places, or things likely to trigger my anger when I have a clear choice not to?  Do I listen to angry rap?
  • How much time do I spend playing and replaying in my head the scenes and justifying my ugliness? How much time do I spend relating the situation to many others? Could I not spend this time better in front of the Blessed Sacrament, asking Jesus to guide me or doing spiritual reading, reading the Bible?
  • How often do I find myself in a blind rage? Daily? Every few days? Weekly?
  • What in my life am I hiding from and using anger as a cover-up for?
  • Do I use anger as a way to manipulate others? Why am I being dishonest this way?
  • Have I sought help from Jesus in the Sacrament of Penance often?
  • What am I doing to develop a humble heart?

Hell is too horrible a place for any of us to fully imagine or appreciate. We must take Jesus’ words seriously, directing our hearts towards living the Beatitudes rather than fighting and darkening our hearts against others. Easier said than done, but Jesus is stronger than our evil inclinations. With His help, our Guardian Angel, the Blessed Virgin and all the saints, we can overcome our slavery to this capital sin. Even if it takes a life time to do it. Just remember St. Francis de Sales. If he could do it, so can we.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 penance, Spiritual reading, spirituality 8 Comments

Sabbath Moments

April 27, 2013

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

Welcome to the Saturday meme hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace. How about joining us to share a few of those times when you “rested in the Lord?”

Spring blessings

This week we got a couple of inches ahead on rain after several years of drought. Thanks be to God. I always enjoy spring rain – it foretells the harvest to come.

Speaking of harvests, Thursday I bought most of my seedlings for our veggie garden. Since I didn’t have the oomph to get them planted, I just placed them in a spot where they got rained on well yesterday and last night. Getting older is making it harder to do everything all at once like I used to, and the fibro inflammation is a high price to pay for overdoing it. Fortunately, we’ll have some help from my homeschooling students when things dry out a bit. The good Lord is always telling us He’s taking care of our needs, and recognizing that care is always a Sabbath Moment.

Divine Office – Roman martyrology

Lately I’m appreciating the Hour of Prime more and more. If a person could only offer one of the hours, this is the one I’d recommend. It has some beautiful prayers and Scripture readings in it, is fairly short, but what I especially like about it is the reading from the Roman martyrology.

We are one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church and nothing says it better than the martyrology, which contains updated listings for martyrs of recent centuries as well as many early martyrs. We have great saints and martyrs out of every land and nation from the beginning of the Church. Some have names that strike us as odd today, and some are familiar. All are heroes in Christ.

When I read the martyrology every day I get an overwhelming feeling of family. These people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. The same faith they professed in the early Church is the faith we profess today. Nothing has changed. We have a couple thousand years of continuity. Just awesome. Truth was, is, and ever shall be.

Everyone died confessing Christ. For me, it is like having an army of victorious soldiers behind, before, and all around me who beat the devil all to hell, and I know through Christ that I can do it too. They root for me and you in voices a lot louder than Satan’s useful idiots. We just have to open our ears to hear them.

The martyrology isn’t simply a list of names. It mentions the awful ways these soldiers of Christ were killed. It mentions other interesting things where details are known. Some of these stories would make great drama plots such as the virgin Theodora who was sentenced to a brothel for refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods. Didymus switched clothes with her and she escaped temporarily. They both were martyred during the persecution of Diocletian. A person devoutly reading stories like this every day can’t help but receive the grace of a strengthened faith and fortitude to preach the Gospel.

The world would have us believe that we are a small minority with stupid, outdated ideas and beliefs. It would have us believe that we are nothing without money, power, and belonging to the “in” group. How shortsighted and foolish of them. The martyrology is a testament that there are a whole lot more of us professing truth than there are of them professing lies. Our family lives and reigns forever, right now with Christ, while their power dies when they die and they suffer alone and tormented forever.

As the Church emphasizes the new evangelization, the martyrology inspires us to get out there and save souls. Some, of course, won’t ever listen, which is why Jesus told His disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” and leave (Matt. 10:14, Lk. 9:5). Don’t waste time. Move on to those who choose to hear. We have a lot of work to do. And if an earthly power smacks us into the next world, rejoice that we walked in the footsteps of the Master and we’re going home to family.

Here’s an image Father Z took on his recent trip to Boston. St. Marina of Antioch, known as St. Margaret in the west, hammers the devil. The second image is an icon of her.

St. Marina of Antioch

St. Marina of Antioch

St. Marina Humiliating the Devil

St. Marina Humiliating the Devil

 

She’s my kind of woman, and as one of Father Z’s commenters said, “Just another day in the Church Militant.”

Read the Roman martyrology and see what it can do for you in this Year of Faith.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Recommended Lenten Spiritual Reading

February 4, 2013

My Way of LifeWhat shall I do for Lenten spiritual reading?  If you’re like me you want to have your ducks lined up before Ash Wednesday.  I’ve been turning over in my head any number of titles, but one kept clanging in my head. 

Sunday at the chapel bookstore to my delight I found My Way of Life: Pocket edition of St. Thomas; the Summa Simplified for Everyone, © 1952 by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood and written by the great Dominican spiritual writer of the mid twentieth century, Father Walter Farrell, O.P., S.T.M., who unfortunately died after completing Part I. Martin J. Healey, Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, N.Y. wrote parts II and III.  All of it is worthy and wonderful as an explanation of central Catholic teaching.

Wait!  Don’t run away!  This isn’t the Summa as St. Thomas wrote it with all his erudition, but a suitable book for the ordinary person to nibble at paragraph by paragraph on breaks, at lunchtime, while waiting at the doctor’s or dentist’s office, during a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament, at bedtime just before turning out the light, or on a lazy afternoon.

This is one of the famous Pocket Editions the Confraternity put out for the ordinary person to help him become closer to God.  I remember the title from my childhood and was enthused to find it again.  You can’t go wrong with this kind of prose expressing the truths St. Thomas so ably argued many centuries ago.

Life must be lived, even by those who cannot find the courage to face it.  In the living of it, every mind must meet the rebuff of mystery.  To some men this will be an exultant challenge: that so much can be known and truth not be exhausted, that so much is still to be sought, that truth is not an ocean to be contained in the pool of the human mind. To others, this is a humiliation not to be borne; for it marks out sharply the limits of our proud minds. In the living of life, every mind must face the unyielding rock of reality, of a truth that does not bend to our whim or fantasy, of the rule that measures the life and mind of a man.

In the living of life, every human heart must see problems awful with finality. There are the obvious problems of death, marriage, the priesthood, religious vows, all unutterably final. But there are, too, the  day to day, or rather the moment to moment choices of heaven or hell.  Before every human heart that has ever beat out its allotted measures, the dare of goals as high as God Himself was tossed down: to be accepted, or to be fled from in terror.

Beautiful, virile writing that makes a person think, ponder, and ask the Holy Spirit for further enlightenment. Plenty in here about happiness and virtue, angels, demons, the sacraments, the end of life and the beginning of eternity, all comprehensible to an average person.  In the back is an outline of the book as well as an index. I plan to use this not only for spiritual reading, but as another resource for writing.

If you have been intimidated by the actual Summa Theologica of St. Thomas or gotten frustrated trying to wade through the style yet have wanted a practical application for daily life, this book is for you.  And its attribute of fitting conveniently into a pocket or purse is one more reason to own it. It’s a go anywhere read anytime little book to help make us saints.

Click on the book title for the link to Amazon.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Monday, February 4th, 2013 Book Review, Spiritual reading 4 Comments

Divine Lessons

October 29, 2012

Nancy at The Cloistered Heart is writing on Lectio Divina, an ancient prayer and Sacred Scripture reading practice.  I invite my readers to visit her and read her posts.  Meanwhile…

 

The four steps of Lectio Divina - Wikipedia image

The meaning

What exactly is Lectio Divina? People can get scared off by Latin terms, but don’t be. Lectio Divina is a formal term for a spiritual practice begun in the form we know it today by St. Benedict and his monks.  It literally means “Divine Reading”.

Lectio is a Latin noun that comes from the Latin verb, lego, “I read”.  An English derivative from the Latin is “lesson”.  Here things become interesting, because the classical meaning of lesson is “Anything read or recited to a teacher by a pupil or learner; what is assigned by a preceptor to a pupil to be learned at one time; a portion of Scripture read in divine service…”

In watching Korean historical dramas, I saw the dynamic meaning of “lesson” in scenes where a monk or scholar (referred to as “Master”) would be teaching students Confucius or some other writings. Not only were the students required to memorize entire books, but they were called on to explain the meanings of the writings and how they applied in daily life.  The educated Greek slaves taken by the Romans to instruct their children also used this method, and today we have Catholic colleges using this method of learning based on the Great Books courses.

This is why I think of Lectio Divina as “Divine Lessons”.  I, the student, not only read and, in some cases, memorize Sacred Scripture, but in that quiet time for Lectio, the Master of all Masters is my teacher as I ponder and apply the meanings of His words in the intimate encounter of prayer.  The give and take between the Divine Master and pupil is necessary or Lectio becomes merely an intellectual exercise.

Roots and a little history

The roots of Lectio Divina go back to Origen in the third century A.D., and it was taught to St. Augustine by St. Ambrose.  St. Benedict in the sixth century enshrined the obligation for Lectio Divina in Chapter 48 of his Holy Rule:

Idleness is the enemy of the soul.  Therefore should the brethren be occupied at stated times in manual labor, and at other fixed hours in sacred reading (Lectio Divina).

Today in many Benedictine monasteries their daily schedule calls for sacred reading to be done between the hour of Lauds and breakfast, in the private cell of the monk.  Many other contemplative religious communities follow this, too.

Is Lectio Divina for priests and religious only?

It is not.  We are celebrating the year of Faith and the Holy Father is encouraging us to read the Vatican II documents with the perspective of Catholic tradition.  In the document, Dei Verbum (Word of God), the council Fathers urged:

#25…It devolves on sacred bishops “who have the apostolic teaching” to give the faithful entrusted to them suitable instruction in the right use of the divine books, especially the New Testament and above all the Gospels. This can be done through translations of the sacred texts, which are to be provided with the necessary and really adequate explanations so that the children of the Church may safely and profitably become conversant with the Sacred Scriptures and be penetrated with their spirit.

What else can this be but Lectio Divina?

Method

Although we can always meditate on Scripture while we’re doing other things, quiet time is the basis of authentic practice.  First we read, then we meditate on (ponder and listen to – what the pupil does in response to the Master’s lesson) what we’ve read which leads us into prayer, followed by contemplation.

CCC #2724 says this about contemplation:

Contemplative prayer is the simple expression of the mystery of prayer. It is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love. It achieves real union with the prayer of Christ to the extent that it makes us share in his mystery.

This is where faithful practice of the “Divine Lessons” leads us.  God is the one who gives us the grace to give Him the “silent love.”  It is wise not to stress out if contemplation does not happen at first, but rather to submit with trust to the gentle leading of the Spirit.

With all the running around people do today, all the hurrying, all the noise, the myriad of obligations, Lectio Divina practice can help us simplify our lives by putting a priority on making quiet time for God.  Soon we find ourselves able to let go of attachments in favor of the One attachment that really matters.  We don’t have to be monks, priests, or nuns to do this.  We just have to discipline ourselves to follow a schedule that lets us have a set time with our Master.

Plenary indulgences

The Church grants a plenary indulgence for spending a mere half hour reading Sacred Scripture prayerfully, all other conditions for a plenary indulgence being met.  The description of this under #50 in the Handbook of Indulgences clearly describes Lectio Divina although not mentioning it by name.

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Living Poor in Spirit

July 24, 2012

St. Augustine, c. 1474, JOOS van Wassenhove (active 1460-1480), oil on wood, Musee du Louvre, Paris

When Jesus said in Matt. 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” He was telling us to rely not on ourselves but on our heavenly Father who desires only our good.  The Father possesses the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of peace, joy, and unity in charity.  We possess nothing of value unless we possess God.  When we possess God, His kingdom is ours.

All the good spiritual writers tell us in one place or another, and many times as well, that we cannot trust ourselves to know what is the best for us.  Yet we seem to forget this very easily and try to force getting what we want spiritually through our own efforts or some formula somebody is touting.

The first Beatitude is about humility, which opens our hearts to God.  St. Benedict thought humility was so important he described twelve degrees of it in chapter 7 of his Holy Rule which I covered in detail in many of my Sabbath Moments posts.   Unfortunately, we can’t wave a magic wand over ourselves and say “I am now humble and poor in spirit,” although I wish it would be so because living these Beatitudes is such hard work, and I am adverse to the pain and suffering it takes to keep in a right relationship with God.

Fortunately, the Catholic Church has many time-tested spiritual practices to help us easily distractable humans stay on the right track.  Among them is daily spiritual reading and reflecting on the lives and writings of the saints.  When we do this, even if for only a few minutes, we are practicing humility and poverty of spirit.  As we empty ourselves of our vain delusions and invite God into our souls, we possess Him and His kingdom. 

Today in the meditation from Divine Intimacy, Father Gabriel presented a prayer of St. Augustine that perfectly expresses humility and poverty of spirit.

Almighty, omnipotent Lord, show me my poverty so that I may confess it.  I said that I was rich and that I needed nothing; I did not know that I was poor, blind, naked, wretched, and miserable.  I believed that I was something and I was nothing.  I said, “I shall become wise,” and I became foolish; I thought that I was prudent, but I deceived myself.  And I see now that wisdom is Your gift, that without You we can do nothing, for if You, O God, do not keep the city, he watches in vain that keeps it.  You taught me this that I might know myself; You abandoned me and you tried me…so  that I would know myself.  You had hardly gone a short distance from me when I fell.  Then I saw and knew that You were guiding me; if I fell, it was my own fault, and if I rose again, it was by Your help.

Thank you, God, for giving us St. Augustine to set an example for us, especially as we seek to live the Gospel in today’s world.  And thank you for the sacred liturgy, especially this prayer from the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:

Graciously grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the spirit to think and do always such things as are rightful; that we, who cannot exist without Thee, may be enabled to live according to Thy will.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end, Amen.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 Spiritual reading, spirituality 1 Comment

God’s Diffusive Goodness

July 11, 2012

Yesterday’s meditation from Divine Intimacy fit with some mental meanderings I’ve been engaging in recently.  Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. writes:

God’s goodness is so gratuitous that it gives itself to creatures without any merit on their part; [we cannot even merit life, the greatest good of all because without life we could not obtain eternal joy; it is a gift from God] it is so liberal that it always precedes them and never fails to impart its light to them even when, by abusing their liberty, they show themselves unworthy of it.

Free will is a double edged sword.  We can use it for virtue or for sin.  Too often we use it for sin. But God in His goodness doesn’t leave us wounded, near dead, naked and bleeding in the gutter like the man set upon by robbers on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho (Lk. 10: 30).  He calls us to conversion in so many little ways – the friend who gives us a spiritual book to read, who invites us to go to Adoration or make a quick visit to the church, the nudge of our conscience to give up a particular sin, the article we come across in some public place, the family member who admonishes us over a misdeed, the blog post we stumbled upon accidentally that pricks our conscience.  All this we are completely unworthy of, but that doesn’t stop God.  This is His diffusive goodness in action.

God’s goodness is so patient that it does not stop at the ingratitude, the resistance, or even the crimes of His creatures, but His grace always pursues them.

Francis Thompson (1859-1907), English poet and ascetic, wrote the famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”  The first stanza describes the pursuit:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat–and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet–
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

 

Who among us cannot say this is true of ourselves?  How many ways has the grace of God pursued us in spite of our resistance?

God could, in all justice, requite man’s sins by depriving him of life and all the other good things He has bestowed upon him, but His infinite goodness prefers to shower upon man new gifts and new proofs of His kindness.  Has He not said: “I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live” (Ez. 33:11)?

More people are alive today on earth than ever before.  More people are walking around unbaptized than ever before.  Yet God, in his goodness, still calls them to Himself with many graces, waiting for them to see — really see Him.  Father Gabriel has the last word here:

…infinite Goodness wills to pour itself out exteriorly also…. His goodness is so great that it can communicate itself to an infinite number of creatures without being diminished; it is so diffusive that it makes all it touches good.  This goodness is the cause of your being and of your life: when you were created, it left its imprint on you, and it is always and unceasingly penetrating and enveloping you.

Has your heart retained the seal of divine goodness?  Examine your thoughts, feelings, actions and see if there shines in them the reflection of the infinite goodness of God.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Service to Truth; Service to Christ

June 5, 2012

Recently I had occasion to take up a book I’ve owned for years but hadn’t finished, The Apocalypse Explained by H.M. Féret, O.P.  In his conclusion he wrote things I just have to share because they are germane to our Christian vocation in today’s world.

On various feasts throughout the year our sacred liturgy draws from the book of Revelation, but Féret’s discussion brings out a central truth we laity should consider often and should embrace if we are to be the light of the world Christ ordered us to be (Matt. 5:14).  Archbishop Chaput alluded to this truth in his quote I covered in my post Archbishop Chaput and the Test of Fire.

Féret writes:

…the cause of Christ and of truth are one and the same.  They identify themselves with one another, if one may say so, in the mystery of God himself, where Christ pre-existed for all eternity as the Word, the personal Word of God.

They identify themselves in time and in history, where the truth of the gospel prolongs through the centuries the first revelation of Jesus Christ.  From that time on no partial truth could save mankind; men could only be saved by surrendering to total truth. 

The demon knows this well; therefore he sets up false prophets and gives the second Beast a mask which enables him to be mistaken for the Lamb.  There are bits of truth in liberalism, and in all sorts of doctrines that raise false messianic hopes.  They are often, as we have said, Christian truths that have gone mad.

It is necessary to reintegrate the whole truth of the gospel, otherwise men will be drawn into illusion and misery.  Therefore, from the Christian standpoint, moral truth towers over all other truths.

One must not, of course, underrate other orders of truth, like those of science or technique, which are adding so much to the sum-total of human achievement.  But the Christian knows very well that all the scientific and technical triumphs in the world, unless they are backed by moral truth, cannot save mankind.  However perfect their individual disciplines, their social plans and their politics; however legitimate and idealistic the particular point of view from which such systems spring; however powerful the means they are able to press into their service, the Christian knows in advance that in backing them he is riding towards a fall if they do not measure up to the moral requirements of the truth which commands all others – the truth of the Gospel. [which must be taken in it’s entirety, not piecemeal.]

Today’s media allows all sorts of special interest groups to gain attention for their various causes, giving a platform for all sorts of immoral propositions.  Many people are confused by the apparent logic of the rhetoric employed, without looking beyond it to ask whether the causes are congruent with what Jesus says.  But then, I’ve noticed that altogether too many people are really adverse to thinking anything through and only until we find ourselves in complete misery do we stop, if then, and ask ourselves what should be our first two questions: “What is the truth I must hold to, and why?”

Féret continues:

And something more.  For the Christian, evangelical truth is not a collection of abstract affirmations, a code of theoretical principles.  It is a mysterious link with the Person of Jesus Christ, of whom it is said that He is Himself the Truth.  Therefore from the Christian standpoint service to truth is the same as service to Jesus Christ,  just as in history the two causes are one and the same.  The same white horseman in the Apocalypse, stands turn and turn about for the two aspects of the same idea.  In the first instance the impersonal truth of the Gospel (Ch. 6) is symbolized; and in the second (Ch. 19) it is He whose personal name is “Word of God”.

The Christian subscribes to the personal cult of Jesus Christ in his devotion to every true cause, and inversely, his love for his Master makes him first and foremost a witness of truth in the world.

If we accept this as true, then we must ask ourselves some hard questions such as:

Do I actively seek understanding of the Gospel beyond attending Mass regularly on Sundays and Holy Days?

Do I spend time pondering the causes and claims of groups to determine if what they say is congruent with the moral requirements of the Gospel truth?

Are my words and actions in daily life congruent with these moral requirements?

Am I committed to advancing a personal agenda for a temporal advantage or am I a witness of truth?

Do I sit by quietly when others are speaking manifest error in my presence for fear of offending somebody or becoming a target of vitriol?

Do I spread the truth in word and action with charity?

Do I spend time daily in prayer, seeking to know Christ and His truth better?

Have I surrendered to the total truth of the Gospel or am I stubbornly holding back because of something I don’t want to accept?

Do I pray for public leaders to know and understand the truth and accept it?  (Like, for instance, when was the last time I prayed for Sibelius, Pelosi, Biden, Obama?)

Have I troubled myself to know true Catholic social teaching or do I just think I know?

As Catholics we know that there are sins of commission and sins of omission.  To me, the worst sins of omission are to sit around doing other things rather than

  • seeking a clear understanding of the moral requirements of the Gospel truth and
  • failing to witness to it.

It’s how we got legal abortion, euthanasia, the push for “gay marriage”, unjust wars, a brutally expensive health care system that is unaffordable to a large percentage of people, illegal immigration, and every other social ill we can think of.

We will answer to God at our particular judgment for failing to use whatever level of intelligence He has given us to confront error in this world according to our vocation.  Failing to confront error deprives our fellow man of the peace of Christ and the joy of living in His truth.  How can we do that to people Christ died for?  How can we call ourselves Christian if we live silently in the shadows without our lamps lit?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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

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Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 Catholic culture, Spiritual reading Comments Off on Service to Truth; Service to Christ

100 Questions Jesus Asked and YOU Must Answer

February 13, 2011

Jesus in Conversation with Nicodemus, William Brassey Hole



Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington wrote a blog post on March 5, 2010 titled: One Hundred Questions Jesus Asked and YOU Must Answer. In it he explains where it originally came from, tells us how to approach answering them, and cautions us not to read Scripture as a spectator.

I have in mind writing a series on spiritual direction for those without a spiritual director.  This post by Msgr. Pope surely belongs as a reference in that work should I ever get it off the ground.  Who better than Jesus can we sit down with and ponder the questions he put to people while on earth – the same questions relevant to today?

We’re heading into the Lenten season, a time for prayer, penance, and deepening our relationship with Christ.  This list of questions would be great for daily meditation.  If you want a hard copy of the list, just download the pdf file Msgr. Pope has linked to in his post.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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

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Monday, February 13th, 2012 Spiritual reading, spirituality 3 Comments

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