spirituality

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!

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Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 spirituality No Comments

The Loss of Jesus After Passover

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple William Holman Hunt

And His parents went every year to Jerusalem, at the solemn day of the Pasch. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast. And after they had fulfilled the days, when they returned, the Child Jesus remained in Jerusalem, and His parents knew it not. And thinking that He was in the company, they came a day’s journey, and sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And not finding Him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking Him (Luke 2:41-45).

I have often wondered about the daily life of the Holy Family, what they did, where they went, who they encountered all those years. But God has seen fit to let us know only this one story, and out of it we can learn many things. In fact, those things are what God wants us to know as they are material to our salvation.

We learn of this event from Mother Mary through the pen of St. Luke. How else could he have known of its happening? And it is the only particular we learn of the Child Jesus’s life in the years since the return to Nazareth and the start of His public ministry.

Three times a year the Holy Family traveled to Jerusalem for feast days. They put God first, not their own comfort, doing this as a family. These trips reflect the pilgrim nature of the Jewish people, and are an allegory for the pilgrim nature of the Catholic who faithfully travels to Mass, no matter how convenient or inconvenient, to keep holy the Lord’s Day or to make a pilgrimage to a shrine to honor God in a special way, or to live daily our pilgrimage to heaven through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The Paschal trip was a celebration of thanksgiving and praise in commemoration of the deliverance of the Jews out of Egypt. Our celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the great thanksgiving and praise for our deliverance from the powers of darkness, for our redemption. Can we be any less faithful than the Holy Family when travel is so much easier today than it was then?

On this trip, Jesus was approaching the Jewish age of manhood where He would be given more freedom and responsibility. He was free to travel with the children and friends in the large pilgrim community headed back towards Nazareth, which is why neither Mary nor Joseph missed Him until the end of the first day of the return trip when they expected He would join them. We can imagine how frantic they must have felt, their precious and only Child having disappeared.

Jesus sometimes disappears from the soul walking the path of righteousness. It isn’t because we are bad any more than Mary and Joseph were doing something wrong to have lost Jesus on the way home. It is often a test of our faithfulness, or it may be the case that He, unknown to us, is working in our hearts. Always He is about His Father’s business, and the Father’s business is our sanctification. Like Mary and Joseph, we must faithfully be where we are supposed to be, doing what we’re supposed to be doing.

We can have no better example of this in our day than Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who searched for Jesus in the slums of the world and found Him many times over, even though she felt nothing of His presence and experienced the dark night of the soul for most of her life.

We might well ask ourselves, am I where I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing according to God’s will? Do I search everywhere for Jesus from the depths of my heart to the public square to the tabernacle down the road?

We might call on Mary and Joseph to help us and comfort us along the way to finding their Son. They will understand our hearts.

Image: William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, 1860, oil on canvas, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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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Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 spirituality 2 Comments

The Flight Into Egypt

Flight into Egypt Fra Angelico

Who, rising up, took the Child and His Mother by night, and retired into Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called My Son” (Matthew 2:14-15).

When I read this passage I could not help but think of the Christians in Nigeria fleeing Boko Haram and those of Syria and Iraq today who have had to flee ISIS. Those who chose to stay had to convert to Islam or die. And now those who fled are living in the jungle or in refugee camps, so very poor, cold, hungry, and forgotten by many. I wonder how I would handle having to leave home, possessions, friends and family, a job, and flee in the dark of night to a land I did not know where I had no contacts, no chance of livelihood, no home. Not well, I think. Probably at my age and in my condition I would die. Those most like the Holy Family today are our fellow Christians in the Middle East and Africa. The Islamic Herods seek their lives because being Christian they stand for Christ who is not accepted by Muslims as Son of God and our Redeemer. Why does God permit this to go on? Archbishop Goodier writing in Prince of Peace gives us an insight on this, writing about how God has chosen to allow man to suffer persecution for Him:

He has preferred that His own should not be the most comfortable, the most prosperous, the most considered people in this world; to these He has said, and is forever saying: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is exceeding great in heaven.”

If we take it at that, then we can say that the Christians of the Middle East are “His own”. When we are tempted to whine and complain about how tough life is for us, we should immediately think of them and of the Holy Family whom they most emulate. The world doesn’t owe us a living. Nobody promised us a rose garden, so to speak, in this life. Our reward comes through accepting the hand God has dealt us and making the most of it with His grace. We won’t know until heaven the whys and wherefores of the many adversities God permits for each of us, or of the persecutions He allows us to face for being witnesses to Christ. We can be sure, however, that God counts us as His own when we suffer them patiently while keeping our eyes on Him. My prayer when contemplating the flight into Egypt and those persecuted in the Middle East and Africa is, “Lord, grant me the grace to bear all adversities and persecutions with patience and cheerfulness. Let me keep my eyes on You and remain faithful to You forever.”

Image: Fra Angelico, Flight into Egypt, 1451-52, Tempera on wood, Museo di San Marco, Florence. 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.)

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Monday, January 19th, 2015 Fra Angelico, spirituality 1 Comment

Herod Yesterday, Today, and the Promise

Massacre of the Holy Innocents Fra Angelico

Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceedingly angry, and sending, killed all the men-children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the confines thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the Wise Men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the Prophet, saying: “A voice in Ramah was heard, lamentation and great mourning, Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not (Matthew 2:16-18).

No doubt Herod, if he could have, would have captured the Wise Men and slain them, but God did not permit that. They had a job to do in their own land: tell everyone they knew that they had met the One destined to change the entire world. Thus God used them to prepare hearts to receive the Gospel. Meanwhile from the pen of Archbishop Goodier…

One is appalled at the monstrosity of Herod, a man so steeped in blood that blood-shedding had become his one solution for every difficulty. And yet we know that this is no extraordinary thing. History and the best drama shows us that human nature, corrupted in any one direction, assumes that corruption as part of itself, so that the most unnatural vice becomes most natural. It is true with every vice, from calumny, and theft, and adultery, to murder, and insubordination, and contempt of God.

This is the punishment of vice in this life; the fixing of this state for all eternity is hell. And let it be noticed that every vice, not only that of murder, isolates a man more and more from his fellow-men, makes him their permanent enemy and them his, destroys in him all those qualities which belong to manhood, and leaves him no more than a wild beast, with the added claws and teeth that human intelligence provides.

Today blood-shedding is still the one solution for many people. It’s not just rulers of nations or states or political/religious extremists, it’s the average Joe or Jane in the neighborhood who have become so obsessed with having their own way they will kill an unborn child who is inconvenient to their plans or lifestyle. They will pressure Mom or Dad to die, even bully them into committing suicide to get their hands on an inheritance. They will kill their children and elderly family members who are costing them too much money or who may be in the way of an affair. The Herod in us can rationalize just about anything. If we aren’t careful we can descend into the madness of vice to the point we lose all freedom to act because we have willfully surrendered to its lure.

“The most unnatural vice becomes most natural.” Aren’t we at that point today worldwide? I’ll say no more on that.

The fixing of the state of vice for all eternity in hell is a horrifying thought. Nothing about vice is satisfying although it might seem so at the beginning. It only drags a person farther and farther down, blinding the intellect and weakening the will to the point it takes over his life.

Imagine having to suffer the unquenched desires for drugs, alcohol, and pornography while suffering the taunts of demons and knowing there is no way out. Imagine a dark madness of spirit consumed with hatred and anger, never again having access to the good, the true, the beautiful. No respite. No peace. Something like being stung by angry hornets without letup night and day and no end to it accompanied by the most fearful screeching and wailing such as has never been heard on earth. And though we’ll have plenty of company in hell, we will still be totally isolated and alone. There won’t be any midnight plots with comrades to wreak havoc on the innocent. Nothing to enjoy with fellow evildoers even in perversity. We will be totally abandoned. Nobody is coming to save us. He already came and we told Him to get lost. This is where vice leads us when we play Herod.

As to the precious Holy Innocents whose feast we celebrate on December 28 in the West, they are with God because of their innocence. Mourned by their parents and relatives until the ends of their lives, they became the subject of rejoicing after the Resurrection. Today through abortion, euthanasia, and religious wars many children are still sacrificed as these babies were. We live in a spiritual Ramah (Jer. 31:15) which became the allegory for the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem, but the Lord promises us in Jer. 31: 17, “And here is hope for thy last end, saith the Lord: and the children shall return to their own borders.” By our prayers and pro-life activities, and especially by our efforts to bring the love of God to those chained in vice, fewer and fewer children will fall victim to the Herods of today, his madness will be vanquished, and we, babies and all will return to our own borders – heaven.

See Catholic Spiritual Direction for Archbishop Goodier’s complete meditation on this passage of Scripture.

Image: Fra Angelico, Massacre of the Innocents, 1451-52, Tempera on wood, Museo di San Marco, Florence. 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.)

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Saturday, January 17th, 2015 spirituality 1 Comment

Being One of the Wise Men

Adoration of the Magi Book of HoursSince liturgically speaking, according to the 1962 liturgical books, we are in the Christmas season until February 2, feast of the Presentation, over the coming days I’m offering some ongoing reflections on the persons and events Sacred Scripture puts before us at this time. Just celebrating the Epiphany on January 6 isn’t enough to plumb the depths of the three Wise Men. Nor should we relinquish thoughts on the flight into Egypt and the return to Nazareth. These infancy narratives contain the treasure of God’s love for us and we should not easily pass by in favor of business as usual.

And when they had heard the King they went their way, and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with great joy. And going into the house they found the Child with Mary his Mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures they offered to him gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:9-11).

Scripture doesn’t tell us who these men were or exactly where they came from, but since they followed a star eastward, they had to be west of the Holy Land. What prompted them to get together, gather gold, frankincense and myrrh, and set off across the desert in winter? Clearly they were not Jews, so why would they go into the heart of Israel to present gifts fit for a king and priest who would one day die? The answer to these questions is the lesson that God will go to great lengths to call us to Himself. Not only that, but He reaches out to us through our occupations, our hobbies, and many other mundane aspects of our life just as He did for the Wise Men.

God created us out of love, sustains us in love, and never hides Himself from us so that we can’t find Him. He desires that we be with Him for eternity. The story of the Wise Men shows us how God acts on those who open their hearts to Him even when they don’t know exactly who He is.

These days it’s hard to believe that in the western world there are people who don’t know God, don’t know Jesus, and don’t know the Bible which is the greatest love and adventure story ever written. But it’s true.

I’m always horrified by those who declare that anybody who isn’t a Christian is going to hell. Based on the story of the Wise Men, we must believe that God is an equal opportunity employer. He may reveal Himself in ways not known to us which will lead persons to find Him. Also we don’t know what God does in the soul at the moment of death. It would be much better if we were to pray for all non-believers that God would intervene in their lives in such a way that they will do all that is necessary to find Him – that they will search for Him as diligently as the Wise Men searched for the baby Jesus. No matter if they have no idea Who or what they are searching for at the outset, what is important is that they search. If  we do our job as evangelizers, God will take care of the rest.

We must behave in a way that is joyful, even as we suffer various miseries, so that unbelievers when they see us are prompted to ask, “How can you go through this and still be so peaceful and joyful?” The door has just swung wide open and we become God’s tool to witness to truth.

As for ourselves, as believers we need to be as docile as the Wise Men were, even though we have no idea of what lies in wait for us, even if we are in a dark and confused place. Archbishop Goodier in Prince of Peace writes:

It is the way of God; there are some virtues in whose exercise He seems to take special delight; and to secure this He will play with His children. Among them conspicuous are faith, and hope, and charity. He will make things appear impossible that they may assert their faith the more; He will darken the way that they may the more emphasize their hope; He will take Himself away, that they may appeal the more vehemently in love. But “He is faithful”; and to such as He tries He gives the power to respond, and to such as respond He gives the guiding star and Himself.

The confusion and darkness of trials is the work of Satan. We have to get down to the simplest thing of all to break out of it. If we are sincerely seeking God’s will for us, we must accept His grace to look for the guiding star He sends us, the star that leads us to the house in Bethlehem where we find Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and can converse with the holy parents who went through so much to birth the Babe and who had still so much to endure. There we can fall on our knees with the Wise Men and adore the Infant. In the presence of the Holy Family and the Magi, our darkness and confusion will be overcome.

Image: Simon Bening, Flower Book of Hours, 1520-25, Manuscript (Clm 23637), Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich. Source: Web Gallery of Art

V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, January 17th, 2015 spirituality 7 Comments

The Magi, the Star, and the Contentment of Indifference

January 4, 2015

Journey of the Magi, 1894, Tissot

Journey of the Magi, 1894, Tissot

 

“We Three Kings of Orient Are” was always one of my favorite Christmas carols. Its rollicking melody and energetic rhythm captured my imagination as a child, and now, as an adult and knowing that camels walk with a side to side rocking movement I appreciate the song even more. One can easily imagine the Magi on their camels traveling up and down the hilly sand dunes on their way to Bethlehem in search of the Child. Their first stop, however, was Jerusalem, to visit Herod, seeking further information concerning the object of their journey. We learn in Matthew 2: 1-8 how that visit went.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and we are come to adore Him.

And Herod the King hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born.

But they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for as it is written by the Prophet: “And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come forth the ruler, who shall rule my people Israel.”

Then Herod, privately calling the Wise Men, inquired of them diligently the time of the star’s appearing to them. And sending them into Bethlehem said, “Go, and search diligently after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him.”

In his meditation on this part of Scripture in his book, Prince of Peace, Archbishop Alban Goodier notes:

The Magi came into Jerusalem, and found the “faithful” Jews seemingly indifferent. They made their inquiries in all simplicity, and found they had created a hubbub. The Church of Jerusalem had apparently gone to sleep, and was so roused to a fever by these strangers knocking at the door. Light and grace had come from an unexpected quarter, in an unexpected moment, and the “faithful” did not know what to make of it. Clearly it was light, clearly it was grace; but light and grace are sometimes annoying to those who have settled down in a contentment of indifference. They would send these Wise Men on; they themselves would not move. If the King should afterwards be found to suit their turn, they could take up His cause later; if not, they could remain where they were. There was another alternative; but that at the time did not trouble them. It was continued in the King’s own words: “He that is not with Me is against Me.”

Reflecting on Archbishop Goodier’s meditation, perhaps we can look a bit closer at his term “contentment of indifference”. I think one aspect of indifference is ignorance, especially willful ignorance that allows us to suppress our consciences. “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” is often behind the angry hornet buzzing of people who want to cling to their errors because if they accepted the full truth they would be obliged to rouse themselves and behave honestly and in conformance with God’s laws. Rather than accepting the truth and acting accordingly, they by one means or another send the questioners away; sometimes violently as the Jews did when they forced the crucifixion of Christ, sometimes deceitfully as Herod did.

As painful as these times are in the history of the Church when so many seem to have shrugged off Christ and His teachings, the times also bring great blessings to those who are willing to rouse from their stupor. Our journey won’t be pleasant any more than the journey of the three Wise Men was. Along the way we’ll have to discern the Herods with ulterior motives and resolve not to return in their direction. We’ll be dusty and dirty from the road. Our muscles will burn and ache from the trip. We’ll be hungry and thirsty and have to care for those who depend on us as the Wise Men cared for their camels who bore them over the desert. In the end, though, we’ll find the Lord as they did and know that He was with us all the way. Our star is Sacred Scripture and Tradition and the Catechism of the Catholic Church which unfailingly point us to Christ and His teachings. Fortunately, all it takes to get moving is a sincere desire.

To read the full Goodier meditation, go to Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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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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Sunday, January 4th, 2015 spirituality Comments Off

The Good Shepherd and New Year’s Resolutions

January 2, 2015

Christ the Good Shepherd, oil on canvas, c. 1660, Murillo, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Christ the Good Shepherd, oil on canvas, c. 1660, Murillo, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Happy New Year to all my readers! A new year is an opportunity to start a new beginning, affirm or change the direction we’re going in, or re-order our priorities.

Unlike many people who set about making New Year’s resolutions, I assess my intentions for spiritual growth and living in this world a bit differently from what we’re used to seeing in advice columns or popular articles. Most New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside quickly, and in the past I’ve forgotten what they were or lost the paper they were written on by March or April so they weren’t of much use. Instead, now I ask myself what I want most out of life this coming year and then set­ about lining up a game plan to stay on track.

First and only comes God and doing His will. As the years go by I am ever more cognizant of how little I really know of God and how to live according to His will. Since being a human limits my intellectual capacities, it’s obvious God has to intervene to save me from my inadequacies. My continual prayer is, “Lord, teach me what you want me to know and give me the grace to recognize it.” I really need my Good Shepherd.

The Lord has dullards for all His students and I’m no exception. Without His intervention none of us can make any progress in the things that really matter in life. He is always there ready to instruct us, but all too often we remain blind to the lessons He is putting in front of us because we are distracted, as Martha was, by many cares, or we are just plain unwilling to even consider that He has plans for us that are far better than what we have devised for ourselves.

My prayer opens the door for the Lord to instruct me by any method He deems fit. It also implies spending time in prayer, spiritual reading, and Lectio Divina while trusting Him to grace me with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in whatever degree a particular situation requires. It leads me to study and improve my gardening, food processing, and cooking. It leads me into great friendships and the discovery of like-minded people. It also leads me in fulfilling the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, taking me in directions I would never have thought of, such as walking paths of extreme suffering with people. Many times I say, “Lord, I’m clueless as to what You’re doing here, but if this is what You want, give me the grace to accompany these people and not say or do something that would be contrary to Your truth.”

One interesting thing I’ve noticed since taking this approach is that pursuing God inevitably leads to adventures in daily life that go toward sustaining health, building good and holy relationships with others, and coping with burdens imposed by the society we live in. At the end of the year I can look back and see His work in me and my life and how He has readied me for the next step He has in mind, whatever that may be. I can also see how tirelessly the Good Shepherd runs after me and herds me back into the sheepfold when I start wandering off in the wrong direction.

It’s not important, so I’ve learned, to know or understand fully what God is doing at any particular time, nor even to know specifically what’s next, but rather simply to follow His lead. Our ultimate destination is supposed to be heaven anyway, and not the earthly accomplishments, wealth, or status we might desire. Any one of us could be dead by January 1, 2016 and all that we may have tried to set in motion for ourselves won’t have necessarily contributed to our getting to eternal life.

Father John Bartunek at Catholic Spiritual Direction published an excerpt from his book Seeking First the Kingdom where he remarks:

In the end, we get what we want. If we truly want God, if our heart is set on pursuing God, on seeking him, on living in a deeper and deeper communion with him, God will not deny us that treasure, which is called heaven—after all, that’s what he created us for. This is why he can solemnly promise: “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). In the original Greek, the verb “seek” has the sense of an ongoing process: “Keep on seeking, and you will find.” If we keep our hearts pointed toward God, we will reach full communion with God, wherein we find our happiness.

On the other hand, if we persistently prefer to seek our fulfillment in something else, in some idol—whether other relationships, achievements, or pleasures—leaving communion with God as a secondary concern, or as no concern at all, God will honor our choice. He will keep trying to convince us to set aside our idols in favor of his friendship, but he won’t force us to do so. If we keep declining his invitations to the end, the purpose for which we were created—living in communion with God—will be everlastingly frustrated, and this is called hell.

To me the most important question to answer at the end of 2015 is not, “Did I keep all my resolutions and achieve all my goals?”, but rather, “Have I consistently sought God’s will this year and loved my neighbor as He loves him?”.

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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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Friday, January 2nd, 2015 Holy Spirit, spirituality 4 Comments

Magnificat

December 19, 2014

Visitation, c 1549, Tintoretto, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna

Visitation, c 1549, Tintoretto, oil on canvas, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna

Advent is my favorite liturgical season. It leads us from the Old Testament into the New, and spiritually to the Last Judgment and eternity when we contemplate the great mystery of salvation. Every year I find many aspects of this season to contemplate. This year it’s been accompanying Mary from the Annunciation to Bethlehem through Archbishop Goodier’s book, Prince of Peace. You can find his meditations at Catholic Spiritual Direction.

We are now pondering phrases from the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) which echo the canticle of Anna (1 Samuel 2: 1-11).

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Mary opens in the common antithetical method of Hebrew poetry, but not on that account does the second part merely repeat the meaning of the other. When she says her soul magnifies the Lord, she means that her whole being is occupied in praising, glorifying, and adoring God;

Our challenge is to imitate Mary in these things, but how? She was so perfectly united to God, her will one with His, and without any inclination to sin. Perhaps on our spiritual journey as we grow in our inner knowing of God and our relationship with Jesus we are filled to bursting with joy even in the midst of earthly sorrows. The inner growth prepares us so that we, more and more often, reference His goodness and blessings in thought, word, and deed. Certainly the Mass is the greatest Magnificat of all, and when we attend this prayer of praise and thanksgiving with reverence and attention, our souls also magnify the Lord.

… when she says that her spirit rejoices in God her Jesus, she means that her spiritual understanding is turned upon the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption, and all it has meant and means to her, and that the understanding has flooded her with intense light and joy. “To magnify the Lord is to form the highest and largest conceptions of His greatness and goodness, to form those conceptions into the shape of mental and most heartfelt praise and estimation, and then to pour out this praise in whatever is open to the heart or soul.”

This is the antidote to selfishness and narcissism. We can’t magnify the Lord when we are living self-centered lives.

By “humility” the original Greek here intends not the virtue of humility, which is in itself a great grace of God, and it usually ill becomes its possessor to proclaim it, but rather her actual lowliness, her poverty, her insignificance, her obscurity, her low and poor estate, her worthlessness as in her own eyes it appeared. She makes a contrast in this second sentence between herself and God–He the Lord, she the handmaiden; He the great, she the tiny; He the generous Lover who chooses her, she the chosen who can only make return by devotedness to her Lord.

A perfect example of what constitutes a right relationship with God. Because we are all sinners, we can pray Mary’s canticle from our own hearts, admitting our low and poor estate of never being able to do any good at all except by His grace, of needing to be saved by Him. When we aren’t puffed up with delusional thoughts of our own power we make room for the Holy Spirit in our souls. God then “regards the humility of His handmaid”, and pours out grace upon us.

Having bowed down before her Lord, and having risen up in exultation and thanksgiving, Mary now sets herself to detail the goodness and greatness of her Lord. “He hath done great things to me,” she cries, for the Hebrew bears this rendering, “He Who is mighty, He Whose name is holy, He Whose mercy is from generation unto generation, to them that fear Him.” His power, His holiness, His mercy, are the three attributes she chooses: His power, in the wonderful fact and manner of the Incarnation; His holiness, in the person of Him Who has become incarnate, in the manner of the Incarnation, in its object, in the work which it will accomplish, in the fruits it will produce for earth and heaven; His mercy, because the Incarnation was the great work of restoration, of reconciliation, of atonement, of satisfaction, of infinite condescension and compassion.

Now is the time of mercy, of the power of God to work in the souls of all who make room for Him to fill them with His holiness. He enters through any opening He can find to help us reject deliberate sin and follow the attractions to virtue He places in our hearts.

No matter how full of evil this world is, God is working His miracles of mercy in souls everywhere. We must not doubt this. We must never throw up our hands in despair, but rather we must be like Mary who declared the objective reality of God’s power, holiness, and mercy. We must set aside quiet time to find Him in our hearts, this Prince of Peace who chose as His living tabernacle the womb of the Virgin Mary.

This woman of wisdom, joy, and maternal love is our mother, too. As we advance toward the stable in Bethlehem, let us, among other petitions, ask her to help us know and declare fearlessly Gods power, holiness, and mercy as she did in the mountains that day with Elizabeth.

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Friday, December 19th, 2014 Blessed Virgin, spirituality Comments Off

The Perfection of Love

December 12, 2014

The Flight Into Egypt, 1451-52, Fra Angelico, tempura on wood, Museo di San Marco, Florence

The Flight Into Egypt, 1451-52, Fra Angelico, tempura on wood, Museo di San Marco, Florence

 

Today being the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe who is the patroness of this website, I am reflecting on a quote from The Marriage of Our Lady over at Catholic Spiritual Direction. In this Advent meditation Archbishop Goodier, S.J., offers us a statement which I find completely refreshing in light of the many seriously broken and destructive relationships out there today. Goodier was commenting on three points:

  • Mary was a married woman.
  • Mary was also always a virgin which means that she could not have bound herself to that vow except through Joseph’s consent who correspondingly was also a virgin, both having accepted the obligations of the vow.
  • Mary and Joseph had a human love for each other but also a selfless love that transcended self-gratification.

It was here that Goodier wrote something that struck me as profound:

The perfection of love is the renunciation of its indulgences…

As we move into the holiday season where while many solid families enjoy each others’ company, many other families suffer from all kinds of dysfunctions that often make members tense and prone to drawing inward with a mindset that says, “If I can only get through this without a big uproar,” or “What is _____ going to pull next?”. What provokes that kind of victim thinking is selfishness of others. Selfishness, the farthest thing from the perfection of love, makes the holidays a burden, not a joy, and something to be endured rather than a time of celebration of the coming of the Lord and the many lessons we can learn from all the members of the Holy Family.

We can stop victim thinking by looking at the Holy Family and modeling ourselves after Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. At the center of everything in the Holy Family is Christ. Perfect love resided in that small household. We can see in it the renunciation of indulgences.

Mary and Joseph willingly renounced the sexual relationship that accompanies marriage. They surrendered to God what can rightfully be called an indulgence they were entitled to. I am not saying everyone should do this, but giving it as an example of something really big they gave back to God. Both lived according to the law and appeared to be perfectly ordinary to their neighbors, but between them there must have been a daily looking to responding to the other’s need often at the expense of gratifying their own wants. Both were focused on raising Jesus to be an upright Jewish man. Jesus renounced His life to save us. Nowhere do we get even a whiff of entitlement in the Holy Family.

Renunciation in all its forms is the antidote to selfishness which is the killer of all positive relationships and the source of dissonance at home and in society. Just because we are entitled to something, or we have the means to do something lawfully, does not mean we must take advantage of that good. Mary and Joseph showed us that in their love for one another and the Child Jesus. Jesus, who could have struck Herod, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and all those who sought his death dead, chose instead to sacrifice Himself for us without uttering one word of complaint. The Author of Life was entitled to life but he gave it up to His Father in heaven.

So now, what do we make of ourselves in this season? Are we ready to forego any of our rightful indulgences? By baptism we are brothers and sisters of Christ, members of the Holy Family. What can we bring to our family members this Christmas season, what renunciation can we offer that will foster peace and harmony? How far can we advance toward the perfection of love in the footsteps of Jesus, Mary and Joseph?

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Friday, December 12th, 2014 Blessed Virgin, Christmas, spirituality 6 Comments

Advent Spiritual Reading

December 3, 2014

Joseph and Mary Go to Bethlehem, mid 16th century, Hugo van der Goes

Joseph and Mary Go to Bethlehem, mid 16th century, Hugo van der Goes

The Church begins her liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent when we start hearing the prophesies of the Messiah in our Scripture readings at Mass. It’s a great time of spiritual renewal as we anticipate the coming of Jesus and making an offering of ourselves as a birthday present to Him at the crib. We want to be all polished up spiritually to join the shepherds in adoration and thanksgiving for the salvation Jesus has obtained for us, don’t we?

I love the season of Advent, maybe because it’s a bit less rigorous than Lent, but still full of the penitential moments necessary to take stock of where we are and where we need to be as practicing Christians. At SpiritualDirection.com we are being treated to daily meditations by Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J., a missionary priest to India, from his 1915 book, The Prince of Peace. Each one begins with Sacred Scripture and then follows with a commentary related to the passage. I’m hooked. So hooked that I downloaded a free copy from ForgottenBooks.com so I could have it as a reference and use it whenever I want…up to a point. Warning: Although the copy is free, ForgottenBooks has blocked certain pages to induce readers to buy a monthly membership at their site in order to read the entire book.

Over the years I’ve seen books by Goodier referenced in other writing and when I saw these meditations on line, I determined to find out more about this missionary. Good missionaries are very special and very fascinating. None of them can be God’s instruments for salvation without spending a lot of time in prayer and Sacred Scripture study. So who is this renowned Archbishop Goodier, I wondered and is his missionary vocation evident in his work? He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page but the Great Harwood page tells us a bit and I found his ordination and service history at Catholic Hierarchy. While his spiritual writings give us insight into his soul and indeed prove his missionary heart, even the bare bones dates and places and a little knowledge of the history of Great Britain in India help us to know him better.

Goodier was born on April 14, 1869 in Great Harwood, Great Britain, the second of five surviving children of William Goodier, a biscuit manufacturer, and his wife, Elizabeth. Here’s what the natives of the 21st century have to say about their town:

ARROD; SNUFFY; is like many small towns or large villages. Quite unremarkable. It is not on a major road, you don’t even need to go through it on the way to somewhere else. It has few buildings of significance to anyone outside and perhaps only one of renown. It has had many distinguished sons and daughters though not many famous. It is not in many tourist guides. It has had little to boast of in sporting success for many years.It’s just a small town in East Lancashire, England with a long history.

Most likely the contemporaries of Goodier would have said much the same thing in the mid 19th century. But it’s not so much where one comes from but what one does with one’s life that matters the most, and so we know that Goodier passed through the rigorous schooling and discipline of the Jesuit seminary to be ordained a priest in 1895. Twenty-four years later on the 15th of December, 1919, he was appointed Archbishop of Bombay, India, now known as Mumbai. He held that office until age 57 when he resigned on October 1, 1926. Throughout these years with the Jesuits he not only established a charity organization to help the poor and build hospitals, he wrote a number of spiritual books, many of which you can find at alibris and other websites, and became acclaimed as a solid source of Catholic spirituality throughout the 20th century. He entered eternity on March 13, 1939 at almost 70 years of age leaving us a continuing inspirational body of work that is once again becoming popular amongst the laity.

Here is part of meditation VII. ” FORESHADOWINGS OF MARY.

” Whence is this to me that the mother of my Lordshould come to me?” ” LUKE i. 43.

1. Though so little is said of Our Lady in the Gospels, there is abundant evidence both there and elsewhere to show that she too was part of the Expectation of the Jews along with her Son; and reason confirms that the two could scarcely have been separated. When the Angel appeared to her, to announce the Incarnation, he speaks as to one who was accustomed to meditate on ancient prophecies; and six months later she breaks out in words that could only have come from one who recognized in herself the fulfillment of many things foretold. Elizabeth’s words, again, disclose one who appreciated to the full the meaning of Mary’s motherhood; and Simeon later is even more explicit. Lastly, the tradition of the second Eve was one which the Jews held dear.

2. In the same way, then, as the great men of the Old Testament prefigured the Son, so did the great women prefigure the Mother; and it is to be noticed that the history of the Jews is studded with the names of great women far more than is the history of any other ancient people. Rebecca secured the inheritance for her son Jacob. The mother of Moses saved him from the waters to be the savior of his people. Anna breaks into her song of praise at the knowledge that she is to be a mother, which song is the back ground for the greater song of Mary herself.

Deborah and Joel each in their turn are the saviors of their people; later come the names of Judith and Esther, each reminding the Jews of that first prophecy: ” I will set enmities between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall crush thy head “; and telling them that in the future the Mother of Him that was to come would have her share in the work of Redemption.

Perhaps it is because I love Sacred Scripture so much that these meditations are so dear to me, and I never get tired of learning the great stories of our salvation history. If you would like quick daily meditations on the coming of Jesus that you can ponder throughout the day, I highly recommend signing up for email notifications at SpiritualDirection.com. I’ve been receiving them for nearly a year now and am very grateful for where they lead me.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 1 Comment

Being Thankful

November 29, 2014

The Rainbow in the Berkshire Hills, George Inness, 1825-1894, painted in 1869, a "postwar prayer of thanksgiving"

The Rainbow in the Berkshire Hills, George Inness, 1825-1894, painted in 1869, a “postwar prayer of thanksgiving”

 

It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing this blog since the fall of 2009. So much has happened in these years both personally and with friends and family. It also seems that the world has accelerated toward complete destruction in the areas of perversion, denial of freedom of conscience, and unjust  wars of all kinds from ideologically motivated violent demonstrations because people didn’t get their way to the aggressions of followers of Islam. The cockle is maturing right alongside the wheat just as Jesus told us in Matthew 13 and the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil” has taken on an ever growing sense of urgency.

Because of the state of the world and our country, this year over Thanksgiving I decided to take an inventory of all the things I’m thankful for, the wheat amongst the cockle. Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday with many traditions, I find myself transcending the earthly emphasis to God instead. After all, regardless of what goes on in the world and in this country, He is my true leader and the one from whom all good flows. In the end, He and those of us who follow Him will be the ones left standing.

Perhaps readers may be able to resonate with the following list which of necessity is incomplete. After all, if I enumerated everything here this post would go on forever.

  • For life, for existence, for having been created and born a United States citizen.
  • For parents, now deceased; for family and friends.
  • For my Catholic upbringing, the many saints whose lives and works encourage me with their valor.
  • For the gift of faith.
  • For my guardian angel to whom I am never grateful enough.
  • For Jesus present in the tabernacles of Catholic churches wherever I may be. For the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
  • For the many talents and skills God has given me.
  • For my husband, a really thoroughly decent person who puts up with me and loves me.
  • For the garden harvest and all the wonderful discoveries of God’s providence in raising good food for the table.
  • For my inquisitive mind that takes me on so many adventures which reveal God’s love for man expressed in different cultures throughout history.
  • For my ability to teach and the pleasure I get from my students.
  • For my fibromyalgia and essential tremor which have taught me perseverance and instigated a desire to push the envelope in daily little rehab activities. While others my age are often in much worse physical condition, I am hanging in there, challenging myself every day to do some action a little better than the day before to strengthen muscles and improve balance. Physical issues always give me something to offer up for the souls in purgatory and the salvation of souls. I’m thankful that God loved me enough to let me do this.
  • For having to live on a tight budget that challenges priorities and forces choices every day with the question in the background, “How will this choice make me better able to do God’s will?”.
  • For the technology of the internet and electronic devices that allow me to research so many things, especially the Bible and the writings of the saints.
  • For a home to live in and a bed to sleep in when so many are homeless and in refugee camps because of war and persecution.

I guess I’ll stop here. What are you thankful for in this season?

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Saturday, November 29th, 2014 fibromyalgia, spirituality 8 Comments

Arise and Walk

November 16, 2014

SS. Peter and John Healing the Lame Man at the Beautiful Gate, 17th century, Bolognese painter

SS. Peter and John Healing the Lame Man at the Beautiful Gate, 17th century, Bolognese painter

A forty year old man, lame from birth, sat on his mat just outside the Beautiful gate of the temple of Jerusalem. This way of life, begging for daily sustenance, was nothing new to him, nor to those who passed him regularly on their way into the temple. Depending on friends to transport him to and from his home was also nothing new. But it probably was never easy to humble himself like that just to live, yet he persevered because he had no other choice.

One day he saw two men, Peter and John, about to enter the temple at the ninth hour (3 o’clock) and asked them for alms. That encounter changed his life forever. Acts 3: 3-8 tells us what happened.

He, when he had seen Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. But Peter with John fastening his eyes upon him, said: Look upon us. But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them. But Peter said: Silver and gold I have none; but what I have, I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise, and walk. And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength. And he leaping up, stood, and walked, and went in with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

Some things that struck me about this passage as I was meditating on it are:

  • This occurred at the 9th hour, the same hour Jesus died on the Cross, the hour of mercy, the hour of freedom from the chains of all evil. Today countless Catholics all over the world recite the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3:00, pleading mercy for sinners everywhere, including themselves, that we all may arise and walk in the way of the Lord as this man did. At three o’clock I will forever think now of that lame man and what God is telling me through that healing.
  • Peter instructed the man to “Look upon us.” The first step in healing is to ask for it. The second step is to look with earnestness and hope upon Christ, who in this case used Peter as His instrument. Anyone who visits Adoration chapels where “favors granted” binders are left for adorers to write of the blessings they have received will immediately know the healing that comes from looking upon Jesus with earnestness and hope. I always find myself humbled and awed at the daily miracles Jesus does for others simply because of their earnest prayers before Him in the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Silver and gold would not fix the man’s lameness but the name of Jesus not only cured the man, but gave him the strength to go out and support himself. He received a new life entirely instead of money. He received much more than he asked for, way beyond what he could have imagined when he begged Peter for money. How powerful that name is! God is so generous that when we ask for all we need in the name of Jesus, He gives us much more than we ask for in terms of grace and blessings even if we don’t get exactly what we want or if it takes time for Him to answer our plea.
  • Peter, as did Jesus sometimes when He healed, touched the man, even though he could have healed him without touching him. Peter was the hand of Christ just as we are to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus to others. Living like Christ we are to allow God to use us to heal the broken hearted, bind up spiritual, psychological, and physical wounds, and bring joy to those in grave circumstances starting with our own families and reaching out to others.
  • Peter seized the man’s right hand. The right hand signifies ownership, power, and control that the person exercises, and can stand for the entire person. In an instant, the lame man went from powerlessness to being able to exercise more control over his life. He was no longer at the mercy of his lameness. He was more free than at any other time of his life to go places and do things, but most especially he was free to adopt all the body postures the rituals of the temple followed in worshiping God. When God heals us from our spiritual lameness, we are able to pursue Him with complete freedom of heart. We receive the grace to exercise more control over our unruly flesh and to resist the false charms of the world.
  • In a way, this man who went into the temple leaping and dancing and praising God is a sign of resurrection. On that final day when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, those who have been faithful to Him will be resurrected with our bodies unto life and will enter into an eternity of joy of which the lame man’s situation is a pale imitation even if it’s a foretelling of what is to come. I look forward to leaping and dancing in the praise of God with my new body some day.
  • We encounter Christ in the confessional where we ask God for the alms of forgiveness and make a firm resolution to “sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.” He gives us a new life every time just as He gave the lame man his legs. Huge weights of sin, making us lame and causing us suffering, are lifted from our shoulders. We can breathe again. The joy of His mercy makes our hearts leap and dance and the lame man did in the temple. Countless penitents have testified to this. We can look at our being freed from our sins as mini-resurrections from the poverty of sin that allow us to testify to the glory of God to fellow sinners who may be hesitating to ask for the alms of forgiveness. The words of the Church, some of the most beautiful of all in the sacred liturgy of this sacrament, send us sinners on our way:

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Perhaps we might ask ourselves,

What do I need to be freed from so as to begin a new life of spiritual wholeness and joy?

Am I humble enough to lay even my most complicated situation in front of the priest and ask for the healing grace of Confession?

Looking back on my life, when was it that I begged God for help and he answered me with far more than what I asked for?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Sunday, November 16th, 2014 Sacred Scripture, spirituality 6 Comments

The Right Food

November 12, 2014

Still life with Fruits, Nuts, and Cheese, 1613, Floris Claesz van Dijck, 1575 - 1651,  Oil on panel, 49 x 77 cm, Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem

Still life with Fruits, Nuts, and Cheese, 1613, Floris Claesz van Dijck, 1575 – 1651,
Oil on panel, 49 x 77 cm, Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem

As Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays approach, a lot of people start obsessing over weight gain. Many of us overindulge on goodies during this time, while those attending Weight Watcher meetings discuss ways of controlling eating behaviors during this season. I own up to the fact that having been very hungry, though not starving, during some years of my childhood, I have something of an obsession with food as do many of those who attend the WW meetings. I actually fear being hungry.

While WW has a great psychology to its eating program, being a secular organization it lacks something indispensible to me. That’s God. We can’t overcome our obsessions without the grace of God, and learning to discipline ourselves in sensible ways is possible only by His grace. I’ve found that instead of focusing on a weight loss goal as the only marker of success, which is something WW cautions against, what’s more helpful is to bring in the spiritual perspective along with the other types of goals WW encourages.

Beyond focusing on the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost and behaving in ways that support good health within the limitations we may each have such as my fibromyalgia, it’s helpful to return to another basic truth. God is the source of all our food and He gives it to us to sustain ourselves to do His will. Now I can approach the table with the question, am I ready to eat for the greater honor and glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31) and to be better able to do His will?

St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) adds another facet to the crystal of self-discipline in the area of food, one that helps us when in times of feasting.

We are not, then, to abstain wholly from various kinds of food, but only are not to be taken up about them. We are to partake of what is set before us, as becomes a Christian, out of respect to him who has invited us, by a harmless and moderate participation in the social meeting; regarding the sumptuousness of what is put on the table as a matter of indifference, despising the dainties, as after a little destined to perish.

“Let him who eats, not despise him who eats not; and let him who eats not, not judge him who eats”(Romans 14:3). And a little way on he explains the reason of the command, when he says, “He that eats, eats to the Lord, and gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:6).

So the right food is thanksgiving. (Instructor 2.1)

Perhaps meditating on the traditional Catholic table blessing, “Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive through Thy bounty through Christ our Lord. Amen” can help us keep a right perspective in the upcoming days and whenever we enjoy celebrations.

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Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 spirituality 5 Comments

Thinking and Speaking According to the Mind of God

November 3, 2014

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

At the recent synod on the family we saw how language was used to promote a secular agenda on certain topics rather than supporting God’s will for His people. In The Language of the Devil I wrote about how ambiguity in language serves the purpose of confusing others and leading them away from truth. Clarity in language is only one aspect, though, that we must adhere to in order to bring others to Christ no matter how difficult their life situations may be, without compromising with the world.

How we think is reflected in how we express ourselves. If we are thinking according to the mind of God, we will engage the world on His terms, not on its terms. Our language will reflect this. Make no mistake, strengthening families is an evangelization challenge that must be thought and expressed according to the mind of God.

One of the most compelling speakers who sets evangelization challenges in language from God’s perspective is Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church. On October 17, 2014 he addressed the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy in a speech titled: THE THEOLOGY OF FREEDOM. CHRISTIANITY AND SECULAR POWER: FROM THE EDICT OF MILAN TO THE PRESENT. The talk is quite long and worthy of being read in its entirety because we can learn a lot about how the Church engaged the world and how we must do it today.

My purpose isn’t to present a history lesson here, but to show the framework we need to use in thought and word if we are to address the challenges families of today face in acting as a leaven of Christ and a spiritual force in the world while fulfilling the duty to join God in heaven one day. Here are some paragraphs from the speech, my emphasis:

Thanks to the Edict of Milan, Christians were faced with the necessity of thinking not only of their own salvation and the welfare of their small community. Their new position in society obliged them to think of the quality of this society, of their role in it – the role of active citizens, of men of prayer for their homeland and people of good will.

Contrary to widespread opinion, Christianity did not simply become a substitute for the decayed paganism of the Roman Empire; it entered its life and structure as something principally new. It was not subject to the dictatorship of secular authority, it influenced this very authority, at times embarking upon an unequal conflict with it. [Do we see our mission today like this?]

In other words, the Church, upon entering the structure of state power, did not merge with it….

In my view our era – the era of the Church’s revival [he is speaking of the Russian Orthodox Church post 1988] – has something in common with the era following the publication of the Edict of Milan.

The link in time is the concept of freedom. The principle of freedom of conscience proclaimed in the Edict of Milan lies at the foundation of the new attitude of the authorities to its subjects. The Edict of Milan presaged sixteen centuries ago that which was possible in full measure only in the twentieth century after hundreds of years of wars and discrimination. In a whole series of international documents at the basis of the modern legal world (such as, for example, the International Bill of Human Rights and the European Convention on the Defence of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms) the freedom to confess one’s faith and live according to it – the main idea of the Edict – is postulated as one of the most important freedoms of the human person….

Certain events in the Church’s history cannot be explained other than as a divine miracle. Such a miracle was the era following the Edict of Milan in 313. No less a miracle happened in our country at the end of the 1980s. Could people, who only a few years before this risked their welfare for their faith, and in some instances their lives too, evaluate the freedom that had unexpectedly fallen on their heads as anything other than a divine miracle? Could they have hoped that the godless ideology would collapse and be replaced by another worldview in which the Good News of the Church again will be viewed as one of the foundations of society and the pledge of its success in the future? Numerous believers, who had gathered at the festivities in July 1988, would be able to repeat the words once uttered by Eusebius of Caesarea on the occasion of the general church festivities that heralded a new era: “All the fear in which our tormentors had held us hostage has evaporated. Now the joyful and triumphant days of popular festivities have come: all has become filled with light.”

In both instances it is precisely the gift of religious freedom that preceded the gift of other civil liberties, viewed in our time as one of the main achievements of a democratic society. And it is not fortuitous, for it is in the Christian system of values that the concept of freedom acquires its special content. We Christians believe that the gift of life is a gift from God, and that human life is not under the power of anyone other than the Maker of the human race. This belief renders Christians free from the oppression of any political power and any ideology. It makes them capable of being martyrs and confessors when the Church is persecuted; and witnesses to the truth and heralds of the Kingdom of God when the Church is recognized. No other religion or ideology characterizes such a reverential attitude towards freedom. The great Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev said that “freedom, above all freedom, is the soul of Christian philosophy and this is what cannot be granted by any other abstract and rationalistic philosophy.”

Christian freedom does not tear us away from our families, from our social ties or from our country. On the contrary, within the Christian understanding of freedom, in the recognition of an absolute and living connection of the human person with God there is embedded a moral potential of great strength. [This is the mindset we need as we consider how to build strong families and resolve problems that have arisen today because of injustice, wanton hedonism, and rejection of reason.] 

Being the creation of a beneficent God, sons and daughters of the Maker, we are called upon to plow the garden that has been entrusted to us, thereby bringing the Kingdom of God closer to humanity. It is precisely this moral potential, rooted within the free human person, that the emperor Constantine saw in Christianity when he allowed this powerful positive creative energy to be released and act upon all of society….

In recent times we have more often been able to observe how in the West another type of freedom has been proclaimed: freedom from moral principles, from common human values, from responsibility for one’s actions. We see how this freedom is destructive and aggressive. Instead of respect for the feelings of other people, it preaches an all-is-permitted attitude, ignoring the beliefs and values of the majority. Instead of a genuine affirmation of freedom it asserts the principle of unrestrained gratification of human passions and vices remote from moral orientation…. [Sounds like Pope Benedict XVI, doesn’t he?]

That which is happening today in the West is the gradual restoration of the Pax Romana, of global international hegemony.

Along with this, if Roman power at certain periods was indifferent towards immorality, then today that immorality is being proclaimed as the norm. The modern-day democratic state is even viewed by some as the role of guarantor of the legal status of immorality, for it protects citizens from the encroachments of “religious sanctimoniousness.” The role of religion, as in Rome, is seen in an exclusively utilitarian light – it is the servant of the state without any claims to truth, the “personal affair of each individual.” And yet the state must be recognized unconditionally and we must obey its laws, including those that undermine its foundations.

Nevertheless, Christianity in its very essence cannot renounce its claim to truth – that is her eschatological nature, to seek out the City of the age to come. The Kingdom of God, as preached by the Church, fills the contemporary secular state with fear and is a threat to the kingdom of men that cannot bear competition….

To possess freedom for the Church means to be the “salt of the earth,” the yeast of the Gospel, a spiritual force and the conscience of the people. [This is precisely why the Church is hated by those who want to kill their consciences and keep them dead.] To realize freedom means to act and use those opportunities that the Lord has given us for serving and preaching. The world is so constructed that freedom is the condition of a decisive, yet well thought out action. Freedom is the means, the condition of creative work. And creativity is engagement in the life of society with all of its inner contradictions. [Lack of divinely inspired creative work is at the heart of compromises with the world as we saw among some at the synod.]

We have been judged to live in times when in our hands, in the hands of Christians, is the precious gift of freedom – the same gift which Christians received in the era of emperor Constantine the Great. This gift of Divine Providence opens up before us great opportunities. The ability to dispose of the gift of freedom demands from the older generation of people in the Church a special wisdom, and from the young workers in God’s field colossal self-sacrifice…. [Self-sacrifice is necessary, the colossal kind, to preserve and heal the family. This is the message we have to adhere to, not instituting practices that make a slide into hell certain.]

The freedom to confess Christ as Lord and live according to his commandments will remain constant in the life of the Church and the life of every Christian until the moment when “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. 3: 10).

I would like to wish you all, and in your person the future generation of Western Christians, to preserve the spirit of the Christian freedom which considers as vanity all that which does not incline its head before the living God and the Saviour of the world Jesus Christ. 

In preserving this freedom, do not be afraid of creativity, do not be afraid of the risk of creativity. For God calls us to be his co-workers in this world and co-workmanship cannot but be creativity in the loftiest sense of this word. [Each Christian is in a partnership with God to bring about His kingdom. Do we discount His grace to help us and those we are seeking to bring to Him to act in accordance with His will?]

And there is another wish which I would like to convey to you all: in bringing into the world the word of Christ, let us not forget that the best testimony always has been and always will be the example of our own lives.

Often when I read Metropolitan Hilarion’s talks, I feel deeply the schism between Rome and the Orthodox, so obviously the work of Satan. Both in the words of our Eastern rite brethren and in the Orthodox we see a godly spiritual orientation that lights the way for a decadent world, more so than what we too frequently hear from the USCCB and other Church leaders. We must keep our purpose in mind, as Hilarion expressed in many ways here, as we go about bringing the Good News of Christ to a world bent on self-destruction. If we do not frame the issues in relation to God, we can never find the solutions we need based on truth. Can you imagine what would have happened at the synod had Hilarion been a participant? Fortunately we had Cardinals Burke, Pell, Napier and others.

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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, November 3rd, 2014 Catholic culture, spirituality 1 Comment

Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Benignity

October 9, 2014

St. Gregory the Great, Titian, via Wikimedia

St. Gregory the Great, Titian, via Wikimedia

In a recent post, Fruit of the Holy Spirit: Continency, I opened the door to discovering a deeper meaning than self-control for continency. Today I am opening the door to considerations on benignity, which is frequently translated as “kindness”.

St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5: 22:

But the fruit of the Spirit is, charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity.

I favor the translation of the Douay Rheims Bible because it forces us to look beyond the mere word, “kindness”, which limits the true meaning of the Greek chrestotes (khray-stot’-ace). The Greek means “usefulness, i.e. morally, excellence (in character or demeanor) — gentleness, good(-ness), kindness” according to Strong’s.

Chrestotes is different from the next word, agathosune  (ag-ath-o-soo’-nay) in the same passage: meaning goodness, i.e. virtue or beneficence, translated as “goodness” in many Bibles, which we will take up in the future. The Latin Vulgate translates chrestotes as benignitas, from which we get the English word, “benignity”.

In today’s world moral excellence in character or demeanor is not prized, nor do we see much goodness and kindness from public figures who have the most influence on our lives whether in government, media, sports, etc. I am not sure whether teachers preparing children and adults for the sacrament of Confirmation are delving into the meanings and application of this fruit of the Holy Spirit either. Therefore, in the spirit of living the Gospel, let’s walk a little way with the Church Fathers and learn a fuller meaning of benignity.

The Fathers invariably use this word in the context of a person of power exercising this fruit with regard to someone of lesser stature in the social order of things, or someone who possesses something generously giving it or its use to another regardless of stature.

The benignity of rulers

St. Gregory the Great in his letter to Romanus, Guardian (Book IX, Letter 26):

Although the law with reason allows not things that come into possession of the Church to be alienated, yet sometimes the strictness of the rule should be moderated, where regard to mercy invites to it, especially when there is so great a quantity that the giver is not burdened, and the poverty of the receiver is considerably relieved.

And so, inasmuch as Stephania, the bearer of these presents, having come hither with her little son Calixenus (whom she asserts that she bare to her late husband Peter, saying also that she has labored under extreme poverty), demanded of us with supplication and tears that we should cause to be restored to the same Calixenus the possession of a house in the city of Catana, which Ammonia, her late mother-in-law, the grandmother of Calixenus, had offered by title of gift to our Church; asserting that the said Ammonia had not power to alienate it, and that it belonged altogether to the aforesaid Calixenus, her son; which assertion our most beloved son Cyprian, the deacon, who was acquainted with the case, contradicted, saying that the complaint of the aforesaid woman had not justice to go on, and that she could not reasonably claim or seek to recover that house in the name of her son; but, lest we should seem to leave the tears of the above named woman without effect, and to follow the way of rigor rather than embrace the plea of pity, we command you by this precept to restore the said house to the above-named Calixenus, together with Ammonia’s deed of gift with respect to this same house, which is known to be there in Sicily—since, as we have said, it is better in doubtful cases not to execute strictness, but rather to be inclined to the side of benignity, especially when by the cession of a small matter the Church is not burdened, and succor is mercifully given to a poor orphan.

To John, Archbishop of the Corinthians St. Gregory the Great writes (Book V, Letter 52):

Yet, inasmuch as it is fit for us to incline to mercy more than to strict justice, it is our will that the same Euphemius and Thomas be restored to the rank and position, but to that only, from which they had been promoted to sacred orders, and receive during all the days of their life the stipends of these positions, as they had been before accustomed. Further, as to Clematius the reader, I appoint, from a like motive of benignity, that he is to be restored to his rank and position.

We can see in both of these cases, benignity is associated with both justice and mercy.

The benignity of God

The Fathers often refer to the benignity of God. St. Cyprian of Carthage in his treatise on the Our Father says:

He who made us to live, taught us also to pray, with that same benignity, to wit, wherewith He has condescended to give and confer all things else; in order that while we speak to the Father in that prayer and supplication which the Son has taught us, we may be the more easily heard.

Saint Irenaeus.jpg

St. Ireneaus, engraving, public domain

St. Irenaeus in Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 24) writes about those who bring in false doctrines:

Wherefore they also imagine many gods, and they always have the excuse of searching [after truth] (for they are blind), but never succeed in finding it. For they blaspheme the Creator, Him who is truly God, who also furnishes power to find [the truth]; imagining that they have discovered another god beyond God, or another Pleroma, or another dispensation. Wherefore also the light which is from God does not illumine them, because they have dishonored and despised God, holding Him of small account, because, through His love and infinite benignity, He has come within reach of human knowledge….

Daily life illustrations

From these examples we can see that benignity is always exercised in the context of relationships, whether they be between ourselves and others or God and ourselves. Parents, bosses, owners of property, government officials, civic leaders all have the chance to show this fruit in their everyday actions. Whenever we use our power or authority in favor of someone without causing harm to others, we exercise benignity.

For an example, a company’s policy says that hourly workers are to be docked wages to go to doctor appointments. However, hardworking single parents struggling to make ends meet who need to take sick children to the doctor cannot afford to be docked. A supervisor who offers make-up time to the employee rather than docking wages is exercising benignity. The company loses nothing because the time off is made up doing work that needs to be done. The employee gains by keeping wages that would otherwise have been lost, and the boss gains from greater commitment on the employee’s part. Whether the supervisor will escape punishment for acting with benignity is another story, depending on the atmosphere of management. Clearly, though, St. Gregory the Great shows us by his actions that in small things the exercise of benignity is warranted.

Another example would be of a parent who has established a family rule that everything in the house must be picked up and put away – toys, clothes, etc. before going to bed. But Johnny has taken sick. Benignity and common sense says that he take medicine and go to bed without regard to toys strewn about. When Mom, Dad, or a sister or brother picks up Johnny’s things, benignity is shown.

Then there’s the farmer with a small grove of fruit trees. He has no use for the fruit so he allows a friend to gather it for his own use. Nothing obligates the farmer to permit someone to come on his land and take what he owns, but benignity governs his permission.

Whenever a judge exercises discretion in sentencing, he may show benignity. A criminal may deserve a life sentence, but a judge, considering circumstances, chooses to hand down a lesser penalty. As custodian of the law, he shows benignity. The same applies to the police officer who lets a speeder off with a warning ticket.

Benignity can never be such when a ruler allows a situation destructive to the common good of the people he is responsible for to continue unabated. Allowing illegal immigrants to pour across a nation’s borders may look like benignity, but the ruler has no duty or obligation to the illegals. He does, however, have a duty and obligation to the citizens of his country to protect them from diseases and violence brought in by illegals. He has an obligation to maintain order in the economy and daily life of citizens which is disrupted when people willy-nilly flood across borders. Moreover, he is enabling the governments of illegals to get off without practicing benignity to the people they are obligated to care for.

A parent who fails to enforce house rules and lets Mary Sue get away with all kinds of laziness, disrespectful language, sarcasm and bullying of siblings is not exercising benignity but raising a horror, abdicating a God-given responsibility to raise righteous children for the kingdom of God. Such a parent is not behaving in a morally upright manner.

Let us ask ourselves these questions:

What do I have power/authority over and how can I use it with benignity?

Do I conduct myself in a morally upright way with excellence of character and demeanor, or do I fail in justice and mercy towards others?

Do I rationalize sins by telling myself that nobody is getting hurt from my secret actions, thus going in the opposite direction from benignity into malignity?

If someone offends me, can I cut him slack without falling into the enabling category? Not make a mountain out of a mole hill?

God exercises constant benignity towards us in the graces He continually gives us; graces we neither merit nor deserve. Should not benignity be one of the ways we pattern ourselves after God, bringing the light of Christ into our world?

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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.)

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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Thursday, October 9th, 2014 religion, sacraments, spirituality 6 Comments

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