The Lord is My Shepherd…

April 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more could we possibly ask?

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

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Saturday, April 18th, 2015 spirituality 2 Comments

A Thief’s Remarkable Confession

March 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-program Your Brain for Lent

February 22. 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the second installment on this subject, click here.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

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Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 spirituality 4 Comments

Pre-Lenten Preparation

February 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Ephrem on Verbal Abuse

The Mocking of Christ - Giotto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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, February 1st, 2015 spirituality 6 Comments

The Submission of Jesus to His Parents

Christ in the Carpenter Shop de la Tour

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

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

In Prince of Peace Archbishop Goodier remarks:

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

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

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

Developing his thoughts further Goodier writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Christ Among the Doctors Bodone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.



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

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.)

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.



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!

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


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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.)



Sunday, January 4th, 2015 spirituality Comments Off on The Magi, the Star, and the Contentment of Indifference

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.)

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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


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