Lent

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.

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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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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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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

Mortification, Penance, Suffering Seen through the Holy Spirit

March 8, 2014

Flower Sellers of London, Gustave Dore, Google Art Project via Wikimedia

Flower Sellers of London, Gustave Dore, Google Art Project via Wikimedia

Comprehending the value of the Cross, of suffering, of willful mortification and penance is impossible with the human eye alone. We need the light of the Holy Spirit to live through that which is visited upon us just as Jesus was seized and killed by worldly powers. In the eyes of the world he was just a man, one certainly with extraordinary power to heal both hearts and bodies, but in the end, just someone who could be killed to be gotten out of the way.

To the world, suffering makes no sense. It is a mystery. Mortification and penance make no sense. The world cannot conceive the hidden meaning and value of suffering and so it vainly seeks to end it by purely earthly means – this program and that, but oddly enough only creating more suffering. When by the grace of the Holy Spirit and with a generous heart charity seizes us, we can not only accept that which is beyond our control, but also choose to take advantage of all the many instances we find daily to deny ourselves and follow in the footsteps of the Lord.

In Meditation #97 of Divine Intimacy Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene writes:

The spirit of mortification has more than a purely physical aspect of mortification; it also includes renunciation of the ego, the will, and the understanding.

Is not the renunciation of understanding one of the most difficult challenges we face? We all want immediate certainty about our earthly endeavors. We want to know why things go wrong and we want to know why certain things are happening to us.  Really bad things may be going on and we want to create an alternate reality to dodge the emotional pain because we don’t understand. We can’t bear not to “get it” when we are apparently in the dark. We are impatient with God. We become afraid. Sometimes we actually run away through drugs, booze, affairs, and fantasies because we don’t want to have to deal with realities we don’t understand or know how to deal with. With our ego life is all about us; with our will life is all about getting what we want, with our understanding life is all about getting rid of uncertainty and taking control.  

The spirit of mortification is really complete when, above all, we seek to mortify self-love in all its many manifestations…. There is little value in imposing corporal mortifications on ourselves if we then refuse to yield our opinion in order to accommodate ourselves to others, if we cannot be reconciled with our enemies, or bear an injury and a cutting word with calmness, or hold back a sharp answer…. As long as mortification does not strike at our pride it remains at the halfway mark and never reaches its goal.

I will add to the specifics above, without understanding the need to mortify self-love and doing it, we cause immense pain to others, especially those close to us. This is how abuse of all kinds is passed down in families, how some people decide to kill themselves rather than to take the hand God is extending to them, how generations end up poisoned with hateful behavior patterns.

Without the spirit of mortification, we gain nothing and give no spiritual goods to others because we just go through the motions on the outside but have not rent our hearts on the inside (Joel 2: 13). We are fakes.

The true spirit of mortification embraces, in the first place, all the occasions for physical or moral suffering permitted by Divine Providence. The sufferings attendant on illness or fatigue; the efforts required by the performance of our duties or by a life of intense labor; the privations imposed by the state of poverty – all are excellent physical penances. If we sincerely desire to be guided by Divine Providence in everything, we will not try to avoid them, or even to lighten them, but will accept wholeheartedly whatever God offers us. It would be absurd to refuse a single one of those providential opportunities for suffering and to look for voluntary mortifications of our own choice….

It is exactly the same in the moral order. Do we not sometimes try to avoid a person whom we do not like, but with whom the Lord has brought us into contact? Do we look for every means of avoiding a humiliation or an act of obedience which is painful to nature? If we do, we are running away from the best opportunities for sacrificing ourselves and for mortifying our self-love; even if we substitute other mortifications, they will not be as effective as those which God Himself has prepared for us. In the mortification offered to us by Divine Providence, there is nothing of our own will or liking; they strike us just where we need it the most, and where, by voluntary mortification, we could never reach.

So much suffering in this world is going to waste because too many people do not see the supernatural  value of suffering, of renunciation of the ego, self-will, and understanding. Too many people are not willing to “let go and let God” as the various Anonymous organizations teach. Too many people are in misery because they do not know God and no one is drawing them to Him.

This Lent, let us consider our mortifications to be not only for our own spiritual development and formation in Christ, but offer them up for those who do not know God, that He will manifest Himself to them in love through us and others.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, March 8th, 2014 spirituality, suffering Comments Off on Mortification, Penance, Suffering Seen through the Holy Spirit

Surrender: Let God Decide

February 21, 2013

RaindropsAs I write this, sleet is tick-ticking vigorously against my windows while thunder rumbles and rolls nearby. Darkness like dusk, only with no warm sun slowly slipping below the horizon, is out of place at this mid-morning hour. 

This week, between the surprise attacks of exhaustion that punctuate the life of someone with fibromyalgia, and an unusually long (twelve hour) day trip to St. Louis for Roger to see his lung specialist, my series on sin is being delayed and all my Lenten practices have been interrupted.  The partial abstinence I planned to observe flew out the window for the week and fasting became inadvisable.

My inner ear issues create a feeling of nausea and instability that sap my will to research, think and write, and allergens blown in by high winds and stirred up from dry soil have tormented me for several months in spite of the antihistamines and nasal sprays I use.

Colleen Spiro wrote Desert Time this week in which she said, “Let God decide my path.”  We can be sure that when our good intentions are blocked, God has something else in mind.  When we are trying to move out of the space to which He has confined us, He moves us back to where He wants us – all for our spiritual safety and to give us practice in surrendering.

I’m not complaining. The low mental and physical energy are a blessing.  I can enjoy visiting blogs like Catholic Spiritual Direction where I feasted on Spiritual Liberty in the Night by Anthony Lilles. This post uplifted me today, comforted me as do so many others by Catholics in love with Christ. Right now it seems I am not meant to stress out over research and writing, but rather to be fed by others so that I can take my turn later and contribute to the table when I have more energy.

I am also enjoying some exceptionally well written, acted, directed, and edited Korean dramas that have elevated comic relief to a fine art. It’s too easy to become locked into our own problems and forget that a well-balanced life needs to include some laughter. If I feel better tomorrow, I’ll get on about the heavy mental lifting.  If not, I’ll continue to enjoy what the Lord is setting before me, no doubt to teach me something I can later use for His greater honor and glory.

Thanks to all the dedicated Catholic bloggers whose sites I enjoy visiting and who never fail to educate, inspire or prod me into becoming a better person.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Thursday, February 21st, 2013 spirituality 4 Comments

Looking at Lent This Year

February 13, 2013

TPope Benedict receives ashes 2013oday is the last major public event of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate.  How fitting that we are told, “Remember man that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” on this day when we are reminded of the temporariness of this world and that stability of the papacy is not the same as permanency in office.

This particular Lent is a time when the Body of Christ needs to come together and pray, sacrifice, and do penance for the Church.  Many Catholics have known for a long time that the wolves have invaded the sheep’s pen, and that the pen itself is being pounded against by wolves from outside. In places the walls have been breached.

Soon the Cardinals will gather to select another Pope to lead the Church through the ferocious war with the zeitgeist of the 21st century.  It will not be an easy job. They will need to make a selfless choice, not considering politics but rather the salvation of souls.  They will need to select a holy man of wisdom, prudence, decisiveness, courage, and healthy enough to face what’s coming.

“Be not afraid… I am with you always, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28: 10,20) are words we must not forget.  He is with us and we must be with Him. How we fulfill our Lenten obligations, both under law and by our voluntary discipline will obtain the graces necessary for the conclave to do its work in docility to the Holy Spirit.

To encourage us in our Lenten devotions the Holy Father said these words today:

…The readings that have just been proclaimed offer us ideas which, by the grace of God, we are called to transform into a concrete attitude and behavior during Lent. First of all the Church proposes the powerful appeal which the prophet Joel addresses to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (2:12). Please note the phrase “with all your heart,” which means from the very core of our thoughts and feelings, from the roots of our decisions, choices and actions, with a gesture of total and radical freedom.

But is this return to God possible? Yes, because there is a force that does not reside in our hearts, but that emanates from the heart of God and the power of His mercy. The prophet says: “return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment” (v. 13).

It is possible to return to the Lord, it is a “grace”, because it is the work of God and the fruit of faith that we entrust to His mercy. But this return to God becomes a reality in our lives only when the grace of God penetrates and moves our innermost core, gifting us the power that “rends the heart”. Once again the prophet proclaims these words from God: “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (v. 13).

Today, in fact, many are ready to “rend their garments” over scandals and injustices – which are of course caused by others – but few seem willing to act according to their own “heart”, their own conscience and their own intentions, by allowing the Lord transform, renew and convert them.

This “return to me with all your heart,” then, is a reminder that not only involves the individual but the entire community. Again we heard in the first reading: “Blow the horn in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly! Gather the people, sanctify the congregation; Assemble the elderly; gather the children, even infants nursing at the breast; Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her bridal tent (vv.  15-16).

The community dimension is an essential element in faith and Christian life. Christ came “to gather the children of God who are scattered into one” (Jn. 11:52). The “we” of the Church is the community in which Jesus brings us together (cf. Jn. 12:32), faith is necessarily ecclesial. And it is important to remember and to live this during Lent: each person must be aware that the penitential journey cannot be faced alone, but together with many brothers and sisters in the Church…

Some Lenten resources

I came across two posts at Father Byers’ Holy Souls Hermitage that really moved me as I consider my Lenten discipline: Lent and Friendship with Jesus, and his video of the Way of the Cross which he filmed on Mount Carmel, Israel. I am a big fan of the fearless Father, and maybe you might become one, too.  The spiritual food he offers is excellent for the sustenance of the soul.

If you want to read The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the private revelations of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich online, click on the link.  I’ve never read it myself, but I thought it might help me visualize the Passion better as I pray during Lent. 

A final thing for all of us to remember is that in our penance, we must be joyful and not go around grumpy and with long faces (Matt. 6:16), but rather remember that in disciplining ourselves we are preparing for our own resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come.  Suffering with joy, with Jesus. For the Church and the world this Lent.

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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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Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 Catholic Church 5 Comments

Recommended Lenten Spiritual Reading

February 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the book title for the link to Amazon.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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

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

Sabbath Moments

March 24, 2012

Awareness of God

This post is linked to Colleen, hostess of the meme, at Thoughts on Grace.

Rain

After last summer’s dry, scorching heat, a mild fall and winter that has been, for the most part dry, we have gotten many days of blessed rain.  It’s the kind of rain that is a mercy to end drought.  I thought of Portia’s words from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Today, after the week’s rains, all is a lovely, fresh green and the air is clean.  Everything is blooming early because of the mild winter, and soon it will be time to transfer seedlings to their permanent place in the Earthboxes and along the fence.  God has surely blessed us and answered our prayers for rain.

Visit to the Blessed Sacrament

I’m back to my Lenten schedule of visiting the local parish church on Friday mornings to spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  I took with me my new book, Meditation on the Passion, edited by Father Reginald Walsh, O.P.  It’s newly republished by Preserving Christian Publications and is the first book I’ve had using the Ignatian approach to meditation – one reason I bought it.  The book is hardcover with 305 pages, originally published in England in 1922 from a collection of meditations a nun had written, but edited for lay use.  I highly recommend it as a Lenten companion.

Since my approach to meditation has always been more in the Carmelite mode, it will be broadening to use the Ignatian method to contemplate the scriptures on our Lord’s passion.

As I rested in prayer I was conscious of the peace only Christ can give.  It’s really good to get away from our daily places of work and living and go to the quiet of the church where Jesus waits for us so patiently.

St. Benedict’s second step of humility

From chapter 7 of the Holy Rule:

The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his own desires; rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me (Jn. 6:38).

Father  Gerard Ellspermann, O.S.B. comments:

…If we are able to submit our will to God, then it will not be so difficult to attain to the third degree of humility, i.e., subject our will to a superior, or to the fourth, i.e., to oppressors and persecutors.  If you don’t strive after the will of God in your life, then forget about attaining the third and fourth degree….

…For the oblate this practice of obedience in humility presents itself in various ways, but in concrete forms.  As children of the Church we are under obedience to the Pope, our Bishop, our Pastor.  There are other fields of obedience open to the oblate — obedience to parents, to employers, to political leaders, to civil laws.  We cannot, in fact, do not want to escape obedience.  If we wish to be truly Benedictine, we need to emphasize a humble obedience in all phases of our lives.  Be it so!

Speaking as a stubborn, self-willed person, obedience is hard.  Becoming docile to the will of God can be difficult, but it is also very freeing.  Humility is the basis for trust in God, our starting point for the virtue of obedience.

It seems counter-intuitive, but true humility doing the will of God takes us very far in life.  Not being rich and famous necessarily, but in showing God’s love to our neighbor – spreading the wealth of inexhaustible grace and bringing others to Christ.  Grumpy, stingy obedience – that is, obedience lacking humility, makes us stingy and grumpy with our neighbor.  In that mood, the light of Christ is blocked and our neighbor is poorer for it.

Christ gave His all to the Father, completely humiliated in His passion and death on the cross.  Can we do any less and call ourselves Christian?

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, March 24th, 2012 Sabbath Moments 2 Comments

Sabbath Moments

March 3, 2012

Awareness of God

Welcome to Sabbath Moments and visit Colleen at Thoughts on Grace who hosts this meme every Saturday.  Join us if you will.  The more the merrier!

God takes over my Lent

As He’s done for the past nine years or so, God has taken over my Lent with physical afflictions unaccounted for by me when I made my plans.  This week my Sabbath moments consisted of numerous rosaries prayed because I came down with a sore throat and cough accompanied by some kind of sinus difficulty which got in the way of all my good intentions for Lent.  My plans for blog posts went right out the window because I couldn’t think well enough to write and didn’t have the energy to force myself.  It has been a great relief to know that whatever I give to God with joy, because He’s taking it anyway and there’s no point in grumbling about it, is advancing me along the way of conforming myself to His will.

Imperfections

I often come across the term “imperfections” in spiritual reading, especially when reading the classics.  Lent is a time to sharpen up our spiritual lives so I appreciated what Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, O.C.D. had to say on the subject of imperfections in Divine Intimacy this week:

While venial sin always consists in a more or less slight transgression of one of God’s laws, imperfection is the omission of some good act to which we are not obliged by any law, but one which charity invites us to do.

To better illustrate: when I am aware of the possibility of performing a better act suited to  my state, in accord with my actual capabilities, in harmony with my duties, and for the accomplishment of which I may reasonably believe that I am inspired by the Holy Spirit, I cannot deliberately refuse to do it without real actual imperfection.  In this case, my refusal to perform a better act cannot be judged to be good, nor can it be justified by the thought that I am free to omit this better action since no law or commandment obliges me. This would be an abuse of that liberty which was given me by God for the sole purpose of making me capable of adhering to the good, uninfluenced by my passions.

In fact, in the last analysis, my refusal to perform the better act always implies a lack of generosity, motivated by a little selfishness, laziness, meanness, or fondness for my own comfort, all of which are evidently contrary to perfection.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, 1640-41. Guercino (b. 1591, Cento, d. 1666, Bologna), Oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

I couldn’t help but think of the great virtue of kindness when I read this.  A kind person looks to caring or responding to the needs of others with a gift of self, often not counting the personal cost.  Kindness is what helps us avoid thoughtless remarks that might hurt someone else, even if we didn’t intend to hurt them.  It allows us to step into another person’s shoes and try to anticipate his needs.  To be kind is to be generous with our time and God-given gifts for the sake of His kingdom.  Being kind also implies having enough self-control to not give in to the motivations listed in Father Gabriel’s final paragraph above.  Jesus is kindness itself.

A good examination of conscience regarding imperfections could consist of two questions:

  • What opportunity(ies) to exercise generosity towards others did I deliberately pass by this week?
  • What motivated me to refuse?

The answers are not only material for confession but a “heads up” on a virtue we need to strengthen in ourselves and a tendency or vice we need to root out.

My takeaway from this meditation is that if we are to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 5:48) we must set our feet on a simple path of building good habits, working on one thing at a time.  For me that is making a habit of kindness going hand-in-hand with making a habit of self-denial.  Then the temptations to con myself into believing that because not doing something isn’t a sin I am just fine will be much fewer.

Thinking all of this through was a collection of most profitable Sabbath Moments.  If I can get somewhere this Lent with these ideas alone, it will be well worth having God rearrange all my plans!

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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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Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 Sabbath Moments 8 Comments

Gluten Free Egg and Bread Casserole

February 23, 2012

Freerange Eggs

Observing fasts and abstinence from meat during Lent is more than disciplining the body.  It challenges  my creativity to come up with dishes that will please my husband since he won’t touch fish or shellfish of any kind.  I modified a recipe a friend shared with me some years ago to meet my gluten free requirements and hubby’s tastes as well.

Some moms have expressed frustration with finding meatless dishes for the family to use on days of abstinence so I hope this lenten recipe will appeal to them, too.

Ingredients (serves four with a few left-overs)

5-6 eggs

2 tbsp. whole milk

1 tbsp. Italian seasoning

1 tsp. ground oregano

dash of red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

¼ tsp. garlic powder

3 slices of Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread or Udi’s Gluten Free Millet-Chia Bread

1 cu. torn fresh spinach

4 oz. sliced mushrooms

1 medium tomato chopped or 6-8 cherry tomatoes sliced in half

¼ cu. crumbled feta cheese

1 cu. shredded mozzarella cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1.  Tear bread apart in bite-size pieces and spread on the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray.

2. Combine first seven ingredients in mixing bowl and whisk together until thoroughly mixed.

3.  Spread the three vegetables evenly over the bread.

4.  Sprinkle crumbled feta evenly over the vegetables.

5.  Pour egg mixture over everything.

6.  Top with mozzarella cheese.

Refrigerate the dish for several hours or over night to let the egg mixture soak into the bread.  Bake at 350º for ½ hour or until cheese becomes slightly brown on top.

Variations

You can substitute Italian seasonings for Mexican seasonings and Mexican cheese for mozzarella.  Skip the feta cheese and oregano if you go for the Mexican flavoring. Various veggies can be swapped out, too.  I use frozen asparagus beans I harvested from our garden and asparagus instead of the spinach.  If I don’t have fresh tomatoes, I will hold the mozzarella, top the casserole with meat free spaghetti sauce, adding both just before putting the dish in the oven.

If it’s not a day when meat is prohibited, you can put crumbled pork sausage into it or ground beef.

*I can’t stand most gluten-free breads, but Udi’s breads are great.  They also make hamburger buns and other gluten free bread items like bagels.  I don’t usually eat much bread so when I buy Udi’s, I store it in the freezer and just take out whatever I need at the time.  The bread toasts well, too.

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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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Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 recipes 4 Comments

Symbolism of the Washing of the Feet

April 21, 2011

Washing of the Feet, 1308-11, Buoninsegna (b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena), Tempera on wood, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena


A significant part of the Holy Thursday liturgy is the washing of the feet.  We’ve all read the Bible verses describing this, but St. Thomas Aquinas has given us insights into the deep symbolism of Christ’s acts that are not obvious at first. In all my 65 years I’ve not heard a sermon that goes where St. Thomas takes us.

Something as mundane as washing dirty feet, Who does the washing, and the meaning behind it take us on a journey into the wonder of redemption.

Here is St. Thomas’s explanation from Meditations for Lent which I reviewed here.

After that, he putteth water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded (John 13:5).

There are three things which this can be taken to symbolize.

1.  The pouring of the water into the basin is a symbol of the pouring out of His blood upon the earth. Since the blood of Jesus has a power of cleansing it may in a sense be called water.  The reason why water, as well as blood, came out of His side, was to show that this blood could wash away sin.

Again we might take the water as a figure of Christ’s Passion.  He putteth water into a basin, that is, by faith and devotion He stamped into the minds of faithful followers the memory of His passion. Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood and the gall (Lam. 3:19).

2.  By the words and began to wash it is human imperfection that is symbolized.  For the Apostles, after their living with Christ, were certainly more perfect, and yet they needed to be washed; there were still stains upon them.  We are here made to understand that no matter what is the degree of any man’s perfection he still needs to be made more perfect still; He is still contracting uncleanness of some kind to some extent.  So in the Book of Proverbs we read, Who can say: My heart is clean, I am pure from sin (Prov. 20:9).

Nevertheless the Apostles and the just have this kind of uncleanness only in their feet.

There are however others who are infected, not only in their feet, but wholly and entirely.  Those who make their bed upon the soiling attractions of the world are made wholly unclean thereby. Those who wholly, that is to say, with their senses and with their wills, cleave to their desire of earthly things, these are wholly unclean.

But they who do not thus lie down, they who stand, that is, they who, in the mind and in desire are tending towards heavenly things, contract this uncleanness in their feet. Whoever stands must, necessarily, touch the earth at least with his feet.  And we, too, in this life, where we must, to maintain life, make use of earthly things, cannot but contract a certain uncleanness, at least as far as those desires and inclinations are concerned which begin in our senses.

Therefore Our Lord commanded His disciples to shake of the dust from their feet.  The text says, He began to wash, because this washing away on earth of the affection for earthly things is only a beginning.  It is only in the life to come that it will be really complete.

Thus by putting water into the basin, the pouring out of His blood is signified, and by His beginning to wash the feet of His disciples the washing away of our sins.

3.  There is symbolized finally Our Lord’s taking upon Him the punishment due to our sins.  Not only did He wash away our sins but He also took upon Himself the punishment that they had earned. For our pains and our penances would not suffice were they not founded in the merit and the power of the Passion of Christ.  And this is shown in His wiping the feet of the disciples with the linen towel, that is the towel which is His body.

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Thursday, April 21st, 2011 art, liturgy, spirituality 1 Comment

Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival

April 17, 2011

Welcome to Sunday Snippets, hosted by RAnn at This That and the Other Thing. Every week Catholic bloggers gather in RAnn’s virtual living room to share posts.  Join us, if you please, or visit everyone and leave comments.

At Litany of the Graces of the Cross I posted this private devotion to link spiritual progress to the cross.

At Praying the Psalms – Psalm 65 I wrote some reflections.

Vexilla Regis Prodeunt is about this Lenten hymn along with a little trivia.

Sabbath Moments is about a couple of very happy moments this past week.

May all my readers have a most blessed Holy Week.  I may not post much in order to pay more attention to the sacred liturgy of the Triduum.  God bless everyone!

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Sunday, April 17th, 2011 Sunday Snippets Comments Off on Sunday Snippets – A Catholic Carnival

Vexilla Regis Prodeunt

April 11, 2011

Resurrection, 1520, Marco Basaiti (active 1496-1530 in Venice), Oil on canvas, Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Every liturgical season in the Church contains gems illustrating the story of salvation.  In Lent, we focus on the Passion and its many aspects.  One of the oldest and most beautiful hymns praising the Cross is Vexilla Regis ProdeuntAs the fall of man came about through a tree, so his salvation comes about through the wood of the Cross.

The Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite celebrates Passion Sunday two weeks before Easter.  At first Vespers we begin using Vexilla Regis as the hymn and continue to do so every day until Holy Thursday.  It is also sung at Vespers on all feasts of the Holy Cross.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

[Vexilla Regis]  … was written by Venantius Fortunatus [530-609], and was first sung in the procession (19 Nov., 569) when a relic of the True Cross, sent by the Emperor Justin II from the East at the request of St. Radegunda, was carried in great pomp from Tours to her monastery of Saint-Croix at Poitiers. Its original processional use is commemorated in the Roman Missal on Good Friday, when the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession from the Repository to the High Altar.

…the vexillum is the cross which (instead of the eagle) surmounted, under Constantine, the old Roman cavalry standard. This standard became in Christian hands a square piece of cloth hanging from a bar placed across a gilt pole, and having embroidered on it Christian symbols instead of the old Roman devices.

Much sacred art depicting the Resurrection of Christ shows the vexillum (cross) on a banner in just the manner described.

Venantius Fortunatus was the holy bishop of Poitiers, France and an accomplished poet.  Another well-known hymn he wrote is Quem ter­ra, pon­tus, ae­the­ra (The God Whom Earth, and Sea, and Sky).  Eleven volumes of his great Latin poetry remain, along with a few found in Paris in recent years.

After thirteen centuries the stirring stanzas of this hymn still evoke penitence, joy, and praise, reminding us, the Church Militant, that we are marching in the army of our Redeemer. In most parishes, oratories, and chapels adhering to the Extraordinary Form, Vexilla Regis is sung in chant form.  However, a great priest composer, Guillaume Dufay (1397?-1474), following the practice of his time, wrote Vexilla Regis with chant interposed with polyphony.  In some places we still use his work today.

Vexilla Regis Prodeunt

The royal banners forward go,

The Cross shines forth in mystic glow,

Where Life himself our death endured

And by His death our life procured.


Where deep for us the spear was dyed,

Life’s torrent rushing from His side,

To wash us in that precious flood,

Where mingled water flowed, and blood.


Fulfilled is all that David told

In true prophetic song of old

To all the nations: “God,” saith he,

Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree.”


O Tree of beauty, Tree of light,

O Tree with royal purple dight,

Elect on whose triumphal breast

Those holy limbs should find their rest;


On whose dear arms, so widely flung

The weight of this world’s ransom hung;

The price of humankind to pay,

And spoil the spoiler of his prey.


O Cross, our one reliance, hail!

This holy Passiontide avail

To give new virtue to the saint

And pardon to the penitent.


To Thee, eternal Three in One,

Let homage meet by all be done;

As by the Cross Thou dost restore,

So rule and guide us evermore.  Amen.

Translation from the 1962 Daily Missal published by Angelus Press.

This is Dufay’s composition recorded live during Mass on 9/14/08 and sung by Les Choristes, the vocal quartet in residence at the French National Church in San Francisco, CA (Steven Olbash, director).  It does not have all the verses.



For an excellently sung Gregorian chant try Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis, Giovanni Vianini, Milano, Italia.

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Monday, April 11th, 2011 chant, liturgy, spirituality 1 Comment

Litany of the Graces of the Cross

April 10, 2010

Man of Sorrows, c. 1495, GEERTGEN tot Sint Jans (b. 1460/65, Leiden, d. 1490, Haarlem), Oil on panel, 26 x 25 cm Aartsbisschoppelijke Musea, Utrecht

As I was wandering in blogland following the meme of “Why I Love Jesus”, I found this Lenten litany.  Unfortunately, after retracing my steps as best I could, I just couldn’t find the blogger who posted it so I can’t link back to him/her.

My bad – it’s that right brain problem I have when I get excited about something and details fly into the wind.  It’s so beautiful and such a great pick-me-up for the final weeks of Lent that I’m posting it here for my readers.  Please be free to share it on your blog, too.

Litany of the Graces of the Cross

Response:  Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

We adore you, O Christ, when we do not get our own way.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in the midst of day-to-day aggravations, frustrations, and annoyances.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when we live deprived of recognition or gratitude.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when dealing with others who exalt themselves and demean us.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in the face of worry, anxiety, and fear.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when we forgive others and show them mercy, especially when it hurts.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in the face of others’ thoughtlessness.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in confronting our daily inner rebellion.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in refusing to give in to vanity and self-importance.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in always thinking about others first and putting them first.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when others take us for granted.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when suffering the agony of depression.   Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in our inability to make sense out of life or to have things follow our plans, especially when we’re trying so hard to be good.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in rejecting self-assertion and self satisfaction.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in the midst of the oppressiveness of life – its futility, drudgery, pointlessness, and tedium.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in letting go of the order and control we crave.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when accosted by the unfairness of seeing the wicked succeed.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, despite the world’s contradiction, humiliation, and derision.   Rs

We adore you, O Christ, by refusing to live according to our feelings.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when we are under-appreciated.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when our egoism and willfulness flare up.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, when we are persecuted for your sake.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, as we live by love and no lesser motive.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in finding peace in the total surrender of self.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, in accepting that God works in the ways we least expect.  Rs

We adore you, O Christ, as we search for self worth only in God’s love for us and nothing else.  Rs

Our Father……

Compiled by Father Peter John Cameron, O.P.

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Sunday, April 10th, 2011 litany, spirituality 4 Comments

Ancient Lenten Hymn, Parce Domine

March 22, 2011

One of the most beautiful Lenten Gregorian chants is Parce Domine, the antiphon of which comes from Joel 2: 17.  When I was growing up in Catholic schools, I remember clearly the Stations of the Cross every Friday at 3:00, and after the Stations, Benediction, during which we sang the Parce Domine.  It is also appropriate to use this chant for any Mass or paraliturgical service involving the subject of penance.  The verse referring to the “forty days” can be omitted outside of Lent.

I found a very useful site, The Cross Reference, which has the translation of the antiphon and all the verses, plus where the verses came from.  I am presenting Jeffrey Pinyan’s translation from that site here because it is the best I found.

Delving into this hymn is an adventure that takes us down the tunnels of time all the way back to Pope St. Gregory the Great. Although I searched everywhere I could think of on the internet, I could find no place to tell me the history of this prayer, but its components can rightly be described as ancient.

The theology behind the Parce Domine antiphon is the Old Testament concept of a God angered by sin. The verses themselves speak of the penitent soul pleading for the Divine Mercy upon all.  Even if you don’t sing it, meditating on the verses is very powerful.

Parce Domine Antiphon, Plain Chant

R.  Parce Domine, parce populo tuo: ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.

R.  Spare, O Lord, spare Your people: lest You be angry with us forever.

1.   Flectamus iram vindicem, ploremus ante Judicem; clamemus ore supplici, dicamus omnes cernui.

1.   Let us bow before the avenging wrath, let us weep before the Judge; let us cry out with words of supplication, let us all speak, falling prostrate.

2.   Nostris malis offendimus tuam Deus clementiam; effunde nobis desuper remissor indulgentiam.

2.   O God, by our wickedness we have offended Your clemency; pour forth on us from above, O forgiving One, Your pardon.

3. Dans tempus acceptabile, da lacrimarum rivulis lavare cordis victimam, quam laeta adurat caritas.

3.   Giving us an acceptable time, grant to purify, in the rivers of our tears, the sacrifice of our hearts, enkindled by joyful charity.

4.   Audi, benigne Conditor, nostras preces cum fletibus in hoc sacro jejunio fusas quadragenario.

4.   Hear, O benign Creator, our prayers, with lamentations, poured forth during this holy fast of forty days.

5.   Scrutator alme cordium, infirma tu scis virium; ad te reversis exhibe remissionis gratiam.

5.   O beloved Searcher of Hearts, You know the weakness of mortal bodies; show to those returning to You the grace of forgiveness.

All the hours of the Divine Office have hymns proper to the feast or the time of the day.  This hymn borrows verses from some of those.  What we find here is a microcosm of the penitential theme of the Lenten liturgy as it developed over the centuries.

Verses one and two are from Ex more docti mystico, a hymn attributed to Pope St. Gregory the Great (540-620), verse one having been altered by Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644).

Verse three is from O Sol salutis initimis (Pope Urban VIII), who revised it from a hymn dating to the earliest, the 6th century and to the latest, the 10th century.

Verses four and five are from Audi, benigne Conditor (Pope St. Gregory the Great).

These are words sung by some of the holiest and greatest saints of the Church throughout her history.  When we sing music like this, we join our voices to theirs in one long line of penitence and confidence in God’s mercy.

Felix Nowowiejski

Music directors who would like a print out of the plain chant of Parce Domine with all verses go here.

During the Renaissance, polyphonic composers like Jacob Obrecht (1457-1505) and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) took the melody line of the antiphon and embellished the verses into exquisite lines of music.  In the 20th century Polish composer, Felix Nowowiejski (1877–1946), composed a rendition that could easily take its place among later 20th century composers Arvo Pärt (1935-) and Henryk Górecki (1933–2010) in style and harmony.

Each one is so beautiful I can hardly pick one to present here, but given my love of choirs of young people, here is Nowowiejski’s composition sung by the great Singapore choir, Raffles.

There is only one verse in this recording, and it is a departure from the traditional hymn Beautiful, nonetheless.

This is Obrecht’s antiphon Parce Domine with organ introduction, and the plain chant from Cante Gregoriano of Milan with verses 1-3.  If I had a choice of which one I could listen to for the rest of my life, it would be the plain chant, perhaps because I grew up singing it.

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 Catholic culture, chant 3 Comments

Lent, the “Why?” of Suffering, and the Japanese Tragedy

March 21, 2011

My Lent this year is more focused that ever because of the disaster in Japan.  The lessons of detachment from things, from life, from my own will are gripping.  The responsibility to pray for the conversion of sinners looms before me as never before.  Something about tens of thousands of people dying in minutes is overwhelming.  I ask myself, how many might not have made it to heaven because I did not sacrifice and pray enough?

Weeping Woman of Natori, Reuters/Asahi Shimbun

In a way, this photo is a metaphor for the soul, grief-stricken in its emptiness, and overcome with sin as Natori is weighed down with jumbled rubble. Is this what our sinful souls look like to God?

The people of Japan will clear the leavings of the tsunami.  The chaos will subside.  Will we clear our souls of sin through the mercy of Confession?  Will we detach ourselves from the things of this earth, using them only as necessary on our journey to heaven? These are the lessons this picture brings to mind.

I want to wipe away the woman’s tears, but I can’t.  Only God can do that through other people who follow the Beatitudes and the Commandments and who will personally touch her.

We ask, if He loves us, why does He allow such tragedies?  Yet the greatest tragedy of all is that the majority of Japanese people are not Christian. They do not know Jesus.  They do not know God.  They do not know they are loved as a priceless treasure with a home in heaven just for them.

This natural disaster occurred as a natural event in a fallen world.  God’s permissive will does not interfere with the creation He set in motion and that creation has been affected by the sin of Adam. Yet God in His goodness always uses the evil that befalls us for our good.  What looks like a curse is really a blessing – a way that God says, “Look at Me.  See my love for you.  Pay attention.  I want you with Me forever.  The things of this world are as nothing before Me.  But you are my beloved children and I died for you.  In earthly terms, your value is incalculable.”

We may not understand it at the time we are enduring grave suffering.  Maybe we will never see the why of an event in this life, but we will see and understand all in the next. God can do only good.  Doing evil is not part of His nature. It is supernatural Faith from Baptism that tells us in our hearts that God allows tragedy to bring us to Himself.

Many Christians are coming to the aid of the Japanese people.  They are like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, seeing Christ in the suffering survivors and bringing the love of Christ to them.  Many more of us who can do nothing materially are praying for the conversion of Japan.  A life-changing event like the tsunami is a door to Baptism, but only grace can bring someone through it.

God alone knows the multitude of prayers that have been said for them that would not otherwise have been said.  The aftermath of the quake and tsunami remind us once again that we are all members of the human family and we are all creatures of God, loved by Him with an unimaginable strength.  Now, I must be about making this Lent really count for the salvation of my own soul and that of my brothers and sisters everywhere in the world.

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V.  Praised be Jesus Christ!

R.  Now and forever.  Amen.

(Click on the link above to read why I am ending my posts with this.)

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Monday, March 21st, 2011 conversion, suffering 7 Comments

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