Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam!

It's a day of celebration, most especially for Pope Francis and all Jesuits as today the Church recalls the piousness of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

Born in the year 1491 in northern Spain, much of his youthful years were spent in the army before he had a conversion to a life of holiness which began while recuperating from a leg injury during which he read two books: "The Life of Christ" and "The Flower of the Saints". He did his theological studies in Paris and later at Rome he formed the Jesuit Order or Society of Jesus (Societas Iesu).

Familiar to many Catholics is Ignatius' development of "The Spiritual Exercises" which is a series of prayers, meditations and learning contemplation, all with the goal of helping one to have a deeper relationship with God.  

As told by Luis González de Cámara in today's Office of Readings, Saint Ignatius, after reading about Christ or the saints, he would ponder: "What if I were to do what blessed Francis did, or what blessed Dominic did?" This kind of thinking occupied his thoughts.  Does it occupy our thoughts?  Are our thoughts consumed with being holy and becoming saints?  

What a beautiful thought in this morning's Benedictus antiphon at Lauds: "Utinam possim cognoscere Christum et virtutem resurrectionis eius!" - "Would that I could know Christ and the power of His Resurrection!"

The Responsory today after that Second Reading from Luis González in the Office of Readings is quite demanding of all servants of Christ - but reflect on this most especially if you serve in a liturgical ministry: "Whoever serves, let him do it with the power that God bountifully gives him" (1 Peter 4:11).  This speaks volumes about the necessity for friendly and hospitable ushers, about the reverence in serving at the altar, about the preparedness of lectors to proclaim God's word, for extraordinary ministers - a perpetual and trembling recollection of the great "I AM" you distribute at Holy Communion to souls in need of nourishment.  And to cantors and the choir?  Saint Augustine said: "Sing with your voices, your heart, your lips, and your lives" (Sermo XXXIV).

Saint Ignatius wrote: 
“To give, and not to count the cost
to fight, and not to heed the wounds,
to toil, and not to seek for rest,
to labor, and not to ask for any reward, 

save that of knowing that we do Thy will”   

The Responsory also tells us why this must be: "so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ."  Even the prayer of the day reminds us that God raised up Saint Ignatius of Loyola for the greater glory of His Name.  

Sancte Ignati de Loyola, ora pro nobis!       

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Life that was a Liturgy

“I could sense the Divine from an early age.”  These are the words of Mother Catherine Aurelia Caouette (1833-1905), the Foundress of the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood.

Her childhood was not that which one might expect, although worthy of bragging rights for any Catholic parent. Much of her youth was in church, spending long hours in Adoration of our Lord - not sitting, but kneeling, with her eyes fixed on the Tabernacle.  Her parish priest told her parents: “You have a child of predilection; watch carefully over your treasure.”

As a student she acted in the play, “The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine” in which she played the role of that great saint.  There was a line in that play which was very impressive to the audience because of the passion in which she delivered it.  It was that line which started her on an extraordinary, mystical devotion to the Precious Blood.  The line was: “I feel in my soul all the energy of the Divine Blood; it is a generous Blood which desires only to be shed.”

At the advice of her spiritual director, Father Joseph Sabin Raymond, she kept a diary.  Today we know much about her because of her diary.  Here is an entry from October 1849:  “Lord, You know what my heart desires most ardently: to be united to You in Your Sacrament of Love. It is so consoling for a miserable creature to possess You. You inflame me with such a burning love, You inspire me with so many beautiful sentiments, that it seems heaven is in my heart. If, however, O my Divine Savior, I am not worthy to possess You now in Your heavenly home, I wish, at least, to go often to adore You in Your Tabernacle, where I have already passed so many happy moments, where You have spoken mysteriously to my soul and where You have so many times given Yourself to me.” The following month she prayed using her mighty pen: “May all my actions be a continual prayer and may my heart be always turned towards You, O Infinite Beauty!”  Imagine that kind of spiritual maturity at only sixteen years of age. She possessed a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother which was also evident in her diary.

At seventeen she submitted to her spiritual director a plan for her spiritual life.  It included Mass, spiritual reading, Adoration, sacred silence, and work.

On a Holy Thursday night, in Adoration, she wrote: “The consideration of the Agony of Jesus has continually occupied my mind. I have mingled the tears of my repentance with the Blood of my Well Beloved. I have suffered with Him. At one o’clock I was left alone for a few moments. I do not know what secret sentiment inspired me, I dared in spite of my fears, to mount to the altar – I kissed it, I bathed it with my tears – I pressed my lips to the door of the Tabernacle which encloses our Love. It felt so good to be so near! I blessed, I loved, I thanked, I wept over my numerous sins. As I saw the Divine Blood flow in large drops, I presented to Him our souls. He blessed them in His Sacred Heart. Jesus asked the sacrifice of my entire self, docility and submission. I have the firm conviction that He will make me share some of His sufferings. I can suffer; it is my consolation! I wish only for suffering.”

In 1851, due to an illness, she was bedridden for ten months.  She was miraculously cured in which she credits a novena to Saint Catherine of Siena.  Two years later on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Succor in Montreal, she explained to her spiritual director a mystical experience of seeing the Blessed Virgin clothed in dazzling white, praying to her Son. Our Immaculate Lady told her to make frequent Communions to console Jesus because of the many souls that forget Him.

May we never be those souls!

November 20, 1984 was the official beginning of the Cause of Canonization of Mother Catherine Aurelia Caouette.

Today the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood live an enclosed, contemplative life.  It is a life of prayer and work which includes Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, Adoration, spiritual reading, meditation, and the Seven Offerings of the Precious Blood.  They also have a devotion to Mary Immaculate as she is the "first adorer of the Precious Blood in the humanity of Jesus."    

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Martha, Martha, how many cares and troubles you have!

Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Martha.  The Gospels tell us that Martha had a sister named Mary.  One of the Gospel options today for proclamation in the liturgy is the story of Jesus entering a village and being greeted by Martha.  She is waiting on Jesus by serving Him in manual labor – and is not too happy about it because her sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus hanging on to His every word.  The initial gut reaction of any human being would be to suggest that Mary is lazy; but Jesus said that what Mary is doing is partem elegit – the best part. 

Martha’s part may not be the best part, but nevertheless is a necessary part.  In the Rule of Saint Benedict are three words which are a banner for monasticism, but really is a basic, healthy formula for life in general.  The words are ora et labora – prayer and work.  It’s no accident that prayer is listed first, as it is the best part; and without it, as so many have learned, makes work all the more difficult and less fulfilling because without prayer Jesus is not the Center of one’s work. 

Saint Augustine, in today’s Office of Readings, describes Martha as one “who had to be fed with the Spirit” and thus “received Him Who had to be fed with flesh.”  That is to say, Jesus had flesh which could get hungry and would need to be fed; and because of this, Martha’s role here is necessary; but virtually all labors can produce complaints if one is not fed with the Spirit.    

There’s a much larger story here as Saint Augustine continues to teach us that Jesus was welcomed by Martha and “received as a guest” and to those who receive Him, He gives them the power to “become children of God.” 

As if Martha were standing in front of Saint Augustine, he says directly to her, but has us as witnesses that we may also ponder in our labors: “While blessed in your good service, you are seeking a recompense for your labors, namely quietem – rest . . .  You feed mortal bodies . . . but when you have reached home will you find there a pilgrim to welcome?” 

No, there will be no pilgrim to welcome; but He in Whom we have welcomed in this life represented by those we have offered service, will welcome us.  Jesus said: “Beati, servi illi” – “Blessed are those servants” (Luke 12:37).  For Jesus lovingly states that He will sit us down and He will serve us (cf. ibid.).  Often mystery has us on the edge, but there is great comfort in this mysterious promise from our Lord. 

The burdens of our labors find their joy when we have the faith of Martha as prayed from the Benedictus antiphon in today’s Morning Prayer: “Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi, qui in hunc mundum venisti” – “You are Christ, the Son of the living God, Who has come into the world” (John 11:27).  

Monday, July 28, 2014

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 3, 2014


First Reading Commentary
In this Reading salvation is offered under the figures of food and drink.  It is offered without cost to those who have a hunger and thirst for it.  This gift can only be given by the Most High.  Salvation comes from no other source. 

If God’s offer is accepted, a new covenant is promised, a covenant that will be everlasting, a covenant which assures the benefits of David.  Of course, we now know that God fulfilled this promise by clothing Himself in flesh and coming to us through the lineage of David in which His Sacrifice endows us with the opportunity for eternal bliss.  As we await this free and remarkable gift during our current sojourn, our thirst and hunger is nourished by our Lord’s own Body and Blood. 

Second Reading Commentary
How much comfort can one Reading bring!  It is soothing and relieving to trust that even beings as powerful as the angels (good or fallen) and something as unavoidable as death cannot separate us from Christ’s love.  Saint Paul could as easily had written that nothing can destroy our Lord’s love for us but his choice to use these powerful examples should move us to reflect more on Christ’s love for us and hence deepen our love for Him. 

In this life, any sudden change (good fortune to misfortune) tempts one to believe that God has somehow forgotten about them or no longer cares for them.  Paul assures us this is not so.  This Reading clearly sends the message that in good times or bad we must maintain a firm hope in Christ.      

Gospel Commentary
There’s nothing to suggest that after hearing about Saint John the Baptist’s death Jesus went into hiding for fear of His own life.  In fact, Saint John Chrysostom covers this by suggesting that Saint Matthew would have plainly written that Jesus “fled” to a deserted place, instead of “withdrew”.  Plus this is Jesus - God Almighty we’re talking about and if He withdrew out of fear through the emotion of His Human Nature, it seems highly unlikely that, as God, anyone would have been able to find Him.  Considering how the rest of this story turns out, it’s clear that Jesus had every intention of being found by the crowds.  The apostles quite obviously didn’t detect Divine Providence at work during this moment as they wanted to dismiss the crowds. 

By having everyone sit on the grass Jesus clearly wants to give the impression of a formal meal and says the blessing much like a father or head of a household would have done in those days.  The breaking of the loaves is significant as Jesus would also do this later at the Last Supper.  Receiving through the hands of the apostles is also significant because without a priest there is no Living Bread or Body of Christ to receive.  While this story is symbolic of the Eucharist, it would seem that Saint Matthew’s larger intent was to point us to the more historical event of Holy Thursday. 

This Gospel informs us that Christ’s Heart was moved with pity for the crowds.  As we’re in line to receive the Eucharist, it’s not a bad idea to hold onto that image of our Lord being moved with pity for us.  When we come to Mass we bring with us our stressful lives, waiting in line and moving forward to receive Him Who nourishes the soul. 

Most worthy of further prayerful reflection on this Gospel account comes from the ancient text.  From there, by the language used, it is clear that when our Lord’s “Heart was moved with pity,” Jesus is experiencing emotions very similar to that of when His friend Lazarus died.  This is beautiful when we move ahead two-thousand years and understand that we are those people which moves our Lord’s Heart to pity.  We need to be fed, and Jesus fulfills that need at each and every Mass.  We are being fed with the Bread that is supersubstantial. 

Interesting that the word “mercy” does not appear in our liturgical text, though one cannot dispute that what Jesus does in this Gospel account is an act of mercy.  The Latin word “misericordia” translates into English as “mercy” - but misericordia is a compound word: “miseri” means “misery” or “distressing” - and “cordia” means “heart”.  Thus Jesus has a distressed Heart – and, of course, a loving Heart.  Love is quite familiar with suffering; thus divine love has an enigmatic relationship with unimaginable suffering.  It is that unfathomable, perfect love of Jesus which embraces His Mystical Body with all its burdens and crosses.  All the baggage of this life that weighs heavy on our spirit, mind and body, Jesus is right there with us. 

More fascinating, though, and really quite mysterious is the Greek word used to describe our Lord’s pity.  It translates more accurately as compassion.  Compassio is the Latin word for it but again that is also a compound word – “com” and “passio” which means “jointly suffering”.  This Greek word, however, is only used in the New Testament, and only when Jesus is the subject.  What the Gospel writers are trying to describe in their human, limited conveyance is the relationship of everlasting newness between God and His human creatures; and that Jesus is the reason there is no longer any distance in that relationship.  The sufferings that we endure - mysteriously have also become our Lord’s sufferings.  Thus it is not enough to say that Jesus has pity or compassion for us, but that is as far as a human language will allow us to journey.  What’s going on here is far beyond those limits.       

We all know what it is to love, and the pains we feel when the person(s) of our love struggles.  Now multiply that love times infinity and if you are able to solve that equation, you will be the first human being to ever fully grasp how much God loves us.    

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Superabundo gaudio

Saint John Chrysostom, in this morning’s Office of Readings writes words which are a reflection on Saint Paul, but what wonderful words they are and most applicable to our dispositions as we go to Sunday Mass.  The Reading is titled: “Superabundo gaudio in omni tribulatione” – “In all troubles, I am filled with joy.” 

As Saint Pio of Pietrelcina taught us: “The world would be better off without the sun than without the Holy Mass.”  When you look at yourself in a mirror, what is reflected is a battlefield, the ongoing strife of flesh versus spirit.  Saint Paul, through his life of prayer, his relationship with Jesus Christ, was able to come to a truce in this battle - not really a truce, but a victory.  The Power that was within him is within us. 

Saint John Chrysostom continues in this Reading: “There is nothing which so draws a man to return love, as when he understands that He Who loves him is urgently longing for his affection.”  Daily prayer is so important.  Through it we come to experience this Love which will compel us to return our love. 

Saint Paul writes: “I am full of consolation” (2 Corinthians 7:4).  Saint John Chrysostom asks: “What consolation?”  He answers his own question, but we can hear these words in the silence of our hearts as we reconcile, grow in prayer, grow in love, experience Love in a greater abundance: “You have changed your ways, you have consoled Me by your deeds.”

We hear at Mass the word of the Lord.  We receive at Mass the Word of the Lord – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Much can happen in a week’s time leading up to the Sunday Mass, but when flesh and spirit are on the same page, it is then, with Saint Paul, with Saint John Chrysostom and all the saints, our lives proclaim: “So great was the pleasure which You brought me that it could not be diminished by all that we are suffering.”  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

O par beatum Ioachim et Anna!

Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the grandparents of Jesus.

In the First Reading from today's Office of Readings, Saint Paul writes: "Ecce nunc dies salutis" - "Behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).  Saint Joachim and Saint Anne are the parents of the Immaculate Conception.  God is constructing another Ark, not made with human hands, but by God Himself. This is not another ark for the Old Covenant, but an Ark for the New and Everlasting Covenant.  In this Ark will not be a jar of manna, but the Bread of Life.  In this Ark will not be the stone tablets of the Law, but the Lawmaker.  In this Ark will not be Aaron's rod, the symbol of authority - but instead this Ark will contain THE AUTHORITY.

In the Second Reading from the Office of Readings Saint John Damascene, filled with joy exclaims: "O par beatum Ioachim et Anna" - "O blessed couple, Joachim and Anne."  As if a witness to it all, Saint John Damascene continues: "Lætare Anna!  Exsulta, Ioachim!" - "Be glad, Anne! Rejoice, Joachim!"  

The Brigittine Rosary has six decades.  The first Joyful Mystery of this Rosary is the Immaculate Conception. Our Lord relives in our soul the marvelous works He has done to bring us salvation by at first building Himself a spotless Temple in which to dwell before He enters into the world.  

Like Saint John Damascene, our Lord calls all of us to be witnesses to such an act of love.  We too are temples of the Holy Spirit, a house in which God dwells.  Be glad!  Rejoice!

Friday, July 25, 2014

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 27, 2014

First Reading's Commentary
Solomon’s unselfish and humble prayer is unique because it is not the norm of other ancient kings.  Solomon was about twenty years of age at this time and his prayer shows a level of maturity far beyond what he calls “a mere youth”. 

In the Hebrew text, an “understanding heart” really means a willingness to hear God and obey God.  God promises Solomon a heart that is wise and understanding; so much so, that there has never been anyone like him nor will there ever be anyone like him.  Solomon’s governance indeed far excelled any of the kings of Israel.  Moses and the apostles of Jesus, however, did have a more extensive understanding of the mysteries of God. 

As far as any future leader never being as wise as Solomon, prompts the question: What about Jesus?  Certainly Christ is wiser than Solomon but we have to exclude Him because Jesus is God in Whom all the gifts of wisdom are contained and He is the Word Who made these promises to Solomon. 

Many of us at some point in our lives will be in positions of authority: pastor, committee chairperson, CEO, supervisor, teacher, principal, student body president, mom or dad, etc.  Solomon’s prayer for an understanding heart is surely appropriate for any one serving our Lord in authoritative professions or vocations. 

Second Reading's Commentary

For all the trials that are faced in this life, how important it is to keep the opening verse of this Reading etched in our hearts.  The Latin Vulgate translates a bit differently and perhaps gives a slightly better understanding of the fruits of loving God: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,” -- “iis qui secundum propositum vocati sunt sancti -- to such as according to [His] purpose are called to be saints.”  Sainthood or taking up permanent residency in heaven is our hope.  We are predestined to conform to Christ by following His example, His teachings, and by our patient endurance in suffering. 

Saint Augustine explains God’s foreknowledge: “This foreknowledge of God is not merely a foreseeing of what men will do by the assistances and graces of God’s ordinary Providence, much less a foreseeing of what they will do by their own natural strength; but it is a foreknowledge including an act of the divine will and of His love towards His elect servants; God therefore has foreseen that these elect, by the help of His special graces and by the cooperation of their free will, should be conformable to the Image of His Son, that so His Son, even as Man, might be the first-born, the Chief, and the Head of all that shall be saved.” 

Gospel Commentary

Unlike the past couple of weekends, Saint Matthew, in this weekend’s Gospel, does not record the meaning of these parables.  The meaning, however, is clear.  They teach that the Kingdom of heaven is far more valuable than worldly possessions and is worth the sacrifice of all material riches. 

The morality of the characters in these parables is irrelevant to the point of these parables and thus need not be reflected upon. 

The teachings and example of Jesus Christ is the buried treasure.  Our own free will determines exactly how valuable that treasure is to each of us.  Studying the Gospels, responding to the call of evangelization, daily prayer, and regular Mass attendance speaks volumes of how important that treasure is to us. 

Evangelization is a hot topic in today’s Church and the reason is simple:  As God’s created humanity, we have eternal value.  Our souls will not perish with the gifts of this world.  And if the Gospel of Christ is our hidden treasure, then that has to mean that you getting into heaven is as important as me getting into heaven.  In other words, I must be as concerned for your soul as I am for my own soul.  And how clearly was this truth acted out by our Lord when He became the sacrificial Lamb! 

To close, let us reflect privately on these words from Saint Teresa of Avila: “Hope, O my soul, hope.  You know neither the day nor the hour.  Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one.  Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”