Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Memorizing the Psalter

Today is the liturgical Memorial of Saint Jerome. He gave the Church the Latin Vulgate as he translated the Sacred Scriptures from the ancient languages into Latin. The following focuses on a portion of an epistle which Jerome wrote to Saint Rusticus of Narbonne. The letter’s theme is very monastic, although in some parts, monasticism in a primitive sense mentioning occupations like weaving baskets. But Saint Jerome takes this to a very spiritual direction as well, recommending that the Psalter be memorized word for word. While that seems like quite an undertaking in this day and age, considering that the Psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours is now spread out over a four week period, it was nevertheless quite common among those spiritual giants we now call the early desert Fathers. The epistle’s overall message waves the same banner that monasticism waves today – ora et labora. Here are Saint Jerome’s thoughts.

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Others may think what they like and follow each his own inclination. But to me a city is a prison and a desert paradise. Why do we long for the bustle of cities, we who bear the name of Solitary? To fit him for the leadership of the Jewish people, Moses was trained for forty years in the wilderness; and it was not until after these that the shepherd of sheep became a shepherd of men. The apostles were fishers on Lake Gennesaret before they became fishers of men. But at the Lord's call they had forsaken all that they had: father, net, and ship, and bore their cross daily without so much as a rod in their hands.

I say these things that, in case you desire to enter the ranks of the clergy, you may learn what you must afterwards teach, that you may offer a reasonable sacrifice to Christ, that you may not think yourself a finished soldier while still a raw recruit, or suppose yourself a master while you are as yet only a learner. It does not become one of my humble abilities to pass judgment upon the clergy or to speak to the discredit of those who are ministers in the churches. They have their own rank and station and must keep it.

The first point to be considered is whether you ought to live by yourself or in a monastery with others. For my part, I would like you to live in a community so as not to be thrown altogether on your resources. For if you set out upon a road that is new to you without a guide, you are sure to turn aside immediately either to the right or to the left, to lay yourself open to the assaults of error, to go too far or else not far enough, to weary yourself with running too fast or to loiter by the way and fall asleep. In loneliness pride quickly creeps upon a man; if he has fasted for a little while and has seen no one, he fancies himself a person of some note; forgetting who he is, from where he comes, and where he goes, he lets his thoughts riot within and outwardly indulges in rash speech. Contrary to the apostle's wish he judges another man's servants, puts forth his hand to grasp whatever his appetite desires, sleeps as long he pleases, fears no one, does what he likes, fancies everyone inferior to himself, spends more of his time in cities than in his cell, and, while with the brothers he affects to be retiring, rubs shoulders with the crowd in the streets. Do I condemn a solitary life? By no means; in fact I have often commended it. But I wish to see the monastic schools turn out soldiers who have no fear of the rough training of the desert, who have exhibited the spectacle of a holy life for a considerable time, who have made themselves last that they might be first, who have not been overcome by hunger or satiety, whose joy is in poverty, who teach virtue by their appearance.

If you embrace a life consecrated to God, I prefer that you do not live with your mother. You will avoid making her sad by your refusal of her choice foods, or throwing oil on the fire by accepting them. Always keep in your hands and beneath your eyes the Bible, learning the Psalter word for word, praying unceasingly, keeping your mind in an alert state, and not open to vain thoughts. Keep both body and spirit oriented towards the Lord. Control anger with patience; love the knowledge of Scripture and you will no longer love the sins of the flesh. If your mind does not abandon various passions, they will install themselves in your heart and get a hold of you and lead you to more grave faults. Attend to manual labor so that the devil always finds you occupied. If the apostles who had the right to live the Gospel labored with their own hands that they might be accountable to no man, and bestowed relief upon others whose carnal things they had a claim to reap as having sown unto them spiritual things, why do you not provide a supply to meet your needs?

Make creels of reeds or weave baskets out of pliant osiers. Hoe your land; mark out your garden into even plots; and when you have sown your legumes or set your plants bring in the water for irrigation, that you may see with your own eyes the lovely vision of the poet:

Art draws fresh water from the hilltop near
Till the stream plashing down among the rocks
Cools the parched meadows and allays their thirst.

Graft unfruitful stocks with buds and shoots that you may shortly be rewarded for your toil by plucking sweet apples from them. Construct also hives for bees, for to these the proverbs of Solomon send you, and you may learn from these tiny insects how to order a monastery and to discipline a kingdom. Weave nets for catching fish, and transcribe books, that your hands may earn your food and your mind may be satisfied with reading. Always remember that when idle you are at the mercy of your passions. In Egypt the monasteries make it a rule to receive no one who is not willing to work; for they regard labor as necessary not only for the support of the body but also for the salvation of the soul. Do not let your mind stray into harmful thoughts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Their Glory Exceeds Our Understanding

Today is the liturgical Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. The Carthusians often at Matins on this Feast reflect on a beautiful discourse from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. In this edifying reflection Saint Bernard certainly spreads out a table of celestial treats for us to ponder concerning these heavenly spirits who love and protect us – and are God’s messengers. 

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We celebrate today, dear brothers, the feast of the holy angels. Poor little worm I am, how can I speak about angelic spirits? I believe by faith that they enjoy the intangible presence and vision of God and are flooded with endless happiness in contemplating those things that eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has entered the heart of man (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9). But can a mere mortal speak of this topic to other mortals? In the first place, I haven’t the faintest idea about these realities; moreover, you are not in a position to hear them.

The words ascend from me, yes, overflowing from the heart, but I had better remain silent, because I lack the adequate concepts for dealing with angels. The heavenly spirits are conspicuous by their admirable dignity and loving regard. It’s obvious that their glory exceeds our poor understanding. We tie ourselves, then, closer to their mercy.

In the Book of Daniel we read a description of the angels before the Throne of God: “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and myriads upon myriads attended Him” (Daniel 7:10). Do you think it is an unworthy thing for the angels to serve? Consider, then, the Creator, the King of angels, Who came not to be served but to serve and gave His life as a ransom for many (cf. Matthew 20:28). None of the angels are scorned as servants when He Whom they serve with inexpressible ardor and felicity preceded them in this same ministry. The psalmist, speaking to God of His Son, said: “You have made Him a little less than the angels” (Psalm 8:6). It was fitting, therefore, that One Who exceeds the angels in dignity, surpassed them in humility. The Son has lowered Himself below the angels, because He wanted to lend an inferior service to theirs, but His is far superior to the angels because He has by inheritance a Name more excellent than theirs.

The angels love us because Christ loved us. As you know brothers, that proverb which says: “Whoever loves me, loves my dog.” Are we not, O blessed angels, the little dogs that the Lord surrounds with much affection? Little dogs, desiring to eat the crumbs that fall from the table of their angelic hosts. I used this image, brothers, to increase your confidence in the angels. We must call upon them in our every need with love, every day trying to conciliate their favor, be captivated by their benevolence, asking them to mercifully reveal themselves to us.

Allow me, dear brethren, to offer reasons why the angels are reminders of our poverty. We know that the human soul, endowed with reason and capable of blessedness, is linked by a bond of kinship with the angelic nature. Holy angels, could you ever disdain visiting us, against the precept of charity, even though we are precipitated by an extreme baseness? Are we not all a part of the same family? If you love -- as in fact you do love – the beauty of God’s house, then manifest your zeal to these living stones, and rationalize that we are the only ones that could contribute to the construction of the heavenly Jerusalem.

There are three reasons, brothers why we are, like ropes that pull at us, from the sky, the pre-eminent love of angels. They come to console us, to visit us, to help us because of God’s love for us. Because of God, the angels visit us, to imitate the infinite mercy of God. Because of us, the angels come to console us, because they have compassion for those who have a certain similarity with them. Because of themselves, finally, the angels rush to our aid, because they hope to recruit among us, men needed to fill the gaps in their ranks. Indeed, the praise that is given to Almighty God, at the end of time, is given both to angels and men. As of now, the angels are celebrating the first fruits of that praise which fills them with the highest delight. But we, men, we are still like infants sucking the milk, even if one day we will make complete and perfect the praise of glory. The angels, therefore, attend to us with eagerness, driven by a desire for the ultimate day.

Consider the angels, dear brethren, and think that there must be at heart, worthiness for their friendship. Do you realize that we must live life in their presence, and not offend the sanctity of their pure gazes? Woe to us if our sin and neglect render us unworthy in the eyes of the angels to receive their visitation and enjoy their company. In that case, all we do is cry and complain like the prophet: “My friends and my neighbors have drawn near, and stood against me. And they that were near me stood afar off” (Psalm 37:12). It would be a shame if those who should protect us with their presence instead left us, when they can defend from the enemy and repel the attacks.

We are in dire need of assistance from the angels my dear friends, thus, beware of offending. What, then, are the virtues that they appreciate and are pleased to see us? Sobriety, chastity, voluntary poverty, the constant longing for heaven, the prayers of extreme repentance and of vigilant affection. But in priority, these messengers of peace have come to expect from us peace and harmony. What could there be more to rejoice about? When they find peace and harmony between us, which is a prelude and sketch of the heavenly city, they seem to be admiring a New Jerusalem. All parts of the holy city are perfectly welded together. The same compactness must reign in our thoughts and in our conversations; there are divisions among us, but we remain united in one body in Christ Jesus. 

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 5, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The “friend” in this Reading is represented in the Latin Vulgate by the word “patruelis” which means “cousin”.  This is the prophet’s word for Christ.  The Hebrew text translates as “beloved”.  To understand the prophecy, all three translations can certainly support the understanding of the Messiah.  According to Jewish tradition, Isaiah is of the royal blood of the kings of Judah and therefore “cousin” identifies the Messiah as a blood relative, while “beloved” intimates a Messianic meaning.  And “friend” should turn our thoughts to the words of Jesus: “I have called you friends” (John 15:15)

The name “Isaiah” in Hebrew signifies “the salvation of the Lord”.  As a blood relative, Isaiah prophetically presents to us Christ lamenting over Jerusalem which is fulfilled in Luke 19:41. 

God is the Master of the vineyard.  And that vineyard is meticulously cared for and loved but what the vineyard produced was wild grapes which signify a people who did not return that care and love they had received.  And so, the cause of Christ’s lament prophesied here is basically a broken Heart.  And one can feel the incredible sadness that our Lord is experiencing in the question: “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I had not done?”   

Second Reading Commentary
Have you ever known someone, read about someone, or perhaps by a great grace you are that someone who possesses “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding”?  In our modern day one of the persons that might come to mind fitting that description is Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, even though we learned after her death, via her letters, of the dark night of the soul experience she was living through for many years.  Surely, though, she had possessed God’s peace and one need not look any further for evidence of this than by reviewing her daily grind and living conditions.  To live how she lived and do what she did without complaint can only be heaven sent. 

She was also not afraid to point out evil when she saw it.  On February of 1995 at the National Prayer Breakfast, Mother Teresa received a standing ovation by many that were present.  The President of the United States, however, reached for a glass of water while the First Lady, the Vice-President and his wife looked like they were in shock after hearing Mother’s speech which included the following: “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child — a direct killing of the innocent child — murder by the mother herself.  And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?  How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion?  As always, we must persuade her with love, and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts.  Jesus gave even His life to love us.  So the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love — that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.  By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.  And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world.  That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble; so abortion just leads to more abortion.  Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” 

Certainly Saint Paul would agree that Mother Teresa’s speech was courageous; but she also was speaking words that were true, just and worthy of praise.  And she could only make such an eyebrow raising speech by being confident that her heart and mind were guarded by Jesus Christ.     

Gospel Commentary
Let’s begin by lining up who is represented by the characters in the parable that Jesus presents to us: The landowner is God our heavenly Father; the vineyard is the house of Israel but on a larger and wider scope the vineyard is the whole world in which Jesus died for; the tenants are the priests of the Mosaic covenant but again looking at the bigger picture, the tenants represent all of humanity; the servants represent the prophets who have been sent to Israel from time-to-time.  The son is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Now that the characters are in place it’s pretty easy to interpret the parable.  God has kept His loving gaze on us since the beginning of human creation.  He went well beyond the call of duty to secure our salvation.  A Messiah-Redeemer had been foretold by the prophets, many of whom suffered persecution and death.  Finally the Messiah, the son of the landowner is sent and He is also killed. 

Saint Nicholas of Lyra points out that the parable is not intended to suggest that God was somehow oblivious to what would occur; after all, it is His Son Who is telling the story.  On the contrary, Jesus shares this parable to not only foretell what will occur, but He also tells it to show how things could have been different if humanity would have abandoned their sinful ways. 

Malice and envy are some of the evils responsible for not knowing Jesus as the Messiah.  Saint Paul writes: “If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).  There will always be, however, a mysterious, missing or unknown element surrounding Christ’s salvific act.  Surely, if our Savior’s persecutors had known Who He was they would not have crucified Him.  On the other hand, from early on in salvation history God has required a sacrifice for sins.  And because Jesus is God Incarnate, His fulfillment of the Father’s will to be both Priest and Victim allowed Him to free us from the grip of death which choked humanity.  His Sacrifice also restored us to the safety and security of the Father’s Bosom.  Being freed from death and reconciled to God was not possible through previous forms of sacrifice.  And so, the mystery of man’s salvation is knotted up in the knowledge that Jesus would not have been crucified if His enemies really knew Who He was, along with the knowledge that salvation would not be possible without His Sacrifice.  We’ll have to wait until we get to heaven to fully understand this mystery.  The scriptural quote that Jesus uses: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes” is taken from the Book of Psalms ([117] 118:22-23).  

Friday, September 26, 2014

On the Battlefield of Prayer

If we are striving to follow the example of Christ we must take notice of the first verse in today's Gospel: “Jesus was praying in solitude.”  In the liturgy we come together as the Body of Christ.  But outside of liturgy Jesus teaches us that we need that time in solitude to continually build and strengthen our personal relationship with our Lord.  Solitude, however, can be a misleading word.  We are never alone; God is always with us.  

“Who do the crowds say that I am?”  The disciples reply with specific names of prophets and other ancient prophets but no one perceives Jesus to be the Messiah.  Peter confessing that Jesus is “the Christ of God” is significant.  As the soon to be appointed head of the Church, it was important that he answered correctly because after Christ’s Ascension the spreading of this remarkable news would rest on his shoulders and those of the other apostles.  

For now, Jesus directed them not to tell this to anyone.  This has often been referred to as the “Messianic Secret”.  The reason for Christ’s momentary secrecy is that He wanted others to form their opinions of Him based on the character of His works and not by any preconceived notions. 

Jesus was also probably trying to guard Himself from the crowd’s misunderstanding of what the Messiah was to be.  Many felt that the Messiah would come as a mighty warrior and destroy their enemies and He would then become their temporal King.  Even some of the apostles thought this to be true.  

In this Gospel we read that the disciples are the first to learn the shocking news of what is to happen to the Messiah: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”  The disciples must have been scratching their heads at this bewildering news flash.  The Messiah is going to die and rise again?  This was surely a difficult concept to comprehend and accept. And really, because of the fall, that seed of doubt has been planted in all of us. Faith and prayer is a battle.     

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

We Must Die to Ourselves

Today on the liturgical calendar is the Memorial of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. He is perhaps more affectionately known as Padre Pio, who was extraordinary to say the least. Well documented are his numerous Rosaries prayed daily, his countless hours in the Confessional, his ability to read hearts in the Confessional, his gift of bi-location, his daily minuscule caloric intake which doctors have said could not sustain a human being, the very little sleep he needed every night, about three to four hours, and of course the visible stigmata, the Wounds of Jesus which Padre Pio bore for some fifty years. 

The extraordinary details of Padre Pio’s life go on and on but perhaps none had more comments or more witnesses than his daily Mass. At Padre Pio’s Mass, Calvary came to San Giovanni Rotondo. His Mass began at five o’clock in the morning. But he did not rise from sleep and go straight to the church to begin the Mass. There was much prayerful preparation before Mass as he would rise from his bed sometimes as early as 12:30 but seldom later than 3:30; and he would spend that time in his cell running his fingers through his Rosary beads, which it would be rare to see him not do throughout his long, edifying day.

Introibo ad altare Dei – I will go unto the altar of God (Psalm 42 [43]:4). These words are part of the preparatory prayers of what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. Padre Pio climbing the steps to approach the altar was indeed in Persona Christi climbing the hill of Calvary. The great mystery of the Mass would unfold which would last up to three hours.

Tears would run from his eyes sometimes through the entirety of the Mass. At times those tears would be best described as sobbing.

Maria Winowska, author of Le Vrae Visage du Padre Pio, and a witness to Padre Pio’s Mass wrote in her book that the "Capuchin’s face which a few moments before had seemed to me jovial and affable was literally transfigured" and "after the Sanctus great drops of sweat poured from his forehead, bathing his face which was distorted with sobs. Here was truly the man of sorrow at grips with the agony."

During the Consecration the Wounds of the stigmata would bleed and remarkably Padre Pio would, during the elevation, hold our Eucharistic Lord for as long as ten minutes – and at times longer than that. Speaking about the Mass, Padre Alberto D'Apolito, who knew Padre Pio, said: "It produced such an impression that time and space between the altar and Calvary disappeared. The Mass of Padre Pio visibly reproduced the Passion of Christ, not only in a mystical form, but also physically, in his body. Waves of emotion made Padre Pio tremble at the altar as if the struggle with invisible persons filled him, time after time, with fear, joy, sadness, anguish, and pain. From the expression on his face, one could follow the mysterious dialogue. Whoever doubted the Real Presence had only to assist at Saint Pio’s Mass."

After the Consecration, this great saint would sometimes need to lean on the altar, appearing extremely exhausted. But during these periods of rest on the altar he appeared to be engaged in a mysterious conversation.

He had very penetrating eyes which could easily be detected during the Consecration; but throughout the entire Mass he seemed to be looking at a world that no one else present could see. By Padre Pio’s own exhortation he said that the Blessed Mother and the entire celestial court are present at Mass which consumed him with the fire of divine love causing his face to feel like it was burning.

Fittingly, Padre Pio the mystic was canonized by another mystic: Saint John Paul II. Here is part of the Holy Father’s homily:

Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.

Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the Sacrament of Penance. I also had the privilege, during my young years, of benefiting from his availability for penitents. The ministry of the Confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted great crowds of the faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that unusual Confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sins and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out with joy and zeal this ministry which is so important today.

Teach us, we ask you, humility of heart so we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father promised to reveal the mysteries of His Kingdom.

Help us to pray without ceasing, certain that God knows what we need even before we ask Him. Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will be able to recognize right away in the poor and suffering the Face of Jesus.

Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness. Grant us your tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother. Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, where we hope to arrive in order to contemplate forever the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Concerning the Mass, Padre Pio said: "It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."

And Padre Pio the spiritual director advises us in this way: "The field of battle between God and Satan is the human soul. This is where it takes place every moment of our lives. The soul must give free access to our Lord and be completely fortified by Him with every kind of weapon. His light must illuminate it to fight the darkness of error. We must put on Jesus Christ, His truth and justice, the shield of faith, the word of God to overcome such powerful enemies. To put on Jesus Christ we must die to ourselves. Let us humble ourselves and confess that if God were not our armor and shield, we would be pierced by all kinds of sins. That is why we must live in God by persevering in our practices, and learn to serve Him at our own expense."

Monday, September 22, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 28, 2014

First Reading Commentary
We are “children” of God and the words “not fair” are likely to be very familiar words to those of us who are parents.  Young children say it frequently.  But this Reading has nothing to do with who has more presents under the Christmas tree or who gets to stay up later on a school night.  This Reading is about sin in the worst degree -- mortal sin.  And the consequence of mortal sin is separation from God or spiritual death. 

As Catholics, Confession is how we are once again reconciled to God.  That sacrament is how we preserve our life, turn away from sin and do “what is right and just”. 

Consider the love and mercy our Lord has for us: Since God is Perfection, and therefore cannot be in error, He still listens to our complaints, and because He is God, knowing that we are wrong, He, nevertheless, became Man and took all our faults upon Himself, our sentence upon Himself, in order that we may spend eternity with Him.  Who still wants to say, “The Lord’s way is not fair?”

Second Reading Commentary
Although a shorter version of this Reading is permissible, the beauty of the longer version is that it explains why we need to avoid selfishness and conduct ourselves in love, mercy, compassion and put the needs of others before our own. 

As we read on in the second half of this Reading, which is excluded in the shorter version, we learn that loving us and humbly putting us before Himself is exactly what Jesus did; and following in His Footsteps is how we ideally live our lives.  To read that Jesus “emptied Himself” means that He made Himself of no account whatsoever; it is a fulfillment of the psalmist’s words: “I am a worm, and no man, the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people” (Psalm 21 [22]:7).  Of course, the love we share, unlike Christ’s love, has its limitations and conditions. 

Our hearts would implode if we fully understood the Love that compels our Lord’s actions described here in this letter from Saint Paul.  At His Name alone “every knee should bend” which was prophesied by Isaiah: “Every knee shall be bowed to Me” (Isaiah 45:24)

The Creator of all that is known and unknown joined the ranks of humanity, mere specs of dust in this vast universe, subjecting Himself to our lower nature and becoming a willing Victim for that fallen nature.  The reason He loves us so much will likely never be fully comprehended in this life.  Contemplate how close our Savior surely keeps us to His Heart. Unfortunately, our lack of fully understanding God’s love for us will for this lifespan cause us to fall short in expressing our gratitude to God for saving us.  Jesus does teach us, however, what it is we must strive for with the help of His grace: “Be perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  

Gospel Commentary
“What is your opinion?” is a dangerous question when it comes to revealed truth.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that we must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn from this world (cf. CCC 2779). 

God the Son revealed to us God the Father when He taught us how to pray.  God the Father revealed Jesus as His Son at His baptism by John, and also at the Transfiguration.  It was also at Christ’s baptism that God the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. 

According to “Status of Global Mission, 2008” there are about 39,000 Christian denominations.  This hardly seeks to comply with Christ’s prayer: “Holy Father, keep them in Your Name whom You have given Me: that they may be one, as We also are” (John 17:11). 

The United States Catholic Bishops as well as other members of the clergy have stood up to defend and clarify Church teaching because of the erroneous interpretations of it that have come forth from some of our politicians and the secular media. 

In the parable that Jesus presents to us in this Gospel, the first son tells his father that he will not work in the vineyard but later changes his mind and ends up laboring in the vineyard.  In our own faith many might humorously refer to this as good, old fashioned Catholic guilt.  The other son, however, agrees to work in the vineyard but doesn’t show up.  He verbally indicated it was a worthy task but had second thoughts.  Again, using our own faith, this appears to be what is commonly known as cafeteria Catholicism -- picking and choosing what is worthy of being believed or not believed about the faith. 

You may recall in the Gospel three weeks ago that Jesus identified the Church as the final authority, having the power to bind and loose.  This is revealed truth.  It’s right there in the pages of Scripture.  Cafeteria Catholicism is caused by what the Catechism defines as false images drawn from this world.  It’s no secret that within the Church there are ordained members whose behavior has been considerably less than Christ-like; and unfortunately this also includes some of the hierarchy.  It’s easy, then, for a rational human being to hypothesize that if morally ignoble activity is occurring within the Church, then what Christ said about the Church must not be true or what He said was badly translated.  And if what He said isn’t true or misunderstood then the question that naturally follows is: What else isn’t true?  And then one starts to develop his/her own ideas about what is true and what is false and suddenly another among the faithful becomes a cafeteria Catholic.  This is dangerous and conforms to the explanation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI about moral relativism.  Picking and choosing what is worthy of belief is a blueprint for moral relativism -- becoming one’s own god or pope.  

What appears to be a somewhat unpracticed teaching among the members of the Church today is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Strangely enough, statistically there are Catholics who no longer believe in the Real Presence.  What are those false images drawn from this world that are punching holes into the faith of God’s people?  There are many answers but certainly at the top of the list is rampant secularism, corruption within the Church, desensitization to immorality, and even natural disasters can lead to questioning God’s love for us.  This is a trap that is fallen into when one allows the world to dictate his/her faith or lack of it.  All of these examples and more lead to a question that has no absolute discernible answer: How could a loving God allow these things to happen? 

Getting back to revealed truth, Sacred Scripture has words pertinent to this topic worthy of further reflection: “Woe to the world because of scandals.  For it is necessary that scandals come” (Matthew 18:7).  “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen.  Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place” (Matthew 24:6-7).  “Many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evil doing, the love of many will grow cold.  But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).  “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:12:13).  “Be sober and vigilant.  Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). 

These are only some examples; there are plenty more.  But after reflecting on what Scripture reveals, feelings of God abandoning us or not existing at all because of the condition of the world should be lessened as well as doubts about what the Church teaches.  Outside of Scripture, the Catechism and the writings of the Fathers expound abundantly on the teachings of the Church, much of which can be accessed via the internet. 

Some of the hard sayings from Jesus Himself as well as from others under the guidance of the Holy Spirit may not be easy to accept, but they are, nevertheless, the truth.  As we live and work together in these trying times, comfort can be found in the fact that God is true to what He has revealed; and His Truth is eternal.  And faithfulness to Him promises everlasting joy and peace. 

Nothing is greater than love, for God is Love.  But when love is exposed to a broken people and a fallen world, love can often be an excruciating ordeal as we all have experienced by such occurrences as the death of loved ones, physical health scares either personal or when loved ones are afflicted, and other personal or relational tragedies.  But Love Himself became Man and made Himself vulnerable to a fallen world by becoming a visible Icon on a Cross graphically exhibiting the encounter between love and brokenness.  But Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us during his apostolic journey to Lourdes, France of what the Cross represents: “Il nous dit que, dans le monde, il y a un amour plus fort que la mort, plus fort que nos faiblesses et nos péchés” – “It tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins” (Messe De La Fête de l'Exaltation de la Sainte Croix -- Dimanche 14 Septembre 2008).  Thus, it is our Savior’s love that can lift us up and give us peace during the grieving processes that are necessary when trying to pick up the pieces of brokenness.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Acting from Motives of Faith and Love

It's always edifying to occasionally break open the vault of Carthusian writings. Today's edition comes from a modern day Carthusian who died in 1987. His name is Dom Jean-Baptiste Porion. He was a monk of La Valsainte Charterhouse in Switzerland.

* * * * * * *
 Looking back in all sincerity over our spiritual life, we are surprised, if not disheartened, at our slowness, not to say complete lack of progress. How is it that there has been so much effort with so little to show for it? Why, after so many years, it may be, of a life of asceticism, we must own to the same weaknesses, admit the same faults? Is it not possible that from the very beginning we have missed the essential point of it all, and have been following the wrong road?

For there is only one door by which we can enter into our spiritual heritage. In our vain attempts to enter by some other way, it is obvious that we are bound to meet insuperable difficulties. Have we not been rather like a foolish robber who seeks by some ruse to effect an entrance into a place only too well defended? Our Lord says, "He that enters not by the door, but climbs up another way is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). This one door is Christ: faith in Christ; a faith quickened by love, which by fortifying our heart makes us capable of loving in return with a love which burns more intently and radiates more widely, thus resembling more and more the love of Jesus Himself.

But first of all we must make one thing perfectly clear: any kind of asceticism which has for its sole object the perfecting of self - an asceticism which is egocentric - is utterly worthless. Such a way of life pays very poor dividends, and the profits it yields are very disappointing. He who sows human seed can only expect to reap a human harvest.

Christian asceticism is based absolutely upon a divine principle, and this same principle inspires and animates it, and guides it to its end."You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5)Here we have the summing-up and essence of the Old Law: the New Law has done no more than repeat this first and greatest commandment, making it clearer for all to understand, and promulgating it universally in all its divine simplicity and force. From the very beginning of our spiritual life we must keep our soul set towards this plenitude of love, towards God alone. To act otherwise is to fail to recognise the profound purpose of Christianity; to return to the notion of a self-centred perfection, to that delusive egoism of certain pagan moralists – in a word, to Stoicism, ancient and new – which is so exacting a culture of so miserable a pride.

If only we could convince ourselves once and for all of the truth of the words of our divine Master: "Without Me, you can do nothing" (John 6:5). How changed our whole outlook would be. If only our minds were penetrated with the doctrine of life contained in those few words, we would concentrate on practicing, not just one or two virtues, but all without exception, knowing so well that it is God Himself Who must be both the term and source of our actions.

Then, having done all we can, we would remain humble in our progress and confident after our falls. Knowing that of ourselves we can do nothing but that in Christ we can do all things, we should no more be discouraged by our faults than proud of the virtuous acts His grace has made possible.

And not only that: once we are convinced that we are nothing and that God is all, our very weaknesses and failings need no longer be obstacles. Indeed, they are changed into means: they are an occasion for our faith to grow by the exercise of heroic acts, and for our trust to triumph before the manifest rout of all that draws us away from God. The apostle says, "Gladly I will glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Once, then, we have learned to trust in God and mistrust our own strength, we shall run like giants in the way of love. More and more will love motivate our actions and purify our intentions, until before long its influence will penetrate every corner of our lives.

And so, if we would be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel, we must spare no effort until we have arrived at acting solely from motives of faith and love. And since a purely natural principle can never produce supernatural results, we shall never reach our goal unless from the outset we endeavor to act solely from specifically Christian motives. For if, as Saint Paul says, we cannot even pronounce our Lord’s Name, save by His grace, how can we hope, by our own efforts, to arrive at our supernatural end?

We do not deny that, if we are to put our house in order, some effort of will on our part is absolutely necessary; but if we ask ourselves whether the impetus of our will responds more readily and more efficaciously under the influence of faith and grace or when moved solely by reason, we know well the answer. Why not, then, since it is a question of developing our spiritual life, profit as much as we can from the light and strength that the theological virtues can give us? Why not, from the very start, enter straight away into the Kingdom within us, into the intimate friendship of God?

This Kingdom of Christ lies open before us. Not only so, it is our Lord’s express desire that we should make that Kingdom ours. "Abide in Me, and I in you" (John 15:4). Why not respond to His call, and begin to live by faith now, even as Saint Paul tells us: "The just man lives by faith" (Romans 1:17).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Our Home is in Heaven

Today on the liturgical calendar is the Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr.  

In his work on Mortality, Saint Cyprian writes about the faithful who "cannot be moved by worldly enticements" and are able to connect with the power of God within them to "shatter the turbulent onsets of the world and the raging waves of time."

On the flip side, Saint Cyprian, in that same writing, mentions those who "resist with less temptation and will not implement the divine power" and the invincibility of their heart.  

By means of our baptism we belong to Christ; but with that comes responsibility as explained by Saint Cyprian: "He who has begun to be already a man of God and of Christ, must be found worthy of God and of Christ." He expounds on that by teaching that in this earthly life we must already hope for divine things "so that we may have no trembling at the rising of storms and tempests of the world." 

In every age of human history the people of God have faced stress, disasters, tragedies, etc. As we often hear or even say ourselves: "Why? - How could a loving God allow such things?" Saint Cyprian reminds us: "Remember that the Lord had foretold these events would come and exhorted us with His foreseeing words. He prophesied about wars, famines and plagues, with the intention of strengthening the people of His Church for endurance of things to come; and lest an unexpected and new dread should shake us, He previously warned us that adversity would increase more and more in the end times. Behold, the very things occur which were spoken; and since those occur which were foretold before, whatever things were promised will also follow; as the Lord Himself promises, saying, ‘But when you see all these things come to pass, know that the Kingdom of God is at hand’" (Luke 21:31).

Most comforting, as we see and read daily the world's struggles, are the words of our Savior: "I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believes in Me, though he die, yet shall live; and whosoever lives and believes in Me shall not die eternally" (John 11:25-26).

Saint Cyprian tells us not to forget that "we are passing through death to immortality; eternal life cannot follow, unless we depart from this life. That is not an end, but a transition, a journey through time, a passage to eternity." 

What we perhaps often forget is that we are "living here as guests and strangers." Saint Cyprian, in the midst of much grief caused by the headlining news of our modern day, finishes with a very joyous thought: "Our home is heaven. Our fathers are the patriarchs: why do we not hasten and run, that we may behold our country, that we may greet our true family? There are a great number of our dear ones awaiting us, and a dense crowd of parents, brothers, children, are longing for us, already assured of their own safety, and still solicitous for our salvation. What a great joy to attain to their presence and their embrace!"

Monday, September 15, 2014

We Belong to Jesus' Mother

Today on the liturgical calendar is the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Church places on the lips of our Blessed Lady these beautiful words from Sacred Scripture: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways” (Proverbs 8:22). Almighty God chose Mary from the beginning to be His masterpiece before all other creatures. The Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier wrote: “When coming out, as it were, from His eternal repose, God the adorable Trinity determined on the creation of the universe, His first thought was of the God-man Who would be the crowning point of creation, and then, of her – blessed among women – who would give birth to Him. The rest of creation, angels and man, creatures animate and inanimate, all were ordained solely for Christ and His Mother” (Le Mois de Marie).

The amount of sorrow our Blessed Mother has accepted on behalf of sinful mankind is astronomical. Saint Bonaventure cries out: “It is by your protection, O Blessed Virgin, that the world is preserved; this world that God made from the beginning in concert with you” (De Laudibus Virginis).

Recall what our Lady said to the children of La Salette: “If my people will not submit, I will be obliged to let fall the Arm of my Son. It weighs so heavily upon me that I can no longer bear it. How long have I suffered for you, O my people! If my Son is not to abandon you, I must pray to Him unceasingly.”

At the Cross Jesus said to His Mother, “Woman, behold thy Son.” And to His beloved disciple He said: “Behold thy Mother.” Mary’s spiritual maternity to us all has been declared. It is from her sorrows, from her heart, pierced by a sword, that we were born her spiritual children, delivered into her maternal care, into a life of grace. The sorrowful Passion of her Son, and Mary’s consent due to her perfect conformity to the Divine will, is how we were born into this life of grace.

From the Rosary, especially in the Sorrowful Mysteries, we can ask our Lady to reveal her sorrowful and Immaculate Heart to us. And since she prays to her Son unceasingly, count on her being present in Eucharistic Adoration. She adores Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with perfection and she is our teacher on how to adore. Upon your next visit before the Monstrance or Tabernacle, listen very intently in the silence of your heart, and wait for those beautiful words of Jesus, assuring you of Mary’s presence as well, as He says to her: “Woman, behold your son/daughter” – and to you – “Son/daughter, behold your Mother.”

These glorious words are found among the writings of the Carthusian Order: “When we come to die, our sovereign Judge will ask this question of the angel whose care it has been to bring us to the Judgment Seat, ‘To whom does this soul belong; whose livery does it wear?’ If the answer is, ‘Mary’s,’ Jesus will at once say, ‘Then give to My Mother what belongs to her.’ To give us to Mary is to open heaven to us.”

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 21, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The prophet Isaiah calls us to conversion, to seek the Lord wholeheartedly for He is loving and merciful.  The first part of this Reading focuses on the initial movement into conversion; that is to say, the momentous decision to accept God’s gracious invitation.  The second part kind of draws us into the Bosom of our Lord to console us with the incomprehensible truth that what follows will not be a bed of roses; for it is one thing to hear that God’s thoughts and ways are not like ours, but for most of humanity it is a lifelong journey to come to terms with and fully accept God’s ways because to the logical and rational mind God’s ways often do not appear to be all that logical or well-ordered. 

To prayerfully enter into the Old Testament, in many ways, is to enter into the interior life of Jesus.  We hear these words at every Mass after the proclamation of the Readings: “The Word of the Lord.”  It is not the word of Isaiah or another prophet; they are instruments of the thoughts, ways and words which flow from the Heart of God, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Thus, in this particular Reading we enter into the interior life of Jesus which focuses on our search for Him. 

In His own prayer, in a mysterious Communion of Love with His Father, He contemplates how He may be found, how He can always be near for us because His love for us is immeasurable. 

Recall in the Gospel when Jesus was twelve years of age and was missing for three days, and when Saint Joseph and our Savior’s Blessed Mother found Him, He was in the temple sitting with the doctors of the Mosaic Law, listening to them and asking questions.  Jesus’ explanation to His parents was in the form of a question: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49).  Interesting that the words “I must be” seems a bit casual when comparing it to the Greek text which translates as “it is binding”.  Thus for Jesus it is binding for Him that He is near and may be found, as we search for Him.  And that Gospel passage tells us where He may be found: in the temple.  For Catholics, Jesus can always be found in our parishes, our church buildings, our chapels – He waits for us in the Tabernacle, or in the Monstrance.  And while there, certainly we desire to dump our extra baggage onto Jesus, but we should also try to enter into a sacred silence, listening to Him, because His ways and His thoughts are far above ours. 

We can also find in the words “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” Saint Mark’s account of Simon finding Jesus in a deserted place at prayer, and Simon telling our Lord: “Everyone is looking for You” (Mark 1:37).  Upon hearing this Jesus went into the synagogues of the villages to teach His people.  Again, Jesus is waiting for us in our house of worship.  It’s as if He was found at prayer to teach us to do the same, and then He teaches from His Father’s house as if to show us that there He waits for us. 

Of course, our Lord has no limits, thus there are no limits to how He may be found.  He is always close to us by His indwelling.  Recall the words of Saint Paul: “God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).  And Jesus Himself teaches us of our very serious responsibility in that His house shall be called a house of prayer, and sin makes it a den of thieves (cf. Mark 11:17).            

Second Reading Commentary
What Saint Paul describes here is a life totally committed to Jesus Christ.  And because of his submissiveness to the Lord he is resigned to either a life remaining in the flesh or death. 

Fascinating that Saint Paul writes about Christ being “magnified” in his body.  Our Blessed Mother proclaimed that her soul “magnifies” the Lord (cf. Luke 1:46).  In both verses of the Greek text the transliterated word “megaluno” is used which means “to make great” or “magnify”.  It’s kind of fun to speculate how our Blessed Mother and Saint Paul both ended up expressing a way of showing God’s greatness through their individual selves by using the same word.  Did our Blessed Mother and Saint Paul have a discussion; or perhaps Saint Luke and Saint Paul, as Luke’s Gospel is sometimes referred to as the Marian Gospel?  There are a handful of possibilities as to how this came about besides the obvious: the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

To live for Jesus is to have a life that is “worthy of the Gospel of Christ” which is fruitful not only for oneself but also in giving witness to others.  To die is to enter into eternal life and receive our Redeemer’s reward. 

Interestingly, while we strive to live a Gospel life in this world, to do so is to die to this world; while the end of natural life delivers us into eternal life.  Dying to the world, however, doesn’t mean turning one’s back on it.  As disciples of Jesus Christ we know that the ways of the world are at odds with God; thus, a disciple does his/her part to transform the world by allowing the grace of God to work through His instrument of grace. 

We could magnify our Lord in our soul and body in the most literal sense: to enlarge.  That is, by faithfully living the Gospel life, Jesus in us becomes more visible to others; or as Saint John the Baptist said: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  

Gospel Commentary
There’s something not quite right with any brand of Christianity that thinks we’re competing against each other; for Jesus showed us when He was tempted by the devil in the desert that our battle is not with flesh and blood.  We are the body of Christ helping each other towards that goal which eye has not seen and ear has not heard.  No one who sprains an ankle hopes it never will heal because that would take something away from their quality of life; and nothing hurts the quality of the spiritual life more than sin.  Thus, ideally, we are connected as a body of people helping each other and praying for each other. 

The times of nine o’clock, noon, three o’clock and five o’clock is a more comprehensible, modern way of expressing the ancient text versions which translate respectively as the third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours.  This was the ancient world’s way of telling time in which six o’clock in the morning was considered the first hour. 

These terms as they apply to this Gospel, however, really have very little to do with the time of day.  It has more to do with a time in life in relation to conversion.  A conversion or reversion is a common experience in the life of a high percentage of us.  Very few who are raised to love the Lord avoid going through some sort of a rebellious or indifferent period in their life.  And really, if our goal is to have a special, closer union with our Lord, then conversion is a reality for all of us and a daily process. 

If it were possible to somehow peak through the windows of heaven it might be a shock to see who’s actually there – and who’s not.  But for Christians, anyone’s conversion is cause for rejoicing regardless of what time in life the conversion occurred. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The economy of law and grace turns men’s hearts away from avarice and envy.  It initiates them into desire for the Sovereign God; it instructs them in the desires of the Holy Spirit Who satisfies man’s heart” (CCC 2541).  One does not have more of a claim to heaven because they’ve been faithful to Christ since their childhood years as opposed to one who finally obeyed the call in their twilight years.  Truth be told, no one has a claim to heaven; it is God’s gift to us.  The accusation of injustice or unfairness is also delineated in the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:11-32). 

The final verse: “The last will be first, and the first will be last” paradoxically implies a violent contrast but that meaning should be expunged from it.  The proper implication is that the first and the last which translate as long and brief service to our Lord actually blend and harmonize in the Eyes of God because He is indifferent to that distinction because there are no limits to His mercy.