Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Be a Partaker in the Holy Spirit

William of Saint-Thierry, a monk, a mystic and a very close friend of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has many writings that are helpful to the spiritual life. Some of the reflections from his “Speculum Fidei” are very useful for the Season of Lent. In writing about the Holy Spirit, William teaches us that the great Paraclete is the answer to how we strengthen our communion with God. And isn’t that what we are encouraged to do in Lent? The Holy Spirit, unfortunately for many, seems to be the most mysterious Person of the Trinity, and thus, doesn’t get the attention He deserves in the spiritual life.

But William writes: “Festina ergo particeps esse Spiritus Sancti” – “Hasten then to be a partaker in the Holy Spirit.” William next assures us that the Holy Spirit is present whenever He is called upon. This is a great assurance – when we call upon the Holy Spirit, He will not fail us. But perhaps even more spiritually arousing is that William writes that when the Holy Spirit comes, He brings with Him “benedictionis Dei” – “the blessings of God.”

Key to our Lenten journey is the effort we make to either establish or strengthen the intimacy with our Lord. This, of course, requires prayer – communal, personal, meditative, contemplative, reflecting on Sacred Scripture, the Eucharist, adoration and all the wonderful doors that God opens up to us in order that we may get closer to Him. And with that in mind, William gives us these beautiful words:

(My translation of the Latin)
“And, as soon as He comes, if He finds you humble and quiet and trembling at the words of God, He will rest upon you; and reveal to you what God the Father withdraws from the wise and prudent of this world; and it will begin to dawn upon you that which Wisdom was able to say to the disciples while on earth, but which they were unable to bear, until the Spirit of truth came, Who was to teach them all truth.”

When seeking after these truths, however, one cannot do so with a half-hearted approach. In fact, William tells us it would be vain to expect celestial wisdom to come from any human teacher; for these truths are spoken only from the Lips of Truth Himself. Truth tells us that “God is Spirit” thus “nonnisi in Spiritu Sancto intellectum fidei et puræ ac nudæ illius veritatis sensum expedit quærere” – “it is only in the Holy Spirit that the understanding of the faith and the sense of the pure and plain truth ought to be sought.”

William refers to this life as dark and ignorant; and the Holy Spirit is the Light of the lowly spirit, the Charity which draws us, an affecting Sweetness, man’s Access to God, the Love of the loving, He is Devotion and He is Piety.

Monday, February 23, 2015

2nd Sunday of Lent - March 1, 2015

First Reading Commentary
By commanding the sacrifice of Isaac, God clearly shows His dominion over humanity, the work of His Hands; but by rescinding that command, our Lord demonstrates that He doesn’t want man’s obedience to include human sacrifice.  This was a necessary point to make at this particular time because the Canaanites performed human sacrifices for their gods. 

Abraham displays remarkable faith because God promised him descendants through Isaac.  Logically, you would think that Abraham would be asking how God could bring descendants from someone who is about to be sacrificed.  And yet, Christ’s Sacrifice brought forth for Him countless brothers and sisters as well as countless children for God the Father and Mary His Mother. 

God allows us to be “put to the test,” but never beyond what we can handle.  Resisting temptation strengthens us and gives us perseverance and allows us to see for ourselves how devoted we are to the will of God.  The fact that temptation strikes often should be convincing enough that this is an enemy we can’t defeat alone.  We are creatures who are dependent on God. 

Isaac wasn’t Abraham’s only son, he also had Ishmael; but Isaac was the only son of Sarah.  The words, “your only one,” prefigure God’s only Son, Jesus.  The wood arranged on the altar prefigures the wood of the Cross of Christ.  Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son which points to God’s will to sacrifice His Son, Jesus Christ.  The sacrifice of Isaac never took place and Abraham is found pleasing in the sight of God.  The lesson learned here is that the intentions of the heart can be found worthy of praise, or of blame, even when nothing of the exterior has taken place. 

God puts us in touch with many people in Scripture who prefigure Christ.  But they all returned to the dust of the earth leaving behind in our hearts the words: “To be continued.”  Only One hung on the Cross and said: “It is all completed” (John 19:30).

Second Reading Commentary
The questions Saint Paul raises in this Reading may come from his own life’s experience but because of his strong faith, these questions are likely raised by him because of his awareness of the difficulties that this life can bring to anyone. In other words, he is preaching to us. 

For Christians, the answer to all of life’s troubles are found in a gaze; a gaze that contemplates that incredible act of love in which God the Father did not spare even His own Son for the sake of our salvation.  Though we live in the face of many temptations and afflictions, we need not fear as long as we are faithful in the service of God; and being faithful does not mean we cannot fail from time-to-time.  It is the enemy who seeks to convince us that our failings and sins have forever destroyed our chance at eternal happiness.  If God does not condemn us, it is not possible for anyone or anything else to do so.  If God “did not spare His own Son,” how could anyone argue or deny His love for us? 

Jesus, in perfect obedience to His Father, and because of His love for us became the sacrificial Lamb.  But He is raised and is seated at the right Hand of the Father where He intercedes for us.

Gospel Commentary
The appearance of Moses and Elijah is to signify the law and the prophets; their appearance testifies to the harmony of the Old Law with the New and Everlasting Covenant.  It’s also possible that their appearance is a special favor granted to them by God so that these great men of God could see Christ, the One they prefigured and prophesied about in their own lifetime. 

The Venerable Bede proclaims: “Peter had forgotten that the glorious Kingdom of Christ was not of this world, but in heaven only; that he and the other apostles, clothed as they were with their mortality, could not participate in immortal joys; and that the mansions in the house of the Father are not raised with human hands.  He again showed that he knew not what he said, by wishing to ‘make three tents,’ one for the law, one for the prophets, and one for the Gospel, since these three cannot be separated from each other.”

Saint Peter in great fear says: "Rabbi, it is good that we are here."  Indeed, but being there can also be spiritually painful for human creatures as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explains: "If sometimes a poor mortal feels that heavenly joy for a rapturous moment, then this wretched life envies his happiness, the malice of daily trifles disturbs him, this body of death weighs him down, the needs of the flesh are imperative, the weakness of corruption fails him, and above all brotherly love calls him back to duty. Alas!  That voice summons him to re-enter his own round of existence."  This is when love bursts through the boundaries of human love and enters the realm of celestial love. 

Another explanation of what is likely happening to Saint Peter and surely the others is explained by Dom Nicholas Kempf in his work titled, Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum.  What he wrote translates as: “When hearts have been moved to jubilation of this sort, the things that result within the spirit cannot be put into conventional and customary words. Just as people drunk with wine lose the ability to talk in a normal fashion, so the bride drunk with sober intoxication speaks in a way intelligible not to anyone and everyone, but only to lovers loving in a similar way. So too, after tasting the sweetness of glory, Peter did not know what he was saying.”  

The disciples believed in the resurrection of the dead but they didn’t know what Christ meant by His rising from the dead.  Their minds were filled with ideas of a glorious kingdom in this world.  Saint Leo the Great said the main purpose of the Transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the Cross from the hearts of the disciples as he adds: “He reveals His glory so that they may no longer be distressed by their own death or the death of the Master.” 

In this season of what Saint John Paul II called “a season of intense prayer,” consider your own intensity level.  Are you ready to climb that spiritual “high mountain” and prostrate yourself at the Feet of our glorious Savior in worship, love and fear?  Are you ready to obey the command of God the Father concerning His Son by listening to Him?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Embracing Poverty

The Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier places this conversation with the contemplative soul on the lips of our beloved Mother.

“My dear son,” she says, “I voluntarily embraced a life of poverty with all my heart, and I observed it faithfully during the whole of my life. I came into the world a child of poor parents. During the eleven years I spent in the Temple, I lived in the greatest poverty. Being obliged to take a husband to veil the mystery of the Incarnation, I made choice of a man who was virtuous but poor. We lived by the work of our hands, and when I brought my divine Son into the world, I experienced all the rigors of dire need. Rejected in the town because we had no means, we took refuge in an abandoned stable, which we shared with the beasts of the field. It was in this poor abode that I gave birth to the Son of the eternal God. To cover Him I had only poor swaddling bands. It was this that caused Saint Cyprian to say: ‘The dwelling-place is a stable, the Mother has a little hay for her bed, the Child a manger for a cradle.’” 

“Dear Mother,” the monk replied, “I am deeply moved at the consideration of what you had to suffer from a poverty so extreme. It is some consolation to know that your need must have been relieved by the presents offered by the Magi to your divine Son.”

“Why feel this compassion,” continued the Mother of God, “for my poverty, which was a joy to me? Do you not know that my Son has said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3) and ‘Woe to you that are rich?’ (Luke 6:24). Besides, you are mistaken in thinking that I used the rich offerings of the Magi to relieve my poverty. No, no! My poverty was voluntary, and I would not have exchanged it for all the riches in the world. Listen to what my devout servant Saint Bonaventure has to say about it: ‘And what do you think Mary did with all the gold that the Magi brought? Did she buy houses, lands or vineyards? Indeed, no! One who loves poverty has no attachment to such things. Mary gave all these treasures to Saint Joseph to distribute to the poor. Thus when came to the Temple for her Purification, she had not the wherewithal to buy a lamb, but only a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’ (cf. Luke 2:24). This, indeed, was so, and that is the use I made of these rich presents. I remained in my poverty and went on living as the poor do, in the company with my divine Son, Who continued the practice of this virtue so perfectly that He had nowhere to lay His head (cf. Matthew 8:20).

What an example for us! Rich in the possession of her divine Son, Mary deprived herself of the goods of this world, in order to preserve her unique treasure. We, too, therefore, should remain detached from the vanities of this world, if we would possess Him Who in truth only gives Himself to those who can repeat with the poor man of Assisi: "My God, and my All!"

Friday, February 20, 2015


During this season of Lent, these words of Saint John Climacus should remain in our hearts.
* * * * * *
Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions.

Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience, While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible.

We must carefully consider whether our conscience has ceased to accuse us, not because we are good, but because it is immersed in evil. A sign of deliverance from our falls is the continual acknowledgment of our indebtedness.

Nothing equals or excels God's mercies. Therefore the one who despairs is committing suicide.

A sign of true repentance is the acknowledgment that we deserve all the troubles, visible and invisible, that come to us, and even greater ones. Moses, after seeing God in the bush, returned again to Egypt, that is, to darkness and to the brick-making of Pharaoh, symbolical of the spiritual Pharaoh. But he went back again to the bush, and not only to the bush but also up the mountain. Whoever has known contemplation will never despair of himself. Job became a beggar, but he became twice as rich again.

The forgetting of wrongs is a sign of true repentance. But those who dwell on them and think that they are repenting are like a man who dreams he is running while he is actually asleep.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Discovering the Inner Monk

Saint John Cassian wrote: “Only they can contemplate Christ’s Divinity, with a very pure gaze, who rise up from earthly works, thoughts and passions.” As is said at Mass:
V/: Lift up your hearts.
R/: We lift them up to the Lord.

Our hearts are designed to be living altars from which we exercise our royal priesthood by offering sacrifice and praise to God. Lent not only calls us to these sacrifices and praises, but also to make it a personal mandate. Overcoming the obstacles which keep us from daily prayer, sets us on a long but fruitful journey through which vigilance and remaining spiritually awake could make our very lives a liturgy.

It begins by taking steps that remind us to pray when life’s busy-ness averts our focus away from God. In the monastery, the bell rings, calling the monks to pray the Divine Office. In the Carthusian tradition is the following: “As soon as the bell is heard for the Divine Office, we hasten promptly, because the bell’s voice is like the Voice of God that calls to prayer.” Similar steps can be taken by the laity. For example, there are those who set the alarm on their wristwatch for 3 p.m. or 1500 h. Our Lord taught us through Saint Faustina that this is the hour of mercy. By following that strategy, when the alarm goes off, one could perhaps pray the Divine Mercy chaplet, or if busy, simply take a moment to acknowledge the presence of God in one’s life.

Taking necessary steps sets our hearts in motion towards the divine, towards the goal of keeping our eyes fixed “on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). In the traditional liturgy for Ash Wednesday, our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us through Saint Matthew’s Gospel the following: “Ubi enim est thesaurus tuus, ibi est cor tuum – For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also”(Matthew 6:21). Hopefully we all have our treasure and hearts set on celestial realms.

The serious pursuit of intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity will meet with difficulties because of our human weaknesses. “Lord, if it is You, tell me to come to You across the water” (Matthew 14:28). These are the familiar words of Saint Peter, but words that clearly delineate how our own shortcomings make the journey tedious. Peter could have successfully walked across the ocean and embrace Jesus, but he let the storm take his focus off of his Master.

While Lent calls us to “intense prayer” (Saint John Paul II), the Church is very aware of how the sojourn down the straight and narrow path can meet with setbacks. In her liturgies during Lent we see and hear words like, “Between the porch and the altar, the priests, the Lord’s ministers shall weep and shall say: ‘Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people; and close not the mouths that sing to Thee, O Lord.’” 

Once again in the traditional liturgy for Ash Wednesday is this prayer:
“Grant us, Lord, the grace to begin the Christian’s war of defense with holy fasts:
that as we do battle with the spirits of evil, we may be protected by the help of self-denial.”

And, when we fail in areas of self-denial and fasting, other words like: “Look upon us, O Lord, according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies” are in the liturgy to assist us. In Lent it is not our garments we rent but our hearts, that living altar.

Sacred Scripture and the Divine Office are great ways to hear the Voice of God. Saint Bernard said: “Because they are blessed who keep God’s Word, you keep it, so it will come down to the bottom of your soul.”

Sometimes God also calls us into the desert, that is, a place to be alone with God. Jesus said: “When you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6). In solitude, God speaks to the heart. It is then that our hearts truly become a living altar, from which our prayers ascend to Him.

Theodore the Studite, a Byzantine monk said: “A monk is one who gazes at God alone, who ardently desires only God, who has consecrated himself to God and tries hard to give Him an undivided worship; he is in peace with God and becomes a source of peace for others.” There is a monk within each of us. The soul’s desire for God might be rejected by the flesh, but the soul’s longing to have intimacy with God doesn’t disappear. During this penitential season, may we all discover our own inner-monk.

Best wishes on your journey!

Monday, February 16, 2015

1st Sunday of Lent - February 22, 2015

First Reading Commentary
The covenant of God is made with animals also, but only in as much as they are obsequious to humanity.  The bow or rainbow mentioned is not a new creation; it has existed from the beginning but it was never before appointed as a sign “that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood.”  It is designated as God’s rainbow because of its beauty and grandeur.  Saint Augustine says, “As the rainbow, which makes its appearance in the clouds, borrows its brilliant radiance from the sun, so those only who acknowledge the glory of Christ in God’s clouds, and do not seek their own glory, will escape destruction in the deluge.” 

The story of Noah and the flood prefigures baptism.  The covenant with Noah is a pledge of God’s faithfulness and love which God will never break.  As all creation outside of the ark was destroyed by the waters of the flood, just so is sin destroyed by the waters of baptism. 

Some of the Church’s writers also saw the ark as a mystical representation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  When in the ark or hiding in His Heart, we cannot be overtaken by the deluge of this earthly voyage.  

Second Reading Commentary
Jesus was “put to death in the flesh” by dying on the Cross for our sins and “brought to life in the Spirit.” There are two different thoughts on what the word “Spirit” means.  Some understand this to mean Christ’s Divine Spirit and the power of His Divinity by which He raised Himself again from death to immortal life by His glorious Resurrection.  But others understand it to mean Christ’s Soul by which He never died, which always remained united to His Divine Person, and which on the third day He again was reunited to His Body. 

The most common interpretation of “the spirits in prison” seems to be that, the Soul of Christ, after the separation from the Body and before the Resurrection, descended to a place where the patriarchs, prophets, as well as righteous men and women were detained; and it was there that Christ preached to these spirits and delivered to them the Good News that He is their Redeemer and Deliverer; and in His glorious Ascension, they will enter into heaven with Him. 

Saint Peter mentions here that the story of Noah prefigures baptism which saves us.  Our salvation is made possible because of the Resurrection of Jesus and baptism is a sacrament that we gratefully accept as an offering of love and life. 

The first words of the bible tell us that there was a beginning, which also suggests that there will be an end; and so, there is the element of time.  Jesus Christ, the eternal God, by becoming Man entered into that element of time; and perhaps not only did the conflict between divinity and humanity exist in Christ’s interior life, but also the battle of time versus eternity. 

By dying on the Cross Jesus expresses His Humanity; and by rising from the dead, He proclaims His Divinity.  Likewise, by becoming Man, walking among us and dying, He can relate to His own end or His personal experience with the element of time.  But by His Resurrection He demonstrates His eternalness and thus cannot be contained by the element of time unless decreed by His own Divine Will.  And since He did decree to experience our existence, He demonstrates the mysterious humility of Almighty God. 

To go even further, God was obedient to His own rules when He allowed Himself to die on the Cross since death is inevitable for all humanity.  Jesus Christ, Who has angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him, because He refused to break His own rules, invents yet another way to come to us lowly human beings: through the ordinary species of bread and wine.  Who could doubt His love for us?  Mane nobiscum, Domine! - Stay with us, Lord!          

Gospel Commentary
If you were unfamiliar with the other Gospels, then you might be left in a state of curiosity after reading this particular passage.  You might find yourself asking questions like: Jesus was tempted?  What are the details of this temptation?  How did He overcome it?  While Saint Mark doesn’t record the details, he does, however, express one thought that would have even the most uninformed soul deducing that the temptation of Christ had to have been difficult because He was “tempted by Satan.”  When the master of deceit does the job himself, then this is serious business. 

After some thought and hindsight we may consider Satan as the one who is pushing the buttons with the temptations we face, a sort of “behind the scenes” figure; but Mark gives the impression that Christ’s temptation is a Face-to-face encounter with the evil one. 

Saint Mark’s Gospel alone mentions that Jesus was “among wild beasts” which is likely designed to give images of an area of desolation.  Since Jesus is God Almighty, these occurrences are completely unnecessary for Him.  He submitted to these things to teach us what to expect. 

Christ’s temptation immediately follows His baptism by John.  In baptism we become a beloved child of God with whom He is well pleased.  But after that we are sent into a world that guarantees temptations.  But following in Christ’s Footsteps, the duty of proclaiming the Kingdom of God in word and action plus the need for repentance has been assigned to us.  Penance is an ongoing process, and so, it is not only necessary to proclaim it, but also constantly remind ourselves of the need for it. 

“Jesus is the new Adam Who remained faithful while the first Adam had given in to temptation.  Jesus fulfills Israel’s vocation perfectly: in contrast to those who had once provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ reveals Himself as God’s Servant, totally obedient to the divine will.  In this, Jesus is the devil’s conqueror.  Jesus’ victory over the tempter in the desert anticipates victory at the Passion, the supreme act of obedience of His filial love for the Father” (CCC 539). 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Celebrated Like a Pope

Today is the liturgical Memorial of Saints Cyril and Methodius. The former was a monk and the latter a bishop. Together they translated the liturgical books into the Slavonic language. At Matins, the Carthusians reflected on this brief Reading from the Slavonic "Life of Constantine". Here's what they heard.

* * * * * *
When the time had come for Cyril to take his rest and leave this world for his heavenly home, he raised his hands to God and prayed with tears: O Lord, my God, You have created all the choirs of angels and spiritual powers. You have stretched out the heavens and made firm the earth, creating all that exists from nothing. You hear the prayers of those who obey Your will and keep Your commandments. Hear my prayer and protect Your faithful flock, over which You set me as their foolish and unworthy servant.

Free Your people from the impious malice of those unbelievers who blaspheme against You. Build up Your Church and gather all into unity. Make Your Church grow in number, and gather all its members into unity. Make them a chosen people, of one mind in Your true faith and in orthodox profession of it. Inspire the hearts of Your people with Your word and Your teaching. For it is a gracious favor from you that you have accepted us to preach the Gospel of Your Christ by enocouraging people to do good works and by doing what pleases You.

I now return to You, Your people, whom You gave me. Rule them with Your powerful right Hand; keep them under the shadow of Your Wings, that they may all praise and glorify Your Name, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then he kissed them all with a holy kiss and said: Blessed be God, Who did not give us over as a prey to the fangs of our invisible enemies; He has broken their nets and freed us from destruction at their hands. Cyril then fell asleep in the Lord at the age of forty-two.

The Pope commanded all those in Rome, both the Greeks and Romans, to gather for Cyril's funeral. They were to chant over him together and carry candles; they were to celebrate his funeral as if he had been the Pope himself; and this they did.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Holy Peace Only in Solitude

Today is the liturgical Memorial of Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict. As we honor this holy woman, it also turns us to another holy woman. Julia Crotta, also known as Sister Nazarena, was a Camaldolese Benedictine recluse. Her story is told by Thomas Matus in the book titled, “Nazarena: an American Anchoress.” Easter was approaching, and for Nazarena, it would be her anniversary, twenty-one years since her call to solitude. And of that call, Nazarena approaching her anniversary wrote: “Now God is making me hear it louder than ever.” At the end of Lent in 1961, she expressed her joy in solitude in a letter to her abbess. She wrote what follows.
* * * * * *

My soul finds its place and feels holy peace only in solitude. Whenever I leave it, I feel restless and spiritually unable to breathe. Strange, but true! Perhaps Jesus permits me to feel this way in order to make it absolutely clear that He is calling me and wants me to cling to Him alone in the strictest solitude.

I do so love my religious family – now that everything is settled, I want to pray more and better for you. I always feel ashamed when I offer my poor prayers! But I unite them with the merits of Jesus and thus I hope they will not be altogether useless. I am glad I have no knowledge of any person or event, outside of what is strictly necessary for me to know. Please do me this kindness, that all my mind and soul may be filled with God and souls, without any particular knowledge of them. I shall better avoid distractions if I know nothing about persons or events. In any case I feel I have to do this, whether I want to or not. When the Lord wants certain things, He gives you no rest until He has them!

Monday, February 9, 2015

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 15, 2015

First Reading Commentary
In this Reading lepers are brought to the priest which on a spiritual level, then, makes leprosy a figure of sin.  Saint John Chrysostom points out that the authority of priests in this Reading prefigures the authority that priests would have to bind and loose sins in the New and Everlasting Covenant. 

The descriptive words used here to diagnose leprosy clearly indicate an unattractive appearance.  In meditation and reflection it’s always nice to hold on to positive and uplifting images and thoughts; but once in a while, for the benefit of our souls, it’s wise to reflect on just how unsightly and hideous sin is.  What does a soul look like that is marked with scabs, pustules and blotches? 

The prophet Habakkuk, speaking of Almighty God, says: “Your Eyes are too pure to behold evil, and You cannot look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13).  In this Reading lepers are instructed to dwell apart, outside the camp.  This is sin at its ugliest; the soul that is unclean because of mortal sin makes its abode outside of God’s camp.  That is not a comforting reality!              

Second Reading Commentary
In Saint Paul’s day there were concerns about the possibility that food was bought at the marketplace from an unbeliever or perhaps the animal used for meat had been sacrificed to pagan gods.  In his Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul put these concerns to rest when he wrote: “He who eats, eats for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God.  And he who does not eat, abstains for the Lord, and gives thanks to God” (Romans 14:6).  Saint Paul is telling them to not let their concerns weigh on their consciences, but instead accept everything as being from the Lord and “do everything for the glory of God” because everything and everyone belongs to God (cf. Psalm 49 [50]:10-12).  Food and drink belong to God, therefore, eat and drink with a clear conscience.  Accept even suffering as being from God - not literally from God but allowed by God, trusting that if He allows it, then it will benefit either our own soul or the soul of someone who is in dire need of assistance.  This is our acceptance of Christ’s invitation to be co-workers in His work of redemption. 

Paul writes: “Be imitators of me.”  Our Lord has blessed His Church with many souls throughout the centuries who are worthy of imitation; and they are worthy of imitation because they imitated Christ.  They followed the prescription of Saint John the Baptist: Christ increased and they decreased (cf. John 3:30).     

Gospel Commentary
Commenting on this Gospel, Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1340) points out, “It was not the intention of Christ, that he should not tell anybody; had that been His wish, he would easily have realized it; He spoke thus purposely, to show us that we ought not to seek the empty praises of men.” 

Siding with the cured leper, the question must be asked of anyone who truly feels that the man was disobedient to our Lord: How could anyone who has been profoundly touched by Jesus Christ remain silent?  By publicizing “the whole matter,” the man in reality was evangelizing, that is, bringing to others that very same Jesus Christ Who touched him so deeply. 

In any effort to evangelize, there is no glory to be gained by seeking the praises of others since it is the Holy Spirit Who does the work; but if Christ is to be proclaimed by anyone, then it’s vital that the hearers see Jesus in that person. 

Our Lord also told the man to offer the sacrifices prescribed because the law remained in full force until the Passion of Christ, in which was offered a perfect Sacrifice that did away with the sacrifices of the law; or better stated: the sacrifices of the old law found their fulfillment in the One Supreme Sacrifice of Christ.  Jesus tells the man to show himself to the priest so that he may be reinstated into the religious community.

“It was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” because of His miraculous healings.  Although Jesus performed many signs and wonders, this was not why He came.  How many would remain loyal to the miracle Worker when He would later become the crucified Messiah?  In today’s morally challenged world, how many still refuse to be lured by the wiles of the culture and continue to fight the good fight until Christ comes again in glory? 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Living Solely on Love

On March 13, 1902 at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure in southeastern France, a baby girl was born named Marthe Louise Robin. She would become a beautiful soul for Christ in a most severe way. She offered her sufferings to our dear Lord and was most desirous to share in His Passion and death. In October of 1930 she received the Wounds of our Lord’s Passion, the stigmata. From that point on, every Friday, she experienced the agonizing pains of Christ’s sufferings on the Cross. This was preceded at the very young age of twenty-six by paralysis.

Author Jim Gallagher wrote: “For the next 53 years Marthe's only food was the Holy Eucharist. Once a week her spiritual father brought her the Sacred Host. On more than one occasion both he and other visiting priests, saw the Host apparently leap from their hands and fly directly to her mouth. Even a bishop testified that he saw it apparently dissolve once it passed her lips. Her Holy Communion was weekly. Once she had received Jesus she went immediately into ecstasy and then began her weekly re-living of Christ's Passion and crucifixion. The stigmata and the scourging, the crowning with thorns appeared on her body. The whole crucifixion seemed to be re-enacted on this little countrywoman and from the moment of Christ's death on the Cross she too appeared dead. Thus she would remain until 'called back' to life under obedience by her spiritual father on the Sunday.”

Author and priest Henri Nouwen told Marthe’s story this way: “Marthe Robin is one of the most impressive examples of God’s hidden Presence in our world. She was born in 1902. At sixteen she fell ill, and her illness, for which the doctors could find no explanation, grew worse and worse. Slowly but surely she became aware that God was calling her to a life in which she would be linked in a special way to the suffering of Jesus. When she was 23, she wrote an ‘act of abandonment’. In it she gave to the God of love all that she had: ‘I belong to You without any reservation, forever. O Beloved of my soul! It is You only Whom I want, and for Your love I renounce all.’ When she was 26 her legs became totally paralyzed, and soon afterwards her arms. From then on she did not eat, drink, or sleep. From 1928 to her death in 1981 she took no food other than weekly Holy Communion. When I first heard about this it sounded to me like a pious fairy tale, but now that I’ve talked to a lot of people who knew Marthe Robin personally, I realize that God can achieve a great deal more in a human being than we who are of little faith are prepared to believe possible. The total ‘abstinence’ of Marthe is one of the ways in which Jesus showed His love to her. In September 1930 Jesus appeared to Marthe and asked her, ‘Do you wish to become as I am?’ She replied , ‘Yes’ and soon afterwards she received the Wounds of Jesus in her hands, feet and side. She also received the crown of thorns. From that time on, week by week Marthe began suffering fully into the Passion of Jesus. Her suffering with Jesus was so intense that tears of blood flowed from her eyes and the marks of invisible thorns appeared across her head. Every Friday she entered so fully into the death of Jesus that only on Saturday did she come to herself again; and until Sunday and Monday she remained in a state of total exhaustion. As the years passed her suffering grew deeper. In the beginning she suffered with Jesus, but little by little she became the suffering Jesus.”

Marthe Robin had a great love for our Blessed Mother and was particularly fond of the Rosary. It was the words of Saint Louis de Montfort which nurtured her love for the Virgin Mother of God: “When the Holy Spirit, her Spouse, finds Mary in a soul, He flies into that soul, and enters it fully, and communicates to it most abundantly.”

During a great deal of her life in which she was bedridden she met thousands upon thousands of people who visited her in her small room. She ended each visit, which averaged about ten minutes, with a prayer. In addition to the personal visits she received a steady stream of letters even though she was completely blind by the age of thirty-eight. She died on February 6, 1981 at the age of 78. She left us her writings and her insights which were written down by her spiritual director, Père Georges Finet. Her funeral was attended by thousands including six bishops and more than two-hundred priests.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Faithful Witness to Christ

Today the Church celebrates the liturgical Memorial of Saint Agatha who at a very young age devoted herself to God and resisted any temptations to have relationships with men. If fact, one high ranking official had her arrested because she resisted him. His hopes were that Agatha, a professed Christian in a time when Christianity was highly persecuted, would give in for fear of torture and death. But she held firmly to her faith and prayed: “Jesus Christ, Lord of all things, You see my heart, You know my desires. Possess alone all that I am. I am Your sheep, make me worthy to overcome the devil.” After being tortured the first time, she received from God a vision of Saint Peter who healed all her wounds. While enduring her final agonizing torture, before she died, she prayed: “Lord, my Creator, You have ever protected me from the cradle; You have taken me from the love of the world, and given me patience to suffer: receive now my soul.” Saint Agatha is often depicted in art as holding her breasts on a platter because it is said that one of the tortures administered to her was having her breasts cut off. At Matins, the Carthusians listen to a brief lesson about Saint Agatha written by Saint Methodius of Sicily. Here is what they reflect on.
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The annual commemoration of Saint Agatha has brought us together; she is a martyr of ancient times who achieved renown in the early Church for her noble victory; she is also well known in modern times, for she continues to triumph through her divine miracles, with which she is daily crowned and beautifully adorned.

Agatha, who invites us to this religious feast is the bride of Christ, the virgin who wore the glow of a pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb's Blood for her cosmetics. Again and again she meditated on the death of her Divine Lover.Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of His crimson Blood and also that of her virginity. Saint Agatha thus becomes a witness of inexhaustible eloquence for all generations.

Saint Agatha is truly good, coming forth from her Spouse in Whose goodness she shares, bearing the meaning of her name, Agatha, that is, “good,” given to us as a gift by God Himself, the Source of all goodness.

What can be more beneficial than the Highest Good? And who could find something more worthy than a celebration with hymns of praise than Agatha? Agatha means “good” whose goodness fits both her name and her reality. Agatha, whose magnificent achievements delivers a glorious name while at the same time shows us the glorious deeds she accomplished. Agatha, who even by her name draws us, in order that everyone comes eagerly to meet her, and by her example teaches everyone to strive with her, without delay, towards the true “Good” Who is God alone.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Presentation of the Lord

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Jesus certainly desired to grasp firmly His Humanity by taking our humanity upon Himself and willfully accepting all the joys and sorrows associated with being human with the exception of committing sin, but nevertheless would take our sins upon Himself. His most holy Mother, attuned to the will of God in an extraordinary way, in a sense makes this decision for Jesus, since He is but an Infant. Speaking in terms of His Divine Person and Nature, circumcision is completely unnecessary for Him.

The exegete, Nicholas of Lyra, suggests that circumcision is how Jesus manifests the reality of His Humanity. He also explains that as God, Jesus instituted circumcision, and therefore undergoing this process Himself, demonstrates His approval of it; and for our Lady and Saint Joseph, this was necessary according to the law which they knew so well. There is a mysterious level of humility here as well: as an Infant, He is incapable of making decisions, but as God He accepts upon Himself a procedure that is unnecessary – in other words, He makes Himself subject to His own law.

Our Blessed Lady also accepts upon herself the ritual of Purification, which for her is unnecessary. Saint Lawrence Justinian in a homily on the Purification points out that Mary was raised above the law by extraordinary grace, but her humility subjected her to it.

The poverty of the Holy Family is intimated in the Gospel account of the Presentation because turtledoves and pigeons was the offering of the economically poorer classes.

Simeon, thought to be a Jewish priest, witnesses first hand the embodiment of the consolation of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon holds Jesus, given to him by His holy Mother. At Mass, a priest holds Him at the altar, given to him by the power of ordination and the words of Consecration through holy Mother Church.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis, which the Church prays during her Night Prayer, there is an air of “it doesn’t get any better than this” in that prayer, considering that Simeon was now prepared to die. But it did get better than that. Simeon was able to hold Jesus and see Him; but through the Eucharist we get to receive Him into our souls. Still, there is much we can learn from Simeon’s disposition: if he was prepared to die at the sight of Jesus, how much joy should we have in receiving Him? If Simeon had the opportunity to stand in line waiting to receive Holy Communion, the wait would probably have made him antsy with anticipation. Are we? Jesus offers us Himself, our salvation, the Light and the glory of the Church. Isn’t this our highlight of the day or week?

It is fitting on this day to read at least some of the words of Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem. He was a seventh-century Patriarch of Jerusalem, but before his hierarchal appointment, he was a monk of great simplicity and he was also a theologian. He was born in Damascus and thus was of Arabian descent, but was often referred to as a Sophist because of his skills with the Greek language. Here is a piece of his homily which perhaps starts out by suggesting an interior dispostion in that we “run to Christ.”

We all run to Christ, we who sincerely and profoundly adore His mystery; we set out towards Him full of joy, carrying lighted candles, as a symbol of His divine splendor.

Thanks to Him all creation is radiant; in truth it is inundated by an eternal light which dissipates the shadows of evil and makes the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of His eternal light. But let these lighted candles be especially the symbol of the eternal splendor with which we wish to prepare ourselves for our meeting with Christ. Indeed, just as His Mother, the most pure Virgin, carried Him in her arms, Who is the true light, and showed Him to all who find themselves in darkness, so may we also, who hold in our hands this light that is visible to all, and who are illuminated by its shining, hasten to go to meet Him, Who is the true light.

The Dayspring from on High has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through Him. The light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, has come. All together we come to Christ, to let ourselves be clothed with His splendor and, together with the old man Simeon, welcome Him, the eternal living light. With him we exult with joy and sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, Father of light, Who sent us the true light to lead us out of darkness and make us luminous.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which He prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as He came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God Incarnate, and because we have seen Him present among us and have mentally received Him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in His honor.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - February 8, 2015

First Reading Commentary
In a sense Job is asking the question we all have probably asked at one time or another, “Why me?!”  At first glance it would appear that Job has been found guilty and sentenced to “months of misery.”  But many scripture scholars have observed that God seems to be the One on trial here; that God is the perpetrator and Job is the victim, jury and judge.  Sound familiar?  If we are honest with ourselves, somewhere along the way God has been blamed for the privations and drudgeries of life.  It’s not that the Almighty is the Source of the bad things that have occurred in our lives, but perhaps we’ve felt let down or even abandoned by Him.  It’s interesting that we think we can rationally discern the ways of God when we’re fit to be tied; but whether rational or irrational, it is not enough to make total sense out of why things that are divine are not necessarily logical.  Why God allows devout people like Job to suffer may always be a mystery.  One scholar used this analogy: “The point is not that an army has to fight, but it has to submit to all the hardships of military life.”  Our Lord Himself reminds us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways My ways” (Isaiah 55:8). 

If we believe that God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful, then it is certain that we also believe that God could have achieved salvation for us with a mere snap of His Divine Fingers.  But what He chose to do is become like us, taking on flesh and dwelling among us.  That decision meant that He would also sentence Himself to be the Victim of intense suffering.  Who could ever fully explain why God chose this route? 

Consider how intimacy with Christ reduces or even eliminates the sizzle in our demeanor caused by human suffering.  Saint John Paul II allowed himself to be on center stage with his sufferings; and he didn’t do it so we would feel sorry for him.  He did it to teach us what to do with suffering.  None of the hospital visits, doctors, surgeries, medical apparatus or medications could bring him the kind of relief he was able to find by keeping his gaze fixed on his true Love.           

Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul here is saying that if he preaches the Gospel through uncontrollable impulses, fear, or mere necessity to eat and have lodging, then he can’t rightly seek the reward of heaven. But if he preaches the Gospel freely and charitably, then he shall indeed receive a reward from God.  It was wise for Paul to take this approach because it was in a time of Christian history whereby he could have been accused of profiting temporally from the Gospel; and thus making the truths of the Gospel appear false.  But his convictions go far beyond appearances.  Saint Paul’s acts of charity are his willingness to be a slave or servant to everyone even though he is under no worldly obligation to any of them.  Paul understood perfectly that serving and loving God is synonymous with serving and loving God’s people.  Saint Paul’s refusal of any payment for his services made him a very credible servant and preacher of the Gospel.
Gospel Commentary
In this Gospel we see portions of the healing ministry of Jesus.  As evidenced, Jesus is a miracle worker; but Saint Mark’s intention is to show that Jesus is the One Who brought the Kingdom of God to earth.  Christ’s real mission is to proclaim salvation and the miraculous healings accompany Him on that mission. 

Saint Augustine tells us that the demons mentioned here knew that it was Christ, Who had been promised for so many ages before; for they saw Him perform the wonders which the prophets had foretold of Him, yet they were not perfectly acquainted with His Divine Nature, otherwise, they would not have been the driving force behind His persecution and Crucifixion because if they were well-acquainted with His Divinity, they would have known that His Resurrection is inevitable.  Jesus would not permit the demons to declare that they knew Him which clearly shows Christ’s authority over them. 

Everything in the Gospels occurred about two-thousand years ago, and if our faith tells us that the Gospels are meaningful to us today, then every time we read the Gospels it’s important and beneficial to find a quiet place and reflect.  In this Gospel, for example, why is it important and beneficial for us to know that Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law?  That’s wonderful for her but how could that have any value for us?  On a physical level, Jesus can heal our infirmities if He so chooses, but it’s pointless to add to our own sufferings by dwelling on those times He chooses not to heal us physically.  The reasons why are a mystery.  But if Saint Mark’s intention was to portray Jesus as the One Who brought us the Kingdom of God, then it’s the healing of our soul that should be our focus.  Our soul is eternal and is in need of healing because of our sinfulness.  But since God granted us free will, we can’t sit around and wait for God to show up, so to speak.  We have to be proactive and approach our Lord and Savior to receive our healing; and being proactive is a good measuring stick to see for ourselves how much we love God. 

In reality, having a wedge between us and God because of sin should be agonizing and weigh heavy on our hearts.  Christ removes the heavy baggage of sin from us when we hear those beautiful words from the priest: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Simon’s mother-in-law served Jesus and the others after her healing.  For us too, it is much easier to serve Christ and each other in holiness when the wounds of our soul have been healed by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.