Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

At Matins, the Carthusians, on this Feast of the Archangels, reflected on the most edifying words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Here’s an excerpt from that discourse.
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We celebrate today, dear brethren, 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. Saint 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 brethren, 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, brethren, 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, brethren, 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 in 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.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 4, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
One's interior life can be measured by how one responds to the first four words of this Reading.  Certainly when God speaks everything else should be put aside because the Almighty is bigger than all the troubles and worries that are brought to prayer.  In the Mass Christ is present in both Word and Sacrament and thus demands our undivided attention. 
This Reading reveals God's will for man to have a partner.  The word "man" in Scripture often has more than a single meaning.  It can sometimes mean all of humanity, both male and female; and sometimes it takes on a prophetic meaning and speaks of Jesus Christ.  In this Reading all three understandings are communicated. 
The psalmist writes about the man whose will is in the law of the Lord (cf. Psalm 1:1-2).  Certainly this is a universal call to holiness for all of humanity; but one cannot overlook the prophetic edge by knowing that no one is more attuned to the will of the Father than the Son. 
In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit returns us to the Old Testament prophetic meanings through the unlikely instrument of Pontius Pilate when he says at Christ's trial: "Ecce Homo – Behold the Man" (John 19:5). 
In this Reading from Genesis man chose his suitable partner and calls her "woman" who is to be his wife and the two become one flesh.  Christ and His Bride, the Church, is the model for God's will for indissoluble unions.  The Church exhibits the oneness with her Bridegroom because the Church is the extension of Christ on earth.  And as woman is formed from the side of man as he slept, the Church was formed from the Side of Christ as He slept on the Cross (cf. John 19:34). 
Man's privilege to name all the animals is an intimation of God's plan for man (all of humanity) to have dominion over them.  And in the God-Man, Jesus Christ is the remarkable encounter with the created dominion and the Eternal Dominion; that is to say, He Who is Eternal but also was created in the womb of the Blessed Virgin and is both Ruler and the Icon of obedience.  In Jesus Christ we behold the Covenant Maker and the Covenant Abider, the Creator and the Created, the King and the Servant, the Priest and the Victim, He Who died and He Who defeated death.
Second Reading Commentary
In this Letter to the Hebrews the author writes specifically about Christ.  In the Old Testament, the psalmist writes about man being made "a little less than the angels" (Psalm 8:6).  Certainly in this Letter to the Hebrews the writer makes us aware of that prophetic verse coming to fruition in Jesus Christ; but one cannot ignore that the psalmist is also pointing out humanity's dominion over all other creatures.  In these Scriptures that reflect on both Christ and humanity, one should marvel at the boundless love God has for us; so much so that He would even become one of us in order to be closer to us.  Since so much of Almighty God is a mystery, we'll have to wait until we get to heaven to fully appreciate how humble is the act for the One, Perfect God to clothe Himself in Flesh. 
In Jesus Christ's Human Nature, He was made lower than the angels and tastes death.  The mystery of God and Man in one Person really comes into play in this Reading.  He Who cannot die, dies.  He Who has myriads of angels at His call is lower than the angels.  He through Whom all things exist becomes one among a lowly existence and brings many children to eternal glory, which only the Most High God can do; but this lofty, salvific act is done through the servile means of human suffering. 
The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is Man which enables man to call Him "Brother."  Our Brother gave us the privilege to address the First Person of the Blessed Trinity as "Father."  And from the Cross she who is called "Woman" by our Brother, is given to us to be our "Mother" (cf. John 19:27). 
To even come close to grasping the intimacy all this suggests by being God's family, it would likely require a soul to have progressed to the unitive way of Christian perfection; that is, those who have advanced beyond any hunger or desire for temporal things and have surrendered themselves exclusively to the Peace that the world cannot give.

Gospel Commentary
Whenever the Christian soul approaches Jesus to ask Him something, it is usually a request for a personal need or a prayer offered for someone else's needs.  It is never done with the intent to trip Him up as the Pharisees are attempting to do in this Gospel.  Perhaps in our darkest despair we may ask Christ to prove Himself by relieving our misery.  But moments such as these are offered from turbulent emotions and not from faith. 
The Pharisees are asking about the lawfulness of divorce knowing that Moses permitted it.  The question suggests that the Pharisees already had some inkling that Jesus is against divorce.  Jesus uses hardness of hearts as the reason that Moses allowed divorce.  The Church begins each day of her prayer with the plea: "Today if you hear His Voice, harden not your hearts" (Psalm 94 [95]:8 – Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours).  The Mosaic Law stated that a man may divorce his wife if she became unpleasing to him because of some uncleanness (cf. Deuteronomy 24:1-4).  While most Jews accepted the law regarding divorce, there were many disputes as to what constitutes "some uncleanness."  At the time of the Mosaic Law only the husband had the right to initiate a divorce.  In Christ's day, Roman law granted the husband and wife equal rights in dissolving a marriage (cf. J. Bonsirven, Le Divorce dans le Noveau Testament).  The Mosaic Law inherits a primitive form of marriage as implied in the Book of Genesis (cf. 1:27 & 2:24).  What Jesus is instituting in marriage is a sacramental bond, which, being divinely instituted produces or causes grace in the souls of the husband and wife. 
The Sacrament of Marriage or any sacrament cannot be reversed by man because man has no power over divine grace.  Your baptism can't be taken away.  The grace of the Eucharist cannot be reversed.  Because we are sinners, we may need Confession frequently but that doesn't mean that previous absolutions are null and void.  Even when a priest is laicized because of immoral conduct, an indelible priestly mark remains on his soul.  Being laicized makes it illegal for him to exercise the priestly ministry.  Therefore, with this understanding it becomes clearer as to why Jesus says: "What God has joined together, no human being must separate."  While such teachings are not always popular, one must surely feel a sense of security and a sureness of standing on solid ground when realizing and grasping the power of grace. 
Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God belongs to those that are like children.  Those of us who are adults have surely over the years had our minds polluted with things that are not so innocent; thus our behavior at times can be questionable.  Once again, though, we can turn to the grace of the Sacrament of Confession to restore our innocence.  God embraces us and blesses us in that sacrament and welcomes us back to His family much like the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:11-32).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Calvary at San Giovanni Rotondo

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 21, 2015

Saint Matthew

On this feast of Saint Matthew, the Carthusians at Matins listened to four Lessons concerning this day’s honoured saint written by the fourteenth-century Dominican mystic and theologian, Johannes Tauler. In addition to that, the monks also reflected on four Lessons about Saint Matthew written by Saint Peter Chrysologus. Both sets of Lessons are featured here today. First is Tauler followed by Saint Peter Chrysologus.
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"When Jesus departed from Capernaum, He saw a man sitting in the custom house named Matthew; and He said to him: Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him" (Saint Matthew 9:9).

The Apostle and Evangelist, so holy, which we celebrate today, has become an example for all men. As the Scripture tells us, he became one of the most distinguished friends of God, having been first a great sinner. As soon as the Lord speaks to the heart of Matthew, he immediately abandons everything to follow the Lord. What is condensed here we must do if we want to follow Christ: implement genuine and radical abandonment of everything that is not of God, which has taken possession of man’s heart. For God is a lover of hearts, and does not commune with anything that is external.

The path of the friends of God is totally dark and unknown. Appropriate are the words which speak of Job: "A man whose way is hidden, and God has surrounded him with darkness" (Job 3:23). Man must bear all the reproaches heaped upon him on this rough road, in a self-denying way. Our Lord says everywhere: Follow Me, go through all things. I am He; do not go further; follow Me. If a man were to say: Lord, who are You, that I must follow You through such deep, gloomy, miserable paths? The Lord would reply, I am God and Man, and far more God.

If man is to be thus clothed with this Being, all the forms must of necessity be done away with, those that were ever received by him in all his powers of perception, knowledge, will, work, subjection, sensibility and self-seeking. When Saint Paul saw nothing, he saw God. When Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, God came. All strong rocks are broken here; all on which the mind can rest disappear. Then, when all forms have ceased to exist, in the twinkling of an eye, the man is transformed. The Lord teaches us through Jeremiah: "You shall call Me Father and shall not cease to walk after Me" (Jeremiah 3:19). This means, entering ever further in, ever nearer, so as to sink deeper in an unknown and unnamed abyss; and, above all ways, images and forms, and above all powers, to lose yourself, deny yourself and even un-form yourself.

In this lost condition, nothing is to be seen but a ground which rests upon itself, every one being, one life. It is thus, man may say, that he becomes, unknowing, unloving and senseless. This is not the result of natural qualities, but of the transformation, wrought by the Spirit of God in the created spirit, in the fathomless lost condition of the created spirit, and in his unconditional surrendering. We may say of this, that God knows, loves and gives Himself thus; for man is nothing but a life, a being and action. Those who see in this way, with undue liberty and with false light, are in the most perilous state possible in this life. The way by which we must arrive at the goal, is through the precious life and sufferings of our dear Lord; for He is the Way by which we must go, and He is the Truth which lightens all in this way.
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From Saint Peter Chrysologus:

Leaving Capernaum Jesus saw a man (Saint Matthew 9:9). He saw with divine Eyes more than with human ones. He saw the man in order not to see the man’s sins. He saw His own work in order to disregard the works of sin. God saw him so that he might see God; Christ saw him so that he might see no longer the places where money was hiding. Christ saw him sitting because weighed down by the burden of greed he was unable to stand up. This unfortunate publican, sitting at the tax booth, was in worse condition than the paralytic lying in bed, suffering from a paralysis of the flesh, but the tax collector from a paralysis of the mind. The paralytic was lying overcome in the flesh; the tax collector was sitting a captive of body and spirit. Jesus encourages the paralytic, saying: "Have confidence, your sins are forgiven you" (Saint Matthew 9:2). He had made up for his sins by his sufferings. To the publican, however, Jesus said: "Come, follow Me" (Saint Matthew 9:9). That is, that by following Him he may repair what he has destroyed by the pursuit of money.

While Jesus was at table in the house of Matthew, the Pharisees challenge the disciples: "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Saint Matthew 9:11). God is being blamed for turning to humanity, reclining with a sinner, hungering for a penitent, thirsting for sinners to return, receiving dishes of mercy, and taking up the cup of devotion. Brethren, Christ came to the meal; Life came to the feast, that He might make those destined for death, live with Him. The Resurrection lay down so that those who were lying down might rise from the tombs. Forgiveness reclined, that He might lift sinners up to pardon. Divinity came to humanity in order that humanity might come to divinity. The Judge sat at the table of the guilty, so that the guilty might escape conviction. The Doctor came to the sick, to heal them by eating with them. The Good Shepherd lowered His Shoulders to carry back to the fold of salvation the sheep who were lost.

"Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Saint Matthew 9:11). Who is a sinner except the one who denies he is a sinner? He himself, in fact, is the greater sinner who does not even understand that he is a sinner. Who is unrighteous except the one who judges himself righteous? And yet, Pharisee, you have read the words of the psalm: "No one is righteous in Your sight" (Psalm 142:2). As long as we are in a mortal body, and frailty dominates us, even if we overcome sinful actions, we are unable to overcome and escape thoughts that are sinful and unrighteous. Yes, we can overcome the faults and materials to overcome evil in our consciousness, but how can we destroy the sins of ignorance and negligence? Pharisee, confess your sin and you will sit at the table of the Lord. You might have Christ as your Bread, and He the Bread might be broken in forgiveness of your sins. Christ might become your Cup to be poured out in remission of your offences.

Pharisee, eat with sinners in order that you can eat with Christ. Enter with sinners into the feast of your Lord, so that you can be a sinner no more. Enter the house of mercy with the forgiveness of Christ, so that your own righteousness will not be excluded from this house. Recognize Christ, listen to Christ. Listen to your Lord, hear the heavenly Doctor. "It is not the healthy who need the Physician, but the sick" (Saint Matthew 9:12). If you want to be healed, acknowledge your illness. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’"(Saint Matthew 9:13). Christ does not refuse the righteous, but without Him no one on earth is immune from sin. The Lord does not overlook the righteous, but rather He has revealed that all are sinners. Listen to Scripture: "The Lord from heaven looks down upon men to see if any are wise or seeking God. All have turned away; all are corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 13:2-3). Brethren, let us be sinners by our own admission, so that with Christ’s forgiveness we might be sinners no more.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 27, 2015

First Reading Commentary
It's best to begin with a little background leading up to this Reading.  The reason the Lord took “some of the spirit that was on Moses” was because Moses asked for this as he was feeling overburdened by being God's sole representative.  Moses spent long hours listening to complaints and making judgments on individual cases from disputes that came up among the people of Israel.  Moses finally hit a wall and was burned out.  God heard Moses' plea and “bestowed” His Spirit on “the seventy elders.”
With our Lord speaking to Moses from a cloud, perhaps we are getting some foreknowledge of Eucharistic Adoration.  As we gaze at the Monstrance, our Lord is in a cloud; that is to say, He is hidden under the guise of Bread; and as we try to listen with the ears of our heart, we hope to hear Him speak to us.    
There are absolutely no limits to the Holy Spirit; no limits to where He can go, no limits to the number of people He can rest upon, no limits to the number of incredible and miraculous works He can do.  There are many things the Paraclete does for each of us daily.  There are many things He does through us daily, although the hustle and bustle of daily life makes most of those works go unnoticed.  There may be something you say that leads someone to conversion, or brings comfort, or makes them more open-minded.  There may be a neighbor of yours who seldom goes to church but just happens to be standing at the front door or peaking out the window watching you go on Sunday; and then they begin to wonder what keeps you going every Sunday.  There are many circumstances and occurrences daily that the Holy Spirit is responsible for that we are seldom dazzled by. 
Reflect on your own life and think about the incredible things that have happened that would not have happened if you weren't at the right place at the right time.  Who knows how many disasters you avoided because you were at another place at the right time?  Think of the bad things that have happened and the good that came from it. 
God brings good out of every evil.  In life, for every Good Friday, an Easter Sunday always seems to follow.  We must be open to God's graces and imitate His sacrificial love for the Mystical Body of Christ by realizing and accepting that our own personal Good Fridays might very well end up as someone else's Easter Sunday.  But isn't that what happened with our Lord Jesus Christ?  He experienced the pain and suffering on Good Friday but Easter Sunday was His gift to us. 
We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and as disciples of our Lord the allowance of ourselves to be His instruments and the taking up of our cross daily may very well be for the good of the members; and when we can be faithful to that, then we have grasped that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Second Reading Commentary
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church this Reading falls under the subtitle, "Love for the Poor" and teaches that “love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use” (CCC 2445). 
The theology of material wealth is often misunderstood.  Having material wealth is not unpleasant to the Eyes of God.  It's actually a gift from Him entrusted to those who have it.  It can be the root of sin if those who are entrusted with it are selfish and deliberately ignore the needs of others.  In the words of Saint John Chrysostom, "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life."  If you have material wealth, more than likely the Holy Spirit has on one or more occasions led you to individuals or charities that were in need.  It's no accident!  Your response to give makes you a willing instrument of the Holy Spirit.  Saint Gregory the Great says that when we attend to the needs of those in want, we are paying a debt of justice.  In this Reading Saint James gives us a very stern lesson on the result of hoarding material wealth; the material goods will either be spent or rot away. 
In the final verse, “You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous One; He offers you no resistance”; more than likely this is a reference to Jesus and what Saint James seems to be conveying in a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point tone is aimed at those who prefer the temporary pleasures of material goods instead of the eternal treasure that only Jesus can give.  Jesus, likewise, warns us about preferring the rewards of this life instead of the eternal gifts of heaven and teaches us to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven; for where our treasure is, there also will our hearts be (cf. Matthew 6:19-21).
Gospel Commentary
In the First Reading Joshua is complaining that others are prophesying.  Joshua, like Saint John in this Gospel, made the same assumption that either God has limitations or that perhaps God should limit Himself. 
In this Gospel account Jesus says, “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in My Name who can at the same time speak ill of Me.”  In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Saint Paul says, "I tell you that nobody speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be accursed.'"  When studying Scripture, we find these consistencies often because God is truly the same always. 
“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”  On this verse Nicholas of Lyra comments, "Here we may find that no one can be excused from good works; since there is no one who is not able to give at least a cup of cold water; and we are assured that he will not lose his reward." 
The final verses of this Gospel are harsh and not easy to listen to or read.  But of course our Lord is not literally telling us to put a millstone around our neck and throw ourselves into the sea, nor is He is telling us to cut off a hand or a foot; nor does He want us to pluck an eye out.  There are quite a bit of scholarly opinions as to what Jesus means by these chilling statements.  The most commonly accepted theory is that our Lord is telling us to accept our sufferings; that even His most faithful disciples are being cleansed and purified by the sufferings of this life.  Accepting our sufferings is easier said than done but something to consider is that Jesus accepted His sufferings even though He came into this world sinless, led a sinless life, was crucified and died an innocent, sinless Victim; and ascended into heaven as pure as He always was and ever shall be.  In other words, the perfection of God doesn't quite fit in with such occurrences but He took it upon Himself for our sakes. 
When Jesus speaks of “Gehenna” and “the unquenchable fire,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives us a warning; but since warnings are messages of what could happen, there is always an underlying message of hope: "The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity.  The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in Whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.  The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny.  They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion" (CCC 1035-1036).


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian

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!"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

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. A 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."

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 your Son." And to His beloved disciple He said: "Behold your 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’.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today at Matins for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Carthusians listened to Saint Leo the Great's De Passione Domini and Sulla Pasqua from Saint Melito of Sardis. Beginning with Saint Leo, here are excerpts from both.
* * * * * *
Before being betrayed, the Lord had told them, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Myself” (John 12:32). I assume fully the cause of mankind and nature and I will reinstate perfectly what was lost. Through Me all languor will be destroyed and all wounds will be cured.

When Jesus suffered His terrible Passion in our nature, the upheaval of the universe revealed that the Lord, once lifted up, really draws all things to Himself. While the Creator hung from the gallows, the whole creation groaned, experiencing with Him the piercing of the nails to the Cross. Nothing was estranged from this torture: the heavens and earth were united to the sufferings of the Savior, breaking stones, opening graves, freeing prisoners from the underworld, hiding the sun beneath the horror of darkness. The world had to give this witness to its Creator, as if the death of its Author, would end up being the same fate of the universe.

O wondrous power of the Cross! O ineffable glory of the Passion that embodies the tribunal of the Lord, the judgment of the world and the power of the Crucified. You have indeed drawn everything Yourself, Lord, and while You stretched out Your Hands all day towards the people who did not believe and scoffed at You, You desired the whole world to witness and proclaim Your Majesty.

You attracted everything to Yourself, Lord, when in execration for the crime committed by the Jews, all the elements of creation uttered a single sentence: Darkened, the lights in the sky, the day became night, the earth was shaken by an unusual earthquake.

You attracted everything to Yourself, Lord, because the veil of the temple was torn by removing the Holy of holies from the eyes of the unworthy high priests. Thus the symbol that signified the presence of God was replaced by the Truth of that presence, the prophecy gave way to the real event and the law has found fulfillment in the Gospel.

You have drawn everything to Yourself, Lord. Your Cross is the source of every blessing, the cause of all grace. Through You is given to the faithful strength in suffering, glory in humiliation, life in death. You are the True Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. (cf. John 1:29).

Sulla Pasqua by Saint Melito of Sardis:
The law is old, but new is the Gospel; temporary is the figure, eternal the grace. Corruptible the sheep, incorruptible the Lord, Who was slain as a Lamb, but Who was resurrected as God. For although He was led to Sacrifice as a Sheep, yet He was not a sheep; and although He was as a Lamb without Voice, yet indeed He was not a lamb. The one was the model; the Other was found to be the finished product. For God replaced the lamb, and a Man the sheep; but in the Man was Christ, Who contains all things. And so, the sacrifice of the sheep, and the immolation of the lamb, and the writing of the law -- each led to and issued in Christ, for Whose sake everything happened in the ancient law, and even more so in the new Gospel. For indeed the law issued in the Gospel -- the old in the new, both coming forth together from Zion and Jerusalem; and the commandment issued in grace, and the type in the finished product, and the lamb in the Son, and the sheep in a Man, and the Man in God. For the One Who was born as Son, and led to slaughter as a Lamb, and sacrificed as a Sheep, and buried as a Man, rose up from the dead as God, since He is by nature both God and Man.
He is everything:
when He judges He is law;
when He teaches He is Word;
when He saves He is grace;
as the Giver of life He is Father;
as the begotten He is Son;
when He suffers He is sheep;
when He is buried He is man;
when He rises again He is God.
This is Jesus Christ!

The salvation of the Lord and the truth were prefigured in the people of Israel, and the claims of the Gospel were foretold in the Law of Moses. The people, therefore, became the image of the Church, and the law a symbolic writing. The Gospel became the explanation of the law and its fulfillment, while the Church became the storehouse of truth. Therefore, the figure had value prior to its realization, and the writing was wonderful prior to its interpretation. This is to say that the people had value before the Church came on the scene, and the law was wonderful before the Gospel was brought to light. But when He founded the Church and preached the Gospel, the type lost its value by surrendering its significance to the truth, and the law was fulfilled by surrendering its significance to the Gospel. Just as the figure lost its significance by surrendering its image to that which is true by nature, and as the symbolic writing lost its significance by being illumined through the interpretation, so indeed also the law was fulfilled when the Gospel was brought to light, and the people lost their significance when the Church was founded, and the figure was destroyed when the Lord appeared. For at one time the immolation of the lamb was valuable, but is now without merit because the True Good has appeared in the saving Sacrifice of the Lord.

The Lord, although God, became man and had suffered for the sake of the suffering, was a prisoner for the imprisoned, condemned for the sake of the guilty, and buried for the sake of the buried, rose up from the dead, and cried aloud with this voice: Who is he who contends with Me? Let him stand in opposition to Me. I am the Christ. I am the One Who destroyed death, and triumphed over the enemy, and trampled hell under foot, and bound the strong one, and carried off man to the heights of heaven; I, He says, am the Christ. Come, all families of men, you who have been oppressed by sin, and receive forgiveness. I am your forgiveness, I am the Passover of your salvation, I am the Lamb which was sacrificed for you, I am your ransom, I am your Light, I am your Saviour, I am your resurrection, I am your King, I am leading you up to the heights of heaven, I will show you the eternal Father, I will raise you up by My Right Hand.

The Lord is the One Who made heaven and earth, and Who in the beginning created man in His Image, Who was proclaimed through the law and prophets, Who became Incarnate in the Virgin, Who was hanged upon a tree, Who was buried in the earth, Who was resurrected from the dead, and Who ascended to the heights of heaven, Who sits at the Right Hand of the Father, Who has authority to judge and to save everything, through Whom the Father created everything from the beginning of the world to the end of the age. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end -- an indescribable beginning and an incomprehensible end. He is the Christ. He is the King. He is Jesus. He is the Head. He is the Lord. He is the One Who rose up from the dead. He is the One Who sits at the Right Hand of the Father. He bears the Father and is borne by the Father, to Whom be the glory and the power forever. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 20, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
The Fathers of the Church describe this Reading as a clear prediction of what will happen to our Lord Jesus Christ.  This Reading also suggests that the choice of wrongdoing is a free choice because the verse, "With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test" indicates premeditated wrongdoing to the “just one.” 
Going back to last week's commentary on who the real enemy is, one can sense the evil influence in the voices of the men of this Reading.  As with most Readings from the Old Testament, Jesus is the fulfillment of a prophecy or prediction; but there's usually a current story line also as to why the passage was written.  In this particular case the Jews were being persecuted by pagans and others who had no fear of God.  More than likely the “just one” refers to the Jewish people as they could easily be considered “just” because they sided with the Lord.  But the suffering experienced by the Jews in the Old Testament would eventually find fulfillment in the suffering, death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and His sufferings would have eternal value as do our sufferings because Jesus offers us the opportunity to be more like Him as sharers in His redemptive work.
For a clearer understanding of what the Church teaches about suffering, the Apostolic Letter of Saint John Paul II, "Salvifici Doloris" would be an excellent place to start.  This can be found at the Vatican website.
Second Reading Commentary
God wants to do incredible things for us but because of our passions and our sometimes not-so-holy desires, He simply cannot grant those things which would not be fruitful to us because He is indescribably in love with us.  Through prayer and reading of Scripture heavenly wisdom can be sought after, helping us to discern what should or should not be prayed for.  God is Love and His love is aimed directly at us; and He desperately wants us to love Him. 
In the Old Testament God refers to Himself as “a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5).  Our unruly passions and desires of the flesh are things we use to unknowingly build a wall between God and us.  Our Lord wants us to be free of such things and trust in His care. 
Fourth century ascetical writer, Evagrius Ponticus, offers these words of hope: "Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask of Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer."  This statement intimates that our Lord wants to give us so much but our spiritual life must be in the proper condition as the words "cling to Him in prayer" suggest; and the word "cling" is a strong word which conjures up images of holding on for dear life and not letting go.  Yet this is exactly what we need to do with our Lord because we are being pursued by what Saint John Paul II called "the mystery of evil." 
In Scripture Saint Peter warns us about this when he said, "Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  Saint Augustine urges us to have a prayerful life as he said, "God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what He is prepared to give." 
In simplest terms, God loves us so much that He is willing to call us His children; and what loving parent wouldn't want the best for their child!  Our role is to live as children of God by avoiding those passions mentioned in this Reading which can only lead to sin; and cling to our Lord in prayer, giving ourselves completely to Him, ready to receive all that He has prepared for us.
Gospel Commentary
Jesus begins to tell His apostles about His eventual Crucifixion and Resurrection “but they did not understand.”  Nicholas of Lyra explains: "They could not comprehend what He said; and this is not so much through the dullness and stupidity of their understandings, as through their personal affection to Him; and because knowing Him to be God, they could not conceive how God could die." 
How often are we in the dark and not quite sure why God is leading us down certain roads in life?  We have two choices: We can either trust in Him, having the faith to know that wherever the road leads is for our own good; or we can jump off the road and live according to our own desires. 
“They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.”  If this is what the apostles were discussing it seems reasonable to believe that at this point they still don't quite understand that Christ's Kingdom is not of this world.  Their discussion would seem to suggest that they were trying to figure out what position they would hold or how much authority they would have in our Lord's worldly government.  We can only imagine what their faces must have looked like when Jesus told them they were to be servants. 
"Whoever receives one child such as this in My Name, receives Me."  Jesus doesn't necessarily mean a child in the literal sense; although a child does fit the description of what He is revealing to His apostles.  Children are unable to take care of themselves and rely heavily on the care and love they receive from their parents, grandparents and other adults.  What Jesus is saying to His apostles is that they are charged with the responsibility of caring for those who are unable to care for themselves.  This could be children, the elderly, the handicapped, the terminally ill, or anyone who is unable to tend to their own needs.  We're all disciples of Jesus which means that this responsibility doesn't begin and end with the twelve apostles.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: "The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those furthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ Himself" (CCC 1825).

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Saint Nom de Marie

Today is the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary. There is an abundance of writings from the saints on Our Blessed Lady. Here are some inspirational words from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. He writes of a day when our Blessed Mother will prepare us to extend God's rule and holy will over unbelievers. But Saint Louis Marie tells us that “Dieu seul le sait” how this will occur but his instructions to us as a preparation for that day are: “C'est à nous de nous taire, de prier, soupirer et attendre.” Here are his words.
* * * * * *
The whole world is filled with her glory, and this is especially true of Christian peoples, who have chosen her as guardian and protectress of kingdoms, provinces, dioceses, and towns. Many cathedrals are consecrated to God in her name. There is no church without an altar dedicated to her, no country or region without at least one of her miraculous images where all kinds of afflictions are cured and all sorts of benefits received. Many are the confraternities and associations honoring her as patron; many are the orders under her name and protection; many are the members of sodalities and religious of all congregations who voice her praises and make known her compassion. There is not a child who does not praise her by lisping a Hail Mary. There is scarcely a sinner, however hardened, who does not possess some spark of confidence in her. The very devils in hell, while fearing her, show her respect.

We know they will be true disciples of Jesus Christ, imitating His poverty, His humility, His contempt of the world and His love. They will point out the narrow way to God in pure truth according to the holy Gospel, and not according to the maxims of the world. Their hearts will not be troubled, nor will they show favor to anyone; they will not spare or heed or fear any man, however powerful he may be. They will have the two-edged sword of the word of God in their mouths and the blood-stained standard of the Cross on their shoulders. They will carry the crucifix in their right hand and the rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart. The simplicity and self-sacrifice of Jesus will be reflected in their whole behavior.

Such are the great men who are to come. By the will of God, Mary is to prepare them to extend His rule over the impious and unbelievers. But when and how will this come about? Only God knows. For our part we must yearn and wait for it in silence and in prayer: "I have waited and waited."

Saint Louis Marie had also written a hymn titled: “J’aime ardemment Marie” (I love Mary ardently) in which is found the following verse translated for poetic use”:

Unique while on this sphere,
The purest and the best,
She now is without peer
Among the Heaven-blest.
She is the greatest foe
Of Satan, hell’s dark prince;
Her very name is woe
To him and makes him wince.