30 April 2009

The Sacrament of Holy Orders -- A Tall Order

Importance of This Sacrament

If one attentively considers the nature and essence of the other Sacraments, it will readily be seen that they all depend on the Sacrament of Orders to such an extent that without it some of them could not be constituted or administered at all; while others would be deprived of all their solemn ceremonies, as well as of a certain part of the religious respect and exterior honor accorded to them.

The Sacrament’s Dignity

Bishops and priests being, as they are, God's interpreters and ambassadors, empowered in His name to teach mankind the divine law and the rules of conduct, and holding, as they do, His place on earth, it is evident that no nobler function than theirs can be imagined.

In all ages, priests have been held in the highest honor; yet the priests of the New Testament far exceed all others. For the power of consecrating and offering the Body and Blood of our Lord and of forgiving sins, which has been conferred on them, not only has nothing equal or like to it on earth, but even surpasses human reason and understanding.

Not For Everyone

The burden of this great office, therefore, should not be rashly imposed on anyone, but is to be conferred on those only who by their holiness of life, their knowledge, faith and prudence, are able to bear it. Let no one take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God as Aaron was; and they are called by God who are called by the lawful ministers of His Church.

The Power and Its Greatness

The power of orders not only embraces the power of consecrating the Eucharist, but also fits and prepares the souls of men for its reception. It also embraces all else that can have any reference to the Eucharist. Christ our Lord… was a Priest, not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedech. For He it is Who, Himself endowed with the supreme power of granting grace and remitting sins, left to His Church this power, although He limited it in extent and attached it to the Sacraments.

The Priesthood

The chief and most necessary quality requisite in him who is to be ordained a priest is that he be recommended by integrity of life and morals. The priest is bound to give to others the example of a holy and innocent life. There is required of the priest not only that knowledge which concerns the use and administration of the Sacraments; but he should also be versed in the science of Sacred Scripture, so as to be able to instruct the people in the mysteries of the Christian faith and the precepts of the divine law, lead them to piety and virtue, and reclaim them from sin. The priest's duties are twofold. The first is to consecrate and administer the Sacraments properly; the second is to instruct the people entrusted to him in all that they must know or do in order to be saved.

~The Catechism of the Council of Trent~

28 April 2009

Cantate Domino Canticum Novum

“Sing to the Lord a new canticle; let His praise be in the Church of the Saints,” says Saint Augustine. He also preached these words: “Canticum res est hilaritatis, et, si diligentius consideremus, res est amoris” – “A song is a thing of cheerfulness, and, if carefully examined, it is a thing of love.”

Thus if we’re joyful and in love, we should be singing. Oh how the Church takes care of her children! The liturgy invites us in the Mass and the Divine Office to express our joy, express our love in song. In the liturgy our voices soar towards our Lord, like burning incense.

The Apostle Saint John writes: “Nos diligimus, quoniam ipse prior dilexit nos” – “We love, because He loved us first” (1 John 4:19).

Saint Augustine continues his homily by reiterating what Saint Paul wrote: “Quia caritas Dei diffusa est in cordibus nostris per Spiritum Sanctum, qui datus est nobis” – “Because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who is given to us” (Romans 5:5). And so, it is God’s gift of love which has been given to us that enables us to love God in return.

And since His love has been poured into our hearts, it is not only our voices that we raise to God, but also as the liturgy commands us and hopefully we are compelled to do, “Sorsum corda” – “Lift up your hearts.” What greater expression of love is there than our Lord’s own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which He gives to us. If we are truly in love with Him, then receiving Him unworthily should never be considered.

Saint Augustine continues by saying that our Lord calls out: “Amate me, et habebitis me, quia nec potestis amare me, nisi habueritis me” – “Love Me, and you will have Me, because you would be unable to love Me, unless you possess Me.” We possess Him by living lives which embrace the call to holiness, remaining in a state of grace, receiving His Most Precious Body and Blood, and by daily conversation with Him.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has been a great teacher on liturgy, and the importance of beauty in the liturgy. The tradition of the Church, as we are reminded by our Holy Father, is that angels of God chant rather than speak. This is heightened conversation as everything in worship should be heightened.

In his [Cardinal Ratzinger] book, “The Spirit of the Liturgy” he writes: “When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. The Holy Spirit is love, and it is He Who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit Who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father. In liturgical music, based as it is on biblical faith, there is, therefore, a clear dominance of the Word; this music is a higher form of proclamation. Ultimately, it rises up out of the love that responds to God's love made flesh in Christ, the love that for us went unto death. After the Resurrection, the Cross is by no means a thing of the past, and so this love is always marked by pain at the hiddenness of God, by the cry that rises up from the depths of anguish, Kyrie eleison, by hope and by supplication. But it also has the privilege, by anticipation, of experiencing the reality of the Resurrection, and so it brings with it the joy of being loved, that gladness of heart that Haydn said came upon him when he set liturgical texts to music. In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church. Polyphony developed in the late Middle Ages, and then instruments came back into divine worship -- quite rightly, too, because, as we have seen, the Church not only continues the synagogue, but also takes up, in the light of Christ's Pasch, the reality represented by the Temple.”

In the liturgy, then, whether it’s the Mass or the Divine Office, bring your voice, bring your heart, and bring your whole self, body and soul, and lift it up to God in worship and angelic conversation.

27 April 2009

The Divine Office: Not A Prayer For Mechanical Haste

The psalmody of the Divine Office is the great prayer of the Church, the spouse of Christ; a day and night prayer, which ought never to cease on the surface of the earth, as the Mass does not.

The psalmody should be an admirable school of contemplation, of self oblation, of holiness. That it may produce these abundant fruits, the psalmody should keep what is its very essence; it ought to have not only a body which is well organized according to harmonious rules, but also a soul. If it ceases to be the great contemplative prayer, it gradually loses its soul and, instead of being a soaring, a rising toward God, and a repose, it becomes a burden, a source of fatigue, and no longer produces great fruits.

Deformed psalmody is a body without a soul. Generally, it is marked by unseemly haste, as if undue haste, which, according to St. Francis de Sales, is the death of devotion, could replace true and profound life. The words of the Office are badly pronounced without rhythm or measure. The antiphons, which are often beautiful, are poorly said and become unintelligible, the hymns even more so. The lessons which are not punctuated as they should be, are read as one would read the most indifferent or even the most boring passages, when, as a matter of fact, they are concerned with the splendors of divine wisdom or what is most beautiful in the lives of the saints. People wish to save time, four or five minutes which they will devote to worthless trifles, and they lose the best of the time given by God.

As a result of haste, the psalmody of which we are speaking is mechanical and not organic; just as in a body without a soul, the members are no longer vitally united, but only placed together. The Office becomes a series of words following one another. The great meaning of a psalm is no longer comprehended; to one who is trying to grasp this meaning and to follow it, this mechanical chant brings fatigue and is an obstacle to true prayer.

Is this manner of chanting a lifting of the soul toward God? Perhaps, but it is a uniformly retarded elevation, like the movement of a stone that has been thrown into the air and tends to fall back; whereas true prayer ought, like a flame, to tend spontaneously toward heaven.

Deformed psalmody shows us that, for a soul which has no personal life of prayer, the recitation of the Office becomes altogether material, a wholly exterior worship. Not possessing the habit of recollection, this soul is assailed by thoughts foreign to the Office; its work, studies, or business affairs keep returning to its memory, and at times even thoroughly vain thoughts come.

How can anyone in this state taste the divine words of the psalms, the prophets, the Epistles, the most beautiful pages of the fathers and of the lives of the saints which are daily offered to us in the Divine Office? All these spiritual beauties remain unperceived like colorless and insipid objects. The great poetry of the Psalmist and the most profound cries of his heart become spiritless and monotonous.

A person may still hear the symphony of the Office, more beautiful than the most famous symphonies of Beethoven, but for lack of an interior feeling, he can no longer appreciate it. Often the Divine Office is studied from the historical point of view, or from the canonical point of view of strict obligations, and these distinctions are held to; but it is especially from the spiritual point of view that it must be considered and lived.

~Excerpted from: The Three Ages of the Interior Life by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.~

24 April 2009

Fidelis Means Faithful

For today’s liturgical feast of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, at the Extraordinary Form of the Mass the Readings are a wonderful pick-me-up for those of us who get exhausted with the labors of trying to remain faithful to the Lord and His teachings while the ways of this age are constantly being thrust upon us, tempting us to give up the good fight, and use our energies to seek after temporal satisfaction.

“Then the just shall stand with great constancy against those who have afflicted them” (Wisdom 1:1). While it may seem that we are currently outnumbered, the word of God assures us of victory; and we know that this victory is not short-lived but eternal. Then there is a sort of reversal of roles: “These seeing it, shall be troubled with fear, and shall be amazed at the suddenness of the unexpected salvation” (ibid. verse 2). Imagine the shock when secularists will finally discover that Jesus really is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Here’s what is perceived but then the reality is revealed: “We fools esteemed their life madness and their end without honor; behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the Saints” (ibid. verses 4 and 5).

While this might have a “TAKE THAT!” or revengeful tone, that is not the intent. As the faithful of the Lord, being men and women of prayer is who we are; and we are called to pray for the conversion of the culture. As if our prayer has been answered, verse three of this Reading from the Book of Wisdom does tell us that those who do not stand with the Lord will be “repenting and groaning for anguish of spirit.”

In the Gospel from Saint John, Jesus tells us that He is the True Vine (cf. 15:1). And He also offers very comforting words to His flock: The Father is the Husbandman or Cultivator and “everyone that bears fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (ibid. verse 2). Jesus continues, “Abide in Me: and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches; he that abides in Me and I in him, the same bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

These are wonderful words from our Savior and perhaps part of the anguish and stress of trying to remain faithful is that we don’t allow Jesus to be the General of our army. In our fallen state we tend to be gluttons for punishment. But as Jesus tells us: You can’t do this without Me.

Jesus also tells us that those who do not abide in Him shall wither (cf. verse 6). Certainly there are withering branches today and hearts need to be converted – and we can and should pray for that. Prayer is a most powerful weapon.

Sometimes it can be difficult to watch the great models go home to the Lord, like Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. They were shining examples of fighting the good fight. And when they leave us, it can feel like we have lost the coaches of the team or that we’re suddenly orphaned, making the battle seem even more difficult. But the Lord always provides and has given us another prayer warrior to steer the ship in Pope Benedict XVI.

Mother Teresa said, “I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.” On this feast day of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, how appropriate that Fidelis means Faithful which we are called to be, as this great saint of seraphic ardor was all the way to martyrdom.

23 April 2009

Welcoming the Daylight with Joy

The Hour of Prime

No one can start a child’s day off on the right foot like a mother. And no one can better help us prayerfully welcome the daylight in preparation for the joys and sufferings of the day ahead like our Blessed Mother.

In Officium Parvum Beatæ Mariæ Virginis – The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, praying the hour of Prime, or the first hour ante meridiem, which is six o’clock in the morning, according to the ancient way of telling time, is a wonderful way to begin one’s day. It doesn’t have to be 6 a.m. literally; some of the Religious Orders who still pray the hour of Prime begin at 6:30, 7 or even as late as 8:30.

The rising sun of the new day should turn one’s heart and mind to the Resurrection. And through our Lady’s liturgical Office at the first hour, one’s attention is also given to the fact that she brought into the world for humanity’s redemption, the Sun of Righteousness.

Calling Upon the Lord for Help

Most hours of Our Lady’s Office and the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours begin by calling upon our Lord for help, which is taken from Psalm 69 [70]:

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.

This is followed by the doxology or short verse in praise of God:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

The Hymn

Memento, rerum Conditor,
Nostri quod olim corporis
Sacrata ab alvo Virginis
Nascendo formam sumpseris.

Maria, Mater gratiæ,
Dulcis parens clementiæ,
Tu nos ab hoste protege,
Et mortis hora suscipe.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre, et almo Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula. Amen.

It’s a hymn which in the beginning asks God to remember that He was born of the Virgin Mary. While it may seem strange to ask God, who knows everything, to remember, really what we are doing is offering our prayer to the Lord through the intercession of our Blessed Mother as our Lord Himself taught us, by coming to us through her. She is the Mother of grace, the Mother of mercy, who protects us from the enemy, and who will support us at the hour of death.

The Antiphon

An antiphon is a verse which is designed to paste on our minds and hearts the focus or theme of our prayer as we recite, chant or sing the psalms. For this particular blog post, we’ll focus on the hour of Prime of our Lady as it usually is prayed. There are some changes to this hour in Our Lady’s Office during the Advent and Christmas seasons.

Assumpta est Maria in cælum; gaudent angeli, laudantes benedicunt Dominum.
Mary was taken up into heaven; the angels rejoice, and with praises bless the Lord.

Thus, it is our Lady’s Assumption into heaven which is to be our focus. She enters into heaven, body and soul, and is welcomed by rejoicing angels who honor her and worship God for the masterpiece He created in her.

The Psalms

First is Psalm 53 [54] which is a prayer for help in times of distress. Prophetically it points towards the sufferings of Christ and we hear His Voice in this psalm calling out to the Father. Jesus also continues to suffer in His mystical body, and so, we the members of His mystical body also call out to the Father but in this liturgical Office of Our Lady we call upon her intercession asking God to hear the prayers we cry out through her, to grant us grace and strength as the enemy and our own passions rise up against us. In the final verse of this psalm is the victory, the deliverance from all trouble and the ability to look down upon the enemy. The doxology, of course, must follow after such a glorious destiny is revealed.

Next is Psalm 84 [85] which prophetically announces the peace and salvation that will come to humanity because of the Incarnation. It begins by praising God for turning away the captivity of Jacob. This points to Christ’s work of redemption which has turned away our captivity to sin and death. Now that Jesus has saved us, the psalmist understands the role we must play as we ask God to convert us. Indeed, our hearts and souls must be eternally grateful what Jesus did and we must daily seek conversion, a closer union with our Lord. Through all of this we cannot forget in this particular format that it was our Lady’s fiat which enabled God to clothe Himself in flesh and enter into our existence. It was her trust in God and her holy submission to His will that permitted her who is full of grace to watch in sorrow the sufferings of her Son as well as her own soul being pierced with a sword. It was her mysterious, unconditional love at the foot of the Cross which moved her to accept the role as Mother of those who were responsible for her Son’s sufferings – we of sinful humanity.

The final psalm is the very short Psalm 116 [117]. It is a call for all nations to praise the Lord for His mercy is confirmed upon us and His Truth remains forever. Redemption has been architected for all of Adam’s posterity. Let us learn from our Lady who is in her heavenly homeland how to live the Truth. Let us ask her to help us do some housecleaning by emptying ourselves of all that displeases our Lord, in order that He may fully occupy our souls.

The Reading or Little Chapter

This short Reading from the Song of Songs asks the question: Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon and bright as the sun? This might turn your thoughts to the woman in Revelation 12:1 who was clothed with the sun and the moon was under her feet and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. This is a figure of our Lady and the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to Mary as the exemplary realization of the Church. The sun, the brightest light, is Christ in which our Lady is clothed. The moon is the lesser light representing persecution and the ever-changing world which has not come to full glory. Our Lady who is in heaven wears the full brightness of glory but she also lived in this world of persecution. The Church likewise, is Triumphant with the sun in heaven and Militant with the moon on earth.

In Conclusion

In the closing prayer we ask God that since He chose Mary as His dwelling-place, may we be fortified by her defense and find joy in taking part in her commemoration.

Finally we pray that the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. We should pray for our departed brothers and sisters as someday we will need their prayers.

21 April 2009

A Counter-Cultural Adventure

The search for the Face of God is a difficult adventure. It requires a personal desire of the soul seeking such a gift and it requires much sacrifice in a world full of noise and distractions. Saint Anselm in his “Proslogion” takes us on a mystical journey.

Every Soul is Searching for Something

Indeed, and sadly for many, it takes a lifetime to realize that only God can satisfy all of one’s longings and desires.

Saint Anselm writes: “Have you found, my soul, what you were seeking? You were seeking God and you found Him to be that which is the Highest of all, in Whom nothing better can be pondered; and found Him to be Life itself, Light, Wisdom, Goodness, Eternal Blessedness, and exists everywhere and always.”

Can we put aside time consuming, temporal pleasures in this element of time and seek the things that are eternal? One has to accept and be prepared for a counter-cultural adventure.

A Desire to Know God More Fully

What we know about God is that which He has revealed. But for those who are seeking a closer union with Him, how does one get there, and will there be any words to describe what one has found.

Saint Anselm, in His thirst for God, writes: “Tell my longing soul what else You are besides what it has seen.”

This is a desire for deep, intense contemplation -- to ponder, embrace and enter into the hidden life of Christ within each of us. This is a mystical kneeling before the altar of the heart in order to love and adore the Sacred Heart Who rests there and learn how to perfectly adore Him through the Immaculate Heart.

The Cross of this Journey

In our modern day there is much noise, distractions, and commitments which could easily lead one to fatigue or to sin and douse the flames of the heart’s spiritual desires.

Saint Anselm writes that the soul “sees that it cannot see more because of its own darkness.” He continues: “Truly, Lord, this is the inaccessible light in which You dwell. For there is nothing else which can penetrate through it to discover You there. I do not see this light since it is too much for me.”

This light which is too much for Anselm caused the face of Moses to shine after His encounter with the Most High on Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 34:29-35); it is the light witnessed by Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration (cf. Luke 9:29-36); and it is the light which blinded Saint Paul (cf. Acts 9:3-9).

Prayer of Frustration

“O great and inaccessible Light! O whole and blessed Truth! How far You are from me who am so near to You! How withdrawn You are from my view while I am present to Your view! You are wholly present everywhere and I do not see You. In You I move and in You I have my being, and I cannot come near to You. You are within me and around me, and I do not experience You with my senses.”

There is a bit of the “dark night” experience in Anselm’s prayer. He wholeheartedly desires to commune with the Most Holy Trinity but cannot sense God or feel His Presence.

Hope does not Fail

If complete intimacy with the Lord does not come to fruition in this life, then, Saint Anselm prays, “may I progress every day until all comes to fullness; let the knowledge of You grow in me here in this life, and there in heaven let it be complete; let Your love grow in me here and reach fullness there, so that here my joy may be great in hope, and there be complete in reality.”

For the Remaining Days on Earth

“Let my mind meditate on You, let my tongue speak of You, let my heart love You, let my mouth preach You. Let my soul hunger for You, let my flesh thirst for You, my whole being desire You, until I enter into the joy of the Lord, Who is God, Three in One, blessed forever. Amen.”

What person bearing the name of “Christian” would not desire this! Why seek after things whose joys and rewards can only be temporary!

May our Blessed Mother, the Queen of contemplation and adoration, thwart everything that gets in our path to tempt us as we journey towards a more intimate union with her Son!

18 April 2009

Dominica de Divina Misericordia - Divine Mercy Sunday

I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy... on the first Sunday after Easter. ~Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska #49

It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called Divine Mercy Sunday. ~Homily of Pope John Paul II at the Canonization of Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, April 30, 2000

Acts 4:32-35

The opening verse in this Reading is perhaps the origin of monastic life.

Saint John Chrysostom points out how happy society would be if it operated in this manner. Those who had much would be able to share with those who had little or nothing.

Material wealth supplies many of our physical needs but it can also enrich our spiritual lives if we realize that all we have belongs to God; and the reason we have it is because it has been entrusted to us by the Almighty. Our Lord is very clear about this as He Himself says in Psalm 49 (50): “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, since the world and all it holds is Mine.”

Great favor was accorded them all as those that were present possessed extraordinary graces and zeal.

As Christians, we bear witness to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We serve Him and love Him. Charity should be at the heart of our love and service for we cannot serve and love Jesus if we ignore the needs of our brothers and sisters.

1 John 5:1-6

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Redeemer of the world, is begotten by God and we are justified by becoming a child of God through the waters of baptism. Other conditions for justification are a general belief of all that God has revealed and promised; hope, love, repentance, and a sincere disposition to keep God’s holy law and commandments.

We love the children of God when we love God and obey His commandments, for love of God and of our neighbor are inseparable; the one is known and proved by the other. And His commandments are not burdensome as long as we are not carried away with worldly possessions and passions.

When staying focused on the promises of eternal happiness, then the yoke of Christ will be sweet and His burden light.

The victory that conquers the world is our faith. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? All that is really required of us is to have faith in Who Jesus is and truly believe in the example He gave us. We are not Christians because of the works we perform; we are Christians because of what Jesus did; and if we believe in Him, then our faith will naturally move us to perform charitable works.

Beyond the inconvenience, our trials and sufferings allow us to see for ourselves how faithful we are.

John 20:19-31

The doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst. Our human minds can’t comprehend how Jesus was able to do this but by faith we must know that if His Body is capable of walking through locked doors, then that same Body is also capable of being hidden under the appearance of bread and wine.

Jesus shows the apostles His Hands and His Side and then tells them, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” Jesus has now given them their mission to bring the Good News to all nations. He showed them His Wounds so that they would not speculate whether or not it was really Him. Being actual witnesses would give their preaching much credibility.

He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” With these words Jesus has now given to His apostles and their successors the power and authority to forgive sins. The words “receive the Holy Spirit,” is understood to mean that at this point the apostles received some portion of spiritual grace but not to the extent that they would receive at Pentecost. Just men and women since the beginning of creation were sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit as the apostles were in this Gospel text. Since Jesus established the forgiveness of sins in this manner, a Catholic is urged to confess their sins to the priest because the priest is appointed by God to be a physician of the soul.

Can we go directly to Christ without the use of an ordained priest? Maybe -- but that’s not how Jesus set it up.

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. He wouldn’t believe that the other apostles had seen Jesus unless he was able to see and touch the Wounds of Jesus. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Remember that when Jesus appeared to the others, He showed them His Wounds. The Holy Spirit arranged for Thomas to be absent so that when he did see Jesus and touch His Wounds, the words “my Lord and my God” would echo until the end of time. These words should strengthen our faith as Jesus proclaims that we are blessed because we have not seen, but we believe.

17 April 2009

Reverend Father Dom Innocent Le Masson: Considerations

Consider what were the impulses of the Sacred Heart of Jesus when His Soul returned to It and restored It to life. O Sacred Heart, Your repose in the sepulcher only served to make known to us still more the ardor of Your charity towards us. How applicable to You at this time are these words of David: “According to the multitude of your sorrows in my heart your comforts have given joy to my soul” (Psalm 93 [94]:19). And these also of the same Prophet: “I rose up and am still with you” (Psalm 138 [139]:18). O Sacred Heart, if I do not deserve to participate in Your joys, grant me grace to partake of Your charity and Your fidelity in accomplishing the will of Your Heavenly Father.

Consider the impulses of the Sacred Heart of Jesus risen, towards His holy Mother. With what ardent love He hastened to console her for the sufferings He knew His Passion and death had caused her! What must not have been the emotions of the Hearts of the Son and of the Mother in this meeting! O holy Heart of Mary, how you melted at the first word from the risen Heart of your dearly beloved Son! The Heart of the Son and that of the Mother melted together. Speak of these two Hearts communing and blending the one with the other so divinely. Tell them all your heart suggests, and ask for their protection and a share in their holiness.

Consider how loving were the impulses of the Sacred Heart of Jesus when He came to show Himself to His disciples that they might take part in the joys of His Resurrection. See His amiable devices of charity with regard to Saint Mary Magdalene and the disciples at Emmaus, in order to impart to them a more lively sense of the sweetness of His ardent love. Behold what He does and what He permits in order to cure Saint Thomas of his unbelief and to prevent ours! O Sacred Heart of Jesus, most amiable, most loving and most ardent of all hearts, vouchsafe to speak to my heart as You did to those of the disciples at Emmaus, and make it burn with the fire of Your holy love, that, like them, I may constrain You to stay with me, and may, with a faith and love resembling that of Thomas, say with him: “My Lord and my God!” (Luke 20:28).

15 April 2009

Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good, for His Mercy Endures Forever

A Reflection on Acts 3:1-10

Peter and John are headed towards the temple area for the ninth hour of prayer. The ninth hour, based on the ancient world’s way of telling time, is three o’clock in the afternoon. This is a significant hour because the ninth hour is when our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross. In the Church’s public prayer, the day or “little” hours are divided as such: Prime, the first hour or 6 a.m.; Terce, the third hour or 9 a.m.; Sext, the sixth hour or noon; and None, the ninth hour or 3 p.m. In today’s Liturgy of the Hours Prime has been suppressed and the remaining “little hours” are generally identified by modern English terminology: Midmorning Prayer, Midday Prayer and Mid-afternoon Prayer respectively.

We also know from Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska’s diary that three o’clock is the hour of mercy: “At three o’clock implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to enter into My mortal sorrow. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion” (1320).

Our Lord encouraged Saint Faustina at the hour of mercy to make the Stations of the Cross whenever her duties allowed it; but Jesus went on to tell her that she could even step into the chapel for a brief moment to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. Three o’clock in the afternoon in this day and age is not a convenient time to pray for most folks. But our Lord understands that and will meet us wherever we are at three o’clock even if for a brief moment to beg for His mercy with something like the Jesus Prayer, for example. But any prayer from the heart imploring our Lord’s mercy is favorably received by our Savior.

Certainly, a great act of mercy was performed by our Lord through Peter and John as a crippled man from birth was healed. Unfortunately, the highly secularized culture we live in today has crippled many with sin. But “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). Jesus told Saint Faustina, “the greater the misery of a soul, the greater its right to My mercy” (1182).

Notice the boldness of Peter’s prayer: “In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” This boldness of prayer requires a bold faith. One gets the sense that Peter had no doubt that this poor handicapped man would get up and walk. This boldness of faith cannot be faked, for it comes from the heart and the Lord knows what’s in the human heart. Remember that our Lord said through Saint Faustina to particularly immerse ourselves in His abandonment. Our Redeemer looks for that same abandonment from us: to give up everything that doesn’t belong in our hearts and allow our Lord to fully occupy it. When we can do that, then faith will be stronger than death and we’ll be thanking our Lord for answering our prayer even before we’ve asked for anything.

Peter is a comforting figure to walk with in the Scriptures. His faith is very bold here but it was a long road for him to get there. The road is indeed long and narrow, but with eyes fixed on Jesus all things are possible (cf. Luke 1:37). As our Blessed Lady said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). But we’re not going to hear Him if we’re not listening. Even the busiest among us with all those daily commitments and responsibilities should see to it that one of those daily duties is time spent with our Lord. It’s hard to have a serious relationship without dialogue. And this holy dialogue has the potential to grow into a supernatural understanding, an exchange of loving gazes, a mystical rest on the Breast of Jesus.

Saint Luke makes a point in adding that the man who was healed by our Lord through Peter and John walked into the temple with them. He undoubtedly entered the temple to offer his gratitude. Catholics receive a great miracle every Sunday, or even daily – the miracle of the Eucharist. But how quick we are to exit the church building when Mass is over – and sadly, sometimes even before Mass has ended.

Recall the Gospel story of when Jesus healed ten lepers but only one of the ten returned falling on his face before the Feet of Jesus to offer thanks. Jesus said: “Were not ten made clean? Where are the nine? There is no one found to return and give glory to God but this stranger” (Luke 17:17-18).

Pope Pius XII in his Encyclical, Mediator Dei, wrote: “When the Mass, which is subject to special rules of the liturgy, is over, the person who has received Holy Communion is not thereby freed from his duty of thanksgiving; rather, it is most becoming that, when the Mass is finished, the person who has received the Eucharist should recollect himself, and in intimate union with the divine Master hold loving and fruitful converse with Him. Hence they have departed from the straight way of truth, who, adhering to the letter rather than the sense, assert and teach that, when Mass has ended, no such thanksgiving should be added, not only because the Mass is itself a thanksgiving, but also because this pertains to a private and personal act of piety and not to the good of the community.”

There are countless stories of the saints and their practices of remaining after Mass to offer thanksgiving. Some would remain for hours. Their examples are placed before us as models to follow.

Walking with Jesus is not easy and all the distractions of daily life likely give most of us an ongoing road to Emmaus experience; Jesus walks with us but we fail to recognize Him (cf. Luke 24:15-16). The rewards of this life are attractive but they will cease with the final breath and last beat of the human heart. The riches that Jesus offers are eternal, always new and always fresh.

14 April 2009

Lord, Open My Lips and My Mouth Shall Declare Your Praise.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
and in the way of sinners does not stand,
and in the assembly of scoffers does not sit,
but in the law of the Lord is his will,
and on His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

The dictionary defines “meditate” as: to engage in thought or contemplation; reflect. The Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) translation for this particular passage uses the word “meditatur” which you may have guessed translates as “meditates”. But meditatur can also mean to -- practice public speaking, rehearse, or say to oneself. In our modern day western world, meditation is a mental, interior exercise. But in the ancient east, meditation was a vocal exercise.

There are many stories that have made its way to our modern day about the early desert Fathers and their practice of taking a bible verse and saying or whispering it over and over throughout the day. Some examples of this are: “God come to my assistance; Lord make haste to help me” (Psalm 69 [70]:2) or “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). This is the ancient way of meditating. That is not to say that something interior wasn’t going on, but the exercise of meditation involved vocalization.

In the Hebrew text, the word used for this particular passage from Psalm 1 is hagah, which means to speak, utter, roar, groan, mutter or soliloquize. It also translates as “meditate” but in the ancient sense of the meaning. The word hagah appears in the Hebrew Scriptures mostly but not exclusively in the Book of Psalms, the songbook of the Jewish people. Songs are sung not silently read like a novel or newspaper.

Even if you’ve never been to the Holy Land, you probably still have seen images or film footage of rabbis lined up along the Western Wall holding their prayer books and constantly bowing while praying the words in their prayer books. Notice that they are speaking the words and not merely reading them.

Another place that hagah appears in the ancient texts is in the Book of Joshua (1:8): “Let not the book of this law depart from your mouth; but you shall meditate on it day and night.” Interesting that the verse says to not let the law depart from the “mouth”. Certainly the law would be on the heart and mind as well but the mouth takes precedence in the exercise of meditation.

Silent prayer or contemplation is really a mystical gaze. That is, in silence one hopes to experience the radiation of unconditional love, to be embraced by the Lord Who is Love. Sometimes that experience of perfect Love can cause a painful awareness of one’s own sinfulness. But these experiences are wordless. It is not meditation.

Eucharistic Adoration can often be wordless once one can pass beyond mental prayer. As one adorer once said to Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, “I look at Him and He looks at me.” Certainly one always hopes to look at our Eucharistic Lord with love; but nevertheless the adorer is guaranteed a return look of unconditional Love. No words are necessary!

The next time you pick up your bible to read the Sacred Writ, consider saying the words out loud. The Scriptures themselves encourage it. If you pray the Liturgy of the Hours privately, which is predominantly from Sacred Scripture, consider reciting out loud or even singing the words, since much of the Divine Office is from the Book of Psalms.

Plus, undertaking any holy exercise is bound to draw unwanted forces that will tempt us. Only God knows how great is the weapon and shield of His Holy Word vocalized.

12 April 2009


07 April 2009

Holy Week in the Year of Saint Paul

Christological Hymn, Philippians 2:6-11

Christo Iesu, qui cum in forma Dei esset,
non rapinam arbitratus est esse se æqualem Deo,
sed semetipsum exinanivit formam servi accipiens,
in similitudinem hominum factus;
et habitu inventus ut homo,
humiliavit semetipsum factus obœdiens usque ad mortem,
mortem autem crucis.
Propter quod et Deus illum exaltavit
et donavit illi nomen,
quod est super omne nomen,
ut in nomine Iesu omne genu flectatur
cælestium et terrestrium et infernorum,
et omnis lingua confiteatur
“Dominus Iesus Christus!”
in gloriam Dei Patris.

Christ Jesus, Who being in the form of God,
thought it not robbery to be equal with God,
but poured out Himself grasping the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men;
and being found as man,
He humbled Himself becoming obedient all the way to death,
moreover death on a cross.
Because of that, God also exalted Him
and has given Him a Name,
which is above all names,
that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bend
in heaven and on earth and of the lower regions,
and every tongue confess,
“Lord Jesus Christ!”
to the glory of God the Father.

Pope Benedict XVI

The liturgy proposes to us the brief but profound Christological hymn from the Letter to the Philippians. It is the hymn… which delineates the paradoxical emptying of the divine Word, Who lays aside His glory and assumes the human condition.

Christ, incarnated and humiliated in the most infamous death, that of crucifixion, is proposed as a vital model for the Christian. Undoubtedly, He possesses divine nature with all its prerogatives. But He does not interpret and live this transcendent reality as a sign of power, of greatness, and of dominion. Christ does not use His being equal to God, His glorious dignity and His power as an instrument of triumph, sign of distance, expression of crushing supremacy. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, immersing Himself without reserve in the miserable and weak human condition. The divine form is hidden in Christ under the human form, that is, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and death. It is Christ's divine reality in an authentically human experience. God does not appear only as man, but becomes man and is really one of us, He is truly God-with-us, not content with gazing on us with a benign look from his throne of glory, but enters personally in human history, becoming flesh, namely, fragile reality, conditioned by time and space. This radical sharing of the human condition, with the exception of sin, leads Jesus to that frontier which is the sign of our finiteness and frailty, death. However, the latter is not the fruit of a dark mechanism or blind fatality: It is born from the choice of obedience to the Father's plan of salvation. The Apostle adds that the death Jesus faces is that of the cross, namely, the most degrading, thus wishing to be truly a brother of every man and woman, including those constrained to an atrocious and ignominious end.

The fundamental element of this first part of the hymn, it seems to me, is the invitation to penetrate into Jesus' sentiments. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments means not to consider power, wealth and prestige as the highest values in life, as in the end, they do not respond to the deepest thirst of our spirit, but to open our heart to the Other, to bear with the Other the burden of life and to open ourselves to the Heavenly Father with a sense of obedience and trust, knowing, precisely, that if we are obedient to the Father, we will be free. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments -- this should be the daily exercise of our life as Christians.

Jesus Debased Himself

Jesus is truly God and man. As man, He is the servant of God but always remaining God. He shed His greatness for love of humanity. He made Himself void, emptied Himself in order that there would be “no beauty in Him, nor comeliness… no sightliness that we should be desirous of Him. Here is One despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness. How should we recognize that Face? How should we take any account of Him, a man so despised? Our weakness, and it was He Who carried the weight of it, our miseries, and it was He Who bore them” (Isaiah 53:2-4).

Cut Off from the Land of the Living

“He was offered because it was His own will and He opened not His mouth. He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).

The Spirit of the Liturgy

The Christian Liturgy is a cosmic Liturgy precisely because it bends the knee before the crucified and exalted Lord. Here is the center of authentic culture - the culture of truth. The humble gesture by which we fall at the Feet of the Lord inserts us into the true path of life of the cosmos. We should remember that Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, speaks of the Lord kneeling in Gethsemane, which shows that Luke wants the kneeling of the first martyr [Saint Stephen] to be seen as his entry into the prayer of Jesus. Kneeling is not only a Christian gesture, but a Christological one.

It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture -- insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before Whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself.

02 April 2009

Saint Francis of Paola: A Life of Perpetual Lent

Saint Francis of Paola (1416-1507), was the founder of an order of hermits known today as the Order of Minims. The life of the Minim Friars is one of extreme asceticism, a perpetual Lent. In their diet, the Minims abstain from meat and dairy products.

Saint Francis of Paola writes: “You must flee from evil, and drive away dangers. We and all our brothers, although unworthy, pray constantly to God the Father and to His Son Jesus Christ, as well as to Mary the Virgin Mother, to be with you as you seek the salvation of your souls and your bodies. I most strongly urge you to work for the salvation of your souls with prudence and diligence. Death is certain, and life is short and vanishes like smoke. Therefore you must fix your minds on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ Who so burned with love for us that He came down from heaven to redeem us. He gave us a perfect example of patience and love. For our part, we too must be patient when things go against us. Put aside hatred and hostility. See to it that you refrain from harsh words. But if you do speak them, do not be ashamed to apply the remedy from the same lips that inflicted the wounds. In this way you will show each other mercy and not keep alive the memories of past wrongs. Remembering grievances works great damage. It is accompanied by anger, fosters sin, and brings a hatred for justice. It destroys virtue and is a cancer in the mind. It thwarts prayer and mangles the petitions we make to God. Be lovers of peace, the most precious treasure that anyone can desire. You are already aware that our sins drive God to anger, so you must repent of them, that God in His mercy may spare you. Turn to Him with a sincere heart. Live in such a way that you bring upon yourselves the blessing of God, and that the peace of God our Father may be with you always.”

Today we also remember that it was four years ago when the world had to let go of a great Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. In May of 2001 he had written a Message to the Minims Tertiary. Here are some of his words: “Today the penitential proposal of your Rule is very fitting: founded on a ‘Lenten’ spirituality, it is the real novelty of the charism of the family of the Minims in which you share. The invitation to do penance, made by Jesus at the beginning of his preaching (cf. Mark 1:15), puts baptized persons into the condition of being in the world without being of the world. Thus your Rule calls you, with the words of the Apostle John, to affective detachment from the world: ‘Do not love the world or the things in the world’ (1 John 2:15); and with Saint James it reminds you that: ‘Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God’ (4:4). The explicit exhortation to flee usury, unlawful contracts and every form of avarice stresses how the founder then clearly perceived the changes taking place in society; changes that were to create, by ignoring the evangelical dimension, the social and economic imbalances that we still deplore today. How useful the wise suggestions of the penitent hermit Francis of Paola appear even today: ‘the glory of this world is false and its riches are fleeting. Happy is he who thinks of a good rather than a long life; happy is he who worries more about a pure conscience than a full coffer.’ The need for spiritual action is born. It is achieved in prayer, in contemplation of the Face of Christ and in interior discipline. Your founder led you on the path of inner discipline, demanding of you this spiritual commitment as a necessary condition for belonging to his Order: ‘Whoever wishes to serve God in this kind of life must dominate his flesh.’ He then recalled, in support of the Rule's prescriptions, the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘Put to death ... what is earthly in you’ (Colossians 3:5), because ‘if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live’ (Romans 8:13). The commitment required by your Rule does not enclose you in a totally interior spirituality but, appealing to your special penitential mission, urges you to share what is yours with your needier brothers. The Church's call to love God and neighbor must impel every baptized person. Saint Francis of Paola, follower and imitator of the ancient Fathers, in the Rule that he left you, very wisely combined under one heading, fasting, abstinence and works of mercy, thereby giving you, in the unity of the charism you share with the friars and nuns, the preference for the commitment to an active charity. Then in your code of life there is the exhortation to care for the purity of conscience with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The words used in this regard retain all their charm, although they are associated with a spirituality that is far from our way of feeling: ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ - he writes – ‘full of flowers, whose joy it is to stay with the children of man, delights in the flowers of the virtues.’ Lastly you have the invitation to participate in the Eucharist in which you find the source of your fidelity. The founder's words deserve to be remembered for their power of expression: ‘May daily attendance at Mass be for you a wholesome piece of advice, so that fortified with the arms of the Passion of Christ, which are recalled in the Mass, you may be strong and faithful in your observance of the commandments of God. In attending Mass you will also pray that Christ's death may be your life, his pain the mitigation of your pain, his toil your eternal rest.’ By lengthy meditation on your Rule, you will find a new incentive to give even more value to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to Sunday Mass. May you be accompanied by the Holy Virgin, Mother of the Church and pillar of our hope. For my part, I assure you that I will keep you in my prayers and, while I invoke on your intentions and on your commitment the protection of the founder Saint Francis of Paola and of the holy Patrons, Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Joan of Valois, also Minims Tertiary, I sincerely bless you.”

Saint Francis of Paola, pray for us!
Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, pray for us!