31 August 2009

Letting Go and LETTING GOD

In today’s Second Reading from the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours are very beautiful words borrowed from The Imitation of Christ, the fifteenth century book written by Thomas à Kempis. Originally written in Latin and titled, De Imitatione Christi, the authorship was in question but evidence, including authoritative witnesses, points to Kempis as the writer.

Working from the Latin version of the Church’s daily prayer here are some interesting words from that Reading:

“Audi, fili, verba mea, verba suavissima, omnem philosophorum et sapientium huius mundi scientiam excedentia. Verba mea spiritus et vita sunt, nec humano sensu pensanda. Non sunt ad vanam complacentiam trahenda, sed in silentio audienda et cum omni humilitate atque magno affectu suscipienda.”

(My translation)
“Son, hear my words, words most gratifying, exceeding the knowledge of all the philosophers and wise men of this world. My words are spirit and life, and are not to be weighed by human understanding. They are not to be invoked in vain pleasure, but heard in silence, and received with all humility and great affection.”

There are no limits to the possibilities of the soul. For the soul is created in the Image and Likeness of God, and is eternal. If God so wills, the heavenly wisdom that one can receive in Eucharistic Adoration or adoring silence can surpass the worldly knowledge of any human being. The most difficult obstacle in Adoration is silence itself. Silence is not intended to be an obstacle, only a blessing, but we live in so much noise, that noise can become our comfort zone when silence should prevail; in other words, all the distractions that come to the mind and plague the inner ears during a Holy Hour which makes hearing the gentle whispers of our Eucharistic Lord nearly impossible.

In Sacred Scripture when Jesus confronted the man possessed, the words that came from this man were: “What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know Who You are, the Holy One of God?” But Jesus said: “Be still!” Today we might say that what Jesus meant was: “Be quiet” or “Shut up!”

When we go to Eucharistic Adoration, we often hear those voices. They are the voices of our attachments, the gods we have created in our life, the molten calves we have fashioned for ourselves -- hence, the demons that try to keep us away from Jesus. Perhaps our Blessed Lord allows those voices to creep in that we may understand what needs to be let go of before we can pursue a closer union with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, it is the distraction of those voices that make Eucharistic Adoration something that for many of us never becomes a standard practice. The trouble is that we’re in charge. It was our free will that brought about these attachments, and getting rid of them must also be exercised by our gift of free will.

If you think about, we most often hear those voices when trying to focus on our Lord, whether that be prayer, Adoration, sacred reading, or something else designed for our spiritual growth and edification. Thus, when we approach our Lord, all those inner voices in effect are saying: “What have we to do with You, Jesus?”

It is very difficult for the human person to relinquish control, a result of the fall from grace. But this is why it is most important that prayer and Eucharistic Adoration are mainstays in our life. The more Holy Hours that are made, the more one will grow in love and trust of Jesus. And when trust grows, it becomes easier to let go and let God. When we have truly surrendered ourselves to the will of God, then can Jesus step in and with Divine Authority say to those voices: “Be silent!”

29 August 2009

The Carthusian Order and Saint John the Baptist

The beautiful artwork for this post is attributed to Jan Provoost, a mid-to-late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Flemish painter. In this piece our Blessed Mother is enthroned beneath a canopy. The Child Jesus is holding a book in His right Hand, perhaps the Sacred Scriptures, while in His left Hand He is holding a Rosary. In the background on the right is a figure enclosed in a garden, symbolizing our Lady’s virginity and chastity. A Carthusian monk is kneeling, apparently to be the recipient of the Rosary. The life of a Carthusian, that of silence and solitude, of both communal and eremitical life, is reflected in the iconography of this painting. The Carthusian is accompanied by Saint John the Baptist, a hermit of the desert. Behind him is the Lamb of God. Also accompanying the Carthusian is Saint Jerome, which symbolizes asceticism.

In the Statutes of the Carthusian Order we read: “One should note that all our hermitages are dedicated in the first place to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, our principal heavenly patrons.”

An example of Carthusian Profession goes like this: “I, Brother ______, promise stability, obedience, and conversion of my life, before God, His saints, and the relics belonging to this hermitage, which was built in honor of God, the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist, in the presence of Dom ______, Prior.”

For the Carthusian, Saint John the Baptist is a hermit in the desert, a solitary, and one who is focused on God alone.

Also in the Statutes of the Order are these words: “John the Baptist, greater than whom, the Savior tells us, has not risen among those born of women, is another striking example of the safety and value of solitude. Trusting not in the fact that divine prophecy had foretold that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, and that he would go before Christ the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah; nor in the fact that his birth had been miraculous, and that his parents were saints, he fled the society of men as something dangerous and chose the security of desert solitude: and, in actual fact, as long as he dwelt alone in the desert, he knew neither danger nor death. Moreover the virtue and merit he attained there are amply attested by his unique call to baptize Christ, and by his acceptance of death for the sake of justice. For, schooled in sanctity in solitude, he, alone of all men, became worthy to wash Christ — Christ Who washes all things clean — and worthy, too, to undergo prison bonds and death itself in the cause of truth.”

And then the Statutes give us something to think about: “And now, dear reader, ponder and reflect on the great spiritual benefits derived from solitude by the holy and venerable Fathers, Paul, Anthony, Hilarion, Benedict, and others beyond number, and you will readily agree that for tasting the spiritual savor of psalmody; for penetrating the message of the written page; for kindling the fire of fervent prayer; for engaging in profound meditation; for losing oneself in mystic contemplation; for obtaining the heavenly dew of purifying tears — nothing is more helpful than solitude.”

Sancte Ioannes Baptista, ora pro nobis!

In Passione Sancti Ioannis Baptistæ

O house of Zachary greeted with a voice
The barren one’s infant leaps in her womb
Reproach removed, thy child doth rejoice
‘Tis the Ark, carrying the Victor over the tomb

Elizabeth, thy husband at the altar of incense
Met with great fear the angel hailed as Gabriel
Zachary, thy prayer has been heard, hence
Your wife bears a son, thinkest thou surreal

Armed with the spirit and power of Elias
His voice in the wilderness will cry for penance
More than a prophet, your son, and pious
Thy disbelief has reduced thee to silence

O priestly voice cut off from the outside world
Hear the inner Voice of God speaking to thee
His plan of salvation is about to be unfurled
Thy son preparing the way for this mystery

At thy house is the blessed who has believed
For three months she will stay with thy wife
She too, although a Virgin, has conceived
And she shall bring forth the Bread of Life

O house of Zachary thy kindred greets thy son
Circumcised before witnesses more than a few
Isaias foretold of this child of God’s creation
The dividing line of Testaments Old and New

What shall he be called, a kinfolk’s name no less
Zachary, the name given to his father the priest
Nay, the pronouncement of angelic lips: Ioannes
His name be, on locusts and honey shall he feast

Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel, Zachary speaks
For salvation from our enemies is made present
Ninety-nine may be safe, but one lost He seeks
Whether that be man or woman, rich or peasant

You, my son, prophet of the Appeaser of wrath
Prepare ye the way for heaven to meet earth
From the desert shall you make straight His path
This Child of Spirit presented by Virgin birth

The repentant shall come to thee to be baptized
The Jordan shall hear many confessions of guilt
And now comes to thee prophecies now realized
The Cornerstone on which the house of God is built

I should be baptized by Thee, the precursor pleads
For within Thee there is found not spot or stain
Suffer it be so now, fulfilling all justice’s needs
That which I do My heavenly Father ordain

Thou brood of vipers O Pharisee and Sadducee
Think ye not Abraham an enemy of the Lamb
Faith’s Father longed to hear: “Ecce Agnus Dei”
And see Him Who’ll be sacrificed for thy scam

The Tetrarch’s fear renders the baptizer incarcerated
The femme fatale of Herodias, a promise discussed
Dance for me and I give thee till thy heart is sated
The man of God beheaded because of Herod’s lust

The netherworld where waits Patriarch and Prophet
Ye men of God, let us continue with prayer and fasting
For He Whom thou have preached of, thus have I met
He will soon join us here and take us to life everlasting


28 August 2009

The Secret of All Prayer

Here, Dom Augustin Guillerand teaches us something about entering the chamber, shutting the door, and praying to our heavenly Father in secret (cf. Matthew 6:6). This is important for all types of prayer. Many of us, for example, can probably relate to praying a Rosary, but it is not until arriving at the second or third decade that we finally are attuned to God. Here are his words:

Prayer is, as it were, being alone with God. A soul prays only when it is turned towards God, and for so long as it remains so. As soon as it turns away, it stops praying. The preparation for prayer is thus the movement of turning to God and away from all that is not God. That is why we are so right when we define prayer as this movement. Prayer is essentially a “raising up,” an elevation. We begin to pray when we detach ourselves from created objects and raise ourselves up to the Creator.

Now this detachment is born when we clearly realize our nothingness. That is the real meaning of our Lord's words: “He that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). His whole life was a continual abasement, always more and more profound. Saint Bernard does not hesitate to say that such an abasement brings us face to Face with God. Hence the peace of souls that have fallen when, raised up by God, they find themselves in His presence. And it is precisely in their abasement, once they have recognized and admitted it, that they find him, because it is there He reveals Himself. The only thing that prevents Him from doing so is our “self.” When we own to our nothingness, this “self” is broken down, and once that happens the mirror is pure, and God can produce His own Image in the soul, which then faithfully reproduces His features that are revealed in all their harmony and perfect beauty.

It is this our Lord meant in that vital passage in the Sermon on the Mount, and that all human considerations on prayer repeat endlessly but without arriving at its full splendor: But thou, when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret. Enter this sacred chamber of your soul and there, having closed the door, speak to your Father, Who sees you in these secret depths, and say to Him: Our Father, Who art in heaven.... This intimate presence; your faith in Him Who is the secret depth of it and gives Himself there; the silence towards all that is not God in order to be all to Him - here is the preparation for prayer.

It is obvious that we do not reach such a state of soul without being prepared for it by quite a combination of circumstances. And this is just what we do not know sufficiently in practice. The way to prepare for prayer is by leading a divine life, and prayer, after all, is that divine life. Everything that reproduces God's image in us; everything that raises us beyond and above created things; every sacrifice which detaches us from them; every aspect of faith which reveals the Creator to us in creatures; every movement of true and disinterested love making us in unison with the Three in One -- all this is prayer and prepares us for a still more intimate prayer. All this makes the divine word of the Sermon on the Mount real and the dual movement it recommends: Shut the door, and pray to thy Father. When he spoke thus, the divine Word showed that He knew our being and its laws. He revealed Himself as our Creator and made Himself our Redeemer. He showed that He made us and that He alone can re-make us.

We do not suffice to ourselves; we have not that in us which can complete us; we need to be completed. I know I am putting it badly when I say that this complementing thing is not in us. Actually, it is within us, but it is in a part of us which is, as it were, outside of us. In us as in God, there are many mansions. God is within us in the depths of our soul, but by sin we no longer occupy those depths. When Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and stretched out her hand to take it and eat it, she went out of those secret depths in her soul. It was these depths which were the real terrestrial Paradise, where God visited our first parents and spoke to them. Since the Fall, God is in us, but we are not!

The preparation for prayer consists in returning to those depths. Renunciation, detachment, recollection -- whatever word we use, the reality is the same, and that reality is the true secret of prayer. Close the door, and enter. . . . It needs only these two phrases to explain this, but in reality they are only one thing. They represent a movement, for all that unites us to God is movement. The words are related to two ‘terms’ or ends. If we speak of the terminus a quo (that is, from), they say (and they do what they say): Close. If we think of the terminus ad quern (that is, to), they say: Enter. We have to close the door on all that is not, and enter into Him Who is. There you have the secret of all prayer.

27 August 2009


The title of this post is a Greek word which transliterated appears as alethes. It’s an important word in the New Testament. It translates as truly, in reality, most certainly, indeed, real, genuine. In the papyri, it most consistently means “true” as in the opposite of “false” when statements of fact are the topic. In the New Testament, alethes usually means “truthful” as it relates to people, with the opposite being “untruthful.” Alethes appears in biblical verses like:

Master, we know that you are true (Matthew 22:16 & Mark 12:14).
He that has received His testimony has set to His seal that God is true (John 3:33).
For you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband: What you have said is true (John 4:18).
If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true (John 5:31).
Let God be true, but every man a liar (Romans 3:4).

These are only some verses; there are plenty more.

Most exciting, however, is when alethes means “genuine” or “real” as the word appears twice in this verse:

For My Flesh is real Food, and My Blood is real drink (John 6:55).

Any angle one looks at this, there’s no way to water down the word alethes. It means truth in some aspect. Nowhere in Sacred Scripture is alethes implied figuratively, symbolically or allegorically. If we go back two-thousand years, we’ll find in the Scriptures surrounding John 6:55 that all who were present for this astounding statement understood Jesus to be speaking literally, including the apostles. Granted, some found this statement outlandish, but it is because they understood Jesus literally. Go back to the early Church and read the Church Fathers; they understood Jesus to be speaking literally.

The Real Presence in the Eucharist is not a fantasy; it is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He nourishes our souls at Mass and He waits for us in the Tabernacle, that we may pour our hearts out to Him.

26 August 2009

The Troubling Times We Live In

Jesus said: “The Son of Man, when He comes, do you think He shall find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

The late Father John Hardon, S.J., the Founder and Spiritual Director of The Marian Catechists, sharing some thoughts on the United States, wrote: “We live in the most highly educated nation in world history. But, except for a small remnant, most Americans are abysmally ignorant of God’s laws and His promises… Catholicism is in the throes of the worst crisis in its entire history. Unless true and loyal Catholics have the zeal and the spirit of the early Christians, unless they are willing to do what they did and to pay the price that they paid, the days of America are numbered.” Father Hardon also brought to our attention a statement once made by Pope Paul VI: “Satan’s smoke has made its way into the temple of God.” Father Hardon commented on that statement by adding: “It is no longer smoke but a raging fire.”

The cultural influences of this day and age have convinced many that there is no such thing as sin. They theorize that because man is weak in nature, and so drawn to the desires of the flesh, so attuned to fulfilling his own longings, that to deliberately keep these things from him would be inhuman and unfair treatment. And for those of us who try to live according our faith’s teachings, the culture has a few words for us also. They say that teaching human beings to avoid the occasion of such desires cannot come from a loving God.

These types of influences come directly from the flesh which grows older with each passing second until one day it will return to the dust. The soul, however, which is eternal, seems to be forgotten, or ignored, or is not believed to exist at all. There is a spiritual battlefield that we walk on daily, and the culture is encouraging us to surrender to the immoral, because what the heavenly warriors want from us is torturous and too much for a human being to be subjected to.

One of the great writers of the twentieth century was H.L. Mencken. He was a freethinker, though, and would not let moral obligations interfere with his craft. Some examples of his writings go like this: “Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” And, “Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.” And finally, “Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.” There’s an intelligent cynicism in his writing. Belief in God is illogical, Christianity doesn’t make anyone good, and love is not from God but only something the imagination desires to be true.

One of Mencken’s quotes that is most in need of rebuttal is: “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos.” Jesus said: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Thus He is what is true, what is real. He is the Reality. Mencken’s quote intimates that a belief in God is superstition. What is being fed to us today in our culture is superstition because it promotes a ruling secularism. And faith – well -- it may seem illogical to the human intellect but without it, man is left to his own influences, stereotypes, and prejudices. With faith, we can get out of the way of ourselves and let God do His will. Without faith, every decision man makes will in someway reflect his personal desire and not necessarily what is right, fair and just. This is why many Catholics vote for Pro-Choice candidates in elections. They vote for what they personally believe and do not allow faith or the moral order to get in the way. And so, the truth is, the most dangerous man is greatly influenced by the prevailing superstitions and taboos.

Very few of us, however, possess an unshakeable faith. That would be an exalted supernatural gift. But our Lord does not abandon us when we struggle with matters of faith. He gave us this prayer: “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23). Possessing the gift of faith brings with it great rewards: “Your faith has made you whole” (Matthew 9:22). “According to your faith, be it done unto you” (Matthew 9:29). “Your faith has made you safe” (Luke 7:50). There is an abundance of other examples in Sacred Scripture about what faith can do for us. It is not taboo or superstition. The fact that anyone has faith, and medical science can’t surgically remove it, suggests that a higher Power placed it there and this Authority works through that gift of faith.

But as Father Hardon would seem to be saying, there is a great responsibility and duty among every Christian who holds dear the gift of faith, who makes Jesus Christ the Center of their lives. Saint James writes: “Be doers of the word, not hearers only (James 1:22). He continues by saying that in being hearers only, we are deceiving ourselves. Our culture is filled with self deception. To call oneself a Catholic and vote against the teachings of the Church can surely be called deceiving oneself.

The Irish statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Saint James said: “To Him therefore who knows to do good and does not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Doing good translates into many things: Certainly offering care for the poor and other charitable works is at the top of most lists of the devout, but also, our Blessed Mother in her apparitions spoke often of prayer. Turning the prayer intensity level up to “high” is also considered a good work. Doing good works or increasing prayer is sacrificial because it means putting something else aside. And this is how we accept our Lord’s invitation to become co-workers in the work of redemption, saving souls.

Truthfully, man is never left to himself. He will either choose to serve the Lord, or he will not and be left as an easy target for the devil to use. How else could we possibly be living in what is labeled as “a culture of death?” Certainly these are critical times in which God asks His faithful ones to sacrifice.

24 August 2009

The Holy Spirit Works in Mysterious Ways

Many of us have a story to tell when it comes to how we got to where we are today in our Catholic faith. My story has no big WOWS or miraculous healings or apparitions, nor was I blinded by the brilliance of Christ’s Light like Saint Paul. Okay -- maybe it was a miraculous healing – that of spirit, not of body. I’ll explain later.

Most of my education was in Catholic schools. I remember in grade school, waiting outside the school every morning, until the doors opened. Nearly every morning the pastor or the associate pastor would walk by us kids and say Good Morning. Priests really had a presence when I was a kid. They were like God on earth. Whenever they walked by or walked into the classroom to assign altar boys for the coming Sunday Masses, there was absolute silence; you could hear a pin drop. I think it was that intriguing presence that gave me the first tiny tugs, or interest in the priesthood. At that time I never even knew that one was “called” to the priesthood by Christ.

Much of that interest, however, diminished by my own will when I got into High School. My High School was also Catholic and it was a “boys only” school. In High School, girls and dating and driving a car were the topics in the forefront. But then, there was this day when our class took a sort of mini-retreat. I say “mini” because it was only one day and we walked to the location. Out the back door of the school we began walking, first down the outside steps of the school, and then to the walkway which gave you a good view of the football field and which also led to the living quarters of the Priests and Brothers who were employed by the school. They were Marians. When entering that building, you either went straight ahead and up the stairs to the individual living quarters, or you made a left and went into the chapel on the ground floor, which is what we did. During a period of silence in the chapel is when I once again felt that childhood fascination with the priesthood. This time, however, the reasons were a bit more mature. As I was sitting in that chapel in silence, quite satisfying to me was the thought of rolling out of bed in the morning and walking to a chapel or church for prayer; in other words, living under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament. But it all wore off again eventually.

After my education, a couple of jobs later, and having dated a few young ladies, I started thinking about the priesthood seriously. My pastor at that time, God rest his soul, arranged for me to take the psychological testing that was given in those days by the seminary psychiatrist; and after an interview with the Vocations Director, I spent some time with a priest/mentor. It was kind of a “day in the life” experience, but that changed me yet again. If I was to be a priest, I wasn’t going to be a diocesan priest because I felt it was too administrative. The next option for me to explore was the monastic priesthood. But before that ever got off the ground, I met the young lady who as of this coming October has been my wife of fifteen years. I’m not sure why, but there was a portion of my life early on in my marriage in which, I wouldn’t say I turned my back on the Catholic faith, but I was indifferent towards it. I went to Mass on Sundays but that was pretty much the extent of my practice.

But then I was given a gift by my relatively new bride. It was a coffee table book chockfull of photos of Pope John Paul II, taken by the papal photographer, Gianni Giansanti. For reasons which I cannot explain to this very day, the photo above, when I saw it in the book, set me on fire for the Catholic faith. Not only that, it turned me into a breviary addict, which I still am today. Even now, when I’m struggling spiritually or experiencing a consistency of dryness in prayer, that photo has the power to move me along.

Not long after my first “encounter” with this photo, I started reading about the different spiritualities that exist in the Church. What peaked my interest initially in Carthusian spirituality were the various liturgical Offices they pray: the full Canonical Office daily, the full Office of Our Lady daily, and the entire Office for the Dead once per week. This was perfect for a “breviary addict” to emulate. After dwelling into Carthusian spirituality more intensely, though, I began to learn more about the beauty of silence and deep prayer; and how our Lady can lead one to these great treasures. Saint Bruno, the Founder of the Order, also became a great friend and heavenly intercessor.

Today, my wife and I have three children, two sons, ages fourteen and seven, and a daughter who is twelve. The Lord sent me the right woman because my lifestyle, even as a husband and father, has elements in it that are monastic/eremitical; and she has always been understanding and supportive. The challenge in this unusual lifestyle is to find silence when you have three young children and two dogs. And, oh, by the way, that interest in the priesthood which began as a little tug is now a full-blown reeling in, as if Jesus was fishing and caught me in His vast ocean of souls. I have no idea why or what I’m supposed to do with it, but I keep waiting on the Lord, waiting for Him in His time to reveal what He is leading me to do. I should also mention that I have met priests along the way who gave me something of what I possess today. Marvelous examples of what the priesthood is!

I had mentioned the presence that priests had when I was a young boy. My wife and I went to a Wednesday General Audience in Rome with Pope John Paul II. When he rode by in the pope-mobile, my wife touched his hand and could not stop crying. The Holy Father definitely had a heavenly presence!

At the start of this post I wrote that maybe it was a miraculous healing of spirit because since my first sight of that photo of Pope John Paul II, returning to indifference has never been an option. The Holy Spirit can indeed be wherever He wishes – even in a photo of a coffee table book.

22 August 2009

Regina Mundi Dignissima

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said: “God wills that all His gifts should come to us through Mary.” What, then, should our response be to our Lady? The Carthusian, Dom Louis Rouvier, offers this answer: “Our response to the advances of our gentle Mother should be one of boundless gratitude, even though, in her humility, she seeks our thanks only that she may unite them with the ceaseless Magnificat she sings to the divine Majesty.”

And there’s that word: “Majesty!” Today the Church celebrates Mary: first, we commemorate liturgically her Queenship and on the traditional calendar her Immaculate Heart is honored. Although not completely fallen out of use in our modern day, words like “king” or “queen” or “majesty” are not a part of the daily vocabulary for many of us.

The book of Genesis (2:18) tells us that by God’s design, “it is not good for man to be alone.” When God became Man, He desired to experience every facet of man, that is, He made Himself subject to His own laws. Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ saw to it that He would not be alone, but would associate Himself with a suitable helper, one that would be His Mother, and one that He would address in Sacred Scripture with the same title that Adam used to name his helper: “Woman.” Who else could be a “suitable” helper for the God-Man, other than she who is Immaculate?

Saint Bernardine of Siena explains: “Indeed, from the moment Mary consented to the divine maternity, she merited to receive dominion over all creatures, and the scepter of the world was placed in her hands. As many creatures as there are to obey God, so are there to obey Mary. Angels and men, all that is in heaven and on earth, being subject to God, are, by that very fact, subject to His most holy Mother.”

Saint Anselm adds: “Just as God is the Lord of the Universe, because He has by His word created every being in its own nature, so is Mary the Mistress of the world, restoring all things in their primal dignity by the graces she has merited.”

Jesus is the King of kings and His holy Mother is the Queen. But shouldn’t a queen be the wife of the king? The Old Testament symbolizes the reality or actuality of the New. In the New Testament we read: “And a great sign appeared in heaven, a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). The Scriptures continue by revealing that this Woman wearing a crown was with Child, and He was to rule all nations (cf. Revelation 12:2, 5). In the Old Testament the psalmist writes: “At Your right stands the queen, clothed with splendor in robes embroidered with pearls set in gold” (Psalm 44 [45]:10).

Most important about what the Old Testament teaches us is that it was the mother of the king, not the wife, who was the queen. In the First Book of Kings, chapter 3, Asa takes over as king of Judah when his father Abijam had died. Asa removed Abijam’s mother from her position as queen mother. In the thirteenth chapter of Jeremiah are these words: “Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Humble yourselves, sit down.’” Also, “We are going down to visit the princes and the family of the queen mother” (2 Kings 10:13). One more, “This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother…” (Jeremiah 29:2). There are other examples in the Old Testament which delineate that the mother of the king was the queen.

Perhaps the most important verses in the “symbolism” of the Old Testament and the Davidic kingdom, may “actually” reveal something about the relationship between the King of kings and the Queen Mother in the heavenly Kingdom. These verses are found in the First Book of Kings (cf. 2:12-20). Solomon is the king, and Adonijah asks Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, to intercede for him. Adonijah needs a favor from the king and he asks Bathsheba to approach the king because as Adonijah explains: “he cannot deny you anything.” When Bathsheba approaches Solomon, the Scriptures tell us that “the king arose to meet her and bowed to her.” Next, the king “sat down upon his throne, and a throne was set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right hand.” The conversation went like this as Bathsheba spoke: “I desire one small petition of you, do not refuse me.” Then the king said: “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” God made Mary irresistible; He cannot refuse her.

In the Litany of Loreto, our Blessed Mother is invoked as “Queen” thirteen times:

Regina Angelorum – Queen of Angels
Regina Patriacharum – Queen of Patriarchs
Regina Prophetarum – Queen of Prophets
Regina Apostolorum – Queen of Apostles
Regina Martyrum – Queen of Martyrs
Regina Confessorum – Queen of Confessors
Regina Virginum – Queen of Virgins
Regina Sanctorum omnium – Queen of all Saints
Regina sine labe originali concepta – Queen conceived without original sin
Regina in cælum assumpta – Queen assumed into heaven
Regina Sanctissimi Rosarii – Queen of the Most Holy Rosary
Regina familiæ – Queen of the family
Regina Pacis – Queen of Peace

Ora pro nobis – Pray for us!

21 August 2009

Instaurare Omnia in Christo

The title of this post are words chosen by Saint Pius X for the motto of his pontificate. They are taken from the Latin Vulgate in Ephesians 1:10, “Restore All Things in Christ.” We need this heavenly intercessor in our modern day as Holy Mother Church is currently in a restoration of the sacred under Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint John Chrysostom said: “The Church is your hope, the Church is your salvation, the Church is your refuge.” In the Encyclical, E Supremi, Pope Pius X wrote: “The way to reach Christ is not hard to find; it is the Church. It was for this that Christ founded it, gaining it at the price of His Blood, and made it the depositary of His doctrine and His laws, bestowing upon it at the same time an inexhaustible treasury of graces for the sanctification and salvation of men.” This particular Encyclical was addressed to the hierarchy of the Church. Why was it necessary, then, to point this out? The Holy Father felt that society had become “estranged from the wisdom of Christ.” He charged the cardinals, bishops and himself to “use every means and exert all our energy to bring about the utter disappearance of the enormous and detestable wickedness, so characteristic of our time -- the substitution of man for God.” It would seem that the Church of then under Pope Pius X faced similar problems as the Church of now under Pope Benedict XVI. Our current Holy Father has warned us of the evils of moral relativism, in which man becomes his own god.

Seminary training is also a shared concern of these two Holy Fathers. Pope Pius X wrote in that same Encyclical: “Venerable Brethren, of what nature and magnitude is the care that must be taken by you in forming the clergy to holiness! All other tasks must yield to this one. Wherefore the chief part of your diligence will be directed to governing and ordering your seminaries aright so that they may flourish equally in the soundness of their teaching and in the spotlessness of their morals.” Only two days ago in the Wednesday General Audience from Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI said that the new evangelization will be just a slogan if priests are not well-formed. He said: “Today we see a need for each priest to be a witness of the infinite mercy of God with a life completely conquered by Christ and for them to learn this from the very first years of their preparation in the seminary.”

The concerns of teaching by Pope Pius X also extended to the lay faithful. In the Encyclical, Acerbo Nimis, he referred to his day as a “very troublesome and difficult time.” Surely we can relate! The Holy Father wrote that “the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things divine.” Today’s secular cultural influences have emptied souls of things divine and filled them with things temporal and the rewards of here and now. Saint Pius X turned the attention of the Church towards Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Father’s efforts in this area were so great that Saint Pius X is often referred to as “the Pope of the Eucharist.” In a five year span he issued Decrees on Holy Communion. He desired all Catholics to receive Holy Communion frequently, and daily, if possible. He dispensed the sick from the discipline of Eucharistic fasting and promoted giving Holy Communion to children once they had reached an age of discretion. This was a change from the previous requirement.

Many popes, saints, holy men and women turn our attention towards our Blessed Lord in the Sacrament of His Most Precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. But if our focus has not been there for some time, then we must first turn towards the Sacrament of our Lord’s mercy. Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not only Food for the soul that receives Him worthily, but in Adoration, Jesus is also our Companion, Brother, Friend, Love, Savior and God. He waits for us!

After the death of Pope Pius X in 1914, pilgrimages were made to his tomb; and there were many accounts of favors granted through his intercession. May he intercede for the Church now and turn our hearts, minds and souls to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Sancte Pio X, ora pro nobis!

20 August 2009

Bernardus, Doctor Mellifluus

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux is a Doctor of the Church. He was a twelfth century Cistercian Abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux, and an edifying example of holiness to the monks under his care.

“Amor” or “Amo” (Love) seemed to be a popular word in his vocabulary. “Amor per se sufficit; is per se placet” (Love is self-sufficient; it is pleasing to itself). “Amo quia amo; amo ut amem” (I love because I love; I love in order to love). “Magna res amor, si tamen ad suum recurrat principium, si suæ origini redditus, si refusus suo fonti” (Love is a great thing, only if it returns to its beginning, if it returns to its origin, if it flows back to its fount). And Saint Bernard went on to say that love must always draw from that endless stream.

The greatness of love is true because it is caused by the greatness of God – Who is Love. God is the Beginning, the Origin, the Fount and Endless Stream of love. Saint Bernard said that love is the only adequate means by which the creature may respond to its Creator, although the weakness of the creature will always make that response inadequate.

This holy man of God asks: “Why should Love not be loved?” Saint Bernard talks about emptying ourselves, “renouncing all other affections” submitting all our “being to Love alone,” responding “to Love by giving love in return.”

This is a broken world we live in and we are a fallen nature. We will never be able to give back to God what He has given to us. And so, Saint Bernard asks the frightening question: “Can it be that all will perish… simply because it is futile to race against a Giant, or to contend with Honey in sweetness, with the Lamb in gentleness, with the Lily in whiteness, with the Sun in splendor, with Love in love?”

If justice always prevailed over mercy, then these examples from this Doctor of the Church would be a blood pressure raising thing to ponder for anyone with a conscience. But this saint and heavenly intercessor won’t let us go there. He offers the answer: “Even though the creature loves less than the Creator… nevertheless if he loves with all his being, he lacks nothing.”

There’s great hope in that statement but great conviction is required of the creature. God must be loved above all things; He must be the Center of our lives. Do we love with all our being? Does our love return to its Origin, to its Source, to Love Himself.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Christian life (cf. CCC 1324). The document from the Synod of Bishops XI Ordinary General Assembly reads: “Receiving Communion means to enter into communion with the Lord and the saints of the Church, both in heaven and on earth. Thus, Communion and contemplation follow each other. We cannot receive sacramental Communion, without making it personal… it is the sacrament of infinite value.” The document also teaches that Communion and Adoration are inseparable. “Adoration of the Eucharist begins in Communion and leads to acts of Eucharistic piety, adoring God the Father, in Spirit and in Truth, in the risen and living Christ, truly present among us.”

If Communion and Adoration are inseparable, then our reception of the Eucharist at Mass does not end there. We are called to Eucharistic piety by also adoring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; in adoring the One we love with all our being, the One Who loved us first. During Eucharistic Adoration, consider keeping close to your heart these words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: “Lord Jesus, what has made You so small? Love!” Jesus continues to suffer in the Blessed Sacrament, continues to make Himself vulnerable by permitting Himself to be contained in a Monstrance or in the Tabernacle. How deeply we must love, how small we must become when meditating on the words of Sacred Scripture and Saint John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We will never be able to compete with our Lord’s deliberate “smallness,” but if we love Him with all our being, we lack nothing.

Sancte Bernarde, ora pro nobis!

19 August 2009

The Rays of Mercy in Eucharistic Adoration

“One evening as I entered my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus exposed in the Monstrance under the open sky, as it seemed. At the Feet of Jesus I saw my Confessor, and behind him a great number of the highest ranking ecclesiastics, clothed in vestments the like of which I had never seen except in this vision; and behind them, groups of religious from various Orders; and further still I saw enormous crowds of people, which extended far beyond my vision. I saw the two rays coming out from the Host, as in the image, closely united but not intermingled; and they passed through the hands of my Confessor, and then through the hands of the clergy and from their hands to the people, and then they returned to the Host.”

These words are from the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. It would seem to be a marvelous vision of Christ’s Church in Eucharistic Adoration.

Later she wrote: “When I was in church waiting for Confession, I saw the same rays issuing from the Monstrance and spreading throughout the church. This lasted all through the service.” This “service” which she mentions was Eucharistic Adoration followed by Benediction. Saint Faustina continued: “After the Benediction, the rays shone out to both sides and returned again to the Monstrance. Their appearance was bright and transparent like crystal.”

These “rays” were explained by our Lord to Saint Faustina: “The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous.” This of course is the Sacrament of Baptism. Our Lord continued: “The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls.” This is the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Most fascinating about these rays is Saint Faustina’s description of them appearing “like crystal.” Saint John the Evangelist’s vision would seem to concur: “And he showed me a river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the Throne of God, and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1). This would appear to be synonymous with the pale ray of Water. Saint John the Evangelist also wrote: “He showed me the holy city of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, and the light thereof was like to a precious stone, as to the jasper stone even as crystal” (Revelation 21:10-11). The color of jasper is red, which is harmonious with the Blood of Christ or the Eucharist.

The mercy of Jesus, therefore, flows from His Eucharistic Heart, but also His mercy is to be received by means of the holy city of Jerusalem, signifying the Church, the New Jerusalem. And once again referring to our Savior’s Eucharistic Heart, Saint Faustina also saw these rays during Vespers with a Eucharistic procession for the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Jesus spoke to Saint Faustina about three o’clock being the hour of mercy. One of the options that our Lord suggests at this “hour of grace for the whole world” is to be in the chapel adoring the Blessed Sacrament.

The rays of mercy flow from the Heart of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. Shouldn’t we adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as often as possible? Jesus said to Saint Faustina: “These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter.”

18 August 2009

The Greatest Gift of Love

“By blood, I am Albanian, by citizenship, an Indian, by faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” Many would read or hear those words and be able to deduce that they came from Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Most important is the last part of that statement: “I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

The Foundress of the Missionaries of Charity, even in the arduous, grueling work of her Order, plus the obligatory, time consuming prayers of the Church which she dutifully and faithfully did, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta still found time daily to be with the Heart of Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration. This was the secret of Mother Teresa, although it is not a secret, and certainly nothing she was trying to hide. She was quite bold in her profession of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. She said: “I know I would not be able to work one week if it were not for that continual force coming from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.” The world would be a very different place if we all were adorned with that same conviction.

The secular psyche, after a long, tiring day is trained to sit back in a comfortable chair or couch, maybe have a cold drink, and perhaps drift into a power nap. But Jesus said: “Come to Me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28). Mother Teresa took to heart what Jesus said and knew that He meant it; and she taught the same to her Sisters. She said: “When the Sisters are exhausted, up to their eyes in work; when all seems to go awry, they spend an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This practice has never failed to bear fruit -- they experience peace and strength.”

This time spent in Adoration with Jesus is also important for the work of the Missionaries of Charity, as Mother explained: “All of us know that unless we believe and can see Jesus in the appearance of bread on the altar, we will not be able to see Him in the distressing disguise of the poor. Therefore these two loves are but one in Jesus.”

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s concerns, however, were not limited to her personal refreshment or to those of her Order; and they were not even limited to the poor, the hungry, the homeless and forgotten who were and continue to be the main work of the Missionaries of Charity -- to be Jesus for those that Mother Teresa called, “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” Mother Teresa's concerns also extended to teaching all of us. And what did she teach us? This was her plea: “Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life. Night and day, He is there. If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that Adoration. Our hours of Adoration will be special hours of reparation for sins, and intercession for the needs of the whole world, exposing the sin-sick and suffering humanity to the healing, sustaining and transforming rays of Jesus, radiating from the Eucharist. Spend as much time as possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament and He will fill you with His strength and His power.”

We see an image of the Crucifix hanging above the altars of our churches. From the Cross Jesus said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). Blessed Teresa instructs us: “From the Blessed Sacrament Jesus continues to say to each of us: ‘I thirst.’ He thirsts for our personal love, our intimacy, our union with Him in the Blessed Sacrament. His longing for us to be with Him in the Blessed Sacrament is infinitely greater than our longing to be with Him.” And so, Mother added: “When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta never forgot, as hopefully we never will, that there is one, when it comes to the Adoration of Jesus, who knows how to do it perfectly. Read on as one Mother promotes another: “Through Mary the cause of our joy you discover that no where on earth are you more welcomed, no where on earth are you more loved, than by Jesus, living and truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. To be alone with Jesus in Adoration and intimate union with Him is the greatest gift of love -- the tender love of our Father in Heaven.”

17 August 2009

Contento, Señor, contento

Beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, Saint Alberto Hurtado, is affectionately known in Chile as Padre Hurtado. While studying in the Jesuit College in Santiago, he joined the Sodality of Our Lady. Here he took a great interest in the poor as he would spend his Sunday afternoons with the poorest of the poor in the most impoverished neighborhoods.

The year 1917 was a busy time for Alberto. He studied law at the Catholic University, financially supported his mother and younger brother by working afternoons and evenings, while continuing to care for the poor on Sundays. All this delayed his entrance into the Jesuits. He didn’t receive his degree until 1923 because his studies were put on hold due to an obligatory military service.

As a Jesuit priest and teacher he catechized the poor and gave retreats using the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He offered spiritual direction to young men and some of them he accompanied through their formation to becoming priests. He radiated the beauty of the priestly vocation and made it very attractive.

He was an author and in 1941 published, “¿Es Chile un país católico?” (Is Chile a Catholic Country?). This book was considered a scandal among conservative Chilean Catholics. They even went so far as to accuse Father Hurtado of being a Communist. The book revealed the truths and realities of Chile’s social movement.

He sacrificed himself continually with his involvement with a nationwide Catholic Youth Movement.

His pleas for help were well-received when he proclaimed his love for the poor, especially for the homeless children in Santiago. This led to “El Hogar de Cristo” (Christ’s Home), which provided shelter for children in need of housing and food. The housing for children next led to housing for women. Alberto Hurtado himself at the age of four lost his own father to death.

In 1945 Father Alberto Hurtado went to the United States to take a look at “Boys Town” and learn how he could make something like this work in his own nation.

The “Asociación Sindical Chilena” (Chilean Trade Union Association) was founded in 1947 by Father Hurtado. It was a movement which taught and supported Catholic social teachings among the labor unions of his country. To support this movement he wrote “Humanismo Social” (Social Humanism), “El Orden Social Cristiano” (The Christian Social Order), and “Sindicalismo” (Trade Unions) between the years of 1947-1950.

Next for this very busy priest was the founding of the Jesuit periodical, “Mensaje” (Message) in 1951. This periodical taught and explained the doctrine of the Church.

Father Alberto Hurtado went home to the Lord in August of 1952. His life was cut short by cancer. During his battle with this disease, in his great physical pain he was often heard saying: “I am content, Lord.” His life was, however, very full, and stressed his concern for the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the abandoned. He also labored intensely for his social apostolate whose goal was for his government to recognize the dignity of every human person, and therefore, be treated fairly.

With such love for the poor, one can only imagine the heavenly embrace and the powerful intercession of Saint Alberto Hurtado and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as they are perpetually before the Throne of God, pleading for those in this life who have little to nothing. Saint Alberto Hurtado's Feast Day is tomorrow, 18 August.

Sancte Alberte, ora pro nobis!

15 August 2009

The Ark Sanctified

Sacred Scripture asks: “Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” (Song of Songs 6:9).

Sacred Scripture answers: “I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way, and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue” (Sirach 24:24-25).

And this Mother’s plea: “Come over to me all you that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations” (Sirach 24:26-28).

Sacred Scripture also gives us this very familiar passage: “A great sign appeared in heaven – a Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1).

“Arise, O Lord, into Your resting place, You and the Ark, which You have sanctified” (Psalm 131:8). Understanding Mary as the Ark of the New and Everlasting Covenant, Saint Robert Bellarmine said: “And who, I ask, could believe that the Ark of holiness, the dwelling place of the Word of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, could be reduced to ruin? My soul is filled with horror at the thought that this virginal flesh which had begotten God, had brought Him into the world, had nourished and carried Him, could have been turned into ashes or given over to be food for worms.”

Our Blessed Mother’s Assumption into heaven, body and soul, is a longstanding belief of the Church. It was made “official” by the Church with these words: “By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory” (Munificentissimus Deus ~ Pope Pius XII).

This is the Virgin who will never listen to the serpent and turn away her hearing of the truth (cf. Genesis 3:1-6 & 2 Timothy 4:4). Instead, she clings to every word which comes forth from the Mouth of God (cf. Matthew 4:4). Because she has been reunited with her Son in eternal glory, and her “abode is in the full assembly of saints” (Sirach 24:16), our own interior life begs us to keep Mary with her Son. As the Most Holy Trinity dwells within the devout human soul, so should the Mystical Rose be permitted to take root and fully blossom in the garden of the soul, whose flowers are the fruit of honor and riches (cf. Sirach 24:23), spreading her sweet fragrance like cinnamon and aromatic balm, and the sweetness of odor like the choicest myrrh (cf. Sirach 24:20).

There’s a beautiful story in the Carthusian tradition which goes like this: The venerable Mother Antonia de Planques, Prioress of Gosnay, had the joy of seeing in her cell one day the Mother of God, carrying in her arms her Divine Son. Our Blessed Lady addressed Mother Antonia with these words from the prophet Isaiah: “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 43:5). This vision caused Mother Antonia such ecstatic joy that she was rapt above her senses for several days. The rest of her earthly existence was lived out more closely to the life of heaven than that of earth. Let those who desire to gain the graces of the Holy Spirit, seek the flower upon its stem – in other words, let them seek Jesus in Mary (cf. Le Mois de Marie Cartusien).

Regina in cælum assumpta, ora pro nobis!

14 August 2009

Vinctus Christi Iesu

Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe wore the Franciscan habit, until later when he was forced to wear the garments of a prisoner of war. But the clothes do not make the man and the world would soon discover that what Maximilian Kolbe really did was “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). A son of Poland, he became a Franciscan seminarian and during this period in his life he and six other seminarians formed the Militia of the Immaculata at the International College of the Conventual Franciscans in the year 1917. Members are known as Knights and Maximilian chose the Miraculous Medal as the insignia of the Knights. This was due to the conversion in 1842 of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jewish agnostic. This conversion came about through the use of the Miraculous Medal and this conversion story impressed Maximilian so much that in 1918 the newly ordained Father Kolbe said his first Mass at the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte in Rome, the site of this conversion.

Concerning the Miraculous Medal, Maximilian Kolbe wrote: “Because conversion and sanctification are divine graces, the Miraculous Medal will be the best means for attaining these gifts. For this reason, it constitutes a first rate weapon of the Militia Immaculatæ; it is a ‘bullet’ with which a faithful soldier hits the enemy, which is evil, and thus rescues souls.”

Two publications sprouted from the Militia: “The Little Journal” which was vanquished by the Nazis, and “The Knight of the Immaculata” which is still published today in about forty different languages.

During World War II Maximilian Kolbe and his efforts were deemed as a threat by the Nazis and in 1941 he was arrested and eventually transferred to the concentration camp of Oswiecin in Auschwitz. While there he willing took the place of another prisoner, a husband and father, who was condemned to die. He was given an injection of phenol and died on 14 August 1941. “Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1971 and later canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Virtually all of his writings are currently available in only Italian and Polish. Among them, however, are such gems to meditate on like: “It is obedience and only obedience that truly reveals the divine will.” What does that say to us, the control freaks we tend to be? This statement from Saint Maximilian Kolbe surely harmonizes with Pope Benedict’s warnings about moral relativism, the need to be one’s own boss, one’s own pope.

Also among his writings are these words: “Indeed in our times, not without sorrow, we see a spreading epidemic called 'indifferentism' not only among the laity in the world but even among religious.” Who could argue that secularism is the “rule” of today’s culture? Virtually everyone is looking for a way that leads to a better life, everyone is searching for truth. Only Jesus, however, fits the bill. Only He is “the Way, and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Saint Maximilian Kolbe lived this divine truth. He wrote: “God, and only God, is infinite, most wise, most holy, a most loving Lord, our Creator and Father, our beginning and end, our wisdom, power and love, God is our All.”

Saint Maximilian Kolbe also exorts us to turn to our Lady as he wrote: “Let us be directed by her, led by her; let us feel calm and secure under her guidance. She will tend to all our needs, quickly provide everything necessary for body and soul. She will remove our difficulties and trials.”

Sancte Maximiliane, ora pro nobis!

13 August 2009

Thanksgiving after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

“When a person has eaten some delicious food at a banquet, he is careful not to take anything bitter in his mouth immediately after, lest he should lose the sweet flavor of those delicate viands. In like manner, when we have received the precious Body of Jesus Christ, we should take care not to lose its heavenly flavor by turning too soon to the cares and business of the world.” These are the words of Saint John Chrysostom.

We live in a time when priests usually preside at more than one Mass on a Sunday. For parents and their children, in addition to Mass, Sundays also mean softball practice or soccer practice or some other sport. And of course, Sundays also mean getting home in time for the big game. The Sunday liturgical celebration is in danger of becoming something obligatory that we must, therefore, squeeze in between everything else going on in our lives. And yet, the truth is that Mass is the most important thing we do each week. Nothing else we do has more eternal value for our souls. We all see it every week – church-goers heading for the exit right after Holy Communion. Being preoccupied with secular aspirations on a Sunday is not what makes saints.

The quote from Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us to offer a proper thanksgiving when Mass has concluded. It used to be a fairly common practice which today has subsided. For priests and anyone who prays the Divine Office, the breviaries prior to the post-Conciliar Liturgy of the Hours contained prayers that were appropriate Before and After Mass. Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said: “Thanksgiving after Mass has traditionally been greatly esteemed for both the priest and the lay faithful.”

Saint Teresa of Avila instructed her Sisters about what to do after Mass: “Let us detain ourselves lovingly with Jesus and not waste the hour that follows Communion.”

Saint Philip Neri said: “We have to pay proper respect to our Lord, Whom you are carrying away with you.” Saint Philip defined the love of God as a “devouring fire.”

How much time should be spent in Thanksgiving has always seemed to depend on the individual. Cardinal Arinze recommends ten minutes. Saint Josemaria Escrivá said: “Do not leave the church almost immediately after receiving the Sacrament. Surely you have nothing so important on that you cannot give our Lord ten minutes to say thanks. Love is repaid with love.” But the Church has had some very extraordinary souls in her history. Those like Padre Pio, Jean Marie Vianney and Louis Marie de Montfort couldn’t be dragged away from Thanksgiving by wild horses. Hours upon hours have been spent in Thanksgiving by these beautiful souls as well as others.

Saint Catherine of Genoa once had a dream that she would not be able to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In this dream she was so grief-stricken by this that she cried uncontrollably. The next morning when she woke up, her face was wet. Thus it was not only in the dream that she shed many tears. Her love was so great for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that she could not bear the thought of not receiving Him in Holy Communion.

Saint Gemma Galgani wrote to her spitiual director these words: “Today I went to Confession and the Confessor said that I must stop receiving Jesus. O my Father, my pen does not want to write more, my hand shakes strongly, I cry.” She also expressed these words to Jesus in Holy Communion: “You are my loving prey just as I am the object of Your immense charity.”

As Saint Josemaria said, these are examples of love repaying love.

What does our Lord Himself say about this? Here’s what our Divine Savior told Saint Faustina: “My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. When I come to a human heart in Communion, My Hands are filled with graces which I want to give to souls. But souls do not pay attention to Me: they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. They do not recognize love. They treat Me as a dead object.”

Our Lord invites us to His house and feeds us with “the living Bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:51). Jesus said: “If any man come after Me, let him deny himself” (Matthew 16:24). This is a statement about priorities. Is the Lord truly the Center of our lives? Let us consider reintroducing the practice of spending a few moments in Thanksgiving after Mass. Most disconcerting and heartbreaking are our Redeemer’s words: “Will you also go away?” (John 6:68).

12 August 2009

The Mysticism of Ioannes Cassianus

Saint John Cassian was the first person to acquaint the West with the way of Eastern monasticism. As a young man he entered a monastery in Bethlehem. A true desert Father, he became familiar with the charisms of Syrian monasteries, but would eventually discover that the most holy and ascetic practices were to be found in Egypt. He ended up spending seven years of his life in Egypt, moving about from monastery to monastery until he became well-versed in the ways desert monasticism, coenobitism, and eremitism. More of this learning/discovering process was also given to him later in the Libyan desert where there were many monasteries.

He was ordained a deacon by Saint John Chrysostom in Constantinople, and then later to Rome and the priesthood. He finally settled in Marseilles. With his extensive knowledge of desert monasticism, in Marseilles he wrote two wonderful works. First was “The Institutes” which offer his skills on organizing a monastery including how monks should dress and the various times that the Divine Office should be prayed.

His second work written in Marseilles was titled, “The Conferences of the Fathers” which came about as a request from the Bishop of Arles.

Saint John Cassian was a mystic and defined mysticism with these words: “It transcends all human thought, not marked by any sound of the voice, nor movement of the tongue, nor speaking of words. The mind infused by that heavenly light, does not speak with human and limited language but richly pours forth with a mass of feelings, as if from a copious fountain, ineffably uttering such great things to God in the shortest possible space of time, that when it returns to its normal state it cannot easily express or relate them.”

The “Ladder of Contemplation,” according to Saint John Cassian, had only three rungs: The first rung involves the contemplation of many things; the second rung of only a few things; while the third and final rung was the contemplation of One, which was manifested by pure and wordless prayer.

His description of Ecstatic Prayer or Perfect Prayer is one in which he suggests that the intellect encounters Divine Truth which extends far beyond ordinary human thought, thus self-awareness vanishes. Saint Antony the Great said something very similar when he suggested that it is not perfect prayer when there is self-awareness or the knowledge that one is praying. The ascetical writer, Evagrius Ponticus, compares it to sleeping; when asleep, we do not know that we’re sleeping and when we are truly contemplating there is no awareness that we have entered into this state.

Here is Cassian’s description of ecstasy: “Our mind arrives at that incorruption of prayer… not distinguished by accompaniment of voice or of words, but with the intention of the mind on fire, is produced through an inexpressible ecstasy of heart, by an unexplainable keenness of spirit; and thus the mind altered beyond sense or visible matter pours forth prayer to God with unutterable groans and sighs.” Of course, these higher forms of prayer are very rare and usually short in duration as Cassian also teaches.

Interesting from a perspective of the Church’s daily Office or Liturgy of the Hours, Saint John Cassian also taught that the heartfelt singing of the psalms could open oneself up to receive the heavenly gift of ecstatic prayer.

11 August 2009

A Love Inflamed

Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi. It was Saint Francis of Assisi who saw in Clare something special, extraordinary – a soul who would be a great witness to the Gospel way of life. She is the co-foundress of the Order of Poor Clares.

Pope Gregory IX came to Assisi in 1228 for the purpose of canonizing Francis, but also made a stop at San Damiano to try and convince Clare to ease up on the strictness of her life of poverty. Even if it was a vow that led to such rigidity, Pope Gregory IX was willing to absolve her from it. But Clare resisted and said to the pope: “Holy Father, I crave for absolution of my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” This impressed the Holy Father and in September of 1228 he granted her the Papal Bull, Privilegium Paupertatis (Privilege of Poverty). Here is that text:

“Gregory Bishop Servant of the Servants of God.
To our beloved daughters in Christ Clare and the other handmaids of Christ dwelling together at the Church of San Damiano in the Diocese of Assisi. Health and Apostolic benediction. It is evident that the desire of consecrating yourselves to God alone has led you to abandon every wish for temporal things. Wherefore, after having sold all your goods and having distributed them among the poor, you propose to have absolutely no possessions, in order to follow in all things the example of Him Who became poor and Who is the way, the truth, and the life. Neither does the want of necessary things deter you from such a proposal, for the left arm of your Celestial Spouse is beneath your head to sustain the infirmity of your body, which, according to the order of charity, you have subjected to the law of the spirit. Finally, He who feeds the birds of the air and Who gives the lilies of the field their raiment and their nourishment, will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He shall come Himself to minister to you in eternity when, namely, the right Hand of His consolations shall embrace you in the plenitude of the Beatific Vision. Since, therefore, you have asked for it, we confirm by Apostolic favor your resolution of the loftiest poverty and by the authority of these present letters grant that you may not be constrained by anyone to receive possessions. To no one, therefore, be it allowed to infringe upon this page of our concession or to oppose it with rash temerity. But if anyone shall presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he shall incur the wrath of Almighty God and his Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul.
Given at Perugia on the fifteenth of the Kalends of October in the second year of our Pontificate.”

Since the establishment of Holy Mother Church by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there has never been a so-called “golden age” of the Church. She has always had her problems and challenges. Perhaps the battle that has always existed is, “the way of Christ versus the way of the world.” Secularization is a huge challenge for today’s Christian. The weaknesses of our nature is prone to surrendering to that which is constantly before us; and in our modern day culture, that is secularism. Saint Clare teaches us by her own example that through the grace of Almighty God, we can live for Christ alone and overcome the enemy of our times.

Clare had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament. In her letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, Clare writes about how happy it is “to cleave with one’s heart to Him Whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever, Whose love inflames our love.” Clare adds that contemplating Jesus “makes us glow with happiness.” He is “the Mirror without spot.” Then she instructs Agnes and us by urging us to “look into that Mirror daily.” If we are to conquer our weaknesses and live for God, daily prayer, and most especially spending time with the Blessed Sacrament are a must.

In sacred art, Saint Clare is often depicted with a ciborium. This not only exhibits Clare’s love for the Eucharist but also proclaims the story in which soldiers scaled the walls of San Damiano during the night. Clare rose from her bed, went to the chapel and grabbed the ciborium, taking our Eucharistic Lord to an open window. The soldiers had already placed a ladder beneath that window to climb and enter through it. Clare raised the Blessed Sacrament which caused the soldiers on the ladder to fall while the rest ran away. This is the power of that “Mirror” which Clare exhorts us to look into daily.

Sancta Clara, ora pro nobis!

10 August 2009

Where are you going Father, without your son?

Deacons, today we pray for you on this, the Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr.

The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek word, “diakonia” which means “care” or “service.”

Saint Ambrose describes a deacon as having three characteristics:

First, a deacon having been sacramentally constituted in the service of self-giving, lives his diaconal ministry giving witness to Christ in martyrdom, the service of charity by acceptance of that greater love which is martyrdom.

Second, in virtue of the link which binds him to the bishop, the deacon lives ecclesial communion by specific service to the bishop, beginning with the Eucharist and in reference to the Eucharist.

Third, in virtue of the Sacrament, the deacon devotes himself fully to the service of a constituent charity and not merely to a human or social fellowship, and thus manifests the most characteristic element of the diakonia.

In De Officiis, Saint Ambrose describes a very heartfelt but intense moment between Lawrence and Sixtus II, the pope who was being led to execution. Here is the exchange according to the Ambrosian text:

Saint Lawrence wept when he saw his bishop, Sixtus, led out to his martyrdom. He wept not because he was being let out to die but because he would survive Sixtus. He cried out to him in a loud voice: “Where are you going Father, without your son? Where do you hasten to, holy bishop, without your deacon? You cannot offer sacrifice without a minister. Father, are you displeased with something in me? Do you think me unworthy? Show us a sign that you have found a worthy minister. Do you not wish that he to whom you gave the Lord's Blood and with whom you have shared the sacred mysteries should spill his own blood with you? Beware that in your praise your own judgment should not falter. Despise the pupil and shame the Master. Do not forget that great and famous men are victorious more in the deeds of their disciples than in their own. Abraham made sacrifice of his own son, Peter instead sent Stephen. Father, show us your own strength in your sons; sacrifice him whom you have raised, to attain eternal reward in that glorious company, secure in your judgment.”

Sixtus replied: “I will not leave you, I will not abandon you my son. More difficult trials are kept for you. A shorter race is set for us who are older. For you who are young a more glorious triumph over tyranny is reserved. Soon, you will see, cry no more, after three days you will follow me. It is fitting that such an interval should be set between bishop and Levite. It would not have been fitting for you to die under the guidance of a martyr, as though you needed help from him. Why do you want to share in my martyrdom? I leave its entire inheritance to you. Why do you need me present? The weak pupil precedes the master, the strong, who have no further need of instruction, follow and conquer without him. Thus Elijah left Elisha. I entrust the success of my strength to you.”

Saint Ambrose continues his text by telling us that Lawrence’s longing for martyrdom was due to his desire to be a holocaust for Jesus Christ.

It has been said that Lawrence was roasted to death on a grid-iron three days after the death of Sixtus.

Sancte Laurenti, ora pro nobis!

08 August 2009

The Dominican Church in Dubrovnik

Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order -- or -- Order of Preachers.

In Dubrovnik, Croatia there’s a Dominican church which dates back to the fourteenth century. Most impressive there, above the altar, is this painted Crucifix by Paolo Veneziano, which was given to the Dominican church of Dubrovnik as a votive offering in the year 1384. It is one of the largest painted Crucifixes in Europe -- about 16 feet or 500 centimeters.

Unfortunately, in the year 1970 a radical re-design brought about the removal and destruction of the High Altar and Sanctuary.

The Dominican Order is perhaps the most renowned promoters of the Holy Rosary. The fifteen Rosary promises are thought to have been given to Saint Dominic and Blessed Alan de la Roche by our Blessed Mother.

Sancte Dominice, ora pro nobis!

07 August 2009

My Sheep Hear My Voice

“My sheep hear My Voice. And I know them; and they follow Me” (John 10:27).

These are the familiar words of our Savior. And of cousre, we’ve always understood this passage to mean that Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. But when one examines this very literally, these words should have an even heavier impact on our souls.

The scene that Jesus creates here is very Middle Eastern. Many of us have never witnessed a shepherd and his sheep interact. Father Benedict Groeschel, a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, as well as an author, psychologist, and well-known EWTN personality, once shared a story of his visit to the Holy Land in which he watched shepherds work with their sheep. He said that there were a bunch of sheep walking around along with three shepherds. He said that the shepherds split up and each walked into a different direction, and then made a whistling sound with their mouths. The sheep, all bunched together, then began to divide and walk towards the direction of their own particular shepherd; each of them were able to identify their own shepherd’s whistle. That must have been a fascinating thing to witness!

The universal language of God is silence. How many of us make every effort to find a time for silence in our daily lives? The world in which we live is very noisy. And the technological advances of our modern day can be very distracting and lure us into using our tech-toys more than we should.

In that same Gospel passage are these alarming words: “I speak to you and you believe not… because you are not My sheep” (John 14:25-26). In the Spiritual Canticle by Saint John of the Cross, he writes these strong words: “O souls created to enjoy these grandeurs and called thereto! What do you do? Wherein do you occupy yourselves? Your desires are meanesses, and your possessions miseries. O wretched blindness of the eyes of your soul, which are blind to so great a light and deaf to so clear a voice… you remain… ignorant and unworthy of so many blessings!”

Finding a time to be quiet and still can be difficult in our often very busy lives, but it is essential if the sheep really want to hear the Voice of the Shepherd, to have their hearts and souls touched by Him. The Carthusian Statutes refer to silence as “holy ground, a place where… the Lord and His servant often speak together; there is the faithful soul frequently united with the Word of God.”

Saint Augustine said: “For lovers of this world, there is no harder work than not working.” That same concept seems to also apply to noise. It’s hard to make a concerted effort to escape noise. Our culture is very used to it and almost gravitates towards it. Silence can be very uncomfortable if not accustomed to it. The Carthusian Statutes go on to say that the fruits of silence are known only to those who have experienced it and that gradually there will be born within them something that will draw them to an even greater silence. This is related to an emptying of our souls of all the clutter and filling it up with the Blessed Trinity. Silence also makes our hearts a living altar in which our prayers, like burning incense, ascend to the Throne of Glory.

06 August 2009

Secret Harbor gets a facelift

I hope you like it!

Saint Bruno can't bear to look :-)

Bonum Est Nos Hic Esse

Will you someday in this life be granted the miracle?

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the liturgical act/prayer which Padre Pio said would be more difficult for the earth to be without, than to be without the sun.

Will Jesus someday during the Liturgy of the Eucharist grant you the privilege of illumining your eyes that you may see Him as He really is?

Will you someday watch the entire Sanctuary become wrapped by the impenetrable and resplendent Light of the world as the Words of Consecration are said?

Will you suddenly be blinded by a glorious Divine Radiance when the priest opens the door of the Tabernacle?

After receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, will you see yourself and others clothed with the Sun like the Woman in Revelation 12?

Whether or not these things happen to you in this lifetime remains in God’s Hands; but even though the likelihood of such occurrences during our pilgrimage on earth are extremely minimal, it still doesn’t detract from the reality of the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, we recall that it was only three of the apostles who were granted the vision of what transpired on the mountain. The others did not see this but for them Jesus is not the True Light to a lesser degree simply because they weren’t granted the vision.

The love we have for our children, our parents, our family members, and our friends is not something we can pull out of our wallets, purses or pockets. Love is something we feel, not something we can physically see or keep in a box of mementos or have surgically removed. It is the Presence of the Divine within us. If we love our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, that love need not be diluted of its intensity simply because we can’t see Him. For in the Eucharist, the Object of our love is Love, the Extraordinary veiled by the ordinary species of bread and wine. And even though we can’t see Him as He truly is, we still can say along with Saint Peter: “It is good for us to be here” (Mark 9:4).

The Charterhouse That Bears The Name

Dear Friends, for today’s Feast please offer a prayer for Father Lorenzo Maria and the monks of the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Vermont. Thank you!

Here’s a brief meditation on the Transfiguration provided by the Carthusians:

"Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them" (Mark, 9:2-3).

The Transfiguration of the Lord contains all the constitutive elements of Christian contemplation.

Jesus climbs up a mountain to pray, and He takes Peter, James and John with Him.

Suddenly, as He is praying, He is transfigured. (Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29; Mark 9:2). Before Jesus looked like a man, now He is manifested as God-man. His face is still human, but now it now reflects His divinity. His clothes shed intense pure light. Peter, James and John do not see this with their ordinary vision: only their illumined eyes can see the resplendent Glory of the Father (Luke 9:32).

They are awe-struck. Then a cloud comes over and a voice declares: "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him." With these words, the Transfiguration ends and they go down the mountain again.

The Transfiguration of the Lord allows us to contemplate, not only the Mystery of Jesus, but also our own mystery. Prayer and contemplation, lived in pure faith during this life, are the beginning of our own Transfiguration.

The Carthusian monk is wholly dedicated to contemplation: sustained by the scriptures, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit led into the depths of his heart, the monk experiences in some sort the incomparable Beauty of the Light of God radiating from Christ.

"Beloved, we now are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2).

05 August 2009

The Miracle of Saint Dominic

In Dubrovnik, Croatia, which is a very beautiful, scenic city, as seen from the photo below, there are many wonderful pieces of Christian art. Among them is this painting titled: “The Miracle of Saint Dominic” by Vlaho Bukovac. It is a painting from the nineteenth century. It hangs over the altar to the right in the Dominican church at Dubrovnik. The painting depicts a child being brought back to life through the intercession of Saint Dominic.

For me, it is not only a reminder of the great man of God that the founder of the Dominican Order was, but also turns my thoughts to what Jesus said in Saint John’s Gospel: “Amen, amen I say to you, he that believes in Me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do” (John 14:12).

Yesterday much of the Church celebrated the Feast of Saint Jean Marie Vianney. Yesterday also, however, on the Traditional Calendar was the Feast of Saint Dominic.

04 August 2009

My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation

The Church prays the Nunc Dimittis daily in her Night Prayer or Compline. They are the words of Simeon as he held the Christ Child in his arms for the Presentation in the Temple:

“Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory Thy people Israel.”

Saint Ephraem, in his “Homily on Our Lord,” tells us that Simeon is a priest. Our Blessed Mother, perhaps quite prophetically, passes our Lord from her hands into the hands of a priest. And certainly one can sense the overwhelming immensity of Simeon’s emotions as he holds the Savior of the world in his hands. This is far too mysterious for the human intellect to fully grasp. To paraphrase Simeon, what he’s saying is: “Okay Lord, take me now, for what I am doing at this moment, nothing else in this life will surpass it.”

At each and every Holy Mass the priest has the incomprehensible privilege of holding the Savior of the world in his hands on the altar. Please God, may your priests never take for granted the enormity of what they do on the altar!

Today is the Feast of Saint Jean Marie Vianney, the model for this “Year for Priests.” He certainly was never nonchalant about the power given to him as a priest. The Curé d’Ars shed many tears of joy during Mass especially when he was holding our Eucharistic Lord in his hands during his thanksgivings and often long adorations. He would say: “To celebrate Mass one ought to be a seraph! I hold our Lord in my hands. I move Him to the right, and He stays there, to the left, and He stays there! To know what the Mass is would be to die. Only in heaven shall we understand the happiness of saying Mass! Alas, my God, how much a priest is to be pitied when he does this as an ordinary thing!”

It was on a Christmas night at Mass as he held the Sacred Host in his hands above the Chalice, and tears were flowing from his eyes when the Holy Curé prayed in his heart: “My God, if I knew that I was to be damned, now that I hold Thee, I would not let Thee go again.”

And how about those of us in the laity? What should our disposition be as the priest holds our Lord in his hands? We will never appreciate our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as “un bain d’amour” (a bath of love), to quote Saint Jean Marie Vianney, until we establish a daily prayer life. The Holy Curé d’Ars referred to prayer as man’s noble task. As servants of God, prayer is not an option, but an absolute necessity. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Saint Jean Marie gives us something to think about: “Saint Catherine of Genoa so hungered for this heavenly Bread that she could not see it in the priest’s hands without feeling as though she were dying of love, so great was her desire to possess it, and she would cry: ‘Ah, Lord come into me! My God, come to me, I can bear it no longer! Ah, my God, come, if it please Thee, into my inmost heart; no, my God, I can bear it no longer. Thou art my whole joy, my whole happiness, and the only Food of my soul.’ Happy the Christian who comprehends this. If we understood it even a little, we could only desire life so far as it meant the happiness of making Jesus Christ our daily Bread.”

Do you think anyone would ever consider skipping Mass if they possessed the same love for the Blessed Sacrament as that of Saints Jean Marie Vianney and Catherine of Genoa?