February 23, 2017

Pope Benedict XVI on the Measure of True Humanism

Pope Benedict XVI

"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be 'tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine', seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An 'adult' faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth."

From the homily of Card. Joseph Ratzinger at the Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff (Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice), April 18, 2005.

February 22, 2017

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp

"When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his under-garment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body. Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honor in tribute to his holiness of life.

There and then he was surrounded by the material for the pyre. When they tried to fasten him also with nails, he said: 'Leave me as I am. The one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails.' So they did not fix him to the pyre with nails but only fastened him instead. Bound as he was, with hands behind his back, he stood like a mighty ram, chosen out for sacrifice from a great flock, a worthy victim made ready to be offered to God.

Looking up to heaven, he said: 'Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

'I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.'

When he had said 'Amen' and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it. But, when a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Indeed, we have been spared in order to tell the story to others. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum."

Excerpt from the Divine Office of Readings for the Feast of Saint Polycarp, February 23, "The martyrdom of Saint Polycarp by the Church of Smyrna".

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, Bishop and Martyr

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna
February 23th, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Polycarp (69 – 155 AD), the 1st century bishop, martyr and renowned Apostolic Father. Polycarp was widely venerated largely through the accounts of his heroic martyrdom as recorded by the Church in Smyrna. Tradition holds he was born a pagan before being befriended by Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist who catechized Polycarp in the Faith. As Bishop of Smyrna, (a city in Turkey) Polycarp defended orthodoxy and was a staunch opponent of heresy, most notably the Gnostic sects of Marcionism and Valentinianism.

He is honored in both the Eastern and Western Church as one of the three chief Apostolic Fathers (together with Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Ignatius of Antioch). His pupil Saint Irenaeus of Lyons praised his personal holiness and great devotion to God. Some scholars contend that Polycarp may have been responsible for compiling, editing and publishing the New Testament. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that his influence on the development of the early Church was unrivalled and profound.

Polycarp wrote several epistles to various Christian communities in his capacity as bishop. The only surviving letter, his letter to the Philippians, he reminded that Church not to submit their faith to the "gnostic" preachers whose claim was to present a more intellectually sophisticated gospel. Polycarp wrote, citing St. John:
For every one who shall not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is antichrist, and whosoever shall not confess the testimony of the Cross, is of the devil; and whosoever shall pervert the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts and say that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, that man is the firstborn of Satan. Let us therefore, without ceasing, hold fast by our hope and by the pledge of our righteousness.... Jesus Christ, who took up our sins in His own body upon the cross, for our sakes, endured all things – so that we might live in Him.
At the age of 86, in the seventieth year of his episcopate, Polycarp was revered as a holy and wise man. During a wave of Christian persecution the future saint gave his courageous final testimony. The Martyrology recounts the events thusly:

"At Smyrna, the death of St. Polycarp. He was a disciple of the holy apostle John, who consecrated him bishop of that city; and there he acted as the primate of all Asia Minor. Later, under Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, he was brought before the tribunal of the proconsul; and when all the people in the amphitheater cried out against him, he was handed over to be burned to death. But since the fire caused him no harm, he was put to death by the sword. Thus he gained the crown of martyrdom. With him, twelve other Christians, who came from Philadelphia, met death by martyrdom in the same city."

Saint Polycarp could have saved his life, but he refused to renounces his faith in Christ. May we have the courage to live lives of heroic virtue, whether in times of societal persecution, in the face of intimidation or when fighting our own personal weakness. Loving God of all creation, who were pleased to give the Bishop Saint Polycarp a place in the company of the Martyrs, grant, through his intercession, that sharing with him in the chalice of Christ, we may rise through the Holy Spirit to eternal life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Homily for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017, Year A

The Sermon on the Mount
Detail, The Sermon on the Mount, William Brassey Hole, c. 1900.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Today’s scripture readings provoke the question: What kind of God is God? Who among us has not pondered the answer to that question? What do we expect God to do for us? As revealing as the answer may be, a further question arises: What does God expect of us? More often than not we don’t want to even begin to answer that one. Nevertheless in moments when we do take time to reflect on life’s bigger questions we ought to face it. Where do we place our trust — in God or in material comforts and success? To what or to whom do I give my heart? Jesus who well knows the human heart clearly warns us that where our treasure is, there we will know what is in our hearts.

The danger to our hearts and to our eternal life with God in heaven lies in our ensnarement in the values of this world –power, wealth, fame, and the glitter of this world’s treasures, treasures that are by no means safe and secure in our hands. Setting our hearts on them means that we are not setting our hearts to what is truly lasting and of great value. Setting our hearts on them means that we give scant attention to God’s love for us, a love which God expresses in today’s first reading: Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you.

I am frequently puzzled by preachers who project God as vengeful, full of anger, wrath, and ever ready to punish us at any opportunity. I have come to recognize that we can find whatever version of God that we want to find in the Bible. Moreover I realize that much of the vengeance that can be found in those preachments is the result of human manipulation for political and selfish purposes. Look around you, watch the news, read the newspapers, pay attention to advertising– you need little more confirmation of my observation than this. The result is that all kinds of people use God as an excuse for doing the very things that Jesus taught us we should not do. But the sad fact remains that the average person is more motivated by fear than by love. Ask yourself this question: “How many bad decisions have I made because they were grounded in fear and not in love?”

God is a God of justice and justice requires a certain restoration in which we suffer the consequences of our actions. Crimes ought not to go unpunished. But restorative justice is not vengeful. Usually sins bring with them their own punishment. But vengeance? I am reminded of one occasion when Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem and was rejected by the citizens of a Samaritan town. St. Luke reports it as follows:
When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him; but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9: 51-55)
When you stop and consider it, the punishment of those Samaritans was that they denied themselves of the healing and loving presence of God in Christ. While His disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven upon them, Jesus would have none of it. Their punishment did not have vengeance on top of it. Our Blessed Lord did not come down from heaven to reveal a vengeful God.

We need to see that God’s chastisements are designed to bring us to repentance and a return to union with Him. An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth is an expression that was found in cultures surrounding the Jews. Retribution is not in God’s thinking. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is clearly not found in the heart of Jesus. He is interested, very interested, in finding that we treasure His love in our hearts and that we are willing to forego the attractions of this world in order to secure that “pearl of great price.” Repentance and reconciliation are many times necessary for us in order to return to union with God in our hearts and souls. When it comes to repenting we need not fear. His heart calls to our heart. Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I, God declares, will never forget you.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” Jesus tells us. This teaching ought to give us pause and prompt us to do some serious reflecting. If our hearts are filled with worldly visions and values we put our souls, our inner selves, into mortal danger, the danger of ignoring what God offers us, namely eternal life with Him in heaven. God brought us into being, into a life that has purpose. We are purpose-made to live in happiness with God forever in heaven. Whether or not we will live in heaven with God in eternal happiness depends on the choices we make here in this life. It is of the greatest importance, then, to see that God is not a wrathful and vengeful God; rather we need to see and understand that God is friendly, and wants us to be happy. He did not make us for His wrath, He made us for His love.

We have choices to make, choices that bring with them enormous and everlasting consequences. Satan is busily at work trying to convince us that we are unworthy and that in our unworthiness a God of vengeance is going to strike us down, so why bother with God at all? We face problems, sometimes problems that seem to be unbearable. Satan busily tries to convince us that God simply doesn’t care, that He’s not a friendly God, that He’s a punishing God, and that religion is therefore useless nonsense.

I do not believe that God intended for us to live in fear. Jesus taught us over and over to allow love and compassion to guide our every move. This fundamental message from the Bible is reinforced by the beauty in the world and in the universe around us. I believe that God intends for us to live hope-filled lives of joy, and to share that hope and joy with as many people as possible.

There are moments when we all experience God’s goodness in His creation, in the heavens above, in the great and majestic mountains, in beautiful lakes, on rivers, and in forests. There are moments when we experience the glories of nature crying out and pointing to the glorious and beautiful goodness of God. Jesus calls us to see that when He cries out: Behold the lilies of the field, how they grow without doing any work, and without running around in circles, yet I tell you that even King Solomon in all of his glory was never dressed as beautifully as these flowers.” 

In few weeks from now we will be surrounded by Easter Lilies in celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. How appropriate that we should remember to stop worrying! These beautiful flowers, along with all of the budding, blooming creation of spring, are evidence that God is friendly and he wants us to be happy. So be happy. Repent, convert, turn away from the miseries of sin, and set yourself on the path to real happiness.

There are treasures in heaven, treasures beyond anything we can imagine or value. How foolish to live life here without ensuring that we will die in God’s good graces and in His loving embrace. The attraction of things here below ought not so capture our souls that we give no attention or thought to what awaits us in the next life. The worldly are wrong because all their decisions are based on what pleases us only in this life. They are wrong because they sell short the reason we have life in the first place, and the goal we have in living as God would have us live. Their vision is totally focused on the things here below, things that are quickly passing. Their vision blinds us to the things that await us if we respond to God’s invitation to live in love with Him now so what we can be happy forever living with Him in heaven.

No man can devote himself to two masters. We must not love the things of this world to the exclusion of the love of God. St. Augustine observed that we are, each one of us, filled with longings, yearnings, and a deep-seated hunger. Said he: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

So, then, in your heart of hearts, what are you seeking?

February 21, 2017

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

Cathedra Petri
The Cathedra Petri (Chair of Peter) in the apse of Saint Peter's Basilica.

On February 22nd, the Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter during which we remember the papacy and Saint Peter as the first bishop of Rome. This feast recalls Christ giving Peter the special mission of teacher and pastor, an office that has continued across time to the present Pope, Francis. We acknowledge the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter, and renew our faithfulness to the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths defined ex cathedra, and to all the decrees of the ordinary Magisterium.

In Caesarea Philippi, following Peter's profession of faith that Jesus was the Messiah, [Matthew 16: 13-20] Christ declares to Peter:
[Y]ou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Upon our Lord's solemn words, since early times, the Roman Church has held a special commemoration of the primatial authority of St. Peter. As witness one of the most renowned of the Apostolic Fathers, the Roman See has always held a peculiar place in the affection and obedience of orthodox believers because of its "presiding in love" and abiding fidelity and service over all the Churches of God.

"We shall find in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, willing to begin the mystery of unity in His Church, among all His disciples chose twelve; but that, willing to consummate the mystery of unity in the same Church, among the twelve He chose one. He called His disciples, said the Gospel; here are all; and among them He chose twelve. Here is the first separation, and the Apostles chosen. And these are the names of the twelve Apostles: the first, Simon, who is called Peter. [Mt. 10, 1-2] Here, in a second separation, St. Peter is set at the head, and called for that reason by the name of Peter, 'which Jesus Christ,' says St. Mark, 'had given him,' in order to prepare, as you will see, the work which He was proposing to raise all His building on that stone" (Jacques Bossuet, The See of St. Peter).

Pope Benedict explains the spiritual significance of the feast for the Church.
This is a very ancient tradition, proven to have existed in Rome since the fourth century. On it we give thanks to God for the mission he entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his Successors.
"Cathedra" literally means the established seat of the Bishop, placed in the mother church of a diocese which for this reason is known as a "cathedral"; it is the symbol of the Bishop's authority and in particular, of his "magisterium", that is, the evangelical teaching which, as a successor of the Apostles, he is called to safeguard and to transmit to the Christian Community ....

The See of Rome, after St Peter's travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop's "cathedra" represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock ...
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Feb. 22, 2006).
Today's first reading (1 Peter 5:1–4) is from Peter himself. He enjoins both the Church's ordained ministers, and us, to: "Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock." May we tend God's flock in imitation of Christ and in union with the Holy Father and our brothers and sisters in the Church on earth. Grant, we pray, almighty God, that no tempests may disturb us, for you have set us fast on the rock of the Apostle Peter's confession of faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Peter Damian — His Wisdom in 12 Quotations

Saint Peter Damian

Saint Peter Damian was an 11th century reformer Benedictine monk, cardinal and scholar who advised Pope Leo IX. He was prayerfully pious and strident in his defense of orthodoxy. He observed that "when you spurn this life and its wisdom, you may deserve by happy exchange to be filled with the divine Spirit, who will urge you on to eternal glory." Here is a selection of his wisdom in 12 quotes.

Through a woman [Eve] a curse fell upon the earth; through a woman [Mary] as well there returned to the earth a blessing.
I scourge both flesh and spirit because I know that I have offended in both flesh and spirit.
And what more should I say since it expels the whole host of the virtues from the chamber of the human heart and introduces every barbarous vice as if the bolts of the doors were pulled out.
Truly, this vice is never to be compared with any other vice because it surpasses the enormity of all vices.... It defiles everything, stains everything, pollutes everything. And as for itself, it permits nothing pure, nothing clean, nothing other than filth...
For the wisdom of the flesh brings death, but that of the spirit brings life and peace, since the wisdom of the flesh is the enemy of God; it is not subject to God's law, nor can it be. And since the wisdom of the flesh is unable to bear the yoke of God's law, it cannot look upon it either, for its eyes are clouded with the smoke of pride.
We hold our tongues in check because if they are undisciplined they empty the soul of the strength of heavenly grace, and weaken its healthful vigour.
The best penance is to have patience with the sorrows God permits. A very good penance is to dedicate oneself to fulfill the duties of everyday with exactitude and to study and work with all our strength.
He pours light into our minds, arouses our desire and gives us strength... As the soul is the life of the body, so the Holy Spirit is the life of our souls.
Do not be depressed. Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face. Let the joy of your mind burst forth from your lips.
Nobody can fight properly and boldly for the faith if he clings to a fear of being stripped of earthly possessions.
By what right or by what law can one bind or loose the other when he is constrained by the bonds of evil deeds common to them both?
It is not sinners, but the wicked who should despair; it is not the magnitude of one’s crime, but contempt of God that dashes one’s hopes.
Saint Peter Damian, Holy Bishop and Doctor of the Church, pray for us!

The Holy Father's Prayer Intentions for March 2017

Pope Francis' coat of arms Please remember the Holy Father Pope Francis' intentions in prayer throughout the month of March:

Support for Persecuted Christians.

That persecuted Christians may be supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.

Beginning in 2017, the Pope will present one prepared prayer intention per month, rather than two. Should an urgent need arise, an additional intention may be added.

February 20, 2017

St. Peter Damian Concerning True Happiness & Wisdom

Saint Peter Damian

The following commentary is excerpted from The Fifty-Eighth Treatise of Saint Peter Damian entitled: Concerning True Happiness and Wisdom, Chapter 6.

"And so, beloved, if you cannot yet be content with the life of the spirit alone as your only bride, but are held bound by the evil caresses and allurements of life in the world, at least let the love of everlasting life hold first place in the household of your heart, as befits the first-born; and let concern for earthly things be in a place of subjection, as an inferior to be kept in check. In the Song of Songs [Chapter 2:6] it is said: 'His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.' Now the left hand is said to be under the head when this life is scorned and despised by the mind, which is the head and source of our thoughts.

He is held in the embrace of the right hand who at all times takes pleasure in longing for eternal life alone. And because Solomon also says: 'Give a portion to seven and also to eight', [Ecclesiastes, Chapter 11:2] hasten forward in this life, which is signified by the number seven, in suchwise that you may now strive with all your powers to abide in the love of life everlasting, which through the number eight signifies the glory of the Resurrection. Show only a careless and fleeting concern for this world; fix your unwavering and enduring purpose of unfailing love on the world to come, which is everlasting.

Moreover, I would like to remind you that what I have said of this mortal life applies also to the wisdom of the world, so that in your soul mortal life and earthly wisdom may yield, trodden down, as it were by the heel of the mind. But may the love of eternal life and zeal for spiritual wisdom surpass all other things, set on the highest pinnacle of your heart, so that when you spurn this life and its wisdom, you may deserve by happy exchange to be filled with the divine Spirit, who will urge you on to eternal glory. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Pope Pius XI on Eucharistic Adoration

Pope Pius XI

An earlier post included this quote from Pope Pius XI in part. Below are the Holy Father's words in their entirety. As Pius XI notes, the Eucharist abounds in grace.

"When Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men — and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: 'Behold this Heart' — He said — 'which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of more special love.' In order that these faults might be washed away, He then recommended several things to be done, and in particular the following as most pleasing to Himself, namely that men should approach the Altar with this purpose of expiating sin, making what is called a Communion of Reparation — and that they should likewise make expiatory supplications and prayers, prolonged for a whole hour — which is rightly called the 'Holy Hour.' These pious exercises have been approved by the Church and have also been enriched with copious indulgences."

— Pope Pius XI 

Optional Memorial of Saint Peter Damian, Reformer

St. Peter Damian
On February 21st, the Church celebrates the optional memorial of Saint Peter Damian (1007-72), the reforming bishop and cardinal who lived as an ascetic hermit, scholar and advisor to popes. Although the austerities that St. Peter Damian undertook during his life in the 11th century may seem extreme to us in the 21st, they nonetheless prepared him to be one of the great reformers of the Church in an era when it took great holiness and strength of character to prevail against the status quo.

He was born in the city of Ravenna, Italy, in the year 1007, and lost both his parents while still a young boy. He was brought in by an older brother who, unfortunately, treated him more like a slave in his household than a member of the family. Fortunately, Peter's brother, the arch-priest of Ravenna, took pity on him and took him into his own household. There, he made sure his younger sibling attended good schools, and Peter, who proved to be an apt student, would became a professor of tremendous renown.

But he realized that this was not the life he was created for. Even as a young man, he began to practice severe austerities, wearing a hair shirt while fasting and praying almost constantly. After meeting two Benedictines of the reform of St. Romuald at Fonte Avellana, Peter left teaching and went to live with the brothers in a hermitage. There, he overdid his asceticism to the point where he suffered greatly from insomnia, which he overcame with difficulty. After that, he became more prudent in caring for his health and physical well-being.

By the 1040s, Peter (who had taken his second brother’s name, Damian, as his surname) was gaining renown in the Church as both a leader and a great reformer. He was so respected by the brothers he lived with that they decided by acclaim that he should become abbot upon the death of their present spiritual leader. Always one who preferred a life of solitude and prayer, Peter refused until the abbot himself made it a matter of obedience. Thus, in 1043, Peter succeeded to the leadership of his community and went on to found five other hermitages in Italy. In all of them, he urged the brothers to a life of solitude and prayer.

But such solitude was to elude Peter himself. The Holy See often called upon him to mediate conflicts between religious and religious communities and, in 1057, Pope Stephen IX appointed him cardinal-bishop of Ostia, an area southwest of Rome. Peter accepted the post with great reluctance, but used it to continue and intensify his mission of reform. He targeted specifically the practice of simony, in which clergy would charge money in return for spiritual services. He also insisted on the practice of clerical celibacy, and urged diocesan priests to live together in order to promote a deeper prayer life and religious observance. It was his desire to "restore a primitive discipline" that was lacking in the priests of his time. Known for the vehemence of his teaching, it was said of him that "his genius was to exhort and impel to the heroic, to praise striking achievements and to record edifying examples... an extraordinary force burns in all that he wrote."

And yet, Peter’s desire was always to live the life of a simple monk, a wish that was finally granted by Pope Alexander II who nevertheless reserved the right to call on him from time to time to settle disputes for the Holy See. It was while returning from one of these missions in 1072 in the city of Ravenna that he contracted the fever that would kill him eight days later, surrounded by monks praying the Divine Office.

Saint Peter Damian was pronounced a Doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII. In his poem, the Divine Comedy, Dante places Damian in the "Seventh Heaven," the place where the holiest saints contemplate God. All-powerful God, help us to follow the teachings and example of Peter Damian. By making Christ and the service of His Church the first love of our lives, may we come to the joys of eternal light. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

February 19, 2017

Feast of Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto

February 20th, dioceses in Portugal celebrate the feast of Blesseds Francisco, 11, and Jacinta, 10, the youngest non-martyrs to be beatified in the Church's history. The brother and sister, who tended their families’ sheep herds together with their cousin Lucia Santo in Fatima, Portugal, witnessed apparitions of Mary, known as Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady urged man to pray the rosary and to return to God.

Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after.

At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. 90,000 people gathered for the final apparition, October 13, 1917.

Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sr. Lucia died in 2005. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by 20 million people a year.

O God who granted these two shepherd children the grace to become little burning bushes on fire with love for the Holy Father and for sinners, and burning with love for Our Lady and the “hidden” Jesus, grant that we, too, may be like Francisco and Jacinta, so that we, too, may burn with the same love and, with them, all meet together again in Heaven around Our Lady in adoration of the Blessed Trinity. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.

Adapted from Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feasts, Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

Popes of the Twentieth Century on the Real Presence

Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI, Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Pius X
Clockwise from L to R: Pope Pius XI, Pope Paul VI,
Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. Pius X.

The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. If not for the Incarnation, there could be no Eucharist. In the words of Servant of God Father John Hardon: "We are to believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ - simply, without qualification. It is God become man in the fullness of His divine nature, in the fullness of His human nature, in the fullness of His body and soul, in the fullness of everything that makes Jesus Jesus. He is in the Eucharist with His human mind and will united with the Divinity… That is what our Catholic Faith demands of us… If we believe this, we are Catholic. If we do not, we are not, no matter what people may think we are." Below are quotes on the Most Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Faith, from 20th century pontiffs.

The faith of the Church is this: That one and identical is the Word of God and the Son of Mary Who suffered on the Cross, Who is present in the Eucharist, and Who rules in Heaven.
— Pope Pius XII
From the Eucharist comes strength to live the Christian life and zeal to share that life with others.
— Pope St. John Paul II
Once for all beloved children, the surest, easiest, shortest way is by the Eucharist. It is so easy to approach the holy table, and there we taste the joys of Paradise.
— Pope St. Pius X
The surest, easiest, shortest way [to heaven] is the Eucharist.
— Pope St. Pius X
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
— Pope St. John Paul II
Just as the divine Redeemer, dying on the Cross, offered Himself as Head of the whole human race to the eternal Father, so also in this "clean oblation" (Mal 1:2), He, as Head of the Church, offers not only Himself but, in Himself, all His mystical members.
In this manner [Eucharistic adoration] the faithful testify to and solemnly make evident the Faith of the Church according to which the Word of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary who suffered on the Cross, who lies present hidden in the Eucharist, and who reigns in heaven are believed to be identical.
— Pope Pius XII
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the Living Heart of each of our parishes.
— Pope Paul VI
To keep me from sin and straying from Him, God has used devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. My life vows destined to be spent in the light irradiating from the tabernacle, and it is to the Heart of Jesus that I dare go for the solution of all my problems.
— Pope St. John XXIII
The Eucharist is source and pledge of blessedness and glory, not for the soul alone, but for the body also.... In the frail and perishable body that divine Host, which is the immortal body of Christ, implants a principle of resurrection, a seed of immortality, which one day must germinate,"
— Pope Leo XIII
When Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men — and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: "Behold this Heart" — He said — "which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of more special love." 
— Pope Pius XI

Reflection on Matthew 6:24-34, "You cannot serve God and mammon…"

Jesus preaching

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017

By Father Bernard Bourgeois

Leviticus 19:1, 2, 17, 18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 6:24-34

Originally published in 2011

As I sit to write this column, it is New Year’s Day. What will this year bring? Like everyone who is reading this column, I am a natural worrier. I spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things over which I have little if any control. As a Catholic high school principal, I worry about budgets, enrollment, staffing, strategic planning, and a host of other issues that at times overwhelm me. You who are reading this column can make your own list of issues that worry you. I am sure that primary among your concerns would be employment, the economy, your children and their needs and decisions, and whatever else. Before reading further, it might be helpful to take a moment and write a list of the things that worry you the most.

In the Gospel for this Sunday (Mt 6:24-34), Jesus teaches the following: “You cannot serve God and mammon… . Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you wear… . Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Wow! What an extraordinary statement! Jesus does not want his followers to worry about tomorrow’s needs, or what they will eat or wear in the future. Jesus makes this a condition of discipleship. Why? The first statement of the quote from Matthew says it all: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” “Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property, and signifies a choice that is not of God, but one driven by greed and avarice.

Jesus knows human nature so well. He knows that the human person can only concentrate on one thing at once. I do not think Jesus would have agreed with the modern notion that multitasking is a virtue! Jesus wants his people to concentrate on what matters most. Look beyond the day-to-day concerns of food and clothing and see the bigger picture, says Jesus in the Gospels. He advises his followers to focus their attention on God, the creator and sustainer of all that is. Food and clothing pale in comparison to the love of God shown through Jesus Christ.

Fully concentrating on day-to-day living issues can lead one away from God. If food, clothing, and shelter become the priority, the person will never have enough or be satisfied with what he or she has right now. In the consumer society in which we live today, there is always the temptation for bigger, more expensive, the latest fashion or technology, and the most popular. Any of these whims could change tomorrow, and the cycle begins anew. This is why Jesus says the person cannot serve both God and mammon! Serving mammon will take one’s full undivided attention and all of one’s resources.

Instead, Jesus wants his followers to focus on God and his call to a life based in him and his teachings. These are the things that are permanent! Food, clothing, and shelter are all perishable in the end. What is not perishable is one’s relationship with God. It takes a certain maturity in faith to look beyond the perishable and concentrate solely on God. For the person who does, life takes on new meaning. The latest whims of the market take on less priority. Learning to live with what one has becomes easier and one has the ability to live well with less.

It is only in prayer that this attitude toward worldly things can be achieved. Food, clothing, and shelter take on less importance in the face of prayer and of being in the presence of God. One realizes rather quickly that those things don’t matter as much, and more importantly, if one makes a conscious decision to spend more time with God, the rest takes care of itself. At the realization that all things come from God, the person becomes very satisfied with what is, and does not look to the latest fashion or whim. The list of worries begins to shrink because the disciple believes the list is in God’s hands, and that in his time all concerns and issues will be remedied. It is the goal of every follower of Jesus Christ to set his or her sights on him alone, and allow him to direct, guide, and supply his followers with all they need in this life and, most importantly, with life eternal.

Homily for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 26, 2017, Year A

Christ Reproving the Pharisees
Christ Reproving the Pharisees, James Tissot, c. 1890.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

When we give someone a gift at Christmas, or at a birthday party or anniversary event, we call it a present. Why? Because you are close to that person, that friend, that loved one. Your presence is contained within your gift, your present.

When you twitter someone with a tweet, or e-mail that person, you are present to them. When you send someone a hand-written letter you are more personally present than you are when you tweet them. I suppose that’s because sending a letter in your own handwriting requires more effort than reaching you friend or loved one with a few electronic bytes. Isn’t a handwritten letter more personal than an electronic note?

Also, there are types of closeness. Think, for instance, of the differences between shaking hands, holding hands, and kissing someone. The qualities of closeness and of presence differ. The more personal the presence the better is our relationship with another. Enjoying the presence of another, enjoying the presence of someone we want to be our friend, or someone we want to love us is one of the greatest treasures of our lives.

But presence involves listening. Do you listen with just your ears or do you listen and hear with your heart? When you are listening to someone with your heart you are paying them deep attention. The quality of your presence is higher when you are more empathetic than simply sympathetic.

Hearts speak to hearts and that is particularly so when it comes to you and God.

All of which leads me to turn our attention now to asking the question: How is God present to you? How do you expect God to be present to you? Do you expect God to be present to you by actually believing that He cares for you, that He loves you and wants to be with you? Do we pray our prayers with our words, or do we pray our prayers personally with our hearts? It’s one thing to recite prayers, it’s quite another to pray with our hearts, to pray in the presence of God while conscious of the fact that He cares.

The big problem you and I face in the world we live in today is that our lives are filled with busyness, things, and clutter amidst a lot of noise. Since that is so, where do you look for God… where do you expect to be aware of His presence with you and His love for you? The world around us does not care very much about God, if at all. In fact there are many voices that tell to keep God out of our lives. Paying attention to God is not in favor these days and yet God is present to the souls He has created even though they don’t realize it.

Today’s scripture passages are all about the proposition that God loves you with a love beyond anything that you can comprehend. He loves you with an everlasting love that knows no limits. He loves you with a love so deep that you will never understand it.

You might ask, “How so we know that?” Take some time to gaze at a crucifix and you will have your answer. Moreover, God is present to you in a Holy Communion that you will never fully comprehend.

Today’s scripture readings provoke another question: What kind of God is God? Who among us has not searched for the answer to that question? What do we expect God to do for us? As revealing as the answer may be, a related question arises: What does God expect of us? More often than not we don’t want to even begin to answer that one. Nevertheless in moments when we do take time to reflect on life’s bigger questions we ought to face it. Where do we place our trust — in God or in material comforts and success? To what or to whom do I give my heart? Jesus who well knows the human heart and He clearly warns us that where our treasure is, there we will know what is in our hearts.

If, however, we wish to have a relationship with God then we must address the fundamental questions in all human relationships: What do we look for in each other and what do we expect of each other?

The danger to our hearts and to our eternal life with God in heaven lies in our ensnarement in the values of this world –power, wealth, fame, pleasures, and the glitter of this world’s treasures, treasures that are by no means safe and secure in our hands. Setting our hearts on them means that we are not setting our hearts on what is truly lasting and of great value. Setting our hearts on them means that we give scant attention to God’s love for us, a love which God expresses in today’s first reading, “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will never forget you.”

These words were taken from the Old Testament’s book of the prophet Isaiah. He spoke them to his Hebrew people as God delivered them from their captivity in Babylon and they were about to return to their homeland of Israel. They were words of consolation, words speaking of God’s love for His people. He was always close to them; He always loved them. Now He was delivering them from their pain and suffering:
Shout for joy, you heavens; earth, exult! Mountains, break into joyful cries! For Yahweh has consoled his people, is taking pity on his afflicted ones. Zion was saying, ‘Yahweh has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ [But] can a woman forget her baby at the breast, feel no pity for the child she has borne? Even if these were to forget, I shall not forget you. (Isaiah 49:13-15)
Similarly the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel account speak of God’s love for us and of His desire to free us from all that holds us captive and keeps us apart from Him. God is always present to us waiting for us to be with Him. How have we in turn been present to Him? There are some clear answers we can have.

We can spend some quality time alone with God reflecting on what has happened in our lives and where we have experienced His love. Times of just being with Him are times of deep, intimate prayer.

Many parishes have Chapels of Adoration, places where we can go and spend quiet time alone with God in the Blessed Sacrament.

Reading sacred scripture is another way of enjoying God’s presence and giving Him your presence in return. I’m not speaking of simply reading bible passages. I’m speaking of absorbing what they inspire within you, absorbing what God’s Word has to say to you.

When we give someone a gift at Christmas, or at a birthday party or anniversary, we call it a present. Why? Because you are close to that person, that friend, or that loved one. Your presence is contained within your present to him or her. Why not give God a present some day soon… quality time alone with Him? After all, hearts speak to hearts.

Saint John Paul II on the Sanctity of Life

St. John Paul II
The legalization of the termination of pregnancy is none other than the authorization given to an adult, with the approval of an established law, to take the lives of children yet unborn and thus incapable of defending themselves. It is difficult to imagine a more unjust situation, and it is very difficult to speak of obsession in a matter such as this, where we are dealing with a fundamental imperative of every good conscience — the defense of the right to life of an innocent and defenseless human being.
— St. John Paul II

Prayer to God the Father of all Life

Eternal God, You have revealed Yourself as the Father of all Life. We praise You for the Fatherly care which You extend to all creation, and especially to us, made in Your image and likeness. Father, extend Your hand of protection to all those threatened by abortion, and save them from its destructive power. Strengthen all fathers so that they never give in to the fears that may tempt them to facilitate abortions. Bless our families and bless our country, that we may always welcome and nurture the life of which You are the source and the Eternal Father. Amen.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017, Year A

Sermon on the Mount

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

The Gospel has always been counter-cultural, from the time of Jesus to our own day. In no place is this more obvious than today’s Gospel text. Turn the other cheek? Never, no way, no how.

The same applies to giving up more than your adversary demands, or doubling troublesome obligations.

And yet, Jesus tell us that this is the way to be perfect! The first reading uses the term “holy,” but somehow the meaning seems to be the same.

So, if that’s what it takes, do we really want to be perfect, do we really want to be holy?

And even if we could bring ourselves to do these things, how could we avoid resentment at the humiliation and loss of face? How would we be able to deal with it?

There is plenty of resentment out there, around us and within us. There is plenty of frustration and anger behind it. These affect almost every sphere of life: political, personal, family, authority issues, justice, etc.

Think of the greatest source of anger and frustration in your life. Think of the persons or groups that you see as the cause. Now, stop and say a prayer for them.

Really? Yes, really! You might well feel resistance to doing so. Resentment is such a powerful force. It is part of our natural defensive instinct. It has a preventive side as well, when we are on our guard not to be hurt or taken advantage of.

St. Paul offers a great clue to overcoming this resistance. We are a temple, the Holy Spirit’s dwelling.

What if we had a special bulletin board in our church where people could say every nasty thing about the people they hate? Would that be in any way appropriate? Neither is it appropriate in our heart and soul, God’s temple. There would be a kind of defilement in both cases.

And remember: “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

February 17, 2017

Aquinas is the Reason Catholicism Does Not Have a ‘Radical Islam’ Problem

St. Thomas Aquinas and Averroes

Tradition holds that the medieval saint Thomas Aquinas levitated and had visions of our Lord. He was greatly concerned with explaining the mind of God, and he continues to matter because he helps us with a problem which still confounds us today; how we can reconcile religion with science and faith with reason.

Aquinas’ monumental contribution was to teach Western civilization that any person could have access to great truths whenever they made use of God's gift of reason. Aquinas broke a log jam in Christian thinking over the question of how non-Christians could have both wisdom and at the same time no interest in or even knowledge of Jesus. Aquinas universalized intelligence. He opened the Christian mind to the insights of all of humanity from across the ages and the continents. The modern world insofar as it insists that good ideas can come from any quarter regardless of creed or background remains hugely in Aquinas’ debt.

As a young seminarian, Aquinas went to study at the University of Naples and there came into contact with a source of knowledge which had just been rediscovered, ancient Greek and Roman texts. Aquinas became an academic at the University of Paris where he was an exceptionally prolific writer, producing nearly 200 pieces about Christian theology in less than three decades. Aquinas brilliantly proposed that the universe and all its dynamics operate according to two kinds of law, secular natural law, and religious eternal law.

For Aquinas, a lot of the world follows natural laws. We can find out for ourselves how to smelt iron, build an aqueduct or organize an economy, and none of this relies on believing in God. Aquinas discussed Jesus's injunction to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus may have given this idea a particularly memorable formulation, conceded Aquinas, but it's in fact been a cornerstone of moral principles in most societies at most times. How could this be possible? Well the reason Aquinas argued, is that it's an idea that belongs to natural and not eternal law.  Aquinas conceded that in a few situations, God does work simply through eternal law outside of human reason and he cited prophetic revelations and the visits of angels as examples. However, he reassured us that most knowledge can be found by anyone within the realm of natural law.

Aquinas’s ideas unfolded at a time when Islamic culture was going through a very similar dilemma as Christianity in terms of how one can reconcile reason and faith. For a long time, the Islamic caliphates in Spain, Morocco and Egypt had flourished by being open to knowledge from all over the world, generating a wealth of new scientific ideas and philosophy. However, due to the increasing influence of fanatical religious leaders, Islam had become more dogmatic and oppressive, by the time Aquinas was born. It had for example, reacted violently against the Muslim philosopher Averroes.

Like Aquinas, Averroes had been deeply influenced by Aristotle, and had argued that reason and religion could be compatible. However, the caliphates anxious never to depart from the literal words of God made sure that Averroes’ ideas would be banned and his books burnt. Aquinas knew that the Muslim world's increasingly radical rejection of reason was harming what had once being its thriving intellectual culture, and it was overwhelmingly thanks to Aquinas’s ideas that Christianity did not suffer the same process of stratification.

Though Aquinas was a man of deep faith, he provided a philosophical framework for open scientific inquiry. He reminds us that knowledge can and should come from multiple sources; from intuition, but also from rationality, from science, but also from revelation, from pagans, but also from monks. That sounds obvious until we notice just how often civilization has been, and is still being harmed, by people’s refusal to accept Aquinas’ profound insight.

February 16, 2017

The Seven Founders of the Order of Servites

Seven Founders of the Order of Servites

The following seven saints Buonfiglio dei Monaldi (Bonfilius), Alexis Falconieri, John Bonagiunta, Benedict dell'Antella, Bartholomew Amidei, Gerard Sostegni, and Ricoverus Uguccione were the founders of the Servite Order, a religious community dedicated explicitly to helping foster the practice of reparation and contemplating the Passion of our Lord and the Blessed Mother's Seven Sorrows. The Servites accomplishments are not widely known, due to the spirit of humility cherished by its members. Their work in home missions promoting reverence for Christ’s suffering on Calvary and inspiring devotion to the Mother of Sorrows has benefited innumerable souls. Their divine ministry began in a period of turmoil.

When Florence and all Italy was beset by civil strife, during the 13th century, God called seven men from the nobility of Florence. In 1233, they met together and prayed for guidance. The Blessed Mother appeared to each of them individually and extolled them to pursue lives of heroic virtue. Forsaking wealth and privilege, wearing the well-worn clothing of peasants, they withdrew to a small dwelling in the country to live as hermits. It was September 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; a date selected so that they might begin to live a more holy life on the very day when the Mother of God began to live her holy life.

Seven years later, on April 13, 1240, the hermits were gathered in fervent prayer, when they received a vision of Our Lady. She held in her hand a black habit, and a nearby angel held a scroll on which was written "Servants of Mary."

Mary said to them:

"You will found a new order, and you will be my witnesses throughout the world. This is your name, Servants of Mary. This is your rule, that of Saint Augustine, and your distinctive sign shall be the black scapular, in memory of my sufferings."

Providentially, soon after, when the seven were begging for alms in the streets of Florence, they heard children's voices calling to them, "Servants of holy Mary." Among these children was Saint Philip Benizi. Hereafter they were known by this name, first heard from the lips of children. Eventually, they retired into solitude on Monte Senario and gave themselves wholly to contemplation and atonement.

All seven were beatified in 1717 by Pope Clement XI and canonized in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII. The Church celebrates their optional memorial on February 17th, because on that day, Saint Alexis Falconieri, one of the seven, died in 1310. The aforementioned St. Philip Benizi was the general superior of the Servites credited with reviving the Order following its temporary suppression. Impart to us, O Lord, in kindness the filial devotion with which the holy brothers venerated so devoutly the Mother of God and led your people to yourself. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.

The Seven Sorrows of Mary

◗ The prophecy of Simeon

◗ The flight into Egypt

◗ The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple

◗ The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross

◗ The Crucifixion

◗ The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross

◗ The burial of Jesus

Prayer for the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order

O Lord Jesus Christ Who,
in order to renew the memory
of the sorrows of Thy most holy Mother,
has through the seven blessed fathers
enriched Thy Church with the new Order of Servites;
mercifully grant that we may be so united
in their sorrows as to share in their joys.
Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

February 14, 2017

A Catholic Wife Explains "Why I Don’t – and Won’t – Use Contraception"

Artificial birth control

Marriage properly understood, is the conjugal union of a man and woman for life, of exclusive and mutual fidelity, for the procreation and education of children. The dual purpose of sexual union is unitive: the bonding of spouses in greater love and intimacy, and, procreative: to collaborate freely and responsibly with God in the transmission of human life so as to be open to the blessing of children.

Pope Paul VI’s seventh and last encyclical, Humanae Vitae affirms the Church’s long held prohibition against artificial contraception. Therefore, "any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" (Humanae Vitae 14) is a sin against "the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love."

Here is an excellent explanation of the Church's teaching on Contraception. Annie Deddens in "Why I Don’t – and Won’t – Use Contraception", writes:

"I (surprisingly!) haven’t been asked very often why I don’t – and won’t – use contraception, but I’ve certainly thought about how I would respond if I were asked… So, why would I never use contraception? “Let me count the ways…”

+ It doesn’t allow you to love – not freely, not selflessly, not totally. You can’t love in those ways when you’re holding back a part of yourself — the gift of your fertility.

+ To say it another way, it doesn’t allow you to love like Christ — which is how we are called to love. Contraception contradicts Christ’s love.

+ Sex is meaningful; it is meant to be unitive and procreative. You cannot separate these two essential aspects — without both, the marital act falls short of what it is intended to be. (Note: this does not mean that couples who experience infertility do not experience the fullness of the marital act).

+ Marriage is intrinsically linked to procreation. Each marital act has the potential of creating new life with God. Contraception, on the other hand, seeks to exclude God from sex.".... Go to Catholic Wife, Catholic Life to Read More.

Saint Claude de la Colombiere, Jesuit Missionary and Apostle of the Sacred Heart

St. Claude de la Colombière
February 15th is the feast of St. Claude de la Colombiere (1641-1682), the 17th century Jesuit priest, preacher and missionary to England. He is best known as the confessor and spiritual advisor to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque to whom our Lord revealed the treasures of his Sacred Heart.

In the course of Christ’s appearances to her, Margaret Mary was overcome with anguish and uncertainty. Jesus promised her "my faithful servant and perfect friend" to assist her in carrying out her divine mission. That "faithful servant" would arrive a short time later in the person of Father Colombiere. He would reassure Margaret Mary as to the vision’s authenticity. Due to his support, Margaret Mary’s superior came to believe, and devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was soon promulgated throughout France.

Claude de la Colombière was born the third child of Bertrand and Margaret de la Colombière in in St. Symphorien d'Ozon, France. His family was pious and of high standing. Claude was schooled in rhetoric and philosophy from an early age. His penchant for the ways of God coupled with a brilliant intellect portended a future religious vocation of great distinction. His devotion grew, sustained by prayer.

At the age of 17, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Avignon. In 1660, he moved from the Novitiate to the College, also in Avignon, where he pronounced his first vows and completed his studies in philosophy. Afterward he was a professor of grammar and literature in the same school for an additional five years.

In 1674, after 15 years of Jesuit life, he professed a vow to observe all the constitutions and rules of the Society of Jesus. He discovered in this regimen of sanctity an experience of inner liberation and a greater ability to open his heart to others in ministry. So magnificent did this ideal seem to him that he adopted it as his program of sanctity. This he practiced perfectly in imitation of the Savior.

Claude was named rector at the Jesuit college at Paray-le-Monial, France in 1675. Such an out of the way appointment for such a promising priest raised eyebrows. The reason soon became clear. While in Paray, Colombiere became the spiritual advisor for Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque. Jesus was revealing to Margaret Mary visions of his compassionate heart for the world, and now, Fr. Colombiere would prove invaluable in helping to spread that message to France and to the world.

Because of his remarkable gifts and judgment, he was sent to England, to be court preacher to the duchess of York, wife of the future James II, and took up residence in London. His radiant personality and splendid gifts were noted by everyone. When the alleged "Popish Plot" to assassinate King Charles II shook the country, Blessed Claude was accused of complicity in the plot and imprisoned. Through the intervention of Louis XIV of France, he was released, then banished from the country. He spent his last years at Paray-le-Monial, his health broken.

During the summer of 1681 he returned to Paray, in very poor condition. Then, on February 15, 1682, the first Sunday of Lent, towards evening Claude suffered the severe hemorrhage which ended his life. On June 16, 1929 Pope Pius XI beatified Claude La Colombiere, and Pope John Paul II declared him a saint on May 31, 1992. Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effects. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

TOB Tuesday: The Effects of Sin on Men, Women and Marriage

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve
The Rebuke of Adam and Eve, Domenichino, 1626.

Editor's note: Each Tuesday we will feature posts discussing Saint John Paul the Great's Theology of the Body; his reflection on our nature and life as persons made in the image and likeness of God, conjugal love, the meaning of celibacy, and the eternal beatitude to which every human being is called.

Those in the teaching profession are most certainly familiar with the concept of "natural consequences." The same idea is found in Sacred Scripture. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit, all hell broke loose, quite literally. In "Why Satan Hates the Ascension of Christ" we wrote:

"Satan’s lie in the garden condemned humanity to lives of sin, drudgery and inexorable physical death. Prior to the Fall, the created world and everything in it functioned precisely as God intended. It was in short, Paradise.

We don't often think of it this way, but before the first sin, the entire world was a temple in which human beings worshiped the one true God. Man fully possessed original goodness and original justice. With Adam’s sin, the world at large stopped being a temple. It became necessary to build a temple where God could be worshiped. Man had to purify himself before entering this sacred space. Everything in the created world was profaned including human nature, our relationship to beauty, truth and goodness, our relationship with the natural world, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with God. Paradise was lost."

God’s law is not a capricious set of rules. It is, rather, the means through which we may flourish as the adopted sons and daughters of a loving Father. Returning to the Fall, as previously mentioned, the effects of the first sin were catastrophic.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in relationships between men and women. To love is the essential activity of the human person. We were created to love others and to receive love from others. Because our bodies make visible what is invisible in the world, it is through our bodies that we are called to be selfless and self-donative. This is evident most obviously in the conjugal union. Moreover, we are called to love and to serve others in numerous ways using our bodies. We cannot serve others unless we have a physical self to serve with. Man can only discover himself through a sincere gift of himself.

Before sin, Adam and Eve clearly perceived this truth. After sin, it became cluttered and obscure. For the children of Adam and Eve it remains so. We struggle daily to reject sin and selfishness in order to love and serve others more fully. In the beginning love was undiluted and spontaneous; an instantaneous impulse, an automatic, unthinking act. It was in their spiritual DNA to do this.

Now with historical man, (that is man after the first sin) we do not automatically love as God loves. It takes work and conscious effort. In many ways, it is a battle among our heart, our will, and our body. In the beginning, there was no struggle. At the end of human history, we will see God face to face in Heaven. On that day, we will love perfectly like God loves us, and sin will be no more. Fortunately for us, God became man. In the culmination of his earthly ministry, Christ restores the nuptial meaning of the body by making a "sincere gift" of himself to his Bride [the Church] on the cross. More on our Lord's supreme sacrifice in a future post.

C.S. Lewis on the Fragility of Civilization

C.S. Lewis
One of the most dangerous errors is that civilization is automatically bound to increase and spread. The lesson of history is the opposite; civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost. The normal state of humanity is barbarism, just as the normal surface of the planet is salt water. Land looms large in our imagination and civilization in history books, only because sea and savagery are to us less interesting.
— C. S. Lewis

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful
And kindle in them the fire of Your love

V: Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created

R: And You shall renew the face of the earth

Let us Pray:

O God, Who instructed the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, Grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The reference to fire reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s essential role in the creation of the world, ("moving about the face of the waters," see Genesis 1:2) and also of the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit appears as “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3) enabling the disciples to spread Christ’s Gospel the world over.

February 13, 2017

Memorial of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius

Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius

One of the major changes that occurred as a result of the Second Vatican Council was the celebration of the Liturgy in the vernacular; for many, that meant that going from a Mass in Latin to one in English. At the time, such a move seemed (and indeed was) very innovative. It might be surprising, therefore, to learn that this was not the first time such a thing had happened in the history of the Church. Mass in the vernacular was a contentious topic in 9th century Moravia, and it was championed by two missionary brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius.

Methodius, the older of the two, and his brother Constantine (who took the name Cyril shortly before his death in 869) were born to a prominent Christian family in a part of Greece that bordered Slavic territory. For a while, Methodius served as an important civil official and would thus have been quite familiar with the language of the Slavic people who lived within his jurisdiction. His younger brother, who eventually earned the sobriquet "the Philosopher," was a scholar and a professor in Constantinople, and would have come by his knowledge of Slavic in that way. It would be their familiarity with this language that would later prove to be both a political and spiritual asset in their work on behalf of God's Church.

By the year 860, both brothers, growing tired of secular life, had withdrawn into a monastery, where they assumed they would spend the rest of their lives. God, however, had other plans. When the Moravian prince Rastislav requested that Christian missionaries come to his country, Cyril and Methodius were the obvious choices. They already knew the language of the people they were called to serve.

As is often the case, there was a catch to all this. Rastislav had an agenda other than simply bringing Christianity to his people; indeed, German missionaries had already been working in Moravia for years when he made his request. It was precisely this German influence that he wished to be rid of, and he concluded that Slavic-speaking missionaries might help him accomplish precisely that goal.

Cyril and Methodius, however, cared little for the political machinations of princes except for how they either helped or hindered their ministry. They were dedicated to bringing the faith to people in a language they could understand. This long held preference for the vernacular was a tradition in the East, whereas in the Western Church, the penchant was to conduct such worship in Greek and Latin.

Cyril had a great deal of work to do before he and his brother could begin to preach and teach in Slavic. To begin with, he had to invent an alphabet, which was probably a kind of hybrid of Greek and a precursor of modern-day Cyrillic, an alphabet that still bears his name. He and his brother then began the arduous task of translating the Gospels, St. Paul’s leers, and other liturgical books into Slavonic. What brought them into conflict with the German hierarchy, however, was their composition of a Slavonic liturgy, a highly irregular practice at the time.

The German bishops did not find much support for their position from Pope Hadrian II, who approved the work the brothers were doing. Unfortunately, his final trip to Rome would be the last Cyril would undertake; he died there on February 14, 869. Methodius returned to Moravia, where the German bishops never ceased opposing him. He persevered in spite of them, translating almost all the Bible and the works of the Fathers into Slavonic before his death in 884.

Saints Cyril and Methodius are venerated in the East and West as the patron saints of the Slavic peoples. In 1980, Saint Pope John Paul II named them co-patrons of Europe along with Saint Benedict. Their feast day is celebrated on February 14th. O God, who enlightened the Slavic peoples through the brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius, grant that our hearts may grasp the words of your teaching, and perfect us as a people of one accord in true faith and right confession. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

February 12, 2017

Reflection: The Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5:38-48

Sermon on the Mount

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

"You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Mt 5:43-44)

These are some of the most challenging words of the Bible! Compared to these verses, the rest of the Christian journey is not too difficult. I can go to Mass, pray, give to others, and in general be kind to those around me. Jesus wants His followers to go beyond what is easy and convenient—He wants us to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. You may or may not have enemies as such; worry not, this reading also applies to you! Undoubtedly you have someone in your life with whom there are at least struggles, obstacles, disappointments, harsh words, long periods of silence, on and so forth. By now you have named that person; keep that name in mind as you read the rest of this column.

The verses chosen as the basis for this column come from the Sermon on the Mount, which is chapters 5-8 of Matthew’s Gospel. Essentially, Jesus challenges His people to go above and beyond anything else they had heard or read. Loving one’s enemies and praying for persecutors jarred those listening to Jesus. This is yet another example of how the message of Jesus challenges His followers to their very core.

Now that you have a person in mind who fits the categories discussed in these verses, let’s see what Jesus wants us to do about it. To begin with, it sounds like doing nothing and allowing situations to fester for years is not an option. Nowhere does Jesus say wait and let nature take its course. And yet, is that not what most of us do in these situations? This type of response only leads to more silence, more misunderstanding, and more distance. Jesus asks us to love and to pray, using the present tense for both verbs. It means now!

Before we can explore loving and praying, we must begin with a desire to do something about the situation, whatever it is. Conscience nags the person to be at peace with loved ones and others. If the person you are thinking about is deceased, offer the person to God in peace. If alive, choose to be at peace with that person. Anger is a choice; forgiveness is a beer choice. Of course, one must do more than think about it! That’s where “loving” and “praying” come into the picture.

Spending time in prayer follows your resolution to do something about your uncomfortable feelings. Realize you will need God’s help in getting through it. Place it all in God’s hands, knowing He alone can fix it. Mention the person’s name in prayer. Ask God to help and inspire you to be open-minded, courageous, and Christian. Seek the grace of knowing you might have been part of the problem that led to the situation. It is possible the other person is correct! That takes humility and self-knowledge to accept.

Jesus also says you must love the person. This shows itself most notably in patience. You are not perfect; the other person shares in human imperfection. It’s helpful to remember that when dealing with others. No matter how many resolutions the human person makes nor the depth of her desire to be a beer person, there will always be the human condition to deal with. Mistakes are made. Hurtful words are used. Tempers fly. Part of one’s prayer is to ask God to help us all to be beer people, which includes having more patience with others and their foibles. Ask the Lord to help you accept the fact that you can’t change others or how they feel. Realize an important fact: you never really know what is going on in another person’s heart and soul. Learn to love people for who they are, not for the person you think they should be. Remember, people love you in spite of your imperfections! At the end of the process, all you can do is try to make peace. You cannot control what the other person feels. If the doesn’t want peace, walk away knowing you have sincerely tried.

Loving one’s neighbor is more than just a pious thought! It includes patience, forgiveness, courage, and truthfulness. Jesus wants His followers to love and pray for those who have caused hurt in their lives. The challenge of Jesus is great!

Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017, Year A

The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount, Fra Angelico, 1436 - 1443.

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Yogi Berra once said: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

Way back in 1865 Lewis Carroll published a novel for children. Alice in Wonderland was its name. In that novel we find Alice one day wandering around in a dream world. She stops and asks a cat: “Would you tell me, please, which way I should go from here?” The cat replies: “That depends a good deal on where you want to be.” Alice said: “Oh, I don’t much care.” With that the cat responds: “Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” But Alice persisted: “But I want to get somewhere.” Whereupon the cat, with a wry grin, said: “Oh, you are sure to do that!”

We can be a lot like Alice, saying “Oh, it doesn’t much matter” to a whole lot of things. Like it doesn’t much matter which church you go to. It doesn’t much matter what you believe, and so forth. Pretty soon nothing much matters at all. Eventually our lives don’t matter, and we’ll be just like Alice drifting aimlessly in our own little wonderland going nowhere!

Goals are important, otherwise our living is aimless. Aiming at a goal is vitally necessary if we’re going to have any sense at all concerning the path we are taking as we journey through life. If you’re downhill skiing and all you do is fix your eyes upon the tips of your skis you will certainly fall. But if you look ahead and fix your eyes on a point ahead where you want to go your body will make all of the necessary mid-course corrections and you won’t fall.

Jesus gives us a goal today. “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Some will say: “Well, what kind of a goal is that? Nobody can be equal to God anyway. So what’s the point?” How can we, mere mortals that we are with all of our faults and failures, be as perfect as God is perfect? Good point. It’s sort of like telling a child who has just learned simple arithmetic to solve a problem requiring calculus.

We need, of course, to look deeper into the words of Jesus. He uses an Aramaic word (the language He spoke) that carries the idea of completeness in the word “perfect.”  Be ye complete as your Heavenly father is complete, is what Jesus is saying. Love completely as God loves completely. Be ye mature and grown up as your heavenly Father is fully mature in His love and fully mature in the way He treats others. He loves completely, without boundaries.

It’s all a matter of struggling toward maturity. Oh, you can have sixty candles on your birthday cake and they mean only that you’re growing older, not that you are mature. Sixty candles on your birthday cake only count the number of years that have passed since you were born; they don’t necessarily measure completeness, fullness in loving, or fullness of maturity as a human person.

There are ways of measuring growth, the easiest being size. Children need larger clothes each year as they grow. Another measurement is there depth of knowledge. We can grow in what we know. But the greatest challenge is to measure the breadth and depth of a person’s love.

“An eye for an eye” was law that limited the extent of retribution one could inflict upon another. It limited the repayment of evil for evil. At least it put limitations on physical carnage inflicted upon another. Revenge remained, however, the motive. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” does not eliminate vengeful behavior.

Loving one’s neighbor was a law of somewhat expanded love, although it was still a limited love. Loving one’s neighbor as one loves one’s self has been limited all too often by our narrowing of the scope of the word “neighbor”. Just who is my neighbor, we ask?

That law is still very much in force today. “America for Americans” is the big slogan of our day. Keep the foreigners out is the real message. It’s really so silly, isn’t it? Just who are the real Americans, anyway? Aren’t they the natives who were here before our ancestors, European foreigners, arrived on these shores? And what about all those Chinese and Irish people who built the transcontinental railways that made our country such an economic power in the world? And what about the Blacks that were shipped over here as slaves to give our economy the cheap labor, labor we used in order to amass vast wealth from the productivity that was sweated out of their backs?

No, the law of limited love, the law based on our narrowly defined word “neighbor,” is quite adolescent. It’s not fully mature; it’s not what Jesus was talking about.

“Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” has to do with unlimited love, unlimited caring, fully mature and fully developed caring and loving in all our relationships with others. It has to do with the perfection found in our full maturation.

In measuring growth and personal development the only growth that mattered to Jesus was a person’s love — its length and breadth, its height and depth of one’s love. In other words, the measurement is growth in maturity. And the only standard of measurement, the only ruler or yardstick that Jesus gives us is God’s way of loving — the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s love. And until we get there we have more to perfect within us.

Unless we see that and grasp that we’ll be just like Alice, wandering about in our own little Wonderland, aimless and without purpose. As Yogi said: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”