February 19, 2018

Feast of Sts. Francisco & Jacinta Marto (Portugal)

Sts. Francisco & Jacinta Marto

On February 20th, dioceses in Portugal (together with others around the world) observe the feast of Sts. Francisco and Jacinta Marto. They are the youngest saints not to die as martyrs recognized by the Catholic Church. Francisco and Jacinta’s courageous witness to the faith teach us that even young children can become saints. The brother and sister who tended to their families’ sheep with their cousin Lucia Santo, witnessed the apparitions of Mary, Our Lady of Fatima.

The Blessed Virgin Mary’s six appearances between May 13th and October 13th, 1917, at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, Portugal, to three poor shepherd children, was a defining moment in salvation history, presaging several significant events in the 20th century and beyond. Our Lady's urgent message speaks to us today.

Mary told the children that she was sent from heaven by God with an urgent message for humanity. At that time, World War I was raging, and Europe was being torn apart by violence and bloodshed. Our Lady promised that God would grant peace should her call for prayer, reparation and universal consecration to her Immaculate Heart be honored. The Blessed Virgin emphasized, "If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace." But, if she was ignored, a far greater conflict would occur, and innumerable souls would be lost.

War, Our Lady of Fatima explained, is a punishment for sin. She warned that God would castigate the world for its continued disobedience to His Love through, war, hunger and the persecution of His Church, the Holy Father and the Faithful. Mary prophesied that Russia would be God's "instrument of chastisement," spreading atheism and materialism across the earth, provoking wars, annihilating nations and persecuting the faithful. Humanity's only hope was a sincere return to God.

Our Lady's message to the world contained three secrets. These she confided to the children in July 1917. The first secret was a horrifying vision of hell Mary told Lucy, Jacinta and Francisco that many people go to hell because they have no one to pray or make sacrifices on their behalf. She urged the children to perform acts of prayer and sacrifice to save souls. The second secret predicted the future outbreak of World War II. It included Mary’s solemn request for the Consecration of Russia as necessary for peace and that her Immaculate Heart would triumph.

Less than two years after the apparitions, 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, world peace and the Holy Father. She was reintured 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. Pope Francis declared Bls. Francisco and Jacinta Marto to be saints before hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at Fatima, Portugal, on May 13, 2017.

O God who granted these two holy shepherd children the grace to become living 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 also, 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.

February 18, 2018

George Washington on Religion and Morality

President George Washington

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens...

Freedom is a Gift from God

God of justice and Father of truth, who guides your creation in wisdom and in goodness to fulfillment in Christ your Son, open our hearts to the truth of his Gospel, that your peace may rule in our hearts and your justice guide our lives and the life of our nation. 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.

The Son: A Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

The Transfiguration

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

(Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10)

At the conclusion of the dramatic story of what transpired on a mountain in the land of Moriah, Isaac’s life is spared, a substitute is found for the holocaust, and Abraham, who was willing to offer up his beloved son at God’s command, is rewarded for his unstinting faith. In Old Testament and New Testament times, the place where it was believed Abraham went to sacrifice his son continued to be venerated. The Temple of Jerusalem was built there.

In our second reading, St. Paul alludes indirectly to another small mount within easy walking distance of the Temple. The evangelists call it Golgotha.

And on an unnamed mountain, somewhere in Galilee, Jesus appeared in his glory, along with Moses and Elijah.

These various elements all find a resonance at yet another mountain, in the French alps, called La Salette.

In remembrance of the Passion of Jesus, the Beautiful Lady wears a large crucifix on her breast. It is the brightest point in the Apparition, the source of its light. The hammer and pincers, instruments of the Passion, draw attention to it in a unique way.

Reminding us of the covenant proclaimed through Moses, and calling us to the steadfast commitment of Elijah, she speaks in the manner of the prophets. (It is interesting to note that in 2 Peter 1:18, the place of the Transfiguration is referred to as ‘the holy mountain.’ We use the same phrase when we speak of La Salette.)

Finally, like God speaking to Abraham, Mary also makes a grand promise of hope and prosperity to those who will live by faith.

More important than any of these similarities, however, is the word Son. “Take your only son, whom you love, and offer him up as a holocaust;” “God did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all;” “This is my beloved Son.”

When Our Lady of La Salette speaks of her Son, it is to reproach her people for their ingratitude to him and their disrespect for his Name. We must never allow ourselves to forget that her Son is God’s beloved Son, handed over for us.

As he is at the heart of Scripture, he must be at the heart of our faith, of our way of life.  Lent is a good time to ask ourselves if this is really the case.

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018, Year B

The Transfiguration

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

If you read letters to the editor in newspapers you will realize that many people have lost confidence in a loving God. Nowhere is this more forcefully indicated than in the debate over abortion and assisted suicide. Some have gone so far as to assert the Catholic Church wants people to suffer, that it’s a death dealing rather than a life-giving institution, and that it extols human pain and suffering.

In the world of art this attitude is reflected in works of self-proclaimed “art” that, in just one instance, portray the crucifix, Christ nailed to the cross, immersed in a jar of human urine.

Certainly all those who support partial birth abortion and “mercy killing”, along with others who advocate the position that we can terminate the lives of they declare to have a “miserable quality life”, vociferously oppose traditional Judeo-Christian teachings which hold that God and God alone gives life… that God and God alone takes human life. This teaching is found in the Old Testament’s Book of Job as well as in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Job, you will remember, having endured suffering to excruciating levels, cries out “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

How we, both individually and as are society, are to deal with suffering is a major problem we need to deal with. Today’s first reading from Sacred Scripture along with today’s Gospel account put our faces into it.

Abraham’s first wife, Sarai, childless and in her 70’s, was in a jealous rage because her husband Abraham had a child by her maidservant Hagar. Hagar had given birth to Ishmael; the boy-child was a source of great joy to Abraham, who at age 86 had been able to sire a child.

Thirteen years later God offers His famous covenant to Abraham, now in his 90’s, and causes his wife, now called Sarah, to become fruitful. She, too, bears a boy-child and names him Isaac.

At the time of Isaac’s weaning Sarah demands that Abraham cast away Hagar and her child Ishmael by sending them out into the desert with a little bread and water, and to leave them there to die. Abraham relying on God’s loving care and providence sends his beloved son Ishmael out into the death-dealing desert. Most likely he thought Ishmael would die. It’s hard to imagine the levels of human suffering that were swirling around these people.

Years later, when Isaac grows to about the same age as Ishmael, Abraham is asked again, this time by God Himself, to dispatch his beloved son by plunging a knife into his heart. There are no promises given by God, no indications whatsoever, that there will be any divine protection given to Isaac. All Abraham has left, the only thing upon which he can rely, is God’s goodness and love. Abraham acts on pure faith alone.

And that’s the whole point, as well as that of the Gospel account. The spectacular scene just read takes place up on top of Mt. Tabor immediately prior to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, there to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cross. The very same Peter, James and John present for this moment of ecstasy on Mt. Tabor are likewise present on the Mount of Olives for Christ’s agony. The divinity within Christ revealed here will be just as present as the humanity within Jesus as he suffers on the other mount. Both reveal the whole truth about Jesus Christ, namely that he is truly both man and God, divinity and humanity, true God and true man. Peter, James and John are very much animated, very much alive to the moment of privilege on the Mount of Transfiguration. They will, however, sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane up on Mt. Olivet.

The Christian response to suffering is far too complicated to explain in a letter to the editor to the newspaper. And even though a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine is promoted in certain quarters as “art” deserving to be supported by public tax dollars, we nevertheless elevate the crucifix, the cross with Christ’s human body on it, high above our altars because of what it reveals about our human nature.

It is worthwhile in the current public debate over human suffering and the question of who controls the birth of human life as well as who controls its death to remember that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., built his entire civil rights movement on the theological notion of the effectiveness and power of human suffering. He knew full well its power to reveal the divine within our human nature; its power to change our consciousness of what it means to be a child of God, a human being created in the image and likeness of God. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew full well that it could stir the soul of an entire nation and change the direction of our entire American culture by changing our consciousness and therefore our consciences through passive, non-violent suffering.

Here in the middle of Lent, Holy Mother Church puts these two powerful readings from the bible in front of our eyes. She doesn’t glorify human suffering, nor does she rejoice that humans must suffer. Contrary to the propaganda of secularists, the Roman Catholic Church has devoted hundreds of billions of dollars to the alleviation of human suffering, the care of the sick and suffering, as well as the elderly. Likewise, she has devoted enormous resources to educating countless millions of people in order that they may be delivered from ignorance and given light for their minds with which to see reality and discern wisdom. Our Church needs no defense against her enemies; she stands with Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ in the certain faith that God will not let the gates of hell prevail against her.

What then shall we say this day of our own personal faith at this stage in our journey through Lent? Can we really “let go and let God”? Shall we let go of those things that we cling to, let them go in the sure and certain faith that God will bring good out of evil, life out of death, meaning out of absurdity, and joy out of suffering? Abraham is, as we pray in the Roman Canon, “our father in faith”. If Abraham could let his beloved son go, whom God spared from death, and if God our Father in heaven could let His own beloved Son go, whom He did not spare from death, what levels of faith do we have with which to do the same? Just how much do we allow God to be truly God in our own lives by placing our lives in His hands?

Pope Benedict XVI on Fasting

Pope Benedict XVI
The ultimate goal of fasting is to help each one of us to make a complete gift of self to God.
— Pope Benedict XVI

The Lenten Prayer of Saint Ephraim

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sin and not to judge my brother, for You are blessed from all ages to all ages. Amen.

Pour into our hearts O Lord, we pray, the Holy Spirit, at whose prompting the Deacon Saint Ephrem exulted in singing of your mysteries and from whom he received the strength and fortitude to serve you and you alone. We ask this in trustful humility through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018, Year B

The temptation of Christ on the mount.

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

Years ago, I saw a little cartoon showing a classic long-bearded, robed prophet with a big sign reading “REPENT!*” The asterisk referred to a note at the bottom of the sign: “*If you have already repented, please disregard this notice.”

John the Baptist, we were told earlier in this first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, preached a “gospel of repentance.” Now that John is out of the picture, Jesus appears, almost like an understudy filling in for an absent performer. The message is the same: “Repent!” And yet there is a difference. Not only do we usually visualize John and Jesus as in some way quite unlike each other, but we sense, at least, a certain dissimilarity in their message.

John’s call to repentance was in view of preparing for Jesus, whose coming was imminent. Jesus’ call to repentance is in view of preparing for the Kingdom of God, which is “at hand.”

The word “repent” implies two elements. One is regret. For example, we repent behaviors by which we have hurt someone we care about, whether we did so deliberately or thoughtlessly. The other element is change, taking the form at least of a firm resolve to avoid such behaviors for the future. Neither one alone is repentance. Regret without resolve changes nothing; resolve without regret lacks motivation.

The goal is expressed in an odd turn of phrase in our second reading, from the first Letter of St. Peter. Speaking of baptism, the ritual sign of repentance, he writes that it is “an appeal to God for a clear conscience.” Can we actually ask God to give us a clear conscience, if we don’t already have one?

One way of understanding this is that we can ask God, “Could we start again, please?” That is the point of the rainbow, after all. God and humanity and creation are all starting over. That is also the point of Lent—a new beginning or, better, another (or: yet another) new beginning; a truly new beginning, since we ourselves are different each year, and we need this Lent in a way we have not needed Lent before.

Let’s look at repentance from six points of view: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?

The Who of repentance is you (that includes me). You need to change, though maybe not entirely. What in yourself do you need to turn away from, what image of yourself do you need to turn toward?

The What is whatever behaviors or attitudes you know you need to avoid, or cultivate.

The When involves our use of time, turning away from wasting time, turning toward the “time of fulfillment.”

The Where concerns circumstances, often called “occasions of sin,” which we turn away from. At the same time we can turn towards what we might call “occasions of grace,” or “occasions of life.”

How? That’s up to you. You know better than I do what might best help you along the path of repentance. But do not neglect the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Why? St. Peter gives an excellent reason: “Christ suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God.” If we are not led to God, then Christ suffered for us in vain. What would be the point?

Jesus also gives a reason: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” In that context “repent” still means “regret and resolve,” but we may add one more element: “in hope.” There is something wonderful to hope for if our repentance is genuine. The kingdom of God is a beautiful prospect, well worth repenting for.

February 16, 2018

Novena to Saint Michael the Archangel for Protection

St. Michael Archangel (statue)

Saint Michael the Archangel is known for protecting against evil, for persevering in the Faith and for spiritual healing. Although his feast day is September 29th, as with every novena, you may pray it any time of the year. The Novena to St. Michael for Protection will begin February 20th, during the second week of Lent.

As the "Prince of the Heavenly Host", St. Michael the Archangel is second only to the Mother of God in leading the angels. His name in Hebrew means "Who is like God?". It was Michael who commanded heaven's forces in casting down Lucifer and the fallen angels into hell. In 1886, after receiving a prophetic vision of the evil to be visited upon the world in the 20th century, Pope Leo XIII instituted a prayer invoking St. Michael's protection. Scripture mentions him four times (in Daniel 10:13-21 and 12:1, in Jude 1:9 and in the Book of Revelation 12:7-9).

The Church recognizes four distinct offices of St. Michael; 1.) to oppose Satan, the "father of lies". 2.) to defend the souls of the faithful against the power of Satan, especially at the hour of death. 3.) to champion God's people, 4.) to accompany souls to their particular judgment, bring them to purgatory, and present them to God following their purgation before entering heaven.

St. Michael the Archangel, we honor you as a powerful protector of the Church and guardian of our souls. Inspire us with your humility, courage and strength that we may reject sin completely and perfect our love for our Heavenly Father.

In your strength and humility, slay all the evil and pride in our hearts so that nothing will keep us from God, and doing his will, to persevere in love. Amen.

Click for more about this novena and to receive daily email reminders.

Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.


Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium. Ímperet ílli Déus, súpplices deprecámur: tuque, prínceps milítiæ cæléstis, Sátanam aliósque spíritus malígnos, qui ad perditiónem animárum pervagántur in múndo, divína virtúte, in inférnum detrúde. Ámen.

February 14, 2018

Plenary Indulgence Available Fridays During Lent

Christ crucified

A plenary indulgence may be obtained on each Friday of Lent by the faithful, who after worthily receiving Communion, piously recite the following prayer before an image of Christ crucified – provided the conditions for a plenary indulgence are met. A plenary indulgence remits all temporal punishment due to personal sins.

Prayer Before a Crucifix/Prayer to Christ Crucified.

Behold, O kind and most sweet Jesus, I cast myself upon my knees in thy sight, and with the most fervent desire of my soul, pray and beseech thee that thou wouldst impress upon my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope, and charity, with true contrition for my sins and a firm purpose of amendment; while with deep affection and grief of soul I ponder within myself and mentally contemplate thy five wounds, having before my eyes the words which David the prophet put on thy lips concerning thee: “My hands and my feet they have pierced, they have numbered all my bones" (Ps 21, 17-18). Amen.

In Latin:

En ego, o bone et dulcissime Jesu, ante conspectum tuum genibus me provolvo, ac maximo animi ardore te oro atque obtestor, ut meum in cor vividos fidei, spei et caritatis sensus, atque veram peccatorum meorum paenitentiam, eaque emendandi firmissimam voluntatem velis imprimere; dum magno animi affectu et dolore tua quinque vulnera mecum ipse considero, ac mente contemplor, illud prae oculis habens, quod iam in ore ponebat tuo David Propheta de te, o bone Iesu: "Foderunt manus meas et pedes meos; dinumeraverunt omnia ossa mea." Amen. (Grant 8 § 1, 2º in the Manual of Indulgences.)

Requirements for Obtaining Plenary Indulgence on Fridays during Lent:

◗ Recite the prayer to Christ crucified in front of a crucifix on a Friday  during Lent (after receiving Communion).
◗ Say one "Our Father" and the "Apostles Creed".
◗ Say one "Our Father" and one "Hail Mary" for the Holy Father’s  intentions (the intentions  designated by the Holy Father each month).
◗ Make a sacramental confession within 20 days.
◗ For a plenary indulgence, be free from all attachment to sin, even  venial sin (or the indulgence is partial, not plenary).

On any other day, a partial indulgence is granted if the faithful recite the prayer to Christ crucified before a crucifix after receiving Communion.

Lenten Prayer for Holiness

May this Lenten season strengthen you to love God completely and to grow ever more holy. May your humanity be more fully united with Christ’s own humanity, so that, at the end of time, you may claim the inheritance won for you through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Lamb of God, your supreme sacrifice saved mankind. Help us be your disciples.

A Lenten Prayer


Prayer for Lent

Heavenly Father, we give You thanks and praise for the gift of this time of solemn purification and of preparation. We ask, Lord, that You would allow us to look at our lives with honesty and with courage, so that we may live more fully the resurrected life that Your Son, Jesus Christ, came to bring us. We ask Your blessing upon us today, in the name of our most holy Lord and Savior. Amen.


Thank You Lord, that You have renewed us, You have refreshed us, You have shown us what we have been made for, so that we may now live this resurrected life in You. The covenant begins again. The covenant is embarking on this new relationship. The covenant that we’ve received so many times in our life, through baptism, through confirmation, through Holy Eucharist, and we renew that covenant every time that we go to confessional as well, we renew our baptismal graces. Now in this Easter season, we remember that covenant that Jesus made for us in His body and His blood, that He has given Himself to us fully. And so, we prepare ourselves by stripping everything away, to give ourselves back to Him... And [so to empty] ourselves in imitation of Him, who gives Himself fully to us.

Adapted from "Renewing Our Covenant with God", Father Chase Hilgenbrinck.

February 13, 2018

Ash Wednesday | 2018

Jesus Christ the Bridegroom

February 14, 2018 

"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return." 

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics receive ashes in the shape of a cross traced on the forehead. The rite evokes Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15: 21 - 22) Adam’s sin condemned man to sin and death. But the instrument of our salvation, the cross, reminds us that in Christ, man is redeemed and the gates of heaven are opened.

The original injunction conferring ashes: "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return," contrasts with the words of the Nicene Creed concerning the Incarnation: "For us men and for our salvation, he [Jesus] came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." In becoming man, Christ assumed our iniquities: offering himself as a supreme sacrifice in expiation for man’s sins. The forty days of Lent culminate on Easter Sunday. Christ’s joyous Resurrection fulfills God’s promise to save humanity and reveals our final destiny, if we persevere in love.

The Gospel chosen for Ash Wednesday reminds the follower of Christ “to be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see.” Our fasting, praying, and almsgiving are not about what others see or getting our names on plaques. The point of all of these activities is to stir up within the person a tremendous love for the Lord. Praying, fasting, and almsgiving are ultimately about time and space; it is in their practice that the disciple will find time and space for Christ.

Almighty Father, as we begin this Lent, give us the grace to be steadfast in our resolutions, drawing ever closer to you by means of our prayer and sacrifices. Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fervor this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns together with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen.

February 12, 2018

Shrove Tuesday and Shrovetide

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday - February 13, 2018

Shrove Tuesday is the last day of what traditionally was called "Shrovetide," the week preceding the beginning of Lent. The word itself, Shrovetide, is the English equivalent for "Carnival," which is derived from the Latin words carnem levare, meaning "to take away the flesh." (Note that in Germany, this period is called "Fasching," and in parts of the United States, "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras".) While this was seen as the last chance for merriment, and in some places, has resulted in excessive pleasure, Shrovetide was the time to cast off things of the flesh and to prepare spiritually for Lent, [the Paschal Triduum and the solemnity of Easter. ( Fr. William Saunders, Arlington Catholic Herald, February 19, 2004.)

In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Canada, this day is "Pancake Day" or "Pancake Tuesday" due to the traditional consumption of pancakes.

Other Catholic and Protestant countries traditionally call the day before Ash Wednesday "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras". The name predated the Reformation and referred to the practice of eating special foods before the Lenten fast.

In Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian-speaking countries, it is known as Carnival.

Almighty ever-living Lord, grant us the grace to commence with holy fasting the defenses of Christian warfare, so that we who are to fight against every spiritual wickedness, sin and temptation, may be helped and strengthened by self-denial, prayer and atonement. We ask this through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who reigns together with the Father. Amen.

February 11, 2018

Christ Endured Self-Mortification And Death For Our Sake: A Reflection on the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B

Jesus tempted by Satan

This Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark summarizes Our Lord’s forty days of temptation in the desert: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him” (Mark 1:12-13). Below, Fr. Kevin O'Sullivan, OFM, considers the same account of Jesus' temptation from Luke.

Fr. Kevin O'Sullivan

Christ's voluntary self-mortification of forty days' fast, with its accompanying temptations, was but part of the self-mortification, with its climax on the Cross, which He gladly underwent for our salvation. He did not need to fast in order to keep the inclinations of the body in subjection, He did not need to allow the insult of temptation. He could have said, "begone Satan" at the beginning as easily and as effectively as be said it at the end. But He willingly underwent this humiliation in order to set us an example and to prove to us the infinite love He bears us and the value, the priceless value, He sets on our eternal salvation. He became like us in all things (except sin) in order to make it possible for us to become like Him—the beloved of his Father—and co-heirs with Him in the kingdom of heaven.

With this example given us by Christ no Christian can or should expect to travel the road to heaven without meeting obstacles and temptations. Our weak human nature is of itself, even without any external tempter, a source of many temptations to us, especially of those three illustrated in the case of Christ. Our body desires all the pleasures and comforts that can be got out of life and resents any curtailment of these desires even on the part of our Creator and Benefactor.

Our gifts of intelligence and free-will often tempt most of us to look for power, political or economic, over our fellowmen. We want to be better off than others in this world, when our purpose in life is to help ourselves and our fellowmen to the better life. Finally. so fully occupied are many in the mad rush after pleasure and power that they have no time to devote to the one thing that matters, the attainment of eternal life.

Yet, through some foolish logic of our own, we expect God to do for us what we refuse to do for ourselves. We are tempting God by presuming he will save us if we have deliberately chosen the road to perdition.

There are few, if any, amongst us who can honestly say: "I am free from such inclinations or temptations." The vast majority of us can and should beat our breasts and say with the publican: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." And merciful he will be if we turn to him with true humility. He may not remove all our temptations, all our wrong inclinations, but he will give us the grace to overcome them if we sincerely seek his aid.

Excerpted from The Sunday Readings by Fr. Kevin O'Sullivan, O.F.M.

Reflection on the First Sunday of Lent, Year B

The temptation of Christ by the Devil

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois 

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 25; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained 
in the desert for forty days." (Mk 1:12)

In the midst of winter, February ushers in the great Paschal Season. “Paschal” comes from the ancient Aramaic pasha, meaning passover. Jesus Christ is the new and final lamb of sacrifice of the passover. The Paschal Season celebrates this mystery of faith. The most important liturgical season of the year, it includes Lent, the Sacred Triduum, and Easter Sunday, “The Great Fifty Days” of the Easter Season, and will solemnly conclude with Pentecost. For a little over three months, the Church intensely prepares for Easter (Lent), celebrates it (Sacred Triduum), and rejoices over it (Easter Season). It is the holiest time of the year!

On Ash Wednesday, the very beginning of the Paschal Season and Lent, the Christian hits bottom. The actions and words are cold. Ashes are spread over one’s forehead accompanied by the words “from dust you came; to dust you shall return.” Thus Lent begins with the realization that the Christian is in desperate need of the redemption offered by Jesus Christ—and that will only come through his passion, death, and resurrection. While the Paschal Season celebrates what happened many centuries ago in the life of Jesus, it more importantly reawakens that final journey of Jesus in the heart and soul of the believer. I go to the cross with Jesus; I rise with Him on the third day. Jesus’ death and resurrection is happening in my life, in the here and now. To enter this most sacred time of the year most fully, we, too, must go to the desert with Jesus. Lent is a journey with Christ into the desert. The goal of these 40 days of Lent is holiness.

On October 2, 2013, Pope Francis made this statement at one of his Wednesday audiences: “Do not be afraid of holiness, do not be afraid to aim high, to be loved and purified by God, do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit.” Holiness is not just for people like the Pope, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or those monks and nuns living in monasteries. The call to holiness has been given to all the baptized. It is not reserved to the few; it is demanded of all! Yes, holiness is for you and me. Do not be afraid of it, says Pope Francis. Enter the life of faith every more fully. Holiness is feeling the presence of Christ within one’s heart, and allowing that presence to guide, support, and inspire you to live a life that conforms with what God wants of you. The holy person lets go of control and joyfully allows Christ to guide her life. It’s not complicated!

Lent will help the faithful attain holiness through its ancient practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These disciplines will drive today’s Christian to the desert with Christ. And remember, everyone can pray, fast, and give alms. One’s age or condition in life may affect the extent to which a person participates in these practices; however, every Christian needs to take these disciplines seriously. Everyone can pray, fast, and give alms in appropriate ways. They are the ways to holiness.

So in this Lenten season pray, fast, and give alms. All three practices need to be real and should lead the person to unity with Jesus. We fast from certain foods and activities to realize that some food and activities, while pleasurable, are temporary and to some level unnecessary. We go without in order to give ourselves over to Christ, who is permanent. A holy person refrains from activities and foods that are superfluous, knowing that they cannot fully satisfy in the way that Christ can. Giving alms or being generous opens our hearts and wallets to the real needs of others. Almsgiving moves the person toward selflessness and away from selfishness. How can I help the plight of others? A truly holy person is selfless and generous. Finally, holiness will be elusive without prayer. The person seeking holiness will want to spend time with Christ, and thus embrace the great mystery of God’s love. Be careful in doing this! Once that mystery takes up its abode in one’s heart and soul, there is no turning back. In prayer you have allowed the Lord to grab onto your heart; He will never let go.

Your goal for Lent and the Paschal Season is holiness. Go to the desert with Christ through works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In that desert, you will come to know Christ your Lord, and at Easter will emerge a holy person. A great journey of faith, this Paschal time!

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018, Year B

The Temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

You and I have prayed The Lord’s Prayer countless numbers of times. In it we always ask God to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Some translations of that famous prayer have it “and subject us not into the trial.” Just what is it that we are praying for?

Well obviously there are various levels of temptation — some powerful and severe, others not so powerful and not so grave (not weighted with much gravity). Some temptations are of the flesh. Some temptations are of the spirit. Some involve passion… others involve cold calculation.

Whatever a temptation’s quality or type may be, at whatever level, it is always a time of testing. Our resolve, our spiritual muscle, is being tested. And if our character is spiritually weak and flabby, without any muscle power at all, we will be a pushover for the devil.

Jesus also had His times of trail. The first we know about was during His time out in the desert immediately prior to beginning His public ministry. He experienced being alone and abandoned, with only His own resources to rely upon. He had his desert experience; we have ours. He knew temptation and trial just as we know them.

We need to pay attention to important words that come to us from important sources. We need, here, to pay attention to the biblical difference between what is a temptation and what is a trial. In the bible, a trail is always something far more profound than a temptation. The consequence that follows a trial has finality to it. There is a final, complete, and total outcome to a trial. Deliverance from the sort of trial Jesus is talking about in teaching us His prayer is nothing less than our trials by battle with the devil himself.

We, therefore, pray that God will protect us in the time of temptation and deliver us from the trail, we are asking God to be with us when we face the devil himself. All by ourselves we are weak.

The problem we face is that the devil always comes to us disguised… disguised as something or someone good. The chief weapon of the devil is to corrupt what is good. He takes goodness and then devalues it, debases it, corrupts it.

Do you have the gift of charm? Do you have a personality that can delight people? You can use it to seduce others. Do you have power over words? Are you a good wordsmith? You can use your tongue to corrupt others. Do you have the gift of intelligence? So does the devil! You can use your power of intelligence to corrupt the truth and twist it into a lie. One of the names given in the bible to Lucifer is “The Father of Lies.”

You see, just where we are the strongest the devil will come to challenge our strength to prove his greater strength.

All of this is presented to us in the trial of Jesus Christ. His spectacular trial was before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. It was the Roman governor, Pilate, who sat on the bench, called in witnesses to present evidence, made a judgment, and declared Jesus to be innocent. Nevertheless, immediately thereafter, in his weakness, Pilate ordered that Jesus be executed by crucifixion. In that most famous time of trial in history, was it Jesus who was on trial or was it Pontius Pilate?

We also have a glimpse into the spiritual trial Jesus suffered immediately before He was betrayed by one of His twelve apostles, Judas Iscariot. It was Judas who turned Jesus over to the Roman authorities. And what a trial it was — it is reported that Jesus suffered so terribly that He even sweat blood.

There are trials in which we are simply overcome. There are temptations that quite overwhelm us. We get into a level of evil that’s over our head. We drown in it. Which is why the waters of baptism are a counter-symbol. Christ converts the waters of death, which threaten to drown us, into the waters of life because we are drowned in His life.

Out in the desert, there at the beginning, the first temptations the devil put to Jesus were those that called Him to corrupt the good, to compromise His principles.

This is the most insidious aspect of the culture that surrounds us. It suggests that we compromise with evil. It suggests that we follow the easy way. Its first and most effective ploy is to get us to whine that “everybody’s doing it,” to feel sorry for ourselves, present ourselves as victims of an autocratic authority and scream about their unfairness. It’s unfair to deprive us, we whine, because “everybody else is doing it”. Then, if we can get just the slightest compromise, we can start the whole thing down a long descending slide until the point where all restraints end up on the ground.

Then we can redefine sin. We can change the definition of something that is wrong into something that is okay, just so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. After that we can ridicule the whole idea of sin. We can turn the devil into a cartoon character, declare that hell doesn’t exist, and depict holy people as ridiculous, unthinking, mindless robots who can’t take care of themselves. Religion then becomes a throwaway item, a nice sort of sentimental fancy that isn’t real in the world in which we must live.

Jesus final temptation, you see, the one suggested to Him as He was dying while nailed and writhing in terrible pain upon the cross, was to simply give up.

St. Augustine tells us that really evil people are not even tempted anymore because they are totally lost. It’s not necessary for the devil to waste any energy tempting them since they are totally corrupt. These kinds of people laugh at the idea of temptation – for them, temptations are silly things that don’t even exist. They simply don’t understand them because they don’t know what’s good any more. Like Pontius Pilate who, during his trail of Jesus, asked: “Truth? What is truth?” the question today is: “Good? What is good?” Indeed, just what is it that our culture holds up to be “good”?

How many of those around us do you suppose have sold out to evil, have sold their souls to the devil and given away their souls? Do you admire them? They are often, in today’s media, presented to us as gods and goddesses, media stars whom we should want to be like.

Evil, you see, truly is the corruption of Goodness, and the battle is going on deep within us, in our very own immortal souls. And so Christ teaches us to ask His Father to “…lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the trial.” Amen

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes: The Story of the Miraculous Healing of Sr. Jeanne Fretel, OSB

Our Lady of Lourdes

(In 2018, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.)

This feast commemorates the first of eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary witnessed by St. Bernadette Soubirous. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette a poor, sickly child of a local peasant family, first glimpsed, "something white in the shape of a girl" in a grotto near Lourdes, France. Later questioned by Church officials, Bernadette stated that she saw, "a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm." The girl, Bernadette said, was "lovelier than I have ever seen." Perhaps because of her lowly background, Bernadette was deeply impressed by the polite and dignified way the Lady treated her. On March 25, 1858, during her sixteenth appearance, the Lady identified herself as "the Immaculate Conception," a dogma solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX, on December 8, 1854, in Ineffabilis Deus.

Fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubrious was collecting firewood together with her two younger sisters near the small market town of Lourdes. At some point, Bernadette became separated from her siblings and come upon a rock grotto next to the river. Here the future saint first saw the apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Lourdes, dressed in white with a blue sash and a yellow rose on each foot. Our Lady made the sign of the cross in silence before disappearing.

Bernadette would return to the grotto a second time, but it was during Mary’s third appearance that she addressed Bernadette, asking her to come to the grotto daily for two weeks. Bernadette agreed, and news of the apparitions quickly spread. On another occasion, Our Lady instructed Bernadette to tell the ecclesiastical authorities to build a church at the grotto and to hold processions.

Our Lady also told Bernadette to drink and wash in a spring hidden under the sand. At Mary’s prompting, the young seer began to dig the muddy ground revealing a spring whose water, the Blessed Virgin assured, offered miraculous curative powers and divine healing. Today, this water is credited in the spiritual and physical restoration of innumerable souls. Since the springs discovery over 200 million people have pilgrimaged to Lourdes for healing. A basilica was soon constructed over the Gave de Pau River. The Church has officially documented some seventy miraculous cures at Lourdes, including that of Sr. Jeanne Fretel.

The Miraculous Healing of Sr. Jeanne Fretel

In 1937, Jeanne Fretel was a vivacious. healthy twenty-three-year-old women, before contracting an unknown illness and becoming gravely ill. Her stomach was painful to the touch and she had stared to bleed from her nose, mouth, and intestines. Over eleven years, she would undergo thirteen operations, but her symptoms continued to persist. Later, she was given the diagnoses tubercular peritonitis with no cure in sight. Jeanne was administered Last Rites four times.

At the urging of friends, she traveled to Lourdes in October of 1948. Upon her arrival, she had been nearly comatose for twelve weeks and on the verge of death. Due to her condition, Jeanne was led immediately to Mass. Father Roques, one of the priest celebrants, attempted to give her communion. With the aid of her friend, they placed a sliver of the Blessed Sacrament in her mouth. Seconds later, Jeanne woke from her stupor, opening her eyes for the first time in months.

She was moved to the very grotto where St. Bernadette had her vision. One night, she felt a presence bring her up from the ground. The presence had her place her hands on her stomach. She felt that she was immediately cured of her illness. The next day, she stood and was taken to be bathed in Lourdes' waters. 

When doctors came to examine her, virtually every symptom of her illness had subsided. She returned to her home in November of 1948. In 1950, she took vows to become a Benedictine sister. Following her cure, she showed no signs of the illness, and her miraculous recovery has been official recognized by the Church. Sr. Fretel continued to go to Lourdes to help the sick in need of healing.

Grant us, O merciful Father, protection in our weakness, that we, who keep the Memorial of the Immaculate Mother of God, may by her holy intercession, rise up from our iniquities. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2018, Year B

Fr. Charles Irvin 
Senior Priest 
Diocese of Lansing 

The gospel account we’ve just heard is part of St. Mark’s introduction of Jesus. It has to do with Jesus’ identity, as have the gospel accounts over the past few Sundays. From the Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord through the Sunday before Ash Wednesday St. Mark is presenting us with the question: “Who is this Jesus?”

Mark’s answer? “The One who has come to bring outcasts back in.” He has come for the outcasts, the outsiders, the lepers, the sinners, and those we disdain. The great irony is that Jesus, the One who came for outcasts, Himself had to get out of town. Note that in several of these gospel accounts we’ve heard, St. Mark reports: “Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived.”

That’s true even today in our surrounding culture. It is not politically correct, we are told, to talk about Jesus in public. He has to be kept from where people are living. For instance, at Christmas we’re supposed to suppress references to Him; we’re supposed to dilute the meaning of Christmas down to calling it “The Winter Festival”, or just another holiday for gift giving, or another holiday for family get-togethers. We’re supposed to submerge Christmas into other reasons for it being a festival celebration. So also Easter is for bunnies and Halloween is for spooks. At Christmas, keep Jesus out back in the manger; don’t allow Him into the inn where everybody else is gathered together.

The One whom the Father sent for outcasts becomes Himself THE outcast. But, we must ask, just who are the outcasts? We, the ones who have been cast out from the Garden of Eden, we are the outcasts. We are the ones God the Son has come to heal from the leprosy of sin. What irony it is that we become the ones who cast Him out, crucified Him outside the walls of Jerusalem, and keep Him, like a leper, at a safe distance so He can’t touch us.

At another level we need to take a close look at the question: Who’s “out” and who’s “in”? That question surrounds us each and every day. Think about the number of television shows are based on that question. Think of the American Idol show and the survivor shows. Think of the media’s concern about who is “in” with President Trump and who is “out.”

Teens are terribly concerned with the question: “Who’s in and who’s not?” They have their own set of outcasts, people with whom they don’t want to be seen in public. And so do adults. And so do families. We all have those with whom we no longer wish to associate, even family members we scorn and don’t want to invite into our homes.

If you think religion has nothing to do with life, or that the bible has nothing to do with life, then think again. Today’s report from St. Mark speaks directly to us, to our attitudes, and to how we’re living with those around us. It speaks to how we are living with others. We all have those who we don’t want be near us or touch our lives.

Is your relationship with Jesus a part of your life or not? Will Jesus be a part of what you think, say and do tomorrow? Or is He out of your life until next Sunday’s Mass? Is He “in” or “out” of your inner circle, those close to you, the community of people among whom you live? Is He “in” or “out” of your daily life?

Try this little test during any regular day of this week. Bring Jesus with you into any conversation. Bring Him in from being outside and then observe the reactions of those around you. I’ll bet that in any number of cases He will be the leper that people will want to shun. And if you allow Him to touch you, to touch your attitudes, your heart and your ways of thinking…? Well, then, you will have contracted His “leprosy” and folks will begin to shun you. You’ll quickly become an “outsider”, yourself an outcast.

As for your own personal relationship with Jesus, you may want to pay some attention to the part of the gospel you just heard where Jesus tells the leper to “go, show yourself to the priest…” As a part of your healing and re-entrance into God’s community of believers, present yourself to the priest. It’s what your religious tradition tells you to do. What He told them to do back then is what Jesus tells us to do when we are tainted with the spiritual leprosy of sin. He tells us to go to the priest and confess.

So when was the last time you went to confession, revealed your sins and showed the priest your own spiritual leprosy… and then received from him God’s healing power in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? If you think that going to confession isn’t important, then perhaps you’d better take a long, hard look at what Jesus had to say to us, lepers that we are, and about how we get back into God’s family. And just what is the role that God has assigned for the priest? The answer to that question isn’t simple. Forgiveness of sin isn’t simply tossing off an easy “I’m sorry” to God.

To return to my opening remarks, the gospel account we just heard is at the end of St. Mark’s first chapter; it concludes Mark’s introduction of Jesus. It has several levels to it. One level deals with who Jesus is…His identity. Another level it deals with who we are and the condition we’re in, namely our own leprosy of sin. Yet another level deals with what will happen to Jesus at the end of His public ministry. For by reporting that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, St. Mark is suggesting that He who came from God to save outcasts, we who have been cast out from the Garden of Eden, will Himself become THE outcast, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. The beginning of Mark’s gospel hints of its ending.

It’s the end of the story, however, that’s the real clincher. For at the end of St. Mark’s gospel accounts we find Jesus, as Mary Magdalene did, in another Garden, the Garden of the Resurrection. With Mary Magdalene and her companions we find ourselves healed, outcasts no longer, able to walk this earth now in the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters to God, redeemed sinners, a people healed of sin’s leprosy, victims and outcasts no longer.

So the next time you find yourself talking about who’s “in” and who’s “out” maybe it would be a good thing to think about who Jesus considers to be “in” and who is “on the outs” with him. For when it comes to God’s attitude, the only outcasts are the ones who have made themselves so.

When we cast God out of our lives we ourselves become the outcasts.

February 9, 2018

St. Scholastica, Patron Saint of Nuns

Saint Scholastica

Memorial - February 10th

It is certainly not unusual for siblings to develop similar interests or to spend time, either together or apart, pursuing the same activities. This is particularly true when the siblings are twins. Such was the case with St. Scholastica and her twin brother, St. Benedict. Between them, they helped found the tradition of Western monasticism, he for men and she for women, that persists to this day.

Scholastica and Benedict were born into a wealthy Italian family in the town of Nursia in 480, and while twins are often close, the fact that their mother died in childbirth may have strengthened the bond between them even further. Little is known of the details of Scholastica’s early life, but she and her brother were raised in their father’s house until Benedict left for Rome to pursue his studies.

Scholastica’s social class, young women often lived in their father’s home until they either married or entered religious life. We do know, thanks to the writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great, that she was dedicated to God from an early age, and may even have gathered some like-minded young women around her while living in Nursia. We are certain she stayed in that house until her father’s death.

When Benedict subsequently left the “worldliness” of Rome to live a more ascetic life at Monte Cassino (which is located between Rome and Naples), Scholastica relocated as well. Adhering to her brother’s monastic Rule, she established what has become known as the first Benedictine convent either at Plumbariola, about five miles from Monte Cassio, or in a group of buildings in Monte Cassino itself.

Though brother and sister lived physically very close to one another, they only met in person once a year at a farmhouse near the monastery (the Benedictine Rule prevented Scholastica from entering the monastery building itself). During these meetings, they spent the day praising God and discussing spiritual matters.

Very near the very end of her life, in 543, Scholastica and her brother were meeting as they usually did. When night drew on, however, she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day, as she sensed that her own death was imminent. Because the Benedictine Rule stipulated that a monk must not spend a night away from his monastery, her brother at first refused. It is said that, at that point, Scholastica folded her hands on the table, lowered her head, and began to pray. Suddenly, a thunderstorm broke out that was so severe that neither Benedict nor the monks accompanying him could safely leave the convent.

Benedict then cried out, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” Scholastica replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and He granted it.” Realizing that this was God’s will, Benedict remained talking to his sister until the next morning, at which time they parted. It was the last time in this world that they saw each other; three days later, as he was praying, Benedict saw a dove rising to heaven and knew that it was his sister’s soul returning to God. He announced her death to the other monks and instructed them to bring her body back to the monastery. There he laid her in a tomb that he had prepared for himself. He, in turn, died seven years later, in 550.

February 7, 2018

St. Josephine Bakhita, Patron Saint of Sudan

Saint Josephine Bakhita,

Optional Memorial - February 8th

There are many types of slavery and also many types of freedom. For some, who appear outwardly free, the slavery is internal and has various guises, such as attitudes that entrap, hurtful emotions that have not healed, or addictions which cripple and bind. Then there are people who seem trapped, but who have actually achieved an inner freedom of spirit that nothing in the world can overcome. Saint Josephine Bakhita, who was born in the Darfur region of southern Sudan around 1868, belonged to the later. Her story began in slavery and ended in sainthood.

No one knows what her parents had called her. The child, who would eventually be known as Josephine, was kidnapped by Arab slave traders when she was barely seven years old. It was they who gave her the name Bakhita which, ironically, means “fortunate” or “lucky.” For several years, her name appeared to be a cruel joke, as she was sold and resold, to an Arab chieftain and then to a Turkish military officer, who mutilated her by slashing her 114 times with a razor.

Finally, in her midteens, she was sold once again, this time to a man named Callisto Legnani, the Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan. It was the year 1883, and Egypt and Great Britain were in political control of that country, but drastic changes were about to occur. In 1885, Islamic religious reformers rebelled against European rule, capturing Khartoum and killing the English governor there. The Legnani family fled back to Italy, taking Bakhita with them.

There, she was given to a merchant named Augusto Michaeli, where she became a companion to Michaeli’s daughter, Alice. When Alice was subsequently enrolled at Venice’s Institute of the Catechumens, Bakhita accompanied her; it was here that the young slave girl was first introduced to the Catholic faith through the Canossian Sisters, who administered the school.

After taking instruction from them, Bakhita was baptized and confirmed in 1890, when she took the name Josephine. In the meantime, the strife in Sudan had subsided and the Michaelis decided to return to Africa. They insisted that Bakhita, now Josephine, come back with them, but she refused. The case went to court and both the Canossian Sisters and the cardinal patriarch of Venice (the future Saint Pius X) intervened on Josephine’s behalf. The judge sided with Josephine. He ruled that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since she stepped foot on Italian soil in 1885.

In 1893, Josephine Bakhita entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa and made her profession in 1896. She remained with the sisters there until she was transferred to the city of Schio, near Verona, in 1902. There she became a favorite, not only of the sisters, but of the children who attended their school as well. Always humble, Sister Josephine served the community as doorkeeper. When asked by her superior to write about her previous life in Sudan, she complied, composing a thirty page memoir, which she wrote in Italian.

In 1935, she was asked to tell her story again, this time in person at the convents run by the Canossian Sisters. Though her natural shyness made this difficult for her, she obeyed nonetheless. Her next assignment delighted her, however; for three years she worked in Milan with young sisters who were preparing for work in the African missions.

Sister Josephine lived into her eighties and, despite all the experiences she had had in life, she never forgot what it was like to be enslaved. While dying of pneumonia, she called out to Our Lady and pleaded, “Please loosen the chains … they are heavy.” St. Josephine Bakhita died in 1947. She was canonized in 2000 by St. Pope John Paul II. O God, who led St. Josephine Bakhita from slavery to the dignity of being a bride of Christ, grant that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining ever steadfast in our charity.

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 11, 2018, Year B

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

It’s flu season. In many parishes the distribution of Communion under both species is discontinued until further notice, and people are encouraged to offer the Sign of Peace with a nod rather than a handshake. If you have the flu, you are expected to stay home rather than risk infecting people around you.

You have heard the recent serious concerns about measles, and the controversy surrounding parents who decided not to have their children immunized. Before that it was Ebola. Before that it was AIDS.

A sixty-five-year-old woman in India lives in a hut outside her village, and hasn’t had a visitor in at least 22 years. She has leprosy. People are afraid, even though they have been assured the disease is not communicable. Fear trumps science. In some parts of India leprosy is accepted as valid grounds for divorce — this in the country with the lowest divorce rate in the world! The woman is also considered “ritually impure,” and is excluded from the temples.

So we can understand the situation described in today’s Gospel, both from the point of view of the people’s fear of contagion and from the leper’s isolation from society. This explains why lepers have often tended to live in colonies, like the Island of Molokai.

In the Old Testament there were many ways to become unclean, which is not at all the same as being dirty. For example, if a member of the family died, whoever touched the body became unclean. In most cases you simply waited till evening and then you were clean again. Sometimes you had to wash your clothes, as well, and occasionally you had to take a bath. But you would always be clean once evening fell. Meanwhile, in Numbers 19 we read, “Anything that the unclean person touches becomes unclean itself, and the one who touches such a person becomes unclean until evening.”

There were a couple of notable exceptions. Leprosy was one; as long as it lasted, you were unclean. If it cleared up, you went to the priest who would verify that you were in fact healed. Then you would offer a sacrifice to God — a sign that you were fully reinstated. That’s what Jesus told the leper to do.

But Jesus didn’t just heal the leper. He touched him! He touched an untouchable person, reaching out to him. No one, not even the leper, could have expected that.

That gesture is normative. The famous Fr. Damien, now St. Damien, followed that example literally on the Island of Molokai. Missionaries in many countries have built leprosy clinics, where lepers are treated with medicines, and shown respect.

But the gesture is normative for us all. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Christians of Corinth to avoid giving offense. In context it is a little like the medical principle, “First do no harm.” He also indicates by his own behavior that Christians ought not to seek their own personal benefit but that of the many.

This doesn’t mean we should go around shaking hands with flu victims, or that Christian nurses should cast off their protective gear when treating infectious patients. We can’t all be a Fr. Damien.

But we do need to abide by St. Paul’s principle: “Do everything for the glory of God.” How? There are many ways, of course. Among them is treating all persons with respect, and then doing whatever, in our heart of hearts, we know we are personally called to do for others.

Children As ‘Neighbor’: Children Are To Be Loved, Not Used or Sentimentalized

Christ blessing the children

By Father Thomas Mattison 

Charles Dickens did a world of good by bringing the plight of Victorian children to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness; Tiny Tim, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and Pip were real-life characters somewhere in that world. There they were seen and treated as tools and opportunities for unscrupulous and grasping grownups.

But the swing of the pendulum went a degree or two too far – children suddenly became sentimentalized. When people like Churchill and W.C. Fields and Cardinal Newman had slighting things to say about the beauty, cuteness and innocence of children (respectively) they were pretty well tut-tutted as curmudgeons and misanthropes.

This sentimentalizing of children is at the root of such things as the currently popular “right to a child” at any cost. You would think that a child was a new car or a better phone, to which one might also have a right, especially the thousands of frozen embryos whose ownership is often the sticking point of divorces and whose maintenance is an ongoing burden to “medical” facilities who feel unfree to destroy these children that no one wants anymore. At the same time, the right to have a child has led to opposite assertion of the right not to have a child – even to abort a child already conceived.

Dickens should have lived longer and written as persuasively of the plight of the child of the 21st century!

My description of a child as a “neighbor” who must be loved according to the second great commandment may seem cold and distant. But let us be clear that the “neighbor” of that law has an absolute right to life, to respect, to support, to hospitality according to his status and my ability. Imagine if those neighbor-rights were to be asserted and vindicated for every child in the world!

With respect to the neighbor, every other person has the obligation that is summarized in the term “Good Samaritan.” Imagine how differently the world would treat children if this commandment were made civil law.

Children, in Christian thought, are not a distinct class of persons; nor is childhood a defined state. They are, instead, persons with the same needs, the same rights and the same duties as everyone else. Like everyone else, they require support, education and encouragement in the use and realization of these things. Clearly, these requirements fall most fully and primarily upon the family; but the larger society, too, has a responsibility for and an interest in the development of its future citizens.

Roe v. Wade legalized the anti-sentimental view of children. This was wrong. But sentiment can easily turn children into slaves of parental emotions as much as Dickensian youth were slaves of a societal economy. This is wrong.

Children are our nearest and neediest neighbors. One day they will be our most valuable and constructive neighbors. But they will always be people to be loved — and love other neighbors.

Fr. Thomas Mattison is pastor of Christ our Savior Parish in Manchester Center and Arlington VT.

February 4, 2018

Saint Augustine on Truth

People hate the truth for the sake of whatever it is that they love more than the truth. They love truth when it shines warmly on them, and hate it when it rebukes them.
  — St. Augustine of Hippo

Prayer for St. Augustine's Intercession

Renew in your Church, we pray, O Lord, that spirit with which you endowed your Bishop Saint Augustine that, filled with the same spirit, and by his intercession, we may thirst for you, the sole fount of true wisdom, and seek you, the author of heavenly love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns, together with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

A Reconciling Touch: A Reflection for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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

(Leviticus 13:1-2 and 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45) 

St. Paul may appear to be vain when he writes, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” But he was, in fact, a good model of discipleship, and all of us are called, likewise, to be imitators of Christ, doing everything for the glory of God.

Very recently I met a woman who had a wooden sculpture, a gift from a missionary Sister. It was carved by a leper, who gave it to the Sister to acknowledge his special gratitude, because she was the only person who had ever touched him. She was an imitator of Christ as we see him in today’s Gospel.

His touch produced more than the physical healing. It was surely unexpected, perhaps even shocking, and, therefore, a very powerful sign, an example to follow. It was a healing and reconciling touch.

Normally we think of reconciliation as the restoration of a relationship between persons separated by some deep offense. It is, as you know, a key word in the vocabulary of La Salette Missionaries, Sisters, and Laity, who desire all to be reconciled to God and fully incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ.

How does this apply to leprosy? Apart from two clear examples (Miriam in Numbers 12, and Gehazi in 2 Kings 5), there was no offense associated with the disease.

The fact remains that, by law, as we read in Leviticus, lepers lived in a state of alienation. Unclean, they could have no association with others, and anyone who had contact with them became unclean as well, though only for a short time. That situation was here reversed. By a touch the leper was restored to health and to a normal life. He could once again enter the temple. His alienation was over. This was an act of reconciliation.

In the 1960’s the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette founded a leprosarium in Burma. Fr. William Doherty wrote: “We established a leprosarium for the many people afflicted by this dread disease—people until that time unwanted and uncared for.” This was perfectly in keeping with our mission of reconciliation. These persons, unfortunately, could not be restored to their families. But their total alienation was ended.

Not only sin committed or offense given, but any form of alienation, calls for a reconciling touch.

2018 Online Lenten Retreat


During the solemn penitential season of Lent, we prepare ourselves physically and spiritually to walk through the desert with Jesus Christ. The use of purple vestments, and the absence of the Gloria and the Alleluia at Mass and in the Divine Office, are sober reminders of Holy Week and the great feast of Easter to follow. We should examine in earnest our sins and detachments. This period of atonement, prayer and fasting calls us to greater holiness in imitation of Christ.

Lent is a time to strengthen our prayer lives — to pray more, and to pray better.

Pray More Novenas has a Lenten retreat starting Ash Wednesday, February 14.

The retreat features inspiring talks to deepen your prayer life and love of God.

This online offering features sixteen talks on prayer. Each comes with a study guide of questions, prompts and reflections. You may download the talks as an audio recording should you wish to listen to them later. (See complete list below.)

List of Retreat Speakers

Fr. Chase Hilgenbrinck was ordained for Diocese of Peoria by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky on May 24th 2014. He currently serves as the Assistant Chaplain at the St. John Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign, the nation’s largest Newman Center. His talks include the following Lenten themes:

"Renewing our Covenant with God this Lent"

"Created to Love & Live in Relationship with God"

"God's Ways Are Not Our Ways"

Beth Davis is the Director of Ministry Advancement for Blessed is She. In this role she writes curriculum and directs retreats, provides support to parishes and small groups, and develops community from the ground up. She served as a youth minister for eleven years in Flagstaff. These are her presentation topics:

"Jesus and the Storms of Life"

"Our Deepest Identity"

"The Father's Heart"

"Extravagant Love"

Dr. Scott Powell is a teacher, theologian, author, and the director of the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, an outreach to the University of Colorado in Boulder. Scott has spent the last decade speaking and teaching theology and the Scriptures to groups of all ages. He will discuss the following Lenten subjects:

"Let Your Servant Go in Peace: Responding to God in Prayer"

"Embrace the Awkward: Deuteronomy and the Foundations of Prayer"

"Facing our Goliaths: The Most Famous Old Testament Story We've Never Heard"

Allison Gingras is the founder of Reconciled To You where she blogs, shares and speaks about the Catholic faith in our everyday life and the many opportunities life presents to discover the grace of God. She will talk on "The Grace Trifecta".

"The Grace Trifecta, Part I: Prayer"

"The Grace Trifecta, Part II: Scripture"

"The Grace Trifecta, Part III: The Sacraments"

Fr. Thomas P. Quinn was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Newark. in 2015 and currently serves as a parochial vicar at Saint Michael's Parish in Cranford, NJ, where he leads the RCIA program, an apostolate for young families, young adult activities, and adult spiritual formation. His Lenten topics include:

"Whoever serves me must follow me"

"For God So Loved the World"

"Palm Sunday"


Lenten Prayer for Holiness

May this Lenten season strengthen you to love God completely and to grow ever more holy. May your humanity be more fully united with Christ’s own humanity, so that, at the end of time, you may claim the inheritance won for you through the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Lamb of God, your supreme sacrifice saved mankind. Help us be your disciples.

"So that I may share in the Gospel" Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 4, 2018, Year B


Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP, PhD 
St Dom/Carmelite Laity/OLR, NOLA

(Click here for today’s readings

Job is not a happy man right now. He's lost everything. His life is drudgery. He's a like a slave who works away his days in the sun, longing for shade. All his nights are troubled. He's soaked in months of misery. Restlessness while trying to sleep; hopeless while he's awake. He says, “. . .my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” We know all too well why Job is having such a tough time. He's lost everything. His wealth. His health. His family. All of it. He might be able to suffer well under his material losses, but he's lost one thing that all of us need most. He's lost his purpose. He's lost his end, his reason for living.

If he had a purpose, he could look forward and place his losses within a bigger plan to reach that goal. But without a goal, Job has no way to give his suffering meaning. Jesus has a purpose. Paul has a purpose. And they know happiness in knowing their purpose. What purpose do you serve? Can you name the happiness that gives all of your suffering a meaning?

What's the point of having a purpose? Isn’t it easier getting out of bed in the morning knowing you have a purpose, knowing you have a goal to achieve, a To Do List for your life that needs some work? Isn't it easier making it to work or class or the next thing on the list knowing that your attention, energy, labor, and time will be focused on completing a mission, on getting something done? With the time we have and the talents we're given, don’t we prefer to see constructive and profitable outcomes? Even when we’re being a bit lazy, wasting a little time doing much of nothing, we have it in the back of our mind to get busy, to get going on something, checking that next thing on the list and moving toward a goal. It’s how we are made to live in this world. Not merely to live for a daily To Do List, but to move toward some sort of perfection, some sort of completion.

For example, Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation have been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” Paul is given a goal, a purpose beyond mere survival, beyond merely getting along. Having been smacked around by the Lord for persecuting the Church, Paul finds himself ordered to a regime of holiness, a kingdom of righteousness, that demands more than rule-following, more than simply showing up and breathing in the temple's atmosphere. Paul must preach. He must travel city to city, province to province, publicly witnessing to his repentance, to the power of Christ’s mercy accomplished on the Cross.

Paul’s sleep is restful. His work exhausts him. He is a slave whose labor is never drudgery, never pointless. His end, his purpose is Jesus Christ; the telling again and again of his story; his bruising encounter with the man of love. And offering to anyone who will open their eyes to see and their ears to hear; offering to them the same restfulness; the same pleasing exhaustion; the same intense, purposeful focus that the need to proclaim the Good News compels.

Jesus, exhausted by his purpose, is doing his best to find a little time away from the crowds. When Simon and other disciples find him and say, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus, pursued, literally, by his purpose responds responsibly, “Let us go to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” Soon he will look out over the vast crowd and, moved by compassion, teach them many things. Now, exhausted himself, he takes his students out again to preach and teach the Good News. It is his purpose – to show those hungry for God that God does indeed rule, that He holds dominion here, over all creation – heaven and earth, man and the devil – and that healing flows from faith, light always overcomes darkness, and that evil, no matter how far ahead in the worldly race, has already lost.

Job has lost his purpose and dwells in an anxious darkness. Paul is driven by his need to witness. Jesus reveals His Father’s kingdom—healing, driving out demons, preaching. Job recovers his purpose when the Lord dramatically reminds him who is God and who is creature, Who Is Purpose Himself and who has a purpose. Paul runs his preaching into every town he crosses, proclaiming the Word, setting up houses of prayer, and leaving behind men and women strong in the faith. Jesus moves inexorably toward the Cross, his work for the Way along the way reveals again and again the always, already present victory of Life over Death, freedom over slavery, final success over endless failure.

What goals do you serve? Why do you get up in the morning? What meaning does your work, your play have for you? Who are you in light of what you have promised to be and do? What makes you happy? Where do you find joy? Lots of questions! But all of these are really just one question: what is your purpose?

You have a given purpose and a chosen purpose. Your given purpose is dyed into your flesh, pressed through into your bones; it is a God-placed hook in your heart, a hook that tugs you relentlessly back to Him, back to His perfecting goodness. Your chosen purpose is how you choose to live out day-to-day your given purpose, how you have figured out how to make it back to God. Student, mother, professor, virgin, priest, monk, artist, poet, engineer, athlete, clerk, scientist, father, nurse, dentist. When your chosen purpose best reveals your given purpose, when what you have chosen to do helps who you are given to be flourish, your anxiety finds trust, your sleeplessness finds rest, your despair finds joy. And you can say with Paul: “All this I do for the sake of the gospel,” – heal, study, pray, minister, write, research, teach, drive, build, all this I do for the gospel – “so that I too may have a share in it.”

What Purpose do you serve? I mean, when you work, when you study and teach and play, toward what end do you reach? What goal seduces you forward, pulls you to the finish line? Surely for us, all of us here, that purpose is Jesus Christ. Our goal is his friendship, his love. And our goal is his witness, our telling of his Good News. We can waddle around in the darkness of sin, bumping around blind, reaching for what’s never there. We can wail into the wind like Job, moaning about the meaninglessness of life, the pointlessness of our daily striving. We can even refuse happiness, refuse to see that we have a given purpose. But you will find your release and your license, your freedom and your choice when you make yourself a slave to all, when you make yourself all things to all, to help save at least some.

Like Paul, a trusted steward, a faithful child, preach the gospel. Live it right where you are. Make it your reason for getting out of bed, for going to work, for making it to class. Make it who you are, what you do, and everything you ever will become.

Everyone is looking for you. For what purpose do you live?

Visit Fr. Powell's website for more homilies and related commentary.