Friday, March 30, 2012

The Theological Virtues: A Parish Mission

This past week, my parish held a mission given by Fr. John Gordon. He is the Parochial Vicar from Holy Family parish in Nutley, NJ.
Fr. John spoke about the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love. It was a three night mission, so one virtue was the topic each night. This priest is a very engaging preacher as well as an excellent teacher. He closed each night with a tangible and visible expression of the virtue covered. On the first night we each approached the Baptismal Font, blessing ourselves with the water as sign of reaffirming our faith and renewing our Baptimal vows. The second night we approached Mary's altar to pray there silently for a moment, as Mary is the Mother of Hope. Finally on the third night, Father invited us to come forward to have  our hands anointed with oil which he blessed as a sign of our approaching God with open hands offering our love to Him as well as receiving His love for us. (This was done as blessing, not a sacrament. Father made this emphatically clear.)
I would like to give an account of what I took from these three days on each of these virtues.

Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not. 
~Hebrews 11:1

Faith is more than just believing in something or someone. I believe that for many it is quite easy to say that I believe in God, or that I believe there is a God. After all, even Satan believed in the existence of God, but for him, and I dare say for some others I have encountered, that is where it ends.

True faith, the faith that Jesus looked for in those He encountered during His earthly life, involves trust. Do I not only believe in God's existence, but do I trust Him with my life?

When we read the accounts of those Jesus healed, He usually sends them off by telling them that their faith has saved or healed them. That is the same type of trusting faith He is looking for from each of us. This all abandoning trust in God is not always easy. We want to fall back on our own devices. Saying to God: "Don't worry Lord, I got this one." But most of us know how that usually turns out. For me, I end up going Splat! Falling flat on my face. Faith, cultivated by prayer will help lead us to trust in God and in His promises.

But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. 
~Isaiah 40:31

In speaking about the virtue of Hope, Father John distinguished between the little every day hopes we have and the hope that our faith calls us to.
Hoping in the Lord, we have our sights on heaven. Father talked about purgatory and gave this scenario: If we hope for heaven and at the end of our life we miss that goal, well we will probably end up in purgatory, which means we still get heaven~eventually. However, he fears that far too many aim for purgatory. Well, if you miss that, you know what is below that! In using this scenario, Father was telling us to aim high, to set our faith filled hope on heaven.
St Therese of Lisieux also spoke very strongly on this topic. She said there is no reason a soul should have to go to purgatory first, given that we live our lives according to God's commands and precepts.
So let us broaden our horizons not limit them. God wants us with Him, and our hope in Him will lead us to where He is.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 
~1Cor. 13:13

God the Father so loved the world that He gave us Jesus. Jesus loves us so much, that He gave His life to take away our sins. God asks us to return love with love. He tells us in Scripture: "If you love me, you will keep my precepts..."(cf.John 14:15) Father John said that he thinks many of us hear that Scripture passage in a bit of a twisted way. We often hear God saying, If you keep my precepts, I will love you. When Father said this, I had to be honest with myself. I know what the passage says; I've read it a hundred times, but I often do twist God's words. God's love for each of us is unconditional. It is we human beings who love conditionally due to our fallen nature. What Father John stressed in speaking about love, especially God's love for us, is that no one on this earth can or will ever love us like God does. When I really stop and think about that, it takes my breath away. 

One last thing that stayed with me from this mission is this: Father reminded us that these three virtues, unlike the others are pure gift and grace. We can work at being patient or prudent, but faith, hope and love are freely given graces from the God who loves each one of us deeply and personally. We just need to accept them and cooperate with the grace.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Around The Blogosphere

It is time for another trip around Catholic blogland. Since the last time I posted about this, I have come across some more worthy reads from fellow Catholic bloggers.

As we prepare to enter into Holy Week, we begin to reflect more on Our Lord's Passion and Death. Fr. Joseph Homick has a beautiful series of reflections on the Sorrowful Mysteries which will help, if read prayerfully, to enter more deeply into Christ's Passion. I linked to the First Sorrowful Mystery, but you can get to the others once on his blog, Making All Things New.

Mark Mallet has a wonder and powerful blog titled: Mark Mallet: Spiritual Food For Thought. In his post Warnings in the Wind, he certainly gives us food for thought and prayer. I warn you that his blog and, particularly this post, are not easy to read, but this post is a must be read and needs to be taken seriously given the times we are living in.

In Two Doors Down, Caroline at Bell of the Wanderer shares a beautifully poignant and honest post about loving our neighbor, even when it is especially hard to do so.

In Jesus Is My Home, Colleen at Thoughts on Grace shares the experience with which many of us are familiar~that of feeling lonely in this harsh and secularized world. She goes on to describe how she, and all of us can find our home in Jesus and His Church.

I will leave you with these four blogs to visit for now. I wish everyone a blessed Holy Week leading to a joyful Easter.
Until next time~see you around the blogosphere!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Golden Calves

...The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once to your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out, 'This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!' (Exodus 32:7~8)

When I read and heard that passage from Exodus last week at Mass, it was one of those times when it seemed strike right where I live, so to speak. It would be very easy for us to stand back and say: "Those crazy foolish Israelites, a golden calf? Really?" However, looking at the world around us today in the 21st century, we see that as a culture, we have not come that far from where those crazy Israelites were. We have formed our own golden calves, perhaps even more dangerous than that statue they came up with. Our golden calves are in the form of money, power, sex, drugs, or whatever gets in the way of God in our lives. Take a look at a list of the seven deadly sins, and you will see that they are alive and well in our society today.
OK, all that is on a global scale, but what about in my own life? Sure, I don't seem to have an attachment to any of those things I've listed, or do I? Maybe they are in a subtler form. What am I doing when I could be spending some time in Scripture or spiritual reading? Do I give of my time to those who really need it? Spiritual things in and of themselves can become idols as well. Am I spending every waking minute in church/parish activities and depriving my family of time they need from me? You get the picture.
I don't make this personal to judge. Lord knows, I am as guilty as the next person. My point in bringing this to a personal level is to help us root out these idols which are obstacles to faith, hope and love. They are obstacles to the one true joy of and in our lives~Jesus Christ.
My other point in all of this is, who did the Israelites have to intercede for them? They had Moses. Back to the global scenario... The world needs modern day Moses and Abrahams to stand in the breach and pray, asking God's mercy on this fallen and depraved world. It is not so much that prayer changes God's mind, but more that He is looking to see if anyone down here cares. He is looking to see if we care and love our brothers and sisters, especially those who have turned from Him. Intercessory prayer is a powerful tool. Moses and Abraham are just two examples of how it changed the lives of others, and maybe even the course of history.
In order to stand in that breach before Almighty God, we first have to look at our own lives and as Jesus tells us in Luke 6, take the beam from our own eye so as to remove the splinter from our brother's.
Lent is a great time to do this, especially as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. Let's melt those golden calves of ours and put Jesus, our King, our hope, and our joy in their place, and then let us pray for those who do not know Him or love Him.

Note: I mentioned Abraham in this post. You can read a related post I wrote based on the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI: Abraham and Intercessory Prayer

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Being Drawn Up In Christ

Tissot's: What Jesus Saw From the Cross

The days of Jesus' public life are coming to a close as we read in today's Gospel. In terms of where we are in the season of Lent, the same is true. The Greeks in today's Gospel ask to see Jesus. The reasons for their asking were probably as varied as the people who asked, but they all desired to see Him.
As is often the case, Jesus does not give a simple reply to the Apostles who bring Jesus this news. As Jesus reveals that His hour is fast approaching, He also reveals His desire for all to be drawn up to Himself. Not only does He desire this, but says that He will do so.
I saw this "drawing up" in two ways. One, in that when Jesus says this, He is indicating the type of death He will suffer, so He is drawing us to Himself on the Cross. Though it may sound strange, I like this image and I think Jesus wanted us to have that image because He goes on to say that where He is, so are those who serve Him. If we serve Christ and follow Him, it will lead us to the Cross in some way, shape or form. However, Jesus did not stay on the Cross, nor does He wish that we stay there either. By losing our lives (our selves) we gain eternal life where we will be drawn into Him for eternity.
My other interpretation of this "drawing up" was more of a being drawn to. Once again I go back to the request of the Greeks: "We want to see Jesus." In my own desire to see Jesus, do I look for Him in others?~ for He is surely there. Even perhaps more to the point, do others see Him in me? Jesus wants to draw all things, especially souls, to Himself; he often does this through those who love and serve Him. My prayer after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion is that having received Him, people with whom I will have contact that day will see more of Him and less of me.
Jesus also prays in today's Gospel, that His Father's name be glorified. In drawing others to Christ, we too must pray that same prayer. It is God who is to be glorified and not us.
While I had two different interpretations of Jesus' words today, both lead to the same place; they both lead to the cross. In bringing others to Christ, we will bear our share of suffering, but Jesus is there with outstretched hand, so that we and all souls can be where He is.
So as we live this last week of Lent and prepare to enter into Holy Week, let's walk with Jesus through His Passion and Death, allowing those around us to see our love and devotion for Him so that by His grace, all souls may be drawn to Him.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Joseph's Staircase?

Loretto Chapel Staircase

One of my favorite stories surrounding St Joseph, whose feast we celebrate today, is that of the amazing and beautiful spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel in New Mexico. The story goes that when the chapel was built, there was no way of getting to the choir loft. When the carpenters were consulted about building a staircase, the sisters were told that it would interfere in getting around in the small chapel and so a ladder would be the only answer.
Well the good sisters of the chapel were not satisfied with that solution, and began a novena to St Joseph, patron of carpenters. On the final day of the novena, a man appeared at the chapel looking for work. Several months later, the staircase that remains there today was completed. The man disappeared without leaving any trace of himself and without pay. Some believe it was St Joseph himself who built the staircase.
You can read more about this marvel and its history here.
In the meantime, let us ask St Joseph for his intercession in our own lives.

St Joseph, most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father to Our Lord Jesus Christ, pray for us, intercede for those we love. Renew and strengthen our Holy, Catholic Church, and bring all those who have died and will die today to a holy and happy death. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Father's Incredible Gift

God so loved the world... John3:16. It is a verse with which we have become so familiar~perhaps even too familiar. As I heard this well~known verse in the context of today's Gospel reading, it seemed to stop me in my tracks. God, our Heavenly Father so loved the world that He gave this very broken world His only Son. In giving Jesus to this world, the Father gave us the ultimate gift. He gave us Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
St Leo the Great tells us that the will of the Father and the will of the Son were one. So Jesus wished and willed to give Himself to us as much as His Father did.
I usually think and meditate on this verse from the view of Jesus coming to us, and that is a good way to think about it, but today I seemed to be drawn into seeing this gift of the Father and His Son from the view of the Father. Go back to the verse: God so loved the world... You and I are part of that world, so God, our Father loves you and me and everyone in it in a very personal way. When seen that way, we can see not only the sacrifice of Jesus, but in a sense, we also can see the sacrifice of the Father.
One of the greatest lessons we learn from Jesus is that true love is sacrificial; this lesson began with the Father who loved the world and everyone in it~so much so, He gave us Jesus.
In accepting the Father's love for me, I accept Jesus' love; the two are inseparable. As Scripture tells us: "No one has seen the Father except the Son." (John 1:18) and Jesus' reply to Phillip when he makes the request of Jesus to "Show us the Father" is that whoever sees Me, sees the Father." (see John 14:8)
The five little words that begin that Gospel verse are powerful ones when we stop to really let their weight sink into our hearts and souls. When we allow that to happen, we allow the love of the Father and the Son, through the Holy Spirit to sink in as well.
Jesus~the Father's most incredible gift to us.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Living Out Nazareth

My meditation and prayer today led me back to Nazareth. Nathaniel once posed the question: "Can anything of good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46) Well, we can easily say yes because of our faith. Even if Jesus and his Holy Family are the only good to come from there, that would certainly be enough.
While we do not know much about Nazareth or Jesus' young life there, we know enough to garner a good example from Him and His life there.
So, if you will, journey back with me to this sleepy little village in Galilee...
We are in the humble home of the Holy family. Mary lives her days as any Jewish woman going about the business of keeping the home, and being a wife to Joseph and mother to Jesus. Joseph is a carpenter using his skills to provide for his family and passing those skills on to his foster Son. As Jesus grew, he most likely ventured into the town with Joseph to perhaps sell their wares.
And while Jesus learned the skills of carpentry from Joseph, He knew the will of His Father in Heaven, and this He learned through His times of quiet prayer. Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary, and He knew that He was to lead a life of service and humble generosity.
Jesus is now thirty years of age, and it is time for Him to leave this home He has grown up in. He takes with Him all He has learned and cultivated in this place. As He ventures out into nearby and distant towns and villages, He will continue to find times of quiet prayer with His Father, and He will continue to live a life of service and generosity finally to give it all on the Cross.
Jesus lived Nazareth wherever He went. This is His example for us. Even though we live in a noisy, fast-paced world, we can create our Nazareths wherever we are. In order to grow in wisdom and love in our life with Christ, we need to find times of quiet prayer with Him. Then we need to forth from those times and places of prayer and contemplation  living lives of humble service and generosity.
It is possible and it is necessary if we are to. like Jesus, grow in favor before God and Man.

Monday, March 5, 2012

News From The Blogosphere

When Blogger had the nice little feature of being able to put clips of other Bloggers' posts on your sidebar, I found that an easy and nice way of sharing what was new and noteworthy around the Blogosphere. Then they did away with it. I tried to do one on my own, but found that keeping up with it on a post by post basis was a bit tedious. So here is what I will try next...
Each week or so I will run a post with links to some of the blog posts I have read over the course of the week that I think are worth sharing-some of them need sharing! Some are from priests' blogs, some from bigger, more well known blogs, some from small and not widely known.
Here are my favorites from the past week:

Bitter Herbs Before the Exodus from These Stone Walls- Fr. Gordon MacRae, whom I have written about before on this blog, has told the story of one of his prison mates who has made known his desire to become Catholic. It is a story that fits right in with this Lenten season and is filled with hope and redemption.

Msgr. Charles Pope over at the Archdiocese of Washington blog has a wonderful reflection on yesterday's Gospel about the Transfiguration of Jesus in Beams of Heaven As I Go. This one is definitely worth the time. I recommend reading it prayerfully when you have a few extra minutes to spare.

Ryan A MacDonald at A Ram in the Thicket has some more insight to the news regarding Fr. Gordon MacRae's possible retrial as well as the not so nice goings on with SNAP and VOTF in his post Why Do SNAP and VOTF Fear the Case of Fr. Gordon MacRae?

And finally, but certainly not least, Victor at A Time For Reflection is serving up lobster with his newly created Lobster award. I would like to thank Victor and Michael at Reach Paradise for this tasty award. Be sure to check their blogs out for more about the award and other wonderful posts

Well that's it for this week. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Reflection From The Cross

Christ on the Cross:Eugene Delacroix

My main spiritual reading and guidance this Lent comes from the Jesuits at The Spiritual Exercises Blog. I have followed the Lenten Retreat they offer each Lent for the last three years. The exercises are based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola.
One of the exercises this past week that has stayed with me is one in which we are asked to reflect on our weakness in refusing love and while doing so to imagine ourselves before Christ dying on the cross. We then ask Him to reflect ourselves back to ourselves.
I found this very powerful and also painfully beautiful. Seeing myself before Love itself in my own weakness and inability to love, I didn't see or feel shame, guilt or His reproach; I saw myself reflected back though His eyes of love, mercy and compassion. It made me think of Mother Teresa's beautiful reflection I Thirst. What I saw in myself was the lack of love I so often have for myself and others and the answer to filling that lack. Looking past what was reflected back to me, I saw Christ's thirst for me, for each of us to accept His love and then give it freely as He was doing there on the cross.
I have come to learn, often the hard way, that we cannot love others, or even ourselves if we do not first accept the love of the Father that comes through Christ. In putting myself before the dying Christ this week, I was able to see my own weakness, but reflected back to me through Christ's eyes the reflection was tempered with His love, mercy and compassion.
I can leave the scene of the Cross and think back to what is revealed on Mt. Tabor. Jesus revealed His glory to Peter, James and John that day to strengthen them for what they would witness in His Passion and Death. He strengthened them for what would come in their own lives: Peter to lead the Church, John to go from his youth to live in exile in his old age, and James for his martyrdom.
I use to wonder why we hear the account of The Transfiguration during Lent, but I see it is to strengthen us as well. To come down from that mountain and walk with Christ to the Cross where we can see His ultimate example of love and see ourselves reflected back to us through that love.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

St Joseph: A Powerful Intercessor

Rembrandt's Dream of St Joseph

March is devoted to St Joseph. While we do not hear much about this great saint in Scripture, he is an extremely powerful intercessor. In his earthly life he was a humble carpenter by trade. Yet beneath that humble exterior was the strength God gave him to be the earthly spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the foster father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. St Joseph is the patron of many causes: the universal Church, a happy death, and workers, just to name a few. I often think he is the saint most taken for granted.
The saints throughout the ages, though tell us of the importance of devotion to Joseph. St Teresa of Avila had said that progress in the spiritual life was not possible without devotion to St Joseph.
So let us take this month to either begin or renew our devotion to Joseph. After all, if he was good enough for Jesus and Mary, he is certainly good enough for all of us.
As always, you can find prayers for the monthly devotion on my left side bar~ just click the picture.

St Joseph, most humble and chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of Our Lord Jesus Christ pray for us, intercede for those we love. Renew and protect the Universal Church and bring all those who have died and will die this day to a holy and happy death.

*Reprint from 2011

Closing Prayer

Psalm 45: Canticle of Love to the King

My heart overflows with a good theme;
I address my verses to the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.
You are fairer than the sons of men;
Grace is poured upon Your lips;
Therefore God has blessed You forever.

Gird Your sword on Your thigh, O Mighty One,
In Your splendor and Your majesty!
And in Your majesty ride on victoriously,
For the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
Let Your right hand teach You awesome things.
Your arrows are sharp;
The peoples fall under You;
Your arrows are in the heart of the King’s enemies.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of joy above Your fellows.
All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad.
Kings’ daughters are among Your noble ladies;
At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.