Sunday, October 10, 2010

Begin at the Beginning

Sometimes the most obvious advice can be that advice we need the most, but overlook ... it seems almost trite. When it comes to the spiritual life, we don't need to know about the interior castles and such until we have mastered the basics. Grace presupposes nature. As our dear Francis of Sales tells us, our spiritual lives unchecked tend to emphasize one area over the other. For instance, we can seemingly reach the heights of contemplation, fast regularly, yet speak uncharitably toward our neighbor -- and by consequence -- we are not the devout Catholics we think we are.

Let us therefore shed our preconceived notions of ourselves, leave them at the door, and enter into the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit under the tutelage of St. Francis de Sales. We ask Our Lady to guide us: as St. Simeon prophesied, through her the hearts of many would be revealed. Let us ask her for the wisdom to discern what lies in our own hearts. If you find (as has he who writes to you now) that you have wasted much time over the years wandering in the desert of this life while making little progress, take heart. God visits you with His mercy NOW. What it takes man a lifetime to build, God can grant in an instant. God brought you here because He has a great love for you, and wishes to bring you to His bosom now. However faltering our steps might be at first, a great crown of glory awaits us in Heaven for the smallest step toward God taken in humility.

This is a privilege that very few treasure as they should. Many never receive the great insight that St. Francis gives us here. We receive it now because of God's love and infinite mercy. There is no shame in humbly admitting we need a fresh start. However, to deny this need when it stares us in the face is the greatest calamity.

I find that now, surely in the second half of my life, I need to begin at the beginning. But this is no cause for discouragement: new beginnings are an occasion for rebirth! I find no better place to start than to revisit St. Francis de Sales, who wrote what might be entitled today: Holiness for Dummies, but in a more gentile, civilized age he entitled Introduction to the Devout Life. If this passage resonates with you, read slowly, and read it several times. Good spiritual reading must be savored in order to have its effect.

In my spiritual reading this morning, I realized that St. Francis is saying here what I have been clumsily trying to discern and express myself in this blog, so I will give my two faithful readers a break (God bless you, you know who you are) and include words from this great saint instead of ... me. So, I include here for your edification the introduction to the Introduction.

(Some formatting and spelling changes are made. For the original, and link to the entire work online, follow the link below.)


CHAPTER I. What true Devotion is.

YOU aim at a devout life, dear child, because as a Christian you know that such devotion is most acceptable to God’s Divine Majesty. But seeing that the small errors people are wont to commit in the beginning of any undertaking are apt to wax greater as they advance, and to become irreparable at last, it is most important that you should thoroughly understand wherein lies the grace of true devotion;—and that because while there undoubtedly is such a true devotion, there are also many spurious and idle semblances thereof; and unless you know which is real, you may mistake, and waste your energy in pursuing an empty, profitless shadow.

Arelius was wont to paint all his pictures with the features and expression of the women he loved, and even so we all color devotion according to our own likings and dispositions. One man sets great value on fasting, and believes himself to be leading a very devout life, so long as he fasts rigorously, although the while his heart is full of bitterness;—and while he will not moisten his lips with wine, perhaps not even with water, in his great abstinence, he does not scruple to steep them in his neighbor's blood, through slander and detraction. Another man reckons himself as devout because he repeats many prayers daily, although at the same time he does not refrain from all manner of angry, irritating, conceited or insulting speeches among his family and neighbors. This man freely opens his purse in almsgiving, but closes his heart to all gentle and forgiving feelings towards those who are opposed to him; while that one is ready enough to forgive his enemies, but will never pay his rightful debts save under pressure. Meanwhile all these people are conventionally called religious, but nevertheless they are in no true sense really devout.

When Saul’s servants sought to take David, Michal induced them to suppose that the lifeless figure lying in his bed, and covered with his garments, was the man they sought; and in like manner many people dress up an exterior with the visible acts expressive of earnest devotion, and the world supposes them to be really devout and spiritual-minded, while all the time they are mere lay figures, mere phantasms of devotion.

But, in fact, all true and living devotion presupposes the love of God;—and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love one while shining on the soul we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His Divine Majesty;—when it strengthens us to do well, it is called Charity;—but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion. The ostrich never flies,—the hen rises with difficulty, and achieves but a brief and rare flight, but the eagle, the dove, and the swallow, are continually on the wing, and soar high;—even so sinners do not rise towards God, for all their movements are earthly and earthbound. Well-meaning people, who have not as yet attained a true devotion, attempt a manner of flight by means of their good actions, but rarely, slowly and heavily; while really devout men rise up to God frequently, and with a swift and soaring wing. In short, devotion is simply a spiritual activity and liveliness by means of which Divine Love works in us, and causes us to work briskly and lovingly; and just as charity leads us to a general practice of all God’s Commandments, so devotion leads us to practice them readily and diligently. And therefore we cannot call him who neglects to observe all God’s Commandments either good or devout, because in order to be good, a man must be filled with love, and to be devout, he must further be very ready and apt to perform the deeds of love. Since devotion consists in a high degree of real love, it not only makes us ready, active, and diligent in following all God’s Commands, but it also excites us to be ready and loving in performing as many good works as possible, even such as are not enjoined upon us, but are only matters of counsel or inspiration.

Even as a man just recovering from illness, walks only so far as he is obliged to go, with a slow and weary step, so the converted sinner journeys along as far as God commands him but slowly and wearily, until he attains a true spirit of devotion, and then, like a sound man, he not only gets along, but he runs and leaps in the way of God’s Commands, and hastens gladly along the paths of heavenly counsels and inspirations. The difference between love and devotion is just that which exists between fire and flame;—love being a spiritual fire which becomes devotion when it is fanned into a flame;—and what devotion adds to the fire of love is that flame which makes it eager, energetic and diligent, not merely in obeying God’s Commandments, but in fulfilling His Divine Counsels and inspirations.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living God's Will, Even When It's Hard

These posts, as I have said elsewhere, are mostly a reflection on my own spiritual life, after personal reflection, and are specifically meant for myself, though there may be general application, which is why I publish it. The reader should see these writings in this light of an individual's personal reflection.

O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath.

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.

And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but thou, O Lord, how long?

Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for thy mercy's sake.

For there is no one in death, that is mindful of thee: and who shall confess to thee in hell?

I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears.

My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies.

Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity: for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.

The Lord hath heard my supplication: the Lord hath received my prayer. (Psalm 6:2-10)


MY CHILD, it is necessary for you to learn many things which you have not yet learned well.


What are they, Lord?


That you conform your desires entirely according to My good pleasure, and be not a lover of self but an earnest doer of My will. Desires very often inflame you and drive you madly on, but consider whether you act for My honor, or for your own advantage. If I am the cause, you will be well content with whatever I ordain. If, on the other hand, any self-seeking lurk in you, it troubles you and weighs you down. Imitation of Christ Bk. III Ch 11

How do I, as a sinner, know God's will?

"Desires very often inflame you and drive you madly on, but consider whether you act for My honor, or for your own advantage." How important it is that we understand this: There is only one way to enduring happiness: Following God's Will! How do we learn it? We pray and reflect, certainly. But still, how do we know that we are not just imagining what we do is according to God's will? If we reflect honestly, we know we have nearly an infinite capacity for fooling ourselves. I look back, and I see many choices I made that are not in accordance with God's will, where I convinced myself that God didn't really mind. There are things among God's law that my human nature rebels against, and that lower part of me wants to choose my will. I was sure of myself, but now look back and see that in my choices I harmed myself and others. Look back and think ... has this ever happened to you? Haven't we all done the same thing? Do we avoid thinking about those of God's wishes that might make us uncomfortable? Do we pretend that He is pleased when we make choices which (deep down we know) do not lead us closer to Him?

So, how do we know if what we are doing pleases God, or if we are just kidding ourselves? If we accept God's will, and Jesus ordains it we will be at peace. Otherwise, we will make decisions that may seem to make us happy right now. We are easily fooled. Do our choices result in situations that wound us and others? Do they ultimately make us sad? If so, it is time for serious self-reflection. Let us not blame someone else, we have no control over them. It is time for serious self-reflection, and we need a serious conversation with God and with our own conscience. We must not be complacent.

The safe way is to obey God and His Church, even if we do not understand the reason why. Always. Did Adam understand why eating a fruit from one tree and not another would cause spiritual death? Apparently not. We must trust and be humble and know that God understands better than we do.

Why does a good God allow us to suffer?

God so loves us and wants to console us and make us happy. Why is it then, that our desires are so often opposed to that which is actually good for us? From a natural standpoint, no one desires to endure the surgeon's knife, but we do so to regain physical health. A child may wish to eat nothing but candy and to drink nothing but soda, but her mother makes her eat nutritious food so she can grow to be healthy and happy. Our spiritual lives are the same. We are children, and like all untrained children are prone to gratify the senses without regard to the consequences. If self-indulgence is death to the body, we can be sure it is also death to the soul.

We, are as children who must trust their mother to give them good things. We discover only by child-like trust in God that the path He lays out for us, where we deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him is the true path to happiness. It is a path we must be faithful to - like a child, we will not understand right away that the very thing that is sometime so painful is the path to spiritual health and happiness!

One of my very early memories is a painful one. I was just a little boy - I do not believe I had yet started school. I was running in the backyard, and stepped right on a rusty nail. The pain was so intense, I remember it vividly to this day. I remember through my tears seeing my mother's very sad and concerned face. She told me that I could not understand that what she was about to do would hurt her more than me. She promptly stuck my foot in a bowl of peroxide! Can you imagine how angry I was with her? How could my own mother hurt me like this? Yeah, she was right! I didn't understand, and I screamed and howled at her to stop!! Can you imagine the agony she suffered by causing her beloved son so much pain? How it broke her heart to see the suffering in her little child's eyes and hear anger in his voice! Yet, she caused me this great pain so that my foot could be saved. How I now tenderly regret this pain my good mother suffered for me. How I wish I had the wisdom then to go give her a hug later and thank her. How I would give anything to do so now! How grateful I am for this lesson on motherly love ... on God's love!

Why does God allow us to suffer such pain? Even the "evils" that befall us (except sin) - our crosses, our sorrows, are selected by Him with the greatest love. "For whom the Lord loveth, He chastises." (Heb. 12:6) We will never know in this life the tender care with which the Lord follows us around. "The very hairs on our head are numbered." (Luke 12:7) God is madly in love with us, yet He deems it proper that we suffer in this life.

Hope in God, for I will still give praise to him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God

So God loves us, yet this is how He treats us?! How does this make any sense? But to a six year old boy, pouring peroxide on a wound and causing even more pain doesn't make a whole lot of sense either. Does not God "pour peroxide" on our souls in order to heal them? How painful this is! God does not spare us this pain! Why not? This is for our good? But how can this be? Who knows? Do we really think we can understand the Wisdom of Almighty God? We can ask God and complain lovingly as Jesus did on the Cross. But like Him, we ultimately say, "not my will, but Thine."

We are like little children. We are spiritual beings, but our senses only detect physical things. Comprehension comes only with much prayer and reflection. Why did God tell us we must become as little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Because we need to acknowledge God is infinitely wiser, and trust that He directs all things to our good. God clearly allows us to suffer in His Divine plan, and even wills us to suffer. Yet God loves us with an infinite Ocean of mercy, not even sparing His Son, so that we might live. We suffer pain now, but only to enjoy infinite joy and heavenly bliss hereafter.


Failing to discern God's will isn't the only problem. How often, after the Lord showed me I was seeking after my own will and not His, did I waver - inconstant in His service, thereby causing even more sorrow to myself and others? I might try almost anything to avoid the sorrow, anxiety and pain. I am STILL avoiding the "peroxide" even today as a fully grown man! I know better, yet fail all the same! "For I do not that good which I will [to do], but the evil which I hate, that I do." (Romans 7:15) St. Paul speaks here about original sin and our fallen nature. From the time Adam and Eve fell from grace, all of mankind (save Jesus, and by the grace of His passion, His holy mother) has been afflicted with what the Church calls "concupiscence." Even the great St. Paul was afflicted with this condition, how can we escape it?

But we can triumph over it, as St. Paul surely did. If we fail to follow God's will in acts that are manifestly sinful, how easy it is to be blind to what God wants to show us as the best direction to take in our lives? How easy it will be to ignore that interior Voice which shows us which path to take? How easy to accept this path one minute, and justify our own wishes to go in a different direction in the very next?

I must be honest: I know full well that I have often saw things clearly one day and offered this sacrifice to God only to go in a different direction the next day, hour or even minute.

But we can escape this inconstancy, this weakness of will. We must, as Sts. Paul, John the Baptist and countless saints after them. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) We can escape it only through cooperation with God's grace. To accept this grace, prayer (of course) is necessary, because we need supernatural help to act in a manner pleasing to God. But it is not sufficient in itself. As Aquinas says, grace presupposes nature. What this means in this case is that without building a strong foundation in our nature - resistance to our own will by denying ourselves, we can never expect to have the strength to boldly fulfill God's will as He has destined us to do.

Self-denial is essential. It is the very foundation upon which the Holy Spirit builds His magnificent temple in the souls of the Saints. Christ teaches us to deny ourselves for very good reason. It is only by keeping our eyes on God alone that we can receive the supernatural strength to overcome this inconstancy by which we reject our own wills and accept God's.

St. Colette was a very holy and extraordinary woman of the middle ages who founded an order reforming the Poor Clares order of nuns to their original rule. She was instrumental in bringing the Great Western Schism to an end. Though she founded a religious order and was instrumental in ending that great schism, her primary mission in life was to pray for the Church. Diabolical forces were so enraged by her holiness and the efficacy of her prayer that they attacked her mercilessly, swarming around her taking the shape of hideous insects and stinging her. St. Colette appealed to the Lord that the demons prevented her prayer. The devil said "Cease, then, your prayers to the great Master of the Church, and we will cease to torment you; for you torment us more by your prayers than we torment you.” St. Colette only wanted a little peace so she could pray. A noble aspiration is it not? Yet God had other designs on her for His glory. St. Colette understood this, and rather redoubled her efforts in prayer and told the devil she would count the day during which she suffered nothing for her God, as the saddest of her life.

St. Colette wrote in a letter to one of her nuns:

"We can do nothing by ourselves without the aid and grace of God. We can neither do good nor resist our enemies. We need to turn to our good and true Master, Our Lord Jesus Christ and to beg him to equip us with his weapons so that we can the more surely overcome."

Yes, yes, we need prayer. But is this all? No! Our saint did not pray each day in a soft glow, receiving divine consolation at every turn. She persevered in the midst of the most vile attacks of the devil. How often are our prayers disturbed by the flies, wasps and hornets of evil thoughts, sadness and discouragement. Are we to give up and think our prayers worthless? Noooooo. It is at this very moment that the hour of grace is at hand. We do not see hideous insects flying around, but our time with God often seems marred by the "flies" and "hornets" of distraction and temptation. If we give in, we become weaker and more prone to attack in the future - despite the search for temporary relief. If we persevere in great things and small, we become stronger.

Let us take a lesson from this story. St. Colette begged the Lord to take away these distractions because they hampered her prayer. They did not hamper her prayer at all! They were an effort by the evil one to get Colette to stop praying, because her distracted prayers were powerful, and their downfall. St. Colette learned a valuable lesson here: spiritual consolation is a wonderful thing, and we ought to cherish it, but they are a beautiful oasis, to rest and refresh our souls. Battles are won during times of trial. Though she felt as if she was not praying, her prayers in the midst of distraction was that prayer which pained the devil the most.

Don't quit yet - victory is at hand when things seem darkest.

Very few are called to suffer in the manner of the saints, but in our own daily lives we all must call on the Lord so as to resist the devil, the flesh and the world in our smaller battles. Then we shall receive consolation and that peace which only the Lord can give. We do this with the Cross as our shield and the truth as our weapons in union with Mary and all the saints. Just like Jesus on the Cross, it is at the very moment where we seem defeated that we are on the verge of great victory! Never, never, never give up! Victory is assured, and it may be at the very moment you are to gain a great victory that you give in, and then all your hard work and prior faithfulness is for naught.

As Our Lord tells us here, we must resist our sensual appetite subjecting it even by force to the spirit. Do we give up too easily on our prayers when we are tired or inconvenienced? Do we mostly seek when we eat satisfaction of our taste buds or the means to keep our bodies healthy? Do we discipline our bodies in small ways so as to grow the strengths of our will so that we can resist evil in the day of temptation? Even those desires which seem to us at first glance to be good, or at least morally neutral can cause us grief later on in ways we could not have foreseen. However if we pray and do penance according to our means and state in life, our intellects and our wills will be strengthened to recognize the path we are to take. Our natural abilities to choose good will be strengthened and we will receive supernatural grace to discern the path and follow it faithfully.

God's will is truly the key to happiness now and in eternity. Through living His will and His love, we attain that peace of Christ which the world cannot give. Purified by prayer and penance, we will offer to Jesus through His Holy Mother the gift of our hearts and souls. For this purpose we were made, for this we have come to be: to give praise, honor and glory to our God Who loves us so much and desires our love in return. This is where our true joy can be found: to give this gift of self-sacrifice to the Lamb of God, Who sacrificed His life for our sins.

The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction. Apoc. 5:12

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Take off the shoes from thy feet: for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

And when Jacob awaked out of sleep, he said: Indeed the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And trembling he said: How terrible is this place! this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven. (Gen. 28:16,17)

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host! My soul longeth and fainteth for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God. For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtle a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones: Thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house, O Lord: they shall praise thee for ever and ever. (Psalm 83:2-5)

How terrible is Thy house O Lord! The whole notion of "reverence and godly fear" as Cardinal Newman put it is nearly gone. In its place is an unseemly familiarity with the sacred. True, the whole goal of our existence is union with God. Indeed, the very fiber of our being longs for it - something we will never understand in this life, but will in the next. As St. Augustine says: "Our hearts are restless, O Lord until they rest in Thee." But union with God is to be found on His terms, not ours, and this is a wonderful thing: If we have it our way, we trivialize worship, dragging God down to our level, as it were. When we approach Him in reverence and fear, He lifts us up to partake in the Divine. Remember, he who humbles himself will be exalted.

How wonderful and awesome is our God! Who are we that He should deign to come and make
His dwelling among men? How struck with awe we should be every time we recall the great miracle of His Presence in the Holy Eucharist. It is an invention that could only be conceived by Love Itself. How can God love us so much as to place Himself so completely at our disposal? How reverent, how grateful, how amazed we really should be every day! How we should love such a wonderful God Who has such a love for us! Let us fall on our knees and cry "Holy, Holy, Holy" is the Lord, the God of Hosts. How sweet it is to be in His presence!

During my holy hour this early evening, I read the following excerpt from Plain and Parochial Sermons vol. 8 Sermon 1 authored by the newly-beatified Bl. John Henry Newman. Bl. J.H. Newman has so much to teach us. His elevation to the altar is timely and a true blessing for the Church. Thanks be to God, and to the Holy Father.

Excerpt from Sermon 1. Reverence in Worship by John Henry Newman

"Indeed so natural is the connexion between a reverential spirit in worshipping God, and faith in God, that the wonder only is, how any one can for a moment imagine he has faith in God, and yet allow himself to be irreverent towards Him. To believe in God, is to believe the being and presence of One who is All-holy, and All-powerful, and All-gracious; how can a man really believe thus of Him, and yet make free with Him? it is almost a contradiction in terms. Hence even heathen religions have ever considered faith and reverence identical. To believe, and not to revere, to worship familiarly, and at one's ease, is an anomaly and a prodigy unknown even to false religions, to say nothing of the true one. Not only the Jewish and Christian religions, which are directly from God, inculcate the spirit of "reverence and godly fear," but those other religions which have existed, or exist, whether in the East or the South, inculcate the same. Worship, forms of worship—such as bowing the knee, taking off the shoes, keeping silence, a prescribed dress, and the like—are considered as necessary for a due approach to God. The whole world, differing about so many things, differing in creed and rule of life, yet agree in this—that God being our Creator, a certain self-abasement of the whole man is the duty of the creature; that He is in heaven, we upon earth; that He is All-glorious, and we worms of the earth and insects of a day."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary - September 15

Who will give me a heart capable of offering compassion to such a loving mother, who suffered so for our sins, who loves us so tenderly, and prays for us so fervently before the throne of her Divine Son? Dear Jesus, grant me the sacred honor of loving your holy Mother more and more.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, having great insight into the mysteries of redemption began her suffering at the beginning of her life, they were only increased as she became the mother of God and saw her sweet Jesus each day grow in perfection before God and Man, knowing her innocent, beautiful Son would one day suffer so frightfully upon the Cross. Who can imagine the sorrow of Our Lady as she followed her Son's bloody footprints on the road to His execution? Come, let us take some time to meditate and comfort our mother Mary in her sorrows. Let us give her this rose of prayer as we consider her sorrow as she holds the lifeless Body of her Son. Let us comfort that mother who comforts us in our necessity.

What words can my intellect find to fittingly honor our Queen and Mother? What reparation can my poor will give her that is fit for such a pure, loving Heart? Let us listen and meditate on excerpts of St. Alphonsus de Ligouri's discourse on the Sorrows of Mary. For his sermon in its entirety go here.

The Glories of Mary
Discourse IX - of the Dolours of Mary

St. Alphonsus Liguori

Mary was the Queen of Martyrs, for her martyrdom was longer and greater than that of all the Martyrs.

Who can ever have a heart so hard that it will not melt on hearing the most lamentable event which once occurred in the world? There was a noble and holy Mother Who had an only Son. This Son was the most amiable that can be imagined--innocent, virtuous, beautiful, Who loved His Mother most tenderly; so much so that He had never caused her the least displeasure, but had ever shown her all respect, obedience, and affection: hence this Mother had placed all her affections on earth in this Son. Hear, then, what happened. This Son, through envy, was falsely accused by His enemies; and though the judge knew, and himself confessed, that He was innocent, yet, that he might not offend His enemies, he condemned Him to the ignominious death that they had demanded. This poor Mother had to suffer the grief of seeing that amiable and beloved Son unjustly snatched from her in the flower of His age by a barbarous death; for, by dint of torments and drained of all His blood, He was made to die on an infamous gibbet in a public place of execution, and this before her own eyes.

Devout souls, what say you? Is not this event, and is not this unhappy Mother worthy of compassion. You already understand of whom I speak. This Son, so cruelly executed, was our loving Redeemer Jesus; and this Mother was the Blessed Virgin Mary; Who, for the love she bore us, was willing to see Him sacrificed to Divine Justice by the barbarity of men. This great torment, then, which Mary endured for us-a torment which was more than a thousand deaths deserves both our compassion and our gratitude. If we can make no other return for so much love, at least let us give a few moments this day to consider the greatness of the sufferings by which Mary became the Queen of martyrs; for the sufferings of her great martyrdom exceeded those of all the martyrs.

"The passion of Jesus," as Saint Bernard says, "commenced with His birth". So also did Mary, in all things like unto her Son, endure her martyrdom throughout her life. Amongst other significations of the name of Mary, as Blessed Albert the Great asserts, is that of "a bitter sea." Hence to her is applicable the text of Jeremias : "great as the sea is thy destruction." For as the sea is all bitter and salt, so also was the life of Mary always full of bitterness at the sight of the passion of the Redeemer, which was ever present to her mind. "There can be no doubt, that, enlightened by the Holy Ghost in a far higher degree than all the prophets, she, far better than they, understood the predictions recorded by them in the sacred Scriptures concerning the Messias." This is precisely what the angel revealed to St. Bridget; and he also added, `that the Blessed Virgin, even before she became His Mother, knowing how much the Incarnate Word was to suffer for the salvation of men, and compassionating this innocent Saviour, who was to be so cruelly put to death for crimes not His own, even then began her great martyrdom."

Her grief was immeasurably increased when she became the Mother of this Saviour; so that at the sad sight of the many torments which were to be endured by her poor Son, she indeed suffered a long martyrdom, a martyrdom which lasted her whole life. This was signified with great exactitude to Saint Bridget in a vision which she had in Rome, in the church of Saint Mary Major, where the Blessed Virgin with Saint Simeon, and an angel bearing a very long sword, reddened with blood, appeared to her, denoting thereby the long, and bitter grief which transpierced the heart of Mary during her whole life. When the above named Rupert supposes Mary thus speaking: `Redeemed souls, and my beloved children, do not pity me only for the hour in which I beheld my dear Jesus expiring before my eyes; for the sword of sorrow predicted by Simeon pierced my soul during the whole of my life: when I was giving suck to my Son, when I was warming Him in my arms, I already foresaw the bitter death that awaited Him. Consider, then, what long and bitter sorrows I must have endured."

Wherefore Mary might well say, in the words of David, "My life is wasted with grief, and my years in sighs." "My sorrow is continually before me." "My whole life was spent in sorrow and in tears; for my sorrow, which was compassion for my beloved Son, never departed from before my eyes, as I always foresaw the sufferings and death which He was one day to endure."

Time, which usually mitigates the sorrows of the afflicted, did not relieve Mary; nay, even it increased her sorrow; for, as Jesus, on the one hand, advanced in age, and always appeared more and more beautiful and amiable; so also, on the other hand, the time of His death always drew nearer, and grief always increased in the heart of Mary, at the thought of having to lose Him on earth. So that, in the words addressed by the angel to Saint Bridget: "As the rose grows up amongst thorns, so the Mother of God advanced in years in the midst of sufferings; and as the thorns increase with the growth of the rose, so also did the thorns of her sorrows increase in Mary, the chosen rose of the Lord, as she advanced in age; and so much the more deeply did they pierce her heart.

Saint Antoninus says, "while other martyrs suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the Blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing her Son's life, a life that she loved far more than her own; so that she not only suffered in her soul all that her Son endured in His body, but moreover the sight of her Son's torments brought more grief to her heart than if she had endured them all in her own person. No one can doubt that Mary suffered in her heart all the outrages which she saw inflicted on her beloved Jesus. Any one can understand that the sufferings of children are also those of their mothers who witness them. Saint Augustine, considering the anguish endured by the mother of the Maccabees in witnessing the tortures of her sons, says, "she, seeing their sufferings, suffered in each one; because she loved them all, she endured in her soul what they endured in their flesh." Thus also did Mary suffer all those torments, scourges, thorns, nails, and the cross, which tortured the innocent flesh of Jesus, all entered at the same time into the heart of this Blessed Virgin, to complete her martyrdom. "

As Saint Bernard says, "the soul is more where it loves than where it lives." Our Lord Himself had already said the same thing: "where our treasure is, there also is our heart." If Mary, then, by love, lived more in her Son than in herself, she must have endured far greater torments in the sufferings and death of her Son than she would have done, had the most cruel death in the world been inflicted upon her.

Let us now imagine to ourselves the Divine Mother standing--near her Son expiring on the cross, and justly applying to herself the words of Jeremias, thus addressing us: "0 all ye that pass by the way attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow." 0 you who spend your lives upon earth, and pity me not, stop awhile to look at me, now that I behold this beloved Son dying before my eyes; and then see if, amongst all those who are afflicted and tormented, a sorrow is to be found like unto my sorrow. "No, 0 most suffering of all mothers," replies Saint Bonaventure, "no more bitter grief than thine can be found; for no son more dear than thine can be found." Ah, "there never was a more amiable son in the world than Jesus," says Richard of Saint Lawrence; "nor has there ever been a mother who more tenderly loved her son than Mary! But since there never has been in the world a love like unto Mary's love, how can any sorrow be found like unto Mary's sorrow?"

So great a love on the part of Mary deserves our gratitude, and that gratitude should be shown by at least meditating upon and pitying her in her sorrow. To understand how pleasing it is to the Blessed Virgin that we should remember her dolours, we need only know that, in the year 1239, she appeared to seven devout clients of hers (who were afterwards founders of the religious order of the Servants of Mary), with a black garment in her hand, and desired them, if they wished to please her, often to meditate on her sorrows: for this purpose, and to remind them of her sorrows) she expressed her desire that in future they should wear that mourning dress. Jesus Christ Himself revealed to the Blessed Veronica da Binasco, that He is, as it were, more pleased in seeing His Mother compassionated than Himself; for thus He addressed her: "My daughter, tears shed for My Passion are dear to Me; but as I love My Mother Mary with an immense love, the meditation of the torments which she endured at My death is even more agreeable to Me."

Wherefore the graces promised by Jesus to those who are devoted to the dolours of Mary are very great. Pelbert relates that it was revealed to Saint Elizabeth, that after the assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven, Saint John the Evangelist desired to see her again. The favour was granted him; his dear Mother appeared to him, and with her Jesus Christ also appeared; the Saint then heard Mary ask her Son to grant some special grace to all those who are devoted to her dolours. Jesus promised her four principal ones:
  • First, that those who before death invoke the Divine Mother in the name of her sorrows should obtain true repentance of all their sins.
  • Second, that He would protect all who have this devotion in their tribulations, and that He would protect them especially at the hour of death.
  • Third, that He would impress upon their minds the remembrance of His Passion, and that they should have their reward for it in heaven.
  • Fourth, that He would commit such devout clients to the hands of Mary, with the power to dispose of them in whatever manner she might please, and to obtain for them all the graces she might desire.

To Our Lady of Sorrows

O most holy Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ: by the overwhelming grief you experienced when you witnessed the martyrdom, the crucifixion, and death of your divine Son, look upon me with eyes of compassion, and awaken in my heart a tender commiseration for those sufferings, as well as a sincere detestation of my sins, in order that being disengaged from all undue affection for the passing joys of this earth, I may sigh after the eternal Jerusalem, and that henceforward all my thoughts and all my actions may be directed towards this one most desirable object. Honor, glory, and love to our divine Lord Jesus, and to the holy and immaculate Mother of God. Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Exaultation of the Holy Cross: September 14

"We adore Thee O Christ and we bless Thee, for by Thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the world."
"In hoc signo vinces" Under this sign will you conquer.
The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross especially commemorates three historical events, including the epochal victory of Constantine in the Battle of the Milvan Bridge in the year 312, and most especially the founding of the True Cross by St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great and the subsequent building of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on the sight of Our blessed Lord's crucifixion. On this day, we focus on the meaning of the Cross, for upon the Cross was built Christendom, upon the Cross our salvation rests and mankind finds hope.

Constantine's victory through the Cross marked the beginning of the end for the widespread practice of idolatry in the West and the eventual rising of the standard of the Cross in Rome and Byzantium. During the pivotal Battle of the Milvian Bridge, at about noon, Emperor Constantine was said to have seen a vision of the Cross, brilliant, appearing in the sky above the sun. with a promise from Heaven that he would conquer under the banner of Christ. Constantine, along with his host of troops who also saw the vision, were struck by awe and amazement at this miracle in the sky. That night, as he pondered this sign, Constantine received Heaven's instruction to command his forces to mark on their shields the sign of Christ's Cross. After Constantine's great victory, the great Roman persecution of Christians ceased, and the Church was allowed to flourish, allowing the civilizing influence of Christianity to preserve civilization from the hordes of barbarians who would soon overrun Rome, and would spawn great monasteries and missions by which the sweet yoke of Christ would be spread throughout Europe and throughout the world.

The Feast more particularly commemorates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena, Constantine's mother, who went to Jerusalem in search of this most holy relic. It is said that the enemies of the Cross of Christ had erected a shrine to the goddess Venus on the site of the Crucifixion. Helena was divinely directed to come to this spot, to direct her forces to cast down the shrine and excavate, finding three crosses along with the tablet directed by Pilate to be hung upon the Cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The bishop of Jerusalem identified which of the three was the true Cross. He directed the three crosses to be brought to a woman who had a lengthy illness and was at the point of death. Two of the crosses were brought to her, with no effect. When the true Cross upon which our Savior hung was brought to her, she was instantly cured of her sickness. Helena had a magnificent church built over the place where the Lord was crucified and buried.

What does the Cross mean to us today? As a culture, we have been exposed to the Cross as a symbol for 2,000 years now, and many of us have encountered the Cross since our infancy. We must never take the Cross for granted, because by the Holy Cross alone are we healed. The Cross is our salvation, and Jesus bids us to carry it daily to follow Him. Indeed He tells us "If anyone wants to follow Me, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me. Let him follow me.".

We are called to embrace the cross - folly to the world, but the very power of God! We embrace it and go confidently into battle, secure in the prospects of our eventual victory against the devil, the flesh and the world! The coat of arms and the badge of heraldry we all bear as princes and princesses in Christ's Kingdom is none other than the Cross. That symbol of humiliation, horror and pain becomes the bright beacon of hope and light, that weapon that will vanquish all the forces of heaven and hell and lead us to God's Kingdom!

We cannot exaggerate the importance of the Cross. As St. Paul says, the only thing we can glory about is the Cross of Christ! How many there are who know no other pleasure than those fleeting pleasures and empty promises of the devil, the flesh and the world. We on the other hand are offered the peace of Christ, which the world cannot give. Jesus hands out to us an imperishable crown of glory, joy, and bliss and happiness forever in heaven for a few moments labor here on earth.

We are called to be holy and set apart and a beacon to this world. We are the children of the Light, heirs to the heavenly throne. Let us look to the heavenly prize as we unite under the Cross of Jesus Christ, united with Our Lady of Sorrows. It is through the Cross, strengthened by Our Lady, our Queen and the General of Christ's Army. The Cross is the weapon by which she will crush the serpent's head. Let us follow her into battle through the valley of tears to the Mount of Calvary, so that by sharing in the Cross, we will one day share in the exaltation of the Cross in Heaven with Jesus and Mary forever.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

September 8: Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Rejoice, for today the morning star shines on the horizon! All you who are weary from your journey through this valley of tears, give thanks to the Lord, for your salvation is nigh. Whatever your discouragement and trials, pick yourselves up, for today that Morning Star rising on the horizon assures us that our trials are nearing the end and victory is at hand! She who will bear the Son of God, and bring our Savior to the world sees the light of day! She is in the arms of her mother Anne who presents this child who will one day reign in Heaven as its queen! Her father, St. Joachim bids you come closer and rejoice at the birth of the Queen.

The Ark of the Covenant is among us: the Virgin who will one day bear the child-God will traverse the countryside to bring Him first to Elizabeth and her son John the Baptist. At His birth, she will present Him to the lowly shepherd and the learned Wise Men. It is she who will commission Him on His saving mission when He started His public life at the Marriage Feast at Cana. It is she who will follow Him, mystically joining with Him entirely and without reservation in His passion and death on the Cross. At Calvary, she will offer Him to the Eternal Father, that He may take pity on us fallen men.

Under the Cross, she will accept John as her son, becoming thereby the mother of all humanity, your mother ... my mother ... and she will love the least of us with an ocean of love. She will gather the Apostles around her and prepare them as they watch and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. She will come to earth to lovingly remind us when we stray from her Son's true Faith, and she will lead Christ's faithful to victory against the Church's mortal enemy, and crush the serpent's head.

Do you suffer from physical or mental ailments? Are you mired in sin? Come to Mary! Are you afflicted with sorrow over the loss of a loved one? Heartbroken over a child straying from the narrow path? Suffering financial difficulty or unemployment? Then, come to Mary, she awaits your company! She is the health of the sick, the refuge of sinners and the comforter of the afflicted. She is the help of Christians. There is no force that can align against us: no worldly power, no force of nature, no force from hell that can defeat us, because our mother Mary is at our side!

Let us come to our mother, our queen today. Let us lay fragrant roses at her feet: especially the fragrant flowers of our prayers, sacrifice and acts of virtue in her honor. Let us ask this most sweet, loving mother to lead us to her beloved Jesus that we may one day be happy with them, in the presence of the most Holy Trinity and the company of the saints in heaven. Though we are poor, let us wish our sweet mother a "Happy Birthday" bringing her our smiles, our tears, our joys and our sorrows, our weakness and our strengths as our gifts.

Oh Mary, my mother and my queen, how often have I caused you sorrow by offending your Son. You have shown yourself a mother. May I show myself a son to you today. May I bring a smile to your lips and joy to your Immaculate Heart by honoring you and your Son by my contrition, my charity toward all and a virtuous life! I pledge to you now: today, I will no longer resist, but walk along the road to Paradise with you. Do not let me fall, but if I do through my inconstancy and weakness, please see to it that I pick myself up again, take up my cross and follow your Son. Grant me strength, fortitude and zeal for the battle, but most of all a tender love for you.

It is a narrow road, dear mother I know. Let me no longer fear it, but delight to follow it as I should have done all along, because I believe your Son when He tells us His yoke is sweet and His burden light. I know now it is you who help make this burden sweet and light because you are the mother of Consolation. You wipe away the tears from my eyes and cheer me, for you are the cause of my joy, O Virgin most merciful! O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Can't I confess my sins directly to God?

1493 One who desires to obtain reconciliation with God and with the Church, must confess to a priest all the unconfessed grave sins he remembers after having carefully examined his conscience. The confession of venial faults, without being necessary in itself, is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ch. 2 Art. 4, Vatican website

"And the Lord sent Nathan to David. ... And Nathan said to David: ... Thus saith the Lord the God of Israel: I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee from the hand of Saul,
And gave thee thy master's house and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and Juda: and if these things be little, I shall add far greater things unto thee. Why therefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in my sight? ...
And David said to Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said to David: The Lord also hath taken away thy sin: thou shalt not die." (2 Samuel 12:1; 7-9; 13)

"As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:21-23)
Let's face it, confessing our faults to another human being is not an easy thing. I remember quite vividly when I approached the confessional for that first time in a while. I was in a cold sweat; I was terrified. To my great relief, I found that the priest was kind and sympathetic and I had nothing to fear. I realized that the priest is was there to forgive, and not to condemn. The evil one makes a mountain out of a molehill in order to keep people away from this powerful Sacrament. The truth is that you will be happier for going. The overwhelming majority of priests will treat a penitent with great kindness. In return for your brave effort in approaching the confessional, you will receive forgiveness, God's love, mercy and peace. For those of us who approach the Sacrament more frequently, we receive strength to resist sin and grow in holiness. The grace we receive from submitting to God's will and humbling ourselves is immense.

As we see even in the Old Testament, God works through human agents and the physical world around us. In Sacred Scriptures, God uses words, symbols, and gestures to effect spiritual things. God "passed over" the first-born of the Israelites by marking their doorposts with blood of the lamb. Our very redemption was effected in a visible way through Christ's bloody death on the cross.

We are not angels, we are men and women composed of flesh and blood. We gather information through our senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. We learn spiritual truths by relating them to the physical world. We learn about unfamiliar things best by relating them to things we know and experience. We do not generally experience the spiritual with our senses, so to know them God assists us by the use of symbols, words and gestures. The Church has always understood this. God used symbols to effect grace in the Old Testament, and Jesus uses symbols and words to effect grace in the New Testament.

Our Church transmits grace to us through the sacraments which effect what they signify. For instance, in Baptism, the effects of original sin, and actual sin (if present) are washed away. Jesus instituted Baptism using water, because we understand water's property to clean our bodies, so He uses it to clean our souls. The imagery is simple, and anyone can understand it.

Jesus uses bread and wine as the vehicle by which He makes His sacramental dwelling with us. At the words of the priest acting in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) at the words, "This is My Body" the bread and wine are destroyed, and Jesus becomes present under the appearances of bread and wine.

In the Sacrament of Penance, we also have a tangible sign. The signs and words of the sacrament also effect what they signify. The priest raises his hand in blessing, giving us absolution that assures us that our sins are forgiven. These signs and words help us to understand what is really happening. If we prepare properly, express sorrow verbally for our sins, and hear the words of the priest, it can bring us tangible comfort that our merciful God has truly heard our plea and grants us forgiveness.

Jesus expects us to take these sacramental symbols seriously. In Mark 16:16, Jesus says, "
He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved", and again in John 3:5, "Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." In regard to the Holy Eucharist, Jesus insists over and over again in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 6:
"For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever." (John 6:56-59).
Jesus insists on the importance of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. In the Sacrament of Penance he uses a very special sign to indicate to His apostles the power He transmits to them.

The action Jesus uses to confer the power of forgiveness is highly significant: He breathes on the apostles.
When Jesus confers the power to forgive sin, it is only the second place in the Bible where God breathes on persons. In the book of Genesis, God's breathes life into Adam: "And the Lord God ... breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7) So, it is appropriate here that He breathes on the Apostles, because as God breathed and gave new life to Adam, so that Adam could go forth and give life to the human race, now God made flesh, Jesus Christ, the new Adam breathes on His priests so that they may forgive the sins of men. The lesson here is that as God breathes in new life to man, He breathes in restored spiritual life as well through the Sacrament of Penance. The words of Jesus at this time signify quite clearly the role of the priest as the minister of God's forgiveness.

The plain sense of Jesus's words here is that the apostles, the first priests of the New Testament, are to judge which sins to forgive and which to retain. Through this command to the apostles, Jesus gives us a choice: repent, go to the priests to have the life of our souls restored, or do not repent and continue under the weight of our sins. The implication seems clear: if confession is available, the ordinary means of God's forgiveness is to confess them to a priest, who must hear our sins so that he can know which sins to forgive and which to retain. (If someone cannot go to confession right away, he should make an internal act of sincere sorrow for his sins and go to confession at the first opportunity.)

A wise parent will know that children appreciates gifts more when they work for it. God our Father offers His priceless forgiveness for free, but requires a token response beyond a vague, whistful sentiment. Our confession of sin to a priest, compels us to "hear" what we ourselves are saying, and admit verbally to God and man that we have sinned and are sorry. We tell God through the priest that we want to mend our wounded souls. This is an occasion of spiritual growth.

By the Sacrament, He gives us the opportunity to grow in virtue. By confessing our sins to a man, we exercise the virtue of humility. The greatest of all virtues is love (1 Cor. 13:13) but the gateway of all virtue is humility. The saints tell us that we cannot achieve heaven without it. It is that virtue by which we are given the courage to drop all the baggage we accumulate throughout life so that we may "enter in through the narrow gate" to eternal life. When admit our sin to another man, it harder, but far more profitable. Our human nature will more easily understand that we are accountable for our sin.

The counsel of a good confessor can help us to grow in sanctity.
Sin makes our souls sick, God has given us the gift of the priesthood to represent Jesus, our spiritual Physician. God means us to have intimate union with Him and to listen to His inspiration in prayer, but we also grow in holiness through the counsel of others. The spiritual counsel of a wise confessor is a great treasure, and one that pays great spiritual dividend, and it is worthwhile to seek out such a pastor.

When the priest hears our confession, and raises his hand in forgiveness, he does so in persona Christi. It is Christ who absolves us through the priest. Most Catholics are aware of this, but there is a social aspect to Confession, just as there is a social aspect to sin. Our sin hurts the entire Church. When we pray and gain virtue, we strengthen the Church, when we sin we weaken it. In the early Church, sins were confessed publicly. Thankfully, we can confess our sins in strict confidentiality through the seal of confession now, however there is still an aspect of mending our relationship with the community. When we hurt someone, we ought to make reparation to that person when it is feasible to do so. We make reparation for the social effects of sin through Confession by telling our sins to the priest, who in addition to acting in the person of Christ, also represents the community.

So, by the Sacrament of Penance, which Our Lord gave to the Church after His resurrection by breathing the Holy Spirit of God upon them, we gain peace and forgiveness. The gates of Heaven are open once more, and the Holy Spirit once more reigns in our souls. We reconcile and become friends with God and with the whole Church. As difficult as it is to approach this Sacrament for the first time after a long absence, the priest of God is waiting for us - not to condemn us, but to offer the Lord's forgiveness. Let us consider the great gift of healing we receive there. For those of us who go more often, let us appreciate frequent confession and consider the many graces we receive from a sincere examination of conscience and honest confessions of our faults and failings. Through this sacrament of God's mercy, we reclaim our great dignity as God's daughters and sons, and grow in grace, holiness and love. May God bless you.