Friday, September 21, 2018

Pages from the Past: Wielding the Sword of Truth?

Only God should wield truth as a "two-edged sword." In our hands it becomes like that sword Peter swung at Gethsemane to try to rescue Jesus; it goes out of control and cuts off the ears of the person who then cannot hear the Word we intend to proclaim!!!

Peter, put your sword back in its scabbard!
Detail from the Vaux Passionale, National Gallery of Wales, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus, you take away the sins of the world, not us. So we can let go of our grim determination when it comes to mission.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Can we still evangelize in a time of Church crisis?

Many thanks to Susan Windley-Daoust for letting me feature the reflection she posted on Facebook this week. Susan is the author of Why You Shouldn't Kill Yourself, Theology of the Body Extended: The Spiritual Signs of Birth, Impairment and Dying, and The Gift of Birth: Discerning God's Presence during Childbirth.

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I've had a person a day lately ask me (with some despair) how on earth we're supposed to evangelize right now. (P.S. this is my new job with a diocese.)

When people are in pain, they need the Divine Physician all the more. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This is absolutely not the time to shrink back from evangelization. It is the time to lean in.

Let's be honest. This crisis we are in has a physical manifestation, but it is a spiritual crisis. That means that we need to spiritually respond. Yes, repentance, yes, justice but also yes, SPREAD THE GOSPEL far and wide. Satan hates that--It's what he's trying to prevent.

Among many other things, this crisis calls each and every Catholic to ask: do you trust Jesus to bring good out of evil, or not? Do you trust Jesus, period? Do you believe that Jesus can and will work in these horrible circumstances?

One of the keys to evangelization is trust. I understand people ask "how can we evangelize now?" because trust is so damaged. But guess what? YOU be the trust. Be the bridge of trust for someone else. If they trust you, you can lead to the One who is trustworthy.

Evangelization is inherently local. That is, its built on relationships, a person at a time. And there is no better time than right now to reach out to ppl who are confused & hurting, ppl who need to be heard & ppl who need to be introduced to Christ for the ultimate healing.

Evangelization is a work of mercy. It is an act of friendship and love. And in truth, it is not optional. The Great Commission has no asterisk that points to "exception made when it's hard."

Maybe we can turn to the gospels again and remember that the gospel was not first embraced by those expected. It was the people in need who knew their need. Children, women, Galileans, the poor, the sick, the outcasts. Christianity has rarely thrived first among the status quo.

Don't get me wrong, Jesus came for every human being and wants every human beings salvation. But maybe American Catholicism has become a little too status quo. Maybe we need to look at to our roots to know how to be humble and trust in the Lord's provision.

I wish we weren't in this crisis, b/c it has hurt so many people so badly--first and foremost the victims of sexual abuse. But I know God raises the saints necessary for every era. I fully expect great evangelists to come out of this tragedy & evil. It's my prayer tonight that maybe one will be you, reading this here tonight.

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Links to Susan's titles are affiliate links, so if you purchase one, I get a tiny (tiny!) commission that may eventually allow me to add a book to the library here. (The FCC wants notices like this to be posted when such links are used.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Going places!

That would be me.

Part ONE

During August, the sisters of the choir got together to do our initial preparation and sketch our our routines for our annual Christmas Concert series (coast to coast!). We worked with Randy Cox for the recording session (six new songs!) so that we can offer a limited release album at concert time. (Randy had heard one of our albums playing in the gift shop of Gethsemane Abbey and contacted us a year ago about collaborating in our mission.) Just this week I heard the (not yet finalized) tracks for the songs and was blown away. The arranger, Phillip Keveren, had listened to all of our albums before creating arrangements that were tailored to our voices. Literally written for us. No wonder the songs were so easy and enjoyable to sing! (No wonder the recording went so quickly!)

Here's a quick sample (but wait until you hear it with all the instruments!); hope you can make it to one of the actual concerts! (Please share the concert link with your friends on social media!

But wait! There's more!

Part TWO

Come October I am scheduled to participate in the ACYC 2018, a Catholic Young Adult Conference for the diaspora Catholics of Arabia. Yep. As in, you know, Arabia. The ACYC will be held over a weekend (Friday-Saturday; this is Arabia) in Ras-Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. I will be in the country for about a week, visiting and giving talks in some of the parishes. It should be quite an adventure! All the sisters are asking me how this invitation came about and all I can say is, "They found me on the Internet."

The Catholic Church in these nations (UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, etc.) is an immigrant community, and those nations depend on immigrants for 85% of their workforce. Most of the immigrants are from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, so the Catholic young adults I will encounter at the big weekend event are primarily Indian and Filipino.

I have offered a screening of the documentary on Blessed James Alberione and a talk on media and evangelization; a presentation on Theology of the Body (Pope John Paul's Secret of Happiness--if only it had been taken to heart when he was preaching it in 1979-1984!!!); and I offered to speak on Eucharistic spirituality and lead an Hour of Eucharistic Adoration using the approach Blessed James Alberione taught.

I have one month to get all that in shape, so I am counting on your prayers both for my preparedness (and health!) and for all the people I will encounter in faith in that new land.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Mater Dolorosa: Edith's Stein's "Stabat Mater"

I wasn't looking for it, but came across such a perfect set of reflections from St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross for today's observance of Our Lady of Sorrows that I had to share it with you. Perfect for this feast, yes, but also perfect for this year of sorrow, too.

In her retreat reflections before final vows, St. Theresa Benedicta wrote out her Good Friday and Holy Saturday meditation on Our Lady:  
"Seeing the Lord in the hands of unworthy priests must be as painful to Mary as seeing him in the hands of the executioners... [Hence] the need for prayer and sacrifice for priests."

On Good Friday itself, she had prayed to Mary:

Today I stood with you beneath the cross
and felt so clearly, as never before,
that beneath the cross  you became our Mother.

How even an earthly mother faithfully ensures
fulfilling her son's last will.
But you were the handmaid of the Lord.
And for the being and life of God's becoming flesh
completely gave your being and life.

So you have taken into your heart those who belong to him,
and by the life blood of  your bitter pains
you purchased new life for every soul.
You know us all: our wounds, our weaknesses,
you also know the heavenly radiance which your Son's love
would like to pour out on us in eternal brightness.
So you carefully direct our steps,
no price is too high for you to lead us to the goal.
But those chosen by you as companions will some day
surround you at the eternal throne,
they must stand with you here at the cross
and with the life blood of bitter pains
purchase the heavenly radiance for the precious souls
whom God's Son entrusts to them as an inheritance.

From Edith Stein: Selected Writings

Friday, September 14, 2018

Worn out by the journey

As the current stage of the Church crisis continues to unfold, I feel very much like the Israelites in today's first reading, "with their patience worn out by the journey." They were being led through a trackless desert. There were promises about where they were heading, but it was taking an awfully long time to get there and there was no map or timeline by which to mark their progress.

In other words, they didn't know where they were, where they were going, or when they were going to get there. And in the meantime, conditions were not good.

Personally, I think we are in the midst of one of the most serious trials in the history of the Church. And yet, just as with the Israelites, God is still leading the way despite all evidence seemingly to the contrary. Today's Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, landing blessedly on a Friday so we get the full impact of it, insists on boasting of the foolishness and weakness of the Cross, the failure of God's own Son to wrangle the world into shape in thirty-three years of life on earth and three years of intense ministry.

He experienced in his own body every sin against the innocent and idealistic, against all the faithful. In his crowning with thorns, he allowed his own majesty to be mocked by those pledged to its service. In freely laying down his life, he won the definitive victory over evils that until a month or more ago were known only to the victims, the perpetrators and the enablers. Truly, "we do not yet see all things subject to him, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was 'made lower than the angels' now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death" (Heb. 2:8-9).

The liturgy, riffing on Paul, says "We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our life, salvation and resurrection." "This is the victory that conquers the world: our faith" (1 Jn. 5:4). (I believe, Lord! Help my unbelief!)

Friday, September 07, 2018

Pages from the Past: When the Mute One Spoke

From three years ago. Sister C, with advanced Parkinson's, was losing the ability to speak; it was very difficult to understand the syllables she did manage to pronounce. Soon she would be reduced to inarticulate moans. Our Founder wrote a prayer accepting "all the pain, sorrow and affliction that will accompany" one's death; he said that offering our dying and death before the fact is highly meritorious. Sister C is showing me why.

Last night I passed through the infirmary to pick up my prescription, and there was Sr C, looking a bit lost. I tried to grasp what/where she wanted, but… 

In various difficult bits of conversation I asked her to pray for a big opportunity for the apostolate, for an underground Christian in Saudi Arabia, and for a project facing obstacles. She took a few steps down the hall while I continue to try and decipher her needs. Then she looked at me very gravely and said (all in Italian) words to this effect: "Be strong, but not too strong. We don’t need to be running around doing things. Everything is the Lord’s; it is he…" 

I wish I had gotten it all, but that was the takeaway for me. It seemed like a real moment of grace, because it is so hard for Sr C to speak at all. Her message—not to “force things” but to focus on Jesus and on his will (and his doing) is pretty necessary for me, because I focus so much on what the humans are doing.

Isn’t what she said consistent with the Gospel of “do not worry” from the Sermon on the Mount that was "given" to me last year?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Pages from the Past: Keeping Communion

Why is the devil’s characteristic ploy to divide? Because God is a communion.

Satan cannot bear that we should be like God, manifesting God and enacting God’s very way of being.

Whenever there is polarization you have the sign of Satan’s activity, and you also know what the urgent task is: to draw together, reunite, reconcile. Perhaps that is also why the Pope is a Pontifex, a bridge-builder; not just between man and God like the Roman Pontifex Maximus, but among people.

The place to start is always the family, because the family does not exist without communion, and communion does not exist where individuals are focused on themselves in the first place.

"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Retrieving Friday as a Day of Penance

With the ugly news coming out of Pennsylvania (old, almost all of it, but new to us and hideous), there are only so many words that can be offered in response. Sister Theresa Aletheia (@pursuedbytruth) is inviting others to join with her today in observing a day of fasting today, Friday, "in reparation for the sins of clergy who have preyed on the vulnerable and those who have protected and enabled them. We also pray for justice and healing for the victims." The Dominican Friars in Washington DC will also be keeping a day of fast on the last day of their community retreat, and invite others to join them in "prayer and penance in reparation."

Technically, every Friday (except for Solemnities) is a day when all Catholics are asked to offer some kind of penance, "a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified" (according to a 1966 statement from the US Bishops, echoing an age-old tradition). When I was small, there was a shared communal penance of abstaining from eating meat on Fridays. (In my family that involved a lot of fish sticks.) While this is no longer Church Law in the US, it is still highly recommended. However, some personal form of penance, preferably a positive act of self-giving, is expected of all Catholics, "making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ."

The headlines invite us to take up this much-neglected exhortation from 52 years ago and dust it off. It is more relevant than ever. Friday penance, in its communal dimension, does not say that all of us share blame or guilt for the sins that were committed by our clergy or covered up by generations of bishops. What it does say is that, as Jesus suffered on the Cross to "take away the sins of the world," sins that he did not personally commit, we unite ourselves in our small acts of penance in solidarity with him for the good of the whole Church. We also take upon ourselves, in penance, a tiny share of suffering in our own body as a way of asking the Lord to lighten the burden borne by the victims of those sins that are so hard even to hear about.

Communal penance is an acknowledgement that "we, though many, are one body" (1 Cor 12:12): the good or evil done by any member affects all the members. The charity of the saints stirs those around them to greater charity; the indifference of the tepid spreads like the common cold; mortal sins imperil everyone with a diminished ardor for the things of God. I know that not all of my contributions to society have been unfailingly positive. I owe a personal debt of penance for my sins and those which others may have committed because of failures on my part; those hard-to-identify sins of omission really ought to have much more focus in the daily examen of conscience. apart a period of time for Eucharistic Adoration is another way of observing Friday "in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ." I've prepared a prayer guide for a Eucharistic Holy Hour that can be made privately or by groups; I already heard of one parish which will be using it. (You may find that it has too much material for one hour; don't try to fit it all in! Use whatever helps you to turn to the Lord in freedom of spirit.)

St Paul reminded the Romans, "Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20). It was true in the first century; it is true in the twenty-first, though the "enemy of the human race" is working very hard to make us forget that. Jesus has already won the victory. Let us place ourselves at the foot of his Cross to claim that victory not only for ourselves, but for every soul he died for.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Pages from the Past: Heavenly Glory

On this Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, a reflection from St Thomas on what awaits us in the world to come when we will be restored to our full human nature, body and soul, but with a glorified body such as the Risen Christ had when he appeared to the Apostles at Easter, and as Our Lady was privileged to have in her Assumption.

Aquinas: “Will all have glory equally?"

"I say that there will be an equal repayment in a certain respect, but in a certain respect not. 

"For beatitude can be considered as regards the object, and in this way there is one beatitude for all; or it can be considered as regards participation in the object, and in this way not all will participate equally….He who has a soul more enlarged with charity will accept more…” 

"Pages from the Past" are randomish excerpts from my old journals. I process things in writing, so there were a lot of volumes, but here and there I found notes that were still pertinent or helpful. I got rid of the books (hello, shredder!) and typed up the things I wanted to save, whether for myself (mostly) or to share. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Mary's Assumption and the Latest Scandal

The sickening revelations just keep on coming; 70 years worth of credible allegations, settlements and secrets. Some of the details are so revolting they cry to Heaven for vengeance. I can feel helpless, unless I go to the Lord in a spirit of reparation, to offset, in union with the Eucharistic Jesus and his infinitely precious sacrifice, some of that horrible debt of justice. I created a prayer guide for personal or group Eucharistic Adoration in Reparation which you can download and copy. (It is a bit long, so you might prefer to just download it to a device rather than print it all out!)

I can't help but relate the sins committed in and against the body to the feast we celebrate tomorrow: Mary's Assumption, body and soul, into Heaven. It is not only a dogma of faith that Mary was taken up into Heaven with her human (and now glorified) body: it is a dogma of faith that is surprisingly unknown to many Catholics, even Sunday Massgoers, that our own bodies are destined for the same kind of resurrection and glorification. When Paul had to scold the Corinthians about their lax sexual morals, he did so in the light of the resurrection of the body: "The body is not for immorality: it is for the Lord, and [amazingly] the Lord is for the body" (1 Cor 6:13).

In the words of Pope John Paul (July 9, 1997):
Mary’s Assumption reveals the nobility and dignity of the human body. In the face of the profanation and debasement to which modern society frequently subjects the female body, the mystery of the Assumption proclaims the supernatural destiny and dignity of every human body, called by the Lord to become an instrument of holiness and to share in His glory.

Mary entered into glory because she welcomed the Son of God in her virginal womb and in her heart. By looking at her, the Christian learns to discover the value of his own body and to guard it as a temple of God, in expectation of the resurrection. The Assumption, a privilege granted to the Mother of God, thus has immense value for the life and destiny of humanity.