Monday, June 4, 2018

Alliance of the Two Hearts

An Act of Consecration
to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
and the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary,
we consecrate ourselves and our whole family to You.
We consecrate to You:
our very being and our whole life...
All that we are...
All that we have...
and all that we love.

To You we give our body, our heart, and our soul.
To You  we dedicate our home and our country.
Mindful of this consecration,
we now promise You to live a Christian way of life
by the practice of virtues.

O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary,
accept this act of consecration,
which I make out of pure love for You.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!
Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
make our hearts like unto Your merciful heart!


For a deeper dive into the Alliance, check out this beautiful reflection
from the archives of Fr. John Hardon, SJ:
"Eucharist and the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary".

Monday, May 28, 2018

Trinity and Identity: New Implications for the Age-Old Question, "Who am I?"

"The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity
is the central mystery of Christian faith and life....
The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way
and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
reveals himself to men 'and reconciles and unites with himself
those who turn away from sin'."

(CCC, n. 234)

God's self-revelation is the only thing new under the sun.  The fact that "the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit," has spoken changes everything.  And the fact that the human person reflects this Trinitarian mystery calls for a deeper look at questions of personal identity.

Today's questions of identity seem stuck in a monolithic myth as old as the human race:  Who I am is simply a matter for me to decide.  As a totally unique individual, I become an authentic person only by exercising my free will as I see fit.  "I am who I am"--or, perhaps more accurately, "I am what I will"--and that's the end of the story.

In contrast, the deeper Trinitarian truth discloses that my distinctively unique "self" exists not an isolated individual, but always as a person in relationship.  Indeed, from the very beginning, I receive my life as a gift from Another.  Then, in response, I pour myself out as an offering in return, a sacrifice of praise.  I find myself not by willing my will, but by giving--by emptying myself at the service of the Giver of "all good giving and every perfect gift" (Jas 1:18).  

Of course, my identity here and now is always "already-but-not-yet":  During my earthly sojourn, I will remain incomplete and in need of reconciliation with the perfection of Love toward which I am being called for all eternity.  The all-knowing and all-merciful Communion of Persons knows that I have been wounded--both by original sin and by my own personal sin--and so unity with the Blessed Trinity will come as a healing remedy for my deepest longings.  

I am not perfect, and yet God's personal and communal grace makes me eminently perfectible.  I am an adopted child of God who is Love, and this reveals the deepest truth of who I am. 

To accept this gift opens me onto the Trinitarian Life which is eternally new, a Family which is always a single whole.  For now and forever.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Calling Forth "Spirit-Filled Evangelizers"

In this Pentecost week, the Church ponders anew her ongoing mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.  Under the watchful care of "Blessed Mary, Mother of the Church" (the newest feast day on the liturgical calendar--now celebrated globally on the Monday after Pentecost), Catholics around the world must respond to the urgent call articulated by Pope Francis:

"Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers
fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit....
Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words,
but above all by a life transfigured by God's presence."

(EG, n. 259)

Here are a few specific ways to consider contributing to this universal call to "go, make disciples of all nations":

  • The Pontifical Missions Society--Pope Francis's "Missio" projects provide opportunities to participate in various ways.
  • The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)--A papal agency for humanitarian and pastoral support.

  • Share the Journey--Pope Francis's two-year campaign supporting migrants and refugees.

    Finally, with the prayer which Pope Francis used to conclude The Joy of the Gospel (EG, n. 288), let us move forward confident of our Lady's maternal intercession:

  • Mary, Virgin and Mother,
    you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
    welcomed the word of life
    in the depths of your humble faith:
    as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
    help us to say our own “yes”
    to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
    to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

    Filled with Christ’s presence,
    you brought joy to John the Baptist,
    making him exult in the womb of his mother.
    Brimming over with joy,
    you sang of the great things done by God.
    Standing at the foot of the cross
    with unyielding faith,
    you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
    and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
    so that the evangelizing Church might be born.

    Obtain for us now a new ardor born of the resurrection,
    that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
    which triumphs over death.
    Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
    that the gift of unfading beauty
    may reach every man and woman.

    Virgin of listening and contemplation,
    Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
    pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
    that she may never be closed in on herself
    or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.

    Star of the new evangelization,
    help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
    service, ardent and generous faith,
    justice and love of the poor,
    that the joy of the Gospel
    may reach to the ends of the earth,
    illuminating even the fringes of our world.

    Mother of the living Gospel,
    wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
    pray for us.
    Amen. Alleluia!

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Waiting...

That rocking musical bard, Tom Petty, famously proclaimed that the waiting is "the hardest part."

For disciples of Jesus living in the breach between the astonishing Ascension and the promised Pentecost, it may not have been "the hardest part."  After all, the three days that Christ was in the tomb must have been unbearable. 

Moreover, they had just spent forty days encountering the Risen Lord, so they knew that he could and would deliver on anything.  But it still must have felt like a long wait.  Uncertainties must have abounded.  Indeed, who or what was this Advocate--this powerful Paraclete, this consoling Comforter--whom Jesus guaranteed would soon arrive?


From our perspective, time always seems to slow down when we have to play the waiting game.  From our Lord's perspective, however, the waiting is always just "a little while" (Jn 16:16)!

The only way for us to close the gap and to get a glimpse of this "little while" is through prayer.  It is a matter of asking for the wisdom to see things from the Lord's perspective.  It is a moment-by-moment return to any one of these mantras which can transform a good, deep breath into a silent prayer:
  • Father, thy will be done...
  • Jesus, I trust in you...
  • Come, Holy Spirit... 
In addition, as the Apostles instinctively knew, the perfect person to invite into our waiting is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She knows best how to say "Yes" in anticipation of mysteries which are already-but-not-yet made manifest.  She also knows how to reassure us with words of wisdom such as, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).


After prayerful waiting, even if only for a little while, the time always comes for Jesus to send his disciples on mission.  The Lord promises, "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8).  Both the call and the power to fulfill the mission are gifts from on high.

And this waiting-turned-sending is the sweetest part!

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful...

Monday, May 7, 2018

What it Looks Like to be a "John 15" Catholic

"This I command you: love one another."
(Jn 15:19)

It all seems simple enough: God who is Love creates out of love--for the sake of love--and enters into history to call all of creation to love.

There are no conditions or qualifiers, no "ifs, ands or buts," to this existential imperative.  Indeed, to make the command even more blunt, the Lord adds these pointed prepositional phrases:

  • "As the Father loves me..."
    (Jn 15:9)
  • "This is my commandment:
    love one another As I love you."

    (Jn 15:12)

Catholic Christians dare to live the fullness of the faith handed down through the Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium of the Church by striving to live this "As."  Love-in-the-flesh, our crucified and risen Lord, continues to command that we love neither as the world loves, nor as we might feel like loving, but as the Father and the Son love.

"John 15" Catholics embrace this fairly straightforward equation for Christian love-- 
"As" = Remain + Keep + Bear :
  1. Remain.  Jesus uses the word at least ten times throughout John 15. It is an internal connection, an abiding within, an indwelling.  It is an assurance that "laying down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13) does not happen by our own power.  It is a promise of grace which overflows--a promise that we can help personally transmit the power which sustains the whole cosmos--if only we accept the gift.
  2. Keep.  How do we know whether we are actually accepting this gift?  We must check the purity of our intentions and master our motivations by simple obedience.  We must never trivialize or sentimentalize Jesus' preaching on love, since the Lord states that this command is is directly related to the fact that "I have kept my Father's commandments" (Jn 15:10).  Willing the Will of the Father is Jesus' life story, and he wants to draw us into this eternal exchange.
  3. Bear.  "Bear much fruit" (Jn 15:5); "bear fruit that will remain" (Jn 15:16).  Loving as Jesus love--a self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-emptying love--ensures that our lives will be fruitful.  Like the grain of wheat that goes into the ground, the death to self brings abundant new productivity in Christ.

    Such a life of love will necessarily include bearing many hardships, as Jesus promises (Jn 15:18-25).  Yet, he also assures us an Advocate, "the spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father" (Jn 15:26).

    Lest there be any question why the Lord of Love would speak such a challenging command, he assures us that our remaining, our keeping and our bearing will add up as he intends:
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete."
(Jn 15:11)

Come, Holy Spirit!

P.S.  Click here for an opportunity to subscribe to read Pope Francis's new Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, one-week-at-a-time: The paragraphs will arrive daily, but each Sunday's post will offer a week in review.

Monday, April 30, 2018

How to "Rejoice and Be Glad" in Daily Life

Gaudete et Exsultate
Who am I? 
Why am I here? 
What is God's plan for my life?

Into a world which may well be returning to age-old questions, Holy Father Francis has delivered an apostolic exhortation that is sure to inspire:  "The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created.  He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence" (n. 1).

Gaudete et Exsultate is as readable as it is challenging.  It focuses on a theme which has marked Francis' entire papacy, namely, the universal call to holiness and to mission:  "My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities" (n. 3).

Pope Francis has structured this text around these five major themes, which pose a number of personal challenges:

  1. The Call to Holiness:  "A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness....Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel" (n. 19). 

    Jesus' dying and rising provides the fundamental dynamic of the Christian life.  In addition to embracing this fundamental reality of life, the Holy Father also calls me to reproduce in my daily life various aspects of Jesus' earthly life--"his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways he showed his self-sacrificing love" (GE, n. 20).  Indeed, Pope Francis wants me to identify which aspect of Jesus' earthly life most clearly marks my life today, so that I might see the entirety of my life as a mission (n. 23).

  2. Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness: Christians need to resist both contemporary Gnosticism and contemporary Pelagianism, "two forms of doctrinal or disciplinary security that give rise 'to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying" (n. 35).  It can never be all about my ideas, nor can it be all about my efforts.

    Pope Francis challenges me to reflect on how these temptations might be present in my life
    so that I might be authentically concerned with: "the face of God reflected in so many other faces. For in every one of our brothers and sisters, especially the least, the most vulnerable, the defenseless and those in need, God's very image is found" (n. 61).
  3. In the Light of the Master:  Pope Francis offers this simple summary of what it means to be holy: "The Beatitudes are like a Christian's identity card....In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives" (n. 63). 

    After sharing a powerful meditation on each of the Beatitudes (nn. 67-94), the Holy Father comments on "the one clear criterion on which we will be judged"--feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting prisoners from Matthew 25 (n. 95).  Holy Father Francis challenges me to examine my daily decisions in light of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy--and to make changes accordingly.

  4. Signs of Holiness in Today's World: To counter-act the anxiety, negativity, self-contentment, individualism, and "fake" spirituality which has nothing to do with God, Pope Francis highlights five great expressions of love for God and neighbor (ch. 4).  I will find myself rejoicing and being glad to the extent that I am growing in these areas:

    * Perseverance, patience and meekness
    * Joy and a sense of humor
    * Boldness and passion
    * Living in community
    * Living in constant prayer

    Pope Francis invites me to think and act in terms of these concrete categories for Christian discipleship, rather than living by a vague sense of "trying to be a good person."
  5. Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment: The final section provides a spiritual wake-up call, for one and all--"We are not dealing merely with a battle against the world and a worldly mentality that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lacking in enthusiasm and joy. Nor can this battle be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities (be they laziness, lust, envy, jealousy or any others). It is also a constant struggle against the devil, the prince of evil (n. 159)."

    Pope Francis is emphatically advising that I commit to a sincere daily "examination of conscience" in light of this spiritual warfare (n. 169), to embrace the grace of discerning "the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real purpose of my life, which nobody knows better than he" (n. 170).

In sum, Jesus Christ continues to speak through his Church, and his answers to life's timeless questions are the same yesterday, today and forever:  "Who am I," but a saint in the making?!   "Why am I here," if not to say yes to the call to holiness?!  "What's God's plan for my life," but to let the grace of my baptism "bear fruit in a path of holiness" (n. 15)?!

Come, Holy Spirit, bear in us fruit that will remain--

 P.S.  If you are looking for a simple way to enter more deeply into conversation with Pope Francis regarding what holiness looks like in your daily life, consider subscribing to receive the document in a one-paragraph-per-day format.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Visiting the Good Shepherd--"Just for a Minute"

Just for a Minute
by Patrick O'Connor

I remember when I was only four,
Mother would bring me ‘round to the store
And just outside of the church she’d stand,
And “Come in,” she’d say, reaching down for my hand.

“Just for a minute”

And then when I started going to school,
She’d bring me down every day as a rule,
But first the steps to the church we’d climb,
And she’d say: “We’ll go in ~ you’ve always got time.”

“Just for a minute”

Then I got real big, I mean seven years old,
And I went by myself, but was always told,
When you’re passing the church, don’t forget to call,
And tell Our Lord about lessons and all.

“Just for a minute”

Sometimes I run most of the way,
Or meet some guys and we stop to play,
But I manage to squeeze out time enough
To make the church where I pant and puff.

“Just for a minute”

And now it’s sort of a habit I’ve got,
In the evening coming from Casey’s lot,
Though it takes me out of my way a bit,
To slip into church with my bat and mitt.

“Just for a minute”

But sometimes I see the other fellows
Standing around and I just go yellow,

I pass by the door, but a Voice within
Seems to say, real sad: “So you wouldn’t come in.”

“Just for a minute”

There are things inside of me bad and good
That nobody knows and nobody could,
Excepting Our Lord, and I like Him to know
And he helps me when in for a visit I go.

“Just for a minute”

He finds it lonesome when nobody comes
(There are hours upon hours when nobody comes)
And He’s pleased when anybody passing by
Stops in (though it’s only a little guy)
“Just for a minute”

I know what happens when people die,
But I won’t be scared, and I’ll tell you why
When Our Lord is judging my soul, I feel
He’ll remember the times I went to kneel.
“Just for a minute”

   Dear Jesus,
it will not be long until I come to visit you again.
Till then, I leave my poor heart before the Tabernacle. 
Let its every beat tell You that I love You,
and that I am longing to be free to be with You.
Bless me before I go, my Jesus. 
Bless my home and undertakings. 
Bless my friends, and my enemies, too. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Looking for Signs of a New Springtime?

Check out The Dating Project and Gaudete et Exsultate....

St. John Paul II repeatedly called for a "New Springtime" in the Church.  He had the vision to see that the wheat and the weeds were growing together at the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity.  Yet he also had the wisdom to focus his attention on the wheat, which is destined to become the bread of life for the world.

In the face of ongoing geopolitical crises, ecclesial turmoil, and cultural collapse, dare we "rejoice and be glad" about the new beginnings which continue to spring to life all around us?  Here are two opportunities to consider:

  • 4.17.18--The Dating Project in movie theaters--The way people find love has radically changed in an age of swiping left or right. The Dating Project follows five single people, as they search for meaningful relationships. Presented by Pure Flix and Paulist Productions, this is the perfect event for every single person!

Jesus Christ is the ever-present Sower who continues to plant seeds which are destined to bear fruit unto eternal life:  May we continue to say "Yes" to his daily invitations to bloom where we are planted!

P.S. For a sampling of Gaudete et exsultate, check out the Holy Father's commentary on this timely Beatitude:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

"Peacemakers truly 'make' peace; they build peace and friendship in society.  To those who sow peace Jesus makes this magnificent promise:  'They will be called children of God' (Mt 5:9).... It is not easy to 'make' this evangelical peace, which excludes no one but embraces even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or simply uninterested.  It is hard work; it calls for great openness of mind and heart, since it is not about creating 'a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority,' or a project 'by a few for the few.'  Nor can it attempt to ignore or disregard conflict; instead, it must 'face conflict head on, resolve it and make it a link in the chain of a new process.'  We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill. Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness." (GE, nn. 88-89)

Monday, April 9, 2018

How to Respond to 5 Probing Resurrection Questions

Questions abound following Jesus' Resurrection.

Naturally, I want to make sure that I can get all of my questions about the Resurrection answered (and, thankfully, there are resources such as this: "Proof of Jesus' Resurrection and Divinity").  But in the Biblical accounts of this defining event in human history, the questions come not from the dumbfounded disciples but from the Risen Lord Jesus:
  1. "Whom are you looking for?" (Jn 20:15):  Am I alert to various ways that the Risen Lord reaches out to encounter me each day, or do I spend my days looking for someone or something else?  If I am not seeking the Living One here and now, then I am probably clinging to some past memory of the "good old days" or escaping into dreams about some fantastic future.

  2. "What are you discussing as you walk along?" (Lk 24: 17):  Am I engaged in conversations that move beyond the superficial, in an effort to explore the deeper meaning of daily events?  If I never take time to reflect on why it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and so enter into his glory, then I am probably going to miss the pattern of Cross and Resurrection in my own life's journey.

  3. "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts?" (Lk 24:38):  Have I opened my mind to the fact that the Resurrection makes all things new?  If I cannot "rejoice and be glad" at the way Jesus' glorified body transforms the wounds of his passion into signs of victory, then I will fail to see how God's grace can sanctify my own life's scars.

  4. "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" (Jn 21:5):  Have I noticed that trying to live absent Jesus leads to aimless activity, marked by fruitless ventures and empty nets?  If I insist on returning to my plans and my comfort zones over and over again, then I will miss out on the super-abundance which comes from staying close to Christ.

  5. "Do you love me?" (Jn 21:15-17):  How many times have I heard Jesus repeat this question in my own life?  If I wallow in my past denials and frequent failures, then I will never utter a deeper "Yes" to this question, the question which determines both my temporal happiness during this earthly journey and my ultimate destiny.  I am made to be in relationship with Love--to love Love, and to be loved by Love--and the question is whether I will accept this invitation.

I am made to be in relationship with Love--to love Love, and to be loved by Love.  The Easter season is the time to discern which of these questions Jesus is asking at this stage of my journey, and whether I have the courage to respond affirmatively. 

Thankfully, in his Divine Mercy revelation, the Lord himself provides advice about how to begin my response to his probing questions:  "Jesus, I trust in you"!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Missionary Discipleship for Disciple-Makers

"Christ’s resurrection is not an event of the past;
it contains a vital power which has permeated this world....
It is an irresistible force."
(EG, n. 276)

Jesus Christ is risen as he said, Alleluia!

This world-changing proclamation continues to shape the minds and hearts of all Jesus' followers.  This irresistible force compels Jesus' followers to journey the path of both discipleship--following the crucified and risen Lord ever more closely--and mission--bringing the Lord's saving message and presence to the whole world.

Pope Francis' evocative phrase, "Missionary Disciples," prompts and prods Catholics around the world to a deeper "Yes" to the call to holiness and to mission: 

"In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God
have become missionary disciples (cf. 
Every Christian is challenged,
here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization;
indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time

or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered
the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are 'disciples' and 'missionaries',
but rather that we are always 'missionary disciples'."
(EG, n. 120)

As an Easter people, perhaps it is time for serious self-evaluation on how we might continue to strengthen our response to this call.  The USCCB's mission-manual entitled Living as Missionary Disciples (LMD) outlines a four-fold method of formation for missionary disciples:
  1. Encounter.  Can I name and describe the ways that I have encountered Jesus Christ?  Can I identify both my initial conversion to Christ and my ongoing, lifelong process of conversion--metanoia--putting on the mind and heart of Christ (LMD, p. 11)?  How do I allow Jesus to speak to me through my personal prayer, the Scriptures, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and the Sacraments--above all in the Eucharist?  This experience of encountering Christ is the foundation and fountain from which missionary discipleship flows.
  2. Accompany.  Who has served as a model of the Christian life and who has helped mentor me in the life of faith?  How is the Lord Jesus calling me to walk with someone as they make the journey of discipleship?  Who might need me to practice the "art of listening" (EG, n. 171)?  As I know from looking back on how others have accompanied me, this step requires that I "be truly present to others" (LMD, p. 15)--striving for the "tenderness" which Pope Francis so often mentions.
  3.  Community.  How have I allowed the Holy Spirit to draw me more deeply into the mystery of the Church's liturgy?  Have I opened my eyes to the fact that "the Church's liturgy, by its very nature as a proclamation and enactment of the Good News of Salvation, is an evangelical act" (LMD, p. 16)?  My experiences of fellowship and solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ also reflects the Trinitarian Love which he has revealed.
  4. Send.  What if the message of salvation is not meant for me to hoard?  Of course, I first need to give witness to my new life in Christ by practicing what the Church preaches and growing in a life of Christian virtue, but do I also look for opportunities to proclaim Jesus with my words?  I need to overcome the fear of bringing Christ "into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent" (LMD, p. 17).

By virtue of the gift of Baptism, the Risen Lord gives every Christian the same task: Become disciple-makers in whatever mission territory Christ has chosen for us.  The only question is whether we will say "Yes" to being part of this ongoing event which has permeated the world.

Monday, March 26, 2018

(In)Credible Catholic: Faith and Reason for Essential Conversations

Every former, future and current Catholic needs to bookmark their browsers with  The genius behind the initiative is Fr. Robert Spitzer, who has created this inCredible resource for exploring research-based responses to today's big issues--with piercing logical clarity.

Got questions about faith and science--or know someone who does?!?  Just click through these narrated learning modules and reclaim a deeper appreciation of how scientific evidence supports core tenets of the Catholic faith:

Got questions about whether it is reasonable to believe that God exists and that Jesus is real--or know someone who does?!?  Check out these eminently logical arguments:

Got questions about how being Catholic relates to real life in a post-modern world--or know someone who does?!?  Here are three more essential resources:

The price is right:  FREE; the time is right:  Available 24/7.  And the content is right on: PDF "mini-books" of research and references accompany each of the seven modules.

Spread the word as if the very salvation of eternal souls were at stake!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Calling Forth St. Joseph's Spiritual Support

St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pray for us!

It's the topic which comes up with overwhelming frequency in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It's the subject which the U.S. Bishops felt compelled to address in their recent document, "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography."

It's the one of the issues of the day which calls for the spiritual support of St. Joseph, universal patron of the Church:

  • According to a recent study, 64% of 13 to 24-year-olds actively seek out pornography each week.  Male and female, God created us; yet--male and female alike--the 97-billion-dollar "porn" industry is systematically stripping away basic human respect for the image of God within each person.
  • This is not just an issue of moral turpitude writ large.  Rather, it is a matter of intense spiritual warfare--a battle with powers and principalities for immortal souls.  We have an Enemy who wants not only to derail us from God's invitation to Eternal Life but also to destroy our peace and joy here on earth.

St. Joseph, the righteous man,
understands how the world, the flesh and the devil conspire to drive the human person into a pit of destruction.  St. Joseph also knows the surpassing power and glory of God's grace.

St. Joseph, the chaste spouse, understands that human sexuality must be integrated into a deeper appropriation of one's personal identity.  First and foremost, each human being is a beloved son or daughter of our Heavenly Father; every human person is made for communion with infinite love.  God's grace can properly order human sexuality toward this End, or goal, as long as we stop trying to make human sexuality into an end in itself.

St. Joseph, the foster-father of the Redeemer, knows that human sexuality is ordered toward transmitting infinite love, which is very different from the mere satisfaction of physical and emotional desires.  The function of the human body follows its form or design, not vice versa. God created the human race male and female so that a total gift of self to the other might bring new life into the world.

Finally, St. Joseph, always attentive to the Angel of the Lord, knows that God asked him to name the Baby "Jesus" because "he will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21).  He also knows that the Angel told Mary that "nothing will be impossible for God" (Lk 1:37).

With St. Joseph's heavenly help, it is time for us to awake from our slumbers and to do as the angel of the Lord continues to command: Go forth and reclaim the glorious image of God inherent in each human person.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Loneliness: "God's Invitation to Intimacy"

The quote in the title above, which a friend attributes to Archbishop Sartain of Seattle, points toward the following question:  In what ways do I experience God reaching out in my loneliness--and how do I respond?

At different times, the following paradoxical experiences resonate with my sense of God's invitation to a deeper intimacy with him:

  • Sitting alone together.  Distracting devices and relentless noise have the potential to fill all of my waking hours:  I must resist the temptation to hide behind being "plugged in" and so wait for "God-with-me" to draw near...

  • Embracing accompanied abandonment.  Betrayals and devastating rejection marked the final days of Jesus' life: I must cultivate eyes to see the Father of lights beckoning tenderly to me precisely when things seem most dark...

  • Listening to silence speak.  Pascal famously remarked that "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone":  I must resolve to reverse humanity's problems by letting the Lord's still, small voice echo in the one human heart I'm responsible for cultivating and nourishing...

  • Finding the desert water.  Dryness, aridity, withering heat, and lifelessness seem to be the world's default mode:  I must ask for ears to hear the living water bubbling up in silent springs throughout the wasteland...

  • Exploring interdependent individuality.  The myth of isolated individualism is hard to shake since my fallen human nature longs to do it "my way":  I must remember--re-collect the deeper insight--that isolated individualism is an artificial construct and that interdependence defines who I am, where I have come from, as well as where I'm going...

  • Finding fragile strength.  St. Paul says that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil 4:3), which clearly implies that he cannot do all things on his own:  I must have the courage to confront my greatest weaknesses since they are hinges of hope which help me embrace a strength from a source greater than my easily aggrandized ego...

Dorothy Day famously titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness.   Rather than trying to wish away my loneliness, perhaps I should dare to ask for even more of it.  While the world literally seems hell bent on making me feel "complacent in my finitude" (Bp. Barron), longing alone for the infinite creates the condition for the possibility of a deeper Personal encounter. 

This intimate encounter, alone and together, makes all things new.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Our Lady's Long Lent

Jesus' cleansing of the Temple must have been like Ash Wednesday for Our Lady.  Mary's long Lent had begun. 

The dark mark of the Cross must have cast a shadow over her when she realized what had happened.  The "ordinary time" of her life with Jesus was over.  Now everything was heading toward the end, an end which would certainly be bloody.

Chapter 2 of John's Gospel starts with Jesus and Mary celebrating together at the wedding in Cana and then moves immediately into Jesus' prophetic action at the Temple in Jerusalem:  From "My hour has not yet come," to "Zeal for your house will consume me" (Jn 2:4,17).

To hear the story of the cleansing of the Temple through the Blessed Mother's ears is to embrace our own stripping away of worldly illusions which allows us to enter into the Paschal Mystery.  Indeed, from the moment Mary heard that "Jesus went up to Jerusalem" with the Passover approaching (Jn 2:13), she must have glimpsed where this was going--the City of David, the place of Passover sacrifice, the Father's house--and why.

"Destroy this Temple..."  When Mary heard these words of Jesus, she knew that it was not some metaphorical message.  The intransigent leaders and the capricious crowd would, indeed, kill her Son.  The Angel had told Joseph that Jesus would "save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21), and salvation of God's chosen people is inextricably linked to the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb.

But Mary knew that the Blood of this Lamb was different, having been heavenly-sent and co-mingled with her own since the moment Jesus was conceived.  She knows that his Body is different as well, having become the new dwelling place of the Lord on earth:  "...he was speaking about the temple of his body" (Jn 2:21).

Jesus' entire public ministry was a season of penance and prayer for Our Lady.  She accepted the passion which needed to come because she trusted in the victory which the Lord promised for the new Temple of his Body: " three days I will raise it up."  Just as Mary had trusted the Angel who promised that Jesus would "rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33), so she trusted that Life would destroy death, that freedom would supplant slavery.  She knew it must be so.

What a lonely Lent the Blessed Mother must have walked--especially in her empathy with Son's isolation when she heard that "Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all..." (Jn 2:24).

Thankfully, Jesus entrusted himself to Our Lady over and over again.  Gratefully, we must accept the fact that he longs to trust himself to us as well.  If we dare to journey with Jesus and Mary to Jerusalem, our Lent will help us realize that Love does such things.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Transfigured Humanity, Transfiguring Divinity

The Transfiguration by Giovanni Bellini
"For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man,
and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man,
that man, having been taken into the Word,
and receiving the adoption,

might become the son of God." 
+St. Irenaeus, Adversus Heareses III/19

Transfiguration, disclosing Christ's divinity:
self-manifestation of the Blessed Trinity.

Moses and Elijah honor his obedience;
three Apostles witness his imminent Risen Presence.

Jesus' glory reveals each person's destiny,
and so restores humankind's tenuous sanity.

No longer meaningless toil till death does come calling;
eternal life shines through each day's rising and falling.

Emptiness and suffering and woe do not laugh last;
they become portals to a future freed from the past.

Self-giving love becomes self-emptying gift;
Life pours forth for all, healing the original rift.

Christ points to the end before his suffering does start,
 with existence's "Why" shining through his Sacred Heart.

Healed humanity, taken up into the Word:
God calls all to adoption, thus transforming the world!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Spiritual Warfare in the Face of our Fears

A couple months ago when I went to Confession, the priest asked, "What are your strategies for resisting temptations?"  I didn't come up with a particularly impressive answer, given where I was sitting.

His pointed advice was threefold:
  1. there is an Enemy who wants to draw us away from the peace and joy and the confident trust which we can experience living in right relationship with God; 
  2. the sooner we recognize the Enemy's tactics, the quicker we can push back against them; 
  3. we need to have a few "go to" resources in our spiritual repertoire.

He recommended naming the specific temptation and then casting it out, either by invoking the Holy Name of Jesus or by asking for the intercession of Mother Mary.  (The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel also came highly recommended!)

As a nation, we continue to lose spiritual battle after spiritual battle because we continue to fail to acknowledge that we are in a state of spiritual warfare.  St. Paul reminds us that "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph 6:12).  We must recognize this basic fact and start identifying the Enemy's tactics, so that our resistance can be prompt and unwavering.

One of the greatest temptations of this historical moment is to allow fear to control us--whether we allow ourselves to be swallowed up by it or justify lashing out at others because of it.  We must remember that the Father of Lies is the aboriginal Fearmonger.  Satan knows that the antithesis of faith is not doubt but fear.  To best drive out faith in a God whose providential Love holds us in existence, moment by moment, the Enemy wants to paralyze us in our fears or to allow our fears to drive us to irrationally target some convenient scapegoat(s).

To identify and respond to potential threats is, of course, a natural reaction rooted in legitimate self-defense and protection of innocent life.  It is ultimately motivated by healthy love of self and love of neighbor.  But the fear which renders us inert or apoplectic is the subtle poison against which we must find a personal antidote.

So let's explore this spiritual exercise today:
  1. identify the specific fear which most controls or drives me;
  2. name it;
  3. then cast it out by invoking Jesus, through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, at whose names the demons recoil in fear.
The only way to win a spiritual battle is by employing the superior spiritual resources which are always at our disposal.  Let us never forget, "...perfect love drives out fear" (1 Jn 4:18).

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you--

Monday, February 12, 2018

Repent, Pharisee Within: Jesus "Don't Play"!

Jesus Christ is clearly "the face of the Father's mercy," yet he doesn't fool around when it comes to hypocrites.

"Oh, you Pharisees! 
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,

inside you are filled with plunder and evil.  You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?"
(Lk 11:39-40)

This Lent, it's time to ask how my often pharisaical ego exasperates the Lord.  Jesus clearly has no patience for hypocrites who hide behind appearances or worldly conventions.  , So what are my true motives when I give alms or perform pious acts publicly (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)?  The "optics" may work as show for outsiders, but Jesus asks the more fundamental question of where I am really standing in relation to the Maker of my inmost self.

If my heart is conflicted, divided, even hardened by ego-centered motives, the Lord himself says that I have already received my reward--that is, I'm stuck with me, myself, and I.  Dare I pray the words of the penitential Psalmist this Lent, "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me" (Ps 51:12)?

The Lord doesn't expect me to clean the inside on my own, let alone heal myself of my original wound.  But the question is whether I will encounter the merciful Savior as one who admits that I need mercy, as one who acknowledges my own brokenheartedness.

The simple reminder here is that Jesus wants me to be more honest about my motives.  He wants my intentions to be more pure.  This way, I can better conform my life to him--better align myself to his Person:
  1. When I share the material goods which I have on loan from God, will I do so in response to Jesus’ mysterious presence in my neighbor?  As Pope Francis observes, “our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us” (EG,n. 179).
  2. In my daily prayer conversation with our heavenly Father, will I unmask my various false selves and allow myself to be vulnerable--sharing my joys and sorrows?
  3. In my sluggish efforts to fast from various forms of self-indulgence, will my approach be one of embracing a spiritual exercise rather than another self-help initiative?  

As long as I "don't play" with deceptions of self-importance and worries about the opinions of others, I trust that my "Father who sees what is hidden" will repay me (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)!