Saturday, February 28, 2009
All the commandments which I command you this day you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God had led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)
Jesus cites this passage to Satan during his temptation in the wilderness. Satan taunts Jesus, saying that if he is the Son of God, then he could turn a stone into a loaf of bread. But Jesus responds that "Man does not live on bread alone" (Luke 4:3-4).
As our 40 days of Lent parallels Christ's 40 days in the wilderness (which also recalls its type in the 40 years in the wilderness of the recently freed Israelites), it helped me to think of myself in union with him, and to think of my nourishment as coming from the word (and The Word) of God.
I also found comfort in thinking about my hunger as being a way of opening my heart (or as the Jerusalem Bible translates the passage, my "inmost heart") to God. And the humbling aspect of it is important, especially for me.
The manna, which was later kept in the Ark of the Covenant, was a type of the Eucharist, and we see how ultimately our hunger is satisfied in the Eucharist, which brings us in intimate union with Jesus.
There is a passage in the Gospel of John that complements the Deuteronomy passage quite nicely:
Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." So the disciples said to one another, "Has any one brought him food?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work." (John 4:31-34)
When I would feel hungry, I would think about making my food doing God's will and accomplishing his work. "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9-10). "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26: 39). Again, to do God's will rather than our own, usually takes some humbling, either voluntarily or involuntarily.
I also pray to St. Anthony of the Desert, who knew a thing or too about hunger, and about shedding the comforts and distractions and lures of this world to concentrate on God instead.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
A while back I talked about St. Anthony of the Desert and the Desert Fathers. Accidie figures prominently in their recorded sayings. Here is the first saying from St. Anthony, found in Sr. Benedicta Ward's The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (pp. 1-2).
When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, ‘Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?’ A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, ‘Do this and you will be saved.’ At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
Lent is a time to be reassured that God wants us to draw closer to him, and that the ways to do that, while challenging to be sure, are not extraordinarily complex. And God is there to help us.
In St. Anthony's vision, making God the focus of our lives is the way to him. To modern minds, St. Anthony's vision looks like a division of the day into what is oriented toward God (prayer) and what is not (work). However, that is not the case. St. Anthony is being shown that prayer and work are two sides of the same coin. If we do it right, work has a spiritual dimension. Pope John Paull II, in his encyclical, Laborem Exercens (On Human Work), wrote that through work man contributes "above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family." The last section of the encyclical concerns "Elements for a Spirituality of Work" (24-27). The motto of the Benedictines is ora et labora - pray and work. In The Practice of the Presence of God, it is said of Brother Lawrence: "That with him the set times of prayer were not different from other times; that he retired to pray, according to the directions of his superior, but that he did not want such retirement, nor ask for it, because his greatest business did not divert him from God" (Second Conversation).
The plaiting of the rope that St. Anthony does is a metaphor for the intertwined nature of prayer and work when they are united for the greater glory of God. Proper work and prayer take us out of ourselves, out of our torpor of mind, and direct us toward God. May our Lent follow such a path.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Sacramental Communion brings us into union with God, and spiritual Communion helps keep us there (pp. 88-89).
He quotes a vision of St. Catherine of Siena, where Jesus is holding two chalices:
In this golden chalice I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me (p. 89).
Flynn quotes St. Padre Pio:
In the course of the day,...call on Jesus, even in the midst of all your occupations.... He will come and will remain always united with your soul by means of His grace and His holy love.
Fly with your spirit before the tabernacle, when you cannot stand before it bodily, and there pour out the ardent longings of your soul and embrace the Beloved of souls, even more than if you had been permitted to receive Him sacramentally (p. 91).
He gives the prayer for spiritual communion from St. Alphonsus Liguori:
My Jesus, I believe that you are really present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to possess you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as being already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you (p. 95).
Flynn talks about some of the wordless images he uses for spiritual communion. I especially like his image of Mary visiting him as she did Elizabeth in the Visitation, but bringing her Son into Flynn's heart.
Someone who engaged in nearly continuous spiritual communion was Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century French Carmelite whose Practice of the Presence of God talks about how he did this:
That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God's presence by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries.
More on Brother Lawrence later.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
One of its sources was a great-limbed poplar tree that I could see even lying in bed. It was suddenly lopped and mutilated by its owner. I do not know why. It is cut down now, a less barbarous punishment for any crimes it may have been accused of, such as being large and alive. I do not think it had any friends, or mourners, except myself and a pair of owls.
Of course, the context for Tolkien's passage has nothing to do with abortion. And yet, it immediately struck me as applicable to abortion. Unfortunately, women who commit abortions are duped into thinking that they are "owners" of a "fetus," rather than mothers of a baby. The "crimes" of these babies--being large and alive. While the mothers (and fathers) often later come to mourn these babies, at the time, such babies may indeed have no friends or mourners, other than perhaps some sidewalk pro-life witnesses.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
In thinking about Flynn's comment, I went to the tabernacle at our parish for a brief period of adoration today. I thought, too, about the time last October when I went on retreat at a local Jesuit retreat house in Milford, Ohio, and spontaneously prostrated myself before the tabernacle in their chapel during adoration. It was an amazing feeling. So today, I again prostrated myself before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I was with my son, who is five years old, and he was puzzled and thought what I was doing was funny. I tried to explain my actions. Again, I had a wonderful feeling--of peace, of the rightness of it. And then, my son made a moving, loving gesture. He laid himself across my back. We were both prostrate before the Lord.
It was a good day.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
However, I began to think more about the term, "cultural Catholic." On the one hand, we may go to mass every day and if the Eucharist does not change our lives, then we are in a sense a cultural Catholic. (Vinny Flynn talks about this idea without using the term "cultural Catholic.") On the other hand, we actually want to promote Catholic culture, which is the "body" of the "spiritual" life of Catholicism. The website Catholic Culture is devoted to the development of such a culture. David Gibson wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal describing Pope Benedict XVI's advocacy of a vibrant Catholic culture. We should all strive to be cultural Catholics in the best sense: sacramentals around the house (holy water, images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, a crucifix in every room), blessing your children each day, crossing yourself when you pass a Catholic church which has the Eucharist reserved, saying grace before meals in public, etc.
I think perhaps a better term is "heirloom Catholic." By that I mean those who treat their faith like a family heirloom which rests on a shelf, gets dusted off and brought down from time to time to look at and remember past times, then to be put back on the shelf. It is itself a treasure, but it is something distant, something outside of one's self. Again, perhaps all of us are such Catholics at one time or another in our faith journeys. But it is a matter of life or death that we not remain such Catholics.
Typically the term that has been opposed to "cultural Catholic" is "devout Catholic." I also think we need to re-think that terminology. There is nothing wrong with being a devout Catholic; we want to be devout Catholics. However, the way the term is used has become increasingly meaningless. Mark Shea has a commentary on this point. I would suggest that we should oppose "heirloom Catholic" with "Eucharistic Catholic." If we are devoted to Christ in the mass, Eucharistic adoration, and spiritual communion, then we cannot help but move outward toward others (this was Mother Teresa's approach); we cannot help but create a Catholic culture that makes the spiritual visible, which is a sacramental way of living in the world.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
As someone who thinks that C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity is simply an amazing book, I am fascinated by the Narnia novels. Lewis was clearly a better expository writer than novelist (as one would expect from a scholar), but he does create some wonderful moments of dialogue and imagery.
One of those moments came to me at mass last week. My kids like to sit in the front row so they can see what is going on, but we arrived too late to mass to sit in the front row. We sat toward the back, but the kids were upset because they could not see the altar. So we took them into the "cry room." The cry room is on the second floor, with a plate glass window overlooking the main aisle of the church and the altar. I was irritated because now, instead of sitting in the front row, we were now in the cry room with several children who were up there for the reason that we have a cry room - because they were being too loud or too mobile for the main part of the church.
But God changed my irritation into a blessing. From that angle, we could see the altar surface. Normally, we are a little below the altar and cannot see the surface. Suddenly, seeing the table top of the altar, the image of Aslan's sacrifice on "the stone table" in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came to me. Aslan, the lion, is an analogue to Christ in the novel, and I had been extremely moved by the scene of his sacrifice. I had understood the symbolism of the slaying of Aslan as paralleling the Crucifixion. But what I had not appreciated was the simultaneous symbolism of the sacrifice of the the mass, of the Victim upon the altar. Suddenly, the "stone table" upon which Aslan was killed, so clearly shed light on the altar that I had looked upon each week but had not really seen.
God has this uncanny way of changing our point of view, even when we wish to remain stuck in our current, limited ways of seeing. There is a great 17th-century Japanese poem by Mizuta Masahide that illustrates this truth:
Barn's burnt down
I can see the moon.
Friday, February 13, 2009
I've listened to the CD, and it is tremendously moving. You can order it at CatholiCity for $1. Flynn does a great job of bringing the subject alive, to get us thinking about how we approach the Lord in Holy Communion, examining our complacency. I'm in the process of reading the book. Flynn is especially fond of quoting St. Faustina, such as where Jesus said to St. Faustina:
Oh, how painful it is to me that souls so seldom unite themselves to me in Holy Communion. I wait for souls and they are indifferent toward me. I love them tenderly and sincerely and they distrust me. I want to lavish my graces on them and they do not want to accept them. They treat me as a dead object, whereas my heart is full of love and mercy.
In the CD, Flynn asks us to imagine a non-Catholic coming to mass, seeing everyone get up at one point, form a line, and go up to the altar to receive what appears to be a wafer. As Flynn says, do we think that the non-Catholic observer would ever come to the conclusion, based on the demeanor of these people, that what they are receiving is alive? Quoting Pope John Paul II, Flynn says that we must re-awaken a "Eucharistic amazement." We treat the Eucharist as something commonplace, forgetting that it is truly extraordinary.
A passenger on US Air Flight 1549, the "Miracle on the Hudson," tells of reading 7 Secrets of the Eucharist while waiting for the flight to begin. His name is Fred Berretta, and the letter he wrote to Flynn is available at Catholic.net. He said that Flynn's book gave him great comfort as they were going down.
Get the CD. Get the book. I'll be writing more on these and some other CDs from Catholic City in upcoming posts.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." So the disciples said to one another, "Has any one brought him food?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
So much is here. So many times in his gospel, John gives us insights into the depths of the mystery of the Eucharist as we contemplate food in the material and in the spiritual senses. Like the apostles, we are often stuck solely in the material, missing the spiritual and the communion of the material and the spiritual. (John Paul II and Christopher West are helping me to see more the communion of the material and the spiritual.) It helps me greatly to contemplate Jesus' words: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work." I need to "lift up my eyes" from the strictly material. I need to make his will my will.
I like, too, the reference here to the harvest. It echoes Matthew: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matthew 9:37-38). The talk about one sowing and one reaping points to the procession of time that orders like the Sisters of the Precious Blood partake in. Earlier sisters sowed; later sisters reaped, and so it will continue as long as the order continues. And they can do so because their food is Christ; their will is God's will. And by so doing, they are accomplishing his work.
Monday, February 9, 2009
We are an apostolic congregation rooted in Eucharistic prayer and motivated by the great gift of the Precious Blood of Jesus poured out for all.
The foundress of the Sisters of the Precious Blood was Mother Maria Anna Brunner:
She was a married woman, a mother of six children, a widow, and, at age 68, the foundress of a congregation of women religious.
Maria Anna had a deep love for the Eucharist and a great heart for the poor.
She had a special devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus and spent many hours in prayer and reflection. Her daily work of caring for orphans and feeding the hungry was built upon her prayer life.
Maria Anna’s dedication attracted other women to join her. Soon this little group became the nucleus of what was to become, in 1834, the Sisters of the Precious Blood.
Mother Maria Anna Brunner died in 1836, but her work continues. Today, on three continents, Sisters of the Precious Blood build on her vision, living their mission of Eucharistic prayer, simplicity, outreach to the poor and reconciliation.
For 175 years, the Sisters of the Precious Blood have been building on Mother Maria Anna Brunner's vision, following Jesus in the Eucharist, especially in his Precious Blood, through the years, decades, even centuries, as they process through time with their eyes fixed on Jesus. Their adoration takes them to the poor, to bring Jesus to them.
Let us pray that God will richly bless the Sisters of the Precious Blood during this 175th anniversary year, bringing them many new vocations. Fr. John Hardon, S.J. has written about the connection between the Eucharist and vocations, which you can find here.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Friday, February 6, 2009
Looking upon the instruments of their torture, they could sing a song of thankfulness to God. The Te Deum was particularly appropriate for these martyrs; some of the lines include:
- the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee (Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus)
- Thou overcame the sting of death and hast opened to believers the Kingdom of Heaven (Tu, devicto mortis aculeo, aperuisti credentibus regna caelorum)
- We beseech Thee, therefore, to help Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood (Te ergo quaesumus, tuis famulis subveni: quos pretioso sanguine redemisti)
- Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory (Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis in gloria numerari)
- Every day we thank Thee (Per singulos dies benedicimus te)
The English word "martyr" comes from the Greek word μάρτυς, meaning "witness." In a procession, we witness to Christ and his life, death, and resurrection. We say by our witness that we have a share in that life, death, and resurrection. And we are saying to those who see us processing, "You can have a share in that life, death, and resurrection too!"
St. Paul Miki and Companions, pray for us that we will be witnesses for Christ, regardless of the cost, and that we will be thankful to God every day.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
My thanks to Christopher West for bringing to our attention Isaiah 52:7-10:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Consider how this passage can help us look at a Eucharistic procession. How beautiful are the feet of the priest who brings "good tidings" or "good news." As Fr. John Corapi is fond of saying, the Good News isn't some thing; the Good News is some one. The priest brings Christ, the Good News, through the streets and thereby announces "Your God reigns." The Lord is "bared" in the Eucharist "before the eyes of all" who "shall see the salvation of our God." Those in the procession "lift up their voice, together they sing for joy." The Eucharist adoration brings us closer to Christ and thereby brings life to the waste places of our souls, brings comfort to our sorrows, and brings redemption to our sinfulness.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Here are my top 6 reasons for having a Eucharistic procession:
- It reminds us that the Eucharist is the "source and summit of the Christian life." This comes from Vatican II's Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), no. 11. Our lives as Christians flow from the grace provided by Christ in the Eucharist, and the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass is the highest expression of our Christian lives on earth because it prefigures the wedding banquet of the Lamb in heaven as described in the Book of Revelation.
- It enhances our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy) gives four modes of Christ's presence: a) the priest acting in persona Christi, b) the Eucharist, c) Scripture, and d) the assembly of the faithful (no. 7). While Jesus is actually present in all these modes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1374) reminds us that "The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique" because, quoting the Council of Trent, there "the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."
- It emphasizes that we are not simply a community of like-minded people, like the Rotary Club, but we are quite specifically a Eucharistic community. The Eucharist brings us closer as a parish, monastery, convent, religious organization, etc. As in a wheel, the Eucharist is the hub and we are spokes.
- It promotes a Catholic culture. As Catholics, our faith should be on view in the world, not hidden under a bushel basket. Our faith has sacraments, sacramentals, liturgies, rituals, devotions, etc. which mark us, which consecrate us, which set us apart. The more distinct we are from everyday life, the more attractive Christ's message will be to others. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. In addition, a vibrant Catholic culture nourishes the spiritual life of Catholics and keeps them Catholic, because they see why they should be Catholic.
- It evangelizes others. When people see a priest holding the monstrance containing the Eucharist followed by a stream of the faithful, those bystanders take notice. They know something different is happening. They may have no clue as to what that something is. They may be indifferent to it, or they may deride it. But for at least a moment they have seen it. And because the Eucharist is Christ, we also believe that his mere presence can in his good time change the lives of those who are unconscious of his presence.
- It is an important means of praying for vocations. Without priests, there is no Eucharist.
To be sure, there are other reasons for holding a Eucharistic procession. But these will do for now.