Tuesday, June 30, 2009

St. John Vianney on Fear and Crosses

St. John Vianney said:

"Our greatest cross is our fear of crosses." (Thoughts of the Cure of D'Ars, p. 23)

How true this is. We seek comfort, we seek predictability, we seek admiration, we seek things, but we run in dread from the God who made and loves us. We do not trust that He wants what is best for us.

St. John Vianney also said:

"You must accept your cross; if you bear it courageously it will carry you to Heaven." (p. 9)

Following Christ is counter-intuitive to how we are socialized by our culture. But contrary to the prevailing culture, suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst thing that can happen to us is to be separated from God by our own actions which turn us away from Him.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Eucharist: The Past is Not Past

The great twentieth-century American novelist, William Faulkner, famously said about the American South that there the past is not only not dead, it isn't even past. That can help us understand the sacrifice of the mass as a re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on Calvary.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this clear:

The sacrificial memorial of Christ and of his Body, the Church

1362 The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial.

1363 In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men.184 In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them.

1364 In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.185 "As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which 'Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed' is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out."186

1365 Because it is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: "This is my body which is given for you" and "This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood."187 In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."188

1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.189

When we go to mass, we need to bear in mind that we are not simply remembering an event that occurred long ago. Not only is Jesus really present in the Eucharist, but his sacrifice on the cross is, in a mystical way, present as well. Jesus is not dead, and He is not a memory, but He is there, with us, and we with Him.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Some Excellent Posts on Eucharistic Adoration

At her blog, "Practicing Catholic," Heather Barrett has a thoughtful posting on Eucharistic adoration. She rightly indicates our need to "question the Eucharist," not in the sense of doubting it, but in the sense of seeking a deeper understanding of that ultimately unfathomable mystery. Think of how St. Thomas Aquinas structures the Summa Theologica with questions, objections, and replies. He questions not to cast doubt on sacred matters, but rather to apply reason to make sacred matters more accessible and more firmly held.

Heather also points to another enlightening blog entry on adoration, this one by Julie at "Happy Catholic." She re-prints there a handout from a parish that actively discourages Eucharistic adoration. Her rebuttal to that handout is very well done. Certainly anyone who thinks of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who made Eucharistic adoration a central event in the daily lives of the Missionaries of Charity, should be convinced that Eucharistic adoration neither detracts from the Mass nor excludes the community.

Many thanks to Heather and Julie for these insightful posts.

St. John Vianney on the Eucharist

I went to one of our local Catholic bookshops today and picked up a booklet on St. John Vianney called Thoughts of the Curé d'Ars (Tan Books). Since we are now in the Year of the Priest, I thought this would be a good way to introduce me more to this beloved pastor.

Here are some of the passages that reflect St. John Vianney's thoughts on the Eucharist:

How pleasing to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is the short quarter of an hour that we steal from our occupations, from something of no use, to come and pray to Him, to visit Him, to console Him. (p. 8)

We can only receive God once a day; a soul enkindled with divine love makes up for this by the desire of receiving Him every moment of the day. (p. 10)

Although the good God does not allow us to see Him, He is nonetheless present in the Blessed Sacrament; nonetheless ready to grant us all we ask. (p. 15)

When we leave the holy banquet of Communion, we are as happy as the wise men would have been if they could have carried away the Infant Jesus. (p. 15)

Grieve over the contempt cast upon Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and try to make amends for it by a greater and more ardent love." (p. 18)

Our Lord is hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, waiting for us to come and visit Him.... See how good He is!... If He had appeared before us now in all His glory, we should not have dared to approach Him; but He hides Himself like one in prison, saying: "You do not see Me, but that does not matter; ask Me for all you want...." (p. 21)

"Live on Him that you may live for Him." (p. 22)

I have much to learn from St. John Vianney, and I look forward to learning it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Good Secular Press Coverage of Religion

We often complain that the secular media does a poor job of covering religion in the news. GetReligion.org does a great job of even-handed critique of the secular press.

There is a story in the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle about a Vatican investigation of an alleged miracle through the intercession of Korean War army chaplain Fr. Emil Kapaun. The author of the article seems to understand Catholicism and is very balanced in his coverage.

Fr. Kapaun's story is an inspiring one:

Kapaun was a chaplain assigned to the U.S. Army's Eighth Cavalry regiment, which was surrounded and overrun by the Chinese army in North Korea in October and November 1951.
Kapaun became a hero, rescuing wounded soldiers from the battlefield and risking death by preventing Chinese executions of wounded Americans too injured to walk.

He became a hero again in prison camp, stealing food for prisoners, ministering to the sick, saying the rosary for soldiers, defying guards' attempts to indoctrinate soldiers, making pots and pans out of roofing tin so that soldiers could boil snow into drinking water and boil lice out of their filthy clothing.

Hundreds of American prisoners died in the camp of exposure or starvation or illness that first winter. The Chinese guards did nothing to tend Kapaun when he became sick; he died in May 1951, two years before the war ended.

Soldiers who survived have praised Kapaun for decades; some of them have said he deserved not only sainthood but the Medal of Honor, in addition to the lesser Distinguished Service Cross the Army awarded him after his death.

I also admired a prayer written to ask for Fr. Kapaun's intercession:

"Father Emil Kapaun gave glory to God by following his call to the priesthood and thus serving the people of Kansas and those in the military," the prayer says. "Father Kapaun, I ask your intercession not only for Chase Kear... but that I too may follow your example of service to God and my neighbor. For the gifts of courage in battle and perseverance of faith, we give you thanks oh Lord."

We face battles big and small each day, battles where we fight with little strength or battles we avoid altogether. A chaplain's sacrifice can be a good example to us to stay in the fight.

Hopefully we will hear more about Fr. Kapaun in the future.

Desire for Prayer

Prayer is something every person of faith struggles with. The saints often speak of "dry periods." Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta went through many, many years of such a dry period. St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, as well as St. Therese of Lisieux experienced different versions of this dryness.

In his excellent book, How to Get the Most Out of the Eucharist, Michael Dubruiel tells a story about cultivating a desire to pray:

One day a boy was watching a holy man pray on the banks of a river in India. When the holy man had completed his prayer the boy went over and asked him, "Will you teach me to pray?" The holy man studied the boy's face carefully. Then he gripped the boy's head in his hands and plunged it forcefully into the water. The boy struggled frantically, trying to free himself in order to breathe. Finally, the holy man released his hold. When the boy was able to breathe, he gasped, "What did you do that for?" The holy man said, "I just gave you your first lesson." "What do you mean?" asked the astonished boy. "Well," said the holy man, "when you long to pray as much as you longed to breathe when your head was under water--only then will I be able to teach you to pray." (p. 58)

Don't try this at home. Despite the resemblances to waterboarding, there is an important message here. One of the Acts of Contrition includes: "In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against You whom I should love above all things." We certainly do not act as if we love God above all things. When we are drowning, what we want above all things is to breathe. That is how we are to love God.

Of course, as people wounded by Original Sin, we cannot love God to the fullest in this way. But it is an ideal for us to strive toward. Obviously, the holy man in the story is using hyperbole. Like infants, we must crawl before we can walk, walk before we can run. Baby steps.

It is often said--because it is true--that if we pray when we do not feel like praying, that is some of our most powerful and edifying prayer. So let us reach for the holy man's example but find solace if we only have the boy's curiosity at this point. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus started out at one level of relationship with Jesus, but they finished that road trip at a very different level.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Babies and the State

Fr. Peter Daly is the pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, MD. He has a syndicated column that appears throughout the nation in Catholic newspapers. I read his most recent article in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's newspaper, The Catholic Telegraph. The article can be found here. Included with every marriage license in the state of Maryland is a brochure called "Family Planning: A Guide for You." The brochure can be found here. For further information, one of the contacts is Planned Parenthood of Maryland. The other is the Center for Maternal and Child Health, which is a department of the Maryland state government. The brochure mentions "fertility awareness methods" which would include Natural Family Planning. The brochure says, "If you need information on where to get services, check out the back of this brochure." However, neither Planned Parenthood nor the Center for Maternal and Child Health are sources where you will find out anything about "fertility awareness methods."

As Fr. Daly points out, such a brochure being given to married couples who are getting married seems inappropriate. Should the state be discouraging married couples from having children? Should the state be promoting Planned Parenthood to married couples? Why should married couples be informed about so-called "emergency contraception"?

Maryland should re-think this approach.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Atlanta Eucharistic Congress

Here is extensive coverage of Atlanta's 2009 Eucharistic Congress. It is a big event, and they are a shining example to us all about what is possible in a diocese.

I enjoyed this line from Jesse Manibusan, who spoke at the Congress:

"To be Eucharistic is to be in a posture of receiving,” he told the group. “That’s what it means to be Catholic. … The Eucharist brings true intimacy with God."

We need to be receptive to God throughout the day. Listening for what he is calling us to do, like Samuel. Open to doing his will, like Mary.

C.S. Lewis and "Vague Religion"

I never get tired of reading C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity is quite simply an amazing book. I peer into it every now and again and come away in awe of Lewis' penetrating use of analogy.

In fact, that is just why a vague religion--all about feeling God in nature, and so on--is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work: like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map. (pp. 154-155).

As is often the case, "both/and" describes the course we should take. Experience of God (going to sea) and learning about God (looking at maps). Lewis reminds us about an important aspect of faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the theological virtue of faith as:

Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. (Section 1814).

The definition does not stop at "Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God." The reason is that Satan believes in God, but he does not believe all that God has said and revealed and that the Church proposes for our belief. That is why simply experiencing God is not enough. "It is all thrills and no work." While we certainly cannot work our way to heaven (that is the heresy of Pelagianism that was condemned in the early Church), it is also true that we cannot simply say "Yes, I believe" and not have that belief transform our lives into ones where we follow God's will and do good things.

Besides faith, we also need the theological virtue of charity. The Catechism defines charity as:

Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God. (Section 1822).

We cannot simply say, "I love you, Lord" and not have obligations, any more we can tell our wife or husband or children "I love you" and not have obligations to them. Men who abuse their wives often apologize for abusing them and then tell them how much they love them, but their actions say otherwise. Love is not a feeling, but an act of the will.

Vague religion is very popular these days. That is because it is easy. True religion, like true love, makes demands on us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Faith and the Eucharist

Faith in the Real Presence is a gift, as all faith is. However, we also must do our part in working with the gift: being open to it and ultimately accepting it, even though we cannot fully see or understand what this gift is.

Think about the Gospel of John, Chapter 6. Jesus tells the crowd that "the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51), but after some explanation, many of Jesus' disciples respond "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"(John 6:60). This teaching caused many of the disciples to stop following Him: "After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). Jesus then turns to His most trusted disciples, the Twelve. He asks them: "Will you also go away?" But Peter responds for them: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:67-69).

Peter and the rest of the Twelve did not understand what Jesus was telling them any more than those disciples who left Jesus. However, what Peter and the Twelve did understand better than those other disciples was who Jesus was and the reliability of His word. Whereas the disciples who left sought to use understanding as the criterion for whether or not they would follow Jesus, Peter and the Twelve instead based their decision to follow Jesus on faith. Not that faith and reason are opposed. They are not. Faith without reason allows one to be easily led astray. However, reason without faith causes one to believe only what one's senses tells him or her.

St. Cyprian of Carthage wrote a treatise called The Death-Rate (ca. 252-253). Although he wrote this work in response to a plague and used the occasion to get Christians to think about their attitudes towards death, the passage can help us understand the attitude we should take towards the Eucharist, especially in light of John 6:

If a staid and praiseworthy man should promise you something you would have faith in his promise, and you would not believe that you would be cheated or deceived by one whom you knew to be steadfast in his words and deeds. God is speaking to you, and do you waiver faithlessly with your unbelieving mind? God promises that when you leave this world you shall have immortality in life eternal, and do you doubt? This is to know God not at all. This is to offend Christ, the Teacher of belief by the sin of disbelief. For one established in the Church, this is not to have faith in the house of faith. (The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgens, Vol. I, #562, p. 224).

Peter and the Twelve (except for Judas Iscariot) understood that Jesus was "steadfast in his words and deeds." To doubt that what Jesus promises is true "is to know God not at all."

Later, St. Anselm of Canterbury (ca. 1033-1109), building on writings of St. Augustine, stressed the importance of faith as foundational to understanding. Anselm wrote, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam. Nam et hoc credo, quia, nisi credidero, non intelligam." ("Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.") If we are open to faith, we come to understand certain things that are not available to us outside of faith.

We will never understand the Eucharist this side of Heaven. It is indeed a hard saying. However, we must trust the One saying it, for He is steadfast in His words and deeds.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christi

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Let us today rededicate ourselves to approaching the Lord more frequently in his Eucharistic presence.

In The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, we read this story from Abba Daniel by way of Abba Arsenius. This story is a wonderful illustration of how long the Church has held that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. It also shows how it takes faith to believe this teaching, and we must pray for that faith.

This is what Abba Daniel, the Pharanite, said, 'Our Father Abba Arsenius told us of an inhabitant of Scetis, of notable life and of simple faith; through his naivete' he was deceived and said, "The bread which we receive is not really the body of Christ, but a symbol." Two old men having learnt that he had uttered this saying, knowing that he was outstanding in his way of life, knew that he had not spoken through malice, but through simplicity. So they came to find him and said, "Father, we have heard a proposition contrary to the faith on the part of someone who says that the bread which we receive is not really the body of Christ, but a symbol." The old man said, "It is I who have said that." Then the old men exhorted him saying, "Do not hold this position, Father, but hold one in conformity with that which the catholic Church has given us. We believe, for our part, that the bread itself is the body of Christ and that the cup itself is his blood and this in all truth and not a symbol. But as in the beginning, God formed man in his image, taking the dust of the earth, without anyone being able to say that it is not the image of God, even though it is not seen to be so; thus it is with the bread of which he said that it is his body; and so we believe that it is really the body of Christ." The old man said to them, "As long as I have not been persuaded by the thing itself, I shall not be fully convinced." So they said, "Let us pray God about this mystery throughout the whole of this week and we believe that God will reveal it to us." The old man received this saying with joy and he prayed in these words, "Lord, you know that it is not through malice that I do not believe and so that I may not err through ignorance, reveal this mystery to me, Lord Jesus Christ." The old men returned to their cells and they also prayed God, saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, reveal this mystery to the old man, that he may believe and not lose his reward." God heard both the prayers. At the end of the week they came to church on Sunday and sat all three on the same mat, the old man in the middle. Then their eyes were opened and when the bread was placed on the holy table, there appeared as it were a little child to these three alone. And when the priest put out his hand to break the bread, behold an angel descended from heaven with a sword and poured the child's blood into the chalice. When the priest cut the bread into small pieces, the angel also cut the child in pieces. When they drew near to receive the sacred elements the old man alone received a morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this he was afraid and cried out, "Lord, I believe that this bread is your flesh and this chalice your blood." Immediately the flesh, which he held in his hand, became bread, according to the mystery and he took it, giving thanks to God. Then the old men said to him, "God knows human nature and that man cannot eat raw flesh and that is why he has changed his body into bread and his blood into wine, for those who receive it in faith." Then they gave thanks to God for the old man, because he had allowed him not to lose the reward of his labour. So all three returned with joy to their own cells.' (pp. 53-54)

Let us rejoice for our Lord being with us in this most miraculous, most unfathomable, most intimate way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

George Tiller, Scott Roeder, Alessandro Serenelli, Abba Apollo and Redemption

Dr. George Tiller was a late-term abortionist for many years. He was murdered while serving as an usher in his Lutheran church on May 31, 2009 by Scott Roeder. What Roeder did was horrific and showed a complete lack of understanding regarding the Christian vision of the dignity of human life. No one who truly follows the One who said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) could commit such a terrible act.

Dr. Tiller also seemed to not understand the Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. No one who kills unborn children for a living as he did is walking the way of truth and life. That being said, he did not deserve to be murdered. Quite the contrary, he needed to live longer to repent and change his life.

I have been thinking of Alessandro Serenelli, the man who attempted to rape and then killed St. Maria Goretti. Serenelli spent thirty years in prison. While in prison he repented of his crime, and after his release sought the forgiveness of St. Maria's mother, Assunta. She forgave him, to the point where they received the Eucharist at Christmas Mass together. Serenelli became a Capuchin tertiary and worked on the grounds of a Capuchin monastery for the remainder of his life.

Serenelli committed a terrible crime. Rather than committing himself further to evil, he changed. Through St. Maria, God worked a miracle in Serenelli, and he spent his life trying to serve that miraculous God.

There is also the story of Abba Apollo. He was one of the Desert Fathers--religious men (and sometimes women) who lived alone or in small communities in the Egyptian desert from the latter part of the second century to about the mid-fourth century. Abba Apollo did not start out as a holy man:

It was said of a certain Abba Apollo of Scetis, that he had been a shepherd and was very uncouth. He had seen a pregnant woman in the field one day and being urged by the devil, he had said, ‘I should like to see how the child lies in her womb.’ So he ripped her up and saw the foetus. Immediately his heart was troubled and, filled with compunction, he went to Scetis and told the Fathers what he had done. Now he heard them chanting, ‘The years of our age are three score years and ten, and even by reason strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble’ (Ps. 90:10). He said to them, ‘I am forty years old and I have not made one prayer; and now, if I live another year, I shall not cease to pray God that he may pardon my sins.’ In fact, he did not work with his hands but passed all his time in prayer, saying, ‘I, who as man have sinned, do you, as God, forgive.’ So his prayer became his activity by night and day. A brother who lived with him heard him saying, ‘I have sinned against you, Lord; forgive me, that I may enjoy a little peace.’ And he was sure that God had forgiven him all his sins, including the murder of the woman; but for the child’s murder, he was in doubt. Then an old man said to him,’ God has forgiven you even the death of the child, but he leaves you in grief because that is good for your soul.’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers by Benedicta Ward, SLG, p. 36)

Abba Apollo murdered a woman and aborted her child. From that heinous crime he turned his life toward God and became a changed man. God turned the evil which Abba Apollo had done into something that caused him to become holy through remorse and forgiveness.

Both Alessandro Serenelli and Abba Apollo found redemption and forgiveness. May George Tiller and Scott Roeder also find redemption and forgiveness. Let us pray for both of them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Forgiveness and the Eucharist

Forgiving others is very difficult for human beings. We are wounded through original sin, but we are made in the image and likeness of God, and God is merciful. St. Faustina has reminded us of divine mercy, and we are obligated to reflect that mercy to others.

Scripture is unequivocal about our need for mercy and the need for us to be merciful to others. The Gospel of Matthew is particularly good at this. "Then Peter came up and said to him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times but seventy times seven'" (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus then tells us a parable to help us understand the kingdom of heaven. It is the story of the king who forgives a servant who is in debt to him. The king forgives a huge debt (10,000 talents). The servant then shakes down another servant who owes him a much smaller debt (100 denarii), showing him no mercy. The king learns of this, and then says to him: "'You wicked servant! I forgave you all the debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" The servant is sent to prison "till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:23-35). I have long found this passage very powerful. Because of the emphasis on forgiveness and the de-emphasis on money in this parable, I put a dollar bill at this passage in Bibles placed in hotel rooms I stay in. That's one way I try to quietly evangelize.

Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew we are told the connection directly between worship and forgiveness. "So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny" (Matthew 5:23-26).

Before we approach the altar to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, we say the prayer He taught us: the Our Father. We say: "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." If we do not forgive others, we are asking God to not forgive us.

How serious are we about that prayer? Are we as serious as Assunta Goretti, mother of St. Maria Goretti? In her excellent book, Real Saints, Real Women: Friends for your Spiritual Journey, Gina Loehr highlights the power of forgiveness in the story of the saint. Maria Goretti was only twelve years old when Alessandro Serenelli attempted to rape her. When she resisted, he stabbed her fourteen times. Maria lingered for a time afterwards; her mother, Assunta, was in the hospital with her until she died. As Loehr notes, Maria "declared that she had forgiven Alessandro and prayed that God would allow him to be with her in paradise. This perfect act of charity would inspire many others to forgive Alessandro as well. Assunta herself found courage to forgive the murderer because Maria had forgiven him first" (p. 66).

We evangelize by example.

This saint's forgiving heart changed Alessandro too. After eight years in prison, a glowing and angelic Maria appeared to him in a dream, offering forgiveness. From that time on Alessandro was repentant and remorseful. He served the remaining eighteen years of his sentence devoted to prayer and the sacraments" (p. 66).

Before we give up on people who we think are beyond redemption, we should recall Alessandro. After getting out of prison, he spent the rest of his life at a Capuchin monastery as a layman.

What truly impressed me about Assunta's story is this. She not only forgave Alessandro in her heart for killing her little girl, but she shared a heavenly meal with him:

On Christmas Eve of 1937, he came to seek forgiveness and to make what reparation he could. At midnight Mass he knelt beside Assunta as they both received Jesus in the Eucharist" (p. 67).

I do not know if I could find the courage to forgive someone for murdering my daughter, and then go to mass with that person. But that is what Jesus calls us to do, for that is what He did. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Further Reflections on Trinity Sunday by Pope Benedict XVI

Thanks to Zenit for the text to Pope Benedict XVI's Angelus address on June 7th regarding Trinity Sunday. It is a beautiful reflection on the nature of the Trinity:

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Following Eastertide, which culminates with the feast of Pentecost, the liturgy foresees these three solemnities of the Lord: today, the Most Holy Trinity; on Thursday, that of Corpus Domini, which, in many countries, Italy among them, is celebrated next Sunday; finally, on Friday in two weeks, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Each one of these liturgical observances manifests a perspective from which the whole mystery of the Christian faith is embraced: respectively, the reality of God one and three, the sacrament of the Eucharist and the divine-human center of the Person of Christ. They are in truth aspects of the one mystery of salvation, which, in a certain sense, summarize the whole path of the revelation of Jesus, from the incarnation to the death and resurrection to the ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today we contemplate the Most Holy Trinity as it was made know to us by Jesus. He revealed to us that God is love “not in the unity of a single person, but in the Trinity of a single substance” (Preface): the Trinity is Creator and merciful Father; Only Begotten Son, eternal Wisdom incarnate, dead and risen for us; it is finally the Holy Spirit, who moves everything, cosmos and history, toward the final recapitulation. Three Persons who are one God because the Father is love, the Son is love, the Spirit is love. God is love and only love, most pure, infinite and eternal love. The Trinity does not live in a splendid solitude, but is rather inexhaustible font of life that unceasingly gives itself and communicates itself.

We can in some way intuit this, whether we observe the macro-universe: our earth, the planets, the stars, the galaxies; or the micro-universe: cells, atoms, elementary particles. The “name” of the Most Holy Trinity is in a certain way impressed upon everything that exists, because everything that exists, down to the least particle, is a being in relation, and thus God-relation shines forth, ultimately creative Love shines forth. All comes from love, tends toward love, and is moved by love, naturally, according to different grades of consciousness and freedom. “O Lord, our Lord, / how wondrous is your name over all the earth!” (Psalm 8:2) -- the Psalmist exclaims. In speaking of the “name” the Bible indicates God himself, his truest identity; an identity that shines forth in the whole of creation, where every being, by the very fact of existing and by the “fabric” of which it is made, refers to a transcendent Principle, to eternal and infinite Life that gives itself, in a word: to Love. “In him,” St. Paul says, on the Areopagus in Athens, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: only love makes us happy, because we live in relation, and we live to love and be loved. Using an analogy suggested by biology, we could say the human “genome” is profoundly imprinted with the Trinity, of God-Love.

The Virgin Mary, in her docile humility, made herself the handmaid of divine Love: she accepted the will of the Father and conceived the Son by the work of the Holy Spirit. In her omnipotence made a temple worthy of himself, and made her the model and image of the Church, mystery and house of communion for all men. May Mary, mirror of the Most Holy Trinity, help us to grow in the faith of the Trinitarian mystery.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

[After the Angelus the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English he said:]I extend cordial greetings to all the English-speaking pilgrims here today on this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, especially the members of the Holy Trinity Prayer Group from Texas. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, and with your families and loved ones at home. And may your stay in Rome strengthen your faith, fill you with hope in God’s promises and inflame your hearts with his love. God bless all of you!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

The passages here that strike me the most are:

The “name” of the Most Holy Trinity is in a certain way impressed upon everything that exists, because everything that exists, down to the least particle, is a being in relation, and thus God-relation shines forth, ultimately creative Love shines forth.

I so enjoy the Pope's assertion that creation reflects the relational aspect of the Trinity, and as such love is imprinted on the universe. "God-relation" helps us to focus on this dimension of the Trinity.

I also find very interesting the Pope's view of Mary regarding the Trinity.

In her omnipotence made a temple worthy of himself, and made her the model and image of the Church, mystery and house of communion for all men. May Mary, mirror of the Most Holy Trinity, help us to grow in the faith of the Trinitarian mystery.

Here we have Mary as tabernacle, as the God-Bearer, and as such as the model of the Church, as the "house of communion." But as the "mirror of the Most Holy Trinity," she also reflects mystery, a fleeting glimpse of a reality that we cannot fully comprehend. As the handmaid of the Lord, the mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit, she is fully immersed in the love of the God-relation. And ultimately, we too are called to full immersion in the the love of the God-relation; that is what it means to be part of the communion of saints.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday

On this Trinity Sunday, it is good to reflect on the relationship between the Eucharist and the Trinity. Vinny Flynn does a very good job of this in his book, 7 Secrets of the Eucharist. He starts off Chapter 2, "Christ is not Alone," with a quotation from St. Faustina's Diary:

Jesus... You come to me in Holy Communion, You who together with the Father and the Holy Spirit have deigned to dwell in the little heaven of my heart. (486, quoted in Flynn, p. 19)

As Flynn discusses later in the chapter:

Christ is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, true God and true man eternally united with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Just as there can be no separation within Christ's human nature, so there can be none within His divine nature. Just as we cannot separate Christ's body from His blood, or His soul from His body and blood, so we cannot separate Christ from the other persons of the Trinity. (p. 25)

Flynn goes on to say:

With each reception of Holy Communion, we experience, already here on earth, the same divine activity that we will one day experience in all its fullness in heaven - the divine activity of love eternally taking place within the Trinity. (p. 27)

As Flynn notes, only Christ is sacramentally present in the Eucharist, but all of the Trinity is really and truly present (p. 29). Flynn goes into the theology of this paradox, followed by some wonderful entries from St. Faustina's Diary. All important reflections on this Trinity Sunday that help us to understand better some of the many dimensions of the Eucharist.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On Prayer - Short Prayers

I do not spend enough time in prayer. Does that sound familiar to anyone else? I understand that Fr. Mitch Pacwa has a chapter in one of his books called, "If not wicked, then busy." I let busyness be my excuse, although it's not a good one. But I also received very good advice in confession one time when the priest told me to pray many times during the day in short, spontaneous prayer. I do that more now, and I do find it beneficial. In his book, Holiness for Housewives and Other Working Women, Dom Hubert van Zeller reminds us that God expects us to pray in accord with our state in life. "The only serious mistake you are liable to make is to confuse the requirements of your sort of prayer with those of the contemplative nun's. The effect of both yours and hers have to be the same; it is the expression that differs" (pp. 26-27).

He also advocates being direct in prayer (p. 34). To that end, I have thought about short prayers that have meaning to me. Here are some of them.

Come, Lord Jesus.

This comes from Revelation 22:20 and is the second-to-the-last verse in the Bible. Another variation of this occurs in St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (16:22): "Our Lord, come" (Aramaic: maranatha). This prayer can be helpful for initiating spiritual communion. I imagine being present at one of the tabernacles I visit for Eucharistic adoration.

Be opened!

This comes from Mark 7:34. A man who was deaf with impaired speech was brought to Jesus. Jesus put his fingers in the man's ears, spat and touched his tongue, looked up to heaven and sighed, and then said: "'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly" (34-35). I love the fact that Jesus sighed. Such a powerful expression of compassion in such a small gesture. What a truly inspiring prayer without words in that sigh! As Dom van Zeller says, "All you have to do is to lay your soul open to the impulse of grace" (p. 26). I think of "Be opened" when I try to make myself available to that grace.

Hold me in Your gaze.

Thanks to Fr. Mark from the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma and his wonderful blog, Vultus Christi (The Face of Christ) for this one. This entry is from February 23, 2009:

Held in His Gaze

Mother Marie-Thérèse Bonnin, a French Benedictine of Jesus Crucified, remarked that nothing "repaired" her soul like the contemplation of the Holy Face. In 1940 she wrote:

I have need of prayer in the same way one has need of recuperating physically. Time passes quickly close to Him. It is not that I feel anything, it is enough to know that I am held in His gaze, enough to believe in His love.

This is a good prayer to say while in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

This comes from one of my favorite formal prayers, the Anima Christi (Soul of Christ). I like to use this prayer when I am tempted, or when I feel overwhelmed.

I thirst.

This comes from John 19:28. It is one of the seven sayings of Christ from the cross. It calls to mind Psalm 42:

As a hart longs for flowing streams,
so longs my soul for thee, O, God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me continually, "Where is your God?"

The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus links this saying and Psalm 42 in Chapter 5 of his book, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross.

This prayer helps me to increase my longing for God, to recognize that I need God more than I need water to live.

Come, Holy Spirit.

When my wife and I went on an Engaged Encounter weekend nine years ago last month to prepare for the sacrament of Marriage (and I can't say enough good things about Engaged Encounter), I had a very powerful experience through the sacrament of Penance. In my room at the retreat house was a plaque that had the words, Veni, Spritus Sanctus (Come, Holy Spirit). It was painfully (literally) clear to me then and now that the Holy Spirit was at work in me. There is a holy water fount outside our bedroom door with a dove on it, and that fount acts as a reminder to say Come, Holy Spirit, and to remember that encounter with the Third Person of the Trinity who I have known the least. This prayer helps me to remember that I need to get to know the Holy Spirit a whole lot better. I also use this prayer before reading scripture, especially when praying using lectio divina.

God, be merciful to me a sinner.

This comes from Luke 18:13. It is the story of the tax collector who knows he is a sinner and asks God for mercy, and the Pharisee who forgets that he too is a sinner and a brother to the tax collector. That is easy for us to forget. One of the things I have gotten out of the habit of doing is an examination of conscience before bed. I had best start that practice again tonight. And yet, while we need to be mindful of our sinfulness, we also need to be mindful of God's mercy. So much of the scriptures is God telling us the mercy that awaits us if we come to Him. Clearly this was Jesus' message to St. Faustina.


I use this as shorthand for Mary's "yes" when she answered the angel Gabriel's message that she would bear the Messiah. She said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). This is challenging stuff, because Mary is actually offering herself as a "slave" to the Lord (the Greek is δουλη or doule; the Vulgate translates it as ancilla). As Americans especially, we don't like to think that way. But Luke is trying to convey the complete openness of Mary to doing God's will, even if it is contrary to her own. We see this with Jesus when he asks in the garden of Gethsemane: "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). We see this when Peter, repenting of his denial of Jesus by giving his three statements expressing his love for Jesus after the Resurrection, is told by Jesus:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me."

So we are asked to say "yes," and not count the cost, knowing that God will lead us to Himself if we just let him, if we just follow him.