Monday, December 31, 2012

Searching for God

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart - Jeremiah 29:13
A lot of people ask Where is God? Especially in times of tragedy.
I do not ask. I search.
In the tragedy at Sandy Hook, I searched for God. And I saw Him everywhere.
I saw God in the teacher who was killed protecting her students.
I saw God in the outpouring of love and support given to the victims and the grief-stricken.
I saw God in the people crowding into the towns' churches. I saw God in the priest's consoling words.
Where is God? He is right here.
He is in the middle of our lives. He is in the middle of our joy. He is in the middle of our pain.
Especially in our pain.

Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us. - Meister Eckhart
Search for the light. See the light. Bring that light to others.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Have you heard the one about ...

The comedian stood on the stage and shouted "12".

And the audience laughed in unison.

He then said "15" and they laughed even louder.

He cried out "23" and they stamped their feet with delight as they laughed and applauded.

He continued with his repertoire "24 ... 33 ... 39 ..." and the audience were in tears with laughter as he kept calling out various numbers.

After about fifteen minutes or so on stage I asked him afterwards in his room what all that was about.

He explained, "This is a very loyal audience who follow me everywhere wherever I do a show. Over the years they got to know all my jokes and they enjoy hearing them over and again. In order to make the show go faster, and so that I can pack in more jokes, I have printed them all out and numbered them. The audience have memorised all the jokes. Now all I have to do is call out the number, they remember the joke, and laugh at it!"

I was amazed at what he had just said. "Why ..." I asked hesitantly, "why did they not laugh when you said 42?"

"They had not heard that joke before!" he answered.

Over the passed few days we have heard the story of Christmas read out in church several times.

A pregnant Virgin and her husband go to Bethlehem on a donkey. There is no room in the inn. They go to the stable where a baby is born and placed in a manger. An Angel appears to shepherds and announces the Birth; and a star guides three Kings from the East to the stable.

We've all heard the story many times before and no doubt we will hear it again next Christmas and beyond.

Is it yet another old story from folklore which tradition repeats every twelve months and, like that comedian's audience, we remember once again and smile silently as we celebrate with family and friends?

Or is it perhaps something more important than that? In fact, the most important event that has ever happened in the history of the world.

God, the Creator of the whole Universe and what is in it and beyond it, loved us so much that He decided to make Himself flesh and visit us on earth as a human being.

I wonder how many people, as they celebrate the "12" days of Christmas from the 25th to the 6th, stop for a moment and really and seriously think about the awesomeness that this event really means?  

1? ... 3? ... 7? ... 100? ... More?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quick Bytes #43: Gloom

Extreme weather.  Politics.  Bickering.  A difficult economy.

If the world seems gloomy now, imagine if the Gates of Heaven were shut and we had no chance of getting to Paradise.

THAT would be real gloom.

A blessed Christmas to you and yours as we celebrate God's selfless Gift to us.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homily from Father Francis Maple

Father Francis Maple
Luke 1:39-45

The Christmas season, more than any other time of the year, is an occasion for parties.  Families have parties.  Schools have parties.  Clubs have parties.  Businesses have parties.  I think this is good, but I’m sure we are not na├»ve enough to think that all of these parties reflect the true meaning of Christmas.  Nevertheless, it is good to know that Our Lord’s birth is the inspiration of more festivities than any other event in history.

Our Gospel reading for today reports what may have been the very first Christmas party.  It wasn’t big or elaborate.  The guest list was small.  Only two people attended this party and they were both women.  One was Elizabeth and very soon she would be giving birth to a boy who was to become John the Baptist.  The other was her cousin Mary, who had just learned that she would also have a Son, who would be the Saviour of the world.  Because of the coming events of the birth of their sons it was time to celebrate.  The account that we have of their time together is brief, but the tone of it is excitement and joy.  We are only told that they greeted each other but I am sure they hugged each other and even danced so great was their joy.  Elizabeth said, even her baby in her womb jumped for joy.  Of course, all healthy babies become active in the latter weeks of pregnancy, and their movements can be felt by their mothers.  Elizabeth was so happy herself, that she was sure her unborn baby was happy too.

What exactly were these two ladies celebrating?  They saw themselves as willing instruments in the hand of God.  He was at work in and through their lives to advance His purposes in the world.  Do we ever look upon ourselves in that light?  God didn’t just create us and tell us to get on with our life.  He created us for a purpose and that is why we should rejoice like Mary and Elizabeth.  Our old penny Catechism told us that the purpose God created us was to know, love and serve Him and be happy with Him forever in Heaven.  That thought alone is enough to make us want to rejoice.

There are some pessimists, and I am glad to say that they are in the minority in the world, who would say, “What is the point of celebrating because there are so many problems to face.”  If that were our way of thinking we would never celebrate.  When Mary and Elizabeth celebrated it did not mean that all their problems were solved and all their worries over.  You could say they were just beginning.  The path that lay ahead for both of them would bring indescribable pain.  Although I think I can say that Elizabeth never lived to see the death of her son, one day his head would be severed from his body and served on a platter to a drunken, decadent crowd.  Mary’s baby would live for thirty three years, then be nailed to a cross and left there to die.  Some might say that the celebration that took place that day in the Judean hills was very premature, but they celebrated nevertheless and that was an appropriate thing to do. 

Most celebrations are premature.  A man and a woman stand in Church and pledge their mutual love for as long as they both shall live.  Families and friends rejoice, they kiss the bride and congratulate the groom, propose toasts and throw confetti.  The two of them drive away in a car with ‘just married’ written across the back window and a few tin cans trailing behind.  The crowd wave good-bye and wish them well.  They hope and pray for the happy couple.  They know that this marriage has a thirty per cent chance of ending in divorce.  They know the possibilities for unhappiness are just as great as the possibilities for wedded bliss.  Still they celebrate, and that’s how it should be.  If we waited until all problems were solved, and there were only happy endings, we might never celebrate at all.

Christmas is just around the corner and our real reason for celebrating is because our Heavenly Father gave us the best gift the world has ever received – His Son.  Let this thought lie behind all our celebrations.  Should you meet someone this Christmas who has run out of smiles, take time to give that person one of yours, and perhaps he or she will give it to another.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas and Purgatory Connection


Since Christmas is a few days away, here is a pertinent quote from St. Teresa of Avila.  She tells us that:

 "the most souls are released on Christmas Day, followed by the number of souls released at Easter and then the feast days dedicated to Our Lord and Our Lady." 

Let's start offering up prayers for the holy souls in purgatory for our beloved family members and especially for those who have no one to pray for them.

Praise be Jesus and Mary!

Now and forever!

Advent Blessings,

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mary's Legacy

When Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel all those years ago, times were very different.

It would have been a great scandal for an un-married woman to become pregnant. It was even more outrageous to claim He is the Son of God. That would have been blasphemy surely!

Yet despite her fears of shame, rejection and ridicule, not to mention fear for her own safety, Mary trusted God and said "Yes".

She agreed to be the Mother of Jesus.

So, what is her legacy to us?

Obedience and trust.

Obedience and trust in God despite what must have been a very dangerous situation for her, and her family.

Are we that obedient and trusting when God speaks to us?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quick Bytes #42: Would You Come Here?

Would you leave the warmth of your couch to go to Antarctica right now?

Would you leave the safety of your neighborhood and enter the strife in Syria or Afghanistan?

Would you leave the love and freedom of your church to go to anti-Christian areas of India or Nigeria?

Of course not.  The difference between your home and those places is unthinkable.

And yet God left Heaven to dwell among us here on Earth - a delta that I'm sure is a million times greater.

It's just one more example of how much He loves us.

P.S. You can read my companion post to this here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

I so love Our Lady of Guadalupe. I cannot quite put my finger on the exact reason why. I am just so drawn to her.
For one thing, she is the protector of the unborn.
I love the story. The miracle of the roses and her image appearing on Juan Diego's tilma.
Mostly, I love her words to Juan Diego: "Listen, my dear child, and know that I will protect you. Do not let your heart be dismayed. Am I not here? I am your mother. Is not my help a refuge?"
When I hear those words, I think she is talking to me. I take her words to my heart.
For she is my mother, too.
Dear Jesus, thank you for the gift of your mother. Thank you for bringing her to us to help us and cheer us and bring us to you. Always to you. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Quotes from Caryll Houselander

"All of us can literally imitate him in the wholeness of sacrifice, in offering all that we are - and that, stripped of our selfishness - to God, as an act of adoration to God and of love for one another". "If Christ is growing in you, you are growing towards real sacrifice there is joy which surpasses all other joys, it is the crescendo and culmination of means a whole attention, a whole concentration, a whole donation."

"Christ asks for a home in your soul, where he can be at rest with you, where he can talk easily to you, where you and he. Alone together, can laugh and be silent and be delighted with one another. ...Forget yourself, forget your soul, let him tell you how he loves you, show what he is like, prove to you that he is real... he asks only one thing, that you will let him tell you this, directly, simply; that you will treat him as someone real, not as someone who does not really exist...Christ is God's Word, saying to the world: "I love you...every moment has been a self-donation to you".

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bypassing Purgatory? - Updated

This might be perceived as a controversial post because some of us have been taught, rather without footnotes to Catechisms or scripture, what purgatory is and why most all have to pass through it, whatever it is---a place, a state of being, before entering heaven.

When I think back on what I was taught or heard, what stood out clearest prior to my current understanding was a teaching of Bishop Sheen's that is used to explain indulgences.  He was saying that when we sin it is like hammering nails into a board and when we go to Confession, the absolution is like getting the nails pulled out, but then the holes are still there.  Punishment is still necessary.

Of course this flies in the face of what the Protestant would tell you that Jesus once and for all paid the price of sin and no other price needs to be paid.  That would take a post longer than any post ever written and there are books out there explaining the meaning of suffering, why suffering can be offered in reparation of sin, why some saints, particularly in the Latin rite, viewed suffering as means of resembling Christ.  This post isn't about trying to suffer our way into heaven.  We only get to heaven through belief and trust in our Savior, "washing our robes" in the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God (Revelation 7:14).

There is value in our suffering when united to the suffering of Christ and that is scriptural too (Colossians 1:24), and it has been enlighted by the teachings of Blessed Pope John Paul II in Salvifici Doloris.

We have the wisdom that was given by God to the saints, and preserved for us through their writings to help us, that the Protestants have unfortunately been deprived of.  I am speaking of the teachings of St. Catherine of Genoa, and St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, and St. Faustina.

My understanding is not incompatible with the teaching of Bishop Sheen, but more along the lines that the holes left over indicate a tendency toward sin due to our not resembling the heart of Our Savior, the most tender, most merciful, most forgiving, most loving, most sensitive heart.

My belief/understanding is to the extent our heart resembles Christ's merciful heart of forgiveness and love, and the more perfect our trust in Jesus's Divine Mercy the higher the probability that we will bypass purgatory. When I hear people I love say something is unforgivable or say something disparaging, unloving, judgmental about someone or some group of people, this is when I worry for their spending time in purgatory. It shows their heart has not been formed into the mold of Jesus.

OK, yes, I am still very much one of those!  I have hope though that I have found the way, of course his name is Jesus, but it isn't just his name, or who he is (our Savior), but also, what he taught or rather what he commanded us:

John 13:34: "I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other like I loved you."

1 John 4:16: And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

1 John 4:8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

What these verses say to me (and this is illuminated by the writings of St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Therese) is that to the extent we do not love we are not following Jesus's command to love like he has loved us.  We cannot love the way he loves us unless we know and rely on the love God has for us.  Obviously, God is the judge and Jesus the gate, but my strong sense is we cannot know God in heaven unless we love as he has loved us, which is a symptom of being docile to the Holy Spirit's work of sanctifying grace.  My belief is if we don't learn what seems to be a very obvious teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, and echoed in the First letter of John, further illuminated by the writings and example of Saints, but rather persist in non-forgiveness, acts of commission and omission that show lack of love and mercy, actual prejudice toward groups of people, etc. then we will not be able to go from death straight into heaven.  We will instead learn what should have been the obvious and demanding, commanding lesson of love in Purgatory, whether that be a state or a place.  Some mystics (personal revelations only, not teachings of the church, or scriptural) did write that there is a place and real suffering in purgatory.

We will need to have our heart fixed first through either a very soul-filled spiritual purgation as we realize the magnitude of Christ's love and sacrifice (will come rather quickly when we are face to face with our beautiful Savior without the veil of this life), or perhaps through experiencing some real suffering in a state or place of purgatory.  It seems to me that the purity of heart and primary willingness to love and console our Precious Lord are brought about by following Christ's command, thus, "Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him."  Even if we have failings instead of the holes in the board remaining after the nails are removed, they are filled in by the perfect way of trust in God's love and the confidence that his love and mercy are greater than any failing we could commit.
In case it seems I have left the reservation on this one, I would implore you to take some time and ponder the teaching on purgatory from St. Therese.  This post by Patricia is concise, versus re-reading Story of A Soul (which I just did), and then reading multiple commentaries on it, and due to including a commentary, thoroughly explains this teaching, and is well worth the time to read it.

I love the empty hands teaching of St. Therese also contained in her Offering to Merciful Love. It is along the lines of Marian consecration . . . we give any merit for anything we do to her to use as she wills. The effect of this is empty hands and the trust that the Father will look at us through the precious face of his Son and that his precious blood alone will merit our entrance into heaven....why else would we be longing to be one of the white robbed masses in Revelation 7 that washed their robes in the blood of the lamb?

I do think the more suffering one has (sometimes it starts spiritually when we are humbled by the mercy and love God shows to us so directly) and the more one submits to the transforming love (is that not also part of the teaching from St. Therese's Offering to Merciful Love?) of the Holy Spirit, and the grace and mercy streaming from Jesus's Sacred Heart, the more compassionate and loving one will become. It isn't just the one that has been forgiven much that loves much, but also the one like our beloved St. Therese has the Holy Spirit granted insight that it is all-about being loved by God, and loving others that way we have been loved and making that the focus of our spiritual and active life pursuits (John 13:34).

Suddenly, as she was kneeling down at the confessional, "her heart was wounded by a dart of God's immense love, and she had a clear vision of her own wretchedness and faults and the most high goodness of God. She fell to the ground, all but swooning", and from her heart rose the unuttered cry, "No more of the world for me! No more sin!" The confessor was at this moment called away, and when he came back she could speak again, and asked and obtained his leave to postpone her confession.

Then she hurried home, to shut herself up in the most secluded room in the house, and for several days she stayed there absorbed by consciousness of her own wretchedness and of God's mercy in warning her. She had a vision of Our Lord, weighed down by His Cross and covered with blood, and she cried aloud, "O Lord, I will never sin again; if need be, I will make public confession of my sins." After a time, she was inspired with a desire for Holy Communion which she fulfilled on the feast of the Annunciation.

She now entered on a life of prayer and penance. She obtained from her husband a promise, which he kept, to live with her as a brother. She made strict rules for herself—to avert her eyes from sights of the world, to speak no useless words, to eat only what was necessary for life, to sleep as little as possible and on a bed in which she put briars and thistles, to wear a rough hair shirt. Every day she spent six hours in prayer. She rigorously mortified her affections and will.
The path of love bypassing purgatory does not help us to avoid taking up our cross and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23) as you see by how St. Catherine chose to live after her experience, or if your read and understand the magnitude of the sufferings St. Therese endured without pain relief.  The other related insight from St. Therese, is that suffering for love of Jesus, knowing that the merits of her sacrifices did help further the Kingdom of God in other souls, became a great joy for her.  My own belief, perhaps subject of another post, is that there is heavenly reward correlated to the way we pick up our cross and follow Jesus (Revelation 22:12), that there is reward commensurate with our ability and willingness to do so with the pure intention of loving and consoling Jesus.  St. Therese and St. Faustina wrote on this, but again, too much for one post!

As far as St. Catherine's living like sibling with her husband, I wouldn't say that is the way for everyone that is married being transformed by the love of God either; it was her way, and there are other holy people who chose to live this way, in keeping with what St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:1-2.

And as for the bed of briars and thistles and the hair shirt, I still love Father Corapi's comment, "You are sitting next to your hair shirt," during one of his talks.  Further, an eastern father, Abba Pimen, said that we lay down our lives for our friends when we leave our self-absorption, pride, and self-indulgence aside, and essentially love each other and forgive each other, and do not judge each other.  Doesn't that sound very much like St. Therese's Little Way of Love?

John 15:13:  "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Please share your thoughts.  I don't mean this as a controversy because that isn't the mission of this blog, but if this really is the core teaching of Christ that we should be striving to understand and live, relying on God's love, it is important to discuss and help each other, and all those in contact with us learn it too, so as to spare them learning the lesson on the other side, when the suffering, as St. John of the Cross (mentioned in Patricia's post) indicated, will be far greater than that which can be experienced in this life.
After dying, wouldn't you want to pass straight into the arms of your loving Savior and into the incomprehensible love of the Father if possible?

Wouldn't you want your loved ones especially, and if we really get the lesson, all souls that we could persuade to this necessity, to do the same?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sanctity Is for All

From Meditation #2 of Divine Intimacy Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, OCD, gives us a little to think about for our Advent spiritual progress:
Sanctity is not reserved for a few; Jesus, by His Incarnation and by His death on the Cross, Merited the means of salvation and sanctification for all who believe in Him.  He, the All-holy, came to sanctify us, and has taught us, "Be ye therefore perfect, as also Your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48).

Jesus did not give the precept to a chosen group of persons, nor did He reserve it for His Apostles and close friends; He proclaimed it to the multitude who were following Him.  St. Paul received His message and announced it to the Gentiles, "This is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thess. 4:3).  
And in our times the Church, speaking through the great Pope Pius XI, has repeated it strongly and on many occasions to the modern world: "Christ has called the whole human race to the lofty heights of sanctity….  There are some who say that sanctity is not everyone's vocation; on the contrary, it is everyone's vocation, and all are called to it….  Jesus Christ has given Himself as an example for all to imitate." 
And elsewhere: "Let no one believe that sanctity belongs to a few chosen people, while the rest of humanity can limit itself to a lesser degree of virtue.  Everyone is included in this law; no one is exempt from it."

Jesus comes not only to save me, but to sanctify me.  He is calling me to sanctity and has merited for me all the graces I need to attain it.
What confidence we should have in Jesus, that we do not have to perform this most arduous task by ourselves!  He is so generous with His graces.  We can only fail by our own refusal.

Pope John Paul II did the laity a great service when he canonized so many lay people.  Ordinary people like us seized the opportunity to practice extraordinary virtue.  In these days, can we do any less?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Quick Bytes #41: The Grinch

And what happened, then? 
Well, in Whoville they say - 
that the Grinch's small heart 
grew three sizes that day.
          - Dr. Seuss

Wouldn't it be awesome if our 
love for God caused all of our hearts
to grow three sizes during Advent?