Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What is Freedom?

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July here in the United States, our minds are filled with verses from God bless America, or the Star spangled Banner. We savor the barbeques, cook-outs, going to the lake, gathering as family, fireworks, parades, and the list goes on. We also recall the sacrifice of the many military members through the years who have fought bravely so that we could continue to call ourselves “a free people”. There is a sense of pride to be an American on this day marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Although a controversy ensues regarding some Christian expressions from the Founding Fathers when forming our great nation, we can nevertheless understand that these men came from a background based on the values of Western Civilization which finds its roots in Christianity. John Adams once stated: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And Noah Webster recalled: "The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His this we owe our free constitutions of government." So perhaps today we could ask ourselves: What the true meaning of liberty and freedom?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen can shed some light on this question. In his book: “Go to Heaven” he tells us: “ Freedom is not in liberation from truth, but in the acceptance of truth. I am free to draw a triangle only on condition that I accept the truth of the triangle, and give it three sides, and not in a stroke of broadmindedness give it thirty-three sides. This is what Our Lord meant when He said: “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32) And he continues: “Faith will preserve your freedom. You still live in a world in which you are free to ask questions. Turning Our Blessed Lord's words around, they mean that if you do not know the Truth, you will be enslaved. If you do not know the truth about addition or subtraction, you will not be free to do your bookkeeping; if you do not know that zebras have stripes, you will not be free to draw them. If you do not know the truth of the nature of man, you will not be free to act as a man.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: 1731 “Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.
1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."28
1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

As we celebrate this great American holiday, let us be grateful to God for our country and realize that in directing our lives toward Him and acting responsibly, we contribute to the building up of our nation. God bless America

Monday, June 13, 2011

St. Anthony, Helper in Need!

Taken at the Bascilica of St. Anthony, Rome, Italy

Today, June 13th is celebrated as the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. Originally entering the Augustian order and becoming a priest, St. Anthony was inspired by the martrydom of the Francisian friars who were struggling to promote the Faith in Morocco. Desiring to shed his blood for Christ, he transferred to the Order of St. Francis to live out the rest of his life teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. St. Anthony, known as the “hammer of heretics” was so eloquent but simple in professing his faith to the poor and ignorant that he was later named a “Doctor of the Church” by Pope Pius XII. (For more on his life.) 

St. Anthony is often invoked to find lost stolen items. It is a beautiful read.
I wanted to relate my own personal experience of the intercession of St. Anthony. I hope that this true story with bring inspiration to others to imitate the lives of the saints, especially in their faith and total commitment to Christ.

In 2003 I accompanied a few of my students on a trip to Europe. It was one of those Educational tours for high school students. I was chosen to chaperon. Conducted for young people, this tour took us on a whirl wind tour from England through Paris, to Florence and then to Rome in 10 days. Due to the distance to be covered, it was necessary to take a night train from Paris, with a morning tour of Florence, and then a late afternoon bus ride to Rome, before day was over. I realized then, that this trip was set up for the young among us!

Needless to say, I did not get much rest on the train. The train pulled in early in Florence. We toured the Duomo in Florence, Santa Maria de Fiori, went to a mandatory tour in a leather shop (Florence is famous for their leather work) and then we were free to visit other sites, or tour the famous Uffizi Gallery. As another sister and I wandered off from the larger group, tired and hot, we decided to stop for a refreshing gelato (Italian ice cream). Florence is also the gelato capital of Italy. When I dug in my bag to pay for the gelato, I noticed that the zipper was slightly opened. And low and behold, my passport pouch was missing. It contained my passport, debit card, and a $20 American bill. Thankfully, the euro cash was hidden in my habit pocket. Immediately panic struck! I knew that I could not fly back to the US without a passport. It was then that I felt very far from home. Blessed Mother, help, all the saints in heaven intercede for me. Frantically retracing my steps, I went in search of my missing passport and debit card.

Realizing that the only possible place I could have been robbed was in the leather shop, Sister and I found our way back there. Asking the attendants if someone had turned in a missing passport, they just shook their heads hopelessly. If it was stolen, it would not be turned in, they explained in dismay. Having heard stories of pic pockets in Italy, I should have been more careful. I was left with little encouragement in my search.

It was an agonizing two hours before we were to meet up with our tour group. In my desperation, I had forgotten that it was June 13th, the Feast of St. Anthony. St. Anthony has been a dear friend of mine for years, so I turned to his intercession to help me in this time of need. It would indeed be a miracle at this point, if I could recover my passport.

After checking with the leather shop, I decided to call the convent in the US to have then cancel out the debit card which was given to me to make this trip. Sister and I were directed across the street to a cafe shop to make the international call.

After meeting up with our group in the Duomo Piazza, I explained to the tour guide that I had been robbed and my passport was taken. She quickly told me not to tell her here, but wait until we get to Rome because she would have to leave me alone in Florence, and there would be no one to assist. Of course, I felt my hopes were even further dashed. In Rome, she continued, you can go to the American embassy to apply for another passport. You will need it to return to the US. Very distraught, I boarded the bus. Now St. Anthony, I told him, I really need that miracle!! I asked my students to pray and with me promise to have a Mass offered in thanksgiving if St. Anthony would come through. Rome was to be our last stop and we were only going to be there for one full day.

There is a special responsory prayer in honor of St. Anthony that I had learned when I was young. We all sang this prayer to St. Anthony, and a sense of confidence came over me that somehow he would come through.
Whilst treasures lost are found again
When young or old thine aid implore.
All dangers vanish at thy prayer,
And direst need doth quickly flee

I began to doze a bit on the bus.

Soon I felt a tap on my shoulder and realized that the tour guide was shouting in her English accent: “Sister, Sister, you will never believe this!!!!” She continued, I just received a phone call from my friend at the leather shop in Florence. (Apparently, she was quite familiar with the family because she often took her tours there to support their business.) He told me that you had come back asking about a stolen passport, and he sent you over to the cafe shop to make your call to the US. Well, the attendant at the cafe shop remembered seeing you at the telephone. About an hour after you left, he was summoned to the back of the cafe shop to repair the WC (toilet in Europe!) It was plugged and he was trying to fix it when he discovered a pouch in the tank. (The water tanks are high on the wall because the gravity helps to flush the WC.) Apparently, whoever stole it, discovered that there was only a $20 bill in cash, took it and threw the rest into the water tank. Waterlogged but readable the passport was found, he recognized the picture, and went over to the leather shop to inquire if anyone remembered the nuns in blue habits. The attendant there, said yes, and I am a good friend with the tour guide. I will call her.

It just so happened, (of course, by God's providence) that our tour guide was meeting another friend in Rome that evening who was also conducting a tour through Florence to Rome. They had “by chance” run into each other and had not visited for years, so they made plans to meet in Rome that evening. She called her tour guide friend and asked him to pick up my passport at the leather shop before he left Florence. “Sister”, she said, “I know you have been praying but this is unbelievable! Your passport will be returned to you in Rome this evening.” I was just as shocked as she was! But was I not asking for a miracle. O “me” of little faith!! I told our guide that I had asked St. Anthony whose feastday is celebrated today for a miracle. And I believe he answered my request.

And I learned my lesson. Have confidence in the intercession of the saints, and miracle will occur. After all, did not Our Lord say: “Ask and you will receive!” It was a good reflection. Do I pray with confidence? Perhaps the answers to our prayers do not always come as we would like, but if you have faith in Our Lord's promise to give, you will be able to see that He always knows best. Sometimes he sweeps us off our feet granting us blessings, as in this case, but other times, He desires our faith and trust in His all loving providence. God watches over us all each and every day of our lives, always eager to protect, and guide us and to hear us ask for our needs. He only wishes our love and gratitude as a response.

If you have a St. Anthony miracle, please share it. God is glorified in His saints and it may serve to be an inspiration to others to persevere in a trusting attitude of prayer! May the Lord grant many blessings upon all of you!