Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Little Flower of Jesus, St. Therese

If you could name one of the most popular Catholic saints, who would you name? St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Benedict, St. Theresa of Avila or how about St. Anthony, or St. Theresa of Calcutta. Surely, these are some of the most popular saints among Catholics, but one saint in particular stands out just because she did her ordinary daily duties with great love. Yes, you guess who; St. Therese of Lisieux.

St. Therese was born into a devote family, with five sisters who all entered religious life and parents who have been recently canonized (Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin.) Therese's love for God was strong at a young age, so strong that she sought permission to enter the Carmelite monastery at the age of fifteen. Because she was too young, she was not allowed to enter. However, Therese went on a pilgrimage to Rome and while there sought to ask the Holy Father for permission to enter Carmel. After much perseverance Therese was finally allowed to enter.

During her years in the monastery, Therese grew in wisdom and love of God. In her book, “Story of a Soul,” Therese describes her great desire to become a saint and soar like all the others. She saw the saints as eagles soaring in the highest heavens, but she herself was only a little bird wounded and unable to fly to such heights. Within her desire to become a soaring eagle, Therese learned patience and trust that the Lord would carry her to those heights. She soon discovered the “little way” of holiness. In her little way, Therese mustered up all the love she had for God and neighbor to carry out the daily duties of the monastery with affection and joy. Though there were a few sisters who didn't like her, Therese was known to always greet them with a warm smile.

Today, St. Therese's little way can still help ordinary persons soar to extraordinary heights of holiness and love by continuous reliance on God to carry them to great holiness in small ways. Therese, unlike many other saints, didn't write many books. She didn't found a new congregation, nor did she have the opportunity for higher education. She died at the age of 24 from tuberculosis. Yet she is one of the most popular and well-beloved saints in the church; showing that even in a seemingly ordinary and unimportant life, those who do all things for the love of God will grow in holiness. St. Therese was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 17, 1925 and is a Doctor of the Church. The church celebrates her life on October 1.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hope After 9/11

A Pastoral Message: Living with Faith and Hope After September 11

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
November 14, 2001

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted. . . .
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy. . . .
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they will be called children of God.
Mt. 5:4, 6, 7, 9

These words of Jesus challenge us and offer us hope today as our community of faith responds to the
terrible events of September 11 and their aftermath.

As Catholic Bishops, we offer words of consolation, criteria for moral discernment, and a call to action and solidarity in these troubling and challenging times. After September 11, we are a wounded people. We share loss and pain, anger and fear, shock and determination in the face of these attacks on our nation and all humanity. We also honor the selflessness of firefighters, police, chaplains, and other brave individuals who gave their lives in the service of others. They are true heroes and heroines.

In these difficult days, our faith has lifted us up and sustained us. Our nation turned to God in prayer
and in faith with a new intensity. This was evident on cell phones on hijacked airliners, on stairways in doomed towers, in cathedrals and parish churches, at ecumenical and interfaith services, in our homes and hearts. Our faith teaches us about good and evil, free will and responsibility. Jesus’ life, teaching, death and resurrection show us the meaning of love and justice in a broken world. Sacred Scripture and traditional ethical principles define what it means to make peace. They provide moral guidance on how the world should respond justly to terrorism in order to reestablish peace and order.

The events of September 11 were unique in their scale, but they were not isolated. Sadly, our world is
losing respect for human life. Those who committed these atrocities do not distinguish between ordinary civilians and military combatants, and there is the threat of possible terrorist use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the future.

The dreadful deeds of September 11 cannot go unanswered. We continue to urge resolve, restraint and greater attention to the roots of terrorism to protect against further attacks and to advance the global common good. Our nation must continue to respond in many ways, including diplomacy, economic measures, effective intelligence, more focus on security at home, and the legitimate use of force.

In our response to attacks on innocent civilians, we must be sure that we do not violate the norms of civilian immunity and proportionality. We believe every life is precious whether a person works at the World Trade Center or lives in Afghanistan. The traditional moral norms governing the use of force still apply, even in the face of terrorism on this scale.

No grievance, no matter what the claim, can legitimate what happened on September 11. Without in any way excusing indefensible terrorist acts, we still need to address those conditions of poverty and injustice which are exploited by terrorists. A successful campaign against terrorism will require a combination of resolve to do what is necessary to see it through, restraint to ensure that we act justly, and a long term focus on broader issues of justice and peace. In these brief reflections, we seek to articulate traditional Catholic teaching as a guide for our people and nation, offering a moral framework, rather than a series of specific judgements on rapidly changing events. We believe our faith brings consolation, insight and hope in these challenging days.

Confronting Terrorism 

The war-like acts of September 11 were appalling attacks on our nation, our citizens and citizens of many other countries. The Holy Father rightly called these acts crimes against humanity. Terrorism is not a new problem, but this terrorist threat is unique because of its global dimensions and the sheer magnitude of the terror its authors are willing and able to unleash. It is also new for us because we have not experienced warlike acts of violence on our own soil for many decades.

The role of religion 

We are particularly troubled that some who engage in and support this new form of terror seek to justify it, in part, as a religious act. Regrettably, the terrorists’notion of a religious war is  advertently reinforced by those who would attribute the extremism of a few to Islam as a whole or who suggest that religion, by its nature, is a source of conflict.

It is wrong to use religion as a cover for political, economic or ideological causes. It compounds
the wrong when extremists of any religious tradition radically distort their professed faith in order to justify violence and hatred. Whatever the motivation, there can be no religious or moral justification for what happened on September 11. People of all faiths must be united in the conviction that terrorism in the name of religion profanes religion. The most effective counter to terrorist claims of religious justification comes from within the world’s rich religious traditions and from the witness of so many people of faith who have been a powerful force for non-violent human liberation around the world.

A deeper appreciation of the role that religion plays in world affairs is needed, as is a deeper understanding of and engagement with Islam. The Catholic community is engaged in dialogue and common projects with Muslims at many levels and in many ways in this country and around the world. To cite just one example, in many countries Catholic Relief Services is involved in fruitful collaboration with Muslim organizations committed to peace, justice and human rights. More should be done at all levels to deepen and broaden this dialogue and common action.

The duty to preserve the common good, protect the innocent, and reestablish peace and order Our nation, in collaboration with other nations and organizations, has a moral right and a grave obligation
to defend the common good against mass terrorism.

The common good is threatened when innocent people are targeted by terrorists. Therefore, we support efforts of our nation and the international community to seek out and hold accountable, in accord with national and international law, those individuals, groups and governments which are responsible. How the common good is defended and peace is restored is a critical moral issue. While military action may be necessary, it is by no means sufficient to deal with this terrorist threat. From bolstering homeland security and ensuring greater transparency of the financial system to strengthening global cooperation against terrorism, a wide range of non-military measures must be pursued.

Among these measures is a persistent effort to pursue negotiations that would work to protect the interests of both Afghanistan and the United States Considerable sacrifice by all will be needed if this
broad-based, long-term effort in defense of the common good is to succeed. We must never lose sight,
however, of the basic ideals of justice, freedom, fairness, and openness that are hallmarks of our society. We must not trade freedom for security. We must not allow ourselves to be captured by fear. Acts of ethnic and religious intolerance towards Arab-Americans, Muslims, or any other minorities must be repudiated. It is the glory of our nation that out of many, we are one.

As criminal and civil investigations proceed and essential security measures are strengthened, our
government must continue to respect the basic rights of all persons and in a special way of immigrants and refugees. Care must be taken to avoid assigning collective guilt to all newcomers or undermine our history as a land of immigrants and a safe haven for the world’s persecuted. The United States must not shrink from its global leadership role in offering protection to refugees who flee terror in their homelands. Proposals to ensure the security of our legal immigration system and refugee program must avoid harming immigrants and refugees who represent no security threat. Enforcement actions must not be indiscriminate in their application or based upon ethnic background,
national origin, or religious affiliation. The suspension of refugee admissions is particularly inappropriate.

The use of military force

As part of its broader effort to combat terrorism, our nation has undertaken military action in Afghanistan and may be considering intervention elsewhere. As we pray for our service men and women who are risking their lives and for all those in Afghanistan who are suffering, we also consider how the Church’s long and rich tradition of ethical reflection on war and peace might
help guide the momentous decisions being taken. National leaders bear a heavy moral obligation
to see that the full range of non-violent means is employed. We acknowledge, however, the right and
duty of a nation and the international community to use military force if necessary to defend the common good by protecting the innocent against mass terrorism.

Because of its terrible consequences, military force, even when justified and carefully executed, must always be undertaken with a sense of deep regret. Every military response must be in accord with sound moral principles, notably such norms of the just war tradition as non-combatant immunity, proportionality, right intention and probability of success.

Even if the cause is just, the grave moral obligation to respect the principles of non-combatant immunity and proportionality remains in force and must govern our nation’s political and military decisions. Indiscriminate attacks on innocent people, whether by terrorists or in war, threaten the common good. The continuing priority must be to ensure that military force is directed at those who use terror and those who assist them, not at the Afghan people or Islam.

We welcome the stated commitment to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, a commitment that must be sustained over the long-term. We must not only act justly but be perceived as acting justly if we are to succeed in winning popular support against terrorism.

In light of the Church’s teaching that the use of arms must not produce disorders graver than the
evil to be eliminated, the effect of military action on the Afghan people must be closely monitored on an ongoing basis. At the same time, there is a special need to maintain and fortify our efforts to do everything possible to address the long-standing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, especially the risk of mass suffering and starvation this winter. This humanitarian effort should continue to be primarily in response to the overwhelming human need rather than in the service of military and political objectives. The United States and other nations have a moral responsibility to continue aid to Afghan refugees and displaced persons and to assist them in returning to their homes in safety where possible, or offer them other durable solutions.

We must do what we can to work with the United Nations and all interested parties to help Afghans rebuild the political, economic, and cultural life of their country after this war is over. The actions of our nation and other nations must ensure a just war now and a just peace later.

Probability of success is particularly difficult to measure in dealing with an amorphous, global
terrorist network. Therefore, special attention must be given to developing criteria for when it is appropriate to end military action in Afghanistan. Policy makers and all citizens must struggle with serious moral questions and make informed judgments about how our nation can respond justly to a terrifying threat. While we have offered our own judgment about aspects of this question, we recognize that application of moral principles in this situation requires the exercise of the virtue of prudence. Some Christians profess a position of principled non-violence, which holds that non-military means are the only legitimate way to respond in this case. This is a valid Christian response. While respecting this position and maintaining a strong presumption against the use of force, the Church has sanctioned the use of the moral criteria for a just war to allow the use of force by legitimate authority in self-defense and as a last resort. Those who subscribe to the just war tradition can differ in their prudential judgments about its interpretation or its application.

True peacemaking can be a matter of policy only if it is first a matter of the heart. Without both courage and charity, justice cannot be won. In the absence of repentance and forgiveness, no peace can endure. We need to do more to share the Church’s teaching on war and peace, and to foster Christian communities where peaceable virtues can take root and be nourished.

Copyright © 2001, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved

Monday, August 1, 2016

St. Benedict, Man of Holiness

Today the Rule of St. Benedict is one of the most followed and famous of rules that was formulated by one of the church's most beloved saints. Benedict was brought up in a distinguished family and given a grand heritage, but he himself was outraged by the immoral evils of his time and abandoned everything to seek silence and solitude.

He spent three years living in a cave and was brought food by a monk named Romanus. As Benedict increased in holiness many came to him seeking spiritual guidance, few of the many seeker actually came from a monastic community a few miles away from his cave. It was here that Benedict began to form his rule showing how ordinary folk could grow in holiness. His rule was to focus on the disciplining of one's interior will, rather than on exterior penances. He wanted to help teach his monks how to learn discipline by way of learning humility, obedience, stability and being able to meet the accommodations of community life.

Benedict's rule contained a balance of work, prayer, community life and monastic discipline; which would eventually set up the path for Western monasticism. Today the Benedictine spirituality is very much alive in the church and world with many laity living out the rule of Benedict.

What is known about Benedict and his earlier life and spirituality comes from the writings of Pope Gregory the Great and through tradition. The church celebrates the life of St. Benedict on July 11.

The Saint Benedict Medal has been a popular devotional for many centuries.  The current one was fashioned in 1880 for the 1400th Anniversary of the death of St. Benedict. 

On the face of the medal is the image of Saint Benedict. In his right hand he holds the cross, the Christian's symbol of salvation. The cross reminds us of the zealous work of evangelizing and civilizing England and Europe carried out mainly by the Benedictine monks and nuns, especially for the sixth to the ninth/tenth centuries.

In St. Benedict's left hand is his Rule for Monasteries that could well be summed up in the words of the Prolog exhorting us to "walk in God's ways, with the Gospel as our guide."

On a pedestal to the right of St. Benedict is the poisoned cup, shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. On a pedestal to the left is a raven about to carry away a loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy had sent to St. Benedict.
On the back of the medal, the cross is dominant. On the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a rhythmic Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!).

In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict).

Above the cross is the word pax (peace), that has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. Around the margin of the back of the medal, the letters V R S N S M V - S M Q L I V B are the initial letters, as mentioned above, of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

An Extraordinary, Yer Ordinary Man!

St. Isidore.  Have you heard of him?  You must have for he was as ordinary as you and me, but he became extraordinary.  St. Isidore is a prime example to all of us “average Joe's” of the world that even in the ordinary situations of life, we can become holy through the gift of faith and prayer.

St. Isidore was a simple but pious man of faith and prayer.  He was born in Madrid, Spain, and though his family was unable to procure for him any type of educational advancement, they taught him to have great faith and to have a great fear of the Lord and to always turn from sin.  When he became of age to work, he found employment from a wealthy resident by the name of John de Vegras as a farm laborer. Before going to work each day, Isidore would attend Mass and spent much time in prayer. When his fellow workers took notice of his absence or late coming, they would complain to Vegras.  Having heard this news, Vegras wanted to see for himself so he secretly hid to watch Isidore.  When he discovered that the complaint was true, Vegras decided to put a stop to Isidore's irregular behavior. But to his amazement he saw mysterious figures working alongside Isidore in his work of plowing the fields.  In addition, Vegras even saw an increase of many benefits for his estate and his family coming from the work of Isidore.

Isidore loved giving to the poor.  Though he himself was poor he always gave what he had to the poorest of the poor.  His love for the poor even extended to animals.  On one cold winter day, Isidore couldn't help but notice the sound of hungry birds. So while he was carrying a sack of corn to a mill, he used about half the sack to feed the poor hungry animals.  People who witnessed this, scoffed at his actions and made complaints.  However, once Isidore completed his task of carrying the corn to the mill, the bag he was carrying was fully restored.

So who was St. Isidore.  He was an ordinary man of the church, a farmer.  He was not a monk, a well-educated theologian, priest, high ranking official or even a politician.  St. Isidore was a simple beloved child of God who in his life left a prime example of the ordinary person being a faithful witness to God within the world.  He is an example for all “average Joe's” that holiness is possible in any state in life, in any situation with the gift of faith and love for prayer.

Today St. Isidore is the patron saint of farmers and of the city of Madrid with his feast day on May 15.  He was officially canonized in March, 1622, next to four great saints of the church: St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa and St. Philip Neri all who are great priests, theologians and religious.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Holy Thursday, Day of Love

Holy Thursday! A time to reflect on one of the greatest mysteries of our faith. What mystery? What happened on this day to make it holy? “He took the bread, said the blessing broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This is cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” (Luke 22:19-20).

This is the day the Lord instituted the Eucharist, in which he left us a memorial of his sacrifice on Calvary to remind us that he is always with us until the end of the world. Sadly, today many people struggle to believe in Jesus' true presence in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Some only believe that the bread and wine are mere symbols. However, there are many references in Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers as well as a variety of Eucharistic miracles that show Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. The greatest proof is the Word of Jesus, Himself. “Do this is memory of Me.”

In light of the New Testament, and understanding that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, we can find the Eucharist prefigured in the Book of Exodus, God gave the Israelites manna in the desert. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven. In the Passover meal when the Israelites were about to flee Egypt, they ate the lamb that was slain; in the New Testament, Jesus is the pascal lamb, “...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of God, and drink of his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Ultimately, the synoptic Gospels all tell of the Last Supper and in John 6 we see the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to give us the Living Bread, which indeed is himself.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: He [Jesus] himself, therefore, having declared and said of the Bread, “This is My Body,” who will dare any longer to doubt? And when He himself has affirmed and said, “This is My Blood,” who can ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood? (Catechetical Lectures: 22 (mystagogic 4),1; Jurgens, #843.

Theodore of Mosuestia: When [Christ] gave the bread he did not say, “This is the symbol of my body” but “This is my body.” In the same way when he gave the cup of his blood he did not say. “This is the symbol of my blood,” but “This is my blood, for he wanted us to look upon the [eucharistic elements] after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit not according to their nature, but receive them as they are, the body and blood of our Lord. We ought...not regard [the elements] merely as bread and the cup but as the body and blood of the Lord, into which they were transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit (Catechetical Homilies 5:1).
Today the Catholic Church still maintains this truth as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of love with which he loved us “to the end,” even to giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs the express and communicates this love.”(CCC 1380) Let us continue to pray for an increase in our faith to believe fully in the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

“That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that 'cannot be apprehended by the senses,' says St. Thomas, but only by faith, which relies on divine authority. (CCC 1381). 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lent A Time for Response!

Lent is the time for us to realize that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. It is the time to heed Jesus’ call to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”. Jesus’ words in the Gospel today bring us, therefore, to the heart of Lent. They remind us that every day we have is a gift from the Lord, but that gift also leads to a task, to bear fruit through a life of faith. They call us to examine our lives honestly and ask if we have been squandering or investing the blessings God has given us— of good health, of talents, of material resources, of life itself. The Lord reminds us that he expects us to bear dividends and that we will be judged on the fruit that we bear.

The image in today’s Gospel (Third Sunday of Lent) makes it clear that we need to do this examination urgently, because God will not wait forever for us to do what he created and called us to do. The Lord, who began this Lent by marking us with ashes and telling us, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” says to us with urgency as he said to his contemporaries after some local disasters, “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all perish.” We don’t want to perish. Jesus doesn’t want us to perish. Now it is the time for our response in faith.

So we have two crucial questions: First, what is the fruit God wants?” And second, “How do I bear that fruit?”

In response to the first question, the fruit God wants consists of acts of self-giving love done for others. We do this by “loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength” (Mk 12:30) and “loving others as Jesus has loved us” (Jn 15:12). This love is more than a wish or good will toward another, but a work, a concrete act of love. There are fruits that we need to come from our spiritual life, that flow from our relationship of love with God. There are also fruits called the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy that we’re called to do out of love for God and others. Each of us is a fig tree which must produce fruit.

In today’s gospel (Third Sunday of Lent) Jesus reminds us, “life is short. Make the best use of whatever time you have.” And, praise God, we still have time. It is not too late. We, fig trees all, have been given another year. There is time for us to repent and believe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent: Create in Me a Clean Heart

"When the news reached the King of Nineveh he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughtout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: 'Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil waysand from violence in hand.' When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” (Jonah 3: 6-8; 10)
The season of Lent has quickly come upon us, beginning with Ash Wednesday. Sometimes people may think that the ashes received on their foreheads is just a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. This is true; however, there is a deeper meaning behind them. Back in the time of Jonah, sackcloth and ashes was a sign to show that one has repented of sinful ways and is expressing sorrow for the sins committed. In the season of Lent, Christ himself is calling us to repentance, and just as Christ died on the cross for us to give us life, so we too, must die with him to our sinful ways, in order to gain new life in Christ which began with our Baptism. “If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross, By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with Christ's death” (CCC 1220).
If we repent but still struggle with bad habits, there is no need to panic for “God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him” (CCC 1432). Many times we may wonder why God would allow us to have flaws or weaknesses even after having turned our hearts to God with efforts to make amends for our short comings. However, God allows us to have these weaknesses for a few reasons. First, it helps us to remain humble, not trusting in our own efforts. Secondly, it can be a source of spiritual growth for those around us, in ways that we cannot see or understand. Thirdly, God uses them that by knowing our weaknesses and flaws, we rely on with His grace to change us. And this can take a whole life time. Repentance and daily conversion, growing in holiness and always turning to God are life long processes not a one time deal. One thing that is certain is the infathomable mercy of God who patiently and anxiously waits to forgive us, to teach us the errors of our ways and to give us the grace to rise and move forward in His love. So be patient with yourself.
As we receive our ashes on Ash Wednesday let us ask God to give us new hearts, “Restore us to Thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored! God gives us the strength to begin anew” (CCC 1432). Let us take this great season of mercy to come back to God full of repentance and ask him to forgive our sins; especially in the Sacrament of Confession. May he bring us closer to his Son who has conquered all sin and death so that we too, can share the mercy we have received from God with others.