03/19/17

With all the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities behind us, Saint Patrick was more notable than the person who gets us green beer and corned beef and cabbage on March 17. He was a bishop and he was a Christian missionary who was instrumental in the conversion of Ireland from a pagan land to a Christian one. Today in the gospel, the Samaritan woman functions in the same role. After she discovers that Christ is the living water for which she thirsts, she immediately tells the local citizens of her town. The citizens encounter Christ and come to believe in Him:

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people.” Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?” They went out of the town and came to him.

We too are missionaries because we have been baptized. Remember who Saint Paul told us on Ash Wednesday that we are ambassadors of Christ?

The Office of Readings for Saint Patrick’s feast day contained part of his confessions. His words show a great joy in sharing the Good News and also the reality that being a missionary is not always easy. Not in his day nor in ours.

I give unceasing thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the day of my testing. Today I can offer him sacrifice with confidence, giving myself as a living victim to Christ, my Lord, who kept me safe through all my trials. I can say now: Who am I, Lord, and what is my calling, that you worked through me with such divine power? You did all this so that today among the Gentiles I might constantly rejoice and glorify your name wherever I may be, both in prosperity and in adversity. You did it so that, whatever happened to me, I might accept good and evil equally, always giving thanks to God. God showed me how to have faith in him for ever, as one who is never to be doubted. He answered my prayer in such a way that in the last days, ignorant though I am, I might be bold enough to take up so holy and so wonderful a task, and imitate in some degree those whom the Lord had so long ago foretold as heralds of his Gospel, bearing witness to all nations.

 How did I get this wisdom, that was not mine before? I did not know the number of my days, or have knowledge of God. How did so great and salutary a gift come to me, the gift of knowing and loving God, though at the cost of homeland and family? I came to the Irish peoples to preach the Gospel and endure the taunts of unbelievers, putting up with reproaches about my earthly pilgrimage, suffering many persecutions, even bondage, and losing my birthright of freedom for the benefit of others.

 If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favour. I am deeply in his debt, for he gave me the great grace that through me many peoples should be reborn in God, and then made perfect by confirmation and everywhere among them clergy ordained for a people so recently coming to believe, one people gathered by the Lord from the ends of the earth. As God had prophesied of old through the prophets: The nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth, and say: “How false are the idols made by our fathers: they are useless.” In another prophecy he said: I have set you as a light among the nations, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.

 It is among that people that I want to wait for the promise made by him, who assuredly never tells a lie. He makes this promise in the Gospel: They shall come from the east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is our faith: believers are to come from the whole world.

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03/18/17

This weekend’s gospel is the wonderful story about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The story starts with physical thirst with the woman coming to the well to fill her bucket. The story ends with the woman discovering a deeper thirst, the spiritual one. This thirst is a thirst for Christ. When Christ on the cross said that He was thirsty, His thirst was for us to drink abundantly from the fountain of abundant life which He offers to us. So not only did the Samaritan woman quench her spiritual thirst, but, in the process, Jesus had His spiritual thirst quenched also.

Pope Benedict preached on this gospel in 2008. Let me share with you his thoughts as you prepare for Mass this weekend.

 

The symbolism of water returns with great eloquence in the famous Gospel passage that recounts Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman in Sychar, by Jacob’s well. We immediately perceive a link between the well, built by the great patriarch of Israel to guarantee his family water, and salvation history where God gives humanity water welling up to eternal life. If there is a physical thirst for water that is indispensable for life on this earth, there is also a spiritual thirst in man that God alone can satisfy. This is clearly visible in the dialogue between Jesus and the woman who came to Jacob’s well to draw water. Everything begins with Jesus’ request: “Give me a drink” (cf. Jn 4: 5-7). At first sight it seems a simple request for a little water in the hot midday sun. In fact, with this question, addressed moreover to a Samaritan woman – there was bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans – Jesus triggers in the woman to whom he is talking an inner process that kindles within her the desire for something more profound. St Augustine comments: “Although Jesus asked for a drink, his real thirst was for this woman’s faith (In Io ev. Tract. XV, 11: PL 35, 1514). In fact, at a certain point, it was the woman herself who asked Jesus for the water (cf. Jn 4: 15), thereby demonstrating that in every person there is an inherent need for God and for salvation that only God can satisfy. It is a thirst for the infinite which only the water that Jesus offers, the living water of the Spirit, can quench. In a little while, in the Preface we shall hear these words: Jesus “asked the woman of Samaria for water to drink, and had already prepared for her the gift of faith. In his thirst to receive her faith, he awakened in her heart the fire of your love”.

Dear brothers and sisters, in this dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman we see outlined the spiritual itinerary that each one of us, that every Christian community, is ceaselessly called to rediscover and follow. Proclaimed in this Lenten Season, this Gospel passage acquires a particularly important value for catechumens who are already approaching Baptism. This Third Sunday of Lent is in fact linked to the so-called “first scrutiny”, which is a sacramental rite of purification and grace. The Samaritan woman thus becomes the figure of the catechumen enlightened and converted to the faith, who longs for the living water and is purified by the Lord’s action and words. Yet we who have already been baptized but are also still on the way to becoming true Christians, find in this Gospel episode an incentive to rediscover the importance and meaning of our Christian life, the true desire of God who lives in us. As he did with the Samaritan woman, Jesus wishes to bring us to powerfully profess our faith in him so that we may then proclaim and witness to our brethren the joy of the encounter with him and the marvels that his love works in our existence. Faith is born from the encounter with Jesus, recognized and accepted as the definitive Revealer and Saviour in whom God’s Face is revealed. Once that the Lord has won the Samaritan woman’s heart, her life is transformed and she runs without delay to take the Good News to her people (cf. Jn 4: 29).

Dear brothers and sisters of the Parish of Santa Maria Liberatrice! This morning, Christ’s invitation to let ourselves be involved in his demanding Gospel proposal rings out loud and clear for every member of your parish community. St Augustine said that God thirsts after our thirst for him, that is, he desires to be desired. The further the human being distances himself from God, the more closely God pursues him with his merciful love. The liturgy encourages us today, also taking into account the Lenten Season in which we are living, to review our relationship with Jesus, to tirelessly seek his Face. And this is indispensable so that you, dear friends, can continue in the new cultural and social context the work of evangelization … Always open your hearts wider to the pastoral work in the missionary context, which impels every Christian to meet people – particularly youth and families – where they live, work and spend their leisure time, in order to proclaim to them God’s merciful love.

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03/15/17

This coming weekend at Mass, the gospel will be Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The gospel does not focus on the woman’s sins – she has had 5 husbands. Rather the gospel is a conversion story. After recognizing that Jesus is the source of a spring of water that wells up inside of someone so that person never thirsts (spiritually) again, the woman becomes a disciple sharing the Good News of Jesus and proclaiming His identity as the Messiah. The Greek Church recognizes the Samaritan woman as the martyr, Svetlana or Saint Photine (a). According to legends, she was executed by the Emperor Nero. Let me share with you the tradition about her.

 

Martyr Photina (Svetlana), the Samaritan Woman, and Her Sons

The Holy Martyr Photina (Svetlana) the Samaritan Woman, her sons Victor (named Photinus) and Joses; and her sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva, Kyriake; Nero’s daughter Domnina; and the Martyr Sebastian: The holy Martyr Photina was the Samaritan Woman, with whom the Savior conversed at Jacob’s Well (John. 4:5-42).

During the time of the emperor Nero (54-68), who displayed excessive cruelty against Christians, Saint Photina lived in Carthage with her younger son Joses and fearlessly preached the Gospel there. Her eldest son Victor fought bravely in the Roman army against barbarians, and was appointed military commander in the city of Attalia (Asia Minor). Later, Nero called him to Italy to arrest and punish Christians.

Sebastian, an official in Italy, said to Saint Victor, “I know that you, your mother and your brother, are followers of Christ. As a friend I advise you to submit to the will of the emperor. If you inform on any Christians, you will receive their wealth. I shall write to your mother and brother, asking them not to preach Christ in public. Let them practice their faith in secret.”

Saint Victor replied, “I want to be a preacher of Christianity like my mother and brother.” Sebastian said, “O Victor, we all know what woes await you, your mother and brother.” Then Sebastian suddenly felt a sharp pain in his eyes. He was dumbfounded, and his face was somber.

For three days he lay there blind, without uttering a word. On the fourth day he declared, “The God of the Christians is the only true God.” Saint Victor asked why Sebastian had suddenly changed his mind. Sebastian replied, “Because Christ is calling me.” Soon he was baptized, and immediately regained his sight. Saint Sebastian’s servants, after witnessing the miracle, were also baptized.

Reports of this reached Nero, and he commanded that the Christians be brought to him at Rome. Then the Lord Himself appeared to the confessors and said, “Fear not, for I am with you. Nero, and all who serve him, will be vanquished.” The Lord said to Saint Victor, “From this day forward, your name will be Photinus, because through you, many will be enlightened and will believe in Me.” The Lord then told the Christians to strengthen and encourage Saint Sebastian to peresevere until the end.

All these things, and even future events, were revealed to Saint Photina. She left Carthage in the company of several Christians and joined the confessors in Rome.

At Rome the emperor ordered the saints to be brought before him and he asked them whether they truly believed in Christ. All the confessors refused to renounce the Savior. Then the emperor gave orders to smash the martyrs’ finger joints. During the torments, the confessors felt no pain, and their hands remained unharmed.

Nero ordered that Saints Sebastian, Photinus and Joses be blinded and locked up in prison, and Saint Photina and her five sisters Anatola, Phota, Photis, Paraskeva and Kyriake were sent to the imperial court under the supervision of Nero’s daughter Domnina. Saint Photina converted both Domnina and all her servants to Christ. She also converted a sorcerer, who had brought her poisoned food to kill her.

Three years passed, and Nero sent to the prison for one of his servants, who had been locked up. The messengers reported to him that Saints Sebastian, Photinus and Joses, who had been blinded, had completely recovered, and that people were visiting them to hear their preaching, and indeed the whole prison had been transformed into a bright and fragrant place where God was glorified.

Nero then gave orders to crucify the saints, and to beat their naked bodies with straps. On the fourth day the emperor sent servants to see whether the martyrs were still alive. But, approaching the place of the tortures, the servants fell blind. An angel of the Lord freed the martyrs from their crosses and healed them. The saints took pity on the blinded servants, and restored their sight by their prayers to the Lord. Those who were healed came to believe in Christ and were soon baptized.

In an impotent rage Nero gave orders to flay the skin from Saint Photina and to throw the martyr down a well. Sebastian, Photinus and Joses had their legs cut off, and they were thrown to dogs, and then had their skin flayed off. The sisters of Saint Photina also suffered terrible torments. Nero gave orders to cut off their breasts and then to flay their skin. An expert in cruelty, the emperor readied the fiercest execution for Saint Photis: they tied her by the feet to the tops of two bent-over trees. When the ropes were cut the trees sprang upright and tore the martyr apart. The emperor ordered the others beheaded. Saint Photina was removed from the well and locked up in prison for twenty days.

After this Nero had her brought to him and asked if she would now relent and offer sacrifice to the idols. Saint Photina spit in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, said, “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?”

Hearing such words, Nero gave orders to again throw the martyr down the well, where she surrendered her soul to God (+ ca. 66).

On the Greek Calendar, Saint Photina is commemorated on February 26.

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03/12/17

I always have trouble trying to understand the gospel story of Jesus’ transfiguration. If you are like me, then maybe these comments by Saint Ephrem will be helpful to you…. And to me!

Saint Ephrem (c.306-373), deacon in Syria, Doctor of the Church Sermon for the Transfiguration 1,3-4

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”

He leads them up on a high mountain to show them the glory of his divinity and to let them know that he was Israel’s Savior, as revealed by his prophets…They saw him eat and drink, get tired and rest, sleep, suffer anguish to the point that his sweat became like drops of blood, all things that did not seem to have much to do with his divine nature, but only with his human nature. This is why he leads them up on a high mountain so that the Father may call him “my Son” and show them that he really was his Son and that he was God. He leads them up on a high mountain and shows them his royalty before suffering, his power before dying, his glory before being insulted and his honor before undergoing ignominy. In this way, when he will be captured and crucified, his apostles will understand that he did not undergo this because of weakness, but to consent and willingly for the salvation of the world. He leads them up on a high mountain and shows them the glory of his divinity, before his resurrection. In this way, when he will rise from the dead in the glory of his divinity, his disciples will testify that he did not receive this glory as a reward for having suffered – as if he needed to, but that this glory belonged to him long before the centuries, with the Father and in the Father as he himself will say as he approaches his voluntary Passion “Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began” (Jn 17,5).

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03/09/17

On March 8, we celebrated at Mass. Saint John of God. Probably not a familiar saint to most of us. He lived from 1495-1550. Let me share with you some of his story:

Nothing in John’s early life foreshadowed his future sanctity. He ran away as a boy from his home in Portugal, tended sheep and cattle in Spain, and served as a soldier against the French, and afterwards against the Turks. When about forty years of age, feeling remorse for his wild life, he resolved to devote himself to the ransom of the Christian slaves in Africa, and went thither with the family of an exiled noble, which he maintained by his labor. On his return to Spain he sought to do good by selling holy pictures and books at low prices. At length the hour of grace struck. At Granada a sermon by the celebrated John of Avila shook his soul to its depths, and his expressions of self-abhorrence were so extraordinary that he was taken to the asylum as one mad. There he employed himself in ministering to the sick. On leaving he began to collect homeless poor, and to support them by his work and by begging. One night St. John found in the streets a poor man who seemed near death, and, as was his wont, he carried him to the hospital, laid him on a bed, and went to fetch water to wash his feet. When he had washed them, he knelt to kiss them, and started with awe: the feet were pierced, and the print of the nails bright with an unearthly radiance. He raised his eyes to look, and heard the words, “John, to Me thou doest all that thou doest to the poor in My name: I reach forth My hand for the alms thou givest; Me dost thou clothe, Mine are the feet thou dost wash.” And then the gracious vision disappeared, leaving St. John filled at once with confusion and consolation.

 The bishop became the Saint’s patron, and gave him the name of John of God. When his hospital was on fire, John was seen rushing about uninjured amidst the flames until he had rescued all his poor. After ten years spent in the service of the suffering, the Saint’s life was fitly closed. He plunged into the river Xenil to save a drowning boy, and died, 1550, of an illness brought on by the attempt, at the age of fifty-five.

 

On March 8 the Office of Readings had a letter written by Saint John of God. This weekend at Mass, Saint Paul will tell us (2. Timothy 1:8b-10) to bear your share of hardships for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. In his letter, Saint John of God gives witness to these words.

 

If we look forward to receiving God’s mercy, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength. For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness. What a fine profit, what a blessed reward! Who would not entrust his possessions to this best of merchants, who handles our affairs so well? With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbours. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin.

  So many poor people come here that I very often wonder how we can care for them all, but Jesus Christ provides all things and nourishes everyone. Many of them come to the house of God, because the city of Granada is large and very cold, especially now in winter. More than a hundred and ten are now living here, sick and healthy, servants and pilgrims. Since this house is open to everyone, it receives the sick of every type and condition: the crippled, the disabled, lepers, mutes, the insane, paralytics, those suffering from scurvy and those bearing the afflictions of old age, many children, and above all countless pilgrims and travellers, who come here, and for whom we furnish the fire, water, and salt, as well as the utensils to cook their food. And for all of this no payment is requested, yet Christ provides.

  I work here on borrowed money, a prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ. And often my debts are so pressing that I dare not go out of the house for fear of being seized by my creditors. Whenever I see so many poor brothers and neighbours of mine suffering beyond their strength and overwhelmed with so many physical or mental ills which I cannot alleviate, then I become exceedingly sorrowful; but I trust in Christ, who knows my heart. And so I say: “Woe to the man who trusts in men rather than in Christ.” Whether you like it or not, you will grow apart from men, but Christ is faithful and always with you, for Christ provides all things. Let us always give thanks to him. Amen

 

 

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03/08/17

Dear Blog readers,

It is funeral week for me so I am still trying to keep the daily blog running. I read this interesting article found on the web page Catholic Exchange by Father Basil Maturin. He makes some interesting observations about sin, contrition, and the life of virtue. It is a rather long article but well worth reading the entire article.

The virtue which for obvious reasons we should consider first is contrition, for those who have lost their baptismal innocence can be saved only as penitents. Which of us can think that we have kept our garments in their baptismal purity? If we have not, then the foundation of our Christian character, upon which all must rest, is penitence.

So completely can this virtue stamp itself upon the whole character that we can describe many a person in one word — “peni­tent.” Just as innocence shines out through every virtue in those few choice souls who have preserved it, and gives a special radiance and light to all they do or say, so penitence marks the whole man: it gives its own tone and color to everything; it represents to us a definite character, in spite of all else that goes to make up the character, and leaves its impress upon every virtue and grace. The other virtues get a special tone from this: the purity of St. John is different from the purity of St. Augustine. In the one it was never lost; in the other it was lost, and fought for, and regained; one had the purity of innocence, the other the purity of penitence.

It begins, no doubt, in many less perfect forms. A real penitence may take its rise from the sense of one’s own personal loss. “How many hired servants of my Father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger.” Such was the beginning of the life of penitence in the Prodigal, but it was only the beginning; it must rise higher than that. Such a sense of loss could not brace the will up; for all it has to do and to endure and to forgo, it can only lead the soul a certain way.

It can lead it back to his Father’s embrace, and then it passes under the control of a stronger and more enduring power, the love of the Father, who has been offended; then it cries “Against thee only have I sinned.”

Thus it may be said that there are two conversions: the con­version from sin to self and the conversion from self to God. In the first stage, the thought of God is indeed present, but the sense of one’s own misery and loss is the strongest. In the second, the thought of self has almost disappeared; the soul is glad to suffer, complains of nothing, rejoices if by all it has to endure it can make reparation to the love of God, against which it has sinned.

Contrition, then, in a more or less perfect form, is to be found at the very beginning of the spiritual life of all those who have ever sinned deeply. It is its first movement, that which causes it to say, “I will arise.” It is the first thought that breaks in upon the soul as it awakens to the sense of its sin. “When he came to himself he said, “How many hired servants of my Father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my Father!”

The Prodigal awakened to a sense of sin and its misery, and this produced a resolution of the will: “I will arise and go to my Father.” It was the dawn of the spiritual life amidst all the squalor and degradation that sin had brought in its train.

Where the sense of sin is not, the spiritual life cannot exist; as the life of holiness grows, the spirit of contrition deepens. It seems strange, but it is undoubtedly true, that contrition deepens in proportion as the soul becomes purer, that is, in proportion as the guilt of sin is removed.

This virtue stands, then, at the entrance of the life of devotion and prayer, waiting to receive the soul and lead it onward in the pathway of holiness, and there is no grace that it does not help to form, over whose development it does not preside, and into which it does not impart something of its own stern yet gentle spirit.

Yes, we can little tell the source of the power or the immeasurable strength of the force that sets the long clogged wheels and rusted springs of the spiritual life in motion and produces such a wonderful result; and least of all is that soul in whom this grace is working such wonders, conscious of what is taking place within it. For the strange thing is that while for the penitent contrition is the mother of all virtues, she is herself the outcome of sin, and while weaving the holiest virtues, she sees how stained her hands are and seeks to wash them with her tears.

For she can never forget the past; she is the child of that past, the offspring of the mystical union between the love of God and the memory of sin; and yet the remembrance of the evil past does not hold her back or make her timid, or morbid, or over-introspective; her very strength consists in, and depends on, the perfectly healthy tone of the mind. She knows the evil of the past, but she remembers it only in the presence of her Savior, who has pardoned her. She cannot think of her sins but as forgiven, yet the very certainty of the forgiveness makes the pain of recalling them more keen, while robbing it of every vestige of morbidness or self-consciousness.

And thus there is nothing that she will not dare. She will strive after the virtues that seem to belong only to those who have been always kept pure. Despair cannot exist where she is, nor timidity. Although in another sense there is none so timid, timid she must be, remembering the past, yet not timid in the sense that she is afraid to face dangers and to aim at the very highest.

In such persons, contrition is the life and center of all the soul’s strength and progress. When hope begins to get clouded, it is because contrition begins to fail. When faith grows dim and love grows cold, it is because contrition has lost her strength and is dying. Nay, so clear is her own vision of God, so certain is she of her own love, that she can encourage and sustain the soul in times of utmost darkness and deadness. At these times, contrition is up and awake, and all her strength and tenderness is expended in keeping the soul from fainting. She speaks to it again and again with accents of encouragement and inspiration. “You have deserved to lose the sense of love and clearness of faith. Why should you expect all to be clear when you remember the years in which you did not try, did not want to believe? Fight on bravely now, and the light and peace will come again.”

It is at such moments that contrition shows her unfailing strength, or at times that are even worse, when old temptations come back with redoubled force, when the power of habit reasserts itself, when all the succors of grace seem to be withdrawn and the soul is left face-to-face with the multitude of her enemies, conscious only that the will has no strength to resist. Then it is that contrition comes to the rescue, and her power is felt as never before. Her power — and yet she herself seems so weak — for the inspiration of love seems to have died out of her too; yet still she is there in the thick of the fight, standing by the will, urging it on with arguments, appealing to it, strengthening it; and when every fortress of the soul seems overthrown, contrition holds the will and gains the victory.

Thus, contrition is indeed the molding and controlling force that forms, restores, and preserves the penitent. Its transforming power is so great that it can fit the greatest sinner for the company of the saints. The Magdalene was not out of place by the side of the spotless Mother. Penitence can give to the soul what it would seem could be gained only by innocence. It verily can “raise up the poor out of the dust, and lift up the beggar from the dunghill to set him among princes, and to make him inherit the throne of glory.”

Contrition Is Patient

Contrition is ready to endure all that comes upon it, whether justly or unjustly; it knows what it deserves, and it knows that if others knew it as it truly is, it could be treated with no consideration or kindness. It recognizes that it has no rights; that the chief reason that it is permitted to live is in order that reparation may, in some degree, be done for the past. It bears about within itself an awakened conscience that speaks as the representative of the justice of the all-holy God; and the voice of conscience is ever passing sentence upon it, and the soul, in the spirit of penitence, is ever more and more ready to welcome everything as acting toward it for the satisfaction of an offended God. Nay, it longs to find new offerings to make, for it can never lose sight of God’s love, and it knows that whatever it may have to suffer is not a mere penalty sent in anger, but a loving chastisement to restore and perfect it.

And it accepts above all things the consequences of past sin without a murmur, the constant presence of temptation, the sense of weakness and of loss, the deadness of heart, the poverty of prayer, the very fear of self-deception, the agony of doubt that at times darkens all the path, filling it with uncertainty, whether its penitence is real or whether, after all, it is not a specious form of self-interest.

Even this it learns to bear, and, by bearing, to overcome.

Sometimes, when tempted to doubt whether there can be pardon for one who has sinned so deeply, it triumphs by an all-enduring act of self-surrender, saying, “Well, if I am to go to hell, even that I will bear as my desert. For hell itself cannot make me cease to grieve for having offended God,” and thus it conquers even the fear of hell. And it endures patiently the loss of all that it has forfeited, even its best gifts. As God has withdrawn them, it puts away the desire for them, and it knows if they are to be regained, it must be by a growing transformation of itself. It longs not so much to receive anything as to regain the love of God that it has forfeited.

And what if the power of old sin asserts itself and it yields again and falls? Even then it does not lose patience or despair but, with a deeper sense of need, strives to cling more closely to God. Despair or deep discouragement after a fall is the result of dependence on self, a subtle form of pride. True contrition knows that any moment in which the soul lets go of God, it plunges into the depths of its own weakness, and therefore if it fails, it takes the warning, saying, “Why art thou cast down O, my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

 

Contrition Is Strong

Contrition shows its strength by what it puts away rather than by what it does. It puts away those things with which it has formerly sinned. If by necessity it has them as part of its life, it puts them away from the heart.

That which has been an occasion of sin must be a memorial of sorrow. We may be violent in active antagonism to sin while we are continually recurring to objects that have been the causes of sin; but contrition puts them away, and at whatever cost. We may hate sin very much and yet feel that we must have certain things, indulgences, and friendships that have been the cause of sin in the past.

So far we are lacking in contrition. We have the element of hate, but not of love. The love of God strengthens the soul to put away from itself what has caused it to offend God. How can it love Him and enjoy what has been the means of separating it from Him?

No, it has but one great longing: to return to God: “I will arise, and go to my Father.” And it has one great fear: sin. “Love is stronger than death,” and in the strength of love, tempered with the fear of sin, it can give up anything. No gain, no result, could make it tolerate the occasion of sin.

What strength it has to break with things that have become almost a part of our life from long habit; what strength to break with companionship that are so sweet, albeit so dangerous!

The penitent soul needs indeed to be strong, and strength is always calm. It is not merely in moments of spiritual excitement that it deals sternly with itself, relapsing into ease and self-indulgence when the clearness of spiritual perception has passed and dullness and chill have settled down on heart and mind. No, it is as calmly firm in the darkest as in the brightest times.

When all the lower nature cries out for rest and ease, and God has withdrawn every token of His presence and love, the will remains firm in the practice of self-denial.

And again, when God grants to it moments of joy, when it has no doubt, no fear, when the assurance of its acceptance and of God’s love comes upon it with an overwhelming rush of emotion, it does not permit itself to be carried away. In the midst of all that inner joy, there is the firm grasp upon itself and things around it, and it quietly perseveres in its penitential exercise. How strong it is! How faithful! How unbending toward the of­fender — the chief of sinners!

Contrition Is Tender

Contrition has no harshness. It springs from the love of God. It does not come before the mind as a duty; it springs out of the heart by the necessity of its own inspiration. It is the longing of a soul burdened with the sense of defilement to be conformed to the holiness of Him whom it loves. It springs from the love of God, not from the hatred of sin. We cannot rise to love by hatred, but we must pass on from the love of God to the hatred of what He hates.

The inspiration of contrition is love, not hate; there is no taint of bitterness or irritation toward self. Thus, stern and un­bending in its self-discipline, it is nevertheless always tender. It bears deeply marked upon itself both the strength and the tenderness of love. It has a “heart of fire toward God, a heart of flesh toward man, a heart of steel toward self.”

There is an asceticism that is harsh and stern and cruel, but it is not the asceticism of the Christian penitent. There is none so tender toward others, so sensitive for their well-being, so slow to condemn or to see others’ faults. It seems to it as if all the world needs kindness and care except itself. Contrition closes the eyes toward the sins of others and opens them upon its own; it sees itself as the one culprit in the midst of a world that throbs with the love of God.

Patience, strength, tenderness! A spirit that can endow the selfish, sensual, worldly, easygoing nature with such graces must indeed be mighty. It is. It is as strong as God’s justice, as gentle as His love, as patient as His mercy.

 

By Fr. Basil W. Maturin

Fr. Basil W. Maturin (1847–1915) was an Anglican priest who became a Catholic priest at age 51. Both before and after his conversion, he was famous for his preaching and psychological insight: he had a profound gift for guiding souls. In 1915 he was on board the Lusitania when a German U-bost sank the ship; he drowned after helping numerous other passengers to safety. [This article is from a chapter in Fr. Maturin’s Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press. ]

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03/07/17

Today we celebrate the feasts of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, two young women who were martyred in 203 in Carthage during the persecution of Perpetua of Septimus Severus. The courage of the two women martyrs inspired the early Christians enough that their names were included in the Roman Canon or what today is the first Eucharistic Prayer.

I share with you the account of their martyrdom that is from the Office of Readings. Just like today, being a Christian disciple takes courage.

 

The day of the martyrs’ victory dawned. They marched from their cells into the amphitheatre, as if into heaven, with cheerful looks and graceful bearing. If they trembled it was for joy and not for fear.

  Perpetua was the first to be thrown down, and she fell prostrate. She got up and, seeing that Felicity was prostrate, went over and reached out her hand to her and lifted her up. Both stood up together. The hostility of the crowd was appeased, and they were ordered to the gate called Sanavivaria. There Perpetua was welcomed by a catechumen named Rusticus. Rousing herself as if from sleep (so deeply had she been in spiritual ecstasy), she began to look around. To everyone’s amazement she said: “When are we going to be led to the beast?” When she heard that it had already happened she did not at first believe it until she saw the marks of violence on her body and her clothing. Then she beckoned to her brother and the catechumen, and addressed them in these words: “Stand firm in faith, love one another and do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our sufferings.”

  Saturus, too, in another gate, encouraged the soldier Pudens, saying: “Here I am, and just as I thought and foretold I have not yet felt any wild beast. Now believe with your whole heart: I will go there and be killed by the leopard in one bite.” And right at the end of the games, when he was thrown to the leopard he was in fact covered with so much blood from one bite that the people cried out to him: “Washed and saved, washed and saved!” And so, giving evidence of a second baptism, he was clearly saved who had been washed in this manner.

  Then Saturus said to the soldier Pudens: “Farewell, and remember your faith as well as me; do not let these things frighten you; let them rather strengthen you.” At the same time he asked for the little ring from Pudens’s finger. After soaking it in his wound he returned it to Pudens as a keepsake, leaving him a pledge and a remembrance of his blood. Half dead, he was thrown along with the others into the usual place of slaughter.

  The people, however, had demanded that the martyrs be led to the middle of the amphitheatre. They wanted to see the sword thrust into the bodies of the victims, so that their eyes might share in the slaughter. Without being asked they went where the people wanted them to go; but first they kissed one another, to complete their witness with the customary kiss of peace.

  The others stood motionless and received the deathblow in silence, especially Saturus, who had gone up first and was first to die; he was helping Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might experience the pain more deeply, rejoiced over her broken body and guided the shaking hand of the inexperienced gladiator to her throat. Such a woman – one before whom the unclean spirit trembled – could not perhaps have been killed, had she herself not willed it.

  Bravest and happiest martyrs! You were called and chosen for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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03/06/17

Yesterday at Mass Saint Paul spoke of the two Adams in Romans 5: the first by his disobedience offers us death and the second (Jesus) offers us life by means of his obedience. There is a Spanish hymn: A Quien Iremos? To whom shall we go? I think that we would all agree to the second Adam, Jesus.

 

I have always been intrigued by the comparison of the two Adams that Paul mentions in Romans. I share with you a commentary on this passage by Daniel Harrington that was in the magazine America. The article was titled, “The First and Second Adam.”

 

“But the gift is not like the transgression” (Rom 5:15)

The Scripture readings for the Sundays of Lent are extraordinarily rich. The Old Testament texts provide a sketch of the history of our salvation. The Gospel readings focus on key episodes in Jesus life and ministry. The epistle readings emphasize what God has done for us in and through Jesus life, death and resurrection.

Lent is a time for self-examination, repentance and acts of self-control and self-denial whether we are preparing for baptism, confirmation and Eucharist or are already full members of the Catholic Church. The danger is that we can make ourselves the focus of Lent. Lent is pre-eminently a time for entering into the suffering and death of Jesus. The Sunday readings can help us to place our observances and even the passion of Christ into the larger context of the history of our salvation. That history begins with Adam and Eve.

Todays selections from Genesis 2 and 3 tell the story of the original sin. The first part tells how God created Adam (meaning the human) and placed him in the garden of Eden (meaning delight). The one commandment imposed on Adam was the prohibition against eating from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. The second part tells how Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, who promised that if they transgressed that command, they would not die, but instead would become like gods. They succumbed to the temptation and committed the original sin. Their sin has consequences for us all, and the story helps to explain what is wrong with us and why humans often do terrible things. It has been said that original sin is the easiest theological doctrine to believe.

The human condition is not entirely hopeless, of course. We are no longer forced or doomed to repeat the pattern set by Adam and Eve. On our own, by human effort alone, we could not break that pattern. Rather, we need the example and the power of Jesus the Son of God.

The example of Jesus the Son of God is illustrated in Matthews version of the temptation of Jesus. At three points Jesus rejects Satan’s temptations to make him stray from his vocation as the new Adam and the new Israel. By his repeated appeals to Israels’ Scriptures, Jesus resists Satan’s temptations to satisfy his physical hunger, to make a public show of his powers and to grasp at political power. Instead, Jesus retains his focus on serving God alone and shows us how to resist temptations in our own lives. Whereas Adam and Eve failed in their test, Jesus emerges as the victor over sin and Satan and shows what kind of Son of God he really is. We can hope to imitate his example.

And through Christ we have the power to do so. Todays reading from Romans 5 shows why that hope is possible and even realistic. It is because Jesus as the new Adam has broken the reign of sin and death, and because through his obedience, shown in his sacrificial death, Christ has reversed the consequences of Adams sin and made it possible for us to enjoy right relationship with God.

According to Paul, Adam and Christ represent two aspects or dimensions of the human condition. Paul wants to emphasize that the gift (which is Christ) is not like the transgression (which is Adam and his sin). The gift has come to us through Jesus life, death and resurrection.

The result of Jesus fidelity is that the reign of God’s grace and eternal life is open to all of humankind. Whereas Adam was disobedient to Gods command, Christ was obedient to his Fathers will even to the point of death on the cross. Whereas Adam sinned, Christ remained righteous and without sin. Whereas Adam brought condemnation on himself and his descendants, Christ brought acquittal from judgment and the possibility of right relationship with God (justification). And whereas Adam brought death upon us all, Christ brings to us all the possibility of eternal life with God.

The first Adam brought disobedience, sin, condemnation and death. The new Adam has brought obedience, righteousness, justification and eternal life. Through the first Adam we became wounded and weak. Through Christ we are now Gods children more than ever and so people of hope. We can now legitimately hope for and realize what Adam and Eve thought they could obtain by succumbing to the serpents temptation. We can become like gods through the example and the power of Jesus the Son of God. And we can hope for eternal life with God in the fullness of Gods kingdom (You certainly will not die).

 

 

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03/04/17

This Sunday is “temptation Sunday.” The first Sunday in Lent we always read about Jesus’ temptations in the desert. This year in Matthew’s gospel we will read about the 3 temptations that Jesus faced. After fasting for 40 days He was hungry. Not only for food but a deeper awareness of what the Father had revealed to Him after His baptism by John the Baptist. Jesus is God’s beloved Son.

I read an interesting article in the online magazine America, by Fr. Michael Simone. It was in the February 20, 2017 issue and it spoke about Jesus’ fasting. For your preparation for the Sunday gospel, let me share with you the author’s reflections.

 

The fasting of Lent likely made practical sense in the past, when food supplies were limited. On any given day, a town’s marketplace had staples for a day or maybe two. Gluttons with money could easily deprive others of necessities. If all were to eat, all had to exercise restraint. In the springtime especially, when winter stores were depleted but new crops had not matured, fasting was necessary. Springtime hunger was part of the natural order of life, and many concluded thereby that it was God’s will.

 Modern technology and farming practices ensure that people in the developed world have an uninterrupted supply of food. This has obscured an important aspect of Lenten practice. In fasting, we no longer accommodate ourselves to God’s will in a way that ensures enough food for all. In fact, Lenten “fasting” can come to serve our own will. We might have good intentions—trying to give up vices like smoking or excessive online entertainment—but the deeper meaning of Lenten fasting, to follow the will of God, is lost.

In our Gospel today, Jesus sharpens our awareness of true fasting. Satan tempts Jesus three times to use his divine gifts to serve himself. Three times Jesus responds by placing himself and his gifts at the service of the Father’s mission. Taking his example, we can use the fasting, prayer and almsgiving of Lent to serve whatever mission God has given us.

Matthew’s Gospel this week contains a subtle but important theological point. In Jesus, Israel—and by extension, all humanity—fulfills its side of the covenant. Matthew uses the desert setting to evoke Israel’s time in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. At Sinai, God called Israel to be a divine child, and Israel promised to abide by God’s will in all things. Matthew believed, as did many in his day, that no generation had lived up to this promise completely. In ways large and small, Israel had fallen to Satan’s relentless testing. God’s mercy is abundant, and Israel was always given another chance, but even after centuries, the covenant remained unfulfilled.

Jesus passed the test. At every turn he resists the temptation to use his power for himself. Each response to Satan represents a surrender to the will of God. “If I am going to eat, it is because God gives the food. If I am going to fly, it is because God will lift me up. If I am going to rule, it is because God will set me on a throne.” Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus uses his God-given power in exactly these ways but always for the service of the Father’s mission and never for his own gain or glory. In Jesus, Israel becomes the child God hoped for.

What Jesus shows us this week is that God’s will must be paramount in all things, even those over which we feel control or autonomy. During the season of Lent, we fast, pray and give alms not to become better people, but to remind ourselves that our gifts and resources come from God and are meant to be spent in the service of others.

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03/03/17

In the March/April, 2017 of the magazine, Maryknoll, there is a wonderful meditation by Joseph Veneroso titled Beyond Mercy. You can find the mediation and its pictures at the web site:

https://maryknollmagazine.org/photo-meditations/

Let me share with you the words of his mediation. Go to the web site if possible and view the pictures that accompany the author’s poetic verse.

 

You call me to repent. Lord, even when I am not convinced I did anything wrong. But to keep on your good side, I give up and give in and admit my guilt and sin. You shower me with mercy and forgiveness far more than I deserve, refreshing my spirit, renewing my heart and restoring my joy. And still you refuse to leave me alone in my newfound peace, but rather call me yet again to leave my comfort zone and seek out those who offended me or whom I have offended and be reconciled. You’re asking me to die to myself and nail my ego to a cross of humility, not to prove my love for you but to appreciate your love for me for whom forgiveness, love and mercy are only first steps along the way to following you.

 

As we journey through the 40 days of Lent, keeping our eyes set on what Christ will ask us at the end of the 50 days of Easter is critical. Pentecost is the reminder that we have been commissioned to be His ambassadors. Christ’s ministry is that of reconciliation which then also becomes our ministry. The end of Mass is always our re-commissioning ceremony: Go in peace to announce the Gospel, the Good News of the Lord.

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