04/10/17

Henri Nouwen in his book of Lenten reflections, Show me the way, has a wonderful reflection about Jesus betrayal: “In all truth I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:21) In the reflection, he reminds us that our salvation came not from what Jesus did during the active, ministerial portion of His life. Rather our salvation comes from how Jesus responded to what was done to Him during the final week of his life. As the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 50: I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Let me share with you Nouwen’s thought-provoking reflection.

The moment when Jesus is handed over to those who do with him as they please is a turning point in Jesus; ministry. It is turning from action to passion. After years of teaching, preaching, healing, and moving to wherever he wanted to go, Jesus is handed over to the caprices of his enemies. Things are now no longer done by him, but to him. He is flagellated, crowned with thorns, spat at, laughed at, stripped, and nailed naked to a cross. He is a passive victim, subject to other people’s actions. From the moment that Jesus is handed over, his passion begins, and through this passion he fulfills his vocation.

It is important for me to realize that Jesus fulfills his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him. Just as with everyone else, most of my life is determined by what is done to me and thus is passion. And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only small parts of my life are determined by what I think, say, or do. I am inclined to protest against this and to want all to be action, originated by me. But the truth is that my passion is a much greater part of my life than my action. Not to recognize this is self-deception and not to embrace my passion with love is self-rejection.

It is good news to know that Jesus is handed over to passion, and through his passion accomplishes his divine task on earth. It is good news for a world passionately searching for wholeness.

Jesus’ words to Peter remind me that Jesus’ transition from action to passion must also be ours if we want to follow his way. He says, “When you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go.’ (John 21:18)

I, too, have to let myself be “handed over” and thus fulfill my vocation.

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04/08/17

Yesterday in the Office of Readings there was a meditation by Saint John Baptist de la Salle. He was noted for his emphasis on Christian education of youth and he also founded the religious order commonly called the Christian Brothers. While his meditation is directed to youth and their education, if we replace some of those words with the names of family members, friends, and others, then we have a wonderful description of the demands of discipleship.

 

Turn over in your mind what the words of the apostle Paul say, that God appointed in the Church, apostles, prophets and teachers; and you will be persuaded that he has placed you in your work as well. The same saint gives you proof of this when he says that there are varieties of service, and varieties of working, but that it is the same Holy Spirit manifested in each of these gifts for the common good, that is, the good of the Church.

  You should be in no doubt that the grace which has been given you to teach children, to announce the gospel to them, and instil in them the spirit of religion, is a great gift of God, who has called you to this holy service.

  In everything you do as teachers, let the children who are entrusted to your care see you as the servants of God as you go about your work with genuine love and real diligence. What commits you even more to your work is that you are not only ministers of God, but also of Jesus Christ and of the Church.

  This is what Saint Paul says, urging that all who proclaim the gospel should be thought of as servants of Christ. So too should all those who write the letter dictated by Christ and written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of human hearts, which are the hearts of the children.

  Because of this, let the love of God drive you on. Jesus Christ died for all men, so that even those who live, live not for themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again. So, let your pupils be moved by your hardworking perseverance, and let them feel as though God were exhorting them through you, since you are ambassadors for Christ.

  Moreover, you should show the Church your fervent love for her, and give her proof of it by your spirit of hard work. For it is through the Church, which is the body of Christ, that you are working. Show by your zeal that you love those whom God has handed over to you, just as Christ loved the Church.

  Make sure that the children are really built into the structure of this house of God, and make such progress as to be able, one day, to stand glorious, without spot or blemish or any such thing, before the judgement seat of Jesus Christ. Work so that the riches of God’s grace which he has given them may be made manifest to succeeding generations. He extends his help in his teaching, and to you when you teach and educate them, so that they may receive their inheritance in the kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.

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04/07/17

Sorry blog readers. With funerals and the flu I have fallen behind on the daily blog. With Holy Week beginning Sunday, the Triduum beginning next Thursday, and then Easter Sunday, what is the Good News about Easter that we want to share with others? Is Easter a life-changing event for believers? For us? What about those who doubt the resurrection, how do we respond to them? For us disciples of the Risen One, Easter does speak about the death of death. If our greatest desire is for life and life in abundance, then death seems like the ultimate contradiction to our desire and the ultimate enemy to our fondest yearning. There is a Russian legend that speaks about the death of death. We might reflect on the legend in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

 

Death was born a flaming day with the brilliant colors of a flaming fire. At first death felt like a stranger and wandered lost throughout the earth. Then one day death saw a beautiful bird, so he walked up to it and stretched out his hand to feel the softness of its feathers. No sooner had death’s fingers touched the bird than it fell at death’s feet, cold and lifeless. Death discovered its dreaded power. As the years flowed into eternity, death traveled the earth with the same results as it touched various animals. Then one day death touched a human being and death saw humankind shudder. Humans cried out and became as cold and as still as the first bird that death had touched. On that day, death finally tasted the fullness of his awesome power. But death also knew loneliness to the very last drop.

As death continued to claim all living things, it also experienced a hunger. In its silent kingdom, nothing remained; all living things crumbled and turned to dust at its touch. Death was always left alone. This loneliness grew as death touched creation through many plagues, storms, and floods. Death also learned that humans feared him above all else; humans shrank from his approach. To cope with death, humans invented legends about death trying to pretend that death was incapable of harming them. They even began to imagine a life after death and has legends about this idea.

One day death was sitting at a hill beneath three men hanging on crosses. Suddenly death heard one of the men say, “I thirst.” As death looked up, he saw two eyes from which flowed a warmth and light that death had never seen before. Death heard the man speak several short sentences, and then he was silent. For an instant the man seemed to smile for death alone. Then the man became cold and lifeless.

Death observed the soldiers taking the man down from the cross; the mother weeping for her dead son; and finally the man being placed in a cave. Just before the stone was rolled in front of the cave, death entered in.

What passed between death and the man, no human being will ever know. One thing is certain however. Two days later when some women came to the tomb, it was empty. Death was not there. And since that Sunday morning, all who look upon death with the eyes of faith see it differently. They know that love is life and death is not but the gate to eternal life.

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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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