Today is the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. We extend a special feast day greeting to any Carmelites. May you faithfully live out your calling as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has led and taught you.
Mount Carmel is located in the Holy Land; and it is the origin where the Carmelites Order began. At the northern edge of Mount Carmel stands the largest monastery of the Carmelites Order and the center of its activities. When one goes inside the monastery’s church on Mt. Carmel, one can find Elijah’s cave; it is thought that Elijah rested in this cave before going out to do battle with the prophets Ba’al. Recently this week, we’ve read the account of the battle in the Office of Reading where Elijah taunted the false prophets when their god weren’t answering them. Jewish tradition also associate this cave with Elijah’s disciple, Elisha the prophet. He also lived on the Carmel after Elijah was taken up. And some believe that Elisha is buried in the cave. Since the 4th century, this place has been a place of pilgrimage for many people.
The monastery in Carmel overlooks the sea which is fittingly named Stella Maris which means Star of the Sea which is also one of Our Lady’s titles. This Marian title (Our Lady of Mt. Carmel) also recalls that it was on Mount Carmel that Elijah prayed seven times for rain in order to avert a long drought. God answered his prayer. And afterward, the sight of a little cloud came rising from the sea. This little cloud of rain is seen as a symbol of Mary who brings us the saving water of Christ’s salvation.
Today’s feast also commemorates the anniversary when Our Lady gave the brown scapular to Saint Simon Stock in 1251. The scapular is not a superstitious item for one to wear; and it should not be worn superstitiously either. The scapular is one of the Church’s many sacramentals; sacramental, as we know, is a blessed object to help those who wear it to be properly dispose to receive God’s grace. It’s not an automatic deal but it relies on the faith of the one who wears it.
The Church teaches that “The scapular is an external sign of the filial relationship established between the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Mount Carmel, and the faithful who entrust themselves totally to her protection, who have recourse to her maternal intercession, who are mindful of the primacy of the spiritual life and the need for prayer” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy #205).
I, myself, have been wearing a scapular since God knows when. St. John Paul II wore his scapular as the Pope; and he had worn it since he was a little boy in Poland. We wear it because of our relationship with Our Blessed Mother; we wear it because we have recourse to her maternal intercession.
And why do we, as Catholics, ask Mary to pray for us, rather than praying directly to God? The answer is that Mary the Immaculate Mother of God is the most exalted creature who ever lived. St. James said that “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16). And he said that before he gave the example of the holy man, the prophet Elijah who lived on Mount Carmel. Mary was without sin even while on the earth, so it is perfectly biblical and natural (and wise) to ask for her intercession, because it has more power than our own does. Her prayers would have the greatest power and efficacy, and not only because of her sinlessness but because of her status as the Theotokos (Mother of God) and Spiritual Mother, for which God appointed her for us, her children.
When we ask Mary to “help” us, we mean by her power of intercession. She cannot grant us things in and of herself, but only by virtue of the graces given to her by God. She is God’s instrument or agent, just as any creature is, but – instrument or agent in her exalted position as the Mother of God; she is the best possible creature we can ask to pray for us. We can certainly pray to God directly anytime we like. But we can also ask a holy person to pray for us as well, because their prayers have more power and effect as St. James said in his letter; and no creatures can outdo the holiness of Mary to whom God granted her the fullness of grace.
And as the prayer over the offerings said: “through the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Mother of your Son, no petition may go unanswered, no request be made in vain.”
- Fr. Miguel Marie, MFVA
Today is the Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.. He’s one of the patron saints for purity and chastity. Many are familiar that St. Maria Goretti is a patron of purity and chastity, but often, people aren’t aware that Aloysius is also another patron for purity and chastity.
The Collect for this Mass particularly highlighted this. We’re told that “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga joined penitence to a wonderful innocence of life.” So, from penance or mortification, he was greatly helped to live his innocence of life.
For us who live in today’s world – where the promotion of unchaste life and impurity is glorified, we might think that Aloysius didn’t have what we have. It’s true that he didn’t have what we have; he didn’t have internet or smartphones; he didn’t have tablets or the kind of movies we have today where sexual scene is so much included and glorified in there; this is true even in regular TV channels. Yet, Aloysius had sexual passion just like you and me have.
His brother Jesuit (the late-Fr. John Hardon) wrote a little biography on Aloysius. And Fr. Hardon said: “He had a very strong will, he also had strong passions, especially temptation to lust.” Again, just like you and me, Aloysius who died at the age of 23 knew what it’s like to be tempted severely to lust!
The question that you and I want an answer is: did he give in to lust; how did he conquer it if he didn’t give in?
St. Robert Bellarmine (another Jesuit) who knew Aloysius well – observed that he was sure – Aloysius had never committed a mortal sin. And what he did to control his sexual passion and desire was by penance and mortification frequently. In other words, he practiced self-denial frequently to control his passions.
The late-Fr. Hardon said he “began to practice self-discipline to preserve his chastity, he tried to imitate the lives of the fathers of the desert… in order to protect his chastity… he fasted three days a week… every midnight he’d get up to pray on a stone floor, no matter what the weather was, in winter without heat. He tried to make hours of meditation.” These he’d do regularly.
Fr. Hardon said that Aloysius wrote about these himself and also wrote about his sexual passions; he had a very strong sexual passions. We know this also from people who knew him.
So, he was doing penance not so much to repair what sins had been committed already, but it was more for preventive purpose. Fr. Hardon said: “He simply believed that unless he mortified his body, …he just would not get that passion under control. The lesson for us, in a sex-mad world, is obvious. You do not control that passion without mortification, you just don’t.”
We may not be strong enough to mortify ourselves the way Aloysius did (like getting up in the middle of the night or fasting three days a week and so forth), but our form of mortifications can simply be: decide to go to daily Mass for the purpose of curbing our strong sexual passions and desires, decide and actually pray the Rosary daily, limit our watching of television or never watch it alone – same thing goes with our computer use or the smartphone or tablet use, and so forth. Some of us may simply need to just double-up our rosary for the time being just to curb the strong sexual desires that they would be under control. Personally, I found that to be effective - in just simply doubling up the prayer (like the rosary); this may not work for you or this may not be enough for you; but it’s important to realize that we have to do something because if all we do is just go to Confession, for some that’s not enough. Again, Aloysius knew how to curb his sexual desires and passions by doing penance; this is the same approach that would help us as well in today’s world.
Finally, The Church recognizes that many of us can no longer be like Aloysius – who kept his innocence all the way to his death. So, the Church and all of us pray to God as the Collect states: “We have failed to follow him in innocence” but “grant us the grace that through the merits and intercession” of St. Aloysius, “we may imitate him in penitence.”
St. Aloysius, patron of purity and chastity, pray for us! Amen
LONG LIVE THE POPE
His rule is over space and time; His throne the hearts of men:
All hail! the Shepherd King of Rome, The theme of loving song:
Let all the earth his glory sing, And heav’n the strain prolong,
Let all the earth his glory sing, And heav’n the strain prolong.
Beleaguered by the foes of earth, Be set by hosts of hell,
He guards the loyal flock of Christ, A watchful sentinel:
And yet, amid the din and strife, The clash of mace and sword,
He bears alone the shepherd staff, This champion of the Lord,
He bears alone the shepherd staff, This champion of the Lord.
His signet is the Fisherman’s; No scepter does he bear;
In meek and lowly majesty He rules from Peter’s Chair:
And yet from ev’ry tribe and tongue, From ev’ry clime and zone,
One thousand million voices sing The glory of his throne,
One thousand million voices sing The glory of his throne.
Then raise the chant, with heart and voice, In church and school and home:
“Long live the Shepherd of the Flock! Long live the Pope of Rome!”
Almighty Father, bless his work, Protect him in his ways,
Receive his prayers, fulfill his hopes, And grant him “length of days,”
Receive his prayers, fulfill his hopes, And grant him “length of days.”
Healing and Restoration
The Gospel account of the healing of the man with a withered hand shows us that Jesus Christ as Messiah came to fulfill and perfect the Law. Having a day of rest and worship on the Sabbath was the outward expression of the Jews covenant with God. It also reminded them of the trust and total dependence that man must have in God. The man’s withered hand symbolizes mankind’s relationship to the Creator. It was lifeless, sterile and dry.
The Pharisees had a different interpretation and application of living the Law. Observing the Sabbath according to the norms of the Pharisees was a test for Jewish faithfulness. If the slightest minute detail was broken in observance of the Sabbath, then a person was accused of extreme religious laxity and compromise.
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. In His words and actions, He gives proper interpretation of the Law. The Sabbath had become more of a burden than a benefit. This burden was not the original intention of God in establishing the Sabbath rest. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. The Sabbath day of rest was instituted by God as a day free of servile work.
Because the Pharisees had grown so embittered, their observance of the law was at best, the keeping of their own external precepts. The way in which they kept the law did not change their hearts. In their case, the exterior disposition and reaction to Jesus’ healing did conform to their interior disposition of having hard hearts. They were waiting for Jesus to break their Pharisaical law in the slightest.
At this point in Jesus’ public ministry, these Pharisees must have heard of the miracles performed by Him. By performing a miracle on the Sabbath, Jesus is making the distinction between servile work and good deeds done out of compassion and mercy.
The anger and grief that Jesus expressed was because sheer injustice. Yes, anger can be just or righteous in the face of injustice. As the God-Man, the anger that Jesus would have experienced clearly would have been the most temperate and virtuous expression of anger ever seen and recorded. We have to remember that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, was free from the original sin, totally free of any personal sin and free of the concupiscence or the effects due to sin. Any anger or grief that Jesus experienced would not have been tainted by the slightest self-centeredness or selfishness. It is difficult for us, having inherited original sin to imagine what this anger might have looked like.
It is clear that Jesus’ anger and grief lead Him to even greater mercy for the man with a withered hand. A better translation of “withered hand” would be in the Greek: “dry hand.” There was no blood flowing through this man’s hand, thus making it alive and able to move with the rest of his body. It could be compared to a branch being cut off from the vine. Once cut off, the life-giving sap from the vine that lives is unable to be communicated to the dead branch. After time, the branch shrivels up and dies.
This could be used as an analogy for our fallen state after the original sin. There was a barrier between man and God. Cut off from God, just as a branch is cut off from a vine, man is spiritually dead. In all of his public miracles and healings, Jesus is directing us not merely to a physical healing, but to reconciliation with God.
Sacred Scripture is clear that God in assuming human nature, He assumed our transgressions, bore our grief, carried our sorrows and infirmities. Theologians and spiritual writers have said that the God-Man assumed to Himself every human suffering. By a supreme act of substitution, Jesus Christ took on every personal sin as if He committed it. He also took on the consequences due to sin as if He were the sole perpetrator.
It can be speculated that as the God-Man, Jesus felt what this man with the withered hand felt. This moved Him all the more to restore him to health. There is no suffering that Jesus Christ is unaware of. In His Passion, he assumed to Himself and embraced all human suffering, thus making suffering redemptive.
We may not have withered hands, but each of us needs to hear those same words from Jesus: Stretch out your hand. Only when we stretch out our lives into the divine radius of Jesus Christ will our own restoration and healing take place.
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
In today’s Gospel, there is an interesting interaction between Jesus, Philip and Nathanael. We see before us an unfolding of the gift of Faith for Philip and Nathanael. At the heart of this interaction is a personal encounter and a dialogue with the Person of Jesus. As the Gospel unfolds, we see that it is not so much Philip and Nathanael that have found the Christ, but it is Jesus who has found them. And so it is with each of us…
In our on-going relationship and walk with the Lord, it may be a temptation to think that it is we who are seeking the Lord. Today’s Gospel and 2000 years of lived Christian experience testify that the opposite is true. Even before the Christ manifested Himself in the Flesh, 2000 years ago, all throughout the Old Testament it was God searching and seeking out His chosen people.
The invitation of Christ to Philip, “Follow Me” as written in the Gospel was answered spontaneously and without hesitation. It was this encounter with Christ, the Son of God that ignited within Philip this enthusiasm. Do you know where the word enthusiasm comes from? It is a derivative from the Greek: en theos, which means “God within.” It was this enthusiasm, this conviction that he had met the Christ that ignited Philip to invite Nathanael to meet Jesus.
Nathanael’s response to Philip is forever memorialized in history: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip’s answer is not just meant for Nathanael, but for each of us here today: “Come and see.” The invitation “Come and see” sprang out of Philip’s Faith that who he encountered was truly “the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets.”
Jesus’ comment as Nathanael approached him shocked him. “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Jesus’ affirmation of Nathanael no doubt was the turning point of his life! Each of us would have asked the same question that Nathanael asked: “How do you know me?” Only the Messiah, God the Son, could have pierced the depths of Nathanael’s character. No ordinary man could have known what Jesus revealed about him.
In our own lives, the message of this Gospel scene applies. Jesus Christ sees us where we are. We may not be sitting under a fig tree, but wherever you are now: a hospital bed; a nursing home; in your car going or coming home from work; in a maximum security prison—whoever you are—Jesus Christ, the Son of God knows you and loves you. The invitation of Philip to Nathanael applies to you and me. “Come and see.” As Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree and read his heart, he is able to do the same with each of us.
In this Gospel narrative, the reality is that Jesus is the One doing the searching the finding. No one merely stumbles across a meeting with Jesus. It is always God that is searching us out. Philip and Nathanael’s response was an Act of Faith. The Act of Faith is always man’s response to God. There is an invitation that is connected to the Act of Faith. Faith is a living encounter with God.
The Catechism says:
166 Faith is a personal act—the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others.
Just as in the Gospel, Philip invited Nathanael to “Come and see” the One whom He had come to believe, we too, that have been sought out and found by Christ and responded to that invitation, must share him with other people. Faith is not meant to be kept to oneself, but to be shared with all people.
Will you be the “Philip” that invites someone you know to “Come and see” Jesus? There are many “Nathanael’s” out there just waiting to be invited. You may be the catalyst that the Lord is waiting to use to bring a fallen away Catholic back to Mass. Why not ask a friend that has stopped practicing the Catholic Faith to “Come and see”—to come back to Mass. What do you have to lose? The second largest denomination in the United States, next to practicing Catholics is– guess who? Fallen away Catholics.
They are not going to wait for us to ask them. We need to ask. We are so afraid to here someone say—NO! A former Protestant Minister who converted to the Catholic Church once told me that no Catholic he ever knew invited him to Mass. Some of you may know him—Marcus Grodi—the host of the Journey Home. Even if you simply bring them to a local Catholic Church to pray for a few minutes—allow the LORD to work. You will be surprised the difference that you can make.
In the last three days, the Church, through it’s Sacred Liturgy, has seen three different Liturgical colors. Violet, at the end of Advent, White or even Gold in some places, as yesterday we entered into the Mystery of the Birth of our Savior and today, red, as we celebrate, St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, that is the first Christian known to give his life after Christ ascended to the Father.
The birth of our Lord that we celebrate at Christmas ultimately points to His Passion and Death on the Cross. The reason that the Son of God assumed human nature was to identify with us, to live among us and to sacrifice His life for our salvation. The Son of God did not need to be born like us to have life. He had life from all eternity. Thus, he did not come into the world to live, but to die.
It is appropriate that St. Stephen’s martyrdom is celebrated immediately after the birth of the Lord. St. Stephen confessed that God came among us in the Flesh, lived among us, suffered, died, rose from the dead and ascended to the Father. Celebrating martyrdom the day after Christmas reminds us that God the Son, born of the Virgin Mary, that little baby boy in the Crib of Bethlehem was born to die. On the Feast of St. Stephen in 2003, Bl. John Paul II said “It is so meaningful to celebrate the First Martyr the day after Christmas. Jesus who was born in Bethlehem gave His life for us so that we too, reborn ‘from on high’ through faith and Baptism, might be willing to give up our own lives for love of our brothers and sisters.”
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that people “debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” (Acts 6) A very well learned Jew, a scholar of the Law, named Saul was among this crowd. He was known for his persecution of Christians. Of course, we now know him as St. Paul of Tarsus.
It was the martyrdom of St. Stephen that brought about one of the greatest conversions in history. The early Church Fathers would say that Paul was baptized in the blood of St. Stephen. It was in the shedding of St. Stephen’s blood that brought about Faith for St. Paul.
Before he died, Stephen look intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’” This was his last profession of faith, his last sermon so to speak. His conviction and manner of speaking must have been incredible, for his executioners “cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.”
Truth must have been ringing in their ears. When the truth is proclaimed there are only two choices: submission or denial. Stephen’s executioners chose denial. They covered their ears, not allowing the message of salvation to penetrate their hearts. We, too, can do the very same thing!
The preaching of St. Stephen must have had an influence on St. Paul later writing to the Romans that Faith comes through hearing. St. Paul must not have closed his ears to Stephen’s preaching. This is a profound insight into the nature of Faith.
The process of believing for the Christian begins with the ears: the hearing of the message of salvation. Then, the message of salvation descends into the heart. In the heart happens the Act of Faith. It is in the heart that a decision is made to adhere to the message or to refuse it. Once the Christian makes a decision to adhere to the Faith, then the message comes to the mouth. With the mouth, we make our profession of Faith. Hearing, deciding and professing are all essential to making the Act of Faith.
Hearing, deciding and professing should then lead to Christian witness. Profession and proclamation of Christ must be animated by Christian charity. The profession of Faith with our lips has to conform to an interior conversion of the heart. If what we profess as Christians has not changed us, then Faith has not truly taken root. You can be sure that Faith has taken root when it leads to Charity.
The ultimate Christian witness is martyrdom—the shedding of one’s blood for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Catechism states in paragraph
2473 Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude.
The martyrdom of St. Stephen points us back to Jesus Christ. What impelled Stephen to give His life for the sake of the Gospel? The giving of his life in martyrdom flowed from a deep union with Christ and a conviction that Christ really is who he claims to be.
St. Stephen died as Christ died: forgiving and praying for his executioners. In the opening Collect of the Mass we heard “Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors.”
May the martyrdom of St. Stephen give us the courage and fortitude to forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
12/26/12 Homily by Rev. Br. John Paul
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” When words like fire, water, dirt, etc… are used in Sacred Scripture, there is always a deeper meaning behind them. What does Jesus mean by setting the earth on fire?
Fire can do many things. Fire can destroy. Fire can heat up elements. When we get near a scorching fire, we immediately feel its effects. We end up backing away, unless you are curious like a child.
Fire also has the capacity to purify. When a piece if iron is put into a burning furnace, the iron is heated up to a point where it can be molded and shaped. Without the fire, the iron remains cold and immovable.
And it is the same with us. Apply this analogy to how the Holy Spirit works in our lives. When we allow the Holy Spirit to take possession of our hearts, there are many imperfections that need to be purified. Countless times in Sacred Scripture the image of fire is used as purification. Purification from what?… The imperfections of our lives… Our sins, our weaknesses… The life of God within us and our own sinfulness cannot co-exist. One has to go… and hopefully by our cooperation and the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the purifying fire of the Spirit takes reign over our hearts.
The LORD desires that our hearts be on fire. In the Old Testament, the Scribes and Pharisees observed the Law, but without the love of God in their hearts. God the Son became flesh in order to show us the perfection of charity. A Pharisee asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus Christ did not merely talk and teach about the great commandment of love of God and neighbor, but He gave us the supreme example and model for how to love.
What image do you think of in the Old Testament associated with fire? Maybe the LORD appearing to Moses in the form of a burning bush… a burning bush that was not consumed. If you would set a bush on fire, I guarantee that it would be consumed very quickly! The unconsumed burning bush teaches us about the fire of God’s Love. Christ came to reveal the His Father’s Love and to send the Holy Spirit among us to set our hearts on fire. The unconsumed burning bush points to what God desires to do in each of our hearts.
Throughout his Pontificate, Pope Benedict has used the imagery and expression that every Christian is called to have a personal Pentecost. The same Holy Spirit that descended upon the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Upper Room is the same Holy Spirit that we receive at Baptism… is strengthened at our Confirmation and is increased within us at every reception of Holy Communion.
Saying that we are called to experience a “personal Pentecost” personalizes to each one of us an event that happened 2000 years ago. God desires that your heart be set on fire with His Love… ultimately that you love as He loves. The Holy Spirit dwelling within us makes this possible.
The Year of Faith, which was inaugurated on Oct. 11th is an opportunity for each of us to do what the Pope is asking: to rediscover the precious gift of Faith—and in some cases to even discover for the first time the Faith that has been given as a pure gift. The Pope is inviting us to study the content of our Faith. It is not merely enough to be Catholic by name. We have to know what we believe and why we believe it. No more Cafeteria Catholism! The Cafeteria is now closed! If we do not know what we believe, how do we expect to fall in love with God? WE CANNOT LOVE WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW… If we do not know God, we cannot love Him. By studying and praying over what we believe as Catholic Christians, we will come to a greater knowledge of the God who has revealed Himself… and in turn fall more and more in love with the God who has made Himself known.
St. Catherine of Siena once said “if you are what you should be, you would set the whole world on fire.” If we would only let God accomplish what he desires to do through us. Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once was asked by a reporter: “Mother, what do you see as the greatest obstacle to your work and furthering the work of the Missionaries of Charity?” She was quick to answer—“ME!” I am the greatest obstacle to God working through me. How true that statement is! We are our biggest obstacle in our life of Faith.—Not other people—or the events or circumstances in the world around us… BUT it is myself… that is preventing the Holy Spirit from working in and through me.
If only we would stop being an obstacle to God. If only we would get out of the way and let Him ignite our hearts with the fire of His Love. What good could be accomplished in the world if every Christian would pray for their own personal Pentecost.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
By Br. John Paul Mary
I have found it very helpful to prayerfully imagine Jesus giving me a big hug. This may sound a little sentimental, but do we not see Jesus doing similar things in the Gospel. Jesus does not refrain from touching and healing those who (because of discrimination) sat on the edges of society. He stoops down to wash the feet of the disciples (cf. Jn 13). Last, but not least, Jesus embraces the small child and places him in the midst of the disciples saying “If anyone receives one such child in my name, he receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mk 9:36-37).
The truth is that Jesus constantly shows us the tremendous love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit which is beyond anything we could ever ask or imagine. Christ loved us even before the world began. Do we not celebrate this humble love of God in a special way at Christmas? Jesus identifies Himself with the child and makes Himself totally dependent upon the human love of Mary and Joseph.
Whenever we receive the Eucharist we encounter Christ sacramentally present, body, blood, soul and Divinity. By “embracing” Him and offering our lives with Him to the Father, we grow in love of God and of neighbor. Jesus’ own love – the love which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us (cf. Rom 5:5) – expands and comforts our hearts. Imagine Jesus giving you a big hug when you receive the Eucharist.
I also find it helpful to think of myself embracing Jesus Christ suffering on the Cross whenever I approach the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. The very pain that we often experience in confession of sins and the effort to reform our lives comes from the “converting” embrace of Jesus Christ. The grace and strength it takes to humble oneself before the Lord comes from the grace Jesus won for us upon the Cross. He wants us to enter into the saving mystery of His Passion and death so that we can rise with Him in His Resurrection.
Finally, when our Lord embraces the child perhaps we can see something of the love which the Blessed Mother showed for Jesus when he was a child. In a sense, as Jesus shows us the Father (cf. Jn 14), so He shows us the wholly feminine and motherly tenderness that Mary gave to Him. Next time when we receive a hug, perhaps we will think about Jesus and thank Him for the many ways He shows us His love.
By Br. Paschal Mary
May 20, 2012
Reverend Mother Angelica and Poor Clare Nuns, Fr. Anthony and fellow friars and brother knights, fellow clergy and religious, dear people here and present through EWTN. Welcome, too, to the nuns who were part of this monastery and are now a part of new foundations in Phoenix, San Antonio, Charlotte and the re-opening of the Motherhouse in France.
Sr. Regina was the first Alabama vocation to the newly formed monastery, Our Lady of the Angels, which was dedicated 50 years ago today. Her brother, Charlie, who has a great sense of humor, told me yesterday, that one thing he will never forget is when he came with his sister on day she entered the monastery and he said to Mother Angelica – “Mother, why don’t you do something useful like teaching or working with the sick or helping the poor, instead of sitting around praying all day?” Mother looked at him straight in the eye and said: “You are the very reason we have to stay here and pray!”
As I mentioned yesterday, quoting from the Second Vatican Council, the Church encourages the contemplative life because of the fruits that the contemplative life produce for the vitality of the Church. When the Church chose patrons for her missionary activity, she made the expected choice of St. Francis Xavier, whom many consider the greatest missionary after St. Paul. But activity is not enough to bring about a conversion of hearts because a heart is penetrated only by love. Thus, a contemplative cloistered nun, St. Therese was chosen by the Church as co-patroness of the Church’s missionary activity. In fact, Bl. Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church on World Mission Sunday 1997.
The Monastery was dedicated on the feast of St. Bernardine of Siena, who was one of the greatest preachers in history. Enormous crowds came to hear him speak. For more than thirty years St. Bernardine preached all over Italy and played a great part in the renewal of the Faith.
Providentially, today, the 50th Anniversary of the Monastery, is also the 46th World Communications Day. And the Message of Pope Benedict XVI for this day is: Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization.
What does silence have to do with communication – on World Communications Day?
In his message, Pope Benedict talks about silence being an integral element of communication. In silence, he says, we come to understand ourselves and ideas come to birth. Silence is essential, he continues, if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant. God speaks to us in silence, and silence leads us to contemplation. And in words I find especially poignant today, he said: “Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation ‘to communicate that which we have seen and heard’ so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3).”
The Nun’s most recent newsletter was about their 50th Anniversary celebration (and if you do not have a copy, I recommend you to write to the nun’s in order to receive it.) In it, the Solemn Professed nuns wrote about what it means to be a “Missionary Contemplative.” I would like you to hear directly from them how they are contemplatives with missionary hearts. The Sisters spend much of the day in silence, and so today, I will be the Voice to let them speak what is in their hearts:
Sr. Mary Michael, one of the founding sisters: I wasn’t called to lay down my life for the sheep but to rise from sleep and pray for them. You could say that while missionaries are on the front lines fighting for souls, we are here losing sleep over them.
Sr. Mary Regina: Sr. Regina, as mentioned, was the first Alabama vocation. We often hear her beautiful strong voice at Mass and Benediction (in fact, she told me once: When you praise the Lord, you’ve got to take a deep breath and give it all ya got!”)
In the 1970’s the sisters wanted to do printing and so Mother Angelica and Sr. Regina went to buy a printing press and left the printing company showroom with the equipment and $13,000 bill. They had $200 had the time. Sr. Regina said to Mother, “Do you know what you just did? Where will you get the money?” “At a bank,” Mother answered, “they have plenty of it, and we need some.”
Well, the bankers didn’t have as much faith as Mother Angelica, and they all refused to give her a loan. But, as I spoke about yesterday, Divine Providence provided shortly before the equipment was delivered.
Sr. Marie Emmanuel who, in the 1970’s, ran the printing presses and helped to send mini-books by the thousands to friends who helped distribute them said: “… after living so close to Mother, I … experienced a deeper desire for souls to be saved. . . . . So besides being a contemplative, this work made me feel like a real missionary. . . . We were giving souls food for their spiritual life. It was like lighting the candles of their souls so they could have joy, peace and union with God.”
Sr. Mary Francis Sharbel: used to work in accounting for the monastery and EWTN in its early days. I remember hearing the story of Sr. Sharbel going to Mother Angelica telling her that they did not have enough money to pay the bills. “Why are you coming to me?” Mother asked, “I don’t have the money. Go tell Jesus.” And so Sister went to the chapel and presented the need to the Lord. And Divine Providence provided.
Of her cloistered life, Sr. Sharbel said: “It gives me joy to know I’m helping people by my prayers. During our community rosary I pray especially for our country and for those suffering tragedies in the world. I pray throughout the day – during work, recreation, and rest – this is my gift to the Church.
Sr. Mary Gabriel: When I am sewing either holy habits or mending, etc, I pray that many souls will be converted and come closer to God and not run away from God and His holy Will. Whatever my work is, I always try to make my petitions for saving souls around the world. Whatever we do, we always offer to God our labor. Sometimes it’s hard because we don’t feel good, but even in the midst of our sickness, that is when our offering is more valuable than we could ever imagine. We offer our loving sacrifices in season and out of season as a missionary for Christ throughout the world, even when we stay in the same place.
Sr. Mary Agnes: talked about reading mail from the viewers after EWTN started in 1981: “we were able to see the fruit of our prayers and how God was using the network to change peoples’ lives for the better.” And of her cloistered life: “Missionaries go out and preach the Word, but God alone can enlighten darkened minds and open hearts to His truth and love. Missionaries sow the seed, while contemplatives prepare the soil.”
Sr. Marie Saint John: On a natural level, these two words (Missionary and Contemplative) seem to contradict one another. Kind of the same as when Jesus tells us that we can only save our lives by losing them! Once again, Our Lord works outside the box of our human understanding. I know my hidden life of prayer and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is vital to the missionary life of the Church. Just as gasoline in a car can’t be seen working but gives ‘life’ to the car, so Jesus takes my prayers and those of all cloistered religious and brings life to those laboring and working in the mission field, wherever that may be!
Sr. Mary Jacinta: The contemplative missionary is one who lives in Christ and is animated by His burning desire for the salvation of souls. The entire world is the missionary field of the contemplative: we have zero restrictions to our efficacy since intercessory prayer touches every soul. It is our deep union with Christ, the infinite Source of Light and Love that fashions us into conduits of grace for others. . . . What a privilege it is to daily embrace a life that softens hearts for the Gospel!
Sr. Mary Paschal: A contemplative is completely dedicated to seeking communion with the Trinity by the total surrender of self through prayer, the living of the vows, and the daily sacrifices of community life, which all flow together. In seeking to follow Christ unreservedly, we are taken up into His work, His mission, and His self-offering to the Father, so explicitly realized in the Eucharist. Here is where the ‘missionary activity’ takes full force. By being joined to the one sacrifice of Christ, the nun is able to draw others to Him in prayer and through her life.
And so, in my being the voice for the contemplative missionaries today, I hope we all have a greater appreciation of the value and role that the contemplative cloistered nuns play in the missionary activity of the Church.
The final point I wish to make this evening, is in regards to the life of Perpetual Adoration. I begin with words I often quote from Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist: Sacramentum Caritatis, the Sacrament of Love, because I believe these words of his are profoundly true and because I have experienced them as being true in my many years of association with Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.
The Sacrament of the Altar is always at the heart of the Church’s life: thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew! The more lively the Eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples. The Church’s very history bears witness to this. Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among the people (Pope Ben XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 6).
If there is one “secret” to the success of EWTN it is this. EWTN hosts intern priests who are studying Communications in Rome at the television facilities in Irondale during the Summer months when they are free from classes. They will stay for a month, their own bishops wanting them to gain some experience in the use of the media at our facilities. We have had priests from Africa, India, Latin America, and Germany, for example. I like to ask them at the conclusion of their stay what they will take away from their experience at EWTN. Fr. Fernando from El Salvador told me: “Everything here is centered around the Holy Eucharist. And I know that if I am to be successful, I will need to do the same.”
The Church has been speaking often about the need for a New Evangelization, in fact, in 2010, Pope Benedict established a new Pontifical Council for this purpose: The Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
Do you see, as I do, a connection between a community devoted to Perpetual Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament being the same community to found the largest religious media network in the world? The life of the nuns, this Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the prayers we offering this evening, gathered around Jesus, truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, all point to the reality that HE IS WITH US!
The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration have their gaze fixed there, upon Him. Thank you, dear Mother Angelica and dear sisters for helping us and so many over the course of these 50 years to find there, in Him, strength, light, peace, joy and a burning love – there – in His Eucharistic heart! May many, through you and your works, dear sisters, rediscover the Lord’s Eucharistic Presence among us and may this discovery lead the Church to a great renewal of the Faith and fruitful new evangelization of the world. Amen.
By Fr. Joseph Mary
May 19, 2012
The nuns wanted me, on their behalf, to thank all of the benefactors who helped to build and to support both the monastery in Irondale and the present monastery in Hanceville – or any of you who have helped them over the years in any way. The National Catholic Register Article on the monastery this past week had this quotation from the nuns regarding their benefactors: “The people of Birmingham received us with open arms, with incredible generosity and kindness. It was Southern hospitality at its best! We were overwhelmed by all the love and support.”
The nuns want all of you, their dear friends, to know that they pray for both their living and deceased benefactors in gratitude for their kindness and generosity.
Bishop Robert Baker, Bishop David Foley, Abbot Cletus, Reverend Mother Angelica and Poor Clare Nuns, fellow clergy & religious and dear people here and with us through EWTN,
In 1984 I visited, for the first time, Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, then in Irondale. Matt Scalici, the head of engineering, who was interviewing me for a job at EWTN, gave me a tour of the facilities. As we went through the print shop, where the nun’s printed their mini-books, two signs near the ceiling caught my eye. One said: “Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous.” The other said: “We don’t know what we are doing, but we are getting good at it.”
These two sayings that encapsulate some of the nun’s spirit, are part of the reason Our Lady of Angels Monastery has become so dear to the hearts of so many. The nuns joyful faith in God and total confidence in His providence are contagious and so many of us present here caught the fever and were inspired to do the same and to help Mother and the nuns in whatever way we could.
50 years ago five nuns squeezed into in a station wagon together with three friends from Canton, Ohio who drove them from Canton to Birmingham (of whom only Mother Angelica and Sr. Michael are still living). The nuns were each given a brown paper grocery sack in which to put only their bare necessities. The rest would come later. You see, from the start, they were to learn to trust in Divine Providence and to be a close-knit family.
Sr. Michael, one of those founding sisters, said: “Mother Angelica was never afraid of failure, but only of not doing God’s will,” and of the construction of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, she added: “Mother proved to be a very capable contractor, foreman and businesswoman all rolled into one. She won the respect of workmen and businessmen alike who soon realized they couldn’t pull anything over on her.”
Sr. Raphael, one of the deceased founding members, recounted an incident when an electrical contractor came asking to speak to the supervisor. Mother Angelica had answered the door and replied, “I’m the supervisor.” Looking embarrassed he asked for the contractor. “I’m the contractor,” she said.
“Well let me talk to someone who can read these plans.” “I’m the one,” she said emphatically, “show them to me.” Exasperated he unrolled the plans and asked her to check them. “Like some miracle,” Mother related later, “I saw one mistake at first glance.” “This outlet is in the wrong place.” Unbelieving, he quickly lowered his head to see better and then took a good look at Mother. “My God, your right,” he said, and he never questioned her again.
And so, the first point I wish to make about this Golden Jubilee of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Alabama is how God’s Providence has been made manifest from its beginnings and throughout these 50 years.
“Mother Angelica recounted an interview with a news reporter who asked her how she built her television station. She said: “Faith in divine providence.” He said, “Oh, that doesn’t mean anything to me.” “I know,” she said, “that’s why you don’t have a TV station!” Fr. Peter Stravinskas in “Essentials of Religious Life Today.”
Can anyone deny that God has revealed, in a remarkable way, His Divine Providence through Our Lady of the Angels Monastery and that prayer really does move mountains? Haven’t we all been encouraged to trust God more and to strive to do His Will better in our lives. We have learned through the remarkable events of the past 50 years, to pray, to trust and to know that God is quite capable of moving mountains, if WE WILL MOVE forward in faith – even if it feels, as Mother described it, like having “one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in your stomach.”
The second point I wish to make is in regards to the Scripture passages the nuns chose for their Mass of Thanksgiving today.
One of the things that our Holy Father St. Francis liked to do, as can be seen, for example, in his Office of the Passion, was to make a collage of Scripture passages, tying short passages from different parts of the Bible together to emphasize a point. I would like to follow his example this morning using the Scripture passages the nuns chose for their Mass of Thanksgiving today, tying together words from the Prophet Isaiah, Psalm 138, St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians and the Gospel of Luke:
“The favors of the Lord I will recall, the glorious deeds of the Lord, because of all he has done for us” “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all of my heart . . . in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple.” “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in my heart to God . . . doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name. He has mercy … in every generation.”
The Gospel today is very familiar to the nuns since they repeat the words of Mary in her Magnificat every hour of the day as they adore Jesus, truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament, carrying out their charism of reparative and unremitting thanksgiving to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout the entire year.
Vatican II’s document on Missionary activity, Ad Gentes, speaks of the importance of the nun’s contemplative life for the Church’s mission: “By their prayers, works of penance, and sufferings, contemplative communities have a very great importance in the conversion of souls. For it is God who sends workers into His harvest when He is asked to do so (cf. Mt. 9:38), who opens the minds of non-Christians to hear the Gospel (cf. Acts 16:14), and who makes the word of salvation fruitful in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor. 3:7). In fact, these communities are urged to found houses in mission areas” (Ad Gentes, 40).
And so, we are grateful that 50 years ago, one of these contemplative communities founded a house in the mission territory of Alabama.
The third and final point I would like to make this morning, is that an anniversary is not only looking to the past but directs us to look with courage to the future.
It was said of Bl. Pope John Paul II that during his pontificate he immersed the Church in anniversaries so to reclaim the past as a platform to launch into the future. And so today dear sisters and dear people, is not just about nostalgia, although it is certainly good to see old friends and to recall fond memories – but it is about recalling God’s actions in the past – as the people of Israel so often did – and as the psalms of praise so often do – and as we do at every Mass – in order to have courage to set out into the future.
The late Silvio Cardinal Oddi blessed the television network shortly after it began and wrote the following words a year later: “While others have been talking, EWTN has been transmitting. This daring project has begun well.”
There is still much for all of us to do. And the work begun 50 years ago, must continue. Not just talk about it, but DO IT! We need some of that daring Cardinal Oddi spoke of to face the challenges of 2012 and beyond. Remembering what the Lord has done in the past reminds us that He is quite capable of doing great things in these present challenging times. We ALL need to continue forward, feeling sometimes perhaps, that we have one foot on the ground, the other in the air, and a queasy feeling in our stomachs, but knowing that God is with us. And if God is with us, of whom should we be afraid?
Finally, Franciscans are presently celebrating the 8th centenary of the “conversion” and consecration of St. Clare of Assisi which took place on Palm Sunday 1212 - a celebration which concludes with the Feast of St. Clare this year. Pope Benedict XVI said the following words in a message for the Clarian year entitled “The Undying Allure of St. Clare of Assisi”:
“At its most profound level, Clare’s ‘conversion’ is a conversion of love.
“The story of Clare, with that of Francis, is an invitation to reflect upon the meaning of life and to seek the secret of true joy in God. It is concrete proof that those who accomplish the will of God and trust in Him not only lose nothing, but discover the real treasure which gives meaning to everything”.
Congratulations, Mother Angelica and dear sisters! Ad multos annos! – We need you! We need both your witness of love for the Lord and we need the fruits of your contemplative life to help us – May the Lord grant you many more fruitful years! And may He grant you all much happiness as you recall all that the Lord has done for you – and through you – as a platform to launch into the future with courage and trust in His great Providence.
By Fr. Joseph Mary
As we celebrate Christmas this year, it’s good to reflect on the reason for the Incarnation and Christ’s coming to us as a man. In the Nicene Creed, we profess that Christ became incarnate for us and for our salvation. It is ultimately out of love for us that he came to save us from the power of sin and death.
After the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve, that harmonious relationship with God which existed was broken. Perfect harmony was also lost in relationships among human beings. In addition, man’s relationship with the created world and material creation was damaged. Adam and Eve were not the only ones affected by the result of sin, however, but each of us as well, as we have descended from them. Simply taking a look around us and even within our own hearts, we see the effects of original sin still present.
Because of our wounded human nature, it very easy for us to fall into personal sin, becoming slaves to the passions of the flesh and enemies of God. Sadly, there was nothing we could do to rectify this situation on our own. We needed God’s forgiveness and grace.
Ultimately, it was because of God’s great love for us that he became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. He took on our human nature and suffered a most agonizing death to save us from our sins and to open the gates of heaven for us, those to whom paradise had been closed off since the fall.
Looking at the readings from Midnight Mass gives us a good glimpse of this great mystery of our faith, from the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament to their fulfillment in the incarnation and birth of Christ. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who have dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:2). There is a tone of rejoicing in this statement as the people hear the prophecy that the rod of their oppressor is broken. Literally, the oppressors of the Northern Kingdom of Israel at this time were the Assyrians.
Despite the threats from the oppressor, hope is given as “a child is born.” This was not just any child, but one in which the government would be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Further, it is revealed that “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” The people have seen a great light as this child to be born is the light of the world, who came to reconcile the world to God through his passion, death and resurrection and to bring us true and lasting peace, the peace that only the Prince of Peace can give.
Ephrem the Syrian comments on the description of the child as ‘Wonderful’ stating: “for a wonder it is that God should reveal himself as a baby.” Think about that. The all-powerful and infinite God coming to us as a weak and defenseless little baby. As one priest has written, if I can believe that the all powerful God became a little baby, I can easily believe all the other miracles that Christ performed – including giving Himself to us under the form of bread and wine and rising from the dead!
Theodoret of Cyr also points out how this prophecy of Isaiah can be used as an apologetic for the divine maternity of Mary. He simply states that if the child is called “Mighty God,” then it makes perfect sense that his mother would be called the “mother of God.” For “the mother shares the honor of her offspring, and the Virgin is both the mother of the Lord Christ as man and again is his servant as Lord and Creator and God.”
Psalm 96 continues this joyful tone by declaring that one ought to sing to the Lord a new song. “Let the heavens and the earth rejoice.” “Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes.” The Lord comes…as a little child. The Lord comes at every Mass under the form of bread and wine!
St. Paul’s letter to Titus again explains the reason for Christ’s coming among us sinners. Jesus Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” By taking on human flesh and becoming a little child, He is able to give himself up for love us and to reconcile us to Himself.
After the birth of Jesus, as recounted in St. Luke’s gospel, we hear that he was laid in a manger. This was the sign that the shepherds were to witness: “a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” We are very familiar with this image so it might not strike us as out of the ordinary, but in fact, as a feeding trough for animals, the manger was no ordinary crib for an infant. Jesus, the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread,” was laid in a feeding trough. Does this bring any Eucharistic imagery to mind? “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53). This Jesus, who was the king of kings and Lord of Lords and who came to save us from our sins, was not born in a palace and laid in a fancy bed, but rather in a manger. He was rich and yet became poor for our sakes, so that by his poverty, we might become rich. Though he was rich he became poor, to teach us that by being poor in spirit, we might win the kingdom of heaven.
So what does all of this mean for us today? This historical event of the birth of Christ took place over 2,000 years ago! By reflecting on this great mystery of our faith, we can cultivate gratitude for the work of redemption accomplished by God becoming man for our sakes. Yes, we still deal with the effects of original sin, but we are not doomed to eternal misery, but rather have the opportunity now, thanks to our God becoming man and laying down his life for us, to enjoy eternal happiness with Him. This cultivation of gratitude can be a foretaste of the gratitude with which we will praise God for ever with all the saints in heaven.
By Rev. Br. Patrick Mary
There is almost nothing more disarming in the world than a new-born infant. Even a stone cold heart shatters in the vicinity of a helpless, tiny babe. Why? Why do babies have this “power” to make us feel incredibly small? Perhaps we might think, “We too were once that small.” We are reminded that this child before us is totally dependent on others and utterly helpless on its own. Our own fragility is placed before our eyes. Are we any different than this child? The Christmas Crèche reminds us this profound reality that He who seems so distant at times, He who we think does not understand us in fact became a humble child so that we might approach Him in a child-like manner.
We are all invited once again to consider the poverty of Bethlehem. In a world that is war stricken, the message of the Incarnation, God-with-us, is the same. In a world where family life is threatened and perhaps your own family is experiencing difficulty, the message of the Christ-Child is the same. The angel’s hymn, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, gives us the message of peace and goodwill toward men. (Lk. 2:14) This Child was born to bring peace into every human heart afflicted with sin.
The Lord Jesus came in the humility of a child to disarm our preconceived notion of God. He does not come as the political ruler that the chosen people were expecting. Caesar Augustus imposed peace by force, but the peace and reconciliation that this humble baby would bring was brought about through love and forgiveness. Pope Benedict XVI said “In that Child… God comes without weapons, without force, because he does not want to conquer, so to speak, from the outside, but rather wants to be freely received by the human being. God makes himself a defenseless Child to overcome pride, violence and the human desire to possess.”
The Psalmist says “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the people with his truth.” (Ps. 96) His very first throne he judged upon was the humble manger in Bethlehem, a feeding trough for animals. Cyril of Alexandria said “He is laid in a manger like fodder for a people who act like beasts.” The same God who created and rules the universe made Himself helpless and vulnerable “to teach people a new way of living and loving.”
“Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Mt. 18:3) Our God was serious in this statement. God the Son was born for us (Is. 9:6; Lk. 2:7), in poverty, wrapped in swaddling clothes, which symbolizes our release from the bands of sin that bind us (Bede and John the Monk). The poverty of the birth of Christ teaches us just how far God is willing to stoop to our level to identify with us.
Everybody’s favorite Saint, yours and mine, St. Francis of Assisi, brought to the forefront of the Church’s piety this profound truth of the humility of God in the Incarnation. His emphasis on the Sacred Humanity of Christ brought warmth and “heartbeat” back into Christian devotion. St. Francis knew that you cannot love anything that ultimately you cannot get your arms around. We cannot love abstractions, only persons. He wanted the faithful to know that God truly became Emmanuel, God-with-us, and that each of us can experience His closeness if we let down our walls and approach Him as a child. The humility and closeness of our God is a lesson each of us can benefit.
Are we willing to welcome the poor Christ Child into our hearts? Are we going to be like the innkeeper who denied because there was no room? (Lk. 2:7) St. Jerome says “The entire human race had a place, and the Lord about to be born had none. He found no room among men.” Are things any different today? He who has created each of us individually comes to the door of our own “inn,” our own heart to seek entrance. Will we turn Him away as well?
GK “Chesterton noted than Jesus disclosed himself to the humble who knew they knew little and then to the learned who appreciated they did not know everything.”
The whole reason we celebrate Christmas is to approach that new-born baby once again and to remind ourselves God is very close to us. Our God became touchable, huggable and tangible for the sake of you and me.
By Br. John Paul Zeller, MFVA
 Alfred McBride, The Human Face of Jesus (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 1998), 26.
 Pope Benedict XVI, “On the Meaning of Christmas,” Eternal Word Television Network, http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/b16meaningxmas.htm (accessed February 2, 2011).
 Arthur Just Jr., ed., Luke (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 35.
 Pope Benedict XVI, “On the Meaning of Christmas.
 Arthur Just Jr., ed., Luke (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture), 35.
 Ibid., 39.
 Alfred McBride, How to Make Homilies Better, Briefer, and Bolder: Tips from a Master Homilist (San Francisco: Our Sunday Visitor, 2007), 116.
Some of the most exciting, marvelous, and mysterious things in life are hidden and happen in silence, behind closed doors. From the bird hatching through its egg in the nest, to the pre-born infant growing in silence inside the womb of his mother, some of the life’s fascinating moments are unseen. We can say the same of the most glorious event in all humanity, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. What must it have looked like behind the walls of that tomb when the Son of God was raised from the dead? (Acts 10:40) We can only imagine.
The Servant of God, Fulton J. Sheen once said of Christ that He was the only Person ever preannounced. “History is full of men who have claimed that they came from God, or that they were gods, or that they bore messages from God—Budda, Mohammed, Confucius, Christ and thousands of others…What separates Christ from all men is that first He was expected and once He appeared, He struck history with such impact that He split it in two periods: one before His coming, the other after it.” All of humanity, from Adam and Eve to the last man were born to live. Only the Christ was born to die. He already had life from all Eternity. So why did he come? He came to bridge the infinite gap that sin introduced into humanity.
Let us remember briefly the cruel death that He endured. The reading on Good Friday from the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:5) Man, himself, had no capacity to repair the damage of sin. Only God, by becoming Man and taking on the full burden of sin upon Himself could achieve this reconciliation. It is the perennial teaching of the Church that Christ saw each of us at every moment of His Passion and Death and atoned for us individually as well as collectively. When this is kept in mind, the magnitude of the Resurrection becomes even clearer. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ has bridged the infinite chasm between God and man. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead changed the course of history and history has truly become “His-story.”
Even before we become His witnesses (Acts 10:39; 43), the Father who sent the Son to assume Flesh has bore witness to Him. (Jn 5:37) To bear witness is to testify on one’s behalf. A stronger Greek translation for witness would be martyr, someone who shed their blood. We know most of the Apostles and early Disciples of Christ were martyrs and shed their blood for their belief in the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene was the first to witness the empty tomb. (Jn. 20:1) Her concern was that someone had stolen the body of the Lord. (Jn. 20:2) Scripture attests that she was not alone. Other women were with her. She did not run into the town proclaiming the Resurrection, but sought Peter and John to testify to what she saw. As they looked in the tomb, the burial cloths were neatly folded with the napkin that was on His face rolled up separately. (Jn. 20:5-7) Commentators say that the linens lying there and the napkin, which should have been still glued to the face of Jesus because of the amount of myrrh are a sign that there was no theft of His Body. Surely, thieves would have stolen the valuable linens and would not have been concerned with His Body.
And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem, They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and made him manifest. (Acts 10: 39-40) The book of Deuteronomy and St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians both state “Cursed is everyone who hangs from a tree.” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13) The God-Man, Jesus Christ, took the curse upon Himself and made it a blessing, an instrument of torture He turned into the instrument of our salvation. How has this testimony changed us? The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an historical event; either you believe it or you do not. There are no maybes here. What happened 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ was crucified on Mt. Calvary and after three days rose in the silence of His tomb still has ramifications for us here today. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3) As St. Paul said “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:14) Faith rises or falls on the resurrection.
In the silence of your own heart, renew your faith in the resurrection today. Everything that you believe hinges upon it. As we renew our Baptismal vows, let us ask for the grace to believe in faith what we profess with our lips. In this case, mere lip service is not enough.
By Br. John Paul, MFVA
 Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ, 2nd. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 18-20.
 Ancient Christian Commentary: St. John Chrysostom
 Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 199.
On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles the Lord proclaimed before the crowds, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:37-39). John goes on to interpret the saying as a reference to the giving of the Spirit as a result of his glorification.
John, by witnessing to the flow of blood and water, also attests that at his death Jesus constituted the Church. The Catechism affirms: “The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life (Cf. 19:34; 1 John 5:6-8). From then on, it is possible ‘to be born of water and the Spirit’ (Cf. John 3:5) in order to enter the Kingdom of God” (CCC 1225. Cf. Lumen Gentium ¶ 3). And again, “it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth ‘the wondrous sacrament of the whole Church’” (CCC 1067). From his heart, the symbol of divine mercy and love, all the Sacraments are given their power from the superabundant merit of Christ. The Church, constituted by the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism, proclaims this great mystery by the power of that same Spirit given from the Cross and bestowed “not by measure” (John 3:34). The Holy One of God, Jesus continues to be present in the Church especially and really in the Most Holy Eucharist and so is with us always, even “to the close of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Br. Paschal, MFVA
God the Son assumed a human nature into the unity of His person and so became the principle of our salvation. In the person and work of Jesus the desire of Israel (and implicitly of all the nations) for the peace of the messianic Kingdom found its fulfillment. The hymn of thanksgiving in Isaiah 12 if fulfilled in Jesus’ person and work: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the nations, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd-6).
Mary—the perfect image of the hope of Israel, more than any other and because of the grace of her Immaculate Conception—longed to see the salvation of her people. In love, she uttered her “fiat” to the angel who said that the son who would be virginally born of her would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary, became the source of salvation to all who believe in Him (cf. Isaiah 12:2, Gaudium et Spes ¶17, John 3:16). Through Mary’s Magnificat the joy of Israel is perfectly expressed for indeed the Holy One of Israel is incarnate—He is great in our midst.
Br Paschal Mary, MFVA
In the midst of Lent, we continue to give heed to words we heard on Ash Wednesday from the prophet Joel: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12). Besides being reconciled to God by making a good sacramental confession, we also need to be reconciled with our neighbor. Jesus made this very explicit when he said: “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15). This is very clear, and yet can be extremely difficult at the same time, especially if one has been the recipient of grave harm or injury from another.
Perhaps St. Patrick would make a good fellow traveler as we continue through these 40 days. He is a great example for us as he cooperated with God’s grace in returning to the Lord with his whole heart, was reconciled to God and strove to reconcile with his neighbor. Not only did he forgive those who harmed him during his life, but was also able to turn moments of intense sorrow and suffering into occasions of giving thanks to God! I think three specific events in his life stand out in this regard.
At the age of 16, while staying at his father’s estate in Britain, Patrick was taken by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. He spent the next six years as a servant, shepherding his master’s flock. During his captivity, he had a dream in which he was told to escape and that a boat was ready for his departure. He acted on this and did eventually make it home.
Not only was Patrick later able to forgive his captors, but he also saw God’s Providence in his captivity. It is reminiscent in a way of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, and later saving them during the time of the great famine. Patrick saw his time in captivity as a time of conversion and purification, for he admits in his Confession, that although he was the son of a deacon, he had not known the true God and had turned away from Him. Yet in his captivity, he was strengthened in faith and really grew to love prayer. He had also been able to understand the local language as he was there for six years, which would be very helpful later on.
Through all this, he was able to forgive, because if he did not, he would not have responded to the inspiration from God when he saw in a vision at night, a man coming to him with many letters. The letter Patrick was given had these words at the top: “The voice of the Irish.” As he read on, he thought he heard their voices cry out “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.”
Naturally, it is not easy to forgive, and one can easily see Patrick’s humanity when he stated in his Confessions: “And I was quite broken in heart, and could read no further, and so I woke up.” He did, however, respond to the call. After being trained and instructed, he was ordained as a deacon, priest and even a bishop in his own country before returning to Ireland as the successor of another bishop who had died.
St. Patrick also recounted an attack he suffered, in his Confession, from a number of his superiors who brought up against him an embarrassing and shameful sin he had committed as a youth. Patrick had confided this sin, before his ordination to the diaconate, to a close friend of his and this friend later betrayed him by breaking confidence. This was a friend, who even had told Patrick earlier that he should be raised to the rank of bishop! Needless to say, this betrayal hurt St. Patrick very much, but he was able to forgive his friend and even gave thanks to God for strengthening him during that severe and embarrassing trial and for the fact that God did not allow it to frustrate the mission he was given in preaching to the Irish. In fact, he said it strengthened his trust in God!
A third example is an account given of a British Prince named Coroticus, who sent his soldiers to plunder parts of Ireland. They killed some of Patrick’s new converts and sold others into slavery. This happened to be the day after his converts were baptized and confirmed! St. Patrick wrote a bold letter to the soldiers of Coroticus, condemning their actions and calling them enemies of Christ. Patrick boldly condemned the act that was carried out and yet did not rule out mercy as he forbid the faithful to have any associations with those who did these wicked deeds, unless they repented, did penance and freed the remaining baptized servants. Even though the innocent were slaughtered, and Patrick made clear that the act was a grave injustice, he knew as well that no act was beyond God’s mercy if one truly repented. Again, even in this tragic situation, Patrick could both grieve and give thanks to God. He addressed his dear spiritual children who were slaughtered, as he wrote in his letter: “I grieve for you, I grieve my dearly beloved. But again, I rejoice within myself…thanks be to God, you have left the world and have gone to Paradise as baptized faithful.”
As we continue through this journey of Lent, we can look to St. Patrick, a man who, aware of his weakness and sinfulness, was reconciled to God, forgave those who injured him, and was docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, giving him the strength to spread the faith and conquer the paganism that covered a nation!
Br. Patrick Mary, MFVA
“Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning (Joel 2:12).” These words from the book of the prophet Joel are heard in the first reading at Mass on Ash Wednesday. This gives us a glimpse as to what the holy season of Lent is about – preparing our hearts to be reconciled to the Lord and returning to Him.
The season of Lent lasts about 40 days and, as just mentioned, is a time of preparation. We can see the significance of “40 days” as a fitting time of preparation in the Bible when Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai before he received the Ten Commandments from God. Even more fitting, is the example of Christ spending 40 days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness before starting his public ministry.
During this holy season of Lent, we prepare in a special way for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. Returning again to the prophet Joel, this period is marked by a spirit of fasting, weeping and mourning.
The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday are a good reminder of this. We see the use of ashes and rending or tearing one’s clothing in the Old Testament as a sign of mourning and penance. In the book of Esther, Mordecai “rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry” when he heard the king’s command that all the Jewish people were to be destroyed (Esther 4:1). Also, in the book of Jonah, after the prophet preaches repentance to the town of Nineveh, we are told that the people of that town “proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Then tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes” (Jonah 3:5-6).
Thankfully, it is no longer the custom to tear our garments. This is also seen in the book of the prophet Joel: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord” (Joel 2:13). Fasting and the use of ashes, however, still remain the custom in the Church today.
Furthermore, the use of ashes is a very rich symbol and is not limited to emphasizing penance and mourning. When we receive the ashes during Mass, we generally receive them on our foreheads in the sign of a cross. This shows that we belong to Christ and brings to mind the signing or mark of the “tav” that was “put on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations” that took place in the city of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 9:4).
The ashes also remind us of our mortality. This is clearly seen in one of the formula’s we hear: “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This reminds us that as we will eventually face death, we need to repent of our sins and be reconciled to God before it is too late. The time to do this is now! “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
The most common and efficacious way of being reconciled to God for us as Catholics is to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation by going to confession. By being sorry for our sins, having a firm purpose of amendment, and by confessing them to Christ through the priest in confession, we follow the Lord’s command to return to him with our whole hearts. This is a wonderful way for us to enter into and make our journey through Lent as we prepare for the great celebration of Holy Week and Easter, truly embracing a spirit of penance, fasting, almsgiving and prayer. May this be our best Lent yet!
Br. Patrick Mary, MFVA
A religious vocation is not a feeling you have; it is a choice you make. It is a choice that God invites some to, both for the good of the Church and their own good. And the decision is this: to accompany Jesus during life, and to love and to suffer with Him for the salvation of souls. What would lead someone to make this choice, you ask? Simply the love of Jesus and the desire to be like Him – even to the point of sacrificing oneself for sinners.
As one might expect, the cross is an unpleasant feeling. But religious life is a pilgrimage of dedicated, loving service that leads to a deep union with God. For as Jesus Himself said, “Those who lose their life for My sake will find it” (cf. Matt. 16:24-27). Yes, they will find their life in Him, in His Heart, where there is a special place for those consecrated to the imitation and service of Christ. Consecrated persons are called to accompany Jesus in His mission. And one day, the pilgrimage of religious life will bring them to the most desirable of destinations – to Heaven. There, when God wipes away their last tear, they’ll recognize His wounded hand.
But first, there is work to be done, prayers to be offered, Jesus and the Saints to be imitated. For as Pope John Paul II wrote in Vita Consecrata, his apostolic exhortation on the consecrated life:
“Consecrated persons make visible, in their consecration and total dedication, the loving and saving presence of Christ, the One consecrated by the Father, sent in mission. Allowing themselves to be won over by Him, they prepare to become, in a certain way, a prolongation of His humanity. The consecrated life eloquently shows that the more one lives in Christ, the better one can serve Him in others….” (Vita Consecrata, No. 76) By Br. Bernard Mary, MFVA
The different liturgical seasons in the Church year present to us the mysteries of Christ’s life. Everything that Jesus did serves our redemption. The early Church Fathers taught the maxim, “What He did not assume, He did not redeem.” By assuming our human nature Jesus not only taught and instructed us; He transformed us, inwardly, by His grace. We are saved through Jesus Christ. Our contact with the mysteries of Christ’s life produces a salvific effect in our lives. We are saved through the sacred humanity of Christ joined to ours.
All of His actions are in obedience to the will of the Father and reveal God’s love to us. What is He revealing to us in the Christmas mystery? The theologian, Garrigou-Lagrange, said a mystery of our faith, in the strict theological sense, is “a divinely revealed reality that little ones can understand but not even learned ones can comprehend.” The truth that is contained in the mystery is so great as to make them beyond the grasp of our finite minds. “When a man meets a mystery of the faith, he finds not a deficiency but an excess of intelligibility: there is just too much to understand.”(taken from Fr. John Saward’s, Cradle of Redeeming Love)
The mysteries of our faith, for example the incarnation, cannot be fully comprehended not because they are irrational, but because they are “supra-rational.” They are beyond our reason due to the vastness of the truth contained in the mystery. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God becoming man is the greatest of all the works of God. “…this surpasses reason more than any other, since one cannot conceive of God doing anything more wonderful than that true God, the Son of God, should be made true man.” (Summa Contra Gentiles 4, 27) The divinity of God is joined to the humanity of man in the second person of the Trinity. The baby in the crib seems small but He is God as well. In the words of St. Leo the Great, “…lowliness was taken on by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity.” (Leo’s Tome)
The incarnation should give us pause. The concepts we form in our mind to understand it fall short of “explaining” the mystery satisfactorily. The incarnation becomes for us, seemingly, two paradoxical truths. The best we can do is to hold in tension the fact that He is truly God and truly man. We cannot separate the two truths and say that He is only one or the other. We maintain them at the full intensity of the truth of each, yet we try to reconcile them together in our finite minds. Frank Sheed in his book Theology and Sanity writes, “For although we still cannot actually see the reconciliation, yet some mysterious reconciliation is in fact effected within us. We begin, as I have said, with a steady concentration upon each of the two elements, and a moment comes when we recognize that we are living mentally in the presence not of two truths but of one. We still could not say how both can be true at once, yet we truly experience them so.”
Sheed goes on to say the reason we experience the mysteries of Christ as two opposing truths is because there are two opposing truths within us. We are a union of a body and a soul, a union of the spiritual and the material. Since we are beings made from nothingness, we have the opposition of nothingness and being within us. Everything about us, how we think, act and experience things– stems from this truth about our nature. We belong to the spiritual world and the material one. We perceive something of eternity, yet we live in time. Our free will acts in conjunction with grace. Because of the opposites within us, we tend to experience things in a duality.
The word ‘mystery’ is from the greek word ‘mysterion,’ which means ‘something that is hidden.’ The mysteries of faith are hidden from us and have to be revealed. And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them. (Mark 10:13-15)
We have to become like children in order to receive what is revealed to us in the mystery of the incarnation. We have to shake off our projections onto the event and have a receptive, contemplative stance toward the Christmas mystery. We have to be humble in order to receive it in all of its poverty and simplicity. I think the key to approaching the Christmas mystery is to be receptive to the marvelous thing that God has done for us.
Mother Theresa said something to the effect that, “Every time a child is born, it is a sign that God hasn’t given up on the world.” This is even truer when the baby is the Son of God. At the birth of a baby, the parents have a sense that this marvelous thing that has just happened is something much greater than what they themselves could have “produced.” It is beyond them. It is a transcendent event. Something outside of them had to make something so beautiful. The humble man responds with reverence. He is in awe of the mystery before him.
The nativity scene in many great works of art, depict Mary kneeling before the Divine Child in the crib with her hands folded in prayer. St. Luke’s gospel records that she “pondered” these things in her heart. We approach such things on our knees because of what is being revealed to us: God’s love.
Towards the end of his life, the great theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas had a profound mystical experience of God. Afterwards, he referred to his great masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, as being “straw” in comparison. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him,…” (Phil 3:8-9) St. Matthew’s gospel describes the kingdom as a valuable pearl, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:45-46) Because of its importance in our life, we have to be ready to give all in order to enter into God’s kingdom. In St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells Martha that He is the only thing that is truly necessary.
Jesus changes everything for us. The Christmas mystery teaches us about God’s love for us. That He is love, and He has given Himself to us by becoming man. God did not create the world out of any necessity on His part. What does God need? What can satisfy Him? He is perfectly fulfilled in Himself. The only possible motive is that He created it out of love. He redeemed us out of love. This life changing love that He has for us desires union with us. It is not simply a lofty ideal that we imitate, but He reaches down to our humanity and raises us up to share in His life through His incarnation. The essence of Christianity is not a system of ethics, but is Christ himself. (taken from Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue) The astonishment of it all is that we just have to receive it. To be open to it. Lord may we know the tender love that you have for each one of us!
Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
Dear fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in Christ,
This is the time of the year when we think about the baby Jesus and His biological mother and step-father, Joseph. Jesus said “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister, and mother.” Mary never did anything other than the will of God the Father, so she truly is Jesus’ mother.
Each and every person is called to be a mother. The Blessed Mother gave little baby Jesus a place in her own body. She bore Him for nine months and then brought Him into the world. We are to be like the Blessed Mother and let the seed of faith grow in us. While our faith in Jesus is still a baby in us, we must share it with men and women in the world. Jesus could only grow and be protected in Mary’s womb so long. Then he had to come out in order to finish growing. Our faith starts out small and needs a lot of protection. But if it is to keep growing, we must share it with others. When men and women come to know Jesus and do His Father’s will, Jesus will have many more brothers, sisters and mothers. This is why the Christmas story must take birth in you and me first.
We must be prepared for the coming of Christ and that is why we turn to Holy Mother Church, who knows the ins and outs of all her children. Because of the effects of original sin, she knows our tendency to sin. The Catholic Church gives us the tools to help us prepare for Christmas. The seven sacraments, used well in Advent, can help us to prepare for the Christmas season. Holy Mother Church knows our interior sickness with sin. She gives us prayer, fasting and almsgiving as our medicine. It may taste bad but it is good for us. Trust your Mother, the Church. She knows what is best. She has 2000 years of experience.
Through prayer we talk to God. We cannot live holy lives if we do not know Jesus, Who is holiness. Through prayer, our intellects are purified of lies which we pick up from the world, the flesh and the devil. We cannot be Jesus to others unless we know, love and serve Him ourselves. You cannot give what you do not have.
Fasting is needed in order to keep our passions under control. Gossiping, over-eating, over-drinking and over-sleeping, bad or too much entertainment and illicit sex can easily control us. We need the virtue of temperance to control those disordered passions. We also need temperance when fasting in order for us not to hurt our bodies. There are negative penances and positive penances. Giving up candy or TV is an example of a negative penance. A positive penance would be to use that extra time we gained by giving up TV for prayer or to find good things to say about a person if he is hard to live with.
Almsgiving helps us sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor. When we love our neighbor, we are loving Jesus. God is never outdone in generosity. Almsgiving will help us overcome selfishness which we all have.
I hope you had a good Advent. Now you are ready to think about some of the mysteries of Christmas.
When I think about the birth of Jesus, I like to see it in my mind simply the way it was. The Church teaches that the Blessed Mother was a virgin before, during and after the birth of Jesus. Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. In order for Mary to remain a virgin during birth she had to give birth in a special way. She did not have the pain of childbirth. Because Mary was a virgin during birth, it is said that the little baby Jesus passed through her womb in the same way as he passed through the tomb at His resurrection. We know that Mary had no children after Jesus because she remained a virgin. If the bible is looked at in its fullness, we know that Holy Mother Church is correct in her teachings.
Now that we have a few guidelines, we can look deeply into the Christmas story. Because Mary did not have all that pain that comes with childbirth, there must have been peaceful silence and awe at the birth of Jesus. Mary was preserved from that pain but she would suffer with her son. Angels, who are pure spirits and are superior to man, were also there, humbling themselves in adoration before the little baby Jesus. They saw Mary feeding and burping Jesus. They saw her cleaning up his little behind. The angels could only be in awe to see how low God would stoop to save mankind. Even baby animals need less care than human babies. When animals are born, it only takes a little while before they can do all that animals do. When a baby is born, the mother feeds, holds, cleans and clothes him for many years. God, Who is complete within Himself, needs nothing, yet He became a baby needing everything. What a humble, loving God we have! And how humbly obedient the Blessed Mother was to say “yes” to God in order to bring Him into the world. Mary’s yes was a total “yes,” for she was preserved from original sin. God would not have it any other way. He knows that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
Remember that Mary was given to you as your mother. She knows that Jesus will fulfill all your needs. I have a great love for the Blessed Mother because she took care of me after my mother died. The Blessed Mother takes care of all her children. Every child needs a mother. Christmas is a good time for you to thank your mothers for saying “yes” to God by bringing you into the world and taking care of all your needs.
At this time, I would like to thank Mother Angelica for saying “yes” to God in so many ways. I could not be in this community if Mother Angelica did not answer God’s call to found a men’s community. Thank you, Mother Angelica, for being such a good mother and most of all for leading your children to Jesus. We all love you, Mother Angelica.
Allow the Blessed Mother to help you understand her son Whom she knew so well. May you have a holy and blessed Christmas.
Br. Leo Mary, MFVA
“O marvelous exchange! Man’s Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”(LH, Antiphon I of Evening Prayer for January 1st)
Generally speaking, we Catholics “don’t know what we’ve got.” If we looked at Christmas from a secular point of view, it is a time of coming together, exchanging gifts with those close to us, sharing a big feast, a joyful time, and a time to slow down from work and take a holiday. In television’s best light, it is portrayed as a time of reconciliation between friends, a time to show love to one another, and to somehow tap into something transcendent or spiritual where we actually believe in something other than ourselves.
This is all good in itself, but the Christmas mystery is much more. One of the great Catholic authors of this past century said that Christianity is the greatest fairy tale. Not in the sense that it is not true, but that it is unbelievably true– too good to believe. Fairy tales always end well. Christmas has an ending that is beyond our wildest imaginations!
“O marvelous exchange!” By uniting His Divine nature with our human nature, Christ, in a mysterious way, united himself to every man. To redeem us, he assumed our human nature. Identifying himself with us in all things but sin. “For, by his incarnation, he, the son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved.”(Gaudium et Spes 22) Saint Paul would write, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Cor 5:21) Of course, Jesus never sinned but he took upon himself the weight of our fallen condition. He was made victim for our sins. He became a wayfarer, such as ourselves, taking upon himself the effects of our sinful humanity to the point that He exclaimed from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”(Matt 27:46)
Was it absolutely necessary that he redeem us in this manner, to assume a human nature? No, but, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, by doing so, He accomplished our Redemption in a most fitting way.(S.T. III, 1, art.2) He communicates His love for us in a way that we can receive it. Having material bodies, we acquire knowledge through our senses. Romans 1:20 tells us, “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” So, what better way for the fullness of God’s revelation to come to us than in a material way, through the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. By taking on a material existence, Jesus teaches us how to act by how he lived His life. The Christian virtues are typified in the life of Christ. His obedience to the will of the Father, His patience in persecution, His humility in living a quiet and routine hidden life for thirty years, His courage in the face of evil, His prayerfulness in times of trial, and His prudence in dealing with weak and sinful men serve as examples for us to use as we face the trials of our lives. The list could continue on and on, but the point is that Christ is not only the example for the Christian but is also the cause of our salvation. Pope Leo the Great writes, “Weakness is assumed by strength, lowliness by majesty, mortality by eternity, in order that one and the same Mediator of God and men might die in one and rise in the other— for this was our fitting remedy. Unless he was God, he would not have brought a remedy; and unless he was man, he would not have set an example.”(Sermon on the Nativity) The Church fathers in the first millennium would teach that “What is not assumed is not healed, but what has been united to God is saved.”
Pope Leo would also teach that what was visible in the mysteries of Christ has been passed onto us in the sacramental mysteries. Our whole sacramental system (the Seven Sacraments of the Church) is based on the same logic that we find in the incarnation. The Church uses visible signs to communicate to us, in the 21st century, the saving mysteries of Christ’s life. St. Thomas would teach that these sacraments are remedies for sin in our lives. God is communicating grace to us through these very earthly signs. Water in baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist, oil in confirmation and anointing of the sick, the laying on of hands in holy orders, the confession of sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, and the exchange of vows in marriage. It is beautiful and it is humbling. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They listened to the serpent who told them that they would be like God knowing good and evil. But the creature does not have the power to determine what is good and evil, to determine the moral law. He discovers the law that is given to him by God. In disobedience to God, they sought the fruit to make them wise. St. Thomas makes the point that man is brought back to God through created things that are used in the sacraments. Simple, humble elements that help to keep man humble.
Although they are common elements, they communicate mysteries that we can never exhaust with our intellects. At every Mass, the paschal mystery is re-presented to us. It is not simply a re-enactment of the Last Supper, but it makes present, in some way, the Last Supper which is of one piece with calvary. The sacrifice of Calvary is actually made present at our altars. The Catholic liturgy makes present the mysteries of Christ’s life.
The Catholic liturgy is not about trying to come up with clever and new ways to teach the people about Christ. It is ‘handing over’ these mysteries in its Tradition to the ‘regular guy’ in the pews. The liturgy re-presents the mysteries to you and me. Mysteries, by their nature, are revealed to us by God. We do not figure them out like solving a crossword puzzle. They are beyond our rational powers. We contemplate them. We receive them.
John Saward, in his book Cradle of Redeeming Love, refers to St. Gregory Nazianzen in urging his congregation to ‘know the power of mystery.’ “To be more than mere spectators and instead to play a personal role in the divine drama reenacted at the altar. In some way, the sacred liturgy enables the members of the Mystical Body to re-live the mysteries of their Head….The birth in Bethlehem, though an event in the past, is not a mere thing of the past: ‘Even now the angels are rejoicing, the shepherds are startled by the blinding light; even now the star is coming from the East towards the great and inaccessible light.”(John Saward, Cradle of Redeeming Love, Ignatius Press, pg.55)
Saward points out that it is because Christ assumed our human nature that we can participate in His mysteries. He has, in a mysterious way, united himself with every man and woman. He redeems and sanctifies every part of our lives from the cradle to the cross and everything in between– our childhood, our youth, our family life, our work, our human friendships, our sufferings, etc. We can enter into His mystery because he has come to us. The marvelous exchange is not an event of the past. It is happening today! He has come to us as a baby. Let us run to the cradle with the shepherds and rejoice with the angels!
Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 10-12)
The shepherds run with haste to see what the angels proclaimed to them, and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger, and they went away glorifying and praising God for what they had seen. In the newborn child, God is making a gift of Himself to us. He has not abandoned us, but has come to us in the most unimaginable and humble of ways, a baby.
Looking at a helpless baby, we see how life is a gift. A gift that is beyond our own making and given to us by God. A child moves our hearts in wonder at such a precious gift. In the incarnation, God has come to us in the most nonthreatening of ways. It is a mystery of God’s love for us that He would become small and invite us to receive this gift of Himself.
It is a mystery, in the theological sense, because we cannot fully comprehend it or understand it through reason alone. We cannot fully penetrate it with the human intellect. It is revealed to us and we accept it in faith. It seems too good to be true, almost bewildering, how God has not abandoned us but actually become one of us in becoming a little child.
He invites us to let Him into our hearts, and to accept His saving love for us. Through His forgiveness of our sins, we can know a new peace in our hearts and enjoy a new life that comes from Him. This new life is made visible in the Christ Child, and by coming to Him in faith, with the haste of the shepherds, we can enjoy this new life.
In “God being with us”, something new has begun for mankind. His kingdom has begun and the world is being directed by providence to be made new in Jesus in the glory of His second coming. A new beginning has occurred with a definitive consummation, yet to come at the end of time. This coming fulfillment is underway and it gives us hope in the present, along with a joy and peace that God has not abandoned His people.
Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
Every Christmas, we rightly meditate on the Christmas mystery. The Eternal Word becomes man and is born of the Virgin Mary. He assumes our human nature for our redemption. Culminating with His sacrifice on Calvary, He merits for us the grace we need for our salvation by the total gift of Himself. He conquers death by His resurrection. He overcomes the power of temptation by His victory over satan in the desert. He sanctifies labor by His work as a carpenter. He sanctifies family life in His coming to us through a human family and living a hidden family life for thirty years.
Simply put, Jesus offers His entire life for sanctification. He is the high priest that offers Himself and His works for our redemption. Because Jesus is God and man, His human acts are infused with a divine power. He is the ‘cause’ of the grace we need for salvation.
Jesus is the source of grace that is present in His Church. He is the head and high priest that sanctifies His body the Church. She avails us that grace in the liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass where He is made present to feed and sanctify us with His most holy body and blood. But it is in the entire liturgy that we contact the life of Christ in the most real and tangible way. The liturgical seasons allow a privileged access to His life, and the Christmas season, in particular, makes present to us His infancy and family life.
Jesus, besides being the source of grace for us, is also the supreme teacher (Mt 23:8). By His words and example He teaches us the path to sanctity. John Saward writes, in his book The Cradle of Redeeming Love, “By assuming our infancy, the divine Logos calls us to convert and become like little children. His circumcision according to the prescription of the Law exhorts us to be obedient. His efforts at the carpenter’s bench reveal the dignity of labor. In submitting to satan’s temptations, He warns us that no man in this life is safe from the devil’s wiles. By withdrawing to lonely places, He shows His disciples the need to give rest to their bodies, to dedicate certain times to prayer and to shun public acclaim. The thinking in the Word’s human mind and the love in His human heart, displayed in words but also in gesture and silence, are the model to which all men must conform if they are to be holy” (pg. 76). He is, of course, the moral example for us. He teaches and reveals to man his calling and dignity. He reveals us to ourselves.
What is God saying to us about marriage in having His son ‘born of a woman’ raised in a family, the Holy Family? It speaks of the great good of the family. We all need one in growing up. When it is absent, there is a great suffering laid upon the child but also the single parent in struggling to make it. God’s grace and human kindness can make up for what is lacking, but the point is that there is a wound that needs to be healed in the rending apart of the family.
Today, the family is under attack from many levels. It seems spouses today are entering into marriage with more and more ‘baggage’ that has to be undone for a successful marriage. Materialism, selfishness, hedonism, and other predominant themes from our culture distort our thinking and perception of marriage, which is so fundamental to existence. The sacrificial love that marriage requires is contrary to our fallen human nature, and when society promotes its antithesis, selfishness, the marital union suffers or even collapses.
Today, we see a logical consequence of the unraveling of the understanding of the dignity and nature of man. As we drift further from God, we become more confused about who we are and how we are to act. We see this at most the fundamental level in our culture’s understanding of marriage. This is extremely significant because, as it has been said before, the family is the most fundamental cell of human society. All of society passes through the cell of the family, and if that cell is in ‘bad shape’ then all of society will be as well.
What happens if society goes so far to try and redefine marriage as to include homosexual unions? It no longer be-comes a communion of life and love that serves the good of the children, spouses and society, but becomes an institution that serves a human disorder. By this arbitrary redefinition, the State would be promoting a distortion of human nature. By a civil recognition, the State is teaching its citizens that this is okay and even good. But how can the common good of society be served by legally endorsing disordered acts? Our laws do form our patterns of thought and behavior.
Some would say this is unfair discrimination, much like the civil rights movement fought against in the 50’s and 60’s. But sexual orientation is not equivalent to race. Same-sex attraction is an objective disorder and immoral when acted upon. People with this disorder should be loved and treated with respect and dignity. They cannot be simply reduced or completely defined by their sexual orientation. Our sexual preference is only one aspect of who we are; there is much more to us than that.
Marriage is built upon the complementarily of the sexes. The male and female complete each other. Neither one exhausts what it means to be a human being. The differences between the man and the woman are not only at the physical level, but are at the core of the person—how they perceive things, interact with the world, gifts they have, etc. A marriage brings together these differences and allows a communion to be formed, a communion that serves the good of society, the spouses and children.
The fruitfulness of this communion, as a result of the sexual faculty of the spouses, is also realized in marriage. The normal development of the children is promoted by the presence of the mother and the father. Each, in their own way and with significant differences, fosters a healthy balanced development of the child. The parents need each other’s help in raising children, and marriage unites the man and the woman while providing for the raising of the children.
Marriage has a purpose and dignity that the State or culture cannot redefine arbitrarily without grave consequences to the common good. The Holy Family is a witness to the beauty of this gift from God. The Son of God comes to us through a human family; let us pray that the virtues and devotion we see in the Holy Family may truly be ours as well.
Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
Pope Benedict described Advent as the season of hope “par excellance.” Hope, as the catechism defines it, is the “theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Each of the liturgical seasons has its own theological character, its own emphasis in Jesus’ saving work. Advent focuses on the coming of the Lord, and this is at the heart of our faith. Through the incarnation, God has revealed Himself to us. He has come down to us, in our sinfulness, to save us, and there is salvation in no one and nothing else.
This is pretty basic stuff but we can lose sight of Jesus as the source of our salvation and happiness. In Advent we renew this hope of eternal life that is found in Him. We find the fullness of the kingdom of God in Him, and during Advent we rekindle our desire for Him. If this desire has grown “cold” within us due to our sinfulness and worldliness, prayer, simplicity of life and little quiet time with the Lord can blow on the “coals” to ignite a flame again.
By the virtue of hope, we trust that God will provide us with whatever means are necessary for our sanctification– the graces, trials and encouragement needed for our personal growth in holiness. Whatever state of life we are in, whatever situation we find ourselves in, Jesus is leading us to Himself. So, our Advent hope does not demand anything extraordinary in order to grow. We only have to turn to Him, in the present moment, for guidance and strength.
Advent is very pertinent to the times in which we live, for we are in an age that trusts in itself and its own abilities. Oftentimes, our view is not toward the kingdom above but the world below. In many ways, we have lost our hunger for God, and feed off of the world instead. But the hope of Advent is that Jesus has come and will come again. In this liturgical season, we invite Him into our hearts yet again, to renew our trust and confidence in Him as saviour.
Mary is our model of hope; her response to the Archangel Gabriel was to “Let it be done to me according to your word.” She trusted in the Lord, offering herself totally to God and His plan for her life. She shows us how to renew our hope in God by submitting to His plan in our lives and trusting in His word that His life may be born anew in us. Mother Mary pray for us!
Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
Advent is a time of joyful waiting on the Lord. The readings at Mass tell us to awaken, to be vigilant, to prepare the way for the Lord who is coming among us. We hear the preaching of John the Baptist calling us to repent, to turn back to the Lord, and that we must decrease and that God must increase in our lives. We have readings on the second coming of Jesus, reminding us that He is coming again to offer this world, transformed by His glory, to His heavenly Father.
As St. John tells us, the world, the flesh and the devil are against us. We are tempted to be distracted from God, to be caught up in worldly things, to give into sin because we lose hope in God. Advent puts God on the front burner. In the liturgy, we look back at the ancient expectancy of the messiah and renew our “ardent desire” for His second coming. (CCC 524) If we are truly to enter in to this expectancy and foster our desire for the Lord, we need His grace. A grace that comes to us and moves our hearts through a real prayer life that is attentive to the Lord and His working in us.
What do we really want out of life? Is our hope in God, that He will fulfill us and sustain us, and that we are seeking His will on earth? The fallen aspect of the world can no doubt be against us in our journey to God, but the world, created by God, is good and beautiful, and the place where we live out our vocations as Christians. To be vigilant for the Lord is to be attentive to our vocation in the world. To prepare the way for the Lord is to be of service to others in our families and our communities.
At Christmas, we celebrate His coming among us. What joy it is to believe that God has not abandoned us in this oftentimes frightening world. In the words of Pope Benedict, we “have been visited and filled by a great mystery, the mystery of God’s love.” That is why Advent is a joyful waiting, because God loves us personally and comes to us in the simplicity of the babe of Bethlehem. He offers us his love through the free and unconditional love of a child. While the world respects sophistication and power, God comes to us in such a nonthreatening way, as a child. The joy of Advent anticipates God’s gift of himself to us, and we can have this joy if we are focused on Him.
Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
When you think of St. Francis of Assisi what is your first impression? Maybe you think of the popular statue in the middle of the garden with a bird on his shoulder or even picture him stopping to talk to every animal in sight. Perhaps another image would be more appropriate. It is the image of small poorly dressed man holding up a crumbling Lateran Basilica with his shoulder. Pope Innocent III had this image in a dream after he had first denied Francis approval of the First Rule.
One word comes to mind when to describe the virtue of St. Francis—humility. St. Francis understood that any humility that we ourselves have is ultimately nothing compared to the Humility of the God-man, Jesus Christ. For Francis, this Humility was manifested in three ways: the Christmas Crib, the Cross and the Holy Eucharist.
Francis knew that you cannot love anything that you cannot get your arms around. Our God became a bundle of about 6 or 7 pounds so we could get our arms and our hearts around Incarnate Love. He went from Creator status to creature status in order to show us the humility in which we should approach Him. Francis saw in the poor and humble Christ Child a God who was willing to stoop down to our level to embrace us.
33 years later, those tiny limbs would be nailed to the Cross. Surely, He as God could have come down from that Cross. It is only Love that kept Him bound. Francis cry throughout his life was “Love is not loved.” We know that Francis prayed for two things in his life, first, that he would experience in his own body, as much as could be experienced, the suffering the Lord endured during His Passion and second, that he would have the same Love that Christ had in His Heart for His Father and each of us on His way to Calvary. Francis knew that he could not endure the suffering without the love to sustain him. He knew that there is no true humility without humiliation. Our Lord teaches us humility by His own humiliation in His Passion and Death on the Cross. He became the despised, the leper on the Cross. Here is the ultimate lesson in humility!
On the night before Jesus died, He showed us the depth of His Humility in instituting the Holy Eucharist. Daily, still, He humbles Himself to come down from the bosom of the Father in the form of bread and wine. Francis saw this as the greatest act of humility that the Lord so humbles Himself and makes Himself vulnerable in our hands in such a frail way. He was placed in a feeding trough as a baby only to foreshadow that He would become the humble food for us sinners. Francis love for the Holy Eucharist is manifested in a Letter he wrote to the entire Order:
Let the whole of mankind tremble the whole world shake and the heavens exult when
Christ, the Son of the living God, is on the altar in the hands of a priest. O admirable heights and sublime lowliness! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the little form of bread! Look, brothers, at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves, as well, that you may be exalted by Him. Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.
Saint Francis provides for us still today an example of humility. May the same utterance of the Lord from the Cross to Francis come to each one of us: “Francis, rebuild My Church, for as you can see it is falling into ruin.”
Holy Father St. Francis, pray for us!
Br. John Paul Mary, MFVA
1. Explain just what the vow of poverty is about. Just limiting possessions or more?
Religious poverty is poverty in spirit and in fact. Striving to free oneself from undue concern for external goods in order to devote oneself more fully to contemplation and more fervent works directed by the active life is the purpose of poverty. Jesus counseled poverty as a means to perfection as following him. It is not a rejection of the goodness of creation, but is directed towards a right relationship with God first and neighbor.
Religious give up the right of possession, not use. Use, however is determined according to the way of life professed and the permission of the superior. They are to make use of nothing without permission and accountability. Religious men and women still need what is necessary for virtue in this life (food for the support of bodily life) and for certain works which are implied by the apostolate. Since contemplatives need fewer goods than active life requires, it is higher. Those who vow poverty dedicate themselves to certain works as a means to support themselves, to serve contemplation and to witness to the goodness of work, but not for the excessive accumulation of goods.
A simple, “sharing-sparing” lifestyle which is directed to the love of God is a sign of perfection. External poverty without a supernatural motive can lead to incite the possessiveness and covetousness implied by the lust of the eyes. It strives to use goods for the greater glory of God by recognition that all things come from Him.
2. Explain the objects of the vow of chastity. Just what is given up.
Also, does one give up all forms of love in this vow?
The vow of chastity is a surpassing gift of grace which directs one entirely to God with all one’s powers. Those who profess this vow renew their commitment to avoid whatever is against the sixth and ninth commandments, and also certain things concerned with the physiological, emotional and physical aspects of sexuality. While recognizing the body, the conjugal act, feelings, passions and sexual feelings as good and created by God for a definite good, the person who professes the vow orders oneself to God. He or she does not give up spiritual paternity or maternity, only physical. The desire to love and be love is not rejected, only that exclusive love and signs of affection which derive from marriage. Reason directs the emotions according to divine purposes.
Spousal love is not given up, but directed to God. Man gives the total gift of himself in love to God and in imitation of Christ who loves the Church as bridegroom. Spiritual friendship and fraternal communion based on spiritual values are great aids to chastity. In order to commit oneself with an undivided heart to pleasing the Lord, chastity conquers the lust of the flesh with its desire to dominate and manipulate others. It gives interior freedom from the pleasures of the flesh which have a unique ability to deprive one of reason and the ability to enter more deeply into the contemplative life. In the active life it gives one that freedom consequent upon the external freedom to do God’s will since one does not have the obligation of taking care of wife and children. It expresses a more universal love for God and humanity.
3. Explain briefly true and false obedience and why the vow of obedience is the most important vow.
Obedience is the most important vow because the poverty and chastity are implicit in the profession of it, and because of its relation to those acts which pertain to religion. It recognizes that God is the ruler of all and that He usually works through secondary causes to accomplish His will. For that reason, the subject looks for Christ in the superior who directs him according to the common good as expressed in the constitutions. Since Christ gave the Church governance and holiness to direct all men to perfection, the approval of the constitutions by the Church is recognition that a specific rule of life is a sure and safe means to salvation.
One should not take the vow of obedience (or act in obedience) because one is incapable of making decisions, wants to abdicate responsibility, gain selfish praise or to shame others, or because one simply admires the superior and finds what is asked reasonable, expedient or pleasing. Obedience is more than simply doing what one is commanded. The vows properly lived are means to an end: union with God. One freely and deliberately submits one’s will in practical matters (of which the virtue of religion is concerned) to another’s will in accord the rule which one professes for the sake of the love of God. This is all for the sake of uniting oneself more firmly to God through the serving of the common good and to combat the pride of life. One makes the common good of the community equal or superior to one’s own private good provided what is asked is good.
Br. Paschal Mary
Given by Br. John Paul Mary, MFVA the night of his Perpetual Profession
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.
What does it mean to be a Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word? I am not going to pretend that I have the definitive answer. BUT, after almost six years of preparation for this day, I have some idea. St. John gives us the blueprint. The Son of God became Man (incidentally, our Community is named after this mystery of the Faith), and our mission is to spread the knowledge and the love of the Incarnate Word through preaching using modern media.
GK. Chesterton says: “Faith is seeing with your ears.”— The message of the Gospel must first be proclaimed and heard with our ears if we are to begin to see Christ with the eyes of Faith.
The Apostles and disciples of the Lord actually heard, saw and touched the Word of Life in the Flesh, the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, almost 2000 years ago.
How are we, 2 millennia later, to come into contact with the Incarnate Son of God?
We know where two or three are gathered in His Name, He is present in their midst. So, it is obvious He is present among us at this moment.
He is present in His Mystical Body, the Church—in every baptized member—in the poor, the suffering and the abandoned— in the young and the old—
He is present when the Word of God is proclaimed, especially in the Sacred Liturgy.
But most of all, He is present in a unique way in all of the Sacraments. The Sacraments are that way in which we, 2000 years later, touch the mystery of the Word of Life, Jesus Christ.
The Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist—the Most Blessed Sacrament is the way in which see, touch, taste and hear the Living God. All of these senses deceive us except one.—It looks like bread, feels like bread and tastes like bread, but the sense that does not deceive is our hearing, because we know by faith that when the words of Consecration have been uttered, “This is My Body” “This is My Blood,” bread and wine no longer remain.
Again—“Faith is seeing with your ears.”
In a catechesis to children, Pope Benedict XVI was asked this question by a child:
“In preparing me for my First Communion day, my catechist told me that Jesus is present in the Eucharist. But how? I can’t see him!”
The Pope spontaneously gave the child a profound answer.
He said: “No, we cannot see Him, but there are many things that we do not see but they exist and are essential. For example: We do not see our intelligence, and we have it. In a word: We do not see our soul, and it exists and we see its effects, because we can speak, think, and make decisions, etc. Nor do we see an electric current, for example; we see that it exists; we see this microphone, that it is working, and we see lights. Therefore, we do not see the very deepest things, those that really sustain life and the world, but we can see and feel their effects. This is also true for electricity; we do not see the electric current, but we see the light.
So it is with the Risen Lord: We do not see him with our eyes, but we see that wherever Jesus is, people change, they improve. A greater capacity for peace, for reconciliation, etc, is created. Therefore, we do not see the Lord himself, but we see the effects of the Lord: So we can understand that Jesus is present. And as I said, it is precisely the invisible things that are the most profound, that most important.”
The miracle in which we Friars have the privilege to participate, EWTN, is the testament to this.
The message of the Gospel is proclaimed via television, radio and internet to virtually the entire world. Many people have responded to the Word of Life because of one woman’s courage, determination and Faith—Mother Angelica.
When we preach and teach on TV, radio and internet, we do not actually see the transmission going up to the satellites in space or broadcasted via shortwave radio throughout the world, but somehow millions of people see and hear us throughout the world. More importantly, they respond to the Gospel invitation to follow Jesus.
Mother once told the friars, before my time, that we are missionaries in our own backyard. We do not have to go far—only a parking lot away to proclaim the Gospel to the Nations.
But, what about you? You too are missionaries in your own backyard. You too must proclaim the Eternal Word to all you meet by the witness of your lives. The world is in dire need for this witness.
What Br Pio and I did today, in reality, is a witness and a testament that the Risen Lord is indeed ALIVE and in our presence today! We have heard the invitation of Christ to come follow Him in the very same manner He Himself lived: in poverty, chastity and obedience. We have seen in our own lives and the lives of others the difference that Jesus Christ makes.
All of my brother friars, whom I love with my whole heart, are witnesses of what I quoted from St. John:
2 the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.
“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor…and come follow me” (Mt 19:21). These are Jesus’ radical words to the rich young man who asked what he must do to have eternal life. Initially, Jesus instructed the young man to obey the commandments. He called him to sell what he has, only after the young man asked what he still lacked. This special call of Jesus continues to echo throughout history to the present day. When I had a sense of this call, I pursued it to the community that I am now a member of, the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word. During my time with this community, particularly during the novitiate, I have become more deeply aware of the greatness of Christ’s love, especially while I prepared to profess the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In the past year, I learned much about the call and intention of the consecrated life and have received several benefits and graces. These things will aid me as I begin to pursue the perfection of charity in religious life.
Personally, it seems like the Holy Spirit worked very quickly in my life since my conversion to Catholicism. Praise God that I was received into the fullness of the Catholic faith on the vigil of Easter in 2003! I had been raised in a good Christian home and was essentially non-denominational, although not in name. A few years after receiving the Sacraments of Initiation, I sensed that God might be calling me to the priesthood. After discerning with my home diocese, the Capuchins, as well as with this community, I felt strongly drawn to the MFVA’s. I applied, was accepted, entered the postulancy, and ten months later received the habit of a novice. As a novice I was instructed and prepared in the essentials of the consecrated life as it is lived in this fraternity.
If you are wondering why an individual would decide to live as a religious, then you will need to have a grasp of what the religious life is, what the vows are, and to whom the vows are directed. The last point is simple: the vows are directed to God. A religious professes vows, that is, the evangelical counsels in order to perfect and sanctify their love of God and neighbor. You may ask yourself, “Doesn’t everyone have that goal”? I would certainly hope so. However, a religious, by making vows, sacrifices certain goods (property, spouse and children, personal will) in pursuit of a higher good. Religious men and women become witnesses of the life to come. On the one hand, religious communities are dedicated to the salvation of all, whereas married men and women are called to assist each other and their children in the salvation of their souls. Religious communities work towards fostering a good, flourishing fraternal life and each community has a specific mission or apostolate. The apostolate of the MFVA’s is mainly using the modern means (indeed any available means) of social communication to bring the lost sheep into closer union with Christ and his Church. Finally, it’s important to understand what the vows are that religious profess.
Generally, consecrated persons profess the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Initially, the vows are taken for one year at a time from 3 to 5 years but are ordered towards making a life-long commitment in the perpetual profession of vows. Some communities may have a fourth vow but that is not the norm. As we know, all of humanity has inherited original sin due to the disobedience of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. With original sin came a tendency or inclination of humanity toward sin. The counsels were given to us by Jesus Christ to help in countering concupiscence due to the fall: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16). From scripture, we see that the counsel of poverty can be found in the passage mentioned at the beginning of this article. On a side note, poverty was held in very high esteem by the initial founder of the Franciscans, St. Francis of Assisi. The counsel of chastity is drawn from Our Lord’s teaching to the apostles that some people become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:10-12). Last but not least, the counsel of obedience is witnessed in Christ’s consistent example of complete and perfect obedience to his heavenly Father (Mt 26:39, Lk 4:8, Jn 3:16; 5:30, Phil 2:8).
In spite of trials and struggles, I have benefited from my novitiate in several ways. In fact, the difficulties themselves have been to my benefit. Primarily, the contribution to my spiritual life cannot be measured. A regular schedule of Mass, prayer, spiritual reading, time spent before the Blessed Sacrament, and devotion to Our Lady have aided me in becoming more disciplined and focused. Also, very limited exposure to television and radio has significantly reduced the amount of mental noise and has made me more ready to listen to God in the silence of prayer. However, it is not my intent to sound like I belong to an order of contemplative monks. Our community is very much engaged with the world. Of course, like anyone else who prays, I sometimes struggle with attentiveness at prayer and must strive to maintain my recollection. This struggle is part of my personal growth. I have also derived benefits of a more human nature. My exposure to EWTN and the pilgrims who visit have helped me learn about the dynamics of human relations. Although I tend to view things in terms of an ideal, in reality, people very often do not behave that way. We need to be able to relate with others where they are and inspire in them hope (Ps 43:5). The community has assisted me in what I lack and has encouraged me to develop in all areas. Ultimately, the greatest struggles have been related to my self-will. Professing obedience will require dying to myself. However, I know that there is joy and peace in doing God’s will through the vows.
In conclusion, I wish to emphasize that living the consecrated life is only possible with God’s grace. The religious life allows those called to enter deeper into the mystery of Christ’s self-sacrificial love. The love of Christ is one that is greater than feelings and emotions; however it does not exclude them. By making vows, a religious unites himself totally in the love of Christ. Everything he says and does is offered as an act of worship. With trust and abandonment to God and with His assistance, a religious will one day be able to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).”
Please pray for me and for the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word.
Br. Matthew Mary, MFV
Let your majesty not lose courage. I am at your service to go and fight this Philistine. (1 Samuel 17:32)
Goliath, apparently, was a very big man. David, the shepherd boy, tells the king, Saul, to have courage. Very often, one man standing up in courage can affect many others, giving them courage as well. Oftentimes, it comes down to one man who turns the tide. In this case, it is David, the youthful shepherd, who is brave enough to fight Goliath. The Philistine army is staring down Israel’s army in a deadlock. For forty days, Goliath comes out everyday to taunt the Israelites to send out a warrior who would fight in Israel’s place. Without experience or even a suit of armor, David accepts the challenge.
David has fortitude. It comes in handy when there is a “difficult good” to achieve. Oftentimes, we are challenged with situations, which present obstacles to our achieving some good that we desire. We need fortitude to overcome any difficulties that stand between the desired good and us. Israel wants to defeat their enemies. The Philistines have insulted the God of Israel.
Sometimes, situations in our life call for “aggression” or “attack.” Our fear might be telling us to run away and hide, but fortitude helps us not to be overcome by these emotions. We still might feel the fear, but we don’t act on it. We do what is right. Anger, the most often misunderstood passion, can help us to achieve the good. We see an injustice or someone getting cheated, and we get angry. This anger can help motivate us to do something, to wake us up from a “sleepy passivity.”
Sometimes, in a given situation, there is nothing that we can do. All we can do is endure the hardship. This is the second mode of fortitude: endurance. Joseph Pieper writes, “In the world as it is constituted, it is only in the supreme test, which leaves no other possibility of resistance than endurance, that the inmost and deepest strength of man reveals itself.” Prudence must guide our efforts. We have to have a just cause in order to truly have fortitude. Oftentimes our anger can be rooted in pride in wanting to win an argument, or we simply get caught up in polemics and each side becomes entrenched in their positions. When there is no more action to be taken, endurance proves the “genuine character” of fortitude. (Joseph Pieper) The suffering that we endure will purify us and probably reveal the justness of our cause. If our fortitude was about an unjust cause, we probably will not be willing to suffer much for its sake. We need a certain detachment and interior freedom to discern when we have to do something. Our endurance can purify us and help us to make a better determination of what we are to do.
What was the source of David’s courage? Goliath was around nine feet tall. David was a youth; he had no experience. He was a shepherd and not one of Saul’s soldiers. In fact, he was a kind of waterboy for the troops. He would bring things from home up to his brothers who were fighting. He wasn’t even big enough to wear Saul’s armor for the fight. Think of the pressure he was under. His success or failure would determine the fate of Israel’s army.
David’s courage came from his faith in God. He might have had an eye on the possible reward by Saul for his bravery, but apparently Goliath must have been pretty intimidating because for forty days, not a single soldier stepped forward. David had experienced God’s strength and protection before when he was shepherding. He tells Saul that on many occasions, while shepherding his flocks, he fought off wild animals, and that it was God who delivered him from these beasts. He looked at his past and saw how God was always with him.
This is true for all of us. God is always with us, especially in the difficult moments of our life. This strengthens our faith to look back and see that God never abandons us but sees us through the different crises we experience.
David gathered five stones from the riverbed. Goliath had a heavy suit of armor, a big spear and a shield bearer. David found his security in the Lord and not in human might. He used the simple and familiar to glorify the Lord. It took one stone. “…I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted. Today the Lord shall deliver you into my hand; I will strike you down and cut off your head.” David’s faith has given him a confidence against the philistine. He actually runs up to Goliath to engage him in battle. This kid has fortitude! And boldness, for he cuts off the head of Goliath with the philistine’s own sword and brings the head back to Saul. Not bad for a shepherd (but of course this shepherd has faith).
We also have modern day examples of the boldness of faith. Our own Mother Angelica took on the “Goliath” of the modern media to provide a Catholic channel amidst so many ungodly entertainments. It is truly a faith that can move mountains, when we see Mother on cable systems right alongside channels that promote a culture divorced from Christian values.
Mother Angelica has no education beyond high school; no special training in film or television; no money of her own; she lives in a cloister; she has suffered from physical ailments most of her life and yet she has created a Catholic network that feeds many people around the world. Raymond Arroyo quotes her in his book, Mother Angelica, as saying “When the Lord acts with me, there’s always a leap of faith, the leap of faith that says yes or no. And at that point, the question is: Do you recognize the providence of God?” (p. 199)
In the late 70’s, Mother was recording videotapes of her spiritual lessons at a local network affiliate. That particular network was airing a blasphemous miniseries on the life of Christ. She challenged the station manager to remove the movie from the air. He replied, “But do you think God cares what we do down here?” Mother responded, “Yes, He cares, and I care.” (p. 145) With barely any money in the bank, she and the sisters turned their garage project into a television studio. “And what if you fail?” one doubter asked Mother. “Then I’m going to have the most lit-up garage in Birmingham.” (p. 146)
When Mother started the shortwave radio, she went to Rome following an inspiration. She figured that was the place to do it because that is “where the languages are”. Without a plan or even an appointment with someone in Rome, she flew there. While in the hotel room, she figured that she would need land, so they went out looking for it. After many twists and turns of providence, she wound up building the facility outside of Birmingham atop one of the mountains in St. Clare County.
Mother Angelica’s missionary zeal comes from her love for Jesus. It comes from her faith in Him that makes her “willing to do the ridiculous in order to do the miraculous.” So many voices today are simply a “resounding gong”, “a clanging symbol” devoid of a real love for Christ. Even within the Church, many voices are irrelevant to people’s lives because these voices lack spirituality, a deep relationship with Lord. Mother has fed us because she gives us the food that she gets from Jesus. Her sufferings made her totally dependent on God. Her dependence on the Lord yielded a bountiful harvest that has fed many.
Mother gives us courage. As David faced Goliath, she cares that God is attacked and mocked. As David tended his sheep, she sees the spiritual hunger of people that is even more intense than a physical hunger and does something about it. We see the difficulties that she overcame in her personal life and in running the network, and we are encouraged to do the work that the Lord has entrusted to us. Let us not lose courage when we have so many witnesses around us, who trusted in the Lord.
by Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
Marveling at the most precious gift and humility of Christ Jesus in the Eucharist, Saint Francis exhorted the brethren to “hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” Professing the three vows is a gift and an imitation of the love of our divine Savior, who while we were still sinners was born, was crucified, died and rose for us. Christ loved the Church (that’s us!) and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25) so that we might become holy and receive the precious gift He desires for each of us in our vocation.
Saint Paul experienced this on the way to Damascus. Christ revealed Himself to Paul as merciful love and called Paul to a new, radical way of life. This consecration led Paul to say “Christ made me his own” (Phil 3:12), and, “God has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours but according to His own design” (1 Tim 1:9). Christ mercifully gave everything to and for each one of us.
God, by a special and free grace gives some the desire to give themselves to Him in a more complete way. A man, discovering in his soul the desire to give himself to God directly and totally, professes vows as a sign of God’s action in his soul and of man’s response in love. The meaning of his life becomes no longer based solely on his own aspirations, but on the burning desire to know Christ.
Chastity is an exalted gift. Christ gives this precious gift as a renewal of His love for the Church, as an intimate sign of love for the individual and for all humanity. By means of this vow, the fire of the Holy Spirit purifies the heart of the religious from the passing things of this world and sets their eyes on God alone. The chaste man becomes an empty vessel which God’s grace can fill—“blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Love espouses and drives the man to imitate the beloved; it inspires a desire for total union and self-giving. This vow also makes us witnesses and co-workers of Christ in the redemption of humanity.
In poverty we rely completely upon the Lord for everything that we need. We acknowledge with St. Paul that “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim 6:7) and we are to be content with infirmity and want. We work diligently knowing that it is from Christ that we will receive our reward. In poverty of Spirit we hold “nothing of ourselves for ourselves” and so we are generous with what the Lord has given us in the Present Moment. Much more, we become an instrument of God’s grace when people give to us for love of Him (cf. Mt 10:40-42).
Christ, who perfectly accomplished the Father’s will, “learned obedience through what He suffered” (Heb 5:8) and so became the source of our salvation. Saint Francis was obedient in imitation of Jesus and His holy mother, Mary. “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love” (Jn 15:10). What a promise! For the love of God we should be willing to do whatever it takes. Jesus chose to die rather to fail in obedience. In loving obedience we also “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). To our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, we own filial love, fervent prayer to God and obedience since he is the Vicar of Christ on earth.
In a preeminent way, Mary is the model for all religious. Without God’s grace and initiative no one can become holy. Yet, her purity was the foundation for her free and loving “yes” to God in all circumstances.
The vows are expressions of God’s desire to be united in spousal love with the soul and of the soul’s loving and life giving response to that love. God’s love is proclaimed in the consecrated life so that all men may be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. If “life is Christ, and death is gain” (Phil 1:21) that we have only to live and love His holy will. Do not be afraid if God is calling you to the consecrated life or to the priesthood. He will give you the grace to carry out His will in the present moment.
Br. Paschal Mary. MFVA
1. This past May between the solemnity of the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday, many throughout the Church (including the MFVA Friars) prayed the “original” Novena – the Novena to the Holy Spirit – begging for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit into their souls, focusing especially on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
2. These Gifts, which all of us receive at our Baptism, are permanent dispositions which make you and me docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit (cf. CCC, 1830-1831):
a. they sustain our moral life as Christians;
b. they complete and perfect our practice of virtue;
c. they make us docile in readily obeying divine inspiration.
3. Following Isaiah 11:2-3, the Church has traditionally enumerated seven of them: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.
4. Pope John Paul II, St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 68, aa. 4, 7), other theologians and catechists have found in this … text of Isaiah a guide for arranging the Gifts in their relationship to the spiritual life (cf. A Catechesis on the Creed: The Spirit, Giver of Life and Love, Pope John Paul II, entry of April 3, 1991). Here is venerable Pope John Paul II’s short summary-explanation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
First of all there is the gift of wisdom, by means of which the Holy Spirit enlightens the intellect. He enables it to know the “highest reasons” of revelation and the spiritual life, and form sound and right judgments concerning the faith and Christian living; as a “spiritual” man (pneumatikòs) or even “carnal” man (cf. 1 Cor 2:14-15; Rom 7:14).
The gift of understanding, which is a particular keenness, given by the Spirit, producing intuitive knowledge of the Word of God in its height and depth.
The gift of knowledge is the supernatural capacity to see and to determine with precision the content of revelation and to distinguish the things of God in one’s knowledge of the universe.
With the gift of counsel the Holy Spirit gives a supernatural ability to regulate one’s personal life in regard to the difficult actions to be accomplished and the hard choices to be made, as well as in the governance and direction given to others.
With the gift of fortitude the Holy Spirit supports the will and makes it prompt, active, and persevering in facing difficulties and even extreme suffering. This happens especially in martyrdom; in martyrdom of blood, but also in that of the heart and in the martyrdom of illness, weakness and infirmity.
Through the gift of piety the Holy Spirit directs the heart of man toward God with feelings, affections, thoughts and prayers which express our filiation with the Father revealed by Christ. It causes us to penetrate and assimilate the mystery of “God with us,” especially in union with Christ, the incarnate Word, in filial relations with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in company with the angels and saints in heaven …
With the gift of the fear of the Lord the Holy Spirit puts in the Christian soul a profound respect for the law of God and its imperatives for Christian living. This gift frees the soul from the temptations of “servile fear,” enriching it instead with a “filial fear” steeped in love.
5. Pope John Paul II wrote that the “Doctrine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit [is] a very useful teaching of the spiritual life. [And] when applied to the Christian soul, it teaches us the fundamental moments in the … interior life: to understand (wisdom, knowledge, and understanding); to decide (counsel and fortitude); to remain and grow in a personal relationship with God, in the life of prayer and in an upright life according to the Gospel (piety and fear of the Lord). [The Holy Spirit] is a unique, infinite Love given to us with a multiplicity and variety of manifestations and gifts, in harmony with the general plan of creation.” (A Catechesis on the Creed: The Spirit, Giver of Life and Love, Pope John Paul II, entry of April 3, 1991.)
Let us love Him and be open to all He wants to give us.
Fr. Dominic Mary, MFVA
“Lord, give us this bread always.”(Jn 6:34) What is special about this “bread” that Jesus is promising them? It is the bread of life. The fullness of life is what Jesus is giving them. This fullness is what our hearts crave. It is what we are made for, and it is the only thing that can satisfy us. This Bread of Life, this Living Bread, is the means for us to share in His life. Jesus uses some term or phrase about life in this chapter eighteen times. In verses 54-58, He speaks of “abiding” within us through giving us His flesh and blood to eat and drink. He promises us eternal life and invites us to share in the relationship Jesus has with the Father. And as the Father gives Him life, Jesus wants to give us that same life.
If we look in the Old Testament, we see God preparing His people to receive and believe in His Son as the Messiah. All of God’s interventions in the history of His people are meaningful and serve to bring them to the fullness of the revelation of who He is. Twelve hundred and fifty years before Christ, the ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law when God spoke to him from the burning bush. He called to him and sent him back to Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let Israel go and offer sacrifice in the desert. It took ten plagues pounding Egypt before Pharaoh let the people go.
The tenth plague was the death of all the firstborn children and animals in Egypt. Even the Israelites would suffer the death of their firstborn if they did not sacrifice and eat the Passover lamb. The Lord gave the Hebrew people a Passover ritual they were to celebrate in order to be spared from this last plague. They were to take a year-old lamb without blemish and slaughter it, apply the blood to the doorposts and lintels of their houses. If God “saw” the blood then He would “passover” the home and not kill the firstborn. Through the Passover celebration, God was forming and protecting His people. Every year they were to celebrate the Passover and remember what God had done for them.
One crucial aspect of the Passover ritual was that you had to eat the lamb. It was not enough to sacrifice the lamb and apply its blood to the doorposts and lintels. The lamb had to be eaten. In John 1:29, John the Baptist cries out that Jesus is the “Lamb of God.” Jesus is the lamb to be sacrificed to save us from a much deeper bondage than the slavery of Egypt. He saves us from the “Egypt” of sin and death.
We are told early in John chapter six that it was Passover time for the Jews. The feast was celebrated with nationalistic undertones as they struggled under Roman occupation. In the first part of John chapter six, Jesus performs the spectacular miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fish to feed the great crowd (five thousand men were present).
He then withdraws from the crowd because they wanted to make Him a king. They were looking for a worldly king who would free them from Roman rule. If Jesus could multiply the loaves and fish, He certainly could raise up a great army to overthrow Rome. But that is not the kind of kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate. His was to be a kingdom of truth that would exist “within us” and reach its consummation at the end of time with the second coming of Jesus. The kingdom is mysteriously present now and when the Lord comes it will enter into its perfection. (LG#39) We prepare the way for the final bestowal of the kingdom, the new heavens and earth, by all of our works of charity and efforts for a better ordering of society.
The next day Jesus performs another spectacular miracle: He walks on water. He uses the divine name “I AM” to identify Himself to the apostles, gripped by fear, in the boat. He then calms the storm and they miraculously arrive at shore. He is demonstrating to them that He is much more than an earthly king; He is the Son of God.
He is also more than a prophet. The people catch up to Him on the other side of the lake. It is time for breakfast, and they seek Him out because they are hungry again. They are not following the signs they have seen. They are not looking at Him with the eyes of faith. Jesus is trying to lead the people into having a deeper faith in Him, “…to believe in the one [sent by God].” (Jn 6:29)
The Jews then asked for a sign like Moses performed in the desert. According to the rabbinic teaching at the time, the expected Messiah was to perform a Moses-like miracle. “Moses gave us manna in the desert, what sign do you perform?” they asked Jesus. He tells them that it was not Moses who rained down manna from heaven but the Father who fed and sustained them. “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn 6:33)
Jesus is much greater than Moses. The Father sends the Son as the true bread from heaven. The manna did not give the people eternal life. Jesus is cultivating a greater faith in the people. They respond, “Lord, give us this bread always.” (Jn 6:34) We need to have this same faith cultivated within us as we approach the Eucharist. We should hunger for it because it is the “Bread of Life.” Without it we have no life within us.
Jesus continues on in the chapter to tell the people that the “bread” he will give them is His flesh. He is teaching them about the Real Presence (His body, blood, soul and divinity) under the sacramental forms of bread and wine in the Eucharist. Many of the Jews murmured at this teaching. They then quarreled, and finally left Him. Each time Jesus repeated His teaching in even stronger terms. He even changes the verb form in verses 54-58 to a more graphic term depicting actual chewing or munching. He did not reduce the teaching to a simple metaphor. How could He, cannibalism could never be interpreted as a pleasant metaphor for believing in God by Jews. “…[M]any of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (Jn 6:66)
Jesus does not call them back. No, they understood the realism of His sayings. They did not walk away because of His use of a shocking metaphor of eating flesh and drinking blood; they walked away because they knew He wasn’t speaking metaphorically. He even turns to the twelve and asks them if they too want to leave. Peter replies, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69) Peter responds in faith. He cannot possibly fully understand how Jesus will give them His flesh and blood to eat, but he believes, and as prince of the Apostles, he speaks for all of us.
“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” wrote John Paul II in his encyclical on the Eucharist in 2003. The Eucharist is at the heart of the mystery of what the Church is: the communion of God with man. The very instrument of our salvation, the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ, is given to us to eat so that we may experience the fullness of life that He came to offer to us, an actual sharing in the divine nature.
by Fr. Mark Mary, M.F.V.A.
First, the questions:
Is a hero someone to be admired, or someone to be imitated?
If someone loses their life while fighting for a worthy cause, have they wasted their life?
Is a brother in a religious community a banana or an orange?
Something, including a life, is wasted if it is not used for the purpose for which it is intended. So… what is the purpose of life? If someone believes that the purpose of life is to accumulate wealth, to be as comfortable as possible, to be consoled by family and friends, then they will likely regard religious life as a waste. However, if someone believes that the purpose of life is to know, love and serve God, so as to be happy with Him forever in Heaven, then they would see any vocation which facilitates that result as having value. For many, the acid test comes when they hear a loved one say, “I feel called to be a priest,” or “God is calling me to the consecrated life.” That’s when you find out what they really think.
Some people will always see a life of service to others as a life that is wasted. Social workers waste their lives. Someone who has died in the defense of their country has wasted their life. And of course, a person who answers God’s call to serve Him and His Church wastes their life. Their lives are wasted, because they haven’t been spent on themselves, but on others.
A spiritual person would think this is a very superficial point-of-view. How can someone holding such opinions ever understand Jesus’ words: “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk 8:35; cf. Mt. 10:39, 16:25; Lk. 9:24, 17:33; Jn. 12:25).
Truly, a gift that is given, with no expectation of return, is never a waste, whether it is a Christmas gift or the gift of one’s life. And a gift that is given to God, out of love, merits a heavenly reward.
The world may not have noticed the widow’s offering of two small coins (cf. Mk. 12:41-44; Lk. 21:1-4), but Jesus noticed. He said the widow gave more, because she gave all she had. Someone who gives some of their time to serve their local parish or the poor and needy, has done a good thing. But someone who gives all their time, their whole life, has given more, even if they accomplish less. Yes, a life that is given away, for God’s service, is never wasted.
Jesus was the first to give all. Some of His disciples can’t rest until they follow His example, using the same measure of generosity.
Remember the time Jesus invited a young man to join Him in His mission? He said to the youth, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt. 19:21). We all know the rich young man chose treasure in this life rather than treasure in Heaven. He went away sad. But not everyone goes away, like he did. St. Francis is an example of a rich young man who did not return to a self-oriented sadness. He stayed, and was happy in his prayerful poverty.
God still calls men and women to His service. But fewer of them say “Yes” to His invitation. Instead they answer “No” or “Not yet” or “I’ll do it, but only on these conditions….” Then, they wonder why they aren’t happy. It’s because in their heart they have gone away from God’s Will. Outside of His Will there is no lasting joy, only fleeting moments of contentment that soon pass. Those who answer God’s call to become co-workers in spreading the Kingdom will face challenges in living-out their commitment, but they’ll also be storing-up treasure in Heaven, all the while. One who gives all, out of love for God, merits all. And if they persevere in their vocation, they’ll find out firsthand how God keeps his promises to them (cf. Matt. 19:29).
If you are a young person who is called to the married life, then get married; you’ll be happy because you are doing God’s Will. But if you are called to religious life, why wait any longer? You’ll have to take the initiative. That’s what adults are expected to do.
So, is a religious brother a second banana? Yes. And, no. Although it is true that brothers play a supporting role in a religious community, you can’t really describe the vocation of a brother by saying what a priest is not. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. A brother is simply a consecrated man, separated from worldly pursuits, by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He participates fully in the mission of the religious institute to which he belongs, performing a variety of tasks that can vary over time. A brother does not say Mass, hear confessions and so on. He is not an assistant priest. But what he does can allow the priests of a community to be more available to the people of God.
If we think of a priest as imitating the public life of Jesus, we can think of a brother as participating in the hidden life of Nazareth. There he performs his humble, hidden tasks in company with Mary and Joseph. It is the ideal situation for those who wish to practice the spirituality of St. Thérèse of Lisieux – spiritual childhood. After all, it is the same setting, spiritually speaking, that Jesus chose for his own childhood.
Jesus is the first-born of many brethren (cf. Rom. 8:29; Rev. 12:17). That means He has many brothers and sisters – according to the spirit. All His brethren are called to share the family resemblance of sanctifying grace. And some of them are also called to imitate Him more perfectly by dedicating themselves to work in the family business, through the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The Church is one body and has many members. Not all are apostles; not all are prophets. Some are simply “helpers,” as St. Paul says (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28). St. Paul goes on to say that all the members of the body are equally necessary, even if they are not equally honored (cf. 1 Cor. 12:20-22). Religious brothers are important participants in the institutes to which they belong. They prepare themselves for Heaven, even while helping in the work of the Church on Earth.
Heroes, like Jesus, St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, are to be admired. Are they also to be imitated? The answer to that depends on how heroic you are yourself.
by Br. Bernard Mary, MFVA
I have heard it said that “to do anything less than the will of God for your life will bore you.” I believe this is true. If God is the source of all goodness and if happiness lies in God alone, than how can we find fulfillment in anything other than God and in seeking his will for our lives?
In the parable of the rich young man, we hear of a young adult seeking the ultimate fulfillment in life: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the commandments. Even though this young man was already keeping God’s law, he still felt something lacking in his life. He was rich and comfortable and yet was bored and felt that there was something greater that he was supposed to be doing. He wanted to know God’s will but was not fully prepared to respond generously. The Lord told him: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me.” In response, the Gospel tells us that the young man “went away sorrowful.” He was too attached to his wealth and comfort to accept God’s invitation.
Likewise, God has a plan for each and every one of us. Whether it be a vocation to the priesthood, religious life, married or single life, we should give our all for God and strive to become saints. Our job is to pray to know his will and to be generous in our response to his calling. Sure, it’s possible to choose a path other than that which Our Lord calls us, for we are free, and we can still be happy in life but not as happy or fulfilled as we might have been had we said “yes” to his will.
Pope John Paul II gave us some advice when discerning our vocations in life. He said: “When deciding your future, you must not decide for yourselves alone.” It is not about what I want in life that will bring fulfillment but what God wants.
While giving a vocation talk to youth, Fr. Brett Brannen, the vice-rector at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, suggested a simple prayer to make our own: “Jesus, help me to want what you want.” It is in seeking God’s will and his plan for us that we will be truly happy in life. God knows what is best for us, so why not trust in him? If you are having trouble discerning your vocation, talk a priest in whom you trust, he should be glad to help you. The worst thing to do is to sit on the fence waiting for God to make absolutely clear without the slightest trace of doubt what you are supposed to do. You may be waiting a very long time for that to happen, perhaps too long.
Pray that you might know God’s will for your life and for the grace to respond generously to whatever it might be. Then make a step of faith, realizing that God will not be outdone in generosity. Let’s not turn out like the rich young man who went away sad and unfulfilled, but with a joyful “yes” give ourselves wholly to God without reserve according to our state in life!
Br. Patrick Mary, MFVA
How come we never see “John 6″ written on any poster boards at football games? Catholics should be right there next to the guy with the John 3:16 sign. John’s Gospel chapter 6 gives the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist in the clearest of terms. The Eucharist is, according to Vatican II, the source and summit of the Christian life. It is the food that sustains us and gives us strength. It is our most intimate communion with God. The Blessed Sacrament fosters that communion, and deepens it each time we receive Him under the sacramental signs of bread and wine. All the other Sacraments are ordered to the Eucharist, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” (CCC 1324)
We are told early in John’s Gospel that Jesus worked miraculous signs so the people would believe in him. (cf. Jn 2:11) At the wedding feast of Cana, He performed the miraculous changing of the water into wine. The passage says that this first miracle of Christ, manifested His Glory. The Father glorifies the Son, after His passion, death and resurrection. The Father raises the Son into His Glory. Revelation 19:7 speaks of the wedding feast of the lamb, where Jesus is the lamb and the bridegroom. The Church is His bride, and heaven is “a great wedding feast of the lamb.” The old covenant and prophets describe Israel as the bride that God is drawing into a nuptial union with Himself. Jesus, by his incarnation, has united Himself in a mysterious way to every man. At the end of time, when Christ comes in glory there will be a great consummation of this union of Christ with His Church, and all of creation will be transformed.
Jesus is at a wedding. The people run out of wine, and, at the request of His mother, He changes the water into wine. He is manifesting His glory, thereby, linking His heavenly existence with a wedding feast. There we will drink the wine of the new covenant, His body and blood. A nuptial union is formed by two becoming one flesh, a giving of oneself to the other. This is the image of the union that God has with us; He gives us His flesh and blood under the sacramental signs of bread and wine to incorporate us into His mystical body.
Some of the other signs in John’s Gospel are: the cure of the royal official’s son; the cure of the paralytic at the pool with five porticoes. In John 6, Jesus performs two signs. He multiplies the loaves and the fish, and He walks on water. Two dramatic miracles that most surely grabbed the attention of the people, but He does not perform these miracles merely to dazzle the people or to establish a strictly worldly kingdom that can satisfy every human need. In John chapter 20, our Lord tells us the reason for the signs: “…that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31)
Our Lord wants us to go further, past the sign, not to stop at the power of the miracle but to believe in Him. To believe in Him means to have life to the full, His life within us. When Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fish, He is preparing the people to receive His teaching on the Eucharist. As He feeds the crowds with earthly food, He will feed the world with the spiritual nourishment of His own body and blood. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes “prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of his Eucharist.”
This miracle clearly catches the attention of the people. Many are looking for a prophet, a messiah that will liberate them from the occupation of the Roman Empire. They understandably want their freedom. Surely a messiah who could provide the material force necessary to overthrow the Romans would be extremely popular. After He multiplies the loaves and the fish, St. John writes: “When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself.” (Jn 6:14-15)
The miraculous sign is not about earthly power. Yes, He is going to feed the world, but with the ‘bread of life.’ He chastises the people because they are seeking Him “because [they] you ate your fill of the loaves.” (Jn 6:26) He tells them to labor not for perishable food but for food that endures to eternal life. They are seeking Him not in faith but because they are hungry again. He is trying to get them to look beyond the miraculous sign and not stop there by making Him simply a “bread king”. His kingdom is not of this world. He inaugurates His kingdom by His coming into the world, but the fullness of the kingdom is not here. As Christians, we work to solve the problems of the world, but our Lord does not promise us a utopian existence down here. In fact, He promises us persecutions and struggles as we strive for the eternal life that our Lord promises.
The people have seen many incredible signs. Surely, they heard about His walking on the water during the storm and the various healings. But it is never “enough”, if there is no belief in Him. Jesus exhorts them to believe in Him who God has sent to them. During the miraculous walking on the water, He identifies Himself by using the Divine name: I AM. This is the name that God revealed to Moses and was not to be spoken. He is exhorting them to have faith in Him because He is about to give them a “hard” teaching. So hard, in fact, that many of His followers will abandon Him because of it.
The people want another sign that Jesus is the One sent by God. The sign they ask for is the one that Moses gave them 1300 years earlier: manna from heaven. Moses was the yardstick that all the prophets after him were measured by. His teaching, the way he was called by God, etc, was to be the template to determine who was a prophet or not. Apparently, Israel was in no shortage of false prophets. The Jews of the day were looking for a messiah that would perform ‘a manna from heaven type’ miracle. So they say to Him, “What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness…” (Jn 6:31)
Our Lord responds that He is the “true bread from heaven.” The manna was miraculously given to their fathers in the desert, but it was a prefigurement of the Eucharistic bread. Moses carefully warned the people that they were to gather enough bread for that day. Any bread that was kept overnight would perish and rot. This fact stresses that the perishable food cannot give a person eternal life, it would take the imperishable bread of life to give them eternal life. The people respond with, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
Jesus then reveals to them that He is the bread of life, and that “he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (Jn 6:35) What a promise our Lord gives to us. He satisfies our deepest hunger and our greatest thirst in life. He is the bread that “gives life to the world.”
Jesus then tells the crowd, they are to eat this bread come down from heaven. They dispute Him, wondering how He can give them His flesh to eat. They understood Him in a very literal sense. That is why they are upset. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They did not take Him to mean some sort of spiritual communion or simple belief in Him. No, they did understand Him to mean eating and drinking His flesh and blood.
Seven times he tells them (using two different verbs meaning ‘to eat’). The last four times He uses a form of the verb usually associated with animals feeding upon something. It is a graphic form of the verb meaning to ‘chew’ or to ‘gnaw’. Earlier in the text uses a more common form of the verb ‘to eat’. He could not be any clearer that He intends us to eat His flesh.
“After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.” (Jn 6:66) Our Lord did not call them back and say, “No, no you misunderstood it is only a symbol!” He let them go. If they had misunderstood, He would have further explained the teaching. For those that believed in Him until the end, they would see the fulfillment of these words from John 6. At the Last Supper, they would see how He was going to give them His flesh and blood to eat. That is under the sacramental forms of bread and wine. The Eucharist. This does not change the reality of His giving us His flesh and blood to eat. The substance of the bread and wine are no longer there; the substance of His flesh and blood is under the outward appearance of bread and wine. The sacramental forms of bread and wine should speak to us of how necessary Jesus is for us in our lives. He chose these signs for a reason. They teach us that as necessary as food is for the body; the Eucharist is as necessary for the soul.
Our Lord eventually turns to the ‘twelve’, “Will you also go away?” He is ready to lose even His inner circle of apostles. Peter, the first pope, speaks, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy one of God.” (Jn 6:68) This teaching on the real presence of the Eucharist is the ‘Mystery of Faith’. It is the goal of all evangelization. It is the sacrament toward which all the others are ordered. It is our greatest treasure. It is our pledge of future glory and renewal of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Let us proclaim it to the world!
by Fr. Mark Mary, MFVA
The Lord in His great love for us has given us a cross to carry. We may think, “If God loves me so much then why does he use an instrument of torture and a tool of shame to strengthen me and bring me happiness?” Carrying a cross these days seems absolutely impossible, especially in a world that calls strength – great wealth, intelligence and a healthy body; and happiness – success, popularity and pleasure. Sure, we can have great wealth, intelligence, good health, success, popularity and even pleasure without sin, but when we think that these things are the only way to be strong or be happy then we are deceived, especially when these things make us greedy, vain, prideful, lustful and slothful. It becomes worse when someone turns envious, then angry and will even murder to acquire sinful treasures. Our wounded human nature has an inclination for sin and evil, thus making the values of a sinful world enticing and promising.
The Lord uses the cross as a remedy to heal the wounds caused by sin. He knew the pain and torture of the cross and if He could have found an easier way, He would have. Jesus asked the Father three times, “If it be possible let this cup pass from me; nevertheless not as I will but as thou will.” Christ in His love for the Father and for us obediently took on our sinful human nature and showed us how to love God through avoiding sin and through suffering. He became the victim of sin by allowing Himself to endure the cruel death of crucifixion. He suffered in body and soul feeling every pain we feel. His suffering included the pain of each individual who has lived and ever will live.
Christ tells us in Matthew 16: 24 “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In Luke 14: 27 He says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In addition He says in Matthew 7:13 – 14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” God calls us to carry a cross and to carry it through a narrow gate!
We can learn how to carry our crosses faithfully through praying and meditating on the Stations of the Cross. Through the way of the cross Jesus demonstrates for us how we should carry our crosses. We see how Jesus persevered from the first station to the crucifixion. He also reveals to us that we are never alone while we carry our cross. In the fourth Station, our Blessed Mother Mary appears and walks with Jesus. In the same way she walks with us too. In the fifth station St. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross and in the sixth station St. Veronica wipes His face. God also sends us people in the body of Christ to help us on our way of suffering. Tradition tells us Jesus fell three times carrying His cross. He fell because of the weight of our sin. He did not stay down; he got up every time and finished the course. We fall through our sins, but we cannot stay down. We must rise through an act of contrition and confession.
Our way of the cross is not as severe as His, but is always difficult and even impossible in a natural sense. Crosses come in different forms; for some it is the pain of illness, while for others it is rejection, temptation, fear, loneliness, depression and despair or all of the above. When we say ‘yes’ to God and take up our cross we have now made our channel of grace much wider. The grace that is our strength to carry our crosses comes through prayer, the sacraments, penance and good spiritual reading. As we move along our way of the cross, we lose our dependence on self and learn to trust and depend more on God, thus allowing Him to be our source of strength. St. Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
True happiness comes from God. As we carry our cross we leave behind those things which turned us away from Him and like St. Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14, we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Suffering causes pain, but life without God is misery. It is possible to suffer pain and be happy. This happiness occurs when we unite ourselves with Christ. As we unite ourselves with Him, we begin to think as He thinks, love as He loves and are no longer enamored by the treasures of earth. Our treasure then becomes doing the will of God and contemplating eternity with Him in Heaven. When Jesus carried His cross He was not consumed with self, but He was consumed with love for the Father and for us. St. Francis prayed to suffer the exact way Jesus suffered, but also prayed to experience the love Jesus experienced during His passion. We too can experience this great love while we suffer. This happens when we go from the natural to the supernatural, from virtue to heroic virtue.
Although nobody has ever reached or will reach perfect union with Christ, except the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can share in his divinity and likeness. All of us will have to suffer, but let our suffering be redemptive. Saint Paul says, “If we die with Christ we will also rise with Christ.” Remember we are coheirs with Christ. Everything prophesied about Him in the Old Testament is for us too.
Many saints had a holy zeal for the cross. St. Francis and St. Paul did everything for the love of Christ and Him crucified. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The way of the cross is not a curse, but it is the way of love and victory over sin and death. It is the way to know, love and serve God.
by Br. Leonard Mary, MFVA
In many places, the image of the Catholic priesthood is in disarray. Many priests are discouraged by the failings of a few of their brother priests. Some are even afraid to wear the clerical collar or habit out in public, out of fear about what people will think or say. There is good news and hope that was proclaimed this entire year starting on June 19, 2009 and ending the following June 19, 2010. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has proclaimed this year the Year of the Priesthood. You can expect a year filled with catechesis and instruction on the nature of the priesthood and I dare say an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life will follow.
When announcing the Year of the Priesthood, Pope Benedict XVI also extolled and put fouth for all priests a model whose life and virtues are worthy of reflection, St. John Marie Vianney, also known as the Curé of Ars. During this year, the Pope will proclaim St. John Vianney the patron Saint of all priests. This is very significant. Up until this year, the Holy Curé was patron Saint of all parish priests because he himself was a parish priest in Ars, France. There could be a very specific reason why Pope Benedict is proclaiming him patron of all priests. It is because in this humble priest, God chose to manifest the dignity and essence of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. St. John Marie Vianney exemplifies what every priest, whether diocesan or religious, should aspire and strive to be.
Despite what some see as a disfigured image of the priesthood today, the priesthood of Jesus Christ remains timeless and still magnificent in its essence. In every age and I dare say even more so in our own, the priesthood is in constant need of reform and renewal. The essence or nature remains the same and unchanged, but how exactly that priesthood is lived out in the world is always in need of purification. St. John Marie Vianney although not bound by the evangelical counsels, the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience certainly lived them as radically as someone who professes them. In any age, a closer adherence to these Gospel counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, is what sparks reform in the priesthood and religious life.
The Holy Curé of Ars lived the Gospel counsel of poverty as radically as St. Francis did, to whose Third Order he was a member. He was a celibate man to whom scores of spiritual children flocked to his little parish in Ars to have him hear their Confession. He was an example of obedience, always doing what his Bishop asked of him, especially when he was told “There is not much love in Ars, it is your job to put it there.” If there is going to be any renewal in the priesthood, whether in diocesan or religious, the evangelical counsels are not optional. They are not optional because Christ Himself lived them and it is His Priesthood that every priest shares.
Sometimes, it may be the temptation of a priest to wish that he lived in another time, when perhaps the priesthood was portrayed in better light. This is an illusion. St. John Marie Vianney was called in the midst of the disastrous effects of the French Revolution to confront the challenges and evils of his society. We perhaps think that to be a priest during any age but our own would have been somehow “easier” or “better.” This is false. Priests today are called as the Holy Curé was, to confront the evils and address the needs of the contemporary culture that so desperately is thirsting for truth and meaning. It is much easier to swim with the current, but if one is asked to turn around and go directly opposed to it, it is humanly speaking near impossible. This is the lofty vocation that every priest faces, that by God’s Grace, he is going directly against the current of the contemporary culture and bringing the light and truth of the Gospel to those who starve for it.
There is a reason why Pope Benedict XVI opened this Year of the Priesthood on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Simply stated in the words of St. John Marie Vianney, “The priesthood is the Love of the Heart of Jesus.” He says, “If one were to understand the Priesthood, one would die, not out of fear, but of love.” The Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ was and still continues to be how God manifests His Love to the world. Through the hands of a priest, God still continues to feed His flock, who are so desperately starving for the Bread of Life. Through the hands of a priest, God still continues to wipe away perhaps the crusted filth of decades and reconcile sinners to a life of grace. Through the hands of a priest, God continues to bless marriages and witness the love of Christ and His Church as expressed through the love of man and woman. Through the hands of the priest, the sick, suffering and dying are consoled and brought healing and strength.
Finally, the Holy Curé of Ars shows that it is Christ at work in His priests. It is not any power or merit of their own. God’s power is made more perfect through weakness. It can be said that God wanted to transform the world by transforming a little section of it, an insignificant town of Ars. Through this humble parish priest, God showed us once again that he uses what seems to the world as small and insignificant to manifest His greatness and mercy. May the example and witness of St. John Marie Vianney renew the hearts of all those who are already priests and inspire and inflame those who are aspiring to be priests. St. John Marie Vianney, pray for us.
Br. John Paul Mary, MFVA
The Resurrection of Christ from the dead dramatically changed the lives of St. Mary of Magdala, St. Peter and St. John. From the Scripture readings used by the Church at Holy Mass on Easter Sunday we find rich passages of God’s Holy Word for meditation. The gospel (John 20:1-9) tells us that “it was very early on the first day of the week and still dark” when Mary of Magdala went to the tomb where Jesus was laid. Mary, whom Jesus had “cast out seven demons” (Luke 8:2), takes the first available opportunity after the Sabbath, to bring the spices which had been prepared for His body. It is out of love that she comes to the tomb while it is still dark; it is out of love that she runs to tell Peter and John of the “missing” Jesus. She greatly desires to know where the body of her Lord is. Peter and John run to the tomb, for they too are very anxious to know what has happened to the body of Jesus. For Jesus’ disciples, anything concerning Him is important to them. To come to believe that Jesus has risen from dead and all of the implications stemming from this central event of human history will change their lives drastically. His Resurrection from the dead will not only impact the lives of these few eyewitnesses of the empty tomb, but will have a much greater effect than they ever considered on this first Easter morn. The Resurrection of Christ from the dead directly impacts the life of every Christian.
In the first reading from Mass on Easter Sunday (Acts10:34, 37-43), St. Peter expresses the climax of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead and how it confirms Christ’s teachings and works which have a direct impact on the life of each Christian. St. Peter, speaking to jews, starts out by giving a very brief account of the public life of Jesus. He then tells them that Jesus was crucified and that He rose from the dead on the third day. Christ’s Resurrection from the dead is an affirmation of all of His works and teachings, including all of those things He did and said during His public ministry. For if Christ has not risen from the dead, then our “faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). By rising from the dead He shows the definitive proof of His divine authority. Next, St. Peter explains that Jesus made Himself visible to them and charged them to preach to the people. This “Great Commission” not only applies to those first witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection, but also to every Christian. St. Peter also says, “All the prophets bear witness” to Jesus since Christ’s Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises of the Old and New Testaments. “It is through His name that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins.” Through His Resurrection from the dead, He makes it possible for us to enter into a new life. Through Christ’s Resurrection we become His brothers through a gift of grace and share in the life of God’s only Son.
St. Paul, in the second reading from Mass on Easter morning, shows that baptized Christians now share supernaturally in the heavenly life of the risen Jesus. He states, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” Even though we can say that Christ will raise us up on the last day, and that we look forward to the Resurrection from the dead, we can also say that through baptism we have already risen with Christ. It is through the sacrament of Baptism that the Christian enters into the Paschal Mystery of Christ. The Christian dies a mystical death but is then raised to a new life with Christ through baptism. Christians, therefore, even while on earth, can participate in the life of the risen Christ, but this life will be a “life hidden with Christ in God.” The risen Christ dwells in our hearts through baptism and it is through prayer that we participate and live this hidden life with Christ in God. However, when Christ our life raises us from the dead on the last day we “too will appear with Him in glory.”
Nourished by the Holy Eucharist, let us look forward with faith, to the Resurrection of our own bodies from the dead on the last day. Jesus told us that he who believes in Him and eats His Body and drinks His Blood will have eternal life, and that He will raise him up on the last day. The faith we have in Jesus and in all that He has taught us will lead us to have a great hope and a great joy as we anticipate our own resurrection from the dead on the last day. Part of this reflection must include meditation on the reception of the Blessed Sacrament and the connection to our future resurrection from the dead. Since Jesus is the “Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25) we prepare for our death and resurrection into eternal life every time we receive Him, with faith, in the Blessed Sacrament. During this Easter season, as we meditate on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, let us celebrate with great jubilation, for “this is the Day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” [Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed., 1997; Faculty of Theology of the Univ. of Navarre, The Navarre Bible: Texts and Commentaries. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1993; Orchard, Dom Bernard, and Rev. Edmund F. Sutcliffe, eds. A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953.]
How do I know if am called? Why would God call me? And the ever-infamous words, “I am not worthy of such a vocation!” And to that I would answer, right, you are not worthy. It is not our worthiness, it is His worthiness. The question that a young man asks upon pondering his own vocation may be similar or may vary from these. One thing is for sure, that each vocation is unique and unrepeatable. Of course, our first and primary vocation is to holiness, no matter what God may be calling us to. You and I are called to be Saints. Our calling or vocation in life is the means that will best help us get to Heaven. Not everybody is called to the religious or consecrated life. As a matter of fact, it seems that the Lord has called the majority to the wonderful Sacrament of Matrimony. However, there are, even in this present age, a chosen few that are being called by Christ to offer their entire lives as a gift in the consecrated life. Are you one of these chosen few? If you are, I encourage you not be afraid.
We live in a very noisy culture. Sometimes it may seem impossible for us to hear the silent call of the Lord in the midst of our everyday busy lives. Even within all the noise, our Lord still can call. Do you have the ears to listen and the heart to respond? Everywhere we turn in our society, we are being told to indulge ourselves. The range of –isms that we encounter today are endless; just to mention a few, narcissism, relativism, subjectivism, consumerism, materialism, paganism and even nihilism. Yes, it is very hard to hear and respond to the Lord’s call with this surrounding us.
The core of the problem with all these –isms is that “self” is at the center and the heart of their world. If we are honest, all of us in some way suffer from selfishness. We want to be the way “we” want to be. Well what about what God wants you to be and created you to be? In the beginning there was no selfishness or egoism. What is the antidote for the selfishness that pervades our culture? Instead of selfishness and self-centeredness, we are called to make a sincere gift of ourselves. This means selflessness, instead of selfishness.
Our beloved Holy Father John Paul II reminded us time and time again that it is in making a sincere gift of self that man comes to know who he is. This may seem paradoxical, that in denying self and reaching out to others as a gift, I become more myself and who I was created to be. Deep down in the human heart all men know that they are called to be a gift to others. This may be time-giving, attention-giving, courtesy-giving, talent-giving, thanksgiving and even life-giving. All Christians are called to make a sincere gift of themselves to their neighbors, but even more so a man discerning a life of service, embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience.
More and more young people today are craving for the Truth. They are tired of what this world has to offer. They want purpose and meaning. In a word, they want to be radical and do something radical. Professing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience is radical. It is totally counter-cultural. Jesus Christ continues to call young men and women to this way of life, just as He did the rich young man (Mt. 19:16-22). Jesus Himself instituted the evangelical counsels and it was He Who lived them perfectly. The counsels are a gift from the Most Holy Trinity. They are not a burden. Our culture may look at the vows that way. Perhaps this is because at the heart of them is the complete and total denial of self. A man that professes the evangelical counsels gives his entire life to the Lord to be put at the service of the Church as a sacrificial gift. You may ask, “ How do you give up all the things of the world?” True, the vows have a negative factor in that we renounce some legitimate goods and pleasures of this world, but the negative factor must never rule our hearts. There is more of a positive factor in each of the vows that unlocks our hearts to freely serve Christ more fully. Any man who embraces the evangelical counsels seeks to imitate Christ, Who was poor, chaste and obedient to His Father in Heaven.
In a culture that places so much emphasis on wealth and material status, the vow of poverty seems ridiculous. All religious vow to be poor in fact, that is materially, but more importantly poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3). We are to live in the spirit of detachment from all worldly things. This does not mean that we do not use worldly things, but in a way that we guard our hearts from being attached. We must focus on the poor Christ, Who stripped Himself of Glory and emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave for our salvation (Phil. 1:7). “Poverty is the emptiness that makes room for God.” Mother Angelica says our only attachment here of Earth must be the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. For us, there is no greater treasure here on Earth. We have found the pearl of great price (Mt.13:46). We give up everything only to gain Him, Who is everything.
Consecrated chastity or celibacy may be even more difficult for the world to comprehend. It is not a natural vocation; it is supernatural. Chastity is a call to love Christ greater than self. It takes a very generous heart to accept and live this radical call. We renounce the goods of marriage and family life to embrace a life in total union with God. We give up an exclusive family, only to become a member of every family. Consecrated men and woman are signs to our world of the resurrected life to come (Mt. 22:30). This is a special charism that requires the total sacrificial gift of self to God. We must never rely on our own strength to live this vow, for we will surely fail. The key to a joyful and happy life living this vow is a fervent sacramental life, nourished by the Eucharist and frequent Confession.
One of the greatest gifts God has given us is free will. He never forces us, but wants our love for Him to be freely chosen. The third and chief vow is obedience. Obedience can be defined as willing the will of another. We totally abandon our own will into the hands of our Superior. This takes total self-denial. The will of our Superior is the Will of Almighty God in our lives. This may seem like a burden or a restraint for some, but in reality it is the key that unlocks our freedom completely to serve the Lord. Jesus was totally obedient during His earthly life, from obeying His parents Joseph and Mary to obeying His Heavenly Father in total gift of self in obedience to the point of death, death on the Cross (Phil. 1:8). All vowed religious participate in the obedience of Christ, for He is the perfection in obedience. The obedience of Christ, the New Adam, unties the knot of disobedience of the first Adam (Rom. 5:19).
The evangelical counsels are never focused on self, theological concepts or abstractions, but rather on a Person, a Divine Person, Jesus Christ Himself. No religious can hope to live the counsels without having a deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We must know and love Christ with every fiber of our being. Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself. Only in Christ do we have our identity. We encounter Jesus most personally and intimately in the Holy Eucharist, His Greatest Gift to us. The vows are a gift. A gift has a giver and a receiver. In this case the Giver is God Himself and the receiver is you and I if we so choose. Our world needs young, generous and zealous souls to face this selfish culture head on and say no, there is another way, The Way (Jn. 14:6)! Are you willing to be a gift to others for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt. 19:12)?
by Br. John Paul Mary, MFVA
Have you ever wondered what we friars do all day? What makes our life tick? What motivates us? What gives our life value? Why grown mature men willingly promise to live together and to be at certain places at certain times everyday? Why, you may wonder, do we not marry? To not even be allowed to buy the car we may want or to go on the vacation we would really want to go on? The answer is the vows we profess. These are like pegs or pillars to give form to our lives and the lives of all religious. They are Chastity, Poverty and Obedience.
First of all, Chasitity. Some men hear us mention the vows and their first reaction is, “poverty and obedience I can handle, but chastity, no way!” One married man with a number of kids said, “Well, I got two out of three…” If done for the right reasons, however, and in the right way, chastity becomes an aid to authentic human and spiritual maturity. We do not give up a wife and family because we do not like women or do not want to have to deal with children. Quite the opposite; these are beautiful things, very beautiful. We friars, and indeed all those who take the vow of chastity, give up having our own family to embrace a much larger family. We give up having a partner in life to partner with God in bringing new life to the world, spiritual life, life lived unto eternity. Only with the gift of the vow of chastity is that possible.
As for Poverty, fundamentally, this means that we as individuals own nothing of our own. This may seem like a copout to owning collectively all kinds of things, from yachts to sports cars, but poverty also means we strive to live poverty in spirit and poverty in fact. Poverty of fact requires us to live a simple life without anything extra, or superfluous. Poverty of spirit, however, means being detached from the things we have. Our real lasting possession is Christ, and in possessing him we possess all things. This means that if He asks us to do without something, say that nap we were looking forward to, or the recognition we seek, then we can strive to do it with peace, and without complaint or bitterness in our hearts. The more we empty ourselves of ‘things’ the more we can be filled with what is absolutely priceless, the joy of following Christ.
Finally, Obedience. This one is considered the toughest vow, though, as Mother Angelica says, it is also the most freeing. One good way to explain obedience is to imagine taking your boss or perhaps your spouse and voluntarily subjecting yourself to them in all things, not just at work, not just for certain things at home, but for all things: what you work on, when you eat, when you wake up, when you relax. As you can imagine, that would be pretty tough (perhaps you feel like you live like that anyway) but essentially that is what obedience is. You promise to obey your superior at all times no matter who he might be. It is not a servile or abusive obedience, nor is it a kind of childish shirking of responsibility. Now, why would someone voluntarily put their life into the hands of another? Ultimately, the will of our superior’s becomes God’s Will for us. We are all called to do God’s Will, but for those who take this vow, God’s Will becomes quite concrete everyday. Christ was obedient to His Father unto death, death on a cross, so we are called to be obedient unto death, death to our egos and, as a result, fully free to do God’s Will alone.
Quite frankly, living the vows is impossible, but God calls the weak and makes them strong. Pope John Paul II said that religious, “make visible the marvels wrought by God in the frail humanity of those who are called.” (Emphasis my own) The three vows are tough, not so much “navy seals tough” but a kind of spiritual toughness. And yet there are thousands of young men and women answering the call, answering the challenge of Christ to love beyond measure, sacrifice without restraint. Through the consecrated, vowed life, we strive then to live a fruitful life, a life not given into comfort and ease; nor a contraceptive life given over to endless video games and other superficial distractions so prevalent in our culture, rather, a life lived for others, a life lived for God and, ultimately, a life of greatness.
By a MFVA Friar
It is generally true that as Catholics we “don’t know what we got.” It is part of our human condition that we need to be continually reminded of the truths, beauties and wonders of our religion. Any facet of it should serve as a lifetime of meditation. The Christian Sunday celebration is no exception to this rule. Our Sunday observance is at the “very core of the Christian mystery.” (Dies Domini #1)
Sunday harkens back to creation and, at the same time, looks forward to the ‘last day’, the day when Christ will come again. It encompasses everything. It gives us a much needed rest from work and the strains of life, but even more importantly it recalls every aspect of our lives to our origin and goal. It breaks into time and gathers it up to offer it back to the Father.
The third commandment that the Israelites were given was to keep holy the Sabbath day. The seventh day of creation on which God rested. God “worked” for six days. He created the heavens and the earth and then created man on the sixth day. God never ceases the divine activity; He is always acting. But the rest that Genesis speaks of is a “lingering” before the goodness of creation. His resting emphasizes the “fullness” of His activity, especially after creating man and woman— the highpoint of creation. God’s rest is a kind of “gaze” upon the goodness and beauty of creation, especially upon the man and woman. The Holy Father has written that this gaze discloses the “nuptial shape of the relationship which God wants to establish with the creature He made in His own image.” We are called into a relationship with God, to know and love Him. (DD #11)
“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” (Gen. 2:3) The seventh day of the week is referred to as the Sabbath by the Jews. God blesses this day and makes it holy. He then commands the Jews to “keep holy the Sabbath” in the third commandment. By placing the Sabbath precept in the Ten Commandments, God is making the Sabbath observance more than just one among many cultic rules and regulations. He is making it one of the “pillars of the moral life.”(DD#13) The point is that, yes we can see on a natural level that we need to take a break at the end of the week. It fits our natural requirements for good health and enjoyment. But we are not defining this for ourselves. We are not the authors of the Sabbath rest, God is.
“Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 20:8,11) Keeping the Sabbath holy and remembering are linked together. We are to remember the work of creation. Vital to keeping the Sabbath holy is a call to rest in the Lord and remember His goodness to us. Man is the only creature with this ability to take in all of creation, to remember it, to reflect on it and recognize its beauty and goodness. Man is by nature, a religious being, who seeks to find expression of the religious sense within himself. He needs this regular call to remember and keep holy. (DD #17)
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with mighty hand and outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Dt. 5:15) Here in Deuteronomy, the Lord is uniting the orders of creation and salvation. God, through many signs and wonders, led His people out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were called to remember this work of salvation along with the work of creation, in fact, they are one work of God. Christian revelation will be the fulfillment of these themes that we find in the Old Testament. Christ is the redeemer in whom everything will be made new. The Christian is made new in baptism; he becomes a new creation in Christ. The Sacrament of baptism changes the very being of the person. One receives a spiritual character on the soul that configures it to Christ. We become temples of the Holy Spirit. They are grafted onto Christ becoming part of His mystical body. Baptism begins what will be completed at the end of time with the second coming of Christ.
When Christ comes in glory, our bodies will be raised up and glorified. All of creation will be made new without spot or wrinkle. Christ will perfect this fallen world and in a sense re-create it. It will be cleansed of all “dirt” and transformed, lit with the very glory of Christ. We can see that in the very person of Christ. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we see the perfect realization of the Sabbath. Creation and salvation, which began in the Old Testament, is fulfilled.
The early Christians moved the Sabbath celebration from the last day of the week to the first day. This has a great significance because the of Jews’ careful reckoning of time and because of the importance the Sabbath held within the Covenant. The reason for the move centers around the Resurrection. Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. He appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to the eleven Apostles on the same day. Pentecost also occurred on a Sunday. St. Augustine calls Sunday “a Sacrament of Easter.” (DD #19)
So, by God’s design, we have a weekly renewal of the resurrection. The Eucharist is the heart of keeping Sunday holy. At Mass, we celebrate the “living presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of his own people.” (DD #31) We come together as one body to renew the covenant that our Lord made with us. We do this as a people, as a communion. We are not saved in isolation but as members of His mystical body. I have often heard from people that they worship the Lord in their “own way.” Certainly, everyone has a right to religious freedom, but God’s plan is that we are not saved as individuals but in belonging to the communion of the Church. The Sunday Eucharist is a sign and instrument of this communion. We come together to pray and worship the Lord, and at the same time the Lord is building up His body by our participation in the Eucharist. (DD #32)
“I’m just so tired by the time the weekend rolls around…I just don’t have the time for Mass.” Time seems to be the issue for so many of us. The conveniences that modern culture has provided us seems to leave us scrambling for time. The reason our time seems disordered is because we have let it become closed in on itself. (DD #60) Christian culture sees it not as a never ending cycle but as a progession. Time, for us, has a beginning and an end. God created time and space “in the beginning”, and at the end of time He will come again in Glory as a fulfillment of time— eternity. (Tertio Milenio #9) Eternity fulfills all moments of time. Scripture tells us that Christ came in the fullness of time, He embraces all time and works our salvation out in time. With God entering time through the incarnation, eternity has entered into time. An eternity that gathers up all time and fulfills. He sanctifies time and allows us to participate in that sanctification. Every Sunday we offer that week up to God. That is how time achieves its fullest meaning. Nothing is wasted in our lives. Nothing.
Sunday is to be a day of joy and rest. Our Sunday Mass obligation is a serious duty on our part if we are able to attend Mass. We are to refrain from work or engaging in activities that hinder the worship owed to God. “Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.” (CCC 2185) It should also be a day for works of charity, where we serve those less fortunate than ourselves. It is a day to cultivate a civilization of love. A day to recreate and rebuild ourselves and to participate in activities that foster an interior life. Let us rejoice in the wonder of Sunday, a day the Lord has made for us!
by Br. Mark Mary, MFVA
The Year of Priesthood, announced by our beloved Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the death of the saintly Curé of Ars, St. Jean Marie Vianney, is drawing near. It will be inaugurated by the Holy Father on June 19th, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests.
It must be a year that is both positive and forward looking in which the Church says to her priests above all, but also to all the Faithful and to wider society by means of the mass media, that she is proud of her priests, loves them, honors them, admires them and that she recognizes with gratitude their pastoral work and the witness of their life. Truthfully, priests are important not only for what they do but also for who they are. Sadly, it is true that at the present time some priests have been shown to have been involved in gravely problematic and unfortunate situations… However, it is also important to keep in mind that these pertain to a very small portion of the clergy. The overwhelming majority of priests are people of great personal integrity, dedicated to the sacred ministry; men of prayer and of pastoral charity, who invest their entire existence in the fulfilment of their vocation and mission, often through great personal sacrifice, but always with an authentic love towards Jesus Christ, the Church and the people, in solidarity with the poor and the suffering. It is for this reason that the Church is proud of her priests wherever they may be found.
May this year be an occasion for a period of intense appreciation of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood, and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of priests within the Church and in society.
Plenary Indulgence for the Year of Priests
Benedict XVI will grant priests and faithful Plenary Indulgence for the occasion of the Year for Priests, which is due to run from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 and has been called in honour of St. Jean Marie Vianney…. The means to obtain the Plenary Indulgence are as follows:
All truly penitent Christian faithful who, in church or oratory, devotedly attend Holy Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mold them to His Heart, are granted Plenary Indulgence, on the condition that they have expiated their sins through Sacramental Confession and prayed in accordance with the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff. This may be done on the opening and closing days of the Year of Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.
The elderly, the sick and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain Plenary Indulgence if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, “on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles”.
Partial Indulgence is offered to all faithful each time they pray five Our Father, Ave Maria and Gloria Patri, or any other duly approved prayer “in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to ask that priests maintain purity and sanctity of life”.
While immorality is on the rise and as philosophies and ideologies are created to justify sinful behavior, Satan is always whispering into the ears of Christians to surrender to defeat and despair. Unfortunately many have succumbed to his lying rhetoric, giving in to tepidity, immorality and eventually leaving God and His Church. For many of us it appears that we are fighting a loosing battle.
However, faced with similar philosophies and ideologies, overwhelmed with temptations and confronted with persecutions, St. Paul the Apostle courageously fought the good fight of faith through praying devoutly, living a virtuous life, and preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today as we are surrounded with the persuasive influences of evil, the spirit and teachings of St. Paul are needed more than ever.
Like many of us St. Paul the Apostle had a conversion experience. As a Pharisee, known as Saul, his immense zeal for defending the Jewish law impelled him to hate Christians. He viewed Christian teaching as a violation of the law and perceived their teaching as a threat to Judaism. His harsh sentiments resulted in the hunting and apprehending of many Christians. He supported and witnessed the stoning and death of St. Stephen and heard him say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59). Shortly after while on a journey to Damascus to capture more Christians, Saul was struck down by a heavenly light. He then heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise go into the city and, you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9: 1 – 7).
After a profound experience with Jesus, Paul knew for himself the Divinity of Christ. Following his initial transformation he was commissioned by our Lord to preach the Gospel. This once well educated, enthused and devoted Pharisee would now use his former credentials to win souls for Christ. His love for Jesus and desire to imitate Christ crucified propelled him to preach and teach zealously and tenaciously through insurmountable circumstances.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit he wrote letters to the Christians in the cities he ministered in. These letters would later become part of the New Testament. For centuries God has used these writings to sanctify, edify and pacify. In this time when wickedness seems to prevail, the writings of St. Paul are to needed to strengthen our relationship with Christ and enlighten us in our evangelical endeavors.
On June 28, 2008 the year of St. Paul officially commenced. The Holy Father asked that there be liturgical, cultural and ecumenical events with Pauline spirituality to be held throughout the year. He also requested meetings for the study of St. Paul’s teachings. Pope Benedict called for publications that promote the saint’s teachings. The pontiff encouraged Church organizations, institutions, parishes, shrines and basilicas named in honor of the saint to sponsor events. Benedict XVI said that the year must have an “ecumenical dimension” (Catholic News Agency).
This is a special year of grace promulgated by the Vicar of Christ. It is a time to become more familiar with the writings of St. Paul. These New Testament books nourish the soul. They encourage us to persevere through trials and teach us to live as Christ. Take advantage of this exceptional opportunity to grow in holiness. As St. Paul says, “Make the most out of every time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5: 16)
Br. Leonard Mary
(The following excerpts are taken from a “National Vocations Awareness Week” homily given by Fr. Anthony Mary, MFVA, during a live television broadcast of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass from “Our Lady of the Angels Chapel” in Irondale, Alabama, on Sunday, January 14, 2007.)
There are different ways that we are made aware of our vocation. I’m going to give you about five of them. Consider ordinary life experience: First, an alarm clock goes off in the morning. We’ve been asleep for hours and suddenly we know that it is too early in the morning to be getting out of bed, but we know what time it is. We are immediately aware of the time. Second, we are driving fast down the highway and see a police car. Suddenly we start driving carefully, following every rule in the book, hands at 10 and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel, and here we go. Now we’re the perfect driver on the road… but get a mile out of his radar, push the gas pedal and on we make it to our destination. So, we are aware of how fast we are going. Third, we have a fire station just down the road from our friary. When those trucks come flying by, we are immediately aware of danger. We are aware that something is wrong; something is not right, and these men are going out to provide assistance. Fourth, someone speaks some words to us. If we ever visit a hospital or nursing home, a nurse sees us come in wearing our habit. So sometimes they will pull us aside and tell us, “Mrs. Smith got some bad news today… just wanted to make you aware of that, Father.” Or, “Father, did you know that it is her birthday?” So we are made aware of something by someone else’s words. Or fifth, we hear in the back of the chapel “Sshh!” It’s a Catholic sound, I think, a sign that the Blessed Sacrament is nearby. In our chapel, people are coming in the backdoor all the time, and we hear that a lot. So they are just reminding each other that you have to be quiet because the Lord is here. Now how do these fit into vocations awareness? Sometimes we are made aware of our vocations through a word – through something that is said to us – by someone simply asking, “Have you ever considered being a priest?” or “Have you ever considered being a sister?” Or a sign – sometimes we need a spiritual squad car or the spiritual siren to go off. Thus, we ask ourselves these questions in our youth: “Where am I going?” “Where am I heading?” “Am I living life in the fast lane?” “Am I heading in the direction of danger?” “Do I need to be rescued from something?” For a young person, the spiritual squad car comes in various ways. Perhaps it may be this very homily… so he or she begins thinking, “I wonder if that’s what I am supposed to do?” Other times, young people show up at things like “Youth 2000” or these retreats that their parishes organize. Or maybe a guest, seen on “Life on the Rock” with Fr. Francis, mentions something that grabs his or her attention. Another thing that really gets a young man, especially, is when he runs into another young man who is discerning. And that gets him exited… A young man needs another guy who is suddenly thinking about the priesthood or religious life. You have this guy your age telling you, “Man, I went to Birmingham and it’s so great! These guys get up at the crack of dawn and they are praying the Divine Office… yes, they are in the Chapel for five hours every day!!!” And you start thinking, “Wow! What am I missing?” Soon you get on board and start giving consideration to that. Sometimes our awareness is sounded by an alarm. This happens most often by someone who is close to us and really knows who we are – mostly, our parents or siblings. They may ask, “Are you thinking at all about the religious life or have you given consideration to being a priest? Do you want to talk to Father?” Other times, it’s just telling us to get moving. They tell us what time it is. I know in my own situation… I was going through a period of time where I knew I had a calling, but I didn’t know what to do. I was looking, but I wasn’t being convicted. As Fr. Andrew Apostoli once told us, he said that Blessed Mother Theresa was known for often speaking of this “come and see” and of the disciples following Jesus. For He asked them, “What are you looking for? What do you want?” They said, “Where do you stay?” He said, “Come and see.” So we use that many times in our discernment retreats. Furthermore, Fr. Andrew told us the more important thing is to come and stay. Live the life with us if this is where the Lord is calling you. I was going through that little difficulty, looking around but not being able to be convicted enough. I came back from one of my visits here when my father asked me how it went. I said, “It was real nice and I really like it.” Meanwhile, I didn’t have a job at the time. And he knew that I wasn’t giving him the response that sounded like I was going to be leaving in the next two weeks to come to Birmingham, so he had found an ad in the newspaper while I was gone and he said, “Here, why don’t you call these people and apply for this job?” I thought, a job! I’m thinking about the priesthood! I’m thinking about the religious life! I remember going to that job in particular, thinking I am not going to be here longer than two months. Now I know exactly what my father was doing. Let’s get him moving. Let’s get the alarm going off, sounding in his ear and tell him to wake up. I ended up being there for close to two years before I got moving. But that’s what it took to get my attention. It was that same job I got comfortable in. And it was my twin sister who came home from college who told me that I was getting too comfortable. “Look at yourself! I thought you were thinking about being a priest. You were going to enter religious life. What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m still thinking about it and praying about it.” She asked the question that I ask people all the time, “Well, what do you think – that the Lord is just going to speak to you directly or open the skies and reveal to you what to do?” She lit the fire under me again and said, “Get going, get moving. Do you know what time it is? It’s getting late.” That’s what we need sometimes. It comes from people who know us, people who really understand who we are. Maybe they’ll wait for us when we need to wait and slow down, and they’ll give us a kick in the backside when we need to get moving. But we also need someone’s “Sshh” – and I believe only the Holy Spirit can do this – to tell us to be quiet and listen to what He is saying. There is a lot of noise and distraction in the world. Fr. Andrew said on our retreat – you hear it from people who are Catholic councilors: Narcissism, especially for men. Narcissism is the plague and the curse of our day. Why can’t our young people enter into anything and stay with it? They are too self-centered and too self-focused. So we need to help them encounter a sense of discipline in an appropriate manner, not something that is just beating them down. Why did Pope John Paul II appeal to young people? He was telling them they have to give themselves, give everything away, pour themselves out, and have discipline over themselves. You would think the young people would say, “I can’t handle that.” But instead, they were cheering, “Yes – he’s telling us what we know resonates with us down deep. We know that we are capable of it and that it is for our own good. He’s telling us that he has confidence in us that we can do it.” That’s what a young person responds to. Our youth are so willing to just give away everything. The older we get, the more we cling and it becomes more difficult. The younger the man is in our Community, the more liable he is to give everything away. He is willing to throw everything away and live for Christ. So let us turn to Our Blessed Mother to guide and protect us and spend time with Our Eucharistic Lord in adoration. Mary, Mother of Priests, Religious, and Consecrated, pray for us.
Pope Honorius III
The Bull on the Rule of the Friars Minor given November 29, 1223 A. D.
To our beloved sons, Friar Francis and the other friars of the Order of the Friars Minor, health and apostolic Benediction:
The Apostolic See is accustomed to grant the pious desires and to share her kind favor with the upright desires of those petitioning her. Wherefore, beloved sons in the Lord, having yielded to your pious entreaties, We confirm by Our apostolic authority your rule, approved by Our predecessor, Pope Innocent, of good memory, quoted herein, and We strengthen it with the patronage of this present writing, which is as follows:
In the name of the Lord, begins the life of the Friars Minor.
The Rule of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience without anything of our own, and in chastity.
Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to the Lord Pope Honorius and his canonically elected successors, and to the Roman Church; and the other friars are bound to obey Francis and his successors.
Concerning those who wish to adopt this life, and in what manner they should be received.
If any would desire to adopt this life and would come to our brothers, let them send them to their ministers provincial to whom alone, and not to others, is the permission to receive friars conceded. Let the ministers examine them very diligently concerning the Catholic Faith and sacraments of the Church. If they believe all these things and desire to observe them faithfully and firmly unto the end, and if they have no wives, or if they do, their wives have already entered a convent, or having taken a vow of chastity, permission [to enter one] has been granted to them by authority of the bishop of the diocese, and the wives are of such an age that it is not possible that suspicion arise concerning them, let them say unto these the words of the Holy Gospel, that they should go and sell all that is their own and strive to give it to the poor. If they cannot do that, their good will suffices.
Let the friars and their ministers beware, lest they be solicitous concerning their temporal things, so that they may freely do with their own things, whatever the Lord will inspired them. If however should they need counsel, let the ministers have permission to send them to other God fearing men, by whose counsel they may give their goods to the poor. Afterwards let them grant them the clothes of probation, namely two tunics without a capuche, a cord, pants, and a caparone [extending] to the cord, unless it seems to the ministers [that it should be] otherwise according to God. Having truly finished the year of probation, let them be received to obedience, promising to observe always this very life and rule. And in no manner will it be licit to them to leave this [form of] religious life, according to the command of the Lord Pope, since according to the Holy Gospel “No one putting hand to the plow and turning back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
And let those who have already promised obedience have one tunic with a capuche and if they wish to have it, another without a capuche. And those who are driven by necessity can wear footwear. And let all the friars wear cheep clothing and they can patch these with sack-cloth and other pieces with the blessing of God. I admonish and exhort them, not to despise nor judge men, whom they see clothed with soft and colored clothes, using dainty food and drink, but rather let each one judge and despise his very self.
Concerning the divine office and fasting; and how the brothers ought to travel through the world.
Clerics are to perform the divine office according to the ordo of the Roman Church, except for the psalter, for which they can have breviaries.
Laymen are to say twenty-four “Our Fathers” for matins; for lauds five ; for prime, terce, sext and none, for each of these seven, for vespers, however, twelve; for compline seven; and let them pray for the dead.
And let them fast from the Feast of All saints until Christmas. Indeed those who voluntarily fast the holy lent, which begins at Epiphany and for the forty days that follow, which the Lord consecrated with His own holy fast, let them be blessed by the Lord, and let those who do not wish [to do so] not be constrained. But they shall fast the other [lent] until the [day of the] Resurrection of the Lord.
At other times however they are not bound to fast, except on Fridays. Indeed in time of manifest necessity the friars are not bound to the corporal fast.
I truly counsel, admonish and exhort my friars in the Lord Jesus Christ, that when they go about through the world, they are not to quarrel nor contend in words, nor are they to judge others, but they are to be meek, peaceable and modest, kind and humble, speaking uprightly to all, as is fitting. And they should not ride horseback, unless they are driven [to do so] by manifest necessity or infirmity.
And into whatever house they may enter, first let them say: “Peace to this house.” And according to the Holy Gospel it is lawful for them to eat of any of the foods, which are placed before them.
That the brothers should not accept money.
I firmly command all the friars, that in no manner are they to receive coins or money through themselves or through an interposed person. However for the necessities of the infirm and for the clothing of the other friars, the ministers and even the custodes are to conduct a solicitous care, by means of spiritual friends, according to places and seasons and cold regions, as they see expedites necessity; with this always preserved, that, as has been said, they receive neither coins nor money.
On the manner of working.
Let those friars, to whom the Lord gives the grace to work, work faithfully and devotedly, in such a way that, having excluded idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the spirit of holy prayer and devotion, to which all other temporal things should be subordinated. Indeed concerning the wages for labor, let them receive for themselves and for their friars corporal necessities, excepting coins or money, and this [they should do] humbly, as befits the servants of God and the followers of most holy poverty.
That the Friars should appropriate nothing for themselves, and concerning the begging of alms and sick friars.
Let the Friars appropriate nothing for themselves, neither house nor place, nor any thing. And as pilgrims and exiles in this world let them go about begging for alms confidently in poverty and humility as members of the household of God, nor is it fitting that they be ashamed [to do so], since the Lord made Himself poor in this world for us. This is that heavenliness of most high poverty, which has established you, my most dear Friars, as heirs and kings of the Kingdom of Heaven, making you poor in things, it has raised you high in virtues. Let this be your portion, which leads you into the land of the living. Cleaving totally to this, most beloved Friars, may you desire nothing else under heaven in perpetuity for the [sake of] the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
And wherever the friars are and find themselves, let them mutually show themselves to be members of the same household. And let them without fear manifest to one another their own necessities, since, if a mother nourishes and loves her own son according to the flesh, how much more diligently should he ought to love and nourish his own spiritual brother?
And, if any of them should fall into infirmity, the other friars should care for him, as they would wish to be cared for themselves.
On the penances to be imposed on Friars who sin.
If any of the friars, as the instigation of the enemy, should sin mortally, for those sins, concerning which it has be ordained among the friars, that they have recourse to the ministers provincial alone, the aforesaid friars are bound to have recourse to them as soon as they can, without delay. Indeed let the ministers themselves, if they are priests, with mercy enjoin upon them a penance; if indeed they are not priests, let them have it enjoined by other priests of the order, as it will seem to them to better expedite [the matter] according to God. And they should beware, not to grow angry and become upset on account of the sin of another, since anger and upsetness impede charity in themselves and in others.
On the election of the minister general of this brotherhood; and on the Chapter at Pentecost.
All the friars are bound to have always one of the friars of this very same religious [order] as minister general and servant of the whole fraternity and they are bound firmly to obey him. When he dies, let there be made an election of a successor by the ministers provincials and the custodes in the Pentecost Chapter, in which the ministers provincial are bound always to convene together, wherever it will have been determined by the minister general; and this once every three years or at another interval greater or less, as it will have been ordained by the aforesaid minister.
Le the friars not preach in the diocese of any bishop, when they will have been opposed by him. And let no friar even dare preach to the people, unless he will have been examined by the minister general of this fraternity and approved, and there be conceded to him by the same the office of preaching.
I admonish also and exhort these same friars, that in the preaching, that they deliver, their expressions be considered and chaste, for the utility and edification of the people, by announcing to them vices and virtues, punishment and glory with brevity of speech; since a brief word did the Lord speak upon the earth.
On the admonition and correction of the friars.
Let the friars, who are ministers and servants of the other friars, visit and admonish their friars and humbly and charitably correct them, not commanding them something which is contrary to their conscience and our rule. Indeed let the friars, who are subjects, remember, that for the sake of God they have renounced their own wills. Whence I firmly command them, to obey their ministers in all things which they have promised the Lord to observe and which are not contrary to their souls or to our rule. And wherever the friars are, who know and understand, that they themselves are not able to observe the rule spiritually, they should and can have recourse to their ministers. Indeed let the ministers receive them charitably and kindly and be so familiar with them, that they can speak to them and act as a lord with his servants; for so it should be, because the ministers are the servants of all the friars.
Indeed I admonish and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that the friars are to beware of all pride, vain glory, envy, avarice, care and solicitude for this world, detraction and murmuring, and let those who are ignorant of letters not care to learn them; but let them strive, so that above all things they should desire to have the Spirit of the Lord and His holy operation, to pray always to Him with a pure heart and to be humble, patient in persecution and infirmity and to love those who persecute and correct and accuse us, because the Lord says, “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute and calumniate you” (Mt. 5:44). “Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:10). “He who has persevered until the end, however, will be saved” (Mt. 10:22).
That the brothers should not enter the convents of nuns.
I strictly command all the brothers not to have suspicious company or conversation with women, and not to enter the monasteries of women religious, except those to whom special permission has been conceded by the Apostolic See; neither are they to be godfathers of men or women [so that] scandal may not arise on this account among the friars nor concerning them.
Concerning those who go among the Saracens and other infidels.
Let whoever of the friars who desires by divine inspiration to go among the saracens and other infidels seek permission from their minister provincial. Indeed the ministers are to grant permission to go to none, except those whom seems to be fit to be sent.
For which sake I enjoin the ministers by obedience, to seek from the lord pope one of the cardinals of the Roman Church, who is to be the governor, protector, and corrector of this fraternity, so that always subject and prostrate at the feet of this same Holy Church, stable in the Catholic Faith we may observe, as we have firmly promised, the poverty and humility and the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Confirmation of the Rule
Let it not be in any way licit to anyone among men to infringe this page of our confirmation, or to contravene it with rash daring. If anyone however would presume to attempt this, let him know himself to have incurred the indignation of the Omnipotent God and of Blessed Peter and Paul, His Apostles.
Given at the Lateran, on the third day of the Kalens of December, in the eight year of Our Pontificate.
This translation has been released to the public domain by its author.