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Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Saints to Help Take Courage!

I wanted to write briefly about the new saints who I discovered originally through Zenit e-news, the Vatican's daily newsletter. I will also draw from other sources to give a brief synopsis about their lives and the value of seeking their intercession in our day.

The first is St. Narcisa de Jesu Martillo Moran (1832-1869) of Ecuador. As young laywoman, she felt the call to sanctity at an early age and was focused on a path of holiness which she lived from the time of her confirmation. Pope Benedict said this in his homily on Oct. 12, 2008, the day of her canonization:
"To assist with docility the action of the Holy Spirit in her soul, she always sought the counsel and guidance of good and expert priests, considering spiritual direction as one of the most effective means to reach sanctity. Despite the abundant and extraordinary graces she received, her life developed in great simplicity, dedicated to her work as a seamstress and her apostolate as a catechist. In her passionate love for Jesus, that brought her to embark on a path of intense prayer and mortification, she offers us an inviting testimony and a polished example of a life totally dedicated to God and neighbor."  (ZE081012)

The second is St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception (1910-1946) of India. She is the first female saint of India to be canonized! Pope Benedict also has wonderful words for her:
"'He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces' (Is. 25:8). These words of the prophet Isaiah contain the promise which sustained Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception through a life of extreme physical and spiritual suffering. This exceptional woman was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father. She wrote, 'I consider a day without suffering as a day lost.' May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise."

The third saint canonized on Oct. 12, 2008 was St. Maria Bernarda Butler (1848-1924), originally of Switzerland, and then missionary to Ecuador and Colombia. Pope Benedict says this:
"In the midst of the serious adversities that she had to face, including exile, she carried engraved on her heart the exclamation from the Psalm we heard today: 'Though I walk through dark valleys, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.' (Psalm 23:4). In this way, docile to the Word of God and following the example of Mary, she did as the servants of the Gospel that we heart: She went in every direction proclaiming that the Lord invites all to his banquet." (ZE081012)

These are just brief excepts from the homily of that day, and I highly encourage you to go to the Vatican website and check out the full description of these amazing womens' lives.

I am grateful that God truly does "raise up saints in every generation,"  and I hope that through their intercession we can all continue down the paths God has given to us!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Taking Courage

Today's Gospel reading is Luke 12:48, where Christ says, "I have come to set the world ablaze, and how I wish it was already burning." 
I have two small reflections.
The first is my own failure, which I hope will push us all on to be more courageous. Today at mass, right after hearing that Gospel (and one would think, right after being thus encouraged), the priest celebrating our mass asked if there was anyone who would like to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick*. 
* The parish does this every Thurs. morning for those who have serious illnesses but are not in the hospital.. I'm not to judge the appropriateness of that.
Anyway, there were two men within my line of vision who raised their hands when the priest said this, before he continued with "please come to the front of the Church to receive it.. " 
One of these two men goes to mass every day, but my suspicion is that he may not be Catholic because he does not really participate and he never receives Communion. However, he's older and clearly has a hard time walking, so he may just feel it is too much to go up.
Either way, once the priest said "come forward" he did not do so and so he did not receive the Anointing. 
I was very torn because I wanted to motion to the priest to come down to us, in case the man simply couldn't walk up there, but we were sitting near the very back of the Church, which is where this man always sits. Then I thought of going up and mentioning to the priest that he should come down, but I didn't motivate myself enough and then they were done offering the Anointing and moving on with the rest of mass. 
So I was at a crossroads of what was appropriate- did I assume too much either way? Did I do nothing out of fear (which is what I think)? Clearly it comes down to this- I was afraid to offend and do distract. The Sacrament is offered between the homily and the Liturgy of the Eucharist at this parish... therefore I did not want to cause any disruption to the mass itself. Yet, what if this man never discovers that he could sit in the front row and the priest could bless him there, or what if I simply was given the challenge today to reach out to Christ in the form of a stranger and I couldn't do it?
I'm not looking for sympathy or chastisement, I simply want to challenge us all to try not to let the normal social fears and restrictions keep us from acting out of love. I tried to go up to the man after mass just to try to assess the situation, but as I approached I lost all my courage and I left, mostly because he was talking with people and I felt it would be awkward. 
Awkward? Maybe salvation was awkward- Jesus had to die mostly naked on a tree. 
Anyway, try to learn from my mistake and not hesitate when it is LOVE and the Holy Spirit who is motivating your heart!

The second thing I wanted to share was from a homily I heard last night from my boss, Fr. Brian.
The Gospel yesterday spoke of the idea of judgement where Jesus explains via parable that "to those who much is given, much is expected." 
Fr. Brian told a story of himself, as an eighth grade boy at school: (I will paraphrase this)
"I was in eighth grade and ended up in the bathroom with three guys in my class who were probably the most well known for being punks. They were just the 'bad kids,' like I was one of the 'good kids.' We were all standing there when out of nowhere they seemed to simultaneously agree to act out and vandalize. They didn't say anything but within 60 seconds they had emptied a trash container into a toilet and flushed, stuffed towels into the sinks and flooded them, and totally vandalized the bathroom. I didn't participate in it at all, but I also didn't stop them.
When they were done, we all just left and went to our respective classes. 
A little while later all four of us were called down to the Principal's office. She gave all of us our punishments in front of each other. Mine was the worst. When she said it, you could see the faces of the other guys being confused and surprised, and I was certainly shocked. In fact, I went from being frightened (because I had never been in trouble before) to being somewhat angry. 
The Principal said we could go and then asked me to wait and stay behind.
Once the others were gone she asked me, 'Brian, do you know why I gave you a harder punishment?' 
I said that I didn't. 
She said, 'Because I expect so much more from you. You know (here she said the name of one of the students) ____'s Father passed away last year and that his mother hasn't taken it well and that his home life is really bad right now. I'm not that surprised that he acted out. And you know (another one of the guys) _____ is just crazy. He is. 
But you Brian, have no reason or excuse, and so I do expect much more from you.'
It was hard to hear, but I realized then that she was right. I had good parents who loved me and cared for me and no real problems in my life that would be responsible for my acting in a bad way."

Fr. Brian used this story to emphasize to all of the college students present at our Wednesday night 9 o'clock mass that they, too, had been given a lot and therefore had much to be responsible for. 
I think we can all take that message to heart, along with the need for the world to be already blazing, and consider how we need to step out in faith, in courage, and in love, to see Christ's Kingdom built even now in our world. 

Let us pray for one another and that the Holy Spirit will move us past fear and into great faith.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Benedict XVI on Faith, Freedom and Truth

This is a somewhat all-encompassing topic, but as I read this brief print out from Pope Benedict XVI's Address to the community of Catholic Education on April 17, 2008, I could not hold myself back.

First I quote: "From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary 'crisis of truth' is rooted in a 'crisis of faith'. Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God's testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals." 

Next I quote: "Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in - a participation in Being itself."

Thirdly I quote: "Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (cf. Spe Salvi, 23)." 

These are the three points concerning education which Benedict highlights as absolutely necessary to discuss. He says, "Truth means more than knowledge: knowing truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted to vision of the Logos, God's creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is data - 'informative' - the loving truth of the Gospel is creative and life - 'preformative' (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). With confidence, Christian educators can liberate the young from the limits of positivism and awaken receptivity to the truth, to God and his goodness." 

This is a lot to digest because Benedict sees how truth, reason,  and faith are all interwoven into a formation of mind and conscience which is necessary for the Christian life and a gift of goodness which God offers to us and desires us to understand, and know, as we are called to know him. 

At the same time, these points individually taken offer much to the mind in terms of our culture, how we ourselves have been raised and educated thus far, and the responsibility we have in educating those we encounter on a daily basis. 

The beauty of reason and faith is that they do work hand and hand, and that even those who do not accept the need for faith will eventually find that anything that is really truth has only one origin to point to. This is why we know that God can be known through reason - because we have the ability to encounter him in our natural world and understand to a certain extent his truth. It is also the requirement we have for faith, for as far as reason is able to take us, God is mystery and communion and there is no relationship which does not demand of us some amount of faith in the other. For God, because he is infinite, I feel the faith required may also reach to infinity.

 Not only that, but Christ, Jesus, the Logos, God and Man, is exactly another living example of faith and reason and how we are able to bring both into one understanding. Benedict states that the Word, the knowledge of God and who he is, is not only 'informative' but is far more 'preformative' - this is seen through Scripture, as it is through God's words that he creates life, and all that exists, and is also understood through our Profession of Faith, which is Christ as through whom God creates. In this sense again we see how it is understanding of the Word - namely, knowledge and reason - and also faith - our Tradition handed on from Christ - which work hand and hand for the forming of a full person. The fullness of Christ as God and man and then the fullness of the forming of our minds and hearts here and now.

As we strive to grow in our understanding and knowledge, our reason, we also seek for faith. Surely, it was the first Bishop of Rome, St. Peter, who upon seeing the large catch of fish Christ made possible said in faith, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (cf. Luke 5:8). Recognizing that in this moment Christ had revealed himself as the Messiah, Peter speaks from faith but also in reason and knowledge, finding that he has also gained a deeper understanding of himself in light of the Truth who is God. 

Moving on from the topic of faith and reason (which I feel I am unable to fully unpack at this point), I also want to briefly touch on freedom. 

Benedict speaks a bit more on freedom of choice and will and says, "Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves." 
I think this is a beautiful follow up to his earlier statement on freedom because of his word choice; he says, "such a choice", which implies the exact mentality we all take up on occasions which says that we are making a choice against what we might be 'told' or think is 'expected', etc.. and in this small rebellion we are exercising our 'free will.' How funny it is that we seem to think that if we choose something that is not considered 'right' we are being 'free', but if we choose to obey or accept or follow what is right we are not making a choice but compromising.

Perhaps compromise is what is needed, but surely our wills do go both ways, and it is just as free an act to choose God as it is to choose against him. Benedict's point is well taken here, when he points our that we cannot even attain true freedom without God's revelation to us, because he is ultimate Truth. Once again it goes back to the faith and reason which follows St. Peter's growth in knowledge of self as he gains understanding of Christ.

To return and end with what Benedict's purpose in this address was, let me quote:
"Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will."

This reaches to the heart of his earlier statement about the dichotomy of our education on faith and free will and truth, and it also speaks to us about how our example must be one of hearts laid in the hands of God, that others might know and understand that it is truly the greatest freedom to belong not to ourselves but to our Maker and Lover of our Souls. 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Being "Active" Catholics

Ok... so I know this is meant to be a blog for faith-fortifying, but I also meant for it to be faith-challenging. So in this situation, I may be crossing the line of the purpose of the blog, but it just needs to be done.

So there was a certain website which is disgusting and vulgar and other synonyms of those words known as "". It was a youth-oriented "informational" site concerning sexual health care. In essence, it was advertised as "funny skits by kids"... these skits involved near-pornographic sexual circumstances not excluding homosexual skits... and all of the actors were approximately 16-18 in age (that is an assessment by looks- I did not research that point). 

I was so horrified not only at the existence of such a site, but by the fact that the everyday American tax dollar was supporting this site! Immediately I felt I must take action, and so I composed an email concerning the issue and sent it to the three Representatives in Congress for New York, who were Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton,  Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Sen. Charles Schumer. 

I can only highly encourage all of us to not hesitate to take action about important legislation. I know what it is like to be in high school and college and not really take note of what is going on around in the world, especially in the political sphere, because there are so many other issues of interest. Yet, I recently spoke with one of our students at the University concerning the issue of abortion, and while discussing it with her I came to one conclusion that I am very sure of:

I do believe that among the things that we "have done and fail to do" that count as sins against God, we must accept that there is culpability concerning the governing of our nation. We do not live in a communist, tyrannical or despot nation that inhibits the action of the common person.
This is a democratic nation, and that democracy means that those who take ownership of the power to speak will control the laws.

Regardless of how we feel the interpretation of the Constitution should be, we all have a moral, ethical, social and cultural responsibility to demand justice and truth from our nation's government- if for no other reason than we CAN.

If this is that case, than we do share in culpability for the many deaths that take place "legally" every day, especially the innocent and unborn. In such a situation as we find ourselves, with our nation having allowed the deaths of thousands of humans daily for the last 35 years this January 22, we must accept that we need to do what is within our power to stem the genocide. 

It is actually rather easy to send emails or brief letters to our representatives, and a number of them will respond. I am not sure how many of our representative actually receive letters of intelligence on a daily basis - having the gift of education (I believe) creates an even greater responsibility to speak out.

Please encourage one another and make it easy by sending friends links to "quick email" sites, etc... this helps us all to remain active in responsibilities which have been given to us, sought or unsought. 

A good site to sign up for an email list would be This is the American Family Association, and they create templates of emails to be sent for political action, where all you need to do is enter your zip and your name. 

God bless America.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On a totally different note, though still St.-Paul-related, I was struck in the letter to the Romans not by Paul's sense of superiority (he certainly had been humbled) but by his passion. I feel that this man WAS the perfect candidate for fanaticism. He had studied, absorbed, and totally immersed himself in the culture of the Pharisees - he seems elitist, for sure, but never too cool to be a fanatic. I can't imagine anyone with anything other than fanatic status going out in search of Christians to arrest and kill.

But my mild disagreement with the last post ends with that slight variation. Paul is probably the most outstanding model of conversion that we'll ever see.

What hits me the hardest is Paul's insistence that God judges the HEART. It doesn't matter what you DO if your intention isn't right. I'm not so sure that the old saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is entirely correct. It seems to me more so that the disposition of our hearts is what counts - and if our hearts truly desire to do what God wants of us, then our actions will follow. Paul wrote in Romans "Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance?" We must get our hearts right first, if we want everything else in life to line up right.

It's that realization of the utter goodness of God - that's what would make us weak at the knees at the thought of doing anything but what He wants. How many of us go out of our way in all kinds of ways, big and small, to make those we love happy? The very thought of being the reason for a friend's sadness makes me want to throw up right here and now. But all too often we forget that our relationship with God works the same way. He's not right in front of us, so we don't think to be a friend to Him or to show Him love. We can't call Him from our cell phones, so we forget to give Him our time in our busy lives. He doesn't "need" anything, so we don't GIVE Him anything.

That's just wrong.

And if we don't love God, and I do mean LOVE God like we love anyone in our lives, we can't really love those others in our lives. C.S. Lewis wrote "In my love for a wife or friend the only eternal element is the transforming presence of Love Himself" and "By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we do now."

What's the point of conversion, of living, if not to continue to try to make ourselves better? Our love of God, our love of others, our love of the Church, our love of virtue, of heaven, of Mary?

Zeal. That's what St. Paul has that we should envy. Passion, zeal, love, fire, courage. It's all the same, really. It all stems from knowledge of Who and What God is, and from loving Him for it.

And again, in the words of C.S. Lewis, "Take it as one [wo]man's reverie...If anything in it is useful to you, use it; if anything is not, never give it a second thought."

(I pretty much quote The Four Loves like it's my job. You should probably just read it if you haven't and save me the trouble.)

Year of St. Paul

 This is the year of St. Paul, as many of us know. I was brainstorming a little about St. Paul's conversion and how that may be of service to us today, especially in reaching out to one another and preaching the Gospel. 
Consider this- Paul is a persecutor of what he does not know or understand. What seems strange, foreign and perhaps too "childish" or "silly" is what must be erased. Paul is educated and superior and is not in need of something fanatical.

Once Paul encounters Christ himself, he becomes like a child. First, his sight is taken away. This is a point which is also a help to us who never see Christ but only hear him. 
He is so incapacitated that he must follow along and be ordered and lead by the hand. He is essentially made to be humble. 

Once Paul is given back, in a sense, his powers (at least of sight) he faces a choice- God has made himself known, and Paul has realized his own human frailty- but what will it mean for his life?

Paul chooses obedience, just as Our Lady and as Christ himself. He goes to the Apostles, the same who know him as a killer, and seeks forgiveness and acceptance. 
This is so contrary to what our culture teaches humanity! 
We are expected to never be zealous enough to attack something we don't like in the first place- leave that to our leaders.
Next, if we are zealous, it is mocked because the "truth" is that we are being childish, and not adult. This one point behooves me to disparage it because I cannot understand when it was decided by the whole of mankind that it is "childish" to care, and "adult" to not!
Does that not reek of sloth, failure, ruin, selfishness and worst of all, fear?! It smells pretty bad to me. Allow me momentarily to run from Paul on this one point, because the great C.S. Lewis had something to say about this and it really was the beginning of this thought for me. 
He writes in an epilogue in his collected works of "The Chronicles of Narnia" this:
"The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things?" Here Lewis refers to enjoying the reading of children's literature, but I believe his point is applicable here. 
To continue with St. Paul, he gains all by losing everything, so to speak, and that is the true conversion process. He is humbled, and chooses obedience. He is empowered, but continues to live humbly under the command and hand of the Lord. 
We lead others in the conversion process in the most simple ways. One point I would make is that recently I witnessed a number of students at school dealing with the common "inconveniences" and pains of living in new situations with new people, etc... What was so shining in the midst of this vision was their acceptance. Please note I do not mean their complacence. Very much the opposite. It takes a strong determination, a fierce will and above all great love, to accept God's vision for yourself even when it may not be the ideal one you have contrived. 
There you see the steps of conversion in action- following Paul's footsteps we are ousted out of our preferred dorm beds, left behind when our "friends" go out, and left wondering what on earth God was thinking when he gave us a blank page and said, "write." 
Yet, we accept! We, lowered like the children we are, rejoice within our spirits as we realize the freedom brought to our souls when we submit and obey.
Paul did not envision himself writing one third of the New Testament... but the Lord did, and because he made the choice he began upon the path to converting himself into the image of Christ.
St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22: "To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some."
Here is the epitome of the conversion we are called to- that in imitation of Christ we would be able to say we to have become all for the sake of all. 

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI's Words at 2008 WYD

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, had some important words to speak to young people throughout the world and especially to the current generation of Christian-Catholics who are seeking a new life in Christ.

In the Vatican News Email from Zenit ZE080727, it states:
"The Holy Spirit is also love and self-giving, Benedict XVI continued. 'Let unifying love be your measure; abiding love your challenge; self-giving love your mission!'
Thus, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is not only a force for enlightenment and consolation, but also is a power for the creation of a new world, the Pope explained.
'Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished -- not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed,' he said."

This is what we are being called to. Precisely the message of the Gospel- to carry the Word, who is Christ, to the world- for as God speaks through Isaiah in chapter 55, verse 11: "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it."
This is why such a mandate, a call and a challenge to mankind is not oppressive or frightening but joy-filled and hopeful, because it is not US who preach Christ Jesus, but He himself, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit working within us.

Therefore, we must not allow fear to hold us back, for the voice of our Church is calling for us to have FAITH; to believe that with Christ all things are possible, and we can and will begin to bring transformation to our world through our witness to the love of God at work in our lives!

"Come Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome to worldAblaze!

I am a young person in a big world. I have learned a little in my short years here, but there is still much to accomplish. For me, the greatest achievement of my life will be spending it hoping to bring the Truth to those around me. 
I have experienced enough of the world to understand that Truth is something considered versatile and unsteady; I believe strongly that this is not the case, and so I have begun this blog in answer to the Gospel call given to every Christian-Catholic at their Baptism- to follow the Word of God with their life and to serve the Master in "setting the world ablaze." I have taken the Scripture verse of Luke 12:49 as my guide, and I hope that it will remain the purpose and mission of this blog. 
We are mere people- often we feel more acted-upon than able to act. Yet, this is not the case. We have every ability to step outside of the boxes and walls being built around us and remain sure in what we know to be right. 
If only the world was still being offered Truth- do you think so many people would turn away from it? I don't. Why would they, when Truth brings clarity, peace, order, value, virtue, hope, and love. These are so lacking in our culture that many forget what life can be like when they are involved. So often I feel like I might be imposing or infringing on someone else's space or beliefs, etc... when really I am just backing down from offering them what is rightfully theirs by birth under the love of God- the chance to choose a life that is full. 
So I am going to strive to answer the call for help that I hear everyday on the news, the radio, the tv, the ipod, and in the schools and on the streets- I am going to strive to be a living witness to Christ Jesus and hold Truth up for others to have some light shed in darkness.
I invite you to join me in setting our world ablaze with the Spirit of God.