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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lowliness of Mind by St. John Chrysostom

Taken from St. John Chrysostom's Homily on Lowliness of Mind:

Knowing therefore these things, beloved even if we should have mounted to the very pinnacle of virtue, let us consider ourselves last of all; having learned that pride is able to cast down even from the heavens themselves him who takes not heed, and humbleness of mind to bear up on high from the very abyss of sins him who knows how to be sober.
For this it was that placed the publican before the Pharisee; whereas that, pride I mean and an overweening spirit, surpassed even an incorporeal power, that of the devil; while humbleness of mind and the acknowledgment of his own sins committed brought the robber into Paradise before the Apostles. Now if the confidence which they who confess their own sins effect for themselves is so great, they who are conscious to themselves of many good qualities, yet humble their own souls, how great crowns will they not win.
For when sinfulness be put together with humbleness of mind it runs with such ease as to pass and out-strip righteousness combined with pride. If therefore thou have put it to with righteousness, whither will it not reach? through how many heavens will it not pass? By the throne of God itself surely it will stay its course; in the midst of the angels, with much confidence.
On the other hand if pride, having been yoked with righteousness, by the excess and weight of its own wickedness had strength enough to drag down its confidence; if it be put together with sinfulness, into how deep a hell will it not be able to precipitate him who has it?
These things I say, not in order that we should be careless of righteousness, but that we should avoid pride; not that we should sin, but that we should be sober-minded. For humbleness of mind is the foundation of the love of wisdom which pertains to us. Even if thou shouldest have built a superstructure of things innumerable; even if almsgiving, even if prayers, even if fastings, even if all virtue; unless this have first been laid as a foundation, all will be built upon it to no purpose and in vain; and it will fall down easily, like that building which had been placed on the sand.
For there is no one, no one of our good deeds, which does not need this; there is no one which separate from this will be able to stand. But even if thou shouldest mention temperance, even if virginity, even if despising of money, even if anything whatever, all are unclean and accursed and loathsome, humbleness of mind being absent.
Everywhere therefore let us take her with us, in words, in deeds, in thoughts, and with this let us build these (graces).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Call for Mercy

The Lord Jesus Christ bent down and washed his traitor’s feet.

From the instrument of his torture and death, he said,
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Saint Peter writes to us, “Above all, let your love for one another be intense,
because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

Our choice for every day, in every circumstance, with every person, is if we will imitate our Lord and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). 

What right have we, O worm, O dust, O sinner and hard-hearted self-server, to do anything other than recognize that we are to hand on what we have first received: forgiveness?

Let us invite every man and woman to an encounter with Christ precisely in the mercy we share.

Let us strive, as Blessed Charles de Foucauld, to live up to the Christian vocation, where the world will meet us and say, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Year of Faith, Scripture Reflection

The Gospel reading for today was Luke 18:35-43:

As Jesus approached Jericho
a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging,
and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening.
They told him,
"Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
He shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!"
The people walking in front rebuked him,
telling him to be silent,
but he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me!"
Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
"What do you want me to do for you?"
He replied, "Lord, please let me see."
Jesus told him, "Have sight; your faith has saved you."
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.

Let us reflect for a moment about the faith of the blind man.

Few of us know what it feels like to live this life without sight; many of us know what it is to fear the unknown. I assume that some of the feeling of fear that we experience about what we cannot anticipate or predict is similar to the feeling of fear one would have when he cannot see.

This begs a question of us; how courageous is our faith? How fundamental? How complete?

In this Gospel reading, we hear of a man who is rebuked for his audacity. He is told to be quiet, and yet he throws himself into making a ruckus. He will not be hushed.

When Jesus calls the man to himself, he asks the man what he desires. His simple answer of "Lord, please let me see," is certainly one of faith in the power of Jesus. However, this supplication comes after the man has shown how strong his faith is in that he would not be quiet, would not be hushed, and disregarded the social norms for the sake of drawing near to God.

It is his audacity that is the sign of his faith, that comes before he even asks for healing.

Perhaps we need to keep this in mind for our own lives. How many times in our culture are we, people of faith, hushed? How often do we feel the oppression of social norms keeping us from reaching out to a stranger in need or speaking up about the truth when our friends or family are misguided? I know how easily I can close my mouth and think of what I would say, if I were free to do so. Well, why am I not free to do so? Fear? I seek acceptance. I seek to not "rock the boat." I seek to remain in good standing with people, and therefore I would rather not confront them with the truth or rebuke them.

Certainly, the virtue of prudence and the gifts of the Holy Spirit assist us in judging accurately when we should or should not speak or act. There are times when it is not appropriate, or when we could do more detriment than harm. But this cannot be the case every time. Nor should it be the case most of the time. We should be practicing a much more fear-less faith! Truly, we should be practicing the proper fear, which is fear of the Lord. It is he who is our final judge, not society, culture or our family and friends. None of them will judge our eternal life - only the Lord. So we must remember who it is that we should be calling out to - Jesus - and no one else.

The very end of the Gospel states that "When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God" - perhaps we find this hard to imagine in our own day and age. Yet, if more of us acted in great faith, and had the audacity to proclaim the truth of Christ even in the midst of opposition, perhaps more people would find themselves believing again! Jesus performed miracles both because of the good of healing and because of the confirmation of his identity before the people. Those who might have doubted were perhaps brought to faith by seeing this blind man's faith rewarded so beautifully.

We must keep in mind that God's will is not our will, and that his plan for our lives is perfect. While we may not be able to see into the future and anticipate what that may mean, we must act daily with the faith that is a testimony to the power and love of our Savior. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to pour out grace and to strengthen his gifts in our lives. We must pray to be courageous if we hope to see the miracles our world needs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Blessed John Paul II Shrine Lecture Series

The Blessed John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC (formerly the John Paul II Cultural Center) is hosting a lecture series on the Year of Faith.

Here is the flyer - check it out if you are able!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Faith, Hope and Love

I was considering today the theological virtue of faith.

St. Paul says, "So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13). I was considering how often our emphasis in the spiritual life is on charity, and how that sometimes negatively affects our focus on faith. Now, the Catechism states, along with St. Paul, that charity is the greatest of the theological virtues (see CCC 1826), and therefore our emphasis on charity is certainly just. However, there is a reason that "faith" is listed first, and I wanted to reflect for a moment on the importance of faith.
'The Incredulity of Saint Thomas' by Caravaggio

During the Year of Faith I think it is especially important to ponder anew what it means to "have faith." St. Paul teaches us that, "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Certainly, faith and hope go hand and hand, and assist us in better understanding the other virtue when we contemplate them and practice them in conjunction. However, to specifically look at "faith," we must dissect St. Paul's statement. "Faith" is the "realization" and the "evidence."

This is interesting, because we typically consider virtues to be things that are themselves "unseen." They may be "felt," or "sensed" and they are certainly practiced, but the language here is "realization" and "evidence." The painting above by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is a vibrant depiction of faith being realized and evidenced. Saint Thomas said that he could not or would not believe that Christ was risen from the dead until he could touch the places on Jesus where he had been nailed to the Cross; when Jesus presented himself to Thomas and offered him his hands and his side, Thomas exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" (Jn. 20:28).  This is the response of one who has been filled with the virtue of faith and who has seen evidence of that faith come to life.

Our Lady, of course, is a perfect witness of faith - made - real. The angel announces to her something so spectacular and seemingly impossible, and she replies in faith, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Lk. 1:38). Immediately she conceives Jesus Christ, the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the Gospels, how often do we hear a final response from Christ as he works a miracle that has been asked of him, "your faith has saved you"?  It is the faith itself, the real and dramatic presence of the virtue within the person, that makes way for the great works of God. In Matthew's Gospel, Christ is unable to preform many miracles in his native place because they could not believe that he had the power to do so - "And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith" (Matt. 13:58).

This ought to be a challenge to us to consider how often we pray the prayer of one whose faith is great enough that we expect a substantial and evidential result for our prayers. The father of the child who was possessed begged Jesus for healing saying,  "I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24). Do we not need to be echoing this same prayer for ourselves each day? Are there not many people who are suffering, many countries that are in need, many souls that are lost and broken, in need of healing? Do we not look around each day and find endless need for prayer and sacrifice? Where is our heart in our prayer? Where is our faith? Do we possess this virtue that gives rise to the miracles that we need? It is certainly not God's injustice, God's wrath, or any failure or evil on God's part that prevents good from happening. God is all just, all merciful, all loving and ready to assist us. Certainly, we have free will, and sadly we live in a world very broken by the effects of sin, and God does not intervene so as to prevent our free well. Yet, God can intervene to do good things, to do great things, if we put our faith in his power and love and prepare our hearts for him.

Cardinal Schonborn of Austria reflects here for a time on the Year of Faith, and emphasizes personal conversion as the starting point to living a life of authentic and zealous faith. We need to begin to expect what we ask for in prayer, and to do so in humble confidence. We need to pray daily to the Holy Spirit to perfect in us the virtues, to bring an increase in the theological virtues, especially faith, and to assist us in our Christian lives that we might grow in our faith. We need to frequent the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

If we hold that love is the highest and greatest of virtues, and as St. Thomas Aquinas said, the perfection of perfections, than we must begin at the beginning; we must look first at our own hearts, and determine where and how we must grow. If we doubt the power of God to work miracles, if we doubt the mercy of God to forgive our sins, if we doubt the love of God to provide for us in our needs, if we doubt the justice of God to care for the good, if we have any areas where we are struggling to believe - we must pray, and we must practice expecting. We must remember that faith is "realization" and "evidence," and we must find ways to live the virtue of faith until there is a great amount of realization and evidence of the faith of the Church throughout the world!

During this Year of Faith, let us not, both personally in our own hearts and universally in the Church, be a place where Christ is unable to work great signs because of our lack of faith, but a place where Christ will turn to us and say, "Go, your faith has saved you."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Poetic Last Days.. (October)

Slightly late, but let us pretend that I posted this two days ago.

I wanted to share this poem by Thomas Merton, written in 1949. It seems pertinent today, if one looks around at the violence in the world, even though our circumstances are so different.

To the Immaculate Virgin, On a Winter Night
Lady, the night is falling and the dark
Steals all the blood from the scarred west.
The stars come out and freeze my heart
With drops of untouchable music, frail as ice
And bitter as the new year's cross.

Where in the world has any voice
Prayed to you, Lady, for the peace that's in your power?
In a day of blood and many beatings
I see the governments rise up, behind the steel horizon,
And take their weapons and begin to kill.

Where in the world has any city trusted you?
Out where the soldiers camp the guns begin to thump
And another winter time comes down
To seal our years in ice.
The last train cries out
And runs in terror from this farmer's valley
Where all the little birds are dead.

The roads are white, the fields are mute
There are no voices in the wood
And trees make gallows up against the sharp-eyed stars.
Oh where will Christ be killed again
In the land of these dead men?

Lady, the night has got us by the heart
And the whole world is tumbling down.
Words turn to ice in my dry throat
Praying for a land without prayer,

Walking to you on water all winter
In a year that wants more war.

Life Issues Forum

After reading this recent article in Life Issues Forum by Susan Wills, I felt compelled to share it. This is a direct copy-paste, so nothing has been added or changed. Please give it a read! What Susan shares is accurate information that should be made more public, but is sadly not discussed very often. If you would like to read this in its original format, please click here.

A Foolish Inconsistency on Contraception
By Susan E. Wills, Esq.

October 31, 2012

Here’s a riddle for readers. There are drugs so safe, so effective and so essential to women’s well-being that they are recommended for continual use by all healthy women 15-45 (or thereabouts) for 30 years or more, and that almost every employee health plan will soon have to provide them “for free” under the Preventive Services mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

But these same drugs have twice been determined, by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force), to be too dangerous for doctors to prescribe long-term to healthy women above age 45 or so. In middle-aged and older women, they are to be used only for the shortest possible time, at the lowest possible dose.

What could these Jekyll-and-Hyde drugs be?

Okay, it was a trick question. The synthetic hormones estrogen and progestin—used as combined oral contraceptives (COCs) by most fertile women, and in hormone replacement therapy (HRT) by menopausal/post-menopausal women—are only promoted as being safe and benign. In reality, whether used in COCs or in HRT, they’re more like the sinister Mr. Hyde.

After reviewing the latest research on the risks and benefits of pills containing estrogen and progestin, the Task Force offered a sobering recommendation: “Do not prescribe combined estrogen and progestin for the prevention of chronic conditions” (emphasis in the original Clinical Summary). 

Yet in its 2011 contraceptive mandate, the Institute of Medicine treated fertility like a “chronic condition” that had to be managed with synthetic hormones (to prevent pregnancy) for upwards of thirty years! Now the Task Force concludes that when taken as HRT, these hormones significantly increase the risk of serious adverse events in healthy women, compared to matched controls who received placebos.

The increased risks for women using HRT (compared to matched controls) are 26% for invasive breast cancer, 41% for stroke, 61% for gallbladder disease, 205% for probable dementia, 207% for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and 213% for pulmonary embolism (PE).

Is there any medical reason for these inconsistent recommendations and warnings? Are younger women immune to the adverse effects simply because of their age? No. Research has shown that, at any age, whether in COCs or HRT, progestin is associated with increased risk of DVT, PE, heart attacks, strokes and problems of the liver and eyes. The main difference is that it’s easier to measure the onset and progression of these diseases and conditions in older women because they are more prevalent with age.

Could the dramatically increased risks be caused by higher doses of hormones in HRT than in COCs? No. Typical COCs contain far more progestin that HRT pills. Loestrin, for example, has three times more norethindrone acetate than Femhrt and Activela (HRT pills). Yasmin (another COC) contains six times more drospirenone than Angeliq (an HRT pill), and Ortho Tricyclen contains 2.8 times more norgestimate than Prefest (an HRT pill).

Estradiol, the estrogen used in most COCs and in HRT, is associated with increased risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer and gallbladder disease. Although the amount of estradiol in HRT pills is higher than the amount in in COCs, women “rarely have severe side effects from taking estrogens to replace estrogen,” according to the Mayo Clinic website—unlike premenopausal girls and women who are given synthetic estrogen on top of the estrogen they produce naturally.

Is it too much to ask that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) be consistent with respect to the two uses of estrogen/progestin? Could they not put the health of young women ahead of the interests of drug manufacturers, Planned Parenthood and those obsessed with divorcing sex from its natural consequences? Women deserve honest answers to these questions. HHS should be warning them about the risks of combined estrogen/progestin in contraceptives, as in HRT, not forcing almost every woman in America to pay for it in her health coverage.

Susan Wills is Assistant Director for Education & Outreach, Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to to learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities.