We've just completed our first 24hr period with the new Pontiff, and the dust is settling somewhat. I've written two reflections: the first is a short piece at Catholic Lane, which elucidates the very first homily -- the one on the balcony that hardly relied on words; the second is at my main site, and is a wry piece on how he's already set up house in my own head (that's a good thing!)
I don't know that he will offer any specifics on authentic femininity, but he is already shaking things up with his decades of witness to the dignity of the poor. That's a lesson we can all study. God is very good, and we will no doubt see the wisdom of this choice as the months unfold.
Pray for Papa, and share the joy with those around you. We are privileged to live here and now, and have just come through an amazing fortnight in our faith!
Having just come through Holy Week and Easter, we’ve been reminded once more of the terrible price that God paid for our sins. Perhaps you had a chance to go to confession before Easter, and the graces of the holy season penetrated your soul as never before. Or perhaps you looked on with the same weary eyes as before, wondering if God is faithful to his promises—if the glories of the resurrection can make a difference in your life. Has another season of grace come and gone without effect, causing you to keep God at arm’s length and to wonder at the meaning of it all?
To be sure, the season hasn’t ended, and we continue with “little Easter”—the second Sunday after the Passion, which has now been dedicated to the Divine Mercy. In the midst of the 20th century—that bloody century marked by wars, gulags and unspeakable devastation—God repeatedly emphasized his abiding love to a young Polish nun named Sister Faustina Kowalska in messages that spanned from 1931 to 1938. Did the horrors from which so many suffered end with those revelations? Not at all—and indeed they only grew worse—but his children were comforted amidst the darkness with the truth that no human sin is more powerful than his mercy.
No matter what cunning devices humans concoct to evict God from his creation, no matter what depraved behaviors they insist on calling enlightened, God will still be God, and he will remain here in our midst, hoping for the slightest response to his solicitousness. He cannot be scared off, nor can he be horrified at our degeneracy, for he has already walked the gauntlet of wickedness and conquered it.
What is mercy, this curious dimension of God that makes him so steadfast in his love for creation, and particularly his love for us? Is all mercy love, or is it different? We hear that God is love, and we’re familiar with the explanation that love is his very essence—he must love, for that is who he is—but how can he love us, especially when we find ourselves so unlovable?
While we understand the relationship between sin and justice, whereby reparation must be made for offenses against God, sin also adds to our understanding of his love. When a person bears love for that which is perfect, it is simply love, but when love embraces that which is imperfect, we see that perfect love includes mercy, for now there is the forbearance of a defect that wasn’t previously necessary. In that sense, our intransigence didn’t change God—he is immutable—but we subsequently learned that the love which was intrinsic to his nature included an unquenchable mercy, which does not shrink from us even in our corrupt state.
Is there no limit to what he will forgive? Evidently not, as he stressed to Sister Faustina that his mercy and kindness are always at the disposal of all people—especially those who suffer—and he pointed to the gift of his passion and death as proof of his desire that we be freed from the consequences of our sins. That gift stands for all time, and just because our depravity seems to have intensified in recent decades, that doesn’t mean that he’s withdrawn his offer in disgust. In fact, the greater our propensity for self-destruction, the more radical, the more astonishing is his healing by contrast.
How instructive it is that Eastertide is longer than Lent, and now is the time for celebrating God’s great mercy. Embrace it—and let it embrace you!
CatholicMom offers this lovely testament to the Maryknoll Sisters, written by Dr. Carolyn Woo, who was taught by them when she was a child in China.
The most valuable gift I received from the sisters, though, was faith. We had catechism lessons, but, more importantly, we saw faith in action. Somewhere along the line, I concluded that God must be very real for the sisters. Otherwise, why would they leave home, family and security to go to some foreign land to live in hardship, speak a new language, adjust to a new culture, face such risks? Why would they choose to serve us girls when they did not even know us? How did they know they would succeed? They not only did this, but they exuded so much joy and humor, grace and adventure.
“Can’t be done” was not part of their vocabulary. By their examples, I learned to fight and to love—two sides of the same coin when it comes to serving poor and marginalized people. I learned to trust God because they did.
Do read it all. While many of us will not travel to distant lands as missionaries, remember the impact your steady, joyful faith can have even here in your own community, your own family. Stability and hope are very much needed at present, and women can easily build their lives around them -- and don't think they won't be noticed by a world careening towards darkness. Believe, love, smile!
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a brilliant French philosopher and mathematician who offered a suggestion to those who struggled with faith. Since reason cannot be trusted and faith cannot be proven, there is a choice: to believe or not to believe. Weighing the cost of being wrong in either choice, he argued that it is far safer to believe (and enter oblivion after death) than to reject God (and risk eternal damnation). Furthermore, living as though one believed is a gesture that cannot go unnoticed by God, who will surely provide the grace of sincerity in due time.
This concept came to mind as I considered how difficult it is to teach our children to prioritize virtue and the sacramental life. It has ever been thus, as the familiar story of Saint Monica reminds us, but today's saint inspired me to twist Pascal’s “wager” into a slightly different form.
In reading about today's saint, Basil (330-379), I learned that his mother raised three children honored by the Church: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and their sister, Saint Macrina; two other brothers were bishops. His grandfather was martyred for the faith, and both parents were known for their piety. Nevertheless, Basil writes of his early life:
Much time had I spent in vanity, and had wasted nearly all my youth acquiring the sort of wisdom made foolish by God. Then once, like a man roused from deep sleep, I turned my eyes to the marvelous light of the truth of the Gospel, and I perceived the uselessness of ‘the wisdom of the princes of this world, that come to naught.’ I wept many tears over my miserable life, and I prayed that I might receive guidance to admit me to the doctrines of true religion.
Think for a moment of how rich their family life must have been, and how many times young Basil had heard accounts of persecution and courage. Surely he was offered excellent moral formation and enthusiastic catechesis—and yet he still proved vain and foolish for a time.
This brings me to my variation on Pascal, which may help parents find peace in this new year. Either God exists or he doesn’t. If he does—as witnessed by the resurrection of Our Lord—then he loves your children dearly, is intimately familiar with their inner journey, and passionately wants them to be with him for eternity. Moreover, our omniscient and omnipotent God offers abundant graces specifically to make this happen—but do we really believe that? Do we pray as if we believe that?
Conversely, if God doesn’t exist, then all that we’ve been trying to teach our children is virtually useless (other than the earthly benefits that some moral guidelines provide).
Basil said that his eyes were opened one day when read the Gospel—but surely he had beeen familiar with the Gospel message since infancy. What must have transpired upon that particular reading of Scriptures was that “in the fullness of time,” he embraced the graces won by Christ (and for which his extended family, living and dead, must have begged).
When considering many conversion stories, one is baffled by what exactly supplies the critical piece for a soul—the “aha moment!” as it were. For some it may be a passage in a book, for others it’s a seemingly inconsequential passing comment, for others it may be a particularly scenic view. Rather than seeking “a silver bullet” (as so many parents do, accompanied by handwringing, tears and anxiety—revealing our lack of faith) perhaps we should embark on a year of trust, for the graces are there. Without a doubt, peaceful parents who pray and sacrifice with confidence are placing the surest bet of all. In the words of Padre Pio, “Pray, hope and don’t worry.”
Sts. Joachim and Anne, A Family Prayer
Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Your Blessed Mother Mary and Good St. Joseph we ask You to bless, protect and guide our family. Humbly we approach Your Eucharistic throne of grace and pray that You mold us into a Holy Family. By the power of the Holy Spirit please help us to do the will of Our Heavenly Father, during our earthly sojourn, for Your honor and glory and the salvation of souls. Help us to lead others to You in the Most Blessed Sacrament. At the end of our journey please gather us together, again, that we may be a family in Your heavenly paradise and with the angels and saints sing Your praises for eternity.
The Holy Father gave a splendid homily in Nazareth, in honour of the Holy Family, of course.
This stage of my pilgrimage, I am confident, will draw the whole
Church’s attention to this town of Nazareth. All of us need,
as Pope Paul VI
said here, to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love
of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life. Here, in the
example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the
sacredness of the family, which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity
of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God’s
gift of new life. How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate
this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how
important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound
consciences and the building of a civilization of love!
In today’s first reading, drawn from the book of Sirach (3:3-7, 14-17), the word
of God presents the family as the first school of wisdom, a school which trains
its members in the practice of those virtues which make for authentic happiness
and lasting fulfilment. In God’s plan for the family, the love of husband and
wife bears fruit in new life, and finds daily expression in the loving efforts
of parents to ensure an integral human and spiritual formation for their
children. In the family each person, whether the smallest child or the oldest
relative, is valued for himself or herself, and not seen simply as a means to
some other end. Here we begin to glimpse something of the essential role of the
family as the first building-block of a well-ordered and welcoming society. We
also come to appreciate, within the wider community, the duty of the State to
support families in their mission of education, to protect the institution of
the family and its inherent rights, and to ensure that all families can live and
flourish in conditions of dignity.
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, speaks instinctively of
the family when he wishes to illustrate the virtues which build up the “one
body” which is the Church. As “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”, we are
called to live in harmony and peace with one another, showing above all
forbearance and forgiveness, with love as the highest bond of perfection (cf.
Col 3:12-14). Just as in the marriage covenant, the love of man and woman
is raised by grace to become a sharing in, and an expression of, the love of
Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:32), so too the family, grounded in that
love, is called to be a “domestic church”, a place of faith, of prayer and of
loving concern for the true and enduring good of each of its members.
I'm sure you can see how important your own homes and hearths are in the Mystical Body. He showed his appreciation for the beautiful (if often hidden) work of women:
Whether as mothers in families, as a vital
presence in the work force and the institutions of society, or in the particular
vocation of following our Lord by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty
and obedience, women have an indispensable role in creating that “human ecology”
(cf. Centesimus Annus, 39) which our world, and this land, so urgently
needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be
honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.
He extolled the essential generosity of men who imitate the sacrificial industriousness of Saint Joseph, and appealed for the intercession of Our Lady as he returned to his overriding theme of peace:
“Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). May our Lady of
the Annunciation, who courageously opened her heart to God’s mysterious plan,
and became the Mother of all believers, guide and sustain us by her prayers.
May she obtain for us and our families the grace to open our ears to that word
of the Lord which has the power to build us up (cf. Acts 20:32), to
inspire courageous decisions, and to guide our feet into the path of peace!
Father Stephen has an excellent post on the "cloud of witnesses" that is comprised of those believers who have gone before us. Beginning with an answer to a woman who feared that her deceased husband wouldn't be as attuned to her life now that he was with God, the holy priest reminds us:
you read the Revelation of St. John, it becomes clear that the primary
concern of the inhabitants of heaven, within the great saint’s vision,
is with the battle here on earth. There is a battle here and there is a
war there. The “place of verdure, a place of rest, etc.” found in the
Church’s prayers (particularly for the departed) are, in holy
Scriptures, a place with a great deal of turmoil. I suspect that the
place described in our prayers for the departed are “eschatological”
visions of what will be when the battle is over and the strife is past.
it is quite clear that Scripture has no notion of a two-storey world in
which part of us are struggling for the salvation of our souls, while
the rest can wipe their brows and say, “I’m glad that’s over.”
There are two excellent takeaways from his piece:
1. Our loved ones are still intimately entwined with our life; either in purgatory where they depend on every prayer we offer or in heaven where they interceded for us in every detail;
2. Our prayers and fidelity matter -- both here and in the hereafter.
I can recall a conversation with one of my brothers some years back. He
wondered about the hermits in the desert. He had an admiration for the
asceticism of their lifestyle. His question however was, “But what is
the value when no one knows they are there.” The truth is that God
knows they are there. The devil knows they are there and he trembles.
And we all know they are there whether it is a conscious knowing or
not. For their prayers permeate us and our prayers and join with them
as they rise before God.
I know many of you feel like hermits yourselves -- praying madly for family members, your community and the wider world gone mad. Keep the faith and trust in the power of prayer.
The Body of Christ is one -- and every member matters, whether still here or proceeding on to glory. It's a privilege to be a part, and we must make that clear to those around us.
My brothers and sisters in
Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that allows the seed of faith to take root and
grow in us, and if we freely and lovingly cooperate with what God wants to do
in us, our lives will bear much fruit. Like the woman who broke the jar of oil
over Jesus, we must break ourselves open and pour ourselves out in love before the
Lord (Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers).
To see a lovely application of this in one life, visit Jennifer:
And then I stumbled into Christianity. I never intended for my attempts
to live as a Christian to bring about much change in my life. I saw it
as an intellectual endeavor rather than self-improvement project.... [but] it was
like the foundation of my life started crumbling below me and I found
myself riding a landslide to a totally different existence. Rather than
the surface-level, temporary changes I'd seen in my life when using
secular methods that relied on self alone, with Christianity I
experienced a deep transformation that went down to the root of my
soul. It was not something I could have brought about on my own.
Finally, remember to pray for all priests, who recall their own anointing this week in the Chrism Masses said throughout the world.