Posts Tagged ‘St. Teresa of Avila’

Catholic Recovery: AA and The Sacraments

May 22, 2014

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The Best Cure for a Sick Human Being May Be Prayer 

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Alcohols and drug addicts generally know where to go to get sober: Alcoholics Anonymous. Oh you can go to Malibu if your health insurance is good enough or you are  rolling in dough, but only the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous has a decades long proven track record of getting drug addicts and alcoholics sober and keeping them that way.

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So, having exhausted all prior options and afraid that sacrificing a live chicken in suburbia would upset the neighbors, I went to AA.

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But since I am a Catholic, I have another place to go to help me to maintain a “fit spiritual condition.” We have the Church.

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Suffering miserably, I trembled as I asked my spiritual advisor and AA sponsor the secret to good health and happiness.

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“Go, listen to the Spoken Word, eat the Body of Christ in the form of the Eucharist at Mass, and confess your sins,” both of them replied.

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I told them I thought I needed a better doctor and more health insurance.

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“Nonsense,” one said.  “Physically you are fine. What you need is a spiritual awakening!”

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There’s that thought again: spiritual awakening.

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Isn’t “spiritual awakening” the entire point of Alcoholics Anonymous? Isn’t Step Twelve “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

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So,  I stepped into a Catholic Church for the first time in years.  Before too long The Holy Spirit began to talk to me and recommended I go to confession and get a new start on life by wiping away all the built-up sin and grime and dirt.

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After confession, my first in decades, I felt like I could fly. So, for once in my life I followed orders exactly: I went to Mass every day, I listened, paid attention, concentrated and consecrated my efforts in life.

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I also received Holy Communion daily: The Bread of Life. I have been keeping this daily routine supplemented with lots of prayer and spiritual reading since 2007; and you know what? I have had a spiritual recovery.

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My Old friend Peter calls it a “CONVERSION.”  Like Saul in the Scripture: “the scales fell from my eyes.”

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And Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, used those same words.

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“The scales fell from our eyes.”

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One of the landmark books that told me I was on the right track was “Holy Spirit” by Father Edward Leen.

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Father Leen says if you do the daily diet of Mass and Communion and you keep your life in a helpful, grateful and useful frame of mind with lots of good works: you will be filled with an “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

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It happened to me exactly the way my spiritual advisor and Fr. Leen promised.  And I am reborn.

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Many Catholics in AA find St. Francis de Sales a good one to read in order to straighten out a long lost catholic soul. “Introduction to the Devout Life” is the book that includes just about everything Francis de Sales teaches: but there are several shorter books of his teachings to get folks started.

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And don’t let that word “devout” slow you down. Are you devoted to your sobriety or not? Are you grateful to God and devoted to Him?

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I keep in mind that “what we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

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Like a Space Walker tethered to the mother ship by a three inch diameter chord — we have support from our AA fellowship and the Church and all its benefits. But, I know that a mortal sin just now will slam the hatch, sever my relationship with God, and I could float off into space before I come to my senses and return to the Spiritual Life again! IF I can return to the spiritual life again.

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Ed White was the first American to perform a spacewalk. Image Creit: NASA

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Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” So as I look at the Twelve Steps and the Ten Commandments, our supplemental Catholic Church effort actually has fewer steps that AA! And since we are seeking that “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” — it might be a good idea for me not to continue to violate the Ten Commandments. I need all the Grace God can give me and I sure don’t want to slam the door in God’s face again.

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So we use everything at our disposal to stay sober and stay on a spiritual path. We “go to any lengths to get it.” That means we pray, we go to AA meetings and we go to Church.

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Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob both once said, “I’ll never go to church again.” But both DID go back to church after they got sober using the steps.

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Now a few thoughts on prayer:

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“A soul should not resolve, on account of the dryness it experiences, to abandon prayer.” — St. Teresa of Avila

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“No prayer, no spiritual life.” –St. John Paul II

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“Nothing so much purifies our mind from its errors, or our will from its depraved  affections, as prayer.” — St. Francis de Sales

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“Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” — St. Pio of  Pietrelcina (“Padre Pio”)
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For thousands of years, human beings have been praying. We modern Americans may need to give it a try too. I know it’s not cool but being cool won’t keep me sober or get me to heaven!

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Related:

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We recommend the book “Holy Spirit” By Edward Leen. It changed my life. It can change yours too.

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 (“Stay in the present moment.”)
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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, March 24, 2014 — The greatest obstacle to faith is pride — The antidote to fear is faith

March 24, 2014

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Jesus teaching in the synagogue by Greg Olsen

Monday of the Third Week of Lent Lectionary: 237

Reading 1 2 kgs 5:1-15ab

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Naaman, the army commander of the king of Aram, was highly esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the LORD had brought victory to Aram. But valiant as he was, the man was a leper. Now the Arameans had captured in a raid on the land of Israel a little girl, who became the servant of Naaman’s wife. “If only my master would present himself to the prophet in Samaria,” she said to her mistress, “he would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went and told his lord just what the slave girl from the land of Israel had said. “Go,” said the king of Aram. “I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman set out, taking along ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces, and ten festal garments. To the king of Israel he brought the letter, which read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
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When he read the letter, the king of Israel tore his garments and exclaimed: “Am I a god with power over life and death, that this man should send someone to me to be cured of leprosy? Take note! You can see he is only looking for a quarrel with me!” When Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his garments, he sent word to the king: “Why have you torn your garments? Let him come to me and find out that there is a prophet in Israel.”
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Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. The prophet sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.” But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” With this, he turned about in anger and left.
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But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
He returned with his whole retinue to the man of God. On his arrival he stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
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Responsorial Psalm ps 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4

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R. (see 42:3) Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? As the hind longs for the running waters, so my soul longs for you, O God. R. Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? Athirst is my soul for God, the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? R. Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? Send forth your light and your fidelity; they shall lead me on And bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling-place. R. Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God? Then will I go in to the altar of God, the God of my gladness and joy; Then will I give you thanks upon the harp, O God, my God! R. Athirst is my soul for the living God. When shall I go and behold the face of God?
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Gospel lk 4:24-30

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Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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Many Christian spiritual travelers suggest we constantly seek the will of God — or God’s will for us.
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One of my favorite writers in Catholic Spirituality is  Jean-Pierre de Caussade, who constantly reminds us to be humble and seek God’s will. He is also known for his strict focus on the ‘present moment.” In fact, Father de  Caussade called “the now” the “sacrament of the present moment.”
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Many of us like to use this simple prayer to keep our sights on God’s will for us in the present moment:
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Book: Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade
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Here is another very simple prayer:
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May nothing disturb you.

May nothing astonish you.

Everything passes.

God does not go away.

Patience

can attain anything.

He who has God within,

does not lack anything.

God is everything!*

Above prayer by St. Teresa of Avila is usually called “Nade de Turbe”

http://www.ewtn.com/spanish/Poems/Santa_Teresa_1.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila

Related:

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We recommend the book “Holy Spirit” By Edward Leen. It changed my life. It can change yours too.

“Pain and suffering are the touchstones of spiritual growth.”

– Henri Nouwen

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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HUMILITY AS THE PREREQUISITE TO FAITH IN GOD’S LOVE THROUGH CONVERSION   
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The greatest obstacle to faith is pride.  It is the attitude of one who thinks he knows everything and can do everything by his own strength and effort.  This is the context of today’s gospel.  The Jews could not accept Jesus because He was only the son of a carpenter and one of their own kind.  They could not accept that someone so ordinary like Jesus could teach them anything new.  This made Jesus remark, “I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.”

Indeed, Naaman, an “army commander to the king of Aram, was a man who enjoyed his master’s respect and favour.”  But he failed to realize that it was the Lord who had granted him victory to the Aramaens.  He became proud of his success.  He thought that his success in battles was primarily due to his might, ingenuity and strategy.  His over self-confidence was evident in the way he approached the King of Israel to help him.  We are told that he brought with him “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten festal robes.”  His arrogance was displayed when he did not even bother to come down from his chariot to meet the prophet.  And when told to bathe in the river seven times, he was indignant and became angry with the prophet for not coming out to receive him or perform some spectacular miracles as he had imagined.

Yet the fact remains that he was a leper.  To suffer from leprosy must have been a crippling experience then.  No one could heal him, not even the king with all his powers and wealth.  The truth as the gospel tells us is that life and everything else is a gift from God.  Indeed, at the beginning of the first reading, we read that it was the Lord who gave Naaman the victory over his enemies.  So there is nothing to boast about.  If there is anything to boast about in life, it is the mercy and love of God.  In the face of death, Naaman showed himself to be powerless.  Only God could heal him for He is the author of life and death.  Even the king of Israel admitted his limitations for after reading the letter from the king of Aram, he tore his garments in dismay saying, “Am I a god to give death and life, that he sends a man to me and asks me to cure him of his leprosy? Listen to this, and take note of it and see how he intends to pick a quarrel with me.”

At any rate, Naaman was given a lesson in humility both by God and by Elisha.  It was a necessary lesson or else Naaman would have been destroyed by a greater sickness, not just by leprosy which is merely being alienated from man but by sin, which is to be alienated from God. It was important that Naaman learns that Yahweh, the God of Israel is truly the powerful One on earth.

As we enter the third week of Lent, the promise of new life is ours provided we are humble enough to recognize our need for God and we have a change of heart.  The gift of His love is only given to those who are humble of heart, repentant of their sins, especially pride and who desire Him.   We cannot buy or earn God’s love and gift of life.  This is particularly true in the case of baptism which is a gift from God.  Grace is a gift from God that cannot be bought by presents or bribery, hence Elisha refused to accept any gift from Naaman after he was healed.  Indeed, the cleansing of Naaman in the river prefigures the Christian baptism whereby sins are forgiven and new life is given.

Indeed, humility is the prerequisite for faith in God.  The Jews were self-righteous and could not accept Jesus.  This explains why they were incensed when Jesus pointed out that miracles were performed for the Gentiles, whom they felt were undeserving of God’s love.  Yet, Elijah was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town when there was a great famine and “then in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.”  They held that salvation was only meant for the Jews since they were the chosen race.

Today, we are called to be open to the Word of God, as in the case of the servant girl who prompted Naaman’s wife to tell her husband to seek help from the prophet Elisha.  Only through the intervention of a slave girl could Naaman be healed.  We need not think that it must be someone great, such as a theologian, preacher or healer, before we listen to him.  If we have faith and humility, then God can work and speak through anyone, especially members of our community, our loved ones and those whom we meet each day.

The obstacle to God’s grace is our pride.  We think too highly of ourselves.  We are not open to hear from others especially if they are our peers or our subordinates.  Do we get angry, especially when someone junior to us corrects us?  Are we humble enough to hear the Word, come to repentance and act accordingly like Naaman?  This is what we are called to in order to receive the grace of Easter, the gift of new life.

How then can we overcome our pride?  God comes to us through ordinary ways.  So let us make use of the means given to us in Lent.  Just as God healed Naaman through the waters of Jordan, so too let us make use of ordinary means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to grow in humility. Let us learn from the widow cited by Jesus in today’s gospel.  Elisha was sent to help her because of her generosity.  She shared the little food and oil that she had with him, trusting in God alone, leaving nothing for herself.   Her hospitality and faith in God and in the prophet empowered her to give of herself completely.  May we too learn to trust in God’s love and surrender our lives in faith like her through whatever means the Church has provided for us to grow in holiness and through the people we meet each day in our lives.

http://www.csctr.net/24-march-2014-monday-3rd-week-of-lent/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites

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Reflection

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Today’s Gospel (Lk 4, 24-30) forms part of a larger part (Lk 4, 14-32) Jesus had presented his program in the Synagogue of Nazareth, using a text from Isaiah which spoke about the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed (Is 61, 1-2) and which mirrored the situation of the people of Galilee at the time of Jesus. In the name of God, Jesus takes a stand and defines his mission: to proclaim the Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberation to prisoners, to give back their sight to the blind, to restore liberty to the oppressed. After finishing the reading, he updated the text and says: “Today this text is being fulfilled even while you are listening. !” (Lk 4, 21). All those present were astonished (Lk 4, 16, 22b). But immediately after there was a reaction of discredit. The people in the Synagogue were scandalized and did not want to know anything about Jesus. They said: “Is he not the son of Joseph?” (Lk 4, 22b). Why were they scandalized? Which is the reason for this unexpected reaction?

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Because Jesus quoted the text of Isaiah only to the part that says: “to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord”, and he omits the end of the sentence which says: “to proclaim a day of vengeance for our God” (Is 61, 2). The people of Nazareth remained surprised because Jesus omitted the phrase on vengeance. They wanted the Good News of the liberation of the oppressed to be an action of vengeance on the part of God against the oppressors. In this case the coming of the Kingdom would be only a superficial change, and not a change or conversion of the system. Jesus does not accept this way of thinking. His experience of God the Father helps him to understand better the significance of the prophecies. He takes away the vengeance. The people of Nazareth do not accept that proposal and the authority of Jesus begins to diminish: “Is he not Joseph’s son?”

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Luke 4, 24: No prophet is ever accepted in his own country. The people of Nazareth was jealous because of the miracles which Jesus had worked in Capernaum, because he had not worked them in Nazareth. Jesus answers: “No prophet is ever accepted in his own country!” In fact, they did not accept the new image of God which Jesus communicated to them through this new and freer interpretation of Isaiah. The message of the God of Jesus went beyond the limits of the race of the Jews and opened itself to accept the excluded and the whole humanity.

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Luke 4, 25-27: Two stories of the Old Testament. In order to help the community to overcome the scandal and to understand the universality of God, Jesus uses two well known stories of the Old Testament: one of Elijah and the other one of Elisha. Through these stories he criticized the people of Nazareth who were so closed up in themselves. Elijah was sent to the foreign widow of Zarephah (1 Kg 17, 7-16). Elisha was sent to take care of the foreigner of Syria (2 Kg 5, 14).

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Luke 4, 28-30: They intended to throw him off the cliff, but he passed straight through the crowd and walked away. What Jesus said did not calm down the people. On the contrary! The use of these two passages of the Bible also caused them to get more angry. The community of Nazareth reached the point of wanting to kill Jesus. And thus, at the moment in which he presented his project to accept the excluded, Jesus himself was excluded! But he remained calm! The anger of the others did not succeed to make him change his mind. In this way, Luke indicates that it is difficult to overcome the mentality of privilege which is closed up in itself. And he showed that the polemic attitude of the Pagans already existed in the time of Jesus. Jesus had the same difficulty which the Hebrew community had in the time of Luke.

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Personal questions

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Is Jesus’ program also my program, our program? Is my attitude that of Jesus or that of the people of Nazareth?

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Who are those excluded whom we should accept better in our community?

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Concluding Prayer

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My whole being yearns and pines for Yahweh’s courts, My heart and my body cry out for joy to the living God. (Ps 84,2)

On Thanksgiving: Do Yourself a Favor, Start Anew By Shedding Your Old Skin

November 28, 2013

The First Thanksgiving by Jennie Brownscombe

“Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.”

– Attributed to Buddha

“Live every act fully, as if it were your last.”

– Attributed to Buddha

There are thousands and perhaps millions of quotes attributed to Buddha and other great spiritual teachers. My Vietnamese wife reminded me of one of those we all need now and again: “Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.”

Today is Thanksgiving: A day we reach deep inside ourselves for gratitude.

Imagine how difficult this might have been for the first American Pilgrims. Living on a new and seemingly endless and wild new continent, a land of plenty (and plenty of challenges) populated only by themselves and “Indians” with very strange ways, the Pilgrims decided to declare a Day of Thanks To God.

The Pilgrims knew suffering and hardship. They didn’t run away from it. They welcomed it. They embraced it! They fled from religious persecution into the wild unknown willingly, even eagerly!

Cultures have celebrated their food at harvest time for centuries.  But because most of us don’t harvest any more — and can easily buy a frozen turkey and a ready made pie, we don’t have the necessary ingredient that gives suffering meaning. Because we, at least many Americans, live amid a super-abundance of food, wealth and excesses, and very few of us work up a sweat by toiling in the fields in back braking effort — we find it difficult to appreciate what is all about us.

We sacrifice little — and that only grudgingly. We want to do away with suffering so much that many Americans take a handful of pain killers or anti-depressants at least once a day. I have a friend who takes fifteen prescription medications every day — and he is a zombie barely able to walk and talk. We have actually turned our entire society upside down in an effort to do away with pain and suffering — with the promise of a nirvana of endless healthcare just beyond our grasp….

Food. Wealth. Prosperity.

We have more food, wealth and prosperity ever available to any previous culture or civilization on earth.

We are the More Society. The More People!

Even while we have record numbers unemployed: we also have record numbers of people making a sacrifice of food, money, time, effort, clothes and goodies to help out others more in need.

But one thing has faded a bit: and that is our true awareness of, and  thanksgiving to, God. The central element of the Pilgrim Thanksgiving wasn’t a big bird,  a pie made from roots, or the almighty self.

It was God.

So here’s the best self-help challenge we’ve heard lately for this Thanksgiving: “Like a snake, shed your old skin, your old self, and start anew this Thanksgiving.”

The 20 Things You Need To Let Go To Be Happy

The 20 Things You Need To Let Go To Be Happy

http://elitedaily.com/life/20s-things-you-need-to-let-go-to-live-happy-life/

6 Things You Should Quit Doing To Be More Successful

http://www.forbes.com/sites/glassheel/2013/10/01/6-things-you-should-quit-to-be-more-successful/

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Not too long ago while I was assisting a homeless man, he looked me square in the eyes and said:  “We have everything we need.”
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Actually, this man travels around the neighborhoods near where I live with no possessions most of us would care anything about. He has few articles of clothing and he often cuts up old trash bags to make himself a hat, a cap, or a kind of serape. He never begs or asks for anything.
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I offered him a crisp new twenty dollar bill on Easter Sunday morning. He rushed inside the first convenience store and gave that money to the charity collection jar!
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Indeed I have experienced what Jesus tells the disciples: “We have everything we need.”
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A homeless woman seemed to be a messenger from God to me a short time later when she said, “Cherish what you have.”
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Many of us in our modern world have way more than we need. We have lots of toys and possessions. We sometimes seem wedded to our possessions or in love with them.
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A neighbor of mine used to spend so much loving car while washing his car each Sunday that the other men in the neighborhood used to say, “Jim can’t come to the game, he’s making love to his car!”
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Jesus also instructs us, and the disciples, to carry the message of his love, his care for us, and the redemption he earned for us on the cross. We need to be evangelists — and to do that well we need to be unencumbered!
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People who are already unencumbered have every reason to trust in God. Actually some of the poorest people I know in terms of material good are the richest in their faith.
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When we have nothing else, God will suffice!
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Sometimes I tell people I took a vow of poverty, which was easy because, “I was already poor!”
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So each day I try to keep in my mind — “Cherish what you have” and “We have everything we need.”
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One final thought: I believe “we cannot keep it unless we give it away.”
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But you knew that if you kept reading to here…..
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John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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“John is on a spiritual path but he’s no saint….”

Experts say it matters little what we follow while seeking  God — as long as we keep seeking Him and His will for us…..

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Praise Jesus for St. Teresa of Ávila who gave us one of the simplest and finest prayers, “Let Nothing Disturb You” –
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Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who possesses God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
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Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene, nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!
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Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, September 24, 2013 — Does Our Spiritual Life Bear The Fruit of Charity? Abundant Life?

September 24, 2013

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 450

Madonna in Sorrow  by Sassoferrato 17th century

Reading 1 Ezr 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20

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King Darius issued an order to the officials of West-of-Euphrates: “Let the governor and the elders of the Jews continue the work on that house of God; they are to rebuild it on its former site. I also issue this decree concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that house of God: From the royal revenue, the taxes of West-of-Euphrates, let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay. I, Darius, have issued this decree; let it be carefully executed.”
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The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building, supported by the message of the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, son of Iddo. They finished the building according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius and of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. They completed this house on the third day of the month Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The children of Israel –- priests, Levites, and the other returned exiles -–  celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. For the dedication of this house of God, they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs, together with twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all Israel, in keeping with the number of the tribes of Israel. Finally, they set up the priests in their classes and the Levites in their divisions for the service of God in Jerusalem, as is prescribed in the book of Moses.
The exiles kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites, every one of whom had purified himself for the occasion, sacrificed the Passover for the rest of the exiles, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

Responsorial Psalm PS 122:1-2, 3-4ab, 4cd-5

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R. (1) Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. I rejoiced because they said to me, “We will go up to the house of the LORD.” And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem. R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. Jerusalem, built as a city with compact unity. To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD. R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. According to the decree for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD. In it are set up judgment seats, seats for the house of David. R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
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Gospel Lk 8:19-21

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The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
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Lectio Divina from The Carmelites
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Reflection• The Gospel today presents the episode in which the relatives of Jesus and also his Mother want to speak with him, but Jesus does not pay attention to them. Jesus had problems with his family. Sometimes the family helps one to live the Gospel and to participate in the community. Other times, the family prevents this. This is what happened to Jesus and this is what happens to us..Luke 8, 19-20: The family looks for Jesus. The relatives reach the house where Jesus was staying. Probably, they had come from Nazareth. From there to Capernaum the distance is about 40 kilometres. His Mother was with them. Probably, they did not enter because there were many people, but they sent somebody to tell him: “Your Mother and your brothers are outside and want to see you”..According to the Gospel of Mark, the relatives do not want to see Jesus, they want to take him back home (Mk 3, 32). They thought that Jesus had lost his head (Mk 3, 21). Probably, they were afraid, because according to what history says, the Romans watched very closely all that he did, in one way or other, with the people (cf. Ac 5, 36-39). In Nazareth, up on the mountains he would have been safer than in Capernaum..Luke 8, 21: The response of Jesus. The reaction of Jesus is clear: “My mother and my brothers are those who listen to the Word of God and put it into practice”. In Mark the reaction of Jesus is more concrete. Mark says: Looking around at those who were sitting there he said: “Look, my mother and my brothers! Anyone who does the will of God, he is my brother, sister and mother (Mk 3, 34-35). Jesus extends his family! He does not permit the family to draw him away from the mission: neither the family (Jn 7, 3-6), nor Peter (Mk 8, 33), nor the disciples (Mk 1, 36-38), nor Herod (Lk 13, 32), nor anybody else (Jn 10, 18)..

It is the Word of God which creates a new family around Jesus: “My mother and my brothers are those who listen to the Word of God, and put it into practice.”

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A good commentary on this episode is what the Gospel of John says in the Prologue: “He was in the world that had come into being through him and the world did not recognize him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him”. But to those who did accept him he gave them power to become children of God: to those who believed in his name, who were born not from human stock or human desire, or human will, but from God himself. And the Word became flesh, he lived among us; and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn 1, 10-14).

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The family, the relatives, do not understand Jesus (Jn 7, 3-5; Mk 3, 21), they do not form part of the new family. Only those who receive the Word, that is, who believe in Jesus, form part of the new family. These are born of God and form part of God’s Family.

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The situation of the family at the time of Jesus. In the time of Jesus, the political social and economic moment or the religious ideology, everything conspired in favour of weakening the central values of the clan, of the community.

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The concern for the problems of the family prevented persons from being united in the community. Rather, in order that the Kingdom of God could manifest itself anew, in the community life of the people, persons had to go beyond, to pass the narrow limits of the small family and open themselves to the large family, toward the Community.

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Jesus gives the example. When his own family tried to take hold of him, Jesus reacted and extended the family (Mk 3, 33-35). He created the Community.

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The brothers and the sisters of Jesus. The expression “brothers and sisters of Jesus” causes much polemics among Catholics and Protestants. Basing themselves on this and on other texts, the Protestants say that Jesus had more brothers and sisters and that Mary had more sons! The Catholics say that Mary did not have other sons. What should we think about this? In the first place, both positions: that of the Catholics as well as that of the Protestants, start from the arguments drawn from the Bible and from the Traditions of their respective Churches. Because of this, it is not convenient to discuss on this question with only intellectual arguments. Because here it is a question of the convictions that they have and which have to do with faith and sentiments.

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The intellectual argument alone does not succeed in changing a conviction of the heart! Rather, it irritates and draws away! And even if I do not agree with the opinion of the other person, I must respect it. In the second place, instead of discussing about texts, both we Catholics and the Protestants, we should unite together to fight in defence of life, created by God, a life totally disfigured by poverty, injustice, by the lack of faith. We should recall some phrase of Jesus: “I have come so that they may have life and life in abundance” (Jn 10, 10). “So that all may be one so that the world will believe that it was you who sent me” (Jn 17, 21). “Do not prevent them! Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mk 9, 39.40).

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-luke-819-21

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

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In the first reading, we read of the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon.  The first thing they did was to rebuild the Temple.  For the Jews, the Temple was what gave them a sense of identity, namely, that they are the people of God.  Indeed, for the Jews, the Kingdom and the Temple were sacred to them.  That is why many of the psalms are devoted to the king and to Jerusalem where the Temple of God is.  Similarly, we regard ourselves as the New Temple of God and each individual as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  We call ourselves Christians and are proud to be known as Christians.   Yet, for many, they are just Catholics or Christians in name or but not in fact.  Just being called “Christians” or going to Church will not change us or give us life.  This was what happened to the Israelites and Jews. They were clinging to their race and status as the People of God. But Jesus warned them “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”  Only such people belong to the people of God.

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Secondly, we note that the Jews progressed from founding their identity in the Temple to the Word of God.  In the Old Testament, the Israelites were deeply ritualistic people.  They were meticulous in offering sacrifices at the Temple of Jerusalem.  Their lives were centered on the Temple. This explains why they felt so lost without the Temple.  Their only thought was to return home to rebuild the grandiose and magnificent Temple once built by King Solomon when Israel was in its glory.  Hence, we can imagine the joy of the people when the Temple was at last restored, as we read in the first reading, even though it was not as grand as before. “The Israelites – the priests, the Levites and the remainder of the exiles – joyfully dedicated this Temple of God; for the dedication of this Temple of God they offered one hundred bulls … Then they installed the priests according to their orders in the service of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as is written in the Book of Moses.”

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Nevertheless there was a gradual, subtle shift from focusing on the Temple to the Word of God. This was because during the period of exile, without the Temple, their only worship was focused on the Word of God.  Thus, by the time of Jesus, the Synagogue grew in importance.  God wanted to teach the people that true worship is more than just offering sacrifices and rituals.  The temptation for offering such sacrifices, which were certainly meaningful if properly interiorized’ at the same time caused those who reduced these sacrifices to mere rituals to become extraneous participants.  This is true also of many Catholics attending Church services as mere spectators, or “out-standing” Catholics, who do not fully participate in the service.  These have reduced faith to the performance of rituals and fulfillment of some obligations.  But their hearts and minds are far from the celebration.  To be sure, one of the reasons for the new translation of the Mass is to bring about a greater and more solemn participation through a more accurate translation of the original texts, aided by chanting. It is hoped that in time to come, everyone, regardless which church they attend, can worship, pray and sing as one community, rather than be mere observers.

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Yet, our spiritual life cannot be reduced to mere worship and vocal prayers alone.  This accounts for the apparent dichotomy of those who attend daily mass and community prayers and worship, yet live lives that have not changed much over the years.  Why is this so?  Why is it that their lives produce no fruits even though they are daily communicants of the Eucharist?  Such people are really people of good will.  They come for services regularly, attend retreats, help out in Church, etc.  But like many of our Church volunteers and members in organizations, their spiritual life is weak. And so is their moral life.  Many are in fact living a double life, apparently very active in Church activities but living a sinful life outside the Church.  We do not see an increase in virtues, in a change of lifestyle, in compassion, humility, forgiveness, tolerance and charity.  The truth is that spiritually they have not grown.  Indeed, the warning of Jesus is pertinent.  “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’  St Teresa of Avila reminds us that progress in prayer life must be seen by the fruits.  Regardless of whatever spiritual exercises we do, if we do not bear fruits of charity, it means that we are not praying rightly or fervently.

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Consequently, in today’s gospel, Jesus spoke of one’s true identity as those who hear the Word of God and keep it.  Just as we find our family identity through the family, so to find our spiritual identity, we must be rooted in the Word.  No progress in spiritual life is possible if we abandon daily and diligent meditation on the Word of God.

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When we speak of meditation, we are not even referring to discursive meditation on the Word of God alone.  There are some who might have realized the importance of meditation on the Word of God for spiritual growth.  But quite often, they only use their head to attempt to penetrate the meaning of the Word of God.  They are keener on gaining insights into the Word of God to understand themselves better, which is certainly noble.  But of course there are some who fall in love with their “insights” so much so that they feel intellectually superior to others.

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For this reason, discursive meditation must move towards the level of affective prayer and ending with the prayer of simplicity.  All spiritual writers and mystics invite us to arrive at the prayer of simplicity in order that our wills are moved by the intellect.  Otherwise, it remains merely a cerebral exercise.  The purpose of meditation is not solely to gain insights. This could be done by attending a course, a seminar or just reading some theological and spiritual books.  The ultimate goal of meditation is to enlighten the intellect so that it can then offer to the will something good to acquire.  So the intellect is to activate the will to desire the truth as good.  In other words, discursive meditation is but the first step to help a person to surrender his will to the Lord so that he can then experience the love of God and make a real commitment to Him, a commitment that comes not from the head but from a heart that is so in love with God as a person.  Only affective prayer that engages in a colloquy with the Lord can effect such a transformation of the heart.  And when the heart and mind coalesce, knowledge and love are united in the prayer of simplicity; one experiences the joy of being one with God in mind, heart and soul.  This prayer of simplicity is but the first step towards mystical prayer.

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Finally, when all is done, we must make some resolutions at the end of the meditation. Without making resolutions, we are in danger of falling either into intellectualism or sentimentalism.  As St James warns us, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man, who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:23-25)  Hence, it is necessary for us to conclude all our meditation with resolutions that spring not from some intellectual conclusion after the meditation, but from a heart so moved to desire to live out the truths revealed to us by the Lord about ourselves or the needs of people around us.  Not only do we make resolutions but we must, throughout the day, pause at least once or twice, to reexamine ourselves by periodic examen.  Without these frequently recollections it would be difficult to put what we meditate into practice.  Most of all, we must not simply contemplate on the Word, but put it into practice whenever the opportunity arises.  

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Indeed, we cannot find our identity simply by worshipping in the Temple of God.  Rather, we are called to be the Temple of God.  We are all called to be who we are, namely, as the people of God.  God dwells in us only when we abide in His Word.  This is what Jesus promised us.  He said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (Jn 14:21)  Again Jesus reiterated, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  (Jn 14:23)  Truly, if we abide in Him, He will abide in us and the Holy Spirit will transform us into the Temple of God.  In this way we no longer just worship in the temple or in church, watching the priest offering the Eucharistic sacrifice, or even just hearing the Word of God; we become active participants of the sacrifice, offering ourselves in union with Jesus as a living sacrifice to the Father.

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The gospel presents to us Mary as the exemplar of one who has truly become the dwelling place of God.  Indeed, Jesus said, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”  It is therefore appropriate that God sees it fitting to bestow on Mary the honour of being the mother of the Son of God.  She, as the gospel says, was full of grace, for she has always meditated on the Word of God, pondered over it and lived it out in her life.  So with the psalmist we pray, “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord. I rejoiced because they said to me, “We will go up to the house of the Lord.” And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.”  This house of God is no longer a physical place alone, but truly the heavenly Jerusalem where God dwells.  We are now the dwelling place of God because God lives in us.

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http://www.csctr.net/reflections/

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Abundant Life? How do we “Attract Abundance”?

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See:

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http://www.beliefnet.com/Wellness/2004/03/How-To-Attract-Abundance.aspx#

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How do we get closer to God ?

July 15, 2013

Mt friend Henri Nouwen said “We are here for others.”

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
―     Henri J.M. Nouwen,     The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4837.Henri_J_M_Nouwen

Fred  Bartels takes this theme a little further….

We do not get closer to God by living as materialists whose lives are spent seeking pleasure, comfort and ease.

During the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself to “the mystery of Jesus in the desert,” where Christ, led by the spirit to be tempted by the devil, fasted for forty days (Mt 4:1-11). The penitential aspect of the Lenten season is “particularly appropriate” for various spiritual exercises, including voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving (See CCC Nos. 540, 1438).

Yet we live in an age in which the above words in reference to the teaching of our holy Catholic Church are nearly entirely foreign to the modern mind; an age in which voluntary self-denial is not only far removed from thought but a practice looked upon as an “antiquated silliness” that ought be crushed; an age in which secularist “wisdom” holds self-denial´s opposite, self-gratification, as a type of false “virtue.” There are numerous examples we could cite. Let it suffice to say that the important physical and spiritual benefits of self-denial are often either forgotten or ignored.

This situation is particularly unfortunate; for we also live in an age in which there is an immense hunger for God. Yet what so often goes unrealized is the importance of combating this strong tendency we have toward enslavement by the senses; that is, the overemphasis placed upon feeding the many desires of our material body, our flesh and blood, is rarely seen for the danger that it is – often to the detriment of our spiritual soul.

Frank Sheed wrote that man is often forgetful of the fact that he is both body and spirit: he belongs essentially to both these realities, those of the world of matter and the world of spirit. “In both worlds [man] has the closest and most vital contacts: it is a pity that he is so much more keenly aware of the lower one, and so sketchily and intermittently aware of the upper, for both are realities, and realities that affect him profoundly” (Theology and Sanity, p. 163).

Over-emphasis of the flesh and de-emphasis of the spirit is a grave mistake.

The Doctor of Prayer, St. Teresa of Avila, observes that we often fail to understand ourselves: “It is no small pity, and would cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, . . . if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, . . . though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. . . . All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and the outer wall of the castle – that is to say, in these bodies of ours” (Interior Castle, p. 4).

Our Lord Jesus Christ´s life presents us with countless examples of self-denial. We can be certain that at Nazareth he, along with his Mother and Joseph, lived a quiet, ascetic life of simplicity and prayer; a life which was intently focused on the spiritual, on the love of God. As mentioned above, Christ went into the desert to fast and pray – an act of self-denial – in order that he would become not only hungry but be severely tempted. After leaving the desert, Jesus “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4:14) where he taught in the synagogues. Luke seems to imply that Jesus was strengthened by his actions of self-denial. And, in the ultimate act of self-denial, our Savior gives his life on the Cross for the love of men, many of whom mistreated him and uttered hateful words against him.

But why is self-denial so important for us? For the simple fact that we do not get closer to God by living as materialists whose lives are spent seeking pleasure, comfort and ease, while our immortal soul, which will live on into eternity, is starved. Second, due to the fact that the flesh is weak, it is easy to fall into sin; therefore the body must be forced to subject itself to the spirit. The flesh must be trained, subdued in order that the intellect and the will are able to rule over it more easily.

“The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

St. Paul tells us that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would” (Gal 5:17). And Christ warns his disciples in Gethsemane that “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 26:41).

The spirit must exercise self-control over the body: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:25-27).

One critical aspect of self-denial is almsgiving. Note that while wealthy people were putting their offerings into the treasury, our Savior “noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins.” He brought this to the attention of his disciples, saying, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood” (Lk 21:1-4). It is certain that our Master notices when we deny ourselves of some convenience or entertainment and instead give those funds we would have otherwise used for our own pleasure to the poor.

Another element of self-denial is self-sacrifice; for there can be no true denial of self apart from sacrifice. We are not, of course, speaking of the type of sacrifice which seriously injures, rather we are speaking of those sacrifices we make which show God we cherish him as the greatest and highest Good – those fragrant flowers which pass from our acts of selflessness into the heavens where they are gathered by angels´ hands, made into wreaths for our loving Savior who willingly poured his blood upon the Cross for our sake, and preserved in order that we may one day clearly see the full splendor of every good deed.

There is a great and unexplainable immenseness in the mystery of sacrifice. Who can plumb the depths of the sacrificial sorrow our Blessed Mother contained within her pure heart has she stood in docile quietness before the foot of the bloodied Cross? And who can comprehend the full dimension of Christ´s sacrifice of eternal, infinite worth? We may contemplate these things until the Sun passes across the furthest reaches of the sky, yet they will, for now, remain a mystery. Nevertheless, it is certain that every sacrifice we make for love of God becomes a fragrant rose of eternal sweetness which our Lord gathers in his own glorified, loving hands.

St. Teresa, on the day she took the habit at the Convent of the Incarnation outside the walls of Avila, wrote of the wondrous kiss of love Christ presented to her as a result of her willing self-sacrifice: “When I took the habit the Lord immediately showed me how He favours those who do violence to themselves in order to serve Him. No one saw what I endured, . . . At the moment of my entrance into this new state I felt a joy so great that it has never failed me even to this day; and God converted the dryness of my soul into a very great tenderness” (Interior Castle, p. 33).

This Lent, let us go forth into the desert with Christ, where, along with him, we deny ourselves out of love. Let us prove to God we love him above all else. Let us engage in acts of voluntary self-denial, training our body, nourishing our spirit that, in prayer, we may begin to truly see the unfathomable value and riches of giving ourselves entirely over to God. It is about cultivating a love for Love. It is about, as our Savior showed us, commending our spirit unto God. For then, when at Easter we celebrate Christ´s resurrection on the third day, we may enter more fully into that wondrous plan of salvation our Savior himself has given us with such great sacrificial love.

By F.K. Bartels

F. K. Bartels is managing editor of catholicpathways.com. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

Vietnamese-Americans Marvel at The Happy Catholics in Poland

June 30, 2013

Today we were honored to speak to some folks on a Catholic Religious Pilgrimage in Krakow, Poland.

Just about everyone in this group was born in Vietnam and has watched the Communist Vietnamese government with great interest since 1975.

During their pilgrimage they discovered that Vietnam’s Catholics living in Vietnam are still unable to practice their faith fully and completely.

Among the things the Communist government of Vietnam denies its people is permission to visit  places like Poland – a nation that has proudly declared itself a nation dedicated to Faith in Jesus Christ.

Sadly, the unenlightened Communist government of Vietnam still believes it can keep its people from learning about what is going on in the rest of the world. Vietnam’s government is constantly trying to control what the Vietnamese see and learn on the Internet — and that includes tough controls on any type of religious institution.

Pope John Paul II showed the world that even Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin were unable to keep people from seeking and learning the truth.

Karol (Charles) Jósef Wojtyła  — despite many hardships in his own life and for Poland all around him during the Nazi years — found his way to Jesus.

Below from:

http://www.ewtn.com/johnpaul2/life/prepontifical.htm

Young Wojtyła was in college in 1939 when the Nazi  government closed the university. This forced him in November 1940 to take a job as a stone-cutter at a quarry in Zakrzowek, near Kraków. Earlier that year, in February, he had met a man who would make a profound difference in his spiritual life. Jan Tryanowski was a tailor who was knowledgeable in the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. He introduced his young protégé to these Carmelite authors, setting him on a deeper spiritual path.

A year later, on February 18, 1941, Karol was asked to carry the cross again with the death of his father. From this time he would be     alone, though never really so since his spiritual life was deepening under Jan Tryanowski’s direction in the ways of prayer.

The following year, 1942, would see two changes in Karol Wojtyła’s life. First he was transferred to the Solvay chemical works, which, as it turned out, would facilitate academic studies at the reopened Jagiellonian University. Thus, in October Karol Wojtyła entered the faculty of theology with the intention of becoming a priest.

This double life or work and study would continue for two years, until August 1944. At that time Cardinal Sapieha moved his seminarians into his episcopal residence to finish their training in an “underground” seminary he conducted there. Karol Wojtyła, who earlier in the year had been hit by a car and hospitalized while saving a man’s life, stopped going to work that summer, dropping out of sight of the Nazi occupiers. He continued his priestly studies  through the balance of the war, including the liberation (if it can be called that) of Kraków by Soviet forces on January 18, 1945.

Seminarian Wojtyła’s march toward the priesthood included all the stages called for under the Church’s discipline before the Second Vatican Council. On September 9, 1944, he was tonsured, in which a     circlet of hair was cut off the crown of his head to show that he     was now a cleric. On December 17 of that year he received the first     two minor orders, porter and lector. The following year on December 12, 1945, he received the two other minor orders, exorcist and acolyte. Finally in 1946 he completed his studies and the reception  of orders, with Sub-diaconate on October 13, Diaconate on October 20 and Priesthood on November 1, the Solemnity of All Saints. His  priestly ordination was performed by Adam Cardinal Sapieha in his private chapel. The next day he celebrated his first Mass in the crypt of St. Leonard, located in Wawel Castle, Kraków, the royal  residence of Poland.

My friends in Poland tell us that the Polish people are generally happy: in fact joyful. They attribute most of their joy to their struggles from the time of Adolph Hitler until the arrival of the friend and countryman: Pope John Paul II!

Everyone who believes knows: communism always fails. Communism will topple and fall someday in Vietnam and China. The communist system hasn’t got a prayer!

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

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By ; November 26, 2012
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Pope John Paul II

Standing in front of one million Poles in Warsaw, Poland on June 2, 1979, Pope John Paul II had just declared that Christ is an inherent part of man’s life and “cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe” when he was suddenly interrupted by fourteen minutes of unabated applause from the entire crowd (John Paul II, “Homily in Victory Square”). Such a poignant moment demonstrates that Poles were completely enthralled with the pope and his uplifting message. This powerful homily is just one of several that John Paul II gave during his historic pilgrimage to Poland from June 2-10, 1979. During this time, thirteen million Poles—one third of the country—would see him in person, and his inspirational and nonpartisan messages would captivate nearly every Catholic in Poland, particularly at a time of increasing discontent with communist rule (Kubik, The Power of Symbols, 139). The papal visit of 1979 intensified concepts like unity, human dignity, and optimism in Poland, and as a result, anti-communist sentiment could strengthen and coalesce, leaving the country ripe for a peaceful revolution at a time of political unrest and discontent.

In order to understand the significance of the pope’s visit, it is important to first understand the history of Catholic opposition in communist Poland prior to 1979. After WWII, the communists imposed restrictions on the Church and declared that Marxism, not Catholicism, would be the national identity. This was a problem, considering that Poland had identified itself as a strongly Catholic nation for centuries. In opposition to the state’s restrictions, Catholicism  continued to grow within private homes and churches. In 1956, the regime temporarily liberalized their policies and allowed the first Catholic opposition group to be represented in Parliament, but by 1957, the Church-state relationship had deteriorated again. By the 1960s, Vatican II, which allowed the vernacular to be used in Mass, helped spread Catholicism to even more Poles, much to the chagrin of the state.  During the 1970s, more priests began to speak out in defense of human rights and family values, and they increasingly criticized the immorality of totalitarianism; not surprisingly, this sentiment appealed to the people of Poland (Kubik, The Power of Symbols, 180).  By the end of the 1970s, Catholic opposition to communism was already in existence, it just needed to be electrified, and that is exactly what the pope would do. Eight months after his election, John Paul II—born as Karol Wojtyla—returned to his homeland of Poland for a nine day pilgrimage of prayer and almsgiving from June 2-10, 1979. The Polish nation, being over 90% Catholic, was extremely excited to welcome home the first Polish pope. The regime was less than thrilled. They saw John Paul II as an enemy who would demand equal rights and meddle with the entire communist system. Although they begrudgingly agreed to broadcast the pope’s visit, the state censored coverage in an attempt to minimize the pope’s impact (Kubik, The Power of Symbols, 137). In reality, however, the effect of his pilgrimage was anything but minimal. The papal message would be received by almost every Pole, and although it was mainly intended to be a purely spiritual message, it would end up having huge political implications, as well.

One million Poles attend Mass in Victory Square on June 2, 1979.

By emphasizing the links between Catholicism and Poland, the pope was able to inspire a stronger sense of Catholic-Polish unity that resonated at a time when Catholics felt alone in an officially secular state. Prior to the papal visit, Catholics constituted a vast majority in Poland, but they lacked a strong sense of cohesion. This changed after 1979. The fact that the leader of the Catholic Church was a fellow Pole deepened the connection between Catholicism and Poland, and John Paul II made sure to remind the people of this relationship by calling himself “a son of the land of Poland” and referring to the people as “beloved sons and daughters of my motherland” (John Paul II, “Homily in Victory Square”).  Upon hearing reminders of his roots, Catholic Poles felt that they were not alone anymore because their pope, a fellow Pole, would say special prayers on their behalf. John Paul II also increased unity between the Church and Poland by reiterating just how central Christ was in Polish culture and heritage. In one homily, he stated that “from its beginnings Polish culture bears very clear Christian signs…It is still so today. Christian inspiration continues to be the chief source of the creativity of Polish artists” (John Paul II, “Homily for Young People at Gniezno”). According to John Paul II, God was ingrained in the identity of Poland, and that union could not be erased. By drawing on these connections between religion and Poland, the pope strengthened a sense of spiritual solidarity. Poles felt, now more than ever, that they were all united with each other in Christ.  Although the pope never explicitly mentioned communism, his emphasis on religion certainly contradicted the communist regime’s idea of a secular state. As a result of his visit, the nation’s intensified sense of religious unity would pose a formidable threat for the communist state.

Pope John Paul II prays at the “Death Wall” at Auschwitz.

By remarking upon Nazi atrocities and discussing the philosophy of work, John Paul II also strengthened notions of human rights and dignity; this was particularly powerful, considering the oppression faced under the communist regime in Poland. On his visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps on June 7, the pope held Mass in honor of the Holocaust victims. During his homily, he was quick to emphasize that such a camp was “built to…trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, of humanity. A place built on hatred and on contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology” (John Paul II, “Homily at Brzezinka”). Without overtly referencing a specific ideology, these remarks evoked uncomfortable similarities between fascism and communism; both were restricting basic freedoms to promote their respective ideologies. Such a parallel did not fall on deaf ears, and it led Poles to examine how their own state was disrespecting human rights by censoring media, restricting religious freedoms, and forcing workers to work long hours in dangerous conditions for low wages (Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 307). John Paul II furthered this narrative on human rights by addressing groups of workers across Poland. While praising the virtues of a strong work ethic, he also warned people, “do not let yourselves be seduced by the temptation to think that man can fully find himself by…remaining only a worker, deluding himself that what he produces can on its own fill the needs of the human heart” (John Paul II, “Homily for the Workers at Jasna Gora”). His belief that human dignity, or self-respect, came from a well-rounded life contradicted the communistic focus on work and productivity. During his pilgrimage, John Paul II gave dignity new significance; he made it seem like something all men should have, and as a result, Poles began to long for human rights and respect with even more vigor than they had in the past.  Naturally, this heightened the anti-communist wave that was already growing in Poland.

Finally, at a time when many Poles were fearful about where their country was heading, the pope offered a refreshing hope for the future by calling on the country to have faith in God, who was guiding and protecting Poland. By the 1970s, the economic hardships of rising prices, food shortages, and smaller wages coupled with the discontent over the communist regime, and as a result, the outlook for the country looked increasingly bleak (Lukowski and Zawadzki, A Concise History of Poland, 312). The papal pilgrimage helped alleviate some of this pessimism.  In his first homily of the visit, John Paul II appealed to God: “Let your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth, the face of this land” (John Paul II, “Homily in Victory Square”). This remark strengthened the sense that God was protecting the people of Poland.  The pope also urged the people to not be afraid, to put their faith in God, and to “never be defeated” (John Paul II, “Homily in Krakow”).  This uplifting message was well received by the nation. They were motivated, now more than ever, to stand up to the regime and demand a better future.

John Paul II’s love of Poland is evident in this photo. The pope weeps as he prepares to leave Krakow, Poland on June 10, 1979.

Because unity, dignity, and optimism are all abstract feelings, it is difficult to say with certainty exactly how John Paul II’s visit is linked to the fall of communism in Poland; many scholars, however, do their best to explain this connection. One scholar argues that the pope’s simple, precise language allowed for strong Catholic discourse to emerge on the public sphere after years of being confined to churches. As a result, the people chose to rally behind this coherent, refreshing Catholic platform, and the old rhetoric of communism no longer dominated the public arena (Kubik, The Power of Symbols, 150). Although a change in discourse may have been extremely important in the dissolution of communism, there was another, more concrete, effect of the papal visit on the regime.  The 1980 creation of Solidarity, the first independent trade union in Poland, was a crucial factor in forcing the state to negotiate with the people, and the leader of Solidarity, Lech Walesa, cites John Paul II’s pilgrimage as a major force in the union’s creation. According to Walesa, “the pope showed us how numerous we were and showed us the…power we had if we joined together as one. We stopped being afraid and gathered together 10 million people in our trade union, Solidarity, which changed the face of this earth” (Walesa, “Rescuing Morality”). Solidarity serves as a concrete example of how Poles were able to channel their newfound energy in a productive way.

Prior to 1979, Poles were already longing for reform; they just needed a spark to galvanize their movement, and the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II provided such a spark.  Because of Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on unity, human dignity, and optimism in Poland, opponents of communism now had a strong, focused lens through which to demand change. They were no longer plagued by weak unity, uncertainty, and pessimism.  Rather, they felt firmly united by Christ, focused on human rights, and optimistic about the future. Armed with these strong ideas, Poles could finally pursue a clear agenda that would eventually come to fruition in the 1980s.

A huge crowd gathers at a papal Mass in the town of Nowy Targ on June 8, 1979.

http://hist243.blogs.wm.edu/2012/11/26/pope-john-paul-iis-1979-pilgrimage-to-poland/

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Above: This Sept. 10, 1987 file photo shows President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II talking as they walk during a visit by the pope to the United States. Polish officials have unveiled a statue of former President Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, honoring two men whom many Poles credit with helping to topple communism in Gdansk on Saturday July 14, 2012. The bronze statue, is a slightly larger than life rendering of the two late leaders. It is based on this Associated Press photograph taken in 1987 on John Paul’s second pontifical visit to the U.S. (AP Photo/Scott Stewart, File)
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Above: People look at a new statue of President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II that was unveiled in Gdansk, Poland, on Saturday, July 14, 2012. The statue honors the two men whom many Poles credit with helping to topple communism. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Related:

Full text of Pope Francis’s homily at the Easter Vigil

March 31, 2013

Pope Francis processes into St Peter's Basilica this evening (AP)

Pope Francis processes into St Peter’s Basilica this evening (AP)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross. We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises; we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (Lk 24:5-6). What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10). Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!

Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: “they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words” (Lk 24:6,8). They are asked to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.

On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.

*****************************************

Related:

We at Peace and Freedom offer just a few humble ideas:

Here is a simple prayer meant to bring us out of evil, sin and death and into the loving care of Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit:

It goes like this:

God, I offer myself to Thee-

To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.

Relieve me of the bondage of self,

that I may better do Thy will.

Take away my difficulties,

that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of

Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.

May I do Thy will always!

Thank you, God, Amen!

*************************

St. Teresa of Avila gave us this simple prayer called “Nade de Turbe”

May nothing disturb you.

May nothing astonish you.

Everything passes.

God does not go away.

Patience

can attain anything.

He who has God within,

does not lack anything.

God is everything!*

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Related:

Pope Francis celebrates his inaugural mass, March 19, 2013.

Preparing During Lent to Receive Jesus into our Soul and A New Pope Into Our Lives

March 4, 2013

 The Last Supper (Italian: Il Cenacolo or L’Ultima Cena) is a late 15th century mural painting by Leonardo da Vinci

St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila are two of the saints we might read and follow during the Lenten Season.

The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer to receive Jesus Christ.

In Lent we prepare spirituality for the powerful and mystical experiences of Jesus and the Apostles through the suffering and the death of Jesus.

We re-live Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet and the Last Supper. Then we reflect upon Christ’s Passion, just as Christians have done for two thousand years.

In an earlier part of my spiritual journey we had been given a copy of St. Thomas More’s reflections on Christ’s passion He wrote this book while in the Tower of  London awaiting his beheading as ordered by King Henry VIII.

Front Cover

So we started to grasp “good Lenten practices” right there by reading St. Thomas More, who produced one of the best meditations on the sufferings of Christ for us.

But Lent is not all suffering and pain. Lent is, like Mardi Gras,  also a time of celebration because Easter is nearing and we about to experience and reflect upon the redemptive power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In Latin the term quadragesima (translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, the “fortieth” day before Easter) is used. This nomenclature is preserved in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages (for example, Spanish cuaresma, Portuguesequaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima, Romanianpăresimi, Croatiankorizma, Irish Carghas, and WelshC(a)rawys). However in most Slavic languages the common name is simply a phrase meaning “fasting time” (as Czech postní doba) or “great fast” (as Russian великий пост vyeliki post). In Tagalog, the name retains from its Spanish wording Cuaresma while the local wording uses “Mahal na Araw” or “Beloved Days”.

In the late Middle Ages, as sermons began to be given in the vernacular instead of Latin, the English word lent was adopted. This word initially simply meant spring (as in the German language Lenz and Dutchlente) and derives from the Germanic root for long because in the spring the days visibly lengthen.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lent

St. John of the Cross believed and taught that our preparations should always include spiritual and physical “cleansing” by removing some of the sins of the flesh (pride, lust, you know what you have!).   He called this “The Purgative Way.”

The purgative way, from the state where we begin,  is the purifying of the soul in view of seeking to find an intimate union with  God.

All my life I had been taught to have  “an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.”

But that never happened.

I was consumed by my own desires for everything: more food, more sex, more booze and drugs, more good times, and especially more money (because that always pulled me toward more good times anywhere we wanted to go!)

But then the  mid-life crisis hit. And for me, no corvette or big blonde girlfriend was going to fill me with what I needed.

As many of the saint have told us, eventually, most of us, perhaps all of us, feel “something is missing.”

What is missing, many of us find out, is exactly what we were taught from the beginning: we needed that personal relationship with God to make us whole.

We needed to seek out the eternal.

I needed to go back into the Old Testament, starting with Genesis, to discover what God meant when he told us “I am who am.” (Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15)

A few years ago I wandered in to a Catholic the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.

The pastor started his homily by explaining there were many step-by-step processes for preparing ourselves during Lent, and two among them that he likes are the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

So given that notion, to seek out those that had a methodical method of seeking to find a deeper relationship with the Lord, we stumbled across St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila.

St. John of the Cross says that  we are unfilled “caverns in our soul,” left empty by not filling them with God, the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, depending upon who you are listening to.

We fill this cavern, St. John says, with prayer, gratitude and seeking to do the Will of God.   And we do this, because Jesus told us to “seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”

If you knocked a few times, and found the door locked, as I did,  we are going to have to do more purging of our character defects, sins, or whatever is holding us back from being given God’s greatest gift of “an indwelling of his Holy Spirit in us.”

What we seek, these Doctors of the Church tell us, is the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

St Teresa of Avila keeps it simple: “We must place ourselves totally into the hands of God.”

Teresa of Avila gave us this wonderfully simple prayer:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee;
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Patient endurance
Attainteth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting
Alone God sufficeth.

Many call this prayer “Nada te turbe”

Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
Alcholics also have a wonderfully simple pray to permit them to put themselves “into the Hands of God.”

It goes like this:

God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

It is interesting to note that Pope Benedict XVI chose the Lenten Season as a wise time for him to retire–  and a good time  for the cardinals of the Catholic Church to elect a new pope.

Maybe Benedict is thinking that during Lent, the cardinals have already been working and purging out the sins holding them back — and that now is the time that they may be most empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

Father Edward Leen’s book “Holy Spirit” is a terrific text for those seeking “The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

http://www.doctorsofthecatholicchurch.com/JC.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila

Related:

Teresa of Avila – 1515- 1582 – a Spanish Carmelite nun, a saint, and the first female “Doctor of the Church.” She was aflame with mystical love, filled with the Holy Spirit, and full of common sense at the same time.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teresa_of_%C3%81vila
File:S. Juan de la Cruz y Santa Teresa .JPG
Statues representing John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, in Beas de Segura
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_of_the_Cross
St. John of the Cross: Discussed by Fr. Robert Barron of “Word on Fire” and Father Steve Grunow, the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries:
http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-B
log/December-2012/Spirituality-St-John-of-the-Cross.aspx

Pondering Our Gift of Life

July 28, 2012

Someone looked quite horrified at a replica (plastic) human skull above my desk in my office.

“Why in heavens name do you have such a thing?”

The answer is: In Heavens Name!

I am over fifty years and the survivor of at least one near death experience. I like to tell people, “I am on the clock.” It is almost as if this phase of my life was an unexpected gift: an extra few innings; a bonus round if you will.

But in football they call that “sudden death!”

That reminder that our days are numbered, that little $12.00 piece of plastic, that replica skull, reminds me to lead a good life, be of service to others, and keep right with God. He is calling the shots in my life: not me.

Interestingly, Saint Francis of Assisi carried a real human skull with him to remind himself and others of the fragile nature of life.  I’ve read he frequently put this skull on the meal table so his fellow monks, all younger men, would get the message.

Many say St. Francis’ skull was a reminder that he had conquered death by living a life closer to God.

Some also say St. Theresa of Avila used to drink from a skull to remind herself that we are nothing but dust and that heaven is our real home — so we have to keep vigilant and mind-full of the sanctity of human life.  St. Teresa believed in  always contemplating the eternal.

In any event: we should not take life too cavalierly.

Coach Mike Ditka once told me, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, all we have is today. Today is a gift — that’s why we call it “the present.”

By John Francis Carey

Peace and Freedom

Some additional reading on Saint Francis of Assisi:


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