Posts Tagged ‘St. Francis of Assisi’

The Journey of a Spiritual Life: “Alcoholics Anonymous is the beginning, not the end.”

April 7, 2015

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“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Since my first few years as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, the voices of spiritual teachers throughout the centuries have reverberated within me with the message that the Principles we find in AA are deeply a part of all the greatest spiritual thinkers of the ages.

In Appendix V of the Big Book, called “The Religious View on A.A.,” Father Edward Dowling, S.J. writes:

“Alcoholic Anonymous is natural; it is natural at the point where nature comes closest to the supernatural, namely in humiliations and in consequent humility. There is something spiritual about an art museum or a symphony, and the Catholic Church approves of our use of them. There is something spiritual about A.A. too, and Catholic participation in it almost invariably results in poor Catholics becoming better Catholics.”

Many times during my journey, while reading some of the great spiritual writers and teachers, my mind wanders some and reminds me of the intersection between what is written in the Gospels and analyzed through the ages, and the simple truths of the Big Book.

While reading St. Augustine it occurred to me that many in AA would find Augustine a perfect soul-mate. He started as a lawyer who was constantly fighting against Christian teachings. His personal slave was also his lover, by whom he had a child. He lived in the same house as his Mother who constantly prayer for his salvation. He ended as a bishop — and the author of some of the most learned texts in the library of great Christian thought.

Similarly, St. Francis de Sales, takes us on a spiritual journey in “An Introduction to the Devout Life.” St. Francis de Sales frequently preached upon the essential nature of man’s total dependence upon God. Francis speaks to us in laymen’s terms and he always challenges us to find and do the Will of God.

Reading “An Introduction to the Devout Life” by St Francis de Sales probably increased my understanding of the life AA wants us to live, more than any other single book.

A few AAs have told me they found the use of the word “devout” off putting. Of course, until our devotion to alcohol dissipates for some time, many of us are unsure of how and where to devote our new-found energy.

For readers that might find reading this most complete of Francis’s works too time consuming, several key topics have been broken out and published separately in short, easy to read volumes dedicated to small portions of the spiritual life.

“Consoling Thoughts on Sickness and Death,” by St Francis de Sales (Edited by Pere Huguet) gave me my first understanding of Christian suffering and death, which we read while assisting another AA with lung cancer, radiation, chemotherapy and finally, death.

“Abandonment to Divine Providence,” by J.P. de Caussade teaches us how to “pour ourselves out” in service to others. By pouring out for another, we forget to focus upon our own selfish ego and learn some small amount of humility — a commodity not often highly valued in our modern society.  But humility is the key commodity of Jesus and the disciples.

When we pour out, we make room for the someone much more helpful than “self.” We make room for the “Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”

Even after more than sixteen years of Catholic education, I confess that I had no clue to how the Holy Spirit was meant to be a part of my life.

Father Edward Leen, a sober Irish priest and author of “Holy Spirit” set me straight.

Simply put, Fr. Leen teaches that from birth be have sanctity in the form of our soul and the one who dwells within us: The Holy Spirit. Leen encourages us who start with only a small light within us — something the size of the pilot light in a gas stove —  and to stoke that fire up so that it glows within us and changes how we lead our lives.

All of the authors and books that became essential to my small but growing understanding of the spiritual life are frequently cited here in the Peace and Freedom web site — especially in the daily “Prayer and Meditation” articles.

And why would anyone go on a journey of spiritual awakening by reading and studying spiritual books? Well, after AA gets our sobriety started, each of us has to decide what to do next. Service to others, especially other alcoholics, is the best way to stay sober, according to the Big Book. But we also have this little problem of eternity waiting for us somewhere. Time marched on while we were drunk and not too cognizant of our spiritual nature and our spiritual journey. After we get sober, it becomes difficult to ignore the goodness of God. Once out of a deep, dark pit — we naturally want to give thanks for this miracle and look ahead to eternity, instead of living in constant fear.

Father Benedict J. Groeschel C.F.R.

On Easter Morning, just a few days ago, I picked up Father Benedict J. Groeschel’s book “The Reform of Renewal,” opened it at random, and read the first thing that my eyes had found:

“Realize that you are really powerless to overcome serious spiritual obstacles, because the things that are opposed to your conversion are usually more immediately attractive. This is most obvious in the case of compulsive behavior, but it is a hidden fact in many other problems. We simply cannot heal ourselves. For this reason fervent intercessory prayer is necessary. We must constantly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our Savior and that we do not save ourselves. Often we do not understand our own motives. We need to analyze the roots of our spiritual problems.”

Groeschel cautions us against resentments.

“This is important because we can all blame someone else for out problems. People with Spiritual problems may blame God, their parents, the Church, life or others…”

A few lines down the page Fr. Groeschel discusses the steps that might be helpful in moving us toward a better life and cautions readers to seek out a spiritual director to assist in the process of recovery, conversion or whatever we care to call it.

Fr. Groeschel mentions in his books that he is “an honorary member of Alcoholics Anonymous.”  When we asked him about that he said, “I was not addicted to alcohol, but many spiritual people told me that Alcoholics Anonymous provided the most powerful spiritual renewal method of the twentieth century,” so I went to learn where the smart people were.

He also said, once we become sober, our spiritual life begins. “Alcoholics Anonymous is the beginning, not the end,” he told us.

Father Groeschel and many of my other favorite teachers have gone off to heaven now; and as I encounter more pain and suffering I still relish the joy and love of recovery — and how each of us can change a life for the better on our Spiritual Way.

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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!

“Introduction to the Devout Life,” By St. Francis de Sales

“Abandonment to Divine Providence” by de Caussade — the goal is total dependence upon God.

“Holy Spirit” by Edward Leen

Related:

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Books and published works by Father Benedict Groeschel:
  • God and Us, Daughters of St. Paul, 1982
  • Listening at Prayer, Paulist Press, 1984
  • Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development “for those who seek”, Crossroad, 1984
  • The Courage to be Chaste, Paulist Press, 1985. ISBN 978-0-8091-2705-4
  • Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones: Spiritual Answers to Psychological Questions, Paulist Press, 1988
  • Thy Will Be Done: A Spiritual Portrait of Terence Cardinal Cooke, Alba House, 1990
  • The Reform of Renewal, Ignatius Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-89870-286-6
  • A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations, Ignatius Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-89870-436-5
  • Healing the Original Wound: Reflections on the Full Meaning of Salvation, Servant, 1993
  • Heaven in Our Hands: Living the Beatitudes, Servant, 1994
  • Augustine: Major Writings (Crossroad Spiritual Legacy Series), Crossroad, 1995
  • Arise From Darkness: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, Ignatius Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-89870-525-6
  • In the Presence of Our Lord, Our Sunday Visitor, 1997
  • A Priest Forever: The Life of Eugene Hamilton, Our Sunday Visitor, 1998
  • Praying In The Presence Of Our Lord: Prayers For Eucharistic Adoration, Our Sunday Visitor, 1999
  • Quiet Moments: 120 Daily Readings, Servant, 2000
  • The Journey Toward God, Servant, 2000
  • The Cross at Ground Zero, Our Sunday Visitor, 2001
  • Behold, He Comes: Meditations on the Incarnation, Servant, 2001
  • From Scandal to Hope, Our Sunday Visitor, 2002
  • The King, Crucified And Risen: On The Passion And Glory Of Christ, Servant, 2002
  • Rosary: The Chain of Hope, Ignatius Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-89870-983-4
  • There Are No Accidents: In All Things Trust in God, Our Sunday Visitor, 2004
  • Praying To Our Lord Jesus Christ: Prayers and Meditations Through the Centuries, Ignatius Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-58617-041-7
  • A Drama of Reform, Ignatius Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1-58617-114-8
  • The Virtue Driven Life, Our Sunday Visitor, 2006
  • Praying with the Creed: Meditations from the Oratory, Our Sunday Visitor, 2007
  • Questions and Answers About Your Journey to God, Our Sunday Visitor, 2007
  • Everyday Encounters with God: What Our Experiences Teach Us about the Divine, Word Among Us, 2008
  • Experiencing the Mystery of Christ: Meditations from Oratory, Our Sunday Visitor, 2008
  • The Journey of Faith: How to Deepen Your Faith in God, Christ, and the Church, Our Sunday Visitor, 2009
  • Tears of God, Ignatius Press, 2009
  • After This Life: What Catholics Believe About What Happens Next, Our Sunday Visitor, 2009
  • Praying Constantly: Bringing Your Faith to Life, Our Sunday Visitor, 2010
  • Travelers Along the Way: The Men and Women Who Shaped My Life, Servant, 2010
  • I am with You Always, Ignatius Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1-58617-257-2
  • The Saints in My Life: My Favorite Spiritual Companions, Our Sunday Visitor, 2011
  • Jesus and Mary: In Praise of Their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, 2012

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, February 24, 2015 — The Power of Prayer

February 23, 2015

Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Lectionary: 225

Reading 1 Is 55:10-11

Thus says the LORD:
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm PS 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19

R. (18b) From all their distress God rescues the just.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
The LORD has eyes for the just,
and ears for their cry.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
R. From all their distress God rescues the just.

Verse Before the Gospel Mt 4:4b

One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Gospel Mt 6:7-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.“This is how you are to pray:Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.“If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
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Commentary on Matthew 6:7-15 from Living Space

Jesus tells us here not to babble endless prayers as if somehow by so doing we can bring God round to our way of thinking. (Read Elijah and the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:25-29.) Some religious groups, too, would keep calling their god by all his different names, hoping that by hitting on the right one he would listen. There is no need to do this because God knows our needs before we ask. Why then do we need to pray at all? The praying is not for God’s sake but for our own. It is important for us to become deeply aware of our needs and of our basic helplessness and total dependence on God. We also need to learn just what God wants of us so that we can do what he wants.

And that is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. Strictly speaking, it is not a prayer to be recited. It is a way of praying; it is a list of the things we need to pray about. And it is less our telling God what we want him to do than making ourselves aware of the ways by which we can become more united with him. It is a very challenging and, in a way, a very dangerous and daring prayer to make. So,

Our Father: God is the source of all our life and all we have and are. We say ‘our’ and that ‘our’ includes every single person. And, if God is the Father/Mother of every single person then each one of them, without even one exception, is my brother or sister.

Holy be your name,

Your Kingdom come,

Your will be done on earth as in heaven: The three petitions are really saying the same thing. Obviously, in one sense we cannot make God’s name more holy than it is. But we do need to respect that awesome holiness and that is more for our sake than God’s. The petition can also be a petition that God make his name holy by showing his glory, in this case by bringing about the Kingdom in its fullness.

We want God to be loved and respected and worshipped by all – not in some future life but here and now, on earth. We want the loving and compassionate Reign of God to be fully accepted by people everywhere as part of their lives, individually and corporately. We want God’s will for this world to be also the will of people everywhere.

Clearly, all this has to begin with ourselves. The coming of the Kingdom is not just the work of God alone; it is the result of us cooperating with him in the work. What am I doing in my life now for the realisation of that Kingdom?

Give us this day our daily bread: A prayer that our needs be satisfied for today. A prayer that rules out excessive anxiety about the future. But how are those needs to be satisfied? Do we expect manna to drop from the skies? And what about that little word ‘our’ again? Does it just mean me, my family, our community, our town, our country – or much more? Is this not a prayer that we all work together to ensure that no one goes hungry? Yet we know that millions do go to bed hungry every night and even more suffer from an unhealthy diet. And most of it is the result of human behaviour and neglect. This prayer reminds us that changing that situation is the responsibility of all of us. Another dangerous prayer.

Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us: This is another dangerous thing to pray for. I really should not say it unless I am ready. And, if I am not ready, I need to pray hard for a forgiving heart. This is the only petition which is spelled out more clearly at the end of this passage. “If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” (cf. Matt 18:21-35, about the unforgiving servant.)

Do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one: A final plea that we will not fail but that God’s help will be with us all the way. It is an admission of our basic impotence to set things right in our own lives and in the world. Given the challenges of the rest of the prayer, we need all the help we can get.

If this prayer were to really enter our heart and minds, we would become deeply transformed people. So let us stop babbling it as we often do and really pray it, phrase by phrase – and live it.

http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/L1013G/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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THE MYSTICAL DIMENSION OF THE LENTEN PROGRAM

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISA 55:10-11; MT 6:7-15
http://www.universalis.com/20150224/mass.htm

The readings in the first four days of Lent after Ash Wednesday throws up the main themes and focus of the Lenten program, namely, the Lenten program, the theme of new life, fasting and repentance.  Yesterday, the gospel picked up the theme of almsgiving, which is one of the pillars of the Lenten program.  But fasting and almsgiving, which we dealt with in the readings on the Friday after Ash Wednesday, are concerned with the ascetical dimension of the Lenten program. Today, the liturgy directs us to the mystical aspect of the Lenten orientation.  This is because a strong spiritual and prayer life is indispensable for genuine conversion, which is intrinsic to the renewal of our baptismal commitments.

For this goal to be experienced and lived, the liturgy gives us the basic elements of an effective spiritual and prayer life.  An authentic prayer life involves three elements, namely, listening to the Word of God attentively, praying with the mind and heart of Jesus, and removing all sins and obstacles in our lives by forgiving and seeking forgiveness. It must be noted that these three elements of spiritual life are intimately linked with each other that one cannot stand without the other.  They are mutually complementary to each other.

In the first place, there is no way to listen to the Word of God in an efficacious manner unless there is sincerity in seeking forgiveness in our hearts and the readiness to forgive others.  If our heart is full of resentment and bitterness and sin, we will not be open sufficiently to hear His Word because we fear that we might have to change and the Word would be too hard for us to accept.  So instead of accepting the Word of God in its full value, we try to rationalize and water down the truths presented to us by the Word.  We then deceive ourselves by reading the Word of God in such a way as to soothe our conscience but with no real intention to convert.  We avoid the difficult passages or try to explain them away so that the Word of God can fit into our lifestyles rather than we fit into the lifestyle offered to us by Jesus.  By manipulating the text to suit our convenience, we cannot expect any real reception to the new life given to us by Christ.   For this reason, forgiveness, which also implies the desire to remove all obstacles of sin, lies primarily in listening to the Word of God in its entirety without compromise.

However, even if we have heard the Word in its full meaning without any defenses and taken the Word of God as truth, it is still not effective unless we pray what we have heard.  If not, what we reflect on will remain in our heads and forgotten the moment we surface from our meditation.  Rather we must transform our thoughts and insights into earnest prayer, appropriating what we have heard into a sincere desire to change and to live out the challenges offered to us.  So unless the heart and the will appropriate the ideas, there can be no conversion as well.

Secondly, we are told in the gospel that effective prayer is intimately linked with the Word of God and forgiveness.  Unless we have heard the Word of God, we will not realize that God is divine providence and love.  Then we will pray like the pagans “for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.”  Rather, we are reminded that our heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask Him.  What is more essential, according to Jesus, is to pray with the mind of his Father. Necessarily, this requires us to pray in His name.

However, this presupposes that we have heard the Word of God.  If the first reading speaks about the efficacy of the Word of God in our lives, it is because it precludes that we have truly heard the Word not in our minds only but in our hearts.  This union with the will and mind of God is beautifully summed up in the Lord’s Prayer.  What is significant to note is that Jesus taught us to pray specifically for our daily bread, which is not just about our temporal needs but the bread which is the Word of God, the manna from heaven.  Thus, we must pray in such a way that our prayer expresses the Word of God itself.  Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer is called the Pattern of all prayers because it is a prayer that sums up the whole revelation of who God is for us and what He desires for us.  As such the Lord’s Prayer is an eschatological prayer for the coming of the Kingdom.  Hence, Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples as the motto by which they sustained their hope for the realization of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven.

From this perspective flows the implication of calling God our Father. For if we see God as our Father, then Jesus as our brother.  This means that we are brothers and sisters of the same Father.  That being the case, we must then live like brothers and sisters, forgiving each other in His name, just as He readily forgives us because we are His children.  If our Father forgives our fellow brothers and sisters who sinned against us, we who claim to love Him so totally would surely not want to sadden Him by continuing to hold grudges against one of His children. Hence, an authentic prayer must be truly a biblical and Christocentric prayer.

Hence, effective prayer presupposes that we forgive and pray with a good and clear conscience.  The failure to forgive will block our ability to pray effectively as our hearts and minds are close to God’s will.  This explains why Jesus remarked that “if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.” This must not be misunderstood as if the Father would not forgive our failings if we do not forgive others.  On the contrary, this is spoken from our perspective of God’s love and mercy.  The point is that if we do not forgive others, then we cannot receive God’s forgiveness since our hearts are too hardened to understand the mercy and love of God.

Thirdly, forgiveness is also linked to the Word of God and prayer.  It is impossible to remove the blocks in our lives unless we hear the Word. Only by hearing the Word, can we be enlightened and be convinced to at least see the logic and the benefits of forgiveness.  So hearing the Word presupposes forgiveness.  Without hearing the Word of God, we will never understand the love and mercy of God for us.  Only when we know that God loves us so much in Jesus, can we be inspired to forgive like Him.

But even if we are convinced of the truth of His love for us, we still will not be able to forgive unless we pray.  Only prayer can change the hearts and minds of man. Only in prayer, in our intimate relationship with the Lord, touched by His heart and love, can we find the strength to forgive.  Prayer therefore connects us with the heart of God, the hearts of man and our own brokenness.  Prayer is a perquisite to liberating ourselves from our slavery to our sins and passions.

The end result of listening to the Word, praying and forgiving is that we will experience the love and power of God working in our lives in a real and concrete way. We will be transformed in our relationship with God, towards others and ourselves. As we are transformed, so, too, will the situation around us change.  The unconditional love and power of God will be felt in our lives, bringing about positive effects on others.  As we become more like Christ, which is what Lent is all about; we will renew our lives in Christ by renewing our baptismal commitments.

Indeed, this would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision. Through him God avowed that “the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” Yes, we are transformed by the Word through effective prayer, the removal of all sins and obstacles in our lives.   This, then, is the mystical perspective of the Lenten program as it truly inserts us into the life of Christ, which is the paschal mystery.

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/reflections/#sthash.dl6niAjD.dpuf

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The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch

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The “Lord’s Prayer” and the “Sermon on the Mount” are perhaps the most universally recited sections of Jesus’s lessons for us.
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The Lord’s Prayer has been translated into every language on earth.
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My favorite after English?
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Vietnamese!
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Lạy Cha chúng con ở trên trời,
chúng con nguyện danh Cha cả sáng, nước Cha trị đến,
ý Cha thể hiện dưới đất cũng như trên trời.
Xin Cha cho chúng con hôm nay lương thực hằng ngày,
và tha nợ chúng con như chúng con cũng tha kẻ có nợ chúng con.
Xin chớ để chúng con sa chước cám dỗ,
nhưng cứu chúng con cho khỏi sự dữ.
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How about French?
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Notre Père qui es aux cieux,
que ton Nom soit sanctifié,
que ton règne vienne,
que ta volonté soit faite
sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd’hui notre pain de ce jour.
Pardonne-nous nos offenses,
comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés.
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
mais délivre-nous du mal.
[Car c’est à Toi qu’appartiennent
le règne, la puissance et la gloire,
pour les siècles des siècles.]
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The Lord’s Prayer in Tagalog

Ama namin, sumasalangit Ka

Sambahin ang ngalan Mo

Mapasaamin ang kaharian Mo

Sundin ang loob Mo

Dito sa lupa, para nang sa langit.

Bigyan Mo kami ngayon ng aming kakanin sa araw araw.

At patawarin Mo kami sa aming mga sala,

Para nang pagpapatawad namin

Sa mga nagkakasala sa amin.

At huwag Mo kaming ipahintulot sa tukso,

At iadya Mo kami sa lahat ng masama.

Sapagkat Iyo ang kaharian, at kapangyarihan,

At ang kadakilaan, magpakailanman. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer in English

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name

Thy kingdom come Thy will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Because Yours is the kingdom, the power,

And the glory  now and forever. Amen.

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The Lord’s Prayer in Mandarin Chinese:

Chinese characters for Lord's Prayer

http://www.pinyin.info/romanization/murray/prayer.html

Other languages:
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Father Robert Barron says, “Jesus Christ was either the most important person ever to walk on the face of the earth or he was a liar and a fraud.”
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Fr. Robert Barron
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So there’s our choice.
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And for me I would have to deny all the apostles and all the followers of Jesus throughout the history of man to not believe in Jesus.
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I would have to say that Michelangelo was insane, Thomas Aquinas was a fool, and all the saints, and popes, and all the followers ever were just flat wrong.
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I would have to declare, if I choose not to follow Christ, that I am smarter and better informed that John the Baptist, John the Apostle, and the Apostle Thomas who traveled all the way to what is now India to spread the Word of God after Jesus Rose From The Dead.
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I can’t do that.
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Jesus’ impact on man, on mankind, is so profound that he cannot be denied — even in this “all knowing” Internet and technology Age.
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Jesus is not just the main thing. He is the only things.
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Jesus is our  Raison d’être.
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I can either be a follower with conviction or face conviction and hell after the Court of Real Justice in Heaven!
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No. I have faced conviction and hell already.
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I choose life and conviction to Jesus and His Father — with the help and intercession of the Holy Spirit.
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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….”

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Hey Look: John’s on Facebook! —  https://www.facebook.com/john.carey.39982

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Thomas Merton

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic.

“I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he thought maybe he wanted to be a good Catholic.

Lax stopped him in his tracks.

“What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!”

Merton was dumbfounded.

“How do you expect me to become a saint?,” Merton asked him.

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”…

Thomas Merton knew his friend was right.

Merton, of course, would go on to become one of the great spiritual thinkers and writers of the last century.

His friend Bob Lax would later convert to Catholicism himself — and begin his own journey to try and be a saint.

But the words Lax spoke ring down through the decades to all of us today. Because they speak so simply and profoundly to our calling as Catholic Christians.

 

Thomas Merton said: You should want to be a saint.

You should want to be a saint. And to be one, all you need is to want to be one.

Of course, if you only want to be a run-of-the-mill, average Christian, that’s probably all you’ll ever be. Every one can do just enough to get by. It’s not hard.

But many of us are challenged to do more….

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Sometimes people say they had a terrible father so they cannot relate to “God the Father” or the “Our Father.” Scott Hahn addresses this difficulty in his book “Understanding Our Father” which is also a good read for fathers of every age.

Sometimes Catholics say they left the Church because of the priest sexual abuse of children scandal. I like to ask them, if some doctors were accuses of malpractice, would you never again go to a doctor? Would you never again go into a hospital?

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Want to “Jump Start” your Christian life? Here’s a book that has done just that for millions of people…..

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Another way to “Jump Start” your faith:

DVD “Catholicism” set by Fr. Robert Barron

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Related:

There are many wonderful stories about Francis of Assisi. If we can all strive to be like him just a little bit; and a little bit more each day; we can change the world…..

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.
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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:
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File:Cigoli, san francesco.jpg

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Francis considered his stigmata part of the imitation of Christ.

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

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

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http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1653

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The Imitation of Christ is one of the most widely read books in the world, after the Bible. It was written by a 15th century monk named Thomas A. Kempis. Anyone looking to increase their spirituality and to get closer to Jesus would be well advised to study and read this great book, which is available for free on line. It is a great idea to purchase a copy of this book also, to take with you to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Spiritual reading is one thing that is recommended by a lot of saints to overcome the unholy trinity of the flesh, the devil, and the world. It is broken down in to 4 sub books, with many great chapters in each one. And the really good news is that it is very easy to read, and it will change your life in ways unimaginable.

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, November 9, 2014 — “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

November 8, 2014

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Lateran Basilica in Rome

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Lectionary: 671

Reading 1 ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12

The angel brought me
back to the entrance of the temple,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the façade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the southern side of the temple,
south of the altar.
He led me outside by the north gate,
and around to the outer gate facing the east,
where I saw water trickling from the southern side.
He said to me,
“This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.”
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Responsorial Psalm ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9

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R. (5) The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!
God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Therefore, we fear not, though the earth be shaken
and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea.
R. The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!
There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.
R. The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!
The LORD of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! behold the deeds of the LORD,
the astounding things he has wrought on earth.
R. The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!

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Reading 2 1 cor 3:9c-11, 16-17

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Brothers and sisters:
You are God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me,
like a wise master builder I laid a foundation,
and another is building upon it.
But each one must be careful how he builds upon it,
for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there,
namely, Jesus Christ.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple,
God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.

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Gospel jn 2:13-22

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Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money-changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money-changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his Body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.
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First Thought from Peace and Freedom
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For anyone with a special interest in “The body is the temple of the Lord” we recommend Fr. Edward Leen’s Book “Holy Spirit” to believers, non-believers, and doubters alike!
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Related:
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Homily from the Abbot

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

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Just as last Sunday, the celebration of All Souls took precedence over the Sunday liturgy, so today the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, takes precedence over this normal Sunday liturgy. The reason is that the dedication of the Lateran Basilica is a Feast of our Lord. It is not about Saint John the Baptist but about a Church dedicated to God in which we celebrate Jesus Christ Himself. Every dedication of a Church is about Jesus Christ and about worhship in spirit and in truth.

This Basilica in Rome has been considered the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Cathedral of the Pope. Actually, today, all of the four great basilicas of Rome are considered more or less Cathedrals of the Pope. Historically, however, this was the first so considered and so has a special place in the liturgy of the whole Church throughout the world.

We have to be honest and say that today’s celebration is also about the role of the Bishop of Rome in the life of the Church. This is not about power, but about service. Yet we all know that the reality of service is that it can turn into power. Thus we can pray in the liturgy today for the service in charity of the Bishop of Rome to the other bishops and to the universal Church.

If we look at the readings in terms of Church and the service of the Bishop of Rome, our Pope, we can see in the first reading, from the Prophet Ezekiel, a reflection of what the Church and the service of the Pope are supposed to be: the water of life flowing out from God and giving life to all that it touches. This is the ideal and it is rarely completely reached. Yet we have seen so many holy Popes in the last one hundred years that we can understand that the role of the Pope and the role of the Church is to give us life.

The second reading today, from the First Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us that we are the Church, the temple of God. We are not the Church all by ourselves in some exclusive way. Each of us is the Church and yet together we are the Church. Each of us is a temple of God and together we are God’s people.

Finally, in the Gospel today, from Saint John, we understand how the body of Christ points to resurrection, for Him and for us. We are to recognize in all of this the hand of God: Jesus dies for us and we must die for one another. This is the Church and this is why we celebrate the dedication of a Church. The Bishop of Rome, our Pope, can lead us to walk with Christ–but we ust be the ones who walk.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites

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Reflection

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• Context. Our passage contains a clear and unmistakable teaching of Jesus in the Temple. Previously John the Baptist had given witness of Jesus saying that He was the Messiah (1, 29); the first disciples, on the indication of the Baptist, have recognized him as the Lamb of God, a quality of the Messiah: to inaugurate a new Passover and covenant, to bring about the definitive liberation of man (Jn 1, 35-51); in Cana, Jesus works a first sign to show his glory (Jn 2, 1-12): the glory becomes visible, it can be contemplated, therefore, it manifests itself. It is the glory of the Father present in the person of Jesus and which manifests itself at the beginning of his activity, in this way, anticipating his “hour” (17, 1).

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In what way is his glory manifested? God restores gratuitously with man a new relationship; he unites him intimately to him giving him the capacity to love like He loves, through the Spirit who purifies the heart of man and makes him son of God. But, it is necessary to recognize the immutable love of God, manifested in Jesus, responding with faith, with a personal adherence.

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• Jesus and the Temple. Now Jesus is in Jerusalem, in the Temple fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi (Ml 3, 1-3), he proclaims himself Messiah. Such a presence of Jesus is above all his teaching that produces tension. Now, the reader understands how the great disputes with the Jews always take place in the Temple; in this place Jesus pronounces his substantial denunciations; his task is to lead the people outside the Temple (2, 15; 10, 4). In last instance Jesus was condemned because he represented a danger for the Temple and for the people.

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Jesus goes to Jerusalem on the occasion of the Passover of the Jews: it is clamorous to manifest himself in public and to reveal to all that he is the Messiah. During that feast Jerusalem is full of pilgrims who have come from all parts and therefore his actions would have had a great effect in the whole of Palestine.

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When he arrived in Jerusalem he immediately is seen in the Temple where there are a number of people selling cattle, sheep and doves and the money changers sitting there. The encounter in the Temple is not with persons who seek God but dealers of the sacred: the amount paid to be able to open a stand to be able to sell was given to the high priest. Jesus chooses this occasion (the Passover) this place (the Temple) to give a sign.

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He takes a whip, an instrument which was a symbol of the Messiah who punishes vices and evil practices, and he drives out everybody from the Temple, together with the cattle and sheep. Worthy to be noted is his act against those selling the doves (v. 15). The dove was an animal used for the propitiatory holocausts (Lv 9, 14-17), in the sacrifices of expiation and of purification (Lv 12, 8; 15, 14.29), especially if those who offered it were poor (Lv 5, 7; 14, 22. 30ff). The sellers, those who sold the doves, that is to say, sold reconciliation with God for money.

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• The house of my Father. The expression wants to indicate that Jesus in his actions behaves as a Son. He represents the Father in the world. They have transformed the worship of God into a market, a place for trading. The Temple is no longer the place of encounter with God, but a market where the presence of money is in force. Worship has become the pretext to gain more. Jesus attacks the central institution of Israel, the temple: the symbol of the people and of the election. He denounces that the Temple has been deprived of its historical function: to be the sign of the dwelling of God in the midst of his people. The first reaction to Jesus’ action comes from the disciples who associate this to Psalm 69, 10: “I am eaten up with zeal for your house”.

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The second reaction comes from the high priests who respond in the name of those selling in the Temple: “What sign can you show us that you should act like this?” (v.18). They have asked him for a sign; he gives them that of his death: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). Jesus is the Temple that assures of the presence of God in the world, the presence of his love; the death on the cross will make of him the only and definite Temple of God. The Temple constructed by the hands of man has fallen into decay; Jesus will be the one to substitute it, because He is now the presence of God in the world; the Father is present in Him.

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Personal questions
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• Have you understood that the sign of love of God for you is no longer the temple but a Person: Jesus crucified?
• Do you not know that this sign is turned to you personally to bring about your definitive liberation?
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Concluding Prayer
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God is both refuge and strength for us,
a help always ready in trouble;
so we shall not be afraid though the earth be in turmoil,
though mountains tumble into the depths of the sea. (Ps 46,1-2)
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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IMITATING AND FINDING INSPIRATION FROM MOTHER CHURCH TO BE LIFE-GIVING

SCRIPTURE READINGS: EZ 47:1-2.8-9, 12; 1 COR 3:9-11, 16-17; JN 2:13-22
http://www.universalis.com/20141109/mass.htm

Why does the liturgy celebrate the dedication of a building, albeit a Basilica?  The Basilica of course is more than a mere building.  It is a special place where the Spirit of God lives.  The first reading speaks of the Temple as the place where the water flows “from under the right side of the Temple”, the symbol of the Holy Spirit that nurtures the Church, bringing life to wherever the water flows.  As the prophet said, “all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows … because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.”  The psalmist affirms this when he says, “The waters of the river gladden the city of God, the holy dwelling of the Most High!”

Beyond the fact that the Church is the New Temple of God, St John Lateran Basilica, being the Cathedral of the Holy Father, is regarded as the mother of all Churches.  It is appropriate that all particular churches in the world who are in union with the One Holy Catholic Church founded by Christ, express their union with the Holy Father, who is the Bishop of Rome and the Vicar of Christ of the Universal Church, by celebrating this feast of the dedication of St John Lateran.  By doing so, we not only celebrate our unity but also demonstrate our love for mother Church and we look to her for direction in matters of morals and doctrines.

What is the primary role of a mother if not to give life to her children and to nurture that life?  A mother gives birth to a child and then continues to nurture this life by love and education.  The Church too is called to give birth to the children of God and to nurture the life of the faithful.  The Church is therefore both mother and children making up the Body of Christ.  This is what St Paul tells us in the second reading.  “You are God’s building. By the grace God gave me, I succeeded as an architect and laid the foundations, on which someone else is doing the building.”  And again he reiterates that the Church is more than a building, “Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.”

How does she do it?  Principally, through the sacraments and the proclamation of the Word of God; through baptism, she gives rebirth to those who were given physical life; through the Eucharist, she incorporates us into Christ and His body, the Church, and through Confirmation we are bestowed the gifts of the Holy Spirit to live a life of holiness and witnessing in the world.  Through the priestly, prophetic and kingly role of the ministerial priesthood, the common priesthood of the people of God are led to the Lord through worship, knowledge of the Word proclaimed in scripture and tradition and united under the bishop and his priests acting in persona Christi capitis, that is, in the person of Christ the head of the Church.

Obviously, the efficacy of the sacraments and the ministerial priesthood is brought about by the grace that comes from the Holy Spirit, without which the sacraments are mere rituals, the Church a mere human institution, and the teaching mere human philosophy.  In this way, the Church, as mother, strengthens the members who, by living the life of Christ, are infused with the grace of the Holy Spirit and become the Temple of the Living God in the world.

Consequently, as we celebrate this feast of St John Lateran, we must not forget that the Church does not exist for herself but for the sake of the world.  Being Church is to be a sacrament of unity and love in the world.  We are not called to form ourselves into an exclusive group but for mission in the world, according to the culture and situations we live in.  As the Temple of the Living God, as the Temple of the Holy Spirit, our task as members of the royal priesthood sharing in Christ’s prophetic and kingly office, is to make His presence felt and known, directly or indirectly through our words and deeds.  Like the water in the Temple of Jerusalem which flows out from the Temple “east down to the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it makes its waters wholesome”, we who are filled with the Holy Spirit, too, must bring the love and the light of Christ to the world, so that all cultures, societies and human values are Christified and purified by the gospel.

How can we be truly His Church and His Body in the world unless we begin by purifying ourselves?  This was why Jesus came.  In the gospel, we see Him purifying the Temple by driving out the merchants.  “Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money-changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market’.”  St John commented further, “Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: ‘Zeal for your house will devour me.’”

If we wish to acquire the same zeal for the House of God and for the conversion of the world, let us not forget to purify our own house, especially of sin, and cut off the dead branches even as we go out to witness Christ in the world.  We must grow in holiness and grace.  The light of Christ cannot shine through us when we allow sin, especially that of self-centeredness expressed in greed, power and ambition to take control of our lives.  Indeed, Jesus warned us, “If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.”  Let us not forget that we have been consecrated to God at baptism.  The failure to realize this will cause our own perdition.  It is therefore important that we be faithful to the sacraments, especially of reconciliation and the Eucharist, as well as a fervent prayer life founded on the Word of God.

Through such means as these provided by our mother Church, we will renew our zeal for the house of God. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.  I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”  And even when we face opposition from our foes, within and without, as we seek to spread the Good News or in trying to live a holy life, we need not fear, for like Jesus, we know that God is with us.  Like the psalmist, we can pray with confidence for “God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress. Therefore, we fear not, though the earth be shaken and mountains plunge into the depths of the sea. God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed; God will help it at the break of dawn. The Lord of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob.”

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/09-november-2014-sunday-the-dedication-of-the-lateran-bascilica/#sthash.puhVXQBW.dpuf

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From Peace and Freedom and  “The Anawim Way: Liturgical Meditations”
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There is a story from the days of St. Francis of Assisi that illustrates the importance of the Lateran basilica. One night in the year 1210, Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw the ancient Lateran basilica on the verge of collapse. Then a poor beggar came and set his back against the wall of the church to prop it up, thus saving it from falling. When St. Francis of Assisi came to Rome to seek approval for his new community of “little brother,” the pope recognized him as the man he had seen in his dream. He understood that Francis was called by God to strengthen the Church by his dedication to Christ and his joyful witness to poverty of spirit. The pope immediately gave his personal approval to the Franciscan order, overriding the objections of his advisors.
It became clear that in the dream the church building represents the whole Church. Today’s feast, then, is much more than a historical commemoration of the dedication  of an ancient building. It is a celebration of the Church itself, which is often compared to a building. “This edifice [the Church] has many names to describe it: the house of God in which dwells the family; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling place of God among men; and especially, the holy temple…. Living stones here on earth are built into it.” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 6)
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FEAST OF THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA IN ROME
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Whenever the ninth of November falls on a Sunday, many are surprised to learn that the regular Mass has been replaced by the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome, and therefore the Pope’s cathedral. The foundation of the Lateran basilica goes back to the time of Constantine, the Emperor of Rome. The palace of the Laterani on the Coelian Hill belonged then to Constantine’s wife Fausta. After Constantine’s conversion he gave it to the Pope as his private residence and founded the church of the Lateran which became the mother of all the churches of Rome and the world. It was dedicated to Christ our Savior by Pope St. Sylvester on November 9, 324. In the twelfth century it was given as its second title St. John the Baptist whose name was also that of the ancient baptistery connected with the church; hence the present name of the basilica, St. John Lateran. Twelve councils have been assembled in the basilica and palace of the Lateran, four of which were ecumenical, the first in 649, the last in 1512.

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, September 5, 2014 — In God’s will is our peace

September 4, 2014

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St. Ignatius of Loyola

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 435

Reading 1 1 cor 4:1-5

Brothers and sisters:
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Now it is of course required of stewards
that they be found trustworthy.
It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself;
I am not conscious of anything against me,
but I do not thereby stand acquitted;
the one who judges me is the Lord.
Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time,
until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God.
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Responsorial Psalm ps 37:3-4, 5-6, 27-28, 39-40

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R. (39a) The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Trust in the LORD and do good,
that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security.
Take delight in the LORD,
and he will grant you your heart’s requests.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Commit to the LORD your way;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will make justice dawn for you like the light;
bright as the noonday shall be your vindication.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
Turn from evil and do good,
that you may abide forever;
For the LORD loves what is right,
and forsakes not his faithful ones.
Criminals are destroyed
and the posterity of the wicked is cut off.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
The salvation of the just is from the LORD;
he is their refuge in time of distress.
And the LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
R. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.
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Gospel lk 5:33-39

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The scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
“The disciples of John the Baptist fast often and offer prayers,
and the disciples of the Pharisees do the same;
but yours eat and drink.”
Jesus answered them, “Can you make the wedding guests fast
while the bridegroom is with them?
But the days will come, and when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
then they will fast in those days.”
And he also told them a parable.
“No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one.
Otherwise, he will tear the new
and the piece from it will not match the old cloak.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins,
and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined.
Rather, new wine must be poured into fresh wineskins.
And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, ‘The old is good.’”
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Man with Wineskin by Niko Pirosmani.
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection
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• In today’s Gospel we witness closely a conflict between Jesus and the religious authority of the time, the Scribes and the Pharisees (Lk 5, 3). This time the conflict is concerning the practice of fasting. Luke narrates diverse conflicts concerning the religious practice of the time: forgiveness of sins (Lk 5, 21-25), to eat with sinners (Lk 5, 29-32), fasting (Lk 5, 33-36), and two conflicts on the observance of Saturday, the Sabbath (Lk 6, 1-5 and Lk 6, 6-11).
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• Luke 5, 33: Jesus does not insist on the practice of fasting. The conflict here is concerning the practice of fasting. Fasting is a very ancient use, practiced by almost all religions. Jesus Himself followed it during forty days (Mt 4, 2). But he does not insist with the disciples that they do the same. He leaves them free. This is why, the disciples of John the Baptist and of the Pharisees, who were obliged to fast, want to know why Jesus does not insist on fasting.
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• Luke 5, 34-35: When the bridegroom is with them they are not obliged to fast. Jesus responds with a comparison. When the bridegroom is with the friends of the bridegroom, that is, during the wedding feast, they should not fast. Jesus considers himself the bridegroom. During the time when Jesus is with the disciples, it is the wedding feast. One day will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then if they wish they can fast. Jesus refers to his death. He knows and he is aware that if he wants to continue along this path of liberty, the authority will want to kill him.
Several times, in the Old Testament, God presents himself as the bridegroom of the people (Is 49, 15; 54, 5.8; 62, 4-5; Os 2, 16-25). In the New Testament, Jesus is considered the bridegroom of his people (Ep 5, 25). The Apocalypses speaks of the celebration of the marriage of the Lamb with his spouse, the Heavenly Jerusalem (Rv 19, 7-8; 21, 2.9).
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• Luke 5, 36-39: New Wine in new skins! These words pronounced concerning the new piece of cloth on an old cloak and about new wine in old skins should be understood like a light which gives clarity on diverse conflicts, narrated by Luke, first and after the discussions concerning fasting. They clarify the attitude of Jesus concerning all the conflicts with the religious authority. Today, these would be conflicts such as: marriage between divorced persons, friendship with prostitutes and homosexuals, to receive communion without being married by the Church, not to go to Mass on Sunday, not to fast on Good Friday, etc.
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A piece of new cloth is not sewed on an old cloak; because when it is washed the new piece of cloth shrinks and tears the old cloak more. Nobody puts new wine in old skins, because the new wine when it is fermented makes the old skins burst. New wine in new skins! The religion diffused by the religious authority was like an old cloak, like an old skin. It is not necessary to want to combine the novelty brought by Jesus with old customs or uses. Either one or the other! The new wine which Jesus brings bursts the old skins. It is necessary to know how to separate both of these things. Very probably, Luke gives these words of Jesus to orientate the communities of the years 80. There was a group of Christian Jews who wanted to reduce the novelty of Jesus to the Judaism of the beginning. Jesus is not against what is “ancient”. But he does not want the ancient to be imposed on the new, preventing it from manifesting itself. It would be as if the Catholic Church reduced the message of Vatican Council II to the Church before the Council, like many persons today seem to want to do it.
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Personal questions
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• Which are the conflicts about religious practices which cause suffering to persons today and are the cause of much discussion and polemics? Which is the subjacent image of God in all these preconceptions, norms and prohibitions?
• How can we understand today the phrase of Jesus: “do not put a new piece of cloth on an old cloak? Which is the message which you can draw from this for your life and for the life of the community?
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Concluding Prayer
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Commit your destiny to Yahweh,
be confident in him, and he will act,
making your uprightness clear as daylight,
and the justice of your cause as the noon. (Ps 37,5-6)
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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The Inadequacy of Human Judgement
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In today’s reading, St Paul warns the Corinthians not to rely too much on their human judgment.  Why?  Because God’s judgement is very different from our judgement of others and of ourselves.  And even if our judgement is made in good faith, that is, when our conscience does not reproach us, it does not mean that we are right in our judgement.  This is what St Paul meant when he said, “I will not even pass judgement on myself.  True, my conscience does not reproach me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge.“ Why is it that we cannot truly pass judgment on ourselves or of others, no matter how objective we try to be? The fact is that our thoughts, desires and judgements are all greatly influenced by our past history, relationships and experiences.  They have sunk into our sub-conscious and coloured the way we look at ourselves, other people and events, so much so that we often see only what we want to see, and see things not as they are but as we are.

This was what happened to the scribes and Pharisees.  They saw that Jesus was not fasting and judged Him to be wrong, because for them, a person could attain justification in the sight of God only by fulfilling the law and doing ‘good works’, which includes fasting. But if conformity to the law is not accompanied by motives of love and obedience towards God, it will result in legalism.  A purely outward observance of the law is no observance at all.  This, they failed to see.  Consequently, their criticism of Jesus was based on the old attitude in which they had been conditioned, which was legalistic, self-righteous and judgmental too.

Jesus’ retort was that those who were accustomed to the old perspective would not accept His new paradigm of looking at the observance of the laws of Moses.  And His new outlook is disclosed in His teaching, that interior disposition is the decisive factor in moral action, and this entails good intention, love of God and love of neighbour.  Hence, according to Jesus, fasting and formal prayer should be done with sincere and godly motives, not merely for the sake of ostentation; otherwise these will gain no merit in God’s sight.  In other words, we must be authentic in our actions.  Indeed, many of us fast, but for the wrong reasons, e.g. for vanity or health reasons, or to let others know how disciplined we are, etc.  We must fast only for the love of God and for others.  Hence, we do not fast when the bridegroom is with us.  

What can we learn from today’s scripture readings?  Firstly, we must be careful in passing judgement on other people’s intentions; only God is entitled to judge each person’s intentions.   Just from external observation alone, one cannot conclude what is in the heart of the person.  Of course, this does not mean that we cannot judge external actions.  If we do, we need to bear in mind that the basis of our judgement is derived from what is right and wrong from the perspective of the law.  But with regard to the interior motive of the person, only God can judge.  At most such external facts are indicators of the person’s disposition.  As such, St Paul advises us that “There must be no passing of premature judgement.  Leave that until the Lord comes: he will light up all that is hidden in the dark and reveal the secret intentions of men’s hearts.”

Secondly, we must admit that we are indeed prejudiced by our past, and this cannot be helped. Thus, our judgement of others is often lob-sided.  Only by realizing this, can we pay more attention to the views of others, or try to find view-points different from our own.   So instead of imposing our views on others, we need to be receptive of other views as well, especially by listening to the person himself.  Before we conclude and make sweeping judgements that destroy others, we must be charitable and give the others the benefit of the doubt and to try to understand where that they are coming from.  Most people have their reasons for doing what they do.  We might not agree with the method, but it is another thing to cast aspersions on their motives.

Thirdly, we need to face up to our secret intentions.  Unconsciously, we may be seeking honour from others, just like the early Church leaders, while seemingly working for God.  Awareness of our interior intentions is an important element of our spiritual discernment in our daily life.  This is why the regular examen of our consciousness is important, especially with respect to the fruits of the Spirit.  This will help us purify the motives in our actions.

Truly, if there is only one reason why we should not judge at all, it is simply because our judgement is a world of difference from God’s, not only with respect to our inability to see the intention, but in terms of compassion.  God understands each one of us more than we understand ourselves.  He knows how much we struggle to be faithful to Him, and how we must abhor our lack of integrity in our lives.  Certainly we know, as Jesus reminds us, that ‘No one tears a piece from a new cloak to put it on an old cloak; if he does, not only will he have torn the new one, but the piece taken from the new will not match the old. And nobody puts new wine into old skins; if he does, the new wine will burst the skins and then run out, and the skins will be lost.”  Yes, we know all these, but yet, because of human weakness we succumb to the old Adam in us.

Thus it is important to remember and to take refuge in the Lord, for the Lord is more compassionate to us than we on ourselves.  That is what the psalmist says, “The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.”  Indeed, holiness and salvation is not the work of man alone but the work of God.  Without the grace of God, we cannot live an integral and holistic life.  Yes, the psalmist declares, “he is their refuge in time of distress. And the Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”  So let us “Trust in the Lord and do good, that you may dwell in the land and be fed in security. Take delight in the Lord.”

Most of all, we need to pray for a greater openness to the truth, to be able to see life through the eyes of Jesus.  We pray for the courage to abandon our preconceived ideas and pre-judgements, so that we can see life through the perspective of Jesus.  We must not say with the Pharisees, “the old wine is better.”  Clinging to one’s past can hardly sustain one’s life in Jesus.  An inner transformation is required of the heart if we are to prepare ourselves anew to receive God.  We must make ourselves as new wineskins for God to pour His new wine – a wine that can bring vitality and freshness.

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/05-september-2014-friday-22nd-week-in-ordinary-time/#sthash.L863t63F.dpuf

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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In my own spiritual journey, we’ve seen over and over again the paramount importance of keeping focused on what is most important in life. To this end we start each day with this simple prayer:
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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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As illness comes to us  — illness that is life threatening in me now — we are reminded that the greatest saints like St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of “Holy Indifference.”
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To me this means: I am here to know, love and serve God and to make my way to heaven. Ignatius explains much better than this poor soul ever could:
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IGNATIAN “HOLY INDIFFERENCE”
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From “Father Broom’s Blog”
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What is your philosophy of life?  We all have one even though we may not be aware of it! These key words express the “Philosophy” of life of many:  Materialism, Hedonism, Agnosticism,  Atheism, and Moral Relativism.

In his consideration at that start of the Spiritual Exercises ( # 23)  known as “Principle and Foundation”, St. Ignatius expresses clearly a philosophy of life in the first sentence:  “Man is created to praise God, reverence God, serve God and by means of that to save his soul…”  Put concisely, man’s existence must praise and glorify His Creator and culminate in the salvation of his immortal soul for all eternity.

The last part of Principle and Foundation has been termed classically as “Ignatian Holy Indifference”.   By “Indifference” Ignatius does not mean apathy, a “who cares”, “I don’t give a darn”, “whatever…” attitude or interior disposition. On the contrary, “Holy Indifference” really means a total openness to the will of God in one’s life.  In other words, whatever God wills for me, I will strive with all of the energy of my will and the proposition in my intellect to conform my will to His Almighty will.   As the poet Dante expressed it: “In God’s will is our peace.”

With respect to Ignatian Holy Indifference, St Ignatius divides it into four separate categories.  “Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition.  Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short. The same holds for all other things.” (Spiritual Exercises # 23)

To arrive at this lofty spiritual disposition requires extraordinary grace, limitless patience, as well as firm purpose and determination of the will. However, if understood, willed and assumed as an interior disposition of mind and will, the fruits of striving for “Holy Indifference” in one’s life are innumerable! Among the most important blessings is that of peace of mind, heart, soul, and an unreserved trust in God’s loving and constant guiding Divine Providence. As St. Paul reminds us, “If God is with us who can be against us.” Jesus Himself calls us to trust with the comforting words: “My Father has you in the palm of His hand and nobody can snatch you from His hand.” Let us offer a few examples of Holy Indifference taken from those who strived to live it out best— the saints!

St. Alberto Hurtado joyfully works with the youth

First category: “Not to prefer health over sickness.”  A modern saint, a Jesuit Chilean priest, SAINT ALBERTO HURTADO. Involved in a whirlwind of activity—Catholic action, retreats to young, vocational presentations, radio-ministry and an apostolate designed to help the poor of Chile, in his early 50s he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When the news was brought to him by his Vice-Provincial as he lay suffering in a hospital bed, his response was, “Contento Señor Contento!!!”  (Content Lord, content!!!!) “Now I will have time to prepare myself to meet my Maker!”   Saint Alberto did not despise life; rather he loved life and lived it to the fullest!  Through Holy Indifference he recognized God’s will clearly. If indeed his life was given to him by God as a gift, then God had a right to take his life when He best deemed fit. Now he is SAINT ALBERTO HURTADO living forever with God in heaven!

Blessed Jacinta Marto, Lucia de los Santos and Blessed Francisco Marto

Second category: “Not to prefer long life over short.”  BLESSED FRANCISCO MARTO.   He was one of the three shepherd children that Our Lady of Fatima appeared to from May 13, 1917 until October 13, 1917. Once Our Lady of Fatima made the announcement that both he and his sister Jacinta would soon die, little Francisco rejoiced!  The reason for his rejoicing was this interior attitude of Holy Indifference.  The abundant joy that overflowed from his little heart was motivated by his faith in God and ardent yearning to be with Our Lady of Fatima and Jesus in heaven forever. Indeed not long after Our Lady of Fatima’s apparitions both Francisco and his sister Jacinta died and were taken to heaven. They were both Beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II, among the youngest saints in the Church Calendar! This attitude of Holy Indifference teaches us that what is important is not a long life, but a holy life. (Imitation of Christ, Thomas Kempis).

St. Francis of Assisi embracing the leper

Third category: “Not to prefer riches over poverty.” One of the common hallmarks of the saints is a detachment from wealth as well as material possessions in general.  Religious, both men and women, make a vow of Poverty. Among the many saints that lived out intensely and authentically the attitude of holy indifference with respect to poverty was SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI.  Being bred, brought up and raised by a father who was a wealthy clothes-merchant, as a youth Francis felt drawn to vanity and luxurious dress, the party-life and worldliness. Once converted, Francis gave up all he had and even had to cut ties with his father and with a total confidence in God said, “From now on I will say only Our Father who art in heaven..”  The final proof of this detachment and total embracing of holy indifference was the famous encounter he had with the leper in rags and Francis still in his elegant clothes. Overcoming himself, Francis returned to the leper and exchanged his elegant and expensive clothes for the rags of the leper. From that moment on Francis lived out to the fullest extent Ignatian Holy Indifference renouncing all attachments to riches to embrace what he termed, “Lady Poverty”—the wife that he would be espoused to the rest of his life!

Fourth category:  “Not to prefer honors over dishonors.”   Humility indeed is a very difficult virtue to acquire in life. Once we think we have it, circumstances in life quickly prove the contrary! Nonetheless, the royal path to arrive at humility is through the narrow and difficult path of humiliations. Indeed humiliations humble us. Once again we find ourselves in the schema of Holy Indifference.

The Mystical Doctor, St. John of the Cross +

SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS.  With Saint Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross was called to the exceedingly difficult task to reform a decadent, declining and worldly state of affairs in the Religious life—specifically the Carmelite Order. Neither the men nor the women took a liking to someone rocking their comfortable boat of complacency!  God chose these two saints to disrupt their comfortable status quo!

The anger which led to fury leveled against Saint John of the Cross was so intense that violent persecutions descended upon the saint like an unending tempest!   John was kidnapped, locked in a small cell in a Carmelite convent. He was scourged, deprived of saying Holy Mass, barely given enough food to eat so as to survive, nor even a bath to take for hygiene purposes. Through Our Lady’s intercession St John escaped.

After all of this unjust abuse both verbal, physical, mental and spiritual, the great mystical doctor of the Church Saint John of the Cross, never uttered an unkind word against any of those who plotted and carried out against his person such unjust and uncharitable actions!

At the end of his life he was asked where he would like to end his days— in a convent where he would be loved and appreciated to end his days or in the convent of a Superior that detested him. St John of the Cross preferred the latter so as to conform his life more and more to the passion, suffering and humiliations of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ.

In conclusion Principle and Foundation teaches us who God is, where we come from, where we are heading and how to get there. An essential component of Principle and Foundation is “Ignatian Holy Indifference”.   A key means to attaining Holy Indifference is a constant and dynamic prayer life, which leads to a total confidence in God, which is translated and manifested in a total willingness to give one’s whole self to God as a sacrifice, offering and oblation.

Jesus in the Garden conforming His will to “Abba” Father

Of course Jesus is our Way, Truth and Life and best example. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus battled with this Holy Indifference in His human nature and conquered with these words of total and absolute Holy Indifference— conformity to the will of the Heavenly Father.  “Father if it is possible, remove this chalice from me; however, not my will but yours be done.” (Mt. 26:39)

Mary’s “yes” to God’s will brought us the Savior.

May Our Lady’s “Fiat” (total and willing consent to God) motivate all of us to strive to understand, pray over and embrace “Holy Indifference” in our lives.  “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your will.” (Lk. 1: 38) In God’s will is our peace. (Dante)

http://fredbroom.blogspot.com/2013/03/ignatian-holy-indifference.html

Pope Francis (left) and St. Francis of Assisi

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Good Friday Homily at St. Peter’s Basilica: Judas’ story “should move us to surrender” to Christ

April 19, 2014

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Pope Francis lays prostrate on the floor in prayer before presiding over a Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April  18, 2014. Photo: Stefano Rellandini, AP / Reuters Pool

Pope Francis lays prostrate on the floor in prayer before presiding over a Good Friday Passion service, in St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, Friday, April 18, 2014. Photo: Stefano Rellandini, AP

Catholic World News – April 18, 2014

Pope Francis presided at the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord at St. Peter’s Basilica on Good Friday. As is customary, the preacher of the Papal Household, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preached the Good Friday homily.

“In the divine-human history of the passion of Jesus, there are many minor stories about men and women who entered into the ray of its light or its shadow,” he began. “The most tragic one is that of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the few events attested with equal emphasis by each of the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The early Christian community reflected a great deal on this incident and we would be remiss to do otherwise. It has much to tell us.”

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis presided the celebration of the Passion of Our Lord in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Friday evening. The celebration of the Passion of Our Lord, also known as the Good Friday service, is the liturgy that recalls the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, preached the homily.

Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.

Below is the official English translation of the full text of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa’s homily:

‘Judas was Standing with Them’ (Jn 18:5)

In the divine-human history of the passion of Jesus, there are many minor stories about men and women who entered into the ray of its light or its shadow. The most tragic one is that of Judas Iscariot. It is one of the few events attested with equal emphasis by each of the four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The early Christian community reflected a great deal on this incident and we would be remiss to do otherwise. It has much to tell us.

Judas was chosen from the very beginning to be one of the Twelve. In inserting his name in the list of apostles, the gospel-writer Luke says, “Judas Iscariot, who became (egeneto) a traitor” (Lk 6:16). Judas was thus not born a traitor and was not a traitor at the time Jesus chose him; he became a traitor! We are before one of the darkest dramas of human freedom.

Why did he become a traitor? Not so long ago, when the thesis of a “revolutionary Jesus” was in fashion, people tried to ascribe idealistic motivations to Judas’ action. Someone saw in his name “Iscariot” a corruption of sicariot, meaning that he belonged to a group of extremist zealots who used a kind of dagger (sica) against the Romans; others thought that Judas was disappointed in the way that Jesus was putting forward his concept of “the kingdom of God” and wanted to force his hand to act against the pagans on the political level as well. This is the Judas of the famous musical Jesus Christ Superstar and of other recent films and novels — a Judas who resembles another famous traitor to his benefactor, Brutus, who killed Julius Caesar to save the Roman Republic!

These are reconstructions to be respected when they have some literary or artistic value, but they have no historical basis whatsoever. The Gospels — the only reliable sources that we have about Judas’ character — speak of a more down-to-earth motive: money. Judas was entrusted with the group’s common purse; on the occasion of Jesus’ anointing in Bethany, Judas had protested against the waste of the precious perfumed ointment that Mary poured on Jesus’ feet, not because he was interested in the poor but, as John notes, “because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (Jn 12:6). His proposal to the chief priests is explicit: “‘What will you give me if I deliver him to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26:15).

But why are people surprised at this explanation, finding it too banal? Has it not always been this way in history and is still this way today? Mammon, money, is not just one idol among many: it is the idol par excellence, literally “a molten god” (see Ex 34:17). And we know why that is the case. Who is objectively, if not subjectively (in fact, not in intentions), the true enemy, the rival to God, in this world? Satan? But no one decides to serve Satan without a motive. Whoever does it does so because they believe they will obtain some kind of power or temporal benefit from him. Jesus tells us clearly who the other master, the anti-God, is: “No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24). Money is the “visible god” in contrast to the true God who is invisible.

Mammon is the anti-God because it creates an alternative spiritual universe; it shifts the purpose of the theological virtues. Faith, hope, and charity are no longer placed in God but in money. A sinister inversion of all values occurs. Scripture says, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mk 9:23), but the world says, “All things are possible to him who has money.” And on a certain level, all the facts seem to bear that out.

“The love of money,” Scripture says, “is the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least money is also included there. It is the Molech we recall from the Bible to whom young boys and girls were sacrificed (see Jer 32:35) or the Aztec god for whom the daily sacrifice of a certain number of human hearts was required. What lies behind the drug enterprise that destroys so many human lives, behind the phenomenon of the mafia, behind political corruption, behind the manufacturing and sale of weapons, and even behind — what a horrible thing to mention — the sale of human organs removed from children? And the financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country is still going through, is it not in large part due to the “cursed hunger for gold,” the auri sacra fames, on the part of some people? Judas began with taking money out of the common purse. Does this say anything to certain administrators of public funds?

But apart from these criminal ways of acquiring money, is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?

In the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, in order to explain unexpected political reversals, hidden exercises of power, terrorism, and all kinds of mysteries that were troubling civilian life, people began to point to the quasi-mythical idea of the existence of “a big Old Man,” a shrewd and powerful figure who was pulling all the strings behind the curtain for goals known only to himself. This powerful “Old Man” really exists and is not a myth; his name is Money!

Like all idols, money is deceitful and lying: it promises security and instead takes it away; it promises freedom and instead destroys it. St. Francis of Assisi, with a severity that is untypical for him, describes the end of life of a person who has lived only to increase his “capital.” Death draws near, and the priest is summoned. He asks the dying man, “Do you want forgiveness for all your sins?” and he answers, “Yes.” The priest then asks, “Are you ready to make right the wrongs you did, restoring things you have defrauded others of?” The dying man responds, “I can’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Because I have already left everything in the hands of my relatives and friends.” And so he dies without repentance, and his body is barely cold when his relatives and friends say, “Damn him! He could have earned more money to leave us, but he didn’t.”

How many times these days have we had to think back again to the cry Jesus addressed to the rich man in the parable who had stored up endless riches and thought he was secure for the rest of his life: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Lk 12:20)

Men placed in positions of responsibility who no longer knew in what bank or monetary paradise to hoard the proceeds of their corruption have found themselves on trial in court or in a prison cell just when they were about to say to themselves, “Have a good time now, my soul.” For whom did they do it? Was it worth it? Did they work for the good of their children and family, or their party, if that is really what they were seeking? Have they not instead ruined themselves and others?

The betrayal of Judas continues throughout history, and the one betrayed is always Jesus. Judas sold the head, while his imitators sell body, because the poor are members of the body of Christ, whether they know it or not. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). However, Judas’ betrayal does not continue only in the high-profile kinds of cases that I have mentioned. It would be comfortable for us to think so, but that is not the case. The homily that Fr Primo Mazzolari gave on Holy Thursday 1958, about “Our Brother Judas” is still famous. “Let me,” he said to the few parishioners before him, “think about the Judas who is within me for a moment, about the Judas who perhaps is also within you.”

One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than 30 pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment — and it makes me tremble — if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.

As Easter approaches every year, I have wanted to listen to Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” again. It includes a detail that makes me flinch every time. At the announcement of Judas’ betrayal, all the apostles ask Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?” Before having us hear Christ’s answer, the composer — erasing the distance between the event and its commemoration — inserts a chorale that begins this way: “It is I; I am the traitor! I need to make amends for my sins.” Like all the chorales in this musical piece, it expresses the sentiments of the people who are listening. It is also an invitation for us to make a confession of our sin.

The Gospel describes Judas’ horrendous end: “When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver, he departed; and he went and hanged himself” (Mt 27:3-5). But let us not pass a hasty judgment here. Jesus never abandoned Judas, and no one knows, after he hung himself from a tree with a rope around his neck, where he ended up: in Satan’s hands or in God’s hands. Who can say what transpired in his soul during those final moments? “Friend” was the last word that Jesus addressed to him, and he could not have forgotten it, just as he could not have forgotten Jesus’ gaze.

It is true that in speaking to the Father about his disciples Jesus had said about Judas, “None of them is lost but the son of perdition” (Jn 17:12). But here, as in so many other instances, he is speaking from the perspective of time and not of eternity. The enormity of this betrayal is enough by itself alone, without needing to consider a failure that is eternal, to explain the other terrifying statement said about Judas: “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14:21). The eternal destiny of a human being is an inviolable secret kept by God. The Church assures us that a man or a woman who is proclaimed a saint is experiencing eternal blessedness, but she does not herself know for certain that any particular person is in hell.

Dante Alighieri, who places Judas in the deepest part of hell in his Divine Comedy, tells of the last-minute conversion of Manfred, the son of Frederick II and the king of Sicily, whom everyone at the time considered damned because he died as an excommunicated. Having been mortally wounded in battle, he confides to the poet that in the very last moment of his life, “…weeping, I gave my soul / to Him who grants forgiveness willingly” and he sends a message from Purgatory to earth that is still relevant for us:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,
but boundless mercy stretches out its arms
to any man who comes in search of it.

Here is what the story of our brother Judas should move us to do: to surrender ourselves to the one who freely forgives, to throw ourselves likewise into the outstretched arms of the Crucified One. The most important thing in the story of Judas is not his betrayal but Jesus’ response to it. He knew well what was growing in his disciple’s heart, but he does not expose it; he wants to give Judas the opportunity right up until the last minute to turn back, and is almost shielding him. He knows why Judas came to the garden of olives, but he does not refuse his cold kiss and even calls him “friend” (see Mt 26:50). He sought out Peter after his denial to give him forgiveness, so who knows how he might have sought out Judas at some point in his way to Calvary! When Jesus prays from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), he certainly does not exclude Judas from those for whom he prays.

So what will we do? Who will we follow, Judas or Peter? Peter had remorse for what he did, but Judas was also remorseful to the point of crying out, “I have betrayed innocent blood!” and he gave back the thirty pieces of silver. Where is the difference then? Only in one thing: Peter had confidence in the mercy of Christ, and Judas did not! Judas’ greatest sin was not in having betrayed Christ but in having doubted his mercy.

If we have imitated Judas in his betrayal, some of us more and some less, let us not imitate him in his lack of confidence in forgiveness. There is a sacrament through which it is possible to have a sure experience of Christ’s mercy: the sacrament of reconciliation. How wonderful this sacrament is! It is sweet to experience Jesus as Teacher, as Lord, but even sweeter to experience him as Redeemer, as the one who draws you out of the abyss, like he drew Peter out of the sea, as the one who touches you and, like he did with the leper, says to you, “ I will; be clean” (Mt 8:3).

Confession allows us to experience about ourselves what the Church says of Adam’s sin on Easter night in the “Exultet”: “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Jesus knows how to take all our sins, once we have repented, and make them “happy faults,” faults that would no longer be remembered if it were not for the experience of mercy and divine tenderness that they occasioned.

I have a wish for myself and for all of you, Venerable Fathers, brothers and sisters: on Easter morning, may we awaken and let the words of a great convert in modern times, Paul Claudel, resonate in our hearts:

My God, I have been revived, and I am with You again!
I was sleeping, stretched out like a dead man in the night.
You said, “Let there be light!” and I awoke the way a cry is shouted out!

My Father, You who have given me life before the Dawn, I place myself in Your Presence.
My heart is free and my mouth is cleansed; my body and spirit are fasting.
I have been absolved of all my sins, which I confessed one by one.
The wedding ring is on my finger and my face is washed.
I am like an innocent being in the grace that You have bestowed on me.

This is what Christ’s Passover can do for us.

Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2014/04/18/good_friday_homily:_judas%E2%80%99_story_%E2%80%98should_move_us_to_surrender%E2%80%99_to/en1-791949
of the Vatican Radio website

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Below: Good Friday Around The Globe

http://o.canada.com/news/photos-the-world-observes-good-friday/

Actors of the Wintershall Players perform 'The Passion of Jesus' on Good Friday to crowds in Trafalgar Square on April 18, 2014 in London, England. The Wintershall Players are based on the Wintershall Estate in Surrey and perform several biblical theatrical productions per year. Their production of 'The Passion of Jesus' includes a cast of 80 actors, horses, a donkey and authentic costumes of Roman soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman Army.   (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Actors of the Wintershall Players perform ‘The Passion of Jesus’ on Good Friday to crowds in Trafalgar Square on April 18, 2014 in London, England. The Wintershall Players are based on the Wintershall Estate in Surrey and perform several biblical theatrical productions per year. Their production of ‘The Passion of Jesus’ includes a cast of 80 actors, horses, a donkey and authentic costumes of Roman soldiers in the 12th Legion of the Roman Army. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Orthodox Christian worshippers hold crosses during a Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa, retracing what many believe to be the route Jesus Christ took before his crucifixion, in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel, 18 April 2014. Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and clergy took part in the celebrations.  (EPA/ABIR SULTAN)

Orthodox Christian worshippers hold crosses during a Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa, retracing what many believe to be the route Jesus Christ took before his crucifixion, in the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel, 18 April 2014. Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and clergy took part in the celebrations. (EPA/ABIR SULTAN)

An image of Jesus crucified stands at a hill during the ceremony marking the Apokathelosis, the removal of Christ's body from the Cross, which forms a key part of Orthodox Easter, in a ceremony at the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin in Penteli, north Athens on April 18, 2014. Millions of Greeks flock to churches around the country this week to celebrate Easter, the country's foremost religious celebration.(ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

An image of Jesus crucified stands at a hill during the ceremony marking the Apokathelosis, the removal of Christ’s body from the Cross, which forms a key part of Orthodox Easter, in a ceremony at the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin in Penteli, north Athens on April 18, 2014. Millions of Greeks flock to churches around the country this week to celebrate Easter, the country’s foremost religious celebration.(ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Penitents of "Los Gitanos" (The Gypsy) brotherhood light candle as they take part in a procession during the Holy Week in Sevilla on April 18, 2014. Christian believers around the world mark the Holy Week of Easter in celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (GOGO LOBATO/AFP/Getty Images)

Penitents of “Los Gitanos” (The Gypsy) brotherhood light candle as they take part in a procession during the Holy Week in Sevilla on April 18, 2014. Christian believers around the world mark the Holy Week of Easter in celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (GOGO LOBATO/AFP/Getty Images)

Veiled women also known as Les Pleureuses or mourning women, whose head is covered with black cloth to commemorate the Passion and Crucifiction of Jesus take part in a procession in Romont, Switzerland, Friday, 18 April 2014.  (EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER)

Veiled women also known as Les Pleureuses or mourning women, whose head is covered with black cloth to commemorate the Passion and Crucifiction of Jesus take part in a procession in Romont, Switzerland, Friday, 18 April 2014. (EPA/GIAN EHRENZELLER)

A woman takes a picture of  some of the Faberge Eggs, custom designed by some of the world's leading artists and designers and creative-types, that are displayed at Rockefeller Plaza in celebration of the Easter season on April 18, 2014 in New York City. The eggs, of which there are more than 260, were part of a city-wide egg hunt that took place over the month of April, known as the Faberge Big Egg Hunt.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A woman takes a picture of some of the Faberge Eggs, custom designed by some of the world’s leading artists and designers and creative-types, that are displayed at Rockefeller Plaza in celebration of the Easter season on April 18, 2014 in New York City. The eggs, of which there are more than 260, were part of a city-wide egg hunt that took place over the month of April, known as the Faberge Big Egg Hunt. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The detail of a Faberge egg, one of more than 260 eggs that were custom designed by some of the world's leading artists and designers and creative-types, is displayed at Rockefeller Plaza in celebration of the Easter season on April 18, 2014 in New York City. The eggs were part of a city-wide egg hunt that took place over the month of April, known as the Faberge Big Egg Hunt.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The detail of a Faberge egg, one of more than 260 eggs that were custom designed by some of the world’s leading artists and designers and creative-types, is displayed at Rockefeller Plaza in celebration of the Easter season on April 18, 2014 in New York City. The eggs were part of a city-wide egg hunt that took place over the month of April, known as the Faberge Big Egg Hunt. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Several members of the 'Seven Words' brotherhood ride through the streets to encourage residents and tourist to listen to the traditional 'Sermon of the Seven Words' at the main square in Valladolid, northern Spain, 18 April 2014, as part of Good Friday events. The sermon is a sonnet by late Spanish poet Angel Maria de Pablos which is preached by a bishop at the main square.  (EPA/NACHO GALLEGO)

Several members of the ‘Seven Words’ brotherhood ride through the streets to encourage residents and tourist to listen to the traditional ‘Sermon of the Seven Words’ at the main square in Valladolid, northern Spain, 18 April 2014, as part of Good Friday events. The sermon is a sonnet by late Spanish poet Angel Maria de Pablos which is preached by a bishop at the main square. (EPA/NACHO GALLEGO)

Christian worshippers carry crosses during a Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa, retracing the route Jesus Christ walked to his crucifixion in Jerusalem, 18 April 2014. Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and clergy took part in the celebrations. (EPA/OLIVER WEIKEN)

 

Christian worshippers carry crosses during a Good Friday procession on the Via Dolorosa, retracing the route Jesus Christ walked to his crucifixion in Jerusalem, 18 April 2014. Thousands of pilgrims, tourists and clergy took part in the celebrations. (EPA/OLIVER WEIKEN)

Many more photos:

http://o.canada.com/news/photos-the-world-observes-good-friday/

 

Spiritual Practices: Meditating upon “the four last things” — Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell — “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

March 19, 2014

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St Jerome visited by angels by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi

The Catholic Church has always admonished her spiritual children to reflect often, even daily, on “the four last things”: Death, Judgment, Heaven   and Hell. For there is nothing better conceived than this powerful meditation   to bring forcefully before our minds the essential purpose of life, namely,   to save our souls and avoid Hell. The saints have recommended it most highly,   especially the great Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Liguori. The present   little book by Fr. Martin von Cochem is a reflection on many aspects of this   famous meditation, and it is construed thereby to help us with our own meditations   when we approach the subject. No one could be expected to dwell upon every aspect   of this book every day, but rather any one aspect of the whole subject is meat   enough for a profound daily reflection on our final end.

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The present book is   an excellent took to assist us in making this exercise regularly. The reader   should realize that Father von Cochem is emphasizing in this little book God’s justice, rather than His mercy. Today, one hears almost exclusively of God’s   great mercy and of His love for mankind. These qualities of our Creator are   indeed true, nor, in a sense, is the emphasis on His mercy overdone, for we   can never comprehend the great mercy of God nor His infinite love for man that   causes Him to extend Himself continually in so many ways (for the most part,   of course, only to be rejected by the majority of souls).

On the other hand, the complimentary quality of God, His infinite justice,   is just as great a reality, and if we could save our souls, we all must satisfy   it by repenting of and avoiding mortal sin; and if we wish to avoid Purgatory,   by repenting of all sin and making amends for our unexpiated wrong-doing. What   the reader should bear in mind while reading The Four Last Things is that the   author has purposely concerned himself mainly with God’s justice, rather   than with His mercy. Obviously, the author is cognizant of God’s mercy,   but that is simply not the subject of this book.

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However, as a result of this   emphasis, the reader should not thereby adopt a lopsided view of the task we   have of saving our souls, thinking it to be impossible. Just as on the side   of divine justice there are many sobering aspects to take into account, not   least of which are our own weakness and perversity; nevertheless, on the side   of God’s mercy, there are equal, if not in fact overwhelming, factors that   give us hope of our salvation. In the 20th century alone, Our Lord has appeared   to numerous mystic souls, giving messages of His infinite mercy and love—if   sinners will only repent and turn to Him. Some of these privileged souls are   Sr. Josefa Menendez (d. 1923), Sr. Faustina Kowalska (d. 1938), Sr. Mary of the Trinity (d. 1942), and Sr. Consolata Betrone (d. 1946). But there have been   others as well.

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Further, the Catholic Church possesses the sublime Sacrament of Confession, whereby sinners may unburden their hears and gain forgiveness   of their sins; and she also grants indulgences. Especially worthy of note are   plenary indulgences, whereby a person can make expiation for all the temporal   punishment due to all his sins in just one act—one plenary indulgence.   Indeed, Almighty God has been merciful to an incredible degree to us poor miserable   sinners.

The Four Last Things, besides focusing our attention on the principal reason   we exist and our principal job in this world, is also excellent for the many   somewhat “lesser-known” truths of our holy religion that it enunciates,   for example, that at the hour of death the devils intensify their efforts to   cause a soul to be damned. For it is then that the person is weakest—physically,   mentally, emotionally and even, one might say, spiritually, because he or she   could easily be in a state of confusion due to conern about unforgiven or unexpiated   sins. During the healthy, mature years of our lives, therefore, it behooves   us to contemplate our death and our final end, and to prepare for a happy and   holy death in every way possible, realizing that at the hour of death Satan   will mount his most powerful attacks and we will be in the greatest danger of   losing our souls.

The author says that death is a time of confusion for all, which in one sense   is very true, for did not even Our Divine Lord cry out just before expiring,    “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Death   is not natural for us, and it is something we all wish to avoid. But if we rely   on the help of Our Lady, surely our death will be as peaceful as possible—and   many good people achieve a peaceful, holy death—yet many of the great canonized   saints were terribly concerned for their eternal salvation even on their death   beds—a very sobering thought.

Another little-known and almost never-mentioned truth of our religion that   the author brings out is the fact that we do not know for sure if we are truly   pleasing to God, i.e., whether we are actually in the state of grace and free   from mortal sin, or whether we are in the state of mortal sin and worthy of   Hell. And he cites Scripture to reinforce this point. Many today think that   most people are in the state of grace and destined for Heaven; whereas, the   catechism teaches that most adults commit mortal sins. This realization alone,   that we do not know for sure if we are pleasing to God, should make everyone   humble, if nothing else will.

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The author also touches upon the topic of whether   most people are saved or damned. The predominating opinion among the great writers   of the Church is that most souls are lost eternally because they do not cooperate   with the graces that God makes available to men to save their souls. And they   cite several indicative passages of Scripture to this effect, especially the   famous passage in Matthew (Chapter 7, verses 13 & 14): “Enter ye in   at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth   to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate,   and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it!”    Also, in Matthew 20:16, Our Divine Saviour boldly proclaims in the following   manner: “So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called,   but few are chosen.” And there are many other passages in Scripture to   indicate this same meaning.

There are also several minor aspects of Fr. von Cochem’s book that need   explanation as well: For example, he speaks about God being “angry”    with us because of our sins; in fact, the Bible in many passages speaks of “the   wrath of God.” However, we know from reason and we are taught by philosophy   and theology that God is perfect, and as such is perfectly serene, or impassible,   that is, He does not become angry as we understand it or undergo any suffering   or change. Speaking as if He does is simply an anthropomorphism to express His   justice with us, which takes the form of some sort of punishment sent our way.   It is an allegorical manner of speaking and should always be taken as such.   There are sophomoric minds who would dispense themselves from taking seriously   such a sober study as this book simply because of their own puerile interpretation   of such language. Those who would judge thusly do so only to the detriment of   their own souls.

Fr. von Cochem calls a mortal sin “an infinite evil,” and this because   it is committed against the infinite goodness of God. This is an aspect of sin   we cannot fully comprehend, or even appreciate, while yet in the flesh, but   it is one which we shall more fully comprehend when we see God face to face.   Then he quotes Scripture to the effect, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning   of wisdom.” (Psalm 110:10, et al.). Now to many of the uninstructed this   passage is monstrous, for they would deny that God wants us to fear Him since   Jesus was “good and gentle,” “meek and humble of heart,”    etc. and since this view violates the goodness and mercy of God.

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On the contrary,   the truth is that God is so august, is so good and is so holy that when a soul   begins to advance in holiness himself, he comes to an appreciation of just how   good “perfect” is, as in the passage, “Be ye therefore perfect   as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). And the soul is   fearful of not being able to satisfy the justice of God, and fearful as well   of “offending” the infinite goodness of God. In any event, the burden   here is on the skeptic to explain why the Bible in so many, many places uses   this phrase. Also, the author mentions the famous difficulty of a rich man being   saved, as enunciated by Christ: “It is easier for a camel to pass through   the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”    (Mark 10:25).

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Here we must understand that the “eye of the needle”    was a low, narrow gate in a town’s walls left open at night for entrance   to and egress from a city after the main gates had been closed. It was so small   that armed men would have difficulty going through it, but for a camel to go   through would be nigh impossible. At the very least it would have to be unburdened   of its load, symbolic of the riches which the rich man would have to shed before   he could enter into the kingdom of God. But even then a camel is too tall and   too wide to have been easily squeezed through this gate—though the job   was not totally impossible. The people of Our Lord’s time knew exactly   what He meant, and the analogy was perfect.

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Finally, the author speaks of the Resurrection of the Body at the End of Time,   when all souls will be reunited with their bodies, which will be in a perfect   state. In speaking of that event, he says that the soul will address the body   and the body will speak to the soul. Again, this manner of speaking should be   taken in the allegorical sense, for obviously bodies do not speak when they   are separated from their souls. This device is simply a graphic depiction of   the mind of man in dialog with itself. We all speak to ourselves when alone;   we do so when we write; this is the way the mind reasons when it figures out   its problems. As we are made “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen.   1:27), so we have, it would seem, like God, a three-part mental faculty that   can speak back and forth to itself and also observe and evaluate the on-going   conversation. In conclusion and to reiterate briefly, the great value of The   Four Last Things is to bring before our minds the fact that Hell lasts for eternity,   and if we should go there we shall suffer, and suffer indescribably, forever.

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On the other hand, Heaven also lasts for eternity, and if we go there, we shall   never again want for anything—our every desire will be fulfilled. Further,   the fact is that death can come at any time and after that we shall have our   Particular Judgment, when our fate will be sealed for eternity. Yet the great   consolation from this book is that nothing is settled yet and that we have it   completely within our power to opt for God, for Heaven and for happiness—if   we will just have the courage to cooperate with God’s grace and use the   means He has placed at our disposal to save our souls.

Burying our spiritual heads in the sand like ostriches will not make the problem   of eternal salvation go away nor take it off our own shoulders, where God has   placed it. But meditating on the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and   Hell will give us a realistic and accurate understanding of the job to be accomplished   by anyone who would save his soul and, by forewarning and forearming us, will   the better prepare us to be successful in the only endeavor that really counts   in life.

By Thomas A. Nelson   October 27, 1987

More reading:

The Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell, Heaven by  Fr. Martin von Cochem

http://www.tanbooks.com/doct/last_things.htm

http://www.amazon.com/The-Four-Last-Things-Judgment/dp/089555321X

It has ever been the practice of the Catholic Church to recommend to her spiritual children the meditation on man’s Four Last Things – death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Keeping these sobering aspects of human destiny ever before our eyes, we will be that much less likely to fall into mortal sin and be lost eternally. Gives many facts we should meditate on as we contemplate death. This book has converted numerous Protestants in our day because of its cogent reasons for rectifying our lives.

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St. Francis Looking Toward Heaven, by Francisco de Zurbarán

From The Archdiocese of Washington D.C.

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Traditional Catholic theology has distinguished the “Four Last Things” : Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. We are admonished to meditate upon these things frequently. We WILL die, be judged, and spend eternity either in Hell, or in Heaven (likely after some time in purgatory). All men are appointed to die once, and after that face The judgment (Hebrews 9:27) The video posted below is  of a song by Johnny Cash on the topic of judgment. Here are some of the words:

You can run on for a long time Run on for a long time, run on for a long time Sooner or later God’ll cut you down Go tell that long tongue liar, go and tell that midnight rider Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.

We will all one day die, or as the song puts it, be cut down. We will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (cf 2 Cor 5:10;  Heb 4:13; 1 Peter 4:5).

The reality of judgment and the possibility of Hell bothers a lot of modern Christians who have had God’s love emphasized to the exclusion of just about everything else about God. For example that He is Truth, and utterly Holy, that nothing unholy can tolerate His presence and so forth.

How to explain the possibility of Hell to a generation with a rather simplified notion of God? Perhaps the word “respect” can help. God want to save us all and have us live with him forever. This is clear in Scripture. But God has made us free and wants us to freely love Him and accept His invitation. This is His respect for our freedom. Now everyone want to go to heaven as they describe it. But NOT EVERYONE wants to go to real heaven which is God’s Kingdom in perfection. You see, in heaven, God’s Kingdom,  there is love for the truth, love for chastity, love for the poor, love for justice, love for one another, mercy and forgiveness are esteemed and God is at the center. But NOT EVERYONE wants these things. Not everyone wants the truth, wants to be chaste, not everyone wants to forgive and love everyone. Not everyone wants God to be at the center, they prefer that spot for themselves or some other idol. As we discussed a couple of days ago many people can’t stand to go to Church at all, or if they do they want it to be as short as possible. If we don’t want to spend time with God here what makes us think we will want to do so after death? If the liturgy is boring or loathsome to someone now what makes them think they will enjoy the liturgy of heaven? And The Scriptures clearly describe heaven as primarily a liturgy of praise (cf esp. Rev 4-8) centered on God. So God invites, but not all accept or are interested in the real heaven to which God invites them. In the end, God respects our choice and this is why there is Hell, it is for those who do not want what the Kingdom of God is. God still sustains the souls in Hell but he ultimately respects their choice to reject the Kingdom and its values.

So we ought to pray for a deepening desire for heaven. Death is on the way, sooner or later we will all be cut down. And the Lord Jesus will judge us among other things with this question: “What is it that you want??”  Do not think that we will magically change at that moment. By that time our choice for the Lord and his Kingdom or for something else will be firmly fixed. Behaviors become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years (Deut 30:19-20)

http://blog.adw.org/2010/03/the-four-last-things/

Saint Francis of Assisi in his tomb, painted by Francisco de  Zurbaran (1598 – 1664)

Related:

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We’re On The Clock: Psychologists and Spiritual Directors Recommend We Contemplate Our Own Mortality Each Day

February 9, 2014

“Nobody gets out of here alive….”

By Steve Taylor

We all have to face it at some point; an event of such enormity that it can make everything else in our lives seem insignificant: death, the end of our existence; our departure from this world.

We live in a culture that denies death. We’re taught that death is something we should shy away from, and try to forget about. If we start contemplating our own mortality – so this traditional wisdom goes – we’ll become anxious and depressed. And there’s no doubt that this is often the case. In psychology, Terror Management Theory suggests that a large part of all human behaviour is generated by unconscious fear of death. This fear generates a fundamental anxiety and unease, which we try to offset with behaviour such as status-seeking or strongly defending the values of our culture. We feel threatened by death and so seek security and significance to defend ourselves against it. Studies have shown, for example, that when people are made more aware of their own mortality, they tend to become more nationalistic and tribal and more materialistic.

However, this is by no means always the case. In fact, there is also a great deal of evidence showing that becoming aware of death can have a powerful positive effect, and bring about a radical shift in attitude and perspective. I interviewed many people who had undergone this shift for my book Out of the Darkness: people who had been diagnosed with cancer, or had recovered from a close brush with death such as a heart attack or near drowning.

Tranformational Effects

The people I interviewed described a new ability to live in the present. Facing death had taught them that the future and the past are unimportant, and that life only ever takes place in the present moment. They had developed a much more appreciative attitude, a sense of gratitude for aspects of their life they had taken for granted before. They were grateful for their friends and family, grateful just to be alive, grateful to be able to perceive and experience the world around them. The world had also become a more real place to them – things that they had never paid attention to before became strikingly vivid and beautiful.

Worries and anxieties which had oppressed them before – for example, worries about being liked by other people, about not being successful in their career, or about past events which had made them feel embarrassed – no longer seemed important. There was a shift away from an ego-centered, materialistic attitude to a less selfish altruistic one. There was a sense of ‘letting go’ – of releasing themselves from fear, from ambitions, from attachment to material goods or concepts of status.

Rock musician Wilko Johnson

There was a powerful example in the news in the UK recently – a rock guitarist called Wilko Johnson (pictured above, from the band Dr. Feelgood) who was diagnosed with stomach cancer last year and told he only had 8 or 9 months left to live. Speaking a few weeks after his diagnosis, Johnson said that he had been feeling “vividly alive” and experiencing a sense of euphoria, with “this marvellous feeling of freedom.”

As Johnson told the BBC, the sense of euphoria began as soon as he was told the news: “We walked out of [the consulting room] and I felt an elation of spirit. You’re walking along and suddenly you’re vividly alive. You’re looking at the trees and the sky and everything and it’s just ‘whoah!’. I am actually a miserable person. I’ve spent most of my life moping in depressions and things, but this has all lifted… The things that used to bring me down, or worry me, or annoy me, they don’t matter anymore – and that’s when you sit thinking ‘Wow, why didn’t I work this out before? Why didn’t I work out before that it’s just the moment you’re in that matters?’

“Worrying about the future or regretting the past is just a foolish waste of time. Of course we can’t all be threatened with imminent death, but it probably takes that to knock a bit of sense into our heads. Right now it’s just fantastic; it makes you feel alive. Just walking down the street you really feel alive. Every little thing you see, every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, you think ‘I’m alive, I’m alive.'”

Facing Up and Acceptance 

So why does awareness of death have a positive effect on some people, but not others?

To a large extent, it depends on the intensity of the encounter with our mortality. Anxiety usually occurs when we’re passively aware of death, thinking about it in a vague way rather than actually facing up to it. There’s certainly an important difference between being aware of death as a concept (as people were in the research for Terror Management Theory), and being confronted with the reality of it, and being forced to deal with it as an imminent prospect. When we face up to death actively and directly, there’s a chance that we’ll transcend anxiety and insecurity, and experience its transformational potential.

An attitude of acceptance is important too. If we resist death, fight against its inevitability, refuse to let go of our lives, and feel bitterness about all the things that we’re going to lose and leave behind – then we’re much less likely to experience the potentially positive effects.

Most importantly, however, it should be possible for us to harness the transformational effect of death without actually undergoing the process of dying. It’s important for us to make a conscious effort to remind ourselves of our own mortality. I believe we should spend a few minutes of every day thinking about our own death, contemplating the fact that we’re only on this planet for a certain amount of time, that death could strike us down at any moment.

This may seem morbid to some, but it’s only really a question of facing up to reality. Ultimately, we’re all in the same position as a cancer patient who’s been told they only have a certain amount of time left to live – it’s just that we don’t know how much time we have left, and it’s likely that most of us will have more time than the cancer patient.

Death is always present, and its transformational power is always accessible to us, so long as we’re courageous enough to face it. Becoming aware of our own mortality can be a liberating and awakening experience, which can – paradoxically, it might seem – encourage us to live authentically and fully for the first time.

Steve Taylor, Ph.D. is a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University, UK. He is the author of Out of the Darknesswww.stevenmtaylor.com

Follow Steve on Facebook Follow Steve on Twitter

St. Francis Looking Toward Heaven, by Francisco de Zurbaran

St. John of the Cross

Photo: Russell Brand, once addicted to heroin, says it is good to keep aware of our own mortality

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The casket of Philip Seymour Hoffman leaves the Church of St Ignatius in Manhattan on Friday as family and friends mourned the loss of the talented actor

The casket of Philip Seymour Hoffman leaves the Church of St Ignatius in Manhattan as family and friends mourned the loss of the talented actor who died at age 46.

Recommended Reading:

1. Jean Pierre de Caussade, “Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence,” (also sometimes called “The Value of the Present Moment”), TAN Books edition, 1987.

2. “The Catholic Guide to Depression,” by Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD.

3. “Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” by Matthew Kelly.

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How many ways are there to get to God?

February 2, 2014

Pope Francis

By Bruce Davis

There are two distinct cultures in the world today and Pope Francis is standing on the bridge between them. There is the historical culture of the Church with beliefs in  God and the devil.  The Church is battling for the hearts and minds of everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike. And there is modern secular culture which offers an intellectual view for our ills which includes therapy and forgiveness. Pope Francis is standing on the bridge between religion and psychology. Can he illuminate the truth in both?

The worlds of religion and psychology both have their self righteousness and certainty in their position. On the one hand, God exists. There is a soul, sin and eternity for each of us. And for the other, God’s existence is an unknown. What we know for sure is that we are psychological beings which explains violence in our world, the world we can do something about.

What Pope Francis represents is not so much the intellectual correctness of either world view, but a path for everyone to follow to find their own answers. What everyone is discovering is that Pope Francis is neither conservative or liberal, but something else. He is a mature psychological and spiritual being of our time, challenging us all. By choosing St. Francis of Assisi as his inspiration, Pope Francis has chosen the human saint who everyone of all religions and no religion can discover and enjoy.

Through the path of humility instead of self importance, love and forgiveness instead of judgment and control, St. Francis and Pope Francis show a path which takes the weeds out of our garden. The world of religion and psychology both have a selfishness and arrogance which is the root of much judgment and personal pain. Love of the heart whether we call it God or simple love opens and inspires. St. Francis offers a path to the great love. It is here that people find for themselves love, God, the power of forgiveness. It is in exploration of the heart of awareness that religion and psychology find their common ground. It is in his heart of awareness that Pope Francis is speaking, acting, laughing and crying with us all.

The heart of awareness is being found by many in the worlds of both psychology and religion through meditation. As a Jesuit, Pope Francis spent much time in silence and in the heart of reflection. As thought slows down and becomes less overwhelming, he discovered what is our heart essence.  The vastness of inner peace found in meditation is changing many in their views of life beyond our physical world, the life of work and accumulating possessions. The vast presence found in our heart is changing many in their views of what gives life meaning and how we find purpose.

The simple peace found in meditation is turning many to want more simple peace in their daily lives. This is the spirit of St. Francis alive and well today. It is this spirit, which Pope Francis calls upon as he tries to be the hands and feet, words and heart of a giving God.

The path of letting go of excessive thought and receiving our heart is making people of both cultures instruments of peace. Pope Francis is simply repeating the words of St. Francis, calling us to be instruments of service. It is through our service that the world of personal psychology discovers we are part of a global humanity. And it is through service, the world of religion discovers what we judge as sin in others is more often than not, good people in difficult circumstances needing our love.

Where we all meet is in awareness of our own conscience.  It is our conscience that modern education has too often left out of the classroom. And it is our conscience which tells believers of all kinds what it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is through silence, meditation and service that we discover the growth and clarity of our conscience. Pope Francis is reminding us of St. Francis and our potential of perfect joy.  In our complicated world he is showing us clear steps. Pope Francis is betting that the path of St. Francis will bridge the worlds between religion and psychology, bringing us together and more important bringing us to the truth of our unlimited heart.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-davis-phd/pope-f
rancis-on-the-bridg_b_4689880.html

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Many in the Catholic Church believe there is a great symbiosis between the spiritual life and other efforts to find peace in life.

In “The Catholic Guide to Depression,” by Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD, discuss in depth their experiences and conclusions from working with hundreds of people complaining of depression. They have concluded that all too often in our society today, folks neglect even to investigate if their depression or unhappiness has a root cause in their spirituality — in their relationship with God.

We recommend readers take a look at:

“The Catholic Guide to Depression”
By Aaron Kheriaty, MD and Fr. John Cihak, STD

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During an interview, Pope Benedict XVI was asked:

How many ways are there to God?

Pope Benedict XVI Responded:

As many ways as there are people. For even within the same faith each man’s way is an entirely personal one. In that respect there is ultimately one way, and everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way to Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of conciousness and will but on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man…Unity of mankind, unity of religions, unity of Christians – we ought to search for these unities again, so that a more positive epoch may really begin…In all religions there are men of interior purity who through their myths somehow touch the great mystery and find the right way of being human…The Christian can also find the secret working of God behind them. Through the other religions God touches man and brings him onto the path. But it is always the same God, the God of Jesus Christ…”


Pope Benedict XVI, Salt of the Earth, 1997 (when he was Cardinal Ratzinger Head of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)

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Who Can Be saved? Pope Francis’ Answer – A Surprise?

On May 22, Pope Francis preached in the chapel of his residence at Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican. He based his remarks on the gospel text of Mark 9:38-40. His homily set the media abuzz. There was a frenzy of reports claiming that Pope Francis has shown an unprecedented openness to non-Catholics. Something so unlike his predecessors. Commenting on the Scripture passage, the pope had said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all.”
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With his engaging preaching style, the Holy Father affirmed that salvation is offered to those who do not share the Catholic faith and to atheists as well. This astonished many as something new. One commentator even made the uncomplimentary remark that “Francis’s reaching out to atheists and people who belong to no religion is a marked contrast to the attitude of former Pope Benedict” (cf. Reuters report By Philip Pullella). Nothing could be farther from the truth.
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Pope Francis follows in good Catholic tradition in what he teaches. He does not depart from Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching or from that of any one of his predecessors who have occupied the Chair of Peter. He makes clear what the Church has consistently taught in various ways in different historical contexts.
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Why, then, is there the desire on the part of some to take Pope Francis’ teaching as something novel? The answer lies in a misunderstanding of a fundamental truth of the Catholic faith. Or even, perhaps, in a rejection of it. And, what is this fundamental truth? It is this: the Church is the instrument and sign of salvation for all.
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Christ is the one Mediator between God and us. Christ is the one Redeemer. By his Paschal Mystery, that is, his Death and Resurrection, he redeems all people of every time and place. All who are saved are saved because Jesus gave himself as a “ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:5).
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There is an essential relationship between Christ as Savior and the Church as the instrument of salvation for all. “The Lord Jesus, the only Savior, did not only establish a simple community of disciples, but constituted the Church as a salvific mystery: he himself is in the Church and the Church is in him (cf. Jn 15:1ff.; Gal 3:28; Eph 4:15-16; Acts 9:5). Therefore, the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery belongs also to the Church, inseparably united to her Lord” (Dominus Jesus, 16).
Christ is now present to us in His Body, which is the Church, as the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. “Thus, the Church, which Christ himself founded, is necessary for salvation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 2:14). All grace comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846). This is a truth that many simply do not accept. They fear that accepting this truth excludes non-Catholics from the possibility of salvation.
But, this truth, that all grace, all salvation, comes from Christ, whose Body is the Church, needs to be seen together with another truth of the Catholic faith. Yes, God has made the Church the very instrument to bring all people into relationship with the Paschal Mystery. However, God accomplishes this in mysterious ways. As Vatican II taught, “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this Paschal Mystery” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).
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Following the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Dominus Jesus, a declaration on the unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, clearly affirmed that God’s saving grace is offered to all people (n.20). The declaration also said, that just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church” (Dominus Jesus, 16). Many took offense at this second statement of Catholic faith. And, since Pope Benedict XVI, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which issued the declaration, they judge him to be close-minded and not open to salvation for the non-Catholics. But they are emphatically misguided in their opinion.
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In 1997, before being elected pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a full-length interview to secular journalist Peter Seewald. Questioned on a variety of thorny and controversial issues facing Catholicism, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke with candor and profound theological insight. Peter Seewald asked him, “How many ways are there to God?” Cardinal Ratzinger replied, “As many as there are people. For, even within the same faith, each man’s way is an entirely personal one. We have Christ’s word: I am the way. In that respect, there is ultimately one way, and, everyone who is on the way to God is therefore in some sense also on the way of Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that all ways are identical in terms of consciousness and will, but, on the contrary, the one way is so big that it becomes a personal way for each man” (Salt of the Earth, p.32).
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After Cardinal Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI, he continued the same teaching. In his general Wednesday audience on Nov. 30, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI offered a meditation on St. Augustine’s commentary on Psalm 137. This psalm dramatically depicts the suffering of the Jewish people during the Babylonian Exile. The pope noted that St. Augustine was very timely in what he taught. Augustine recognized that, among the inhabitants of Babylon, there were non-believers who were committed to peace and the good of the community. These individuals were open to the transcendent. They were open to God. Pope Benedict taught that whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, can be saved, even if that person, through no fault of his or her own, lacks biblical faith.
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Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI are on the same page when it comes to the truth of the Catholic faith. Both hold to the Church’s consistent faith that Jesus is the one Savior of all and the Church is His instrument of salvation. Both also affirm the possibility of salvation for all. To Pope Benedict, we are indebted for his theological explanation of these truths. To Pope Francis, for his pastoral reminder of their importance in the lives of us all. Each has given witness to the truth, articulating the faith with conviction. And their witness to truth is a gift of charity to all.
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Pope Francis, May 22, 2013, St. Peter’s Square, General Audience:
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http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/audiences/2013/documents
/papa-francesco_20130522_udienza-generale_en.html

Related:

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, December 14, 2013 — “In the evening of your life you will be judged by your love”

December 13, 2013

Saint John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656

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

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08480a.htm

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church Lectionary: 186

Reading 1 Sir 48:1-4, 9-11

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In those days, like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. Their staff of bread he shattered, in his zeal he reduced them to straits; By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens and three times brought down fire. How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! Whose glory is equal to yours? You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses. You were destined, it is written, in time to come to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD, To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob. Blessed is he who shall have seen you and who falls asleep in your friendship.
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Responsorial Psalm PS 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19

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R. (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. O shepherd of Israel, hearken, From your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. Rouse your power. R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. Once again, O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see; Take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted the son of man whom you yourself made strong. R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved. May your help be with the man of your right hand, with the son of man whom you yourself made strong. Then we will no more withdraw from you; give us new life, and we will call upon your name. R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
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Gospel Mt 17:9a, 10-13

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As they were coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom
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St. Francis of Assisi (1181 — 1226) and St. John of the Cross (1542 — 1591) are often depicted carrying a skull.
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St. Francis himself seems to tell why he carries a skull in his work “The Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

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Toward the end of the canticle Francis says “be praised, my Lord, for Sister Death,” and he sees in Sister Death the priestess of God because it’s the one that takes us to Him, the one that brings us into the fullness with Him. So for him, death is to be embraced because it is the one who takes us to the Lord.”

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http://www.tucsonnewsnow.com/story/21647451/st-francis-of-assisi
-sometimes-depicted-with-skull-rather-than-birds

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To me the skull represents the importance of our life here on earth. Each day counts — and at the end of each day we are closer to death, and therefore to God!

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Liturgy: Saturday, December 14, 2013
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r-john-of-the-cross1.jpg

Saint John was born, probably in 1540, in Fontiveros, near Avila in Spain. His father died when he was very young and he had to move with his mother from one place to another, while he tried as best he could to continue his education and, at the same time, to earn a living. In Medina in 1563 he was clothed in the Carmelite habit and, after a year’s novitiate, was given permission to follow the unmitigated Carmelite Rule.

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He was ordained priest in 1567, after studying philosophy and theology at Salamanca, and, in the same year, he met Saint Teresa of Jesus who, a little while before, had obtained permission from the Prior General Rossi to found two communities of contemplative Carmelite Friars (later called the Discalced) in order that they might help the communities of nuns that she had established. A year later – during which he travelled with Teresa – on the 28th November 1568, John became part of the first group of Reformed Carmelites at Duruelo, changing his name from John of St. Matthias to John of the Cross.

He occupied many different positions within the Reform. From 1572 to 1577 he was general confessor for the monastery of the Incarnation in Avila (not then reformed but where Saint Teresa was Prioress). In carrying out his duties, he became involved in an unpleasant dispute within the monastery, a dispute for which he was considered in some way responsible. As a result, he was seized and spent about eight months imprisoned in the Carmelite house in Toledo, from where he escaped in August 1578. During his time in prison, he composed many of his poems for which, later on, he wrote commentaries in his celebrated spiritual masterpieces.

After Toledo, he was appointed superior in a succession of houses, until, in 1591, the Vicar General, Nicolas Doria, (the Reform having, by this time, gained a certain autonomy) dismissed him from all his positions. In the final years of his life, this was not the only “trial” which came to him who had given everything to the Reform, but he bore all his trials as a saint.

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He died between the 13th and 14th December 1591 in Ubeda, aged 49 years.

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He communicated his spirituality essentially by word of mouth and it was only written down as a result of persistent requests. The central theme of his teaching, which has made him renowned both within and without the Catholic Church, concerned the union through grace of man with God, through Jesus Christ: he described a spiritual journey from the very beginning up to the most sublime level, which consists of the stages of the purgative way, the illuminative way and the unitive way or, in other words, the stages for beginners, for the proficient and for those who are close to perfection.

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As Saint John says – in order to arrive at the All which is God, it is necessary that man should give all of himself, not like a slave but inspired by love. Saint John’s most celebrated aphorisms were: “In the evening of your life you will be judged by your love” and, “Where there is no love, put love and then you will find love”. Canonized by Pope Benedict XIII on 27th December 1726, he was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pius XI on 24th August 1926.

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Reflection
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The disciples have just seen Moses and Elijah before Jesus in the Transfiguration on the mountain (Mt 17, 3). In general, people believed that Elijah had to return to prepare the coming of the Kingdom. Prophet Malachi said: “Look, I shall send you the prophet Elijah before the great and awesome Day of Yahweh comes. He will reconcile parents to their children and children to their parents, to forestall my putting the country under the curse of destruction!” (Mal 3, 23-24; cf. Eccl. 48, 10). The disciples want to know: What does the teaching of the Doctors of the Law mean, when they say that Elijah has to come before?” Because Jesus, the Messiah, was already there, had already arrived, and Elijah had not come as yet. Which is the value of this teaching of the return of
Elijah?

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Jesus answers: “Elijah has already come and they have not recognized him; rather, they have treated him as they have wanted. In the same way, they will also make the Son of Man suffer”. Then the Disciples understood that Jesus was speaking of John the Baptist.
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In that situation of Roman domination which disintegrated the clan and the familiar living together, people expected that Elijah would return to reconstruct the community: to reconcile the parents to their children and the children to their parents. This was the great hope of the people. Today also, the neo-liberal system of communism disintegrates the families and promotes the masses which destroy life.
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To reconstruct and remake the social fabric and the community living of the families is dangerous because it undermines the basis of the system of domination. This is why John the Baptist was killed. He had a project to reform
human living together (cf. Lk 3, 7-14). He carried out the mission of Elijah (Lk 1, 17). This is why he was killed.

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Jesus continues the same mission of John: to reconstruct the life in community. Because God is Father, we are all brothers and sisters. Jesus joins together two loves: love toward God and love toward neighbour and makes them visible in the form of living together. This is why, like John, he was put to death. This is why Jesus, the Son of Man, will be condemned to death.

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Personal questions

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Placing myself in the position of the disciples: does the ideology of consumerism have power over me?
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Placing myself in the position of Jesus: Do I have the force to react and to create a new human way of living together?

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Concluding Prayer

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May your help be with
the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made
strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we
will call upon your name. (Ps 80)

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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To appreciate today’s gospel reading, we must first appreciate the person of the prophet Elijah.  He is one of the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament, the other being Moses.   The latter was seen more as a symbol of the Law since it was through him that God gave the Law to Israel.  Elijah was considered to be the unparalleled prophet Israel had ever seen.  Appropriately, just before the death of Jesus, both Moses and Elijah, one representing the Law and the other the Prophets, appeared in the transfiguration scene with the transfigured Jesus in His glory.  They were seen talking to Him.

As the prophet of all times, he was remembered as the one who was zealous for the purity of the faith of Israel. He was fearless in preserving the pristine faith of Israel, even if it meant going against the King of Israel.  Indeed, he was sent “to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.”  So much so, he was persecuted by Queen Jezebel who was a pagan queen and responsible for introducing pagan practices in the kingdom.  His prayers were efficacious and through him, miracles were wrought.   The author of the book of Sirach recounts him as one who “arose like a fire”, his word flaring like a torch.  It was he who brought famine on them, and who decimated them in his zeal. “By the word of the Lord, he shut up the heavens. He also, three times, brought down fire. How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah! Has anyone reason to boast as you have?” Finally, he ended his magnificent career with a glorious ending when he was “taken up in the whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses.”

It was within this context that the Jews believed that before the Messiah comes, Elijah will come again.  That is why after having witnessed the Transfiguration and on coming down from the mountain, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?”  The reply of Jesus implied that He was the Messiah that they were expecting when He said, “True, Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.”   And we have the footnote supplied by the evangelist when he wrote, “the disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.”

As we come to the end of the second week of Advent and as Christmas draws nearer, John the Baptist becomes more prominent, for he is seen as the precursor of the Lord.  As a true and distinguished prophet like Elijah, he preached salvation through repentance to his people.  Like Elijah, he had no fear of man, not even King Herod and his wife, Herodias.  He spoke the truth and did not mince his words.  Sanctified at birth in the womb of Elizabeth by Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, he was intimately one with the Lord.  He lived in the desert in total dependence on the Lord, surviving on locusts and wild honey.  He knew his mission as a messenger of the Lord.  Regardless of what others thought of him, even as the Messiah, he declared in no uncertain terms that he was only the voice of the Lord crying out in the desert, not the Word of God.  His mission was to prepare the way for the Lord.  He was the bride waiting for the bridegroom.  Once the Messiah came, he faded away from the scene, for his job was done since his master must increase and he must decrease.  Truly, at his preaching, many repented for fear of the punishment waiting for them.

Unfortunately, many did not take heed, especially the Jewish leaders.  It was not that they could not recognize Christ as the Messiah; they were simply not ready to accept Christ for fear of losing their status quo.  Their pride and self-righteousness hindered them from hearing the call to repentance.  They repeated the same mistake of their forefathers who murdered the prophets.   Hence, when Jesus came, they rejected Him.  They were hostile to Jesus and sought to destroy Him as He was becoming too popular.  Most of all, Jesus was upsetting their status quo and challenging the institutions of the day, especially the customs that kept the people poor and marginalized.

Christ our Messiah is coming soon.  Have we paved the way to receive our Lord and Saviour?  Are we any better than the Israelites and the Jews?  Do we treat the messengers of God any better than the Israelites and the Jews?  Have we also turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the messengers of God calling us to repentance and conversion?

Who are these messengers of God that He has sent along our way to invite us to true repentance of heart so that the Lord can come into our lives?  They could be our priests who preach the Word to us and counsel us.  They could be our friends or even family members and colleagues.  Are we receptive to their advice?  Sometimes, God’s Word comes through a sharing or an email or even when we read the newspaper.  So what is preventing us from listening to them?  Why are we so blind that we do not see and so deaf that we do not hear?

Is it pride or fear? More often than not, regardless of whether we consider ourselves active in the Church ministry or even good Catholics, we tend to fall into the sin of pride, like the Pharisees and the Scribes.  Many of us think too highly of ourselves.  We do not see our blindness, like the Jewish leaders.  We tend to perceive ourselves as holy and devout Catholics, and that others are sinners.  The very fact that we tend to condemn others and pass judgement on them shows our spiritual pride.  Most of all, we cannot bear to hear that we need conversion or that we do not know about God or that our spiritual life is weak and inadequate.  Indeed, those of us who are holding Church positions often fall into the same trap of the Pharisees and the Scribes.  This explains why Jesus reserved all the harsh criticisms for the Jewish leaders but demonstrated compassion and gentleness to sinners.

Of course, there are many of us who are still too attached to the world.  We are engrossed with the pleasures of life, our ambition, and our pursuits.  We do not resist the temptation of the Evil One, the Flesh and the World.  We fail to realize that the Devil is tempting us to sin and to turn away from the Lord.  Because we lack discernment, we cannot tell the difference between right and wrong.  At any rate, we prefer to listen to the Evil One who tempts us to commit sins of the flesh and follow the pursuit of the world, striving for glory, power, status and wealth.

Finally, if we are not receptive to the prophets of God, most likely, it is because our ignorance causes us to resist changing our comfortable status quo for fear that we lose power and control over others and compromise our self-interests.  Many of us are afraid to give up our sins for fear that we might lose our friends or the little joys we have.  We prefer to remain where we are in spite of the fact that we are not really happy either.  It is just like those living in irregular relationships.  They are caught in a bind.  They are afraid to let go on one hand but on the other hand, they are not at peace either.

So we must pray for the grace of conversion and repentance.  Like the psalmist, we pray for wisdom, enlightenment and strength.  We too must cry like the psalmist, “O shepherd of Israel, hear us, shine forth from your cherubim throne. O Lord, rouse up your might, O Lord, come to our help.  God of hosts, turn again, we implore, look down from heaven and see. Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted.  Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.”    As Penitential services will be held soon in most parishes, let us prepare ourselves well for a meaningful celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation by making time for prayer, entering into ourselves so that we can surrender those areas of sin and wounds for the Lord to heal us.   

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

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