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Ash Wednesday

I’m trying again, but making no promises this time.  After multiple attempts I think I’ve learned my lesson.  Life has given me many lessons to learn lately, and every one of them has been incredibly humbling.  That said…

In today’s Gospel reading we are reminded “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.” (Mt 6:16)  In the Roman Breviary we read this morning from St. Augustine:

It is obvious that this commandment aims to make us focus our intentions wholly on interior joys.  If we seek a material recompense we will become conformists to the world’s standards.  And by that we will forfeit the blessedness promised us — a blessedness which is all the more certain and reliable as it is concerned with that interior calling by which God has destined us to be made conformable to the image of His Son.  In our Gospel selection, then, the chief point to be noted is this: pride can be found not only in material glitter and show, but in dowdiness and gloom as well.  And this latter will be all the more dangerous because it masquerades as service of God.

When, in the course of various trials, some of the things which such a one has acquired or sought to acquire under this guise are withdrawn or denied him, then the truth will inevitably come out, whether this is a wolf in sheep’s pelt or a sheep in his own.  Yet just because the fakers so often show frugal restraint in their outfit to fool the gullible is no reason for a Christian to cater to the tastes of men by stylish superfluities.  For the sheep have no obligation to shed their own pelts just because the wolves sometimes use them for disguise. (Emphasis mine)

I think I could reasonably condense his words into this: do the right because it is right, and do not be dissuaded because of the actions of some hypocrites.

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One Week A Dominican

(Okay, it’s not quite Twelve Years A Slave, but a title is a title.)

Last Sunday in front of family, friends, and the parish community I made my Temporary Promise as a Lay Dominican.  After several years of discernment, and more years of formation, the time had finally come.  No more a novice, I now take my place in the hallowed company of such fellow Lay Dominicans as St. Catherine of Siena and Fulton Sheen – no pressure there.

And pressure there was, in many and quite varied ways, throughout.  The night before I mentioned to some friends the odd lack of stress I was feeling.  For something that involved speaking in front of a crowd I was oddly serene.  Of course if you know me you’d know that serenity was a bit unsettling, and yet even that wasn’t nearly as bad as it should have been.

That morning we left for Mass much earlier than normal so I could be sure to reserve pews for my Chapter members.  Wouldn’t you know it but there was a road race that had two of the roads on my normal route to Mass closed.  After driving several miles out of the ordinary path we finally arrived only a few minutes before Mass – clearly my serenity was being put to the test.

My Chapter President arrived only a few minutes later and we had just enough time to clear up a few last remaining questions before Mass began.  I donned the small Scapular she had given me and before I knew it Father had invited me to the foot of the altar and the Rite had begun.  I answered the three questions with identical “I am, with God’s help and yours” responses and Father’s final response really caught my attention:

May the Lord who has begun this good work, bring it to completion.

Yes, ultimately this was indeed something begun by God long before I hurriedly walked into that church, long before I had ever even made that phone call so many years ago that started my entry into the Church.   Suddenly it felt as if a weight I hadn’t even recognized had been lifted from my shoulders – the weight of doing this all on my own was gone.  Just as suddenly a new weight settled on me like a comfortable jacket, heavy but yet comfortable – the weight of having to get myself out of God’s way so He could act.

I know I am not nearly the best tool God could have to work with, but now that no longer matters, only being faithful matters.  What this will take, what this will cost, I do not know.  I only pray I may be compliant enough to allow God to bring this all to the conclusion He has intended all along.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

seven_sorrows_of_maryThe Seven Sorrows of Mary:

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34–35)
  2. The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
  3. The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:43–45)
  4. Mary meets Jesus on the way to Calvary.
  5. Jesus dies on the cross. (John 19:25)
  6. The piercing of the side of Jesus, and Mary’s receiving the body of Jesus in her arms. (Matthew 27:57–59)
  7. The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb. (John 19:40–42)

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Exaltation of the Holy Cross

crucifixion_fra_angelico

The Crucifixion — Fra Angelico

What fear can you have, O Christian, when you look upon the standard of our faith?
What tyrant can conquer you, O child of God, when Death itself has lost its sting?

Oh most holy love of God enfleshed upon the Holy Cross, grant us who look upon Thee the grace to know, love and serve Thee in imitation of Thee who art Truth and Love itself.

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Pentecost

holy_spirit_window

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.” And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:1-4, 38-41)

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

 

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Contemplating the Yes of the Rosary, Part One

I have of late been making decent progress at praying a daily Rosary.  It can be tough at first, and I know there are probably times when it seems like a waste of effort, but I have found that my best days are when I pray the Rosary well, and my worst days are when I allow myself to skip the Rosary.  Recently I was struck by the fact that every mystery of the Rosary is, in fact, a facet of the Yes God says to and about us and that He hopes we will return to Him.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, Catholicism is a religion of “yes”; behind all the “nos” we hear so much about there is an even more vibrant and life-giving “yes”.  This is equally true in one of her most well-known prayers.  As today is Monday, I’d like to look at the Joyful Mysteries.

The Annunciation

I don’t think it’s at all hard to see at least one “yes” in this scene.  Mary, confronted by an angel, is asked to be the Mother of God.  Given assurance by the Angel she utters words that have rung down through the centuries: “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” – “be it done unto me according to your word”. (Lk 1:38)  Asked to surrender every chance she has ever had at a “normal” life, Mary utters the “yes” that becomes the hinge upon which the fate of humanity begins to turn.  Theologians have debated just how much she understood about what she was being asked to do and what it meant for her life but ultimately no matter on which side of that argument you fall you have to realize that she knew she was faced with changes so significant she couldn’t fully comprehend them at that time.  This wasn’t simply a “yes” to a fully detailed plan with flow charts, graphics, and a timeline approved by a committee – this was a “yes” to step into an unknown, a “yes” of trust in the Lord.  Whenever it seems like just too many things are unknown for us to follow God’s call, perhaps we can look to this fiat for inspiration.  Yes, Lord, I trust in Your word.

The  Visitation

With what seems, according to Luke’s telling of the story, almost no delay at all Mary next goes off to help her cousin Elizabeth.  She who has just had the most remarkable conversation with an angel of God now leaves to take care of another.  But notice that she doesn’t just leave leisurely – she “went with haste” (Lk 1:39) on her trip.  She didn’t waste time, she didn’t send word that something had happened and she needed to “find herself” – she left at once and made haste to be of service to someone who needed her.  The next time someone needs our help, maybe we can not worry quite so much about covering all our bases and simply make haste to help them, knowing that God will provide, that He is the ultimate Servant of the Servants of God.  Yes, Lord, I will serve You in those who need my help.

The Nativity

Depending upon how you look at it, this must be either the number one or number two greatest example of the “yes” of God towards the human race.  Not only did He create us.  Not only did He show mercy when man turned away from Him over and over again.  Not only did He reveal himself to a world that had obscured its vision of Him through sin.  Not only did He in the fullness of time come to save us all.  He did all those things – but not merely by the force of His Divine Will – He added a triumphant “yes” to the goodness of humanity by becoming one of us.  A proverbial stroke of the pen was not sufficient to show how much He values humanity – He did not want to just “make it so”, he wanted to live it with us.  If you’re having one of those days where it just seems  that absolutely nothing will ever go right, contemplate the immeasurable “yes” in this Mystery.  God not only wanted us to exist, He not only wanted us to be redeemed, He not only wanted to open the gates of Heaven to us, He wanted to participate in our very lives to the fullest extent possible, to an extent that even now can be hard to fully fathom.  But yet He did it all the same, without question, without remorse, and even if there were but one single soul to save He would do it the exact same way.  Yes, Lord, I know you will do anything for my good.

The Presentation In The Temple

Imagine the scene if you can.  Mary and Joseph are following the dictates of the Law of Moses and presenting the first born male to the Lord.  Upon entering the temple they are greeted by a man who has absolutely amazing words for them.  Even though they have been told by angels of their son’s divine origins and destiny, imagine being greeted by these words: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” (Lk 2:34-35)  This child, the Son of God, will be a sign that is spoken against.  Mary will experience her soul being pierced by a sword.  This are incredibly hard words, and yet said by a man in quite evident joy.  Mary and Joseph must have been at least a little perplexed that this Son of theirs would experience such harsh treatment at the hands of a humanity that ought to love Him, that Mary who simply offered herself in service to God might have to share somehow in that suffering.  But this did not deter them, did not cause them to run away from the lives laid out for them into the safety of obscurity.  They simply did what they knew to be right, trusting that God would show them not only the path but the way through the path even if only one step at a time.  Yes, Lord, despite dangers, concerns, or even threats I will walk with you knowing that You always hold me in the palm of Your hand.

The Finding Of The Child Jesus In The Temple

Now as if Mary and Joseph haven’t had enough to handle already, one day they discover on their way back from Jerusalem that Jesus is missing.  The child given them by God, spoken of by angels, they have now lost.  As a parent I get a pang in my stomach just contemplating that thought.  They search agonizingly in Jerusalem for their boy, knowing how dangerous it could be and yet also trusting that God will take care of the situation.  Suddenly they find him in the temple, calmly conversing with the scribes.  When they confront him, he calmly replies, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  (Lk 2:49) Perhaps that prick of the conscience in the question is targeted at us even more than it was to Mary and Joseph.  Have we, in all our frenzied planning and working, forgotten where to find Jesus?  Despite its goodness, Jesus is not found in a well-organized action plan.  He is found in His Father’s house; He is found in the Church, in Her liturgies, in Her teachings, in the Body of Christ.  When we have failed to find Jesus outside, let us come in the Church and find Him where he awaits us always, in the Blessed Sacrament.  Yes, Lord, I will ever seek Your Heart in the heart of Your Church.

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Saint Joseph

Today Holy Mother Church rejoices to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, patron of fathers, patron of workers, patron of the Universal Church, patron of the unborn.  I don’t think enough can be said about a man who spent so much of his time and energy doing what was right and all the while going so very much unnoticed.

As a husband and father myself I think his example has only become more important to me over the years.  It is so very easy to, and our society seems to reward those who, put yourself first and loudly broadcast each and every accomplishment and then stiffly give the excuse “I was doing it to give them a better life”.  Indeed.

In his Joseph of Nazareth Fr. Suarez most clearly the model Joseph provides for us:

He devoted his life to the attention he paid them, dedicated to fulfilling his vocation – the mission to which he had been called.  As a dedicated man is one who does not belong to himself, Joseph ceased to be concerned for himself from the moment when, enlightened by an angel in that first dream, he fully accepted God’s designs for him.  Receiving Mary as his spouse he began to live for those who had been placed in his care.  God had entrusted him with his family, and Joseph did not disappoint him.  God sought support in him, and he stood firm in every instance.

O Glorious Saint Joseph, pray for us!

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How fares Thomism?

I’ll admit it, I’m probably one of the last people who ever expected to like an article from America Magazine given their usual slant.  But this one has the distinct advantage of being an interview with a thoroughly orthodox Dominican – and one who even makes book recommendations!  Now what’s not to love there?  The interview with Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P. centers largely around his view of the state of Thomism in the 21st century; suffice it to say he sees a bright future in spite of the sometimes negative connotation some people associate with the word.  A few snippets of my favorite parts:

What is the goal of your theology?

Oh, that’s easy. I want to enter more fully into the life and contemplation of the divine mysteries and to draw people close to God. Like Saint Ignatius, I want people “to praise, reverence, and serve God,” so that they will become saints.

Some theologians, seeking to move the Catholic Church forward more quickly, have experienced tension with the magisterium since Vatican II. As a Thomist, in what sense do you believe Catholic theology needs to adapt itself to contemporary times?

I think theology can only be contemporary. Veritas Eternaliter Juvenis—the truth is eternally young. Like a good Thomist, I will distinguish. Catholic theology in order to survive has to adapt to the period in which it serves Catholic and divine truth. The history of Thomism, in my view, demonstrates this adaptability. If contemporary Thomists spent all their time examining what Capreolus said in the fifteenth century, no one, except those committed to historical studies, would pay attention to such soi-disant “Thomists.” I consider it a strength of Thomism that it displays the capacity to speak to each of the centuries that follows the death of Aquinas in 1274. The fact that you have asked for this interview, in a way, supports my contention. Americawould not want to waste its pages on the obscure and archaic. At the same time, it would be odd were one to assert flat out that Catholic theology should “adapt itself to contemporary times.” Such a project would canonize relativism. What I am saying applies, it seems to me, also to The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. I have seen books that explain and, in a certain sense, adapt the Exercises for contemporary times. However no one would dare to alter radically the Exercises, even though few of our contemporaries accept Saint Ignatius’s principal and foundation for human existence. Likewise, I don’t see much about saving one’s soul in contemporary culture. And of course, Saint Ignatius urges us to think with the Church. The question should not be posed in terms of adaptation but in terms of mediation. How can theology today best mediate divine and Catholic truth? In this sense, my Thomism is very Ignatian and contemporary.

What do you hope people take away from your work?

Christ. As the experience that Aquinas underwent at the end of his life suggests, those who follow Aquinas should want for themselves and for others the same thing: “Non nisi Te, Domine!” Only you, Lord. I refer to that moment in Naples when Aquinas heard Christ speak to him from a crucifix. The Lord asked Aquinas what he wanted as a reward because, as Christ said, “You have written well of me, Thomas.” Most theologians and their readers fall short of Aquinas’s devotion and accomplishments, but each can aspire to the same reward that Aquinas received. Saint Ignatius expresses this aspiration well: “Good Jesus, hear me / Within the wounds, shelter me / from turning away, keep me / From the evil one, protect me / At the hour of my death, call me / Into your presence lead me / to praise you with all your saints / Forever and ever.”

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MaryMotherofGodToday Holy Mother Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.  While this title can often induce raised eyebrows and even stronger reactions in our Protestant brethren it is, in fact, not only an ancient one but one that also flows logically from her being the mother of Jesus.  The Church in no way suggests this as a form of a “quaternity” (vs. the Trinity all Christian denominations profess) but rather as a reflection on the fact that as a mother she is not the mother of a “nature” but rather a “person” – not the “human nature of Jesus alone” but the human mother of the person of Jesus.  Catholic Answers provides an excellent summary of both the logical and patristic basis for this title here, with a little excerpt below:

Although Mary is the Mother of God, she is not his mother in the sense that she is older than God or the source of her Son’s divinity, for she is neither. Rather, we say that she is the Mother of God in the sense that she carried in her womb a divine person—Jesus Christ, God “in the flesh” (2 John 7, cf. John 1:14)—and in the sense that she contributed the genetic matter to the human form God took in Jesus Christ.

It is right and fitting that we start each year with a proper calling-to-mind of the one inside whom the “re-birth” of the human race began.  While on this side of the veil we may never fully understand just how her motherhood “worked” we can rest well in knowing and remembering that it was indeed a human motherhood and brought about by a uniquely divine act.  Now would indeed be a good time to re-invest ourselves in doing our part to bring to fruition that work which was begun so many years ago.  I pray Mary will intercede with her Son for us all in this new year to come.

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Catechism Project, #160-165

If I were to boil what struck me in this section down to one quote, it would be in Paragraph 162 which quotes 1 Tim 1:18-19: “Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith.”  This world in which we live is not simply a path down which we must walk, a series of static obstacles for us to conquer.  It is a world at war, and our fight is as St. Paul says, “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)  This is a war fought with immortal beings of infinite intellect, infinite malice, and infinite spite.  Armed only with our own strength we will most assuredly lose, but armed with “the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:13) triumph is assured – but the long, hard slog of a fight with a guaranteed end can test our willingness to continue on.  I know for my own part wanting to drop sword and shield, if only for a little bit, just to rest, is a persistent temptation.

Paragraph 164 is an excellent summary of this temptation and could cause one to despair if it were not for the fact that it is followed with the reassurances in Paragraph 165.  One of the reasons God allowed so many of our saintly forebears to be tested and tried is that their example might provide a witness to us that we can, indeed, come out of this battle ahead if only we maintain our faith in God.  The quotation of Heb 12:1-2 is incredibly apt, and a perfect place to close this brief reflection:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.all saints

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