Moral Principles & Just War

July 23, 2015

St. Paul providentially wrote,

“[W]hy not say — as we are accused and as some claim we say — that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.” (Romans 3:8)

In this passage, the Holy Spirit led St. Paul to denounce the idea that having a good goal in mind can ever justify using immoral means to achieve it. God’s most basic commandment is heard in every human conscience: “Do good, avoid evil.” We must never do evil in hopes that good may result. If we do, there is no guarantee that our hoped for goal will come to pass, but we will have surely allied ourselves (in some measure) with evil by opposing God’s will.

A second moral principle (which frees us as it binds) is this: we must never intentionally kill the innocent, for this is murder. All human life is sacred and precious, which makes any decision to wage war a most serious one. Catholic Just War doctrine teaches that all of the following conditions must hold for a war to be morally just:

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective.
  3. There must be serious prospects of success.
  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.
    (See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2309)

B-24 BomberEven if all of these conditions are met and a country goes justly off to battle, enemy civilians must not be targeted. It is inevitable that some innocents will die in the chaos of war; sometimes bombs dropped over a military target will accidentally hit homes nearby. But it is something very different to intentionally aim for the civilians in hopes of killing as many as possible. This is a war crime. It is murder. “But what if murdering civilians will end the war faster and save more lives in the end?” (*) This is the tempter’s promise, but God’s commandment remains without exception: ‘You shall not become a murderer.’

I do not share these moral principles to condemn any previous wartime generation. God knows it is hard do what is right in times of  stress and fear; and only He can judge hearts. I share these teachings because history shows that even in peacetime we stand between wars. When the next conflict threatens we must judge aright whether it must be fought, and if so, guard that the war does not make casualties our souls.

Three Crosses Line Break

( * – Some may claim that if enemy civilians are working, paying taxes, and not in rebellion against their government, then they are legitimate military targets, since they are aiding the enemy. Such thinking abandons the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, condoning all sorts of evils. A similar case could be made for summarily-executing enemy prisoners of war, since their captivity aids the enemy by diverting our wartime resources. )

Sunday: A Day of Rest & Grace

July 22, 2015

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2184-2187

      Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” (Genesis 2:2) human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.

      On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

Jesus Overlooking Jerusalem      Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.

      Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sports, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.

The Priest’s “Secret” Prayers at Mass

July 22, 2015

Offering the Mystical and Holy Mass     Did you know that the Church gives priests celebrating the Mass several prayers to say in a low voice, such that few (if any) in the church hear them? These are called the “secret” prayers (from the Latin word for “hidden.”) May the great beauty of these prayers inform and inspire your own devotion at Holy Mass.

The priest, before proclaiming the Gospel, pauses in front of the altar to bow and pray:

“Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.”

 At the end of the Gospel, the priest (or proclaiming deacon) kisses the book and prays:

“Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.”

During the Offertory, the priest (or assisting deacon) pours a little water into the chalice of (unconsecrated) wine and prays:

By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

After thanking God for the gifts of bread and wine He has given us to offer (“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…”) the priest bows behind the altar and prays:

“With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.”

While the priest washes his hands, he prays:

“Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

During the “Lamb of God,” the priest places a small piece of the Host into the chalice, praying:

“May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”

At the end of the “Lamb of God,” the priest joins his hands and prays one of these two prayers:

1. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.”

2. “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy.”

Before consuming the Body of Christ, the priest prays:

May the Body of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.

Before consuming the Blood of Christ from the chalice, the priest prays:

May the Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life.

Finally, while purifying the sacred vessels following the distribution of Communion, the priest prays:

“What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

Starving the Beast

July 22, 2015

A Baby Held In Hands

According to 2nd Vote, a consumer research app, the following corporations have all made direct contributions to Planned Parenthood—the group which sold and performed more than 327,000 abortions in our country last year:

Clothes & Body: Avon, Bath & Body Works, Converse, Dockers, Johnson & Johnson, La Senza, Levi Strauss, Macy’s, Nike, Unilever, Pfizer

Charities: American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, United Way

Finance & Insurance: American Express, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Fannie Mae, Liberty Mutual, Morgan Stanley, Progressive, Wells Fargo

Food: Ben & Jerry’sPepsiCo, Starbucks, Tostitos

Industrial: Energizer, Clorox, ExxonMobil

Tech: Adobe, AT&T, Expedia, Groupon, Intuit, Microsoft, Oracle, Verizon

It is not a sin for a person to use the products or services of these Planned Parenthood supporting companies (since the customer’s connection to abortions is so very indirect and remote.) However, it might do good for many of us to cease, wherever possible, giving these companies our business and to let them know our reason why. For example:

Dear Sir or Madam,

It has come to my attention that your company has given direct contributions to Planned Parenthood, a group that has killed millions of innocent human beings. Because of this, as far as possible, I will no longer be your customer and I will encourage others to do likewise. I urge your company to reconsider its support of Planned Parenthood.

Sincerely,
{Signed}

[Links to each company’s feedback page are provided above.]

Finally, it should be noted that the largest single contributor to Planned Parenthood is not any of these companies, but our own government. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Planned Parenthood received $528.4 million in taxpayer-funded health service grants and reimbursements. Efforts to end this public funding of Planned Parenthood are also worthy of our support.

Source:  The Daily Signal – “Meet the 38 Companies That Donate Directly to Planned Parenthood

My Five Most Common Bits of Advice in Confession

July 17, 2015
Peter Swims to Jesus on the Shore in John 21

Peter was not afraid to approach the Lord whom he had denied, leading to his tripartite reconciliation. We can encounter Jesus likewise in the Sacrament of Confession.

Of the seven sacraments, Confession is my second favorite (after the Holy Eucharist.) This holds whether I am the one absolving or the one being absolved. It feels good to have that joy of a fresh beginning, or to know that I have helped another come nearer to the Lord. Having our sins forgiven does us incredible good—exorcists say a good confession is more powerful than an exorcism—but the priest in the confessional usually also offers some advice to help us cooperate with God’s grace, sin no more, and live daily life with peace.

Priests tend to hear certain sins or fears more often than others in confession, and in response to these a priest will tend to give similar advice. At risk of making my priestly counsel stale, but in hopes of spreading these helpful lessons for the benefit of many, I have detailed below the five most frequent pieces of advice that I share in confession.

Being Tempted Is Not The Same As Sinning

No priest should say that a sin is not a sin, but priests do right to free troubled consciences from guilt about things which are not sinful. Guilt from experiencing temptation is one example. Temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A temptation becomes a sin when we welcome its presence and give it our “yes.”

Sometimes people confess having bad thoughts or desires. I ask them whether they welcomed or entertained these temptations or if they resisted them. This matters because thoughts, feelings, and desires will often come our way without our willing them, but it is what we choose that is important. Only when our will chooses do we act in a saintly or sinful way. For instance, choosing to resist a temptation by praying or distracting ourselves is a holy deed. A saint is not someone who never knows temptation—he or she will likely understand temptation better than most—a saint is someone who consistently chooses love and the Lord even amidst temptation.

Good & Bad Reasons For Missing Mass

Our Sunday obligation flows from the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Whenever someone confesses missing Holy Mass I ask whether it was by their own choice. (Again, what we do not choose is not our sin.) Sickness, hazardous travel conditions, or the need to care for others are all serious reasons that justly excuse us from attending Mass. However, deliberate, willful absence (such as on a family vacation) is a sin to be avoided. Using the internet and a telephone, we can plan ahead to find and celebrate the Lord’s Sacrifice wherever our travels take us.

Forgiving May Not Be What You Think

Sometimes anguished persons confess that they just cannot forgive someone, even though they want to. Usually, this turmoil is due to thinking that forgiveness means something it does not. For example, without a bout of amnesia, we cannot literally “forgive and forget.” And trying to agree that past sins done to us were not actually wrong is a lie against the truth. Sometimes sins break relationships and circumstances such that things cannot go back to same way they were before. Or, perhaps we may still feel the pain inflicted—for some wounds cannot be healed merely by our willing it but only with grace and time. However, none of these realities prevent us from forgiving. In fact, the person who desires to forgive already has everything they need to begin.

Forgiveness means loving someone despite past wrongs. Jesus calls us to love everyone, which means that we must forgive everyone. If you fear that there is someone whom you hate or whom you have not forgiven, simply pray for them. It is impossible to both will the eternal good of another (as we do in prayer) and to hate them at the same time. If you are praying for them, you are loving and forgiving them. The Holy Spirit may prompt you to take further steps in forgiveness down the road, but your prayer begins to open you both to the transforming power of God.

Training Yourself Not To Misuse Holy Names

Crude language is bad, but swearing by misusing the holy name of God or his saints is worse. Our love and respect for someone should be reflected, not negated, by our words. Whenever someone confesses the habitual sin of taking the Lord’s name in vain, I suggest a new habit: The next time you misuse a holy name, as soon as you realize it, follow it with a praise (such as “I love you, Lord,” or a “Glory Be…’) This will do three things: it will help undo the wrong with a good (getting you back on the horse,) it will help drive out the bad habit with a good one, and it will present a Christian witness to anyone who may have overheard your profanity.

Apologizing To Your Children

When parents confess to yelling in (uncontrolled) anger at their kids, I ask them whether they apologized to their children. This is a good and beautiful thing for a parent to do because it models true Christian behavior for the children: “I needed to discipline you because you were doing something wrong, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry.” If we want our children to repent of wrongdoings and seek forgiveness, we must walk the talk and show them how it looks. Authority is most respected when it manifests integrity.

A Tail of Abraham Lincoln

June 28, 2015

Abe Lincoln reportedly said, “How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Someone today might ask, “Why do you hate dogs, Mr. President? Don’t you want them to be happy?”

I can imagine Abe honestly replying, “I do not hate them (while I personally prefer felines*, I also like canines) but declaring their tails a leg won’t help them run any faster. And if some poor creature attempts to run on it, it just won’t work. He’ll hurt himself and he won’t be happier. God’s creatures, in order to be happy, must walk in proper ways.”

(*– When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, “Cats.” )

The Meaning of Life

June 9, 2015

Homer Simpson once had this exchange with “God”:

HomerGod, I’ve gotta ask you something.
What’s the meaning of life?

God:      Homer, I can’t tell you that.
HomerC’mon!
God:      You’ll find out when you die.
HomerI can’t wait that long!
God:      You can’t wait six months?
HomerNo, tell me now!
God:      Well, OK. The meaning of life is…

[The theme song and ending credits interrupt before we hear the answer.]

So what is the meaning of life? Why are we here, for what purpose do we exist?

Philosophers and TV writers may balk at the answer, but for Christians this is not an unanswerable riddle. Jesus Christ tells us what we are meant to do on earth (and likewise, in Heaven): first, to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and second, to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:30-31, & Luke 10:27-28)

Nothing is more important than this. This is what the Law, the Gospels, the prophets, and the saints are all about. Loving relationship with God and each other is the meaning of our lives. Of what enduring value is anything else if separated from this?

Blessed with knowing this precious knowledge, how are you going to live?

Fallaciously Faithless — Monday, 10th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

June 8, 2015

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 1:1-7

St. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement,  who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

When I was in college, there was a span of a couple of weeks when I stopped receiving the Holy Eucharist. I kept going to Mass, but I hesitated to approach for Communion. I refrained because I feared that I did not have enough faith in the Lord to receive Him worthily.

pondering-at-a-question-markI shared my concerns with our Newman Center parish priest. Father Mark did not provide me with any specific answers, but I remember him saying, “Perhaps God is allowing you to experience this so that someday you can help other people who are going through the same thing.” Inside, I felt like saying, “Thanks for nothing, Father.”

I kept praying and pondering for several days until this realization finally came to me: “People who don’t believe in God don’t spend time worrying about whether or not they believe in God—that’s something only a believer would do.” If I was worried about whether I had faith, then there was no reason to worry. Freed from my fear and greatly relieved, I returned to Holy Communion.

If you know someone trapped in the same spot I was, please feel free to pass this helpful insight along. Father Mark and St. Paul were right. God encourages us in our every affliction so that we may encourage others with the same encouragement we receive from Him.

June Scripture Suggestions for Prayer

June 1, 2015

June 1              Exodus 24:3-8

June 2              Psalm 116:1-9

June 3              Psalm 116:10-18

June 4              Hebrews 9:11-15

June 5              Mark 14:12-16

June 6              Mark 14:22-26

June 7              (Corpus Christi Sunday)

June 8              Ezekiel 17:22-24

June 9              Psalm 92:2-10

June 10            Psalm 92:11-16

June 11             2nd Corinthians 5:6-10

June 12             Mark 4:26-29

June 13             Mark 4:30-34

June 14             (11th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

June 15             Job 38:1, 8-11

June 16             Psalm 107:1-22

June 17             Psalm 107:23-43

June 18             2nd Corinthians 5:11-15

June 19             2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

June 20             Mark 4:35-41

June 21             (12th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

June 22             Wisdom 1:13-2:11

June 23             Wisdom 2:12-24

June 24             Psalm 30

June 25             2nd Corinthians 8:7-15

June 26             Mark 5:21-34

June 27             Mark 5:35-43

June 28             (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

June 29             Ezekiel 2:1-10

June 30             Ezekiel 3:1-15

July 1                Psalm 123

July 2                2nd Corinthians 12:1-6

July 3                2nd Corinthians 12:7-10

July 4                Mark 6:1-6

July 5                (14th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Bridget Achenbach Funeral Homily

May 29, 2015

May my words approach what Jesus Christ and Bridget would like me to speak. May my words give you consolation and timely help.

Bridget Achenbach Fair Ambassador

Bridget Achenbach, 1995-2015

Last year, Bridget left home to become a freshman at UW-La Crosse. I’ve heard it said that when a young person goes off to college the experience is very different for the child and for the family. It’s much easier for the child leaving home than for the family left behind. For a young person like Bridget, this transition begins an adventure. She’s learning fascinating, new, amazing things. She’s meeting great people, making new friends. Of course, she still loves and cares about her family at home. Yet she is so happy and excited to be beginning her new life.

For her parents and siblings at home, it understandably much harder. While her life is full, they can feel an emptiness. At home, she’s not in her room. She’s not in her seat at the kitchen table. Her voice and laughter are not heard in the house. Of course, her family can still speak to her long-distance. And she is still well-aware of everything that’s going on at home. But her departure creates some degree of separation, and that’s hard, and that’s sad.

Deeply loving parents could wish that their child would never leave home. “Why couldn’t she just live here?” When their child has gone away from home they worry if she’s OK, if she’s safe, if she’s happy, if she’s staying close to the Lord. Some, despite their Christian upbringing, when faced with the free choice, choose to leave the Lord and go their own way. When Bridget went to college last year, she was not like one of those. She went from good to better. She drew even nearer to Jesus, and grew with Him.

During her Freshman year, through the UW-L Catholic Newman Center, she was involved in Bible studies, attended a five-day Catholic youth conference in Tennessee, and pilgrimaged to the March for Life. On the bus trip of that last trip she shared with friends about how Jesus was transforming her life. She said she felt closer to Him than ever before.

Last year, Bridget began going to weekday Mass, receiving our Eucharistic Lord on more than just Sundays. Why would a young person like Bridget go to daily Mass? It’s not as though popular culture promotes that kind of devotion. It’s not because anyone is required to attend Mass on a weekday. A person who goes to daily Mass resonates with the psalmist’s words:

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you like a dry,
weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

A person desires to go Mass and receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently because one has the desire to be closer to God. And this desire is not of ourselves, but from Jesus’ desire to draw us closer to Him.

As you know, Bridget Achenbach is a remarkable woman. People who meet Bridget found her joyful and intelligent; faithful, yet approachable; pious, and yet relatable. One of Bridget’s mission trip leaders once said to himself, “I wish I had whatever she’s got.” Bridget’s past goodness and our present loss raises this troubling question: “How could Jesus allow his beloved one to be taken from us?” We echo the questioning plea of Martha and Mary to Jesus at the death of Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!” What are we to make of this?

We know that Jesus never, ever commits evil. He is goodness and love incarnated. “In Him there is no darkness at all.” But we also know that Jesus refrained from intervening with some (even subtle) miracle to prevent this from happening. Why would God permit such charismatic young lady, apparently richly endowed with the Holy Spirit’s gifts, to die on Pentecost Sunday? Wouldn’t she do more good if she were left alive on earth? Wouldn’t her life be fuller if she lived on earth a full number of years?

Today we are like the disciples on the first Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday’s shock and horror yet before Easter Sunday’s glory. On Good Friday, the disciples beheld the most distressing death of their Messiah. On Holy Saturday, His followers were grieving and questioning. But on Easter Sunday, they saw the resurrection Jesus had promised. Today is like Holy Saturday because we see our loss but not God’s purposes.

Bridget Achenbach PhotoPerhaps, as the Book of Wisdom says, God saw Bridget reach that perfection of soul He treasures and delivered her from this world’s wickedness to be safe with Him. Perhaps we don’t see reality with the clear vision of St. Paul, who assures us “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” We think of this place as home, but Scripture tells us our true home is in Heaven. Perhaps Bridget has been called to continue the Lord’s work on earth from Heaven. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the spiritual mother of all Christians, was an invaluable presence among the first Christians in early Church. But after she completed the course of her earthly life and was taken up into Heaven, Mary was able to assist more powerfully than before. In her glorified state, Mary our mother can hear and intercede on behalf of millions while loving each of us uniquely. Perhaps God has such a mission for Bridget as well. We don’t yet know the answers now—“we walk by faith, not by sight”—but we do know the Lord Jesus in whom we trust.

We are not without hope, but it’s still hard. Today is sad, but you are not alone. This place literally overflows with love for you and Bridget. In times to come, give us the gift of allowing us to give gifts of our love to you. Talk to Jesus every day. As he told us, “I am with you always.” Share with Him your true feelings and your honest thoughts. Whether it’s anger or gratitude, He wants you to tell Him. He who suffered and died among us wants to walk with you through this and through all of life. And talk to Bridget. Whether through the power of God, the mediation of angels, or a soul to soul communication that is clearer than our words on earth, she will hear you. Like going off to college, Bridget is beginning a new life. But she still loves you and will enjoy hearing from you.

Our God is good. Jesus Christ is here. Bridget is loved, and she is at peace.

A Memorial Day Prayer

May 25, 2015

Lord Jesus Christ, you journeyed far from your home in heaven to save those on earth who could not save themselves.

You were not eager to suffer and die, but you gave your life so that goodness would prevail.

Lord Jesus, you taught us: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.”

Today we remember those who journeyed far from home, to defend, to fight for, to save people who could not save themselves.

We remember those who, while still loving life, risked their lives, and ultimately gave their lives, for freedom, for goodness, and for right to prevail.

We honor those who laid down their lives for Americans at home, for innocents abroad, and for brothers-in-arms at their side.

May our remembrance today of these fallen dead honor them fittingly, and be pleasing to you, as we honor the virtues found in them which you love so much. 

Amen.

U.S. Flag

The “Light” of the Holy Spirit

May 21, 2015

        “The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers His own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know Him by His goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives Himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored & glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.

        Simple in Himself, the Spirit is manifold in His mighty works. The whole of His being is present to each individual; the whole of His being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, He remains unchanged; His self giving is no loss to Himself. Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth His grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive Him. To all creatures that share in Him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by His ability to give.  …

        As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others. From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations—we become God.”

— St. Basil the Great (c. 329-379 AD)

Why Did Christ Call the Grace of the Holy Spirit Water?

May 21, 2015

In John’s gospel, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Later, Jesus stands up at the Temple and exclaims, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” The text explains, “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.” Why did Jesus liken the grace of the Holy Spirit to water? St. Cyril of Jerusalem (313-386 AD) gives this insightful explanation:

“[A]ll things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

Holy Spirit Dove - Sacred Heart Catholic Church -  Wauzeka WIIn the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit.

Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous. The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit Himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes Himself known by His fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for He is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before Him as He approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives Him, and then, through Him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, thing hitherto undreamed of.”

A Holy Spirit Novena

May 14, 2015

All novenas are inspired by the nine days during which Mary, the apostles, and the other disciples prayed in the upper room for the coming of the Spirit with power. To pray a novena to the Holy Spirit preceding this Pentecost yourself, begin this Friday, May 15th. Many Pentecost novenas are available online, but your daily prayer could simply be this:

 “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit & 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.”

Friends of Jesus — 6th Sunday of Easter—Year B

May 13, 2015

Readings: Acts 10:25-26, 1st John 4:7-10, & John 15:9-17

In our first reading, St. Peter is sent by the Holy Spirit to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile and Roman centurion:

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”

In other words, Peter says, “Relax, I’m made from the same stuff as you.” This was said for Cornelius’ benefit and for ours.

Icon of the Twelve ApostlesThe Evangelists and the Holy Spirit did us a huge favor by recording the early disciples’ flaws and infidelities. Most of these first followers of Christ went on to live their lives for him, some even dying for him, and so we rightly call them saints. Yet the New Testament reveals that they were far from perfect at the start. It would have been so understandable, so easy, for the Gospel writers to omit the embarrassing, regrettable, and even sinful moments of the Church’s founding figures. The fact these unflattering details were included points to the veracity of the Gospels. Imagine how deprived we would be today if these details had been had whitewashed away.

St. Mary Magdalene Clings to JesusLuke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons from out of Mary Magdalene. We are never told how their evil influence had affected Mary’s life, but it probably was neither subtle or pretty. Without knowing this detail, some might think, “Jesus couldn’t accept someone with an ugly past like mine. I’m no model of perfect devotion, like Mary Magdalene.”

James and John had their mother ask Jesus to seat them upon thrones at his left and right in glory. Without this story, those who struggle with ambition and vainglory might lament, “Why can’t I be content to humbly serve, like the fisherman sons of Zebedee?”

Without the story of Doubting Thomas, times of struggle with questions and doubts might bring the self-reproach, “Why can’t I just trust in Jesus, like Believing Thomas?”

Without the story of Peter’s three denials of Christ, after a great fall we might despair, “How could Jesus forgive me? I was not faithful to him like St. Peter the Rock.”

All this is not to say that our sins and imperfections do not matter. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love… This I command you: love one another [and (by implication) love me as well.]” Every sin is a failure to love as we ought, so we must do our best to root our the lusts, prides, and infidelities from our lives. Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Recognizing our own sins and failings, this raises a concern within us: Are we Jesus’ friends?

The setting for today’s Gospel is the Last Supper. Jesus, knowing everything the apostles had done wrong in the past, knowing how poorly they would perform in the near future, told them, “I no longer call you slaves… I have called you friends…” Jesus declares them to be his friends, long before they are perfect. Jesus’ plan, for them and us, is to love us into holy righteousness and glory.

From today’s second reading, from John’s first epistle, we learn:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

Jesus died for us as surely as he ‘laid down his life for his friends‘ the apostles, and Jesus loves us in the same way as them. Relationship, Identity, and Mission: Your relationship is a friendship with Christ. Your identity is a friend of Christ. Your mission is to live as a friend of Jesus Christ. And with the friendship of Christ, we can do all things in him who loves us.


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