Archive for the ‘Supernatural Phenomena’ Category

Broadcasting Our Faith — Thursday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 14, 2011

At Easter time, my sister, Laura, and I used to watch documentaries about Christianity on TV. On the one hand, it was cool to see Jesus Christ talked about on channels like CNN and the History Channel. On the other hand, they couldn’t seem to present on the Christian faith without giving at least equal airtime to doubt. Laura and I enjoyed mocking their seemingly unrelenting skepticism:

“Jesus of Nazareth died nailed to a cross… or did He?”
“Every Easter, Christians around the world celebrate their belief that Jesus rose from the dead… or do they?”
“We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsors… or will we?”

Last night, ABC’s Nightline had an episode about the Virgin Mary and various apparition sites.  As I expected, the show both pleased me and annoyed me. I was pleased they had almost seven minutes about the shrine of Our Lady of Champion, near Green Bay—the first Church-approved Marian apparition site in our country. This was great, because the better the shrine is known the more good it shall do. On the other hand, I was annoyed by the show in various ways; for starters, by the Nightline episode’s title: “Beyond Belief.”  I was also annoyed by some of the things they included people saying.

I know that being interviewed isn’t easy. Expressing yourself like you want to can be hard, and video editing can take your words out of context, but here are some things they had people saying.  The doctor of a boy who was found to be free of leukemia the day after they visited the Green Bay shrine, was asked whether it was a miracle. He said, “The medicine did its job.… No matter what, God can’t work in the care of this child unless he works through somebody.” The narrator then referred to this metaphysical assertion, regarding what God can and can’t do, as “science.”

Later, the opinions of two, so-called experts were given. The first had written a book entitled From Jesus to Christ. (The book title was itself a red flag because it implies that the real historical Jesus of Nazareth got mythologized into the Christ of faith by later Christians. The Jesus of history and the Christ of our faith are one in the same.) She said, “When I think of the historical Mary, I think, first of all, of a very tired mom. Jesus could have been her fourth or fifth child for all we know. There’s absolutely no data in the New Testament itself to even tell us that.” (Actually, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke describe Mary as a virgin and Jesus as her firstborn Son.) A second expert said, “I’m not really big on the virgin birth as being scientifically viable.” (I wonder if he considers Jesus’ Resurrection, or any other miracle, to be scientifically viable.)

Then the show’s host, who seemed to me more ill-informed than malicious, went on to say, “After her death, early Christians hungry for information on the mother of their Messiah, began filling in Mary’s biography, with more stories like this; that she too was Immaculately Conceived, that her body was assumed to heaven like her Son’s, but the truth is that there’s no evidence to support any of these traditions.” First, he conflates the miracle of Jesus’ virgin birth with Mary’s Immaculate Conception. That’s a common error. Second, it’s just not true that there’s no evidence of Mary’s Assumption. For instance, the mere fact that Christians claim to have bones from all of the Holy Apostles, while no one at anytime anywhere has claimed to have hers, points to something. That’s not an incontrovertible proof for Mary’s Assumption, but it is some evidence for what all Christians were convinced about from the earliest times. The fact that people keep seeing her in compelling apparitions is some evidence too.

On the whole, I thought the show was a net plus; it did more good than harm, but it goes to show that we can’t rely upon the secular media to proclaim the Gospel for us. A person whose only source is secular television is not likely to come to faith. We need to step up as individuals and give witness to others about who God is and what He has done for us. As the psalmist says:

“Give thanks to the LORD, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his signs, and the judgments he has uttered.”

Moses hesitated to speak to others about God. He said, “When I go to the children of Israel… what am I to tell them?” The Lord said, ‘Tell them, ‘I am who am.’ You shall tell them that I-Am-Who-Am sent you to them.’ Likewise, the one true God is asking you to witness to Him before others. Ask the Holy Spirit for the grace and you will soon receive the opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ and the good things He has done.

Advertisements

Our Lady of Good Help Pilgrimage Homily

June 14, 2011

In the Garden of Eden, there were many fruit-bearing trees but Genesis mentions two by name: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. By partaking of the Tree of Life, the human race could keep living forever, but the Lord warned that to eat from the other tree would mean our certain death.

On October 9th, 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared here, to 28 year-old Belgian emigrant, named Adele Brise, as she was walking 11 miles home from Sunday Mass. Interestingly, Our Lady chose to appear to Adele not in a church setting such as this, but between two trees: a Maple tree and a Hemlock tree.

You’re all familiar with the beauty and goodness of the Maple. In the fall, its leaves turn the most striking colors; and in the spring, its sap yields sweet syrup. But do you know what distinguishes the Hemlock tree? The poison that Socrates was condemned to drink came from this plant. Ingesting just six or eight fresh Hemlock leaves can kill a healthy adult. The Maple is a tree of life, while the Hemlock is a tree of death. Mary, the New Eve, stands between the two.

She tells Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.”

Our Lady’s message by the trees recalls the counsel of Moses, who told the Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land….”

Apparently, Our Lady’s warnings were not sufficiently heeded. In October of 1871, The Great Peshtigo Fire erupted. In terms of both size and loss of human life, The Great Peshtigo Fire remains the worst recorded forest fire in North American history. Between 1,200 and 2,400 lives ended in that firestorm which saw, according to an eyewitness, “large wooden houses torn from their foundations and caught up like straws by two opposing currents of air which raised them till they came in contact with the stream of fire.” This seems to be the punishment due to sin that Mary spoke of, but this does not mean that everyone who perished in that fire was condemned. We should remember that at harvest time, the good wheat and the bad weeds are pulled up together in a moment, but their future fates are not the same. Once uprooted from the earth, the good are gathered and kept in the barn, while the bad are thrown away forever.

The Peshtigo firestorm came and surrounded this shrine, where hundreds had come with their families and herds, to beseech the intercession of Mary before God. As many as fled to her were saved. The morning of October 9th, 1871, twelve years to the day after Our Lady’s appearance, saw them delivered.  This consecrated earth was an emerald-green island in an ocean of smoldering ashes as far as eyes could see.

After witnessing this miraculous deliverance, and seeing the lifelong dedication and fruitfulness in Adele Brise’s efforts, many began to believe that she had indeed seen and heard Our Lady. Just last year, the Church formally agreed, approving the apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 as worthy of belief by the Christian faithful. Some people will think that this official recognition closes the book on the story of Our Lady of Champion. Some will come here like tourists, excited see where Mary once appeared and go home contented. They won’t think to imagine that Mary’s message was not only meant for Adele in the past, but directed toward us today

In 1859, Mary prayed for and sought the conversion of sinners. Have we gotten less sinful since then? In 1859, Mary lamented how the young did not know the faith. How much better do we live it now? In 1859, Mary warned that if people did not convert and do penance, her Son will be obliged to punish them.” Do we need to convert and do penance? Would you be surprised if a great natural or man-made disaster befell us? How spiritually well prepared do you think people would be to face that?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the message of Our Lady of Champion is arising to new prominence in our day. Today we heard talks about Our Lady’s Fatima apparitions, which date from 1917. At that time, Mary asked for Russia to be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to bring about its conversion and a period of peace in the world. On March 25th, 1984, Blessed John Paul the Great consecrated Russia and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It was on the feast of the Annunciation. On Christmas, seven years later, the miracle arrived. On the evening of December 25th, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev peacefully resigned as the President of the Soviet Union and from atop the Kremlin, the Soviet flag was lowered forever. This was not a coincidence. Politics, economics, and the threat of nuclear war did no bring the Soviet Union to a stunning and peaceful end; it was the work of Jesus and Mary.

What moved Blessed John Paul the Great to consecrate Russia, so many years later after the apparitions, precisely when he did? What moved Bishop David Ricken to approve this apparition, so many years later, as our country’s first Marian apparition site, here and now in our day? In both cases, I suspect that there is more behind these events than the personal whims of men. I suspect that both acts are orchestrated for their role in God’s plan.

I don’t think that Mary’s message was meant for Adele alone, such that their relevance passed away with her death. I think Mary is asking similar things from us. But what exactly? Mary’s message focused upon interceding for sinners and teaching the faith.

Mary the Queen of Heaven, prays for the conversion of sinners, and she wishes you to do the same. You receive Holy Communion, and that is well. But you must do more. First, regularly receive the sacrament of reconciliation, for the sinner whose conversion you are most responsible for is you. I suggest going once a month, for it is effective for growing in holiness.

Next, in this state of grace, offer holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. At every Mass, the priest has an intention for which he is offering the sacrifice. This is a person or group that he asks to be graced, or a problem or need he asks to be helped, by this offering of Jesus’ sacrifice. At every Mass that you attend, you can also offer an intention of your own. Offer some of your holy Communions for the conversion of sinners. And, like the children of Fatima, you can offer your daily sacrifices, burdens borne or pleasures foregone to help those far from God. In doing this, you follow Jesus, who suffered what He endured in order to save others.

Mary also told Adele: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Anyone who faith is immature is still a child in the faith. You can help teach them. Mary told Adele to ‘teach children their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments.’ For children you will do one way, for adults, another, but you have something to offer them all; your children and relatives, your coworkers and acquaintances. As Mary said, “Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

And finally, if and when a new firestorm afflicts our land, or when personal firestorms erupt in the lives of those we love, lead them to take refuge in Jesus through Mary. Confession and holiness of life, holy offerings and penances for sinners, teaching the faith to all, and leading them all to Jesus with Mary—this was Adele’s mission, and it is our mission too.

Multiplying Our Gifts — Tuesday After Epiphany

January 5, 2011

When the crowd gets hungry, Jesus takes the five loaves and two fish that his disciples offer to Him and uses these to feed everybody. Now if Jesus had wanted to, He could have used just one loaf and one fish. Or, He could have transformed a single piece of bread into more loaves, more fish, or whatever He chose. In fact, Jesus could have forgone the bread and fish business entirely and created a meal from absolutely nothing (ex nihilo) if He had wished. Yet, Jesus takes everything that the disciples offer to Him, blesses it, and uses it to a greater effect than any of them could imagine. Let us remember this when we consider offering our gifts to God.

Our Lady, Our Champion

December 8, 2010

What do Lourdes, France; Fatima, Portugal; and Champion, Wisconsin all have in common? As of today, they are all Church approved Marian apparition sites!

As his Excellency, David Ricken, bishop of Green Bay, pronounced today:  “I declare with moral certainty and in accord with the norms of the Church that the events, apparitions and locutions given to Adele Brise in October of 1859 do exhibit the substance of supernatural character, and I do hereby approve these apparitions as worthy of belief (although not obligatory) by the Christian faithful.” St. Mary told this young Belgian immigrant, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners… Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation… Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing, I will help you.” The 151-year old Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin is now the first and only Church approved Marian apparition site in the United States.

The Joyful Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 28, 2010

The 1st Joyful Mystery: 
The Annunciation

The Blessed Virgin Mary may have been just 13 years old when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would give birth to Jesus. She shows us that even if you are young, God can still do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him.

On May 13, 1917, three Portuguese children were praying the rosary after lunch in a field on a clear blue day.  The eldest was Lucia, age 10, and she was with her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, ages eight and seven. Suddenly, they saw two bright flashes. They looked up and saw “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun…” The Lady smiled and said, “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you.” Lucia asked her where she came from. The Lady pointed to the sky and said, “I come from heaven.” Lucia asked what she wanted. The Lady said, “I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour.”

On July 13, the incredibly beautiful Lady appeared again. Lucia asked her who she was, and for a miracle so everyone would believe. The Lady answered, “Continue to come here every month. In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.” Then she taught them this prayer: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy.”

At noon, on October 13, 1917, some 70,000 people were gathered in the field. With a flash of light, the Lady appeared to the children and declared, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” Some spectators cried out and the crowd turned their eyes upward to the cloudless sky, and they gazed on the sun without the least discomfort.  They saw it tremble and danced in a miraculous way.

Mary, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta teach us this lesson: Even if you are young, God can do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him. Let us pray that we would be open to doing God’s will every day.

The 2nd Joyful Mystery:
The Visitation

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” (Luke 1)

Imagine how St. Elizabeth must have felt to have Mary, Mother of God, walk in through her door. Elizabeth could not see the tiny Jesus, a fetus in Mary’s womb, but she was convinced that He was hidden there. How would you treat someone if you knew that Jesus was hidden inside of them?

Blessed Mother Theresa cared for the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, India. Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous health problems, she always returned to her work, to those who received her compassionate care for more than 50 years. How did she do it? She could do it because she encountered her beloved Christ both in times of prayer and in the people she cared for. Mother Teresa remembered Jesus’ words, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Mother Teresa loved others as if they were the Lord Himself.

Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Elizabeth teach us this lesson: Jesus is present in your classmates here at school, so you should always be welcoming and loving toward them. Let us pray for the grace to love others in this way.

The 3rd Joyful Mystery:
The Nativity

In his youth, Francis had been quite rich, the son of a wealthy merchant, yet he sensed that there was more to life. He put his former life behind him and devoted himself to following Christ. One day, at Mass, the Gospel told of how Christ’s disciples were to possess neither gold nor silver, nor traveling items, but were to exhort sinners to repentance and announce the Kingdom of God. Francis took these words as if spoken directly to himself, and as soon as Mass was over he threw away what little he had and went forth at once, exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. He was poor, but clearly happy, and others were attracted to join his movement. By the time of his death, hundreds had joined his religious order. On October 3, 1226, St. Francis died a penniless, but happy man. 

St. Francis of Assisi loved Christmas.  In fact, one story tells of how he petitioned the Holy Roman Emperor to make an edict that grain and bread should be provided to birds, beasts, and the poor this day, so that all God’s creatures would have occasion to rejoice in the Lord. St. Francis also invented the Christmas tradition of making a model of the nativity scene. These nativity scenes, called Crèches, remind us that even though Christ was rich in Heaven, he became poor when he was born on earth in a barn. Yet, Jesus was a happy man, despite his poverty.

Jesus and St. Francis teach us this lesson: You do not need to be wealthy in order to be happy. Let us pray that we may be content and happy with the riches that we have.

The 4th Joyful Mystery: 
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

In the year that Jesus was born, “there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout” and he longed to see the Messiah who would save God people. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would indeed see the Christ before he died and Simeon trusted and hoped in that promise.

One day, the Spirit inspired him to come into the temple. When he say Mary and Joseph carrying in the baby Jesus to offer a sacrifice for Him, Simeon “took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’” (Luke 2)

What are the promises the Lord has made to us?  Do we trust and hope in these promises? Simeon teaches us this lesson: That we ought to trust and hope in the Lord’s promises, for all of them will be fulfilled in the sight of all someday.

The 5th Joyful Mystery:
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

This is a true story, the story of a Catholic mother of three whose oldest son joined an anti-Catholic religious cult. It started him down a path of sinful pride and many sensual sins. It broke her heart and for years she prayed tearful prayers for his conversion.

She even asked the bishop to intervene in winning over her son. He counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” When she persisted in asking, the bishop (perhaps busy with many other things) famously reassured her: “Go now, I beg you; it is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

That mother was St. Monica, and that son of hers, who was lost and found, was the great St. Augustine. Sts. Monica and Augustine teach us this lesson: that your persistent prayer can help people to find Christ. Let us pray for someone that we know, that he or she may be drawn closer to Jesus Christ.

Sources:
On Fatima
On St. Francis
On Blessed Mother Teresa

The Glorious Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 27, 2010

The 1st Glorious Mystery:
The Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead

St. John Bosco, an Italian priest, founded a famous school for boys in the mid-1800’s and is the patron saint of students. He is known to have worked many miracles, but one from 1849 stands out. Returning from a journey, he learned that Charles, a 15 year old student, had died. He went immediately to the teenager’s home where the family informed him that Charles had been dead for over 10 hours. The body was laid out in the living room, already dressed for burial.

Fr. Bosco asked everyone to leave except the mother and the aunt. After some time in silent prayer, he cried out: “Charles, rise!” Charles emitted a long sigh, stirred, opened his eyes, stared at his mother and asked, “Why did you dress me like this?” Then, realizing Fr. Bosco was present, he told him how he had cried out for him and how he had been waiting for him. He exclaimed, “Father, I should be in hell!” He told of how a few weeks before he had fallen into serious sin. Then he said he had a “dream” of being on the edge of a huge fiery furnace, and as he was about to be thrown into the flames, a beautiful lady appeared and prevented it. She said, “There is still hope for you, Charles. You have not yet been judged.” Then he heard the voice of Fr. Bosco calling him back.

Charles asked Fr. Bosco to hear his confession. After his confession, the mourners filled the room again, and Fr. Bosco said, “Charles, now that the gates of heaven lie wide open for you, would you rather go there or stay here with us?” A profound silence filled the room. Charles, with tears in his eyes said, “I’d rather go to heaven.” Then he leaned back on the pillows, closed his eyes and breathed his last.

Unless Jesus’ Second Coming happens first, each of us here will die, and rise. As we meditate on Jesus’ resurrection, let us consider how ready we are to meet Him.

The 2nd Glorious Mystery:
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.

St. Padre Pio is another Italian priest from not so long ago who also worked remarkable miracles. During WWII, Allied planes flew bombing raids over Italy. Almost all of the centers of the region were subjected to repeated bombardment, but no bombs ravaged the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Every time the aviators approached that place, they saw a monk flying in the air who prevented them from dropping their bombs. Understandably, reports of this flying friar did not amuse the superior offices.

Bernardo Rosini, a general of the Italian Air Force, recounts this story: “One day, an American commander wanted to lead a squadron of bombers himself to destroy the German arms depository of war material that was located at San Giovanni Rotondo. The commander related that as he approached the target, he and his pilots saw rising in the sky the figure of a friar with his hands held outward. The bombs released of their own accord, falling in the woods, and the planes completely reversed course without any intervention by the pilots.”  

Someone told the commanding general that in a convent at this town, there lived a saintly man. At war’s end, the general wanted to go meet this person. “He was accompanied by several pilots… He went to the convent of the Capuchins. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the sacristy, he found himself in front of several friars, among whom he immediately recognized the one who had ‘stopped’ his planes. Padre Pio went forward to meet him, and putting his hand on his shoulder, he said, `So, you’re the one who wanted to get rid of us all!’”

As we meditate on the Ascension of Jesus, to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, let us pray that He would establish justice and peace, in this country and the whole world, in our time.

The 3rd Glorious Mystery:
The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

We usually don’t associate India with Christianity, but that nation has over 24 million Christians.  That’s about as many people as live in Texas, our second largest state. If you were to ask them how the faith reached their land they would point to St. Thomas the Apostle.

What led St. Thomas, who at first refused to even believe in the Good News, to travel over 2,500 miles to bring them the Gospel? It was not merely seeing the risen Christ. Jesus knew His disciples would need more to strengthen them then merely their memories of Him. St. Thomas journeyed because the Lord had sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to fill them with gifts, like wisdom, courage, and zeal.

If we are in the state of grace, God the Holy Spirit dwells in us too, and He wants to empower us with His gifts. As we meditate on the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let us pray for whatever spiritual gift that we need the most.

The 4th Glorious Mystery:
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

No Church, in the East or the West, claims to contain the body of St. Mary. This is because “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This is because Jesus would not suffer Mary, His sinless, faithful beloved, to undergo corruption.

Death is a consequence of human sin, and without human intervention, as in embalming or mummification, our dead bodies will ordinarily experience its corruption. But, sometimes, the Lord preserves the dead bodies of his saints, to give a sign of their holiness, and to show that death is not all that awaits us.

Among the numerous saints whose incorrupt bodies you can still see today are:  St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney, St. Catherine Laboure (the visionary of the Miraculous Medal), St. Bernadette Soubirous (the visionary of Lourdes), and St. Maria Goretti.

As we meditate on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let us pray for purity in our lives.

The 5th Glorious Mystery:
The Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, were he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

Jesus crowns his holy ones. He wills that those who share in His sacrifice should also share in His glory. As we meditate on the Coronation of Mary, let us pray to accept whatever crowns of burden and glory the Lord wants to give to us.

Gift of Self — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year C

May 2, 2010

I would like to begin today by telling the beautiful story of a gorgeous young woman named Leah Darrow. Leah grew up in a strong Catholic family in Oklahoma, but when she was in high school she says that her Catholicism started to get “fuzzy.”  By the time she was in college Leah says she had become a “Catholic But.” She would say, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on cohabitation,” or, “I’m Catholic but I don’t see the problem with a couple who love each sleeping together before their marriage… I think the Church is behind the times.”

One evening at college she saw a reality TV show called “Americas’s Next Top Model,” with Tyra Banks and thought to herself, “I’m pretty cute, maybe I could be on that show.” She tried out and got on, but lost the competition, yet she was resolved not to let her TV elimination mean the end of her modeling career. And she was rather successful.  She still recalls her excitement at receiving her first paycheck with a comma (a comma!) in it.

Leah eventually found herself at a photo-shoot high above 5th Avenue in New York that would change her life forever. She came to pose for an international magazine which wanted to help her develop a more risque image. They brought out a number of itsy-bitzy outfits for her to wear.  She picked one out and shooting began. Now Leah says that every model knows not to look at the flash when the photos are being taken (and she insists that she didn’t look at the flash) yet while she was posing, a vision flashed in her mind, three images in the span of perhaps a second or two. This is what she saw:

She saw herself standing in a large white space in the immodest outfit she was wearing. In this scene she wasn’t in pain, but she had the sense that she had died. In the second image Leah was looking up, holding out her open hands at her waist, with the knowledge that she was in the presence of God. In the third and final image, another white flash hit her eyes and Leah saw herself holding her hands all the way up, offering to God all that she had, but in that moment she realized that she was offering Him nothing. For her entire life up to that point, with all of the blessings, talents, and gifts that God had given her, she had wasted them all on herself. If she had died at that moment, Leah knew that she would have nothing to offer Christ.

She came back to reality when the photographer said, “Leah, Leah, are you OK?” She shook her head and said, “No, I can’t.” He said, “Ok, we can go over here.” And she said, “No, I can’t .”  She ran back to the makeup counter, changed back into her own clothes, and ran down 5th Avenue, balling her eyes out, afraid that she might be losing her mind.

She called her dad and said, “Dad, if you don’t come get me I am going to lose my soul.” Dad drove across the country to New York, and when he arrived she wanted to leave town, but he said he couldn’t wait to see the sights; Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Carnegie Deli, “But first we go to confession.” She made a good, tearful confession spanning the ten commandments like she was ordering off the dollar menu: ‘Two number ones, four number twos…’ She came out like a new woman, healed.  Today she goes around telling her story and supporting an organization that promotes modesty in young lades’ dress.

Leah says she was living a very selfish life before her conversion. Perhaps she was confused, as many in our culture, about the nature of true love. In English we use the word love in a broad and ambiguous way.  We say, “I love that TV show. I love the Packers. I love my children. I love my wife. I love God. I love my dog.” But all of these loves are different in kind and degree. When we say, “I love pizza,” or, “I love wine,” it is not really pizza and wine that we love so much as  ourselves.  I love myself, and that’s why I consume pizza or wine. Yet, not all love is easy, warm, and fuzzy. True love is a sacrifice, and often feels that way.

As St. Paul tells us in the first reading, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And Jesus says in the gospel, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Love how? “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” How did Jesus love us? Through a total gift of self.

Now we know from the Gospels that Jesus’ self-giving wasn’t always a ordeal. It was often joyful. Jesus enjoyed going to weddings, dinner parties, and spending time with His friends. But Jesus’ acts of love were the most powerful and manifest when they were hard, as when He was on the cross.

Self-gifting love powerfully good. Someone can live a life of great fame and wealth, but without self-gift their life will account for nothing.  This is the world of difference we see between George Bailey and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Difficult self-gifting love is also the most powerful witness. Some theologians have speculated that Jesus could have redeemed in other ways besides the cross. (Perhaps a single cry from the infant God-Man would have been enough if that had been the divine plan.) But Jesus dying for us on the cross communicates a powerful message about His love for us. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The way we love should be a witness, it should make us stand out.

Earth is a training ground. Our life here on Earth is training for Heaven. In Heaven, self-gifting is the rule and the norm. If that’s not the sort of thing we are interested in, there will be no place for us to be at home in heaven–and there is only one other place for us to go forever. In today’s second reading, Heaven is seen “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” It is a revealing description, for spousal relationship prepares us for the life of Heaven.

We are all called to marriage and parenthood, either natural or spiritual. Some are called to live single lives, to enter religious life, or be ordained, in a fruitful spousal relationship with Christ and/or His Church. Others are called to natural marriage and to fruitfulness seen in their spousal love and its natural or spirital children.

Self-gift is the life of marriage. What if there is a priest who does not pray, who does not serve, but who seeks only his own comfort? Such a priest will eventually leave his priesthood. So it is with a natural marriage. If one spouse seeks just their own pleasure, their marriage will seem empty. But if both spouses seek to make a self-gift to the other, they will both be satisfied. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all thing will be added on to you.” If we go for self-gratification, even that escapes us, but if we focus on self-gift, satisfaction comes as well. This is the reason for the Catholic tradition of a crucifix hanging over a husband and wife’s bed.

Jesus has given us a new commandment: love one another. As He has loved us we should love one another. Such love is powerful. It should make us stand out as disciples of Christ. And it prepares us for the life of Heaven, where self-gift is rule.

Leah Darrow Interview on the Drew Mariani Catholic radio show (4/30/10)

Leah Darrow Talk to a Boston Catholic Women’s Conference (2/27/10)

Hearing Him — Friday, 3rd Week of Easter

April 23, 2010

Jesus says, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood,” as we are about to do in at this Mass, “remains in me and I in him.” After we receive Him, He remains with us and we with Him.  And He stays with us, provided we do not cast Him out through committing serious sin, until we receive Him again.

Jesus remains close to us throughout our day. Wouldn’t it make sense, that time to time, He would occasionally have something to tell us? Maybe we don’t hear Him because He knows we would refuse to listen. Perhaps He knows we would dismiss hearing Him speak to us out of hand, or maybe He knows we don’t trust Him enough to go out on a limb. For example, if you got the feeling that the Lord wanted you to relay to a message, a message you didn’t really understand, to particular person what would you do?

In the first reading, the Lord speaks to Ananias and Ananias answers, “Here I am.” Then the Lord gives Him an entirely wholesome, but very counter-intuitive task: lay your hands on Saul and heal him. Ananias hesitates a little. Ananias might be wondering if this is really coming from the Lord, or maybe he’s not sure he wants to risk this much for the Lord. But in the end, Ananias listens, and because of it, Saul became St. Paul.

If we would like the Lord to do such things with us let us be faithful in little things, faithful to the commands of our consciences and to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout our daily lives. If we are willing to trust Him, Jesus will ask us to be His chosen instrument in greater matters too. So let’s listen, let’s be docile, and see what He does with us.

The Apostles’ Charge — Thursday, 2nd Week of Easter

April 16, 2010

 The high priest Caiaphas had once remarked to the Sanhedrin during the time of Jesus’ ministry:

“You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. (John 11:49-52)

The high priest, whom many Jews believed possessed the gift of prophesy, here spoke words truer than he realized. A similar episode happens in today’s first reading:

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

With their teaching, the apostles have indeed filled Jerusalem, the true and heavenly Jerusalem, with the souls of the saints. And the apostles did want to bring Jesus’ blood upon those who questioned them, for the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin. In his revelation, St. John “saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev 21:2) “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14)

The Sanhedrin commanded the apostles to stop proclaiming Jesus, but the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men,” for as John’s Gospel says, “whoever disobeys the Son will not see life.” The Gospel teaches, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.” But who truly believes and shall be saved?  Who disobeys and shall be condemned? Thankfully, this final judgment is not ours to decide, but our mission from Jesus is clear. Like the apostles, with Jesus’ teachings we are to fill the heavenly Jerusalem  and bring Christ’s saving blood upon all people.

3rd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 14, 2009

Advent is a season for penance and conversion, for the confession of sins and the changing of lives, but this Sunday of Advent reminds us that it is also time for joy. Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a name which comes from the Latin command “rejoice!” This command is heard from St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!”

But is it that why do we need to be reminded, even commanded, to rejoice? Why are we not a people of constant joy and peace, even though we have great reason to be? I think it is because our hearts and minds give in to fear.

God is near, but when we give in to fear we do not trust that He really cares about us and really provides for us. In fear we become anxious about our future. In our fear we feel too stressed-out to be thankful. And in fear we forget or refuse to pray. St. Paul seems to have realized all this, that may be why he followed his command to rejoice with these words, words that it would do a lifetime of good to know by heart:

“The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Today I would like to share with you a true story about two friends of mine who had every seeming reason to afraid, but who kept God’s peace. Let’s call them Andrew and Christi. I have changed their names to conceal their identities, but I know they wouldn’t mind me sharing with you their story because it can teach us all a lot.

To say my friends had a difficult first year of marriage would be to understate it. Andrew, a hard-working man with rough hands and a good heart, became afraid that marrying Christi had been a mistake and he seriously considered getting a divorce. Christi, a beautiful woman inside and out, prayed fervently to God, for both Andrew and herself. She honestly did not know how God would provide for her, but God gave her a peace that surpassed her limited understanding of His plans. Then, as Andrew tells it, God intervened, giving him a sign that this marriage was indeed His will and that Andrew should not be afraid. This divine reassurance strengthened Andrew and he resolved to remain faithfully at Christi’s side no matter what.

A few months later, forces beyond their control forced Andrew and Christi to leave their hometown, away from all their family and friends, and to move down south to a town where Andrew had some distant relatives. But, once they got down there, all of these relatives proved to be too distant or too busy to care enough to lend this vulnerable couple a hand. Their first Advent season together, Andrew and Christi were jobless, homeless, and with child.

It would have been so easy for them to give in to despair that first Christmas Eve, for Andrew to feel like he had failed his wife as a husband, or for Christi to feel anxious and afraid about their future as a family. Yet, Andrew and Christi trusted that the Lord was near. They would pray together as a couple, and gain courage and strength, peace and even joy through their prayers.

Indeed the Lord was near them, through it all, and their first Christmas together turned out to be was the brightest and the most joyful that they, or the world, had ever seen. As I said, this is the true story of two friends of mine, but they’re also friends of yours and you knew their story even before I told it to you today. For Andrew’s real name is St. Joseph and Christi’s real name is St. Mary.

Today we rightly call them saints, not because they lived in a world free from difficulties, an imaginary world different from our own. Joseph and Mary are saints because they knew and practiced how to live in this world well; with joy, kindness, prayer, thanksgiving, and peace. And so brothers and sisters:

Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Friday, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

November 23, 2009

In the year 167 before Christ, the empire dominating the Jews, in attempt to unify their peoples, forbid the Jewish sacrifices, banned observance of the Sabbath and feasts, and outlawed circumcision. Altars to Zeus and other Greek gods were set up in the temple, and unclean animals, like pigs, were sacrificed upon them. In response, Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons led a Jewish revolt against their oppressors. Two years later, they had crushed their enemies and went up to purify the temple and to rededicate it for proper worship.

Two hundred years later, another zealous lover of God’s law went up to the temple to cleanse it and rededicate for true worship. Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”

After the Maccabees had rededicated the temple they celebrated for eight days.  When they relit the seven wicks of the menorah in the sanctuary they only had enough olive oil on hand to keep it burning for one day.  But, by a miracle, it is said that the lamp kept burning for eight days, long enough to press, prepare and consecrate more fresh oil. The rededication of the temple and this miracle are still commemorated in our time as a Jewish holy day.  From the Hebrew word for “dedication” or “consecration”, the Jews call this celebration “Hanukkah.”

Christ has dedicated and consecrated us as the new temple and house of God. How are we to keep our temple lamps lit? How are we to obtain oil for our souls? We are not to do it by grasping, by stealing things from the world, in a vain effort to fill ourselves. The Lord’s house is not to be a den of thieves. Instead, we must pray, asking for the grace we need to remain burning brightly. As Jesus said, “My house shall be a house of prayer.”