Archive for the ‘Saintly People’ Category

Saint Paul’s Grade School Patron Saint Candidates

October 12, 2017

Our grade schoolers will soon be voting on who they want to be our school’s patron saint this year (in addition to St. Paul, of course.) The winner of the election will be announced at our school Mass on All Saints’ Day. These are the candidates:

Saint Aloysius Gonzaga (Al-low-wish-ous Gone-za-gah)

  • Though born to a very rich and powerful Italian family, his first words were the holy names of Jesus and Mary and he resolved as a teenagers to become a priest and missionary.
  • During his last year of seminary, while caring for plague victims in Rome, he died at age twenty-three with Jesus’ name as his last word.
  • He is the patron saint of Catholic youths.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

  • Jesus’ moma, St. Joseph’s wife, and the mother of all Christians.
  • By God’s grace she lived a sinless life and was taken up body and soul into Heaven.
  • Since that time, she has appeared in Mexico, France, Portugal, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

Saint Anthony of Padua (Pah-du-ah)

  • This Portuguese priest became close friends with St. Francis of Assisi.
  • An amazing preacher, when his tomb was opened after thirteen years his tongue still looked alive and moist even though the rest of him was dusty bones.
  • One of history’s most quickly canonized saints, he is the patron saint of lost things.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Tur-rez of Liz-sue) also known as “The Little Flower”

  • She begged Pope Leo XIII for permission and entered a French convent at age fifteen.
  • Her “Little Way” spirituality teaches about doing little things with great love.
  • She is known to give roses at the end of novenas (nine days of prayer) asking her help.
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Three Common Catholic Misconceptions

September 27, 2017

Sometimes even the faithful can get things wrong (perhaps that’s why we’re called “practicing” Catholics.) I believe the following rank among Catholics’ most common misconceptions about our own Faith:

Myth #1: “The Immaculate Conception was Jesus Becoming Man”

Although Jesus’ conception is also a holy miracle, the Immaculate Conception refers to the creation of his mother, Mary. The Church has believed in Mary’s perfect sinlessness from ancient times. Consider that the loaded Greek word with which the Archangel Gabriel hails her at the Annunciation identifies her as ‘one having been graced by God in the past with the result continuing in full effect to the present.’ (Luke 1:28)

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in these words: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.

Myth #2: “The Anointing of the Sick is Only for One’s Deathbed”

Among the seven sacraments, Anointing of the Sick is the one especially intended to strengthen those who, having reached the age of reason, begin to be in danger due to sickness or old age. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, this “is not a sacrament only for those who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.”

Catholics on their deathbeds should certainly ask a priest for “the Last Rites,” that is, Anointing of the Sick with special prayers for the dying. But Catholics facing major surgery (such as ones involving general anesthetic) or those feeling elderly frailty should request this sacrament as well. Anointing may be repeated if the sick person’s condition becomes more grave during the same illness, or if they recover and then become seriously ill again.

Myth #3: “Divorced People Cannot Receive Holy Communion”

Faithful to Christ, the Catholic Church teaches that a consummated sacramental marriage endures for as long as the bride and groom both live. However, being divorced does not, in and of itself, bar someone from worthily receiving Holy Communion. (For instance, an abandoned spouse may bear no fault for his or her divorce, and in some cases—like domestic abuse or a gambling addiction—it can be appropriate for a spouse to procure a legal separation.) Merely being divorced is not necessarily a sin; it is divorce followed by remarriage outside of the Church that is the issue. Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)

So what should a person who is divorced and remarried outside the Church do? The first step is to approach your pastor. Together, you can begin exploring seeking an annulment. A sacramental marriage cannot be undone by any power on earth, but if something essential to marriage was absent or withheld from the very beginning then such a marriage is invalid (not sacramental) and may be annulled. After obtaining the needed annulment(s), a person is free to be married in the Church. But what should remarried persons do if an annulment is not possible? Even these may receive Holy Communion following a good confession if they are resolved to begin living chastely, “as brother and sister,” in their present relationship.

An American Martyr

September 13, 2017

Saturday, September 23rd, a U.S. priest-martyr will be beatified in Oklahoma City, OK, the first so honored by the Church in our country. Fr. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 and grew up on an Oklahoma farm. He served in several Oklahoma parishes after his 1963 priestly ordination before volunteering for mission service in Guatemala in June of 1968. While there he helped build a small hospital, a school, and a Catholic radio station. He also translated the New Testament into Tz’utujil, a local language of that region.

Political turmoil and violence escalated Guatemala during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government aimed to suppress Marxist revolution by targeting rebels and hundreds of their alleged sympathizers for death. In early 1981, Fr. Rother learned that his name was on a death list. It was determined that he should leave Guatemala and he reluctantly returned to Oklahoma in January 1981. However, he soon asked his archbishop for permission to go back: “My people need me. I can’t stay away from them any longer.” Fr. Rother’s brother Tom questioned him, “Why do you want to go back? They’re waiting on you and they’re gonna kill you.” He replied: “Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.” The pastor returned to his people that April.

On July 28, 1981, just after midnight, Fr. Rother was shot and killed in his rectory. His remains were flown back to Oklahoma and buried in his hometown. At the request of his Guatemalan parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served. He was one of ten Catholic priests murdered in Guatemala that year.

Last December, Pope Francis issued a decree affirming that Fr. Stanley Rother was indeed martyred in odium fidei (“in hatred of the faith,”) permitting him to be beatified without the usual confirming miracle. As St. Augustine once preached, “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” Let us ask the prayers of this new American blessed that we may be courageously faithful and loving like himself in Christ.

Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant

September 4, 2017

Did you ever see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark? You may recall seeing the movie’s replica of the Ark of the Covenant featured as the McGuffin artifact everyone was seeking out. This movie has been very helpful to preachers in providing a visual aid to everyone of what the Ark of the Covenant looked like.

Like Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant was a box constructed according to God’s design and command. It served as a portable throne bearing the presence of God on earth. The Ark held inside of it three important things: the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, the wooden staff of Moses’ brother Aaron the High Priest, and a gold jar containing some of the Manna God provided his people to eat in the desert. The reason I mention these things today is because the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament foreshadows the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Testament.

The old Ark held the Ten Commandments, the word of God in stone; the Virgin Mary bears the Word of God in flesh. The old Ark held the priestly staff which on one occasion miraculously blossomed despite being dead; Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit despite her perfect virginity. The old Ark contained Manna bread in a golden vessel; Mary’s holy womb contains the true Bread from Heaven, provided to us for our journey to Promised Land — Jesus Christ, our Prophet, Priest, and King.

At God’s command, the old Ark was made of natural wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Mary is a human woman who is made “full of grace.” King David once joyfully leaped and danced before the Ark of the Lord. At the Visitation, when Mary visits Elizabeth her relative, John the Baptist likewise leaps with joy within his mother’s womb. David once asked, “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth likewise asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” On one occasion, the old covenant ark was kept for three months in the house of a man named Obed-edom outside Jerusalem, and Scripture records that God blessed his whole household. Mary likewise dwelt three months in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth near Jerusalem and was surely a blessing to them.

No man was to touch the Old Covenant Ark, lest they be struck down dead. (God instructed his ministers to move that holy Ark only by means of two gilded poles which slid through rings on the sides of the Ark.) Joseph of Nazareth held a similar reverence towards Mary, his ever-virgin wife. In the Old Testament, the Lord was to be found wherever the old Ark dwelt, from the Sinai wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, “on entering the house, [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother,” and, “standing by the cross of Jesus [was] his mother.”

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Nazis were looking for the “lost” Ark because Scripture reports that the Old Covenant Ark was hidden soon before the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Jeremiah the Prophet took the Ark and placed it in a secret cave. Unlike in the 1981 movie, the Lost Ark has never been recovered. Yet, in his revelations recorded at the end of the New Testament, John the Apostle sees the new Ark revealed. John writes: “God’s temple in Heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The next thing John describes is a glorious woman pregnant with the Christ child, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This is Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, whom at the end of her time on earth God lifted up body and soul into Heaven.

The old Ark was of central, though secondary, importance in the Old Covenant. Drawing physically nearer to it brought one closer to the presence of God on earth. Likewise, God gives the Blessed Virgin Mary, the new Ark, a central role in his New Covenant. If you draw closer in your relationship with her, you will surely draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, and Yoga

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves; stomping Christ underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is; its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but we certainly would not voice unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into actual idolatry. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after that, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So, is it OK for Christians to practice yoga?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists: the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.

Transfiguring Our Perception of Others

August 6, 2017

Today, Jesus hikes with his three closest apostles, Peter, James, and John, to the top of Mount Tabor in Israel. And there, Jesus is transfigured before them. His face shines and his clothes become intensely white. Then they hear God the Father speaking from a bright cloud that envelops them, declaring: “This is my beloved Son.”

In the Incarnation, some two thousand and seventeen years ago, the Eternal Word became Flesh, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became Man, and the divinity of the Son of God became veiled within a human nature. It has long been my sense that Jesus is not changed or transformed at the Transfiguration so much as his apostles are allowed to glimpse him more deeply as he really, truly is: God from God, Light from Light. This light shines from his face as radiantly as the sun and from his body such that the fabric of his clothing is brightly illuminated like a thin lampshade.

When the disciples become frightened after hearing the Father’s voice and fall prostrate on the ground, burying their faces, Jesus comes over and touches them: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raise their eyes, they see Jesus once more the same way as they had always seen him, and yet they see him differently now.

If we saw Jesus tomorrow while buying bread and milk at the store, or if Jesus visited our place of work, or came to our front door, do you think we would recognize him? I tend to doubt it. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day noticed nothing extra special about him. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” The Prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah that ‘there would be in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.’ Even Jesus’ close friends sometimes had a hard time recognizing him after his Resurrection. The most famous example of this was on the Road to Emmaus. But by the gift of God’s grace, with the Breaking of the Bread, the eyes of Jesus’ disciples were opened and they recognized him in their midst. The reason I doubt that many would recognize Jesus amid their everyday lives tomorrow is because so few of us recognize him among us today.

In the very early Church, a man named Saul had a murderous hatred for the first Christians. One day, was traveling to Damascus, Syria to arrest any Christians he might find there and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This man went on to be converted to a Christian. We know him today as St. Paul.

Note how Jesus does not say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my Church,” nor “Why are you persecuting my people.” He says, “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies himself with his people and his Church because he is personally present within them. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me… You will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” Jesus speaks of his mystical presence within us our and neighbors at other times in the Gospels as well.

At the Last Judgment, Jesus tells us he will say to his saved sheep: ‘Whatever you did for one of the hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or imprisoned little brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ And then Jesus will turn and declare to the condemned goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” These goats, Jesus tells us, will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous sheep to eternal life.

And so you see, recognizing, loving, and serving Jesus in other people must be a top and serious priority for us. Yet how many people do we interact with each day with so much thoughtless indifference? We speed past other people like so many unnoticed trees and cars as we drive along our way of life. Sometimes we even take the people living in our own home for granted, treating our family members worse than our mere acquaintances. Many failed to recognize Jesus’ importance in his day; while we overlook the importance of people in our midst today. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.

All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

So how can we begin to behold and relate to other people in the manner we ought, as Christ would have us do? Jesus himself was open and loving towards everyone. I would suggest two steps: First, ask for the gift of God’s grace at this Breaking of the Bread on the Feast of the Transfiguration, that your eyes may be opened to truly see others. And second, begin a habit of praying for, say, five or ten people every day whom you’ve never thought to pray for before. For example, the cashier who gave you change yesterday, that politician whom you dislike, the suffering people of North Korea, your child’s best friend, your quiet co-worker, and the person whom you heard just died. And then, the next day, chose another new collection of people to pray for. This practice will reveal to you your inter-personal, spiritual blinders, and help you to begin tearing them down. Let us ask Jesus to transfigure our perception of others so that we may see them more in the way that he beholds them, with love.

10 Things Catholics Don’t Believe

July 27, 2017

The Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) Celebrating Holy Mass

Sixty-five years ago, Time magazine dubbed the Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen “the first televangelist.” His Emmy Award-winning TV show, Life is Worth Living, was watched by up to 30 million people weekly, with many non-Catholics among them. Bishop Sheen once observed, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” The cause for the canonization of Fulton Sheen, who helped lead a great untold number into the Faith, is currently being advanced by his home diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

This is a list of ten popular misconceptions and what Catholics actually believe:

  1. Catholics don’t believe St. Mary is a goddess, but that she is the holy mother of God and of all Christians.
  2. Catholics don’t believe the pope is sinless or inerrant on every topic, but that he can teach infallibly about faith and morals as the successor of St. Peter.
  3. Catholics don’t believe in worshiping lifeless statues, but that art can help us connect with our friends in Heaven.
  4. Catholics don’t believe lay people should not read the Bible, but that no one soundly interprets Sacred Scripture apart from Sacred Tradition.
  5. Catholics don’t believe we are “saved by works” or “earn our salvation,” but that we must remain faithful by cooperating with God’s gifts of grace.
  6. Catholics don’t believe purgatory is a “second chance” or “temporary Hell,” but that God’s saved, flawed friends are perfected there to enter his holy presence in Heaven.
  7. Catholics don’t believe in cannibalism, but that the Eucharist is truly the real, living person of Jesus Christ.
  8. Catholics don’t believe Jesus suffers and dies anew at every Mass, but that the Mass re-presents (makes present) his one sacrifice and applies its power here and now.
  9. Catholics don’t believe couples must have as many children as humanly possible, but that separating what God has joined in the marital embrace is both wrong and harmful.
  10. Catholics don’t believe all non-Catholics are going to Hell, but we desire everyone to come into full communion with Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters continue to be separated from us due to myths like these. Correcting the mistaken notions of our acquaintances about what the Catholic Church truly teaches is both a spiritual work of mercy and an important step towards the reunion of all Christians. A great harvest is to be found in this field, so let us all labor in it!

Visiting Our Eucharistic Lord

July 11, 2017

In every Catholic church around the world, Jesus sits within the tabernacle like a king upon his throne, waiting to receive anyone who would approach him with their praises, thanksgivings, and requests. Whether they stop inside for a just few minutes or spend a full “holy hour” in his presence, our Lord delights in the companionship of those who lovingly seek his audience.

St. Josemaria Escriva said, “When you approach the tabernacle, remember that He has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.” Escriva’s contemporary, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, remarked, “People ask me: ‘What will convert America and save the world?’ My answer is prayer. What we need is for every parish to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in holy hours of prayer.

In order to facilitate more of these beautiful and powerful encounters with Christ, St. Paul’s Church has begun keeping its church doors open until 7:00 PM daily. Come by to visit the Lord after work or school, or amidst your errands around town. (Please contact Father if you are willing to keylessly lock the church during the seven o’clock hour on particular evenings each week.)

St. Faustina Kowalska records Jesus telling her, “Behold, for you I have established a throne of mercy on earth — the tabernacle — and from this throne I desire to enter into your heart. I am not surrounded by a retinue of guards. You can come to me at any moment, at any time; I want to speak to you and I desire to grant you grace.” He waits for you. So come, let us adore him.

Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Liberty

June 28, 2017

Excerpted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

What do we mean by religious liberty?

In Catholic teaching, the Second Vatican Council “declare[d] that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” Religious liberty is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in federal and state laws. Religious liberty includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home; it also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What does “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Establishment Clause,” began as a ban on Congress’ either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states. It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and direct government funding of religion.

What does “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Free Exercise Clause,” generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.

What did our early American leaders say about religious freedom?

George Washington, 1789: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them…

Thomas Jefferson, 1809: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

James Madison, 1785: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

 What have recent popes said about religious liberty?

Pope St. John Paul the Great, 1996: “[T]he most fundamental human freedom [is] that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2011: “[Religious freedom] is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator.”

Pope Francis, 2015: “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

 Where are the roots of religious liberty?

Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.

How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other. The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person. But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

How does changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law but amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others. These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families. When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., when the State redefines marriage to include so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families. Religious liberty is then threatened.

Giving Our Idols the Axe

June 9, 2017

St. Boniface (675–754 A.D.) is called “the Apostle of the Germans” and spread Christianity amongst the pagans of that land. After 36 years of fruitful missionary efforts, as he prepared for a large, open-air confirmation liturgy on a Pentecost eve, a pagan band of robbers martyred the aged archbishop and his companions. The most famous story about St. Boniface (as recorded by his first biographer, Willibald, within thirteen years of the saint’s death) reflects the tensions between the old and new religions:

“At Geismar, surrounded by his companions, the saint decided to fell a gigantic oak, revered by the pagans as Jupiter’s Oak. A big crowd of pagans watched him cut the lower notch, cursing him in their hearts as an enemy of the gods. But when Boniface had scarcely chipped the front of the sacred tree, a divine blast from above crashed it to the ground with its crown of branches shivering as it fell. And as if by the gracious dispensation of the Most High, the oak also burst into four equal parts.

The bystanders could see four huge trunks, uniform in length, that had not been cut by Boniface or his associates. At this sight the pagans who had been cursing the saint, now, on the contrary, believed. They blessed the Lord and stopped their reviling. Then after consulting his companions, the holy bishop used the timber of the tree to construct an oratory there, which he dedicated to St. Peter, the apostle.”

This reminds me of a minor wonder that occurred during our Confirmations last month at St. Wenceslaus. During the Mass, driving winds blew down a large branch into our parking lot. Ron “Butch” Colson, who was monitoring the storm for us, was amazed that this heavy limb had fallen between two adjacently parked vehicles without harming either one. You can still see the blackened spot on the tree from where it fell. Though this branch had appeared sound and strong at the time of our tree-trimming project this spring, it was actually rotten and hollow inside. I would not be surprised if Jupiter’s Oak had likewise become dead and weakened within, allowing a providentially-timed wind gust to take down the whole tree after a few swings of St. Boniface’s axe.

Today we do not worship pagan idols—gods of metal, wood, or stone—yet whenever we let created things have priority before God we turn them into our idols. Our worship of idols—be they people, possessions, or pleasures—is sin. At first glance, sins can appear harmless or even healthy, but God would cut down and convert us away from them. And the Lord, who works all things for the good of those who love him, can build great things from our sins’ wreckage and rubble.

In C.S. Lewis’ 1945 novel, The Great Divorce, a ghost considers journeying to join God and the saints in Heaven, but he is prevented by a little red lizard on his shoulder who whispers lustful ideas into his ear. A mighty angel of God offers to kill the ghost’s loved-yet-hated tempter and, after a great struggle of will, he consents. Once the lizard is slain, the ghost transforms into a man of glory while the lizard becomes a great white stallion with mane and tail of gold. Then, like a shooting star, the man rides his horse up the slopes of God’s holy mountain in a flash.

St. Boniface boldly felled Jupiter’s oak and built a place of worship from its timbers. This day, let us turn away from our sins, handing over our idols to God, that he may remake us more perfectly into his awesome, holy, and glorious likeness.

God Raises Up the Lowly

June 1, 2017

She was a teenage virgin when she received a word from Heaven — she was to be God’s instrument in an incredible way. She asked how this could be, since she was merely an uneducated peasant girl. The messenger answered that God would deliver his people through her and she consented to her part in God’s plan. Despite her utter lack of military training, St. Joan of Arc (1412—1431 AD) would go on to lead French troops to swift victories against the English armies occupying her  homeland, paving the way for her people’s liberation.

Every year, St. Joan’s of Arc’s feast (May 30th) comes the day before the Feast of the Visitation, which celebrates the meeting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth when they were pregnant with St. John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. I think it is fitting and providential that these two celebrations are paired together on the liturgical calendar. These three, wondrous women display God’s preferred means of intervening and triumphing throughout human history: by manifesting his mighty power through the weak and the lowly.

Of course, God can work through the high-ranking and the powerful to accomplish his purposes as well. For example, in 312 AD the pagan emperor Constantine, on the eve of a great battle in a civil war for control of the Western Roman Empire, reportedly had a vision of the Chi-Rho (☧), a Greek symbol for “Christ.” He then heard these words:  “In this sign you will conquer.” Constantine had this symbol painted on his soldiers’ shields and  prevailed in that decisive Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine became the first Christian emperor and promptly legalized the previously persecuted Christian religion throughout the empire in 313 AD.

And yet, the Virgin Mother Mary rejoices that God prefers to show the strength of his arm by lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty from their thrones. St. Paul once redirected the attention of self-inflated Christians in Corinth, Greece to this truth:

Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. … “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

In the Old Testament, God chose sheepherders, like Moses the Prophet and later King David, to lead and deliver his oppressed people. He chose working-class fishermen as some of the Church’s first bishops. At the Visitation, the four most important people in the entire world met together in one place: two women and their unborn babies. And through one condemned man, whose three-year rabbinical career seemed to end in failure and death, God redeemed the world. Such is the divine approach, lest we look to merely our own human plans and efforts as the source for our salvation.

Why Did Jesus Go Incognito?

April 30, 2017

There are three episodes in the Gospels where the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples but initially goes unrecognized: at the tomb, to Mary Magdalene; in the appearance we hear about today, to a pair of travelers on the road to Emmaus; and lastly, to seven of his disciples fishing the Sea of Galilee.

Let us briefly review each encounter:

First, on Easter morning, Mary is weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees Jesus there, but she does not know it’s Jesus. He says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thinks he’s the gardener and says to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus says to her, “Mary!” She turns, and says to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s tear-filled eyes and anguished mind simply could not make out Jesus’ face in morning’s early light, but after one more word she recognizes him. (John 20)

Today, Jesus draws near to Cleopas and another unnamed disciple as they walk to Emmaus, but their eyes are prevented from recognizing him, for he appears to them in another form. Later, when all three of them are dining together, Jesus takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. With that their eyes are opened and they recognize him. He is revealed to them in the breaking of the bread, but then vanishes from their sight. (Luke 24, Mark 16:12)

Third and finally, after a night of completely unsuccessful fishing, Jesus appears to the Apostles Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John, and two other unnamed disciples. They’re in a boat and he’s on the shore, but they do not immediately realize it’s Jesus. He says to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answer, “No.” So he says, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” And they proceed to miraculously catch 153 large fish without tearing their nets. (The Biny fish, which is common to the Sea of Galilee today, has a weight at maturity of 13 to 15 pounds. A catch of 153 of these fish would weigh more than a ton.) Jesus then invites them, “Come, have breakfast.” And, St. John’s Gospel notes, none of the disciples dares to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realize it is the Lord. (John 21)

One might argue that Jesus’ looks were not in any way disguised on the shore, that the disciples simply failed to recognize him at first because he was about a hundred yards away and the light of dawn was still dim. But if that were the case, there would be no thought of asking him “Who are you” over breakfast around that charcoal fire; this question only arises if his identity remains somewhat concealed. Some have suggested that Jesus appeared elderly to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee, for he says, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” On the other hand, Jesus had previously referred to the Apostles as his children at the Last Supper, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”

Jesus has no difficulty being immediately recognizable when he wants to be. On Divine Mercy Sunday, when Jesus appears before St. Thomas for the first time, we perceive no hesitation in the former doubter’s declaration, “My Lord and my God!” So why then did Jesus allow himself to go unrecognized, at times even becoming physically unrecognizable to his disciples? Perhaps Jesus had thousands of good reasons for this, but I would offer these four:

Reason #1: To add proof that these resurrection accounts are true

Imagine if Jesus’ bodily resurrection were a lie and you were making up stories to bolster others’ belief in it. Would you invent and insert the odd detail that Jesus’ closest disciples couldn’t always recognize him when they saw him? What reason would there be to weave such a confounding wrinkle into your resurrection accounts — unless it were the truth?

Reason #2: To demonstrate how people can believe in Jesus without directly seeing him 

The disciples in Emmaus said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They came to faith in the resurrection by recognizing the fulfillment of prophesy, even before Jesus had opened their eyes to see himself. At the Sea of Galilee, when the Beloved Disciple saw the incredible catch of fish, he said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” The miraculous sign revealed to them the truth about a person they could not see. We today may not see Jesus’ unveiled presence among us, but he provides sufficient evidence to point to himself in every generation.

Reason #3: To show how Jesus would continue to be with us

In the forty days between Easter and his Ascension, Jesus was not visibly present to his Apostles twenty-four hours a day. Yet at the Great Commission, Jesus reassures, “[B]ehold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” What he’s saying is, ‘Even when you are alone, I will always be at your side.’ By revealing his resurrected self to his disciples “in a different form,” Jesus prepares them for how they will regularly encounter him through the Sacraments until he comes again; truly present, but veiled.

Reason #4: To reveal how Jesus is presented to us through others

Who is the manual laborer we bump into, like Mary Magdalene saw on Easter morning and addressed respectfully as “Sir” (even though she was having a horrible day and thought he might be a body snatcher)? Who is the traveler we pass on the road, like the Emmaus duo met, dialogued with, and invited to stay with them? Who is the older person that greets us, like the Galilean fishermen encountered and with whom they shared their food? Jesus would have us see himself in all of them and everyone. At the Last Judgment, Jesus will declare to both the saved sheep and the guilty goats, “Whatever you did for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”

Jesus once asked St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th century Italian mystic, “My beloved, do you know why I love you?” In response to Catherine’s negative reply, Jesus said, “I will tell you. If I cease to love you, you will be nothing; you will be incapable of anything good. Now you see why I have to love you.” Catherine replied, “It is true,” and suddenly added, “I would like to love you like that.” But as soon as she had spoken, she realized what she had said was misplaced. Jesus smiled. Then, she complained, “But this is not fair. You can love me with great love, and I can only love you with small love.” At that moment, Jesus interrupted and said, “I have made it possible for you to love me with great love.” Surprised, she immediately asked him how. “I have placed your neighbor at your side. Whatever you do to him, I will consider it as being done to me.” St. Catherine went running to care for the sick in the hospital, rejoicing: “Now I can love Jesus with great love!”

After the resurrection, Jesus was sometimes unrecognized by his disciples, but he allowed this so that we might better recognize him; as the Savior truly risen, as the Christ evidenced by signs, as the Lord truly present in the Sacraments, and as the one concealed in our neighbor.

The Case of the Prophet Caiaphas

April 29, 2017

Once word got around how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead,

[T]he chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “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. So from that day on they planned to kill him. (John 11:47-53)

Caiaphas speaks the wisdom of this world, recommending evil means in hopes of a desired social end. Yet St. John notes that this earthly-minded high priest prophetically reveals the plan of heaven without knowing it — Jesus has come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Like Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Caiaphas prophesies despite himself.

After Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection, the Sanhedrin convenes anew — this time to address the issue of the Apostles’ continued ministry in His name:

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.”

Caiaphas is threatened by the vitality of this Messianic movement that won’t die and stay dead. He fears the social rebellion and personal vengeance that its followers may seek out. Once again, the high priest’s misplaced concerns unknowingly speak spiritual truths.

The Apostles indeed wish to bring the Savior’s blood upon the Jewish leaders and everyone. When the Old Covenant was inaugurated, “[Moses] took the blood and splashed it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:8) Likewise, in instituting his New Covenant, Jesus “took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28)

And the Apostles’ teaching is not merely filling the ancient Jerusalem found in the earthly Promised Land. In his visions, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and he notes that God’s people “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:2 & 7:14)

Recall what Joseph told to his brothers who had sold him away as a slave: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) Remember what St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “We know that God works all things for good for those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28) The case of Caiaphas reminds us that even those who make themselves the enemies of God will be used as instruments to accomplish His ultimate will. At times this truth can be painfully inscrutable to us, but we trust that every evil, even the murdering of God, shall be turned to the good of those who love Him.

Stories from a Saint’s Diary

April 19, 2017

St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) was a nun in Poland who experienced visions of Jesus Christ later deemed by the Church as worthy of belief—though (as like all private revelations) not required to be believed by the faithful. The Divine Mercy Image, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and Divine Mercy Sunday all stem from of her apparitions. St. Faustina detailed her experiences in a diary she kept from 1934 until her death. It is an episodic but fascinating read. These are just some of her stories:

●  Once [at age 19] I was at a dance with one of my [biological] sisters. While everybody was having a good time, my soul was experiencing deep torments. As I began to dance, I suddenly saw Jesus at my side, Jesus racked with pain, stripped of His clothing, all covered with wounds, who spoke these words to me: How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off? At that moment the charming music stopped, [and] the company I was with vanished from my sight; there remained Jesus and I. I took a seat by my dear sister pretending to have a headache in order to cover up what took place in my soul. After a while I slipped out unnoticed, leaving my sister and all my companions behind and made my way to the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka. It was almost twilight; there were only a few people in the cathedral. Paying no attention to what was happening around me, I fell prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament and begged the Lord to be good enough to give me to understand what I should do next. Then I heard these words: Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there. I rose from prayer, came home, and took care of things that needed to be settled. As best I could, I confided to my sister what took place within my soul. I told her to say goodbye to our parents, and thus, in my one dress, with no other belonging, I arrived in Warsaw. (Diary paragraphs #9-10)

●  Once, I desired very much to receive Holy Communion, but I had a certain doubt, and I did not go. I suffered greatly because of this. It seemed to me that my heart would burst from the pain. When I set about my work, my heart full of bitterness, Jesus suddenly stood by me and said, My daughter, do not omit Holy Communion unless you know well that your fall was serious; apart from this, no doubt must stop you from uniting yourself with Me in the mystery of My love. Your minor faults will disappear in My love like a piece of straw thrown into a great furnace. Know that you grieve Me much when you fail to receive Me in Holy Communion. (#156)

●  Once the Lord said to me, Act like a beggar who does not back away when he gets more alms [than he asked for], but offers thanks the more fervently. You too, should not back away and say that you are not worthy of receiving greater graces when I give them to you. I know you are unworthy, but rejoice all the more and take as many treasures from My Heart as you can carry, for then you will please Me more. And I will tell you one more thing—take these graces not only for yourself, but also for others; that is, encourage the souls with whom you come in contact to trust in My infinite mercy… (#294)

●  Once, when I was visiting the artist who was painting the [Divine Mercy] image, and saw that it was not as beautiful as Jesus is, I felt very sad about it, but I hid this deep in my heart. When we had left the artist’s house, Mother Superior stayed in town to attend to some matters while I returned home alone. I went immediately to the chapel and wept a good deal. I said to the Lord, “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” Then I heard these words: Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace. (#313)

●  On the evening of the last day before my departure from Vilnius, an elderly sister revealed the condition of her soul to me. She said that she had already been suffering interiorly for several years, that it seemed to her that all her confessions had been bad, and that she had doubts as to whether the Lord Jesus had forgiven her. I asked her if she had ever told her confessor about this. She answered that she had spoken many times about this to her confessors and… “the confessors are always telling me to be at peace, but still I suffer very much, and nothing brings me relief, and it constantly seems to me that God has not forgiven me.” In answered, “You should obey your confessor, Sister, and be fully at peace, because this is certainly a temptation.” But she entreated me with tears in her eyes to ask Jesus if He had forgiven her and whether her confessions had been good or not. I answered forcefully, “Ask Him yourself, Sister, if you don’t believe your confessors!” But she clutched my hand and did not want to let me go until I gave her an answer, and she kept asking me to pray for her and to let her know what Jesus would tell me about her. Crying bitterly, she would not let me go and said to me, “I know that the Lord Jesus speaks to you, Sister.” Since she was clutching my hand and I could not wrench myself away, I promised her I would pray for her. In the evening, during Benediction, I heard these words in my soul: Tell her that her disbelief wounds My heart more than the sins she committed. When I told her this, she began to cry like a child, and great joy entered her soul. I understood that God wanted to console this soul through me. Even though it cost me a good deal, I fulfilled God’s wish. (#628)

●  After Holy Communion today, I spoke at length to the Lord Jesus about people who are special to me. Then I heard these words: My daughter, dont be exerting yourself so much with words. Those whom you love in a special way, I too love in a special way, and for your sake, I shower My graces upon them. I am pleased when you tell Me about them, but don’t be doing so with such excessive effort. (#739)

●  February 6, [1937]. Today, the Lord said to me, My daughter, I am told that there is much simplicity in you, so why do you not tell Me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details? Tell Me about everything, and know that this will give Me great joy. I answered, “But You know about everything, Lord.” And Jesus replied to me, Yes, I do know; but you should not excuse yourself with the fact that I know, but with childlike simplicity talk to Me about everything, for My ears and heart are inclined towards you, and your words are dear to Me. (#921)

“I Thirst for You”

March 19, 2017

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta offered this beautiful meditation on the thirst of Jesus Christ, writing these words in His voice:

I know you through and through; I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you, even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you, not for what you have or haven’t done. I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life; and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.

I know what is in your heart; I know your loneliness and all your hurts: the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations. I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love– how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often you have thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures–with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all you who thirst…” (John 7:37) I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine–to the point of dying on a cross for you.

I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you: I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you; that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation and give you peace, even in all your trials. I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give Me your life, and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.

No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life, there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change: I thirst for you-just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you at every moment of the day standing at the door of your heart, and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood my cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there, for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: “I THIRST…” (John 19:28) Yes, I thirst for you. … All your life I have been looking for your love — I have never stopped seeking to love you and to be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.

I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU.

[Source – with her full meditation]