“Great Saints Are Never Wimps”

Today is All Saints Day and we are reminded that to be a saint is our call from our all holy God. This was a command that was first given to Abraham, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless'” (Genesis 17:1 NRSV), and then given to God’s early followers in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land:

For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44–45 NRSV)

Jesus emphasized this in his Sermon on the Mount in the context of loving our enemies:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 NRSV)

And Peter in his first epistle reminds us that we cannot continue to be conformed to our former way of life. Following Christ in holiness demands a new way of living and acting:

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13–16 NRSV)

A top Catholic historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei, on October 20, 2018, spoke to the Voice of the Family Conference in Rome. He was speaking of the mission of Catholic young adults in today’s world. His words are powerful and give balance to some of the fuzzy focus that came out of the Youth Synod. He says:

What to say to the young of today? I can say nothing other than what I tell myself each day: be holy. This isn’t an abstract question; it’s a concrete question that concerns each one of us, man or woman, young or old, nobody is excluded. I need to be convinced of this: I might attain all the fortunes of life: health, wealth, pleasure, honors and power, but if I don’t become holy, my life will have been a failure.

On the other hand, I might experience trials and tribulations of all sorts, I might appear a failure in the eyes of the world, but if I become holy I will have attained the true and only purpose of my life. Man was created to be happy. There is only one way to be happy: be holy. Holiness makes for man’s happiness and the glory of God.

To close I share a few other choice quotes about being a saint:

  • “The saints are the only really happy people on earth.”
    Father John Hardon, S.J.
  • “Become a saint, and do so quickly.”
    Pope Saint John Paul II
  • “Great saints are never wimps.”
    Peter Kreeft
  • “Be a saint – What else is there?”
    Patrick Coffin
“Great Saints Are Never Wimps”

When Jesuits were, well…Jesuits!

The Society of Jesus was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. The Jesuits have a historic and dramatic past. Following the lead of Ignatius and Francis Xavier the Jesuits impacted the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today with their checkered present it is important to remember the faith and valor of the Jesuit forefathers.

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Today is the feast day of the North American martyrs: eight Jesuit missionaries who were martyred at different times in the mid-17th century in Canada. Chief among these were St. Isaac Jogues (1646) and St. Jean de Brébeuf (1649). They and their six fellow missionaries ministered among the Hurons in what is now southern Ontario and upstate New York.

Isaac Jogues was born in Orléans, France in 1607. In 1636 he was ordained a Jesuit priest and in that same year after hearing the stories of missionaries to the New World, set sail for New France to begin his work. When he arrived in Quebec he wrote to his mother: “I do not know [how] it is to enter Heaven, but this I know—that it would be difficult to experience in this world a joy more excessive and more overflowing than I felt in setting foot in the New World, and celebrating my first Mass on the day of Visitation.”

Jogues lived among the Huron for six years and acclimated himself to their diet and customs. Then he was captured by the Mohawk nation and thus began his trial by fire:

“…in retaliation for comforting a tortured Frenchman, the Mohawk beat Jogues with sticks, tore out his fingernails, then gnawed the ends of his fingers until finger bones were visible. The war party then took their captives on a journey to a Mohawk village. There, the villagers marched them through a gauntlet, which consisted of rows of Iroquois armed with rods and sticks beating the prisoners walking in single-file. Afterwards, the Iroquois forced Jogues and the prisoners onto an elevated platform where they were mocked. A captive Algonquin woman then cut off Jogues’ thumb. At night, the prisoners were tied spread-eagled in a cabin. Children threw burning coals onto their bodies. Three days later, Jogues and the prisoners were marched from one village to another, where the Iroquois flogged them in gauntlets, and jabbed sticks into their wounds and sores. At the third village, Jogues was hung from a wooden plank and nearly lost consciousness, until an Iroquois had pity on him and cut him free. Throughout his captivity, Jogues comforted, baptized, heard confession from, and absolved the other prisoners.” (Wikipedia)

With the help of a Dutch official, Jogues was able to escape and returned to France. Due to his tortures he could no longer celebrate the Mass as he was missing the fingers (thumb and forefinger) required to touch the the host. Pope Urban VIII called him a “living martyr” and gave him a dispensation to celebrate the Mass despite his missing digits. It would have been totally understandable if Isaac Jogues would have settled down in France and lived out the rest of his years in “retirement,” but he didn’t. After a visit to see his mother in Orléans, he prepared to return to New France to continue his work in the missions.

Within six months of arriving in Mohawk territory, Isaac Jogues was martyred by being beheaded with a tomahawk. Jogues often said, “He [Jesus] was making us share his sufferings, and admitting us to participation in his crosses.” Jogues regarded his torture, and the death he thought would follow, as allowing him to imitate, and thus participate in, the passion of Jesus (Allan Greer).

The life, ministry and death of Jogues and his fellow martyrs challenge each of us, causing us to ask just how deep is our faith and how strong is our desire to serve even in the face of death. These men lived their lives with an exclamation point!

St. Isaac Jogues and companions pray for us!

Image: Martyrdom of Father Isaac Jogues S.J. | Engraving by A. Malaer | Wellcome Images
When Jesuits were, well…Jesuits!

Peculiar People

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Often when the American Republic experiences crisis we fondly remember those early founders that seem to have had such crystal clear foresight and strength of conviction that got them through the difficult times of establishing a nation. We look back to George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Adams and others to give us courage and in that way believe that we can return to their ideals.

The Church in her wisdom has given us the gifts of the saints who in forsaking all, picked up their cross and followed our Lord Jesus. For many it left them with the moniker of “strangers,” “foreigners,” and even “peculiar” (KJV). For many others it meant torture, suffering and death. We remember these precious and powerful men and women on specific days that we call feast days. Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 35–108). Check out the dates of his life! Today’s saint was born right after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On route to his martyrdom under the Emperor Trajan, Ignatius wrote a series of seven letters to different churches. Once he arrived in Rome he was thrown to the lions and gained the martyr’s crown.

In honor of his feast day and to encourage us in this hour of trial that we are enduring in our own time, allow me to share words of encouragement and challenge from this great saint.

  • “Now I begin to be a disciple. Let fire and cross, flocks of beasts, broken bones, dismemberment come upon me, so long as I attain to Jesus Christ.”

  • “Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your heart.”

  • “A Christian is not his own master, since all his time belongs to God.”

  • “I would rather die for Christ than rule the whole earth.”

  • “Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.”

  • “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.”

  • “Take care, then, to be firmly grounded in the teachings of the Lord and his apostles so that you may prosper in all your doings both in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in the Son, and in the Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, along with your most worthy bishop and his spiritual crown, your presbyters, and with the deacons, who are men of God.”

  • “Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was in the flesh to the Father, and the apostles to Christ and to the Father and to the Spirit, so that there may be unity in flesh and in spirit.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch pray for us!

Peculiar People

From the Bottom Up

I trust you have been encouraged, challenged and informed by this blog. In the weeks to come expect to find new blogs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

Yesterday my local parish, St. Peter’s in Merchantville, New Jersey, began the annual Forty Hours of Prayer. The focus for this year’s forty hours is “Reparation, Healing and Renewal”—reparation for the evils committed by a handful of priests and bishops, healing for the victims of sexual abuse, and renewal of the Church at the local, diocesan, national and universal Church levels.

At the inaugural Mass at 3:00 p.m. yesterday, my pastor Fr. Tim Byerley gave a homily outlining these three aspects of our prayer focus. I want to highlight his thoughts from the third point: Renewal or reform. Last week Fr. Tim attended a conference in Washington, DC, the NAPA Institute’s Principled Entrepreneurship Conference. Two of the speakers at this conference were Gerhard Cardinal Müller of Germany and Dr. Scott Hahn. Cardinal Müller spoke of the importance of renewing and reforming the Church from the top down. He reminded the attendees how God has raised up saints in the past to call the Church back to holiness, and how at times God has even employed visitations of the Blessed Virgin Mary to speak truth to the Church, for example at Fatima, just over one hundred years ago. We must pray that there will be men and women who will faithfully speak truth to leadership as St. Catherine of Siena did to Pope Gregory XI convincing him to leave Avignon and take his rightful place in Rome; as Saints Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo, and Philip Neri who were instrumental in the Counter-Reformation and the Council of Trent to restore and reform the Church from within. Who will be that saint or group of saints today?

Dr. Scott Hahn spoke of the importance of the Church being renewed and reformed from the bottom up. This is also very important and Dr. Hahn spoke to the conference as a layman himself. His focus was on the importance of lay Catholics living holy lives. He specifically referenced the need for couples to live out the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and through their sacrament to honor each other, have children and raise those children to love God and the Church who will then became faithful priests, religious, and married couples who will in turn do the same. If Catholics would be faithful to do this, in one generation the Church would be renewed and reformed and the society would be impacted for the good.

He mentioned some specific ways in which married couples could achieve this, and all by God’s grace being poured out into their lives:

  • Lifetime commitment to marriage. What God has joined, no one should separate.
  • Rejection of contraception. Every couple must be open to life and using birth control is not something a Catholic can practice.
  • Rejection of pornography. Pornography is insidious in our culture. Back in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Today we are so inundated by a culture of pornography that we sometimes struggle to recognize it when it gently laps on our shores, then before you know it the tide has come in and we are completely immersed. It’s time to reset our filters and reject what will destroy us, our marriages and our families, especially our children.
  • Commitment to raise godly children and grandchildren. Our children and grandchildren will not become holy by osmosis. We cannot expect that their education, religious or otherwise, their peers, the media and the culture in general will lead them to God. At best it will be neutral. It is our role and responsibility and God-given commission to “train up” our children and persist in their religious upbringing. We would not leave their nutrition, health, and general education to chance. Why would we put their immortal souls at the risk of hell by not leading them into the way of truth?

Whether you are participating in a Forty Hours of Prayer or not, set aside some time to pray, fast and seek how you may follow after our Lord in this challenging time. This is not something we can take lightly. Our destiny and the destiny of the next generation depend upon our faithfulness to respond to God.

Saints Catherine of Siena, Robert Bellarmine, Charles Borromeo and Philip Neri pray for us!

From the Bottom Up

From Satanist to Saint

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This is not your typical story of a saint. This account takes us way out of our comfort zone, to the point that we have to confront the reality of Satan and the demonic and the battle against the souls of men and women.

Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926) was born in Latiano, Italy. His father (both parents were devout Catholics) died when he was 10 years old, a loss that greatly affected the boy. Not only did he lose some of the stability of his home, but his homeland was undergoing turmoil as many changes were happening in Italy to begin to make it the modern state it is today.

Bartolo studied law at the University of Naples where many of his professors were ex-priests who “preached” hatred against the Church. Later he would write: “I, too, grew to hate monks, priests and the Pope and in particular [I detested] the Dominicans, the most formidable, furious opponents of those great modern professors, proclaimed by the university the sons of progress, the defenders of science, the champions of every sort of freedom.”

Rejecting his faith and the Church, he sought something to fill the void and began to visit mediums and was introduced to the occult. As those who have engaged in the occult  know, you cannot dabble and stay on the fringes. His thirst for more to fill the void led him into outright Satanism. He engaged in a period of intense study and rigorous fasting, to the point that he was no more than “skin and bones.” It was then that he was consecrated as a satanic priest and dedicated his soul to a demon. As a satanic priest he presided over “black masses” and preached boldly against God and Christ’s Church, calling them the true evils.

His family never stopped praying for Bartolo; they tried to talk him out of his error, but he would not listen. The family sought help from a professor from the university, Vincenzo Pepe, a devout Catholic. He met with Bartolo and after several encounters challenged him with these words:  “Do you want to die in an insane asylum and be damned forever?” Professor Pepe, through the power of the Holy Spirit, struck a chord in the darkened soul of Bartolo. He agreed to meet with a Dominican priest, Alberto Radente, who after three weeks of continual conversations welcomed Bartolo back to the Church and give him absolution. He also introduced him to the Rosary. Longo was 24 years old.

For two years he was in constant company with the Dominican priest and other dedicated Catholics. They provided him cover from the onslaughts of the evil one and offered him accountability in his long road to restoration from the demonic. At the end of this time he became a third-order Dominican. He began to serve the poor and downtrodden in the area of Pompeii.

Yet Bartolo was plagued with nagging doubts. He wrote: “One day in the fields around Pompeii, I recalled my former condition as a priest of Satan… I thought that perhaps as the priesthood of Christ is for eternity, so also the priesthood of Satan is for eternity. So, despite my repentance, I thought: I am still consecrated to Satan, and I am still his slave and property as he awaits me in Hell. As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: ‘One who propagates my Rosary shall be saved.’ Falling to my knees, I exclaimed: ‘If your words are true that he who propagates your Rosary will be saved, I shall reach salvation because I shall not leave this earth without propagating your Rosary.’”

Bartolo spent the rest of his life propagating the Rosary and living out the Mysteries of the life of Christ contained therein. He helped to build the famous Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in Pompeii, he “founded elementary schools and orphanages, inaugurated a print shop and technical school to give the children of convicted criminals the chance of a better life. He wrote books on the Rosary, composed novenas and prayer manuals. The former Satanist eventually became a friend of Pope Leo XIII, who had a great devotion to the Rosary. From Pompeii he also began the popular movement that led to the solemn dogmatic proclamation of the Assumption in 1950.” (Dominican Friars Foundation)

A little known fact is that Blessed Bartolo Longo was the source of inspiration for Pope St. John Paul II who introduced the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary that deal with Christ’s public ministry to the Catholic world in 2002. The pope beatified Bartolo in 1980.

Our saint’s life is a reminder that no one is too far gone. God’s love, mercy and grace reaches to the depths of our sin, cleanses us and puts us on the way to heaven.

Blessed Bartolo Longo pray for us!

From Satanist to Saint

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear

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As a child living in the jungle interior of Suriname, South America, I frequently would visit the home of my widowed aunt and her two children who lived on the same mission compound as my family. One of the things in her home that captured my attention was the painting of the guardian angel watching over two small children crossing a very unstable bridge over a river full of rapids. The children seem so unaware of the danger, perhaps because they are young and innocent, but maybe because of the protection of their guardian angel.

Beyond that painting I don’t remember being taught that I had a guardian angel, yet I can also say nobody taught me to the contrary. Jesus actually teaches about guardian angels in the Gospel of Matthew (18:1-10 NRSV).

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.

And if that wasn’t enough the writer to the Hebrews (1:14) tells us: “Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” I can almost guarantee dear reader, that at some point in your life, you have a time in which you sensed protection from an invisible force, when you have looked back and maybe even declared, “God must have sent me an angel!”

God has assigned us this protection from our guardian angel. This angel continually sees the face of our Father in heaven. What a wonderful and sweet connection! This is better than any secret service detail afforded to the president and other high level officials. We don’t own the angel; we can’t tell the angel what to do; we don’t name the angel or try to control the angel.

Here is the prayer that Catholic children learn early in life:

Angel of God
My guardian dear
To Whom His love
Commits me here
Ever this day
Be at my side
To light and guard
To rule and guide. Amen.

On this feast day of the Holy Guardian Angels, we pray, “O God, who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended by their protection and rejoice eternally in their company. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Image from Appalachian Magazine
Angel of God, My Guardian Dear

The Little Flower

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When I went to Costa Rica and then Peru as a missionary with my wife and family I had to learn a new language—Spanish. In the early days of language school I found myself so frustrated because I could not express myself. In a matter of weeks I had gone from being the pastor of a congregation who could say what I needed or wanted to say with a good deal of fluidity and flexibility. I could use synonyms and really didn’t have to worry about verb tenses. The only issue I had was when my Michigan congregation would laugh at my Hoosier vocabulary or accent. What did they know?

This became my experience another time in my life when after 33 years of pastoral/missionary ministry I entered into the field of health insurance. Overnight I had a whole new vocabulary and way of expressing my work thrust upon me. It was like learning a new language with a lot of technical terms you don’t use in general conversation outside of work. Yet I got to the place where I could do a credible job communicating.

Perhaps the most impactful change in my life as been the learning curve that has come my way in becoming Catholic at the tender age of 59. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe I’m not such an old dog after all. I have truly enjoyed discovering the ancient and ever new faith that I find in the Catholic Church. There are some differences in vocabulary of course, “prayer requests” become “intentions”, a “call” becomes a “vocation”, etc. Bigger shifts have come in the Sacraments, going from two—baptism and communion—to seven in the Catholic Church, and coming to understand the Communion of the Saints.

Even before coming into the Church, learning about the saints and their role in the Church Triumphant was such a blessing and encouragement to me. How much I appreciated seeing the seamless tapestry that is Christ’s Church in the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering and the Church Militant.

One of the saints that early on became significant to me was Thérèse of Lisieux, the French saint that lived from 1873 to 1897. Today she is not only canonized (1925 by Pope Pius XI), but was declared to be a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope St. John Paul II. We know a great deal of her life and desire for holiness through her autobiography The Story of a Soul, a spiritual memoir. There we learn about the “Little Way of Love.”

I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts (elevators) instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. […] Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.

One other quote of St. Thérèse that stood out to me as I was coming into the Church and praying for God’s will to be done in my life and in the life of my wife Charlotte was, “I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth. I will send a shower of roses.”

In February 2015, there was no doubt in my heart and mind that I was to follow God’s leading to enter the Catholic Church. At that point though Charlotte was not ready or willing. I assured her that I would not do anything until she was ready. I would wait (and pray). I decided to pray a novena (a nine-day prayer) asking for the intercession of St. Thérèse about next steps and that Charlotte would have clarity of heart, mind, and spirit. The novena ended in the final days of February. On March 1 Charlotte woke up in the middle of the night (winter in New York City) to an overwhelming smell of roses that lasted but a few seconds. As she tells it, she knew immediately that she was to respond to God’s call to come home to the Church of her childhood.

On this the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I say “thank you” and ask her to pray for others who need to take the next step in obedience to Jesus Christ.

image from YouTube
The Little Flower