Letting Go of Everything

sod-0117-saintanthonyofegypt-790x480

Once upon a time there was a young man who lived very comfortably in a family that had plenty of resources. His father and mother provided a wonderful environment for his younger sister and him to be nurtured physically, emotionally and spiritually. One day … I’ll let bishop Athanasius to pick up the story from here as excerpted from his biography of St. Anthony.

“When Anthony was about eighteen or twenty years old, his parents died, leaving him with an only sister. He cared for her as she was very young, and also looked after their home.

“Not six months after his parents’ death, as he was on his way to church for his usual visit, he began to think of how the apostles left everything and followed the Savior, and also of those mentioned in the book of Acts who had sold their possessions and brought the apostles the money for distribution to the needy. He reflected too on the great hope stored in heaven for such as these. This was all in his mind when, entering the church just as the Gospel was being read, he heard the Lord’s words to the rich man: If you want to be perfect, go and see all you have and give the money to the poor—and you will have riches in heaven. Then come and follow me.

“It seemed to Anthony that it was God who had brought the saints to his mind and that the words of the Gospel had been spoken directly to him. Immediately he left the church and gave away to the villagers all the property he had inherited, about 200 acres of very beautiful and fertile land, so that it would cause no distraction to his sister and himself. He sold all his other possessions as well, giving to the poor the considerable sum of money he collected. However, to care for his sister he retained a few things.

“The next time he went to church he heard the Lord say in the Gospel: Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Without a moment’s hesitation he went out and gave the poor all that he had left. He placed his sister in the care of some well-known and trustworthy virgins and arranged for her to be brought up in the convent. Then he gave himself up to the ascetic life, not far from his own home. He kept a careful watch over himself and practiced great austerity. He did manual work, because he heard the words: If anyone will not work, do not let him eat. He spent some of his earnings on bread and the rest he gave to the poor.

“Having learned that we should always be praying, even when we are by ourselves, he prayed without ceasing. Indeed, he was so attentive when Scripture was read that nothing escaped him and because he retained all he heard, his memory served him in the place of books.

“Seeing the kind of life he lived, the villagers and all the good men he knew called him the friend of God, and they loved him as both son and brother.” (From the Life of Saint Anthony by Saint Athanasius, bishop, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours, January 17)

Wow! Am I willing to obey the words of Scripture to that degree?

Happy Feast Day St. Anthony of the Desert who lived from 251–356 A.D. and died at the age of 105!

 

Letting Go of Everything

Bring Them In!

This morning I remember a song we used to sing at the little white frame church by the railroad tracks in the little town I grew up in. The song was sung when all the Sunday school classes came together before being dismissed to their individual teachers.

Hark! ’tis the Shepherd’s voice I hear,
out in the desert dark and drear,
calling the sheep who’ve gone astray
far from the Shepherd’s fold away.

Refrain:
Bring them in, bring them in,
bring them in from the fields of sin;
Bring them in, bring them in,
Bring the wand’ring ones to Jesus.

On a regular basis we get reports from Barna, Gallup, Pew Research, or our own visual assessments that people aren’t going to church like they used to. We remember the good ole days when people knew that the Sunday place to be was in church. I am not minimizing that reality. Church attendance is way down. Yet sometimes we need perspective and maybe even a holy “kick in the pants.” I’ll let St. John Chrysostom (d. 407 A.D.) do the honors today in his homily To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly:

It seems I did no good with the long harangue I addressed to you a while ago, hoping to rouse up your enthusiasm for the meetings here. Once again our church is destitute of her children. So once again I have to annoy and burden you by reproving those who are present and faulting those who are left behind—faulting them because they have not overcome their laziness, and you because you have not lent the salvation of your brothers and sisters a helping hand.

My remarks are not so much directed at them as at you, because you haven’t brought them in—you don’t rouse them from their inertia and bring them to this table of salvation. How many fathers are here whose sons aren’t standing next to them? Was it so hard for you to bring some of your children with you?

So it’s clear that the absence of all the others who stayed away is not just because of their own laziness, but also because of your neglect.

But now, even if you’ve never done it before, stir yourselves up. Let each one of you enter the church with one of your family. Prod and urge one another to the congregation here—the father should urge his son, the son his father, the husbands their wives, the wives their husbands, the master his servant, the brother his brother, the friend his friend. In fact, let us not call only our friends but also our enemies to this common treasury of good things. If your enemy sees that you care for his welfare, he will doubtless give up hating you.

—St. John Chrysostom, To Those Who Had Not Attended the Assembly, 1, 3
A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living, p. 342

Wise words from a wise Church Father! “Bring them in, bring them in, bring them in from the fields of sin. Bring the wand’ring ones to Jesus!”

Bring Them In!

Overheard in the Office

Two coworkers were talking a few cubicles away from me and one said “If you believed in asking the saints to pray for you, which I don’t, maybe you should ask John Knox to pray, because he’s probably not too busy.” The insinuation is that Catholics are keeping their saints busy. If only it were so!

The conversation continued with chuckles and with an assurance that there is a hole in the Catholic theology of the “Communion of the Saints.” I listened and immediately wondered what I would do the next time one of my coworkers asked me to pray for them. Am I any more qualified to lift their concern in intercession to God? Just because I am on earth, how is my prayer more effective than the prayer of one who is in the very presence of God?

I know that the idea of asking the saints to pray with us and for us is foreign, even abominable to many who identify as Protestants or Evangelicals. The ironic thing is that the joke was being made by someone who should know better, but that is not the point of this article.

The point is that the Church is one, whether in heaven or on earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 12, after giving us a run down of the faith of many Old Testament saints, that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Mary Healy in her commentary on the book of Hebrews writes: “As we run this race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, as if filling the stands of a huge sports arena. They are the saints of the old covenant (now joined by those of the new covenant), who are rooting for us and passionately interested in the outcome of our lives.”

These are more than pictures or statues or memories in a dusty history book; they are real, living (more living than ever) saints who have won the victory and are in the very presence of God and of the Lamb in heaven. We are united not only in prayer, but also every time we celebrate the Mass which draws heaven and earth together through the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain before the foundation of the world for their sin and ours.

The book of Revelation gives us another clue to this amazing ministry the saints have in heaven. In chapter 5, verse 8, John writes: “And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”

Now of course the unfounded argument or accusation is that Catholics pray to the saints, somehow elevating them to a divine status reserved only to Jesus. This, of course, is not true. What is true is seeing the saints as any other member of the Body of Christ whose main role is to continue to be part of that Body and care for one another. So when you ask me to pray for you, you are not divinizing me, but asking me to fulfill my God-given role of ministering to you as part of the Body of Christ. When I ask St. Francis de Sales to pray for me, I am not divinizing him, but asking him to intercede on my behalf.

One of the great gifts that my Catholic faith has given me is recognizing that death does not separate us. We are in the Church Militant; the saints are in the Church Triumphant; but it is one Church and Jesus Christ is our Head. Another benefit of the gift is knowing I have earthly and heavenly intercessors pulling for me rooting for me and passionately interested in the outcome of my life.

 

Overheard in the Office

“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.

SOD-1019-SaintIsaacJoguesandCompanions-790x480

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

timthumb

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