I don’t believe in coincidences!

As the Summit on Abuse opens this week in Rome there is a general sense of urgency that something significant takes place, as well as general sense of concern that the status quo will be the outcome. The laicization of Theodore McCarrick, announced on Friday, February 15, comes six months after the news came out that there were credible accusations against the once powerful cardinal. In these six months we have been sickened and angered and thrust to our knees as we seek God’s mercy for the Church that Christ founded and gave his life to make her without stain or wrinkle.

The hopes for reform are neutralized by the seeming intransigence of powerful prelates who speak carefully crafted words, but show no signs of humility or contrition in the face of perhaps the worst crisis the Church has faced in the last 1000 years. An example in point came from the news conference in Rome prior to the summit as questions about the focus of the summit were being addressed to Cardinal Blase Cupich and Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

Diane Montagna of LifeSite News asked: 

Recently, Cardinal Muller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — which gives him a unique perspective on these problems — said, as others have … that more than 80% of the victims of these sexual offenders are teenagers of the male sex. Will the problem of homosexuality among the clergy be addressed as part of this problem?  It’s obvious from the data that many of these acts committed against minors are homosexual acts. In fact, the majority [are]. So will this be part of the Church’s ‘transparency’ over the course of the coming days?

Cardinal Cupich answered:

Yes, I believe that it’s important to admit the fact and recognize the fact of what you said in terms of the percentage of abuse involving male on male sex abuse. That is important. I think that has to be recognized. At the same time, as professional organizations studied the causes and contexts — such as the John Jay School of Criminal Justice and also the Royal Commission’s report in Australia — indicated that homosexuality itself is not a cause. It is a matter however of opportunity and also a matter of poor training on the part of people.

Lord, have mercy!

Pope Francis has called for a Summit on Sexual Abuse convening  all the presidents of the national bishops’ conferences to come to Rome, February 21-24, beginning Thursday. It hit me last week that there is something very significant about when this conference falls on the calendar. And because I believe in the supernatural, and I am certain that Jesus Christ established the Church (Matthew 16:18), unlike Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, and I believe that he will not let the gates of hell prevail against her, I believe that it is no coincidence that the starting date of the Summit on Sexual Abuse falls on the feast day of St. Peter Damian, a doctor of the Church.

One thousand years ago, Peter Damian led a reform in the Church to clean up sexual abuses within the clergy among cardinals, bishops and priests. These sexual abuses were focused principally on sodomy being practiced among the clergy. The terms “homosexual” or “gay” or “same-sex attraction” were not in the parlance of the day—just sodomy!

Will you join me in praying this novena starting now and for the next nine days to St. Peter Damian for true reform and reparation in our beloved Church?

NOVENA TO ST. PETER DAMIAN FOR REFORM AND REPARATION IN THE CHURCH

V. O Blessed Saint Peter, Cardinal and Doctor of the Church,
.
R. Thy soul was inflamed by holy zeal for God’s House.
.
God gave thee to His Church in those sad times when the wickedness of the
world had robbed her of her beauty.
.
Thou wast a chief instrument used by God to bring back to His one Church its ancient beauty.
.
Thee, who bore the glorious name of Peter Damian! The Mystical Body of Christ, which God intended to be free, was but a slave, in the power of the rulers of this world; and the vices, which are inherent to human weakness defiled His Sacred Temple.
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V. Yet God had pity on the Perfect Spouse of Christ,
.
R. And for her deliverance He chose thee, Saint Peter, as His principal cooperator in restoring order.
.
Thy example and thy labors prepared the way and the work of regeneration was
completed.
Thou hast fought the good fight; thou art now in thy rest; but thy love of the
Church, and thy power to help, are greater than ever.
Watch, then, over her interests.
Obtain for her pastors that apostolic energy and courage, which alone can cope with enemies so determined as hers are.
Obtain for her priests the holiness which God demands from
them that are to be salt of the earth.
(cf. Mt 5:13)
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V. Obtain for the Faithful the respect and obedience they owe to those who direct them in the path of salvation.
.
R. Thou wast not only a Prince and Successor to the Apostles, thou wast moreover the model of penance in the midst of a corrupt age.
Pray for us, that we may be eager to atone for our sins by works of mortification. Excite within our souls the remembrance of the sufferings of our Redeemer, that so His Passion may urge us to repentance and hope. Increase our confidence in our Blessed Mother, the Ever Virgin Mary, the Refuge of Sinners, and make us, like thyself, full of filial affection towards her, and fill us with zeal that she may be honored and loved by those who are around us. Amen.
.
(mention special intention)
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V. Assist us, O Lord, we beseech Thee, through the merits of St. Peter Damian.
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R. That what our endeavors cannot obtain may be given us by his intercession.
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V. Our Father… R. Give us this day…
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V. Hail Mary… R. Holy Mary…
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V. Glory Be… R. As it was in the beginning…
.
V. Let us pray.
.
Grant unto us, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, so to follow the counsels and example of blessed Peter, Thy Confessor and Bishop, that we may, by despising earthly things, obtain everlasting joys. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

I don’t believe in coincidences!

A Gentleman Saint

saint-francis-de-salesYou would assume that all saints would be bona fide ladies and gentlemen, at least by the time they were officially declared saints through the canonization process. Yet saints, even in heaven, are usually remembered for their dominant or besetting personalities and characteristics. Some are fiery, some are gentle, some are reserved, some are bold. What they have in common we find in paragraph 828 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practice heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (Lumen Gentium 40; 48–51). “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history” (John Paul II, Christifideles laici 16, 3). Indeed, “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal” (Christifideles laici 17, 3).

To sum it up all saints lived in heroic virtue and in fidelity to God’s grace. We know that many others who have not been officially canonized have also lived in this virtue and grace. Yet those who are canonized do serve as models and intercessors.

When I converted to the Catholic Church I was asked to chose a patron saint at the time of my confirmation. I took this very seriously. I wanted to chose someone who modeled for me not only heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace, but someone who because of what he or she lived and endured and overcame could be a model for the life ahead of me. That saint for me became Bishop Francis de Sales (1567–1622). Not only is Francis de Sales the patron saint of writers (something I aspire to), he was greatly used by God to bring many lapsed Catholics back to the faith after the Protestant revolt (again something my heart burns to see happen!).

I was first introduced to Francis de Sales through a novena I learned of from the Coming Home Network, specifically to pray for those who had abandoned or were not practicing their faith. I prayed this novena before I was even a Catholic, longing to see lapsed Catholics come back to the fullness of the faith. The more I researched I discovered that de Sales had received training as a lawyer, but could not ignore what seemed a persistent call from God to the priesthood.

Today, one of the writers I greatly admire, David Warren, devoted his blog to St. Francis de Sales. He describes the refocusing of his life from law to theology:

“Thrice in a single day, according to the legend, this scion of a noble family, that was grooming him for high station in law and public life, fell off his horse. Each time his sword and scabbard came off — how embarrassing! — and each time they came to rest in the pattern of a Christian Cross. I mention this as if it were important, because it is. We portray saints and mystics today as if they were Triumphs of the Will, heroes overcoming all adversities to win the main prize, each a spiritual Hercules. This tends to leave God out of the account, and thus the Will by which each was actually not only motivated, but directed.”

Sam Guzman, of the Catholic Gentleman, comments on Francis’s vocation of evangelization in a blog six years ago:

“While St. Francis was full of zeal, he didn’t meet with much success. In fact, he got chased out of towns and had many doors slammed in his face. But he didn’t quit. Instead, he began copying out pamphlets containing Catholic teaching and apologetics and slipping them under the doors of the Calvinists. This is the first known example of someone using tracts for religious evangelization (tracts weren’t invented by Baptists!). We can only imagine what he would think of social media. Eventually, through perseverance and creativity, St. Francis was successful in converting thousands back to the Catholic faith.

“At the age of 35, St. Francis was promoted to the Bishop of his diocese. His kind and patient teaching style won him a huge following among the faithful, and he had a special interest in encouraging lay people to live holy lives. He said, “It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesman, a prince, or a married woman…. It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.” He is remembered for his many writings, especially Introduction to the Devout Life—a guide to the spiritual life for laypeople.”

“St. Francis de Sales is the gentleman saint extraordinaire. He lived a holy life in a very difficult time for the Church—the Reformation. His patience, humility, and above all, gentleness, were his trademarks” (Sam Guzman).

A Gentleman Saint

Letting Go of Everything

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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.

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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!