A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Turnaround and rebuilding plan

Greed and envy were at the root of today’s financial crisis.

Morality, justice, and personal generosity provide the way forward, as today’s first reading reminds us (Isaiah 58:9b-14):

If you remove from your midst
false accusation
and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.

He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.

The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
"Repairer of the breach," they shall call you,
"Restorer of ruined homesteads."

The Church of Saint Augustine

Today's Station Church. Burial place of Saint Augustine's mother Saint Monica (above) and location of Caravaggio's Madonna di Loreto (below).

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fasting in a time of trouble

The sacrifice of Lenten abstinence and fasting can sometimes be challenging, especially in a time of crisis in a culture of instant gratification.

Of course, that shows the importance of it.

Today’s first reading (Isaiah 58:1-9a) offers us the opportunity to reflect on the fact that Lent should not be just a time for “giving something up” but also for doing something more.

In these times of trouble, especially when food banks and so many charities are being stretched increasingly thin, these words of the Lord need to be heard and obeyed by us all.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call,
and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help,
and he will say: Here I am!

Basilica of Saints John and Paul

(Today's Station Church)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Prosperity or...

In today’s first reading (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), God presents us with a clear choice:

Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.

If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God, will bless you
in the land you are entering to occupy.

If, however, you turn away your hearts
and will not listen,
but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life on the land
that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.

Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live,
by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you...

For us, the prosperity to which God refers extends beyond the reaches of this world. This is a critical point, for a focus on earthly prosperity alone can have devastating consequences.

Moreover, in today’s Gospel (Luke 9:22-25), our Lord sets before us a choice even more powerful, leading to an ultimate happiness even more wonderful, albeit on a path more challenging:

Then he said to all,
"If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily
and follow me.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?"

San Giorgio in Velabro

(Today's Station Church)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

“Even now...”

We have gotten ourselves in a rather bad situation, as a world economy (and perhaps as individuals).

We have also gotten ourselves, humanity all together and each of us individually, into a very bad situation of sin.

Today, Ash Wednesday, God offers us a way out, as we hear in today's first reading (Joel 2:12-18):

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.

Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing...

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.

Santa Sabina

(Today's Station Church)

Station Churches

The people of the Diocese of Rome have a wonderful tradition known as the Station Churches, in which people gather at a different church in the diocese each day of Lent.

The Pontifical North American College, where diocesan seminarians from the United States and Canada live when studying in Rome, has a wonderful guide to the Station Churches, which can be found on their website: http://www.pnac.org/.

We will try to follow in the footsteps of these pilgrims during this season of Lent.

Ash Wednesday

Remember, man, that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es,
et in pulverem reverteris.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Most excellent advice

Today’s first reading (Sirach 2:1-11) gives most excellent advice to all, especially to those whose faith, hope, and love are based on God and truth:

My son,
when you come to serve the LORD,
stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.

Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
incline your ear
and receive the word of understanding,
undisturbed in time of adversity.

Wait on God, with patience,
cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will you be wise in all your ways.

Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire
gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people
in the crucible of humiliation.

Trust God and God will help you;
trust in him, and he will direct your way;
keep his fear and grow old therein.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy,
turn not away lest you fall.

You who fear the LORD, trust him,
and your reward will not be lost.

You who fear the LORD, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.

You who fear the LORD, love him,
and your hearts will be enlightened.

Study the generations long past
and understand;
has anyone hoped in the LORD
and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his commandments
and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him
and been rebuffed?

Compassionate and merciful is the LORD;
he forgives sins,
he saves in time of trouble
and he is a protector
to all who seek him in truth.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"I do believe, help my unbelief!"

In these days of trouble, our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:14-29) reach out to us with omnipotent hope:

“Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

In these days of uncertainty, our prayer often echoes the cry of the worried father in today’s Gospel:

"I do believe, help my unbelief!"

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ answered that father’s cry for help.

He will answer us too.

A living link

He was over eighty years old,
but he was still physically agile and mentally sharp.

What made him interesting, however,
was not so much how well he had aged,
but rather how much he had experienced
and how much good he had done for so long.

The young people could only marvel
as he spoke of things
that seemed to them ancient history
but that he himself had lived through.

He was a living link to the past:
a link that reached back even beyond his lifespan,
for when the old man was young,
he himself had learned much from the old men of that day,
especially one very special old man.

Thus when young people gathered
around the old man now in their midst,
he could tell them of things
that had happened more than a century before
and that he himself had heard
from that other very special old man:
someone who had actually been there,
someone who spoke of amazing events
with simple, wonderful words...

This is what we proclaim to you:
what was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have looked upon,
and our hands have touched

-- we speak of the word of life.

(1 John 1:1)

St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna
and disciple of St. John the Apostle,
was martyred for the faith
on this day in the year 155 at the age of 86.

(from an earlier post)

The one who gives us security

Will the Government’s stimulus plan help?

Well, yes... and no.

Will I be able to get the job I’m looking for?

Well, yes... and no.

Is this a good deal I’m being offered?

Yes... and no.

In these troubled and uncertain times, we hear “yes” and “no” quite frequently.

Sunday’s second reading (2 Corinthians 1:18-22) reminded us of this:

As God is faithful,
our word to you is not "yes" and "no."

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ,
who was proclaimed to you by us,
Silvanus and Timothy and me,
was not "yes" and "no,"
but "yes" has been in him.

For however many are the promises of God,
their Yes is in him;
therefore, the Amen from us
also goes through him to God for glory.

God’s promises are true and irrevocable, even when we do not fully understand them.

The one who gives us security with you in Christ
and who anointed us is God;
he has also put his seal upon us
and given the Spirit in our hearts
as a first installment.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Look back with faith

The first readings at weekday Masses recently have stepped us through the book of Genesis, from the time of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel to the time of Noah and the Flood.

Today’s first reading (Hebrews 11:1-7) looks back at some of the people of those times from the perspective of faith, beginning with this famous description of what faith is:

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.

Looking back with the eyes of faith, the sacred writer sees how faith was at work in the lives of those people: in things great and small.

As we approach the season of Lent, considering perhaps what special activity we may do during this season, we might take the opportunity of today’s first reading to look back with faith on our own lives and realize how faith and the grace of God have been at work in us, even when we might not have felt it.

The unwanted baby was left to starve

The family was already large and poor. The last thing they needed was another mouth to feed, so after some arguments, the mother decided to let the baby starve.

Someone who worked with the family, however, saw what was happening and fed the newborn, pulling him back from the brink of death.

The family was then shamed into taking care of the infant (now named Peter) themselves. A few years later, both parents were dead and one of Peter’s elder brothers was forced to take responsibility for him. He abused him, malnourished him, and overworked him. Still, Peter grew to be a bright lad, with a devout spirit.

One of Peter’s other brothers, Damian, came to the boy’s rescue and put him through school. He succeeded brilliantly at academics and by the time he was 25 he was already a famous university professor.

But Peter felt the call of the monastic vocation and a few years later withdrew from the world.

Once again, Peter succeeded brilliantly, rising not only to run his own monastery but become an advocate of reform in monasticism and in the Church at large. So great was his reputation that he was forced to become a bishop and cardinal. He proved instrumental in helping resolve many crises in the church. He would later be called a Doctor of the Church.

St. Peter Damian (he had added his brother’s name) died on this very day in 1072.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Failed building project

In many places recently, years of a real estate and construction boom came quickly to an end, leaving the landscape littered with half-built structures that stand as ugly monuments to failure.

So it was also in ancient times, as we hear in today’s first reading (Genesis 11:1-9) which tells of the world’s first failed construction project: the tower of Babel.

The most fundamental failure of this project, however, was not the half-built tower, but the focus on material accomplishment at the expense of a relationship with God: which meant that even if the project would have succeeded, its builders would have fundamentally and eternally failed.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:34-9:1), our Lord asks the key question:

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Responsibility and discernment

People sinned; God destroyed them in the Flood.

Afterwards, in today’s first reading (Genesis 9:1-13), God promises not to do that again and gives humanity power over life and death.

The dominion of man, of course, is not absolute: God remains the Lord and ultimate judge.

The example of Saint Peter in today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-33) should likewise give us pause: he has a wonderful, God-given insight and then in the very next moment (long before the Resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit) makes a very bad error.

May you and I always exercise our responsibilities well and always – always – seek the discernment of God in what we do and what we say.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No instant recovery

Despite the massive efforts of governments, almost everyone says the economy will not recover instantly from its current troubles.

Neither does recovery come all at once in today’s readings: in the first reading (Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22) the disastrous waters of the flood recede in stages and likewise in today’s Gospel (Mark 8:22-26) our Lord himself heals a blind man in stages.

May God give us the grace of faithful perseverance in good times and in bad.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beware of the world’s “solutions”

Life is not always easy, even when the economy is not in turmoil.

There are different ways to approach the different problems of life and “experts” present many potential “solutions”.

Some of them are good, some of them are bad.

And some of the ones that sound good are really evil.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:14-21), our Lord warns against what is offered by the “experts” and “leaders” of that time and place and reminds the disciples of what His power can do.

Likewise, today’s first reading (Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10) reminds us of how God can provide unexpected ways to survive even the greatest of disasters.

We should always be prudent and we should keep our priorities and responsibilities clear.

We should always avoid doing evil and we should always seek help and guidance from God: the everlasting and all-powerful source of all that is good.

Rich young men

They made up a very special clique in a very special city.

And they were all interested in the same, very special lady.

Her name was Mary, the mother of Jesus.

These seven young men dedicated themselves completely to the love of God.

In the beginning, they had secluded themselves on a tall hill out in the countryside.

In time, they would be called to spread the message of God out in the world.

Their little religious community would grow. Within fifty years, they would have over ten thousand members.

The memory of the Seven Founders of the Order of Servites is celebrated on this day, when the last of those seven young men from Florence, lay brother Alexis Falconieri, died in 1310.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, February 16, 2009


In this time of financial and economic trouble, much has been made about the salaries and other compensation of some corporate executives.

Injustice and imprudent use of resources are certainly causes for action.

Even so, we must keep our focus on what is right and prudent without being diverted by resentfulness, envy, or feelings of failure.

We do well to heed the Lord’s warning to Cain in today’s first reading (Genesis 4:1-15, 25):

"Why are you so resentful and crestfallen.
If you do well,

you can hold up your head;
but if not,

sin is a demon lurking at the door:
his urge is toward you,

yet you can be his master."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today’s lepers

More and more today, the people who are treated most like the lepers of old are the people with whom we disagree.

Liberals and conservatives not only shun each other, they shun those who aren’t as “pure” in their ideology and practice.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45), our Lord stretches out his hand and touches the untouchable leper.

We must indeed hold fast to the truth and seek to share that truth with all.

We should also be mindful of our personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that in reaching out we ourselves do not fall.

Yet mindful of all these things, we need to imitate Christ and reach out with his love and his truth even to the lepers of today.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How we got into this mess

The world is in a mess right now and many people are pointing fingers.

So it was in the beginning, as we hear in today’s first reading (Genesis 3:9-24), as Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent.

All of them, of course, are responsible.

And bad things happen afterwards: consequences of the bad choices – the sins – that were committed.

It was at the moment of the first sin that the perfect harmony of the created world was destroyed.

It was at that moment that humanity entered the world in which we live now: a world of pain, hard work, and death.

Yet even then, God hints at a way out, through the offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who conquers sin and death and, as we hear in today’s Gospel (Mark 8:1-10), whose "heart is moved with pity".

Have pity on us, dearest Lord Jesus.
Save us from what we have done to ourselves
and set us free from sin and death.

The brothers came from a political family

but what interested them was the spiritual life, so they left the world behind and entered a monastery.

The world, however, would not leave them alone.

A great need was being felt in many places for the Gospel of Christ, but different problems posed obstacles in various places.

In one distant location, there were simply no teachers well-educated in the faith, so the brothers were called out of their monastery and sent.

In another location, the native people resisted anything not in their language. This was complicated by the fact that they did not have a well-developed written language. Once again, the brothers were chosen. The younger brother actually devised a whole new alphabet, whereupon they translated the Gospels and many prayers into the native people’s language.

Sadly, success sometimes brings new challenges, especially envy, rivalry, and other political problems. People from Western regions attacked them – after all, the brothers were Easterners. They were summoned to Rome where they were not only vindicated but selected to become bishops!

The younger brother, St. Cyril, Apostle to the Slavs and inventor of the Cyrillic alphabet (used to this day), died shortly afterwards on this very day in the year 869. His brother, St. Methodius, Apostle to the Slavs, continued their work and their struggles until his own death in 885.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, February 13, 2009

It wasn’t the snake or the fruit

Some of those who have read or heard the mythologies of ancient peoples could be forgiven for seeing more of the same in today’s first reading (Genesis 3:1-8), which appears to feature talking snakes and fruits with magical effects.

Of course, this passage also has echoes of the mythologies of modern, pseudo-scientific people as well: from parapsychology to the latest diet craze.

This passage, of course, is more than the literary genre of mythology nor is it "just a story".

What really happened? Was it demonic manipulation of an animal? Was it telepathy? Was it an externalization of interior deliberation?

Ultimately, the key action was happening inside the heads of the human beings standing near the tree who listened to temptation and decided to disobey God.

Even today, you and I can try to shift blame in all sorts of directions.

What we need to do is take responsibility and to seek the grace and forgiveness of God.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son on the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The way it was and should be

Today’s first reading (Genesis 2:18-25) reminds us of how marriage began in the first and innocent forming of the world.

More and more nowadays we are reminded of how innocence has been lost, of how hearts have become “complicated”, and of how the institution of marriage is being abused (from many directions).

As imperfect as you and I and our own lives may be, today’s first reading reminds us, without omitting the obligation of compassion, to do what we can to support and encourage all of the original ideals of marriage – emotional, spiritual, and physical – out there in society and closer to home.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Eating choices

In today’s first reading (Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17), the Lord warns man that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil will lead to his death.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 7:14-23), Christ essentially says that no food can defile a person.

Foods have physical effects, of course, even death.

Morally, it is not the food itself that has an effect: it is the choice – the choice to disobey God, a choice that comes from one’s own will.

May you and I always choose wisely and in accordance with God’s will, rather than our own.

"I had gone down one day...

with two other girls to the bank of the river Gave when suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound. I turned my head toward the field by the side of the river, but the trees seemed quite still and the noise was evidently not from them.

"Then I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt. On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same color as her rosary beads...

"I asked the girls with me if they had noticed anything, but they said no. Of course, they wanted to know what I was doing, and I told them that I had seen a lady wearing a nice white dress, though I didn't know who she was.

"I told them not to say anything about it, and they said I was silly to have anything to do with it. I said they were wrong, and I came back next Sunday, feeling myself drawn to the place....

"The third time I went, the lady spoke to me and asked me to come every day for fifteen days. I said I would and then she said that she wanted me to tell the priests to build a chapel there.

"She also told me to drink from the stream. I went to the river Gave, the only stream I could see. Then she made me realize she was not speaking of the river Gave, and she showed me a little trickle of water close by. When I got to it, I could only find a few drops: mostly mud. I cupped my hands to catch some liquid without success, and then I started to scrape the ground. I managed to find a few drops of water, but only at the fourth attempt was there enough for any kind of a drink. The lady then vanished and I went back home.

"I went back each day for fifteen days, and each time, except one Monday and one Friday, the lady appeared and told me to look for a stream and wash in it and to see that the priests build a chapel there.

"I must also pray, she said, for 'the conversion of sinners.' I asked her many times what she meant by that, but she only smiled. Finally, with outstretched arms and eyes looking up to heaven, she told me she was 'the Immaculate Conception.'"


The above account is from a letter by St. Bernadette describing her first vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at Lourdes, France - 151 years ago today, when Bernadette was only 14. Since then, over two hundred million people have come to pray at the spot and many have been miraculously cured.

Today the Church celebrates Our Lady of Lourdes.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


In today’s first reading (Genesis 1:20-2:4a), God gives man (male and female) “dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”

This grant of dominion is sometimes misunderstood, for God still exercises ultimate dominion: the dominion of man is but stewardship (for which we will be held to account).

How well have you and I been exercising this stewardship?

She used to visit her brother once a year

"He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

"One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell, they had supper together.

"Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother, 'Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.'

'Sister,' he replied, 'What are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.'

"When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray.

"As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly, he began to complain.

"'May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?'

"'Well,' she answered, 'I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.'

"So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

"Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his the soul of his sister Scholastica leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself."

St. Scholastica, sister of the great St. Benedict, died in 543 and her memory is celebrated on this day.

Benedict would die in 547. The above account would be set down a few decades later by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Upon the face

The first two verses of the Bible are familiar to many, even among the unreligious.

In the beginning
God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

These verses begin today’s first reading (Genesis 1:1-19), but the familiar words are a little different, especially in the last part of the second verse where “a mighty wind” sweeps over the waters instead of “the Spirit of God.”

In the footnotes, the translators admit the “Spirit of God” is the more literal translation (another reminder why it is always important to check footnotes).

The prudence of using a legitimate but less literal translation can be debated. In this case, my guess would be that the translators felt that a more literal translation was nevertheless incomplete and perhaps misleading, especially for Christians mindful of the Holy Spirit’s manifestation at Christ’s baptism: in the form of a dove.

That is not the form depicted in the second verse of Genesis: the manifestation of God’s Spirit is as a mighty wind upon the face of the waters – a mighty and yet subtle and unseen power.

Our own lives may sometimes feel a little like the primordial chaos: formless, empty, and dark.

May we be graced to feel always the presence of God, like the wind upon our faces: sometimes subtle, but eternally powerful.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

“I shall not see happiness again”





These situations afflict many in these days of financial and economic disaster.

And in these days and in these situations, many among us may find deep and painful resonance in the words of Job in today’s first reading (Job 7:1-4, 6-7):

Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?

Are not his days those of hirelings?

He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.

So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.

If in bed I say,
"When shall I arise?"
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.

My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.

Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.

What is the answer to this darkness and doom?

What hope do we have in this deep, dark night?

We hear it in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:29-39).

We see it in the dark hours of the night, in a place heavily afflicted.

We see it as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ brings healing of body and freedom of spirit to overwhelming masses of people:

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill
or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons...

And our Lord did not stop there or then.

He told them,
"Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come."

The Lord Jesus Christ comes.

He comes to our dark nights; he comes in our times of trouble.

Our Lord Jesus comes, as he did for all those people, as he did for Peter’s mother-in-law:

He approaches. He grasps our hand. He helps us up.

And we too will serve.

And thus by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, happiness will come again and forever.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The good life

People have often spoken of “the good life” when speaking of lives of luxury and ease.

Those lives of luxury and ease were in truth generally empty and rarely were they truly happy.

Moreover, those lives of luxury and ease seem far, far away in this current time of economic and financial troubles.

Today’s first reading (Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21) refers to good in life that is real, that brings real happiness.

First, there is the good that you do:

Do not neglect to do good
and to share what you have;
God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.

Second, there is the good that you receive: which is given not for our selfish pleasures, but for the good of others (as mentioned above) and for God’s glory.

Therein lies the good that is real, that is true, that is totally fulfilling, and that is everlasting: the good that makes us truly happy now and forever.

May the God of peace,
who brought up from the dead
the great shepherd of the sheep
by the Blood of the eternal covenant,
furnish you with all that is good,
that you may do his will.

May he carry out in you
what is pleasing to him
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory forever and ever.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Strange teaching

Some people want to redefine marriage in civil law.

Some people, married and unmarried, try to redefine marriage by their personal, immoral actions.

Some people want to redefine social interaction, discarding notions of hospitality.

Many people ignore the humanity of people in prison.

Some people are apathetic when other people are treated badly.

Some people today are scornful of religion and religious leaders, using the failures of a few as a false excuse.

Many people today are ignorant of history and its lessons (condemning themselves to endless mistakes).

Many people deeply love money and the things money can buy.

Many people today are afraid.

All of this is strange teaching.

Today’s first reading (Hebrews 13:1-8) calls us to better ways: as summed up in the beginning of the very next verse (verse 9): Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.

Let brotherly love continue.

Do not neglect hospitality,
for through it
some have unknowingly entertained angels.

Be mindful of prisoners
as if sharing their imprisonment,
and of the ill-treated as of yourselves,
for you also are in the body.

Let marriage be honored among all
and the marriage bed be kept undefiled,
for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.

Let your life be free from love of money
but be content with what you have,
for he has said,
I will never forsake you or abandon you.

Thus we may say with confidence:
The Lord is my helper,
and I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?

Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.
Consider the outcome of their way of life
and imitate their faith.

Jesus Christ is the same

and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.

The most powerful pulpit

His father was rich and powerful, so Paul had a nice life growing up.

The family was very close to the Jesuits and even as a young boy Paul wanted to become a Jesuit himself. So it was no surprise that he entered the order as soon as he was old enough.

Paul proved to be an excellent student and a powerful speaker.

But then, the government, which had been friendly toward the Christian faith, turned against it with extreme violence.

Paul and many others were rounded up and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

The date was February 5, 1597 and the place was Nagasaki, Japan.

For young Paul Miki, it was more than an opportunity to die in the same way as Christ. As he looked at the crowd that had gathered to watch, he realized that this cross was the most powerful pulpit of his life.

And so, using his strong voice for the very last time, he spoke to the crowd.

"All of you who are here, please, listen to me.

"...I am Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus.

"I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

"I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord.

"As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way.

"My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death.

"I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves."

Thirty years later, in 1627, Paul Miki and his fellow martyrs were beatified by Pope Urban VIII. They were canonized in 1862 by Blessed Pope Pius IX.

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Travel lightly

Nowadays, people are afraid of losing everything.

In today’s Gospel (Mark 6:7-13), our Lord tells the Twelve to go into the world with NOTHING.

Jesus summoned the Twelve
and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them
to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick
—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.

This comes as a direct and certain command from the Lord Himself. He does not call every person to this at every moment. Indeed, we need to be diligent and prudent in fulfilling our responsibilities in this world.

But we need to be ready, when it may be required, to follow the Lord’s command.

The things of this world may be used for God’s glory and for the good of people in need, but when the situation demands and when God calls, we must go forward without fear and with absolute faith – even if we go forth with nothing else.

The Sicilians killed her

She was a Sicilian too: and a beautiful one as well.

But she would not go along with them. She was intent on following Christ.

That is why they killed her.

Who were they? Their names are mostly forgotten.

But the name of Agatha, virgin and martyr, would be remembered far and wide, even in what is today called Eucharistic Prayer I, and her memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Endure your trials

There are always parents who desperately want to be “cool”. These self-styled “cool Moms” and “cool Dads” give free rein to the wayward activities of their children and their children’s friends.

Rules and discipline are considered uncool.

These “cool” parents and their “lucky” children are generally unprepared for the self-inflicted crises that inevitably come.

Today’s first reading (Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15) reminds us that true parents discipline their children: which means teaching through the use of clear rules supported by appropriate punishments (it goes without saying that these punishments must always be proportionate and that corporal punishment is certainly not the only option).

Indeed, in one of the verses skipped over in today’s selection (verse 8), the writer argues in very blunt language that children who have not been raised with discipline have not been truly parented (“If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards”).

The lack of good parenting, of course, is not itself the fault of the child and even the child raised by bad parents or even no parents can find strength as well as a loving guide in God the Father of us all.

All of this reminds us that God is disciplining us in the trials and tribulations of life.

This applies even to those trials that are the result of our own fault, the fault of others, or simply part of the natural condition. God can use the bad things of this life to teach us, to make us stronger, and to make us holier.

"My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges."

Endure your trials as "discipline";
God treats you as sons.

For what "son" is there
whom his father does not discipline?

If you are without discipline,
in which all have shared,
you are not sons but bastards.

Besides this,

we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us,
and we respected them.
Should we not (then)
submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live?

They disciplined us for a short time

as seemed right to them,
but he does so for our benefit,
in order that we may share his holiness.

At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.

No matter what trials we may endure, no matter what kind of parents we may have had or did not have, we have a loving God and Father who strengthens us and guides us so that we may be holy and truly happy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions plus one month

It has been a little over a month since New Year’s Day: a little over a month since many of us began our resolutions for the New Year.

Some of us have already failed in these resolutions.

Some of us may not have even made any resolutions: despairing of self-improvement and/or distracted by the economic and financial worries of these days.

No matter where we stand with our resolutions, today’s first reading (Hebrews 12:1-4), invoking the great Communion of Saints, calls us to move forward now:

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.

They say he was once a doctor

but that caring for souls attracted him more.

In time, he came to be a bishop.

This doctor-turned-bishop, however, was still a healer. They said that he once even miraculously cured a boy who was choking to death.

But the bishop cared little for his own neck.

Blaise, Bishop of the town of Sebaste, was martyred near the beginning of the 4th century.

He is remembered every year on this day by the blessing of throats.

(from an earlier post)

Through the intercession of Saint Blaise

bishop and martyr,
may God deliver you
from every disease of the throat
and from every other illness:
In the name of the Father
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.

Per intercessionem sancti Blasii,
Episcopi et Martyris,
liberet te Deus a malo gutturis,
et a quolibet alio malo.
In nomine Patris,
et Filii,
et Spiritus sancti.
(formula for the Blessing of Throats on St. Blaise Day)

A dark and violent place

That is the way the world was and he left it behind to enter a monastery and devote his life to Christ.

He was so devoted that he was sent back into the world to preach the Gospel.

In fact, he was sent to the edge of civilization, to a place that was – in many ways – darker and more violent than any place on earth.

He worked for many years and met with some success, but when he died, darkness and violence nearly wiped the Christian faith off the map.

Yet he was remembered and when the faith took hold again, he was remembered with honor.

St. Ansgar, apostle to the Vikings and the lands of the north, died on this very day in the year 865.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Welcome and develop the child

There are organizations in the world today, supported by rich and powerful people, who are focused on abortion and other means of limiting the number of children who come into the world, especially among those who are not members of the elite classes.

Today’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40) gives us a different perspective: a child that is welcomed.

Welcoming, of course, is not enough: the child must not only be welcomed but also enabled to develop. This too we see in the last verse of the long form of today’s Gospel:

The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

The Gospel, of course, is speaking of only one child - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – but every child coming into the world deserves to be welcomed and given everything he or she needs to develop.

This task belongs primarily to the parents, but also in different ways to the rest of the family and indeed the rest of society.

May we always seek the wisdom, strength and favor of God to accept and raise well the children among us. Thus they may never be seen as a burden but as a gift, a blessing, and a resource that benefits us all.

The Presentation of the Lord

Today's Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is a significant touchstone and moment of transition regarding the Old and New Covenants.

It is more, however, than just a theological mystery or cosmic turning point - it is also a story about old people: Simeon and Anna, who are allowed to hold and see the baby Jesus and who go on to proclaim the salvation he brings.

Today's youth-obsessed culture often denigrates older people and isolates them from the mainstream of activity.

For young people today, the Gospel account of the Presentation of the Lord presents Mary and Joseph as examples of being open to the involvement of old people in their lives, even in the most important things they are doing.

For older people, this event presents Simeon and Anna as examples of remaining involved, active, and making a difference in the world, no matter how late it may seem.

Young or old, may we all learn from the lessons of today's Feast.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Distractions and relationships

In today’s second reading (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) Saint Paul makes a strong argument for celibacy.

The advantage of celibacy, as Saint Paul observes, is that the celibate is even more free to focus on the things of the Lord (which is why celibacy is required by the Church for many of its ministers).

That is not to say that married people cannot be focused on the things of the Lord – they can, they should, and they do – but that the celibate are more free.

It should be noted that in making this observation, Saint Paul is also making the point that a husband has godly obligations to his wife and that a wife has godly obligations to her husband.

It should also be noted that the context of this passage is that neither married nor celibates should envy the lifestyle of the other (26b-28) and that, as shall be quoted at the end of this post, all people should exercise a proper amount of detachment from the things of this world (29-31).

This passage should remind those who are married to be properly focused on their spouse and not to be distracted by the things of this world for their own sake.

It should remind those who are celibate that they should be absolutely focused on the Lord: not to be tempted by materialistic “compensations” for “loneliness” or to venture too far into the gray area between healthy relationships and those that are too much like dating, “going steady” or even like marriage.

This should also remind those who are not married or celibate to seek diligently from God the gift of discernment, so that they may walk in a godly path, whichever way they walk.

And again, all of us should be reminded to be not bound by the distractions and enslavements of the things of this world.

I tell you, brothers, the time is running out.

From now on,
let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.

For the world in its present form is passing away.

What shall we pray for this month?

The Holy Father's general prayer intention for February is for Church Pastors:

"That the Church's pastors may be ever more docile to the action of the Holy Spirit as they teach and serve the people of God."

His missionary intention is for Peace in Africa:

Guided by the 2nd Special Assembly of the African Synod of Bishops, may the local Church find effective ways to promote reconciliation, justice, and peace.