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Posted by on Oct 14, 2018

Mercy in the Life of St. Oscar Romero

Mercy in the Life of St. Oscar Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero came from modest circumstances in a village in El Salvador. His family did have somewhat greater financial circumstances than most others, but they were still poor. He attended a school in the village which only went to the third grade and then was tutored at home. During those years he worked as a carpenter with his father who had taught him the trade. After he decided he wanted to be a priest, he went to the seminary from age thirteen on. At one point he left the seminary for three months when his mother became ill. While he was home, Oscar worked in a gold mine with his brothers.

After he was ordained, Fr. Oscar Romero worked in a village parish for 20 years. Eventually his superiors saw his talent with administration and his high level of pastoral care. Ordination to bishop followed and he was the Secretary-General for the Catholic Episcopal Secretariat of Central America. By the time he was appointed as Archbishop of San Salvador, he had had broad exposure to the repressive policies and actions of a number of national governments against the poor. But he remained traditional and conservative.

As Archbishop, Oscar was aware of the poverty and terrorizing of the poor by the military in his country. He was also aware that a number of the priests under him were organizing protests, teaching organizational skills to their parishioners, and some were advocating violence. For a number of years he advocated the unity and interior conversion of all as a way to remedy the injustices and bring forth mercy. Archbishop Romero was well loved by many families of the ruling class. He tried not to “rock the boat.” He was worried that would bring on more repression.

After a close priest friend, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated, Archbishop Romero stepped forward much more strongly. His homilies and weekly radio broadcasts then emphatically identified the marginalization and injustices and even ordered the perpetrators to put down their arms and refuse to take orders from their superiors. Romero visited and ate with both the rich and the poor. He baptized the babies of both social classes, often in the same groups, which infuriated the elite. He had very little support, including from church officials.

He was a loving and very pious man. He wrote in his diary that he examined his conscience every day and strove constantly to be a son of the Church. This was very difficult because many of the church hierarchy were of the wealthy class in power. They knew there was injustice and torture, but the official policy was tolerance. Active mercy was the last thing on their minds.

Archbishop Romero was suspected of being an extremist or at least of backing them. He was no such thing. In fact, he ordered the extremists, priests and laity, not to confront the governmental violence with violence. He further did not subscribe to the Latin American versions of Marxism, although he was accused of this. His entire focus was on the suffering of the poor and the peril of the souls of the perpetrators. On March 24, 1980, after attending a day of recollection for priests, Romero celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel. As he raised the consecrated Host, he was shot.

This was an unlikely man, called to something which was foreign to his background, personality, and his superiors. Romero did not go looking for controversy or seek to be famous. Rather, in his diary he wrote of his desire to follow Jesus and for holiness. He saw Jesus particularly in the faces of those suffering. His willingness to be available to God opened his heart to mercy.

Today he is recognized as St. Oscar Romero.

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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Finding God’s Dream for Us

Finding God’s Dream for Us

The expanded treatment of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen that follows is meant to show the richness of this format of prayer for incorporating spiritual / psychological learning and insights for closer union with God through a genuine repentance of our sins and freedom from shame, so that we can “praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord.” For St. Ignatius, that is what life is all about: life to the full for the Glory of God.

Given our linear style of thinking in the West, it can be easy to look at the Examen of St. Ignatius as a set of check boxes. However, it is an ongoing dynamic spiral that moves us closer to perfect freedom and love or moves us away into the realm of shame and darkness.

God has a dream for each of us. As we journey through each day of our lives, we move towards or away from that dream. We move freely into  God’s life and dream for us or we move away from God

How can we move freely and fully into God’s life every day? How do we know if we are on track or headed in the right direction? Once again Jesus has shown us the way and even explicitly told us to pray and to listen attentively with our heart, soul, and mind. Becoming aware of God’s activity in our lives, intuitively and consciously, is the act of theological reflection. According to Donald D. St. Louis, the Examen of St. Ignatius Loyola can be a method for theological reflection on one’s ministry. It can also be a method of reflection on one’s daily life that can help us focus on the Way of Jesus, the path of our calling that is God’s Dream for Us.

St. Ignatius shows the way in the five points of the Examen.

The Examen can take on many forms while following this general pattern.  Theologian Susan Mahan presents her own adaptation in Seeking God – Decision Making and the Ignatian Examen.

“Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from.  Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.

Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc.  Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took.  Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your wellbeing, or side-tracked you.  These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best.  You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear, and I am much more at peace”

The core of the Examen is discernment, which is all about growing in awareness and freedom. Susan Mahan provides a succinct over-view into the spiritual psychology of discernment.

The desire to be closer to God requires letting God tell me what would please him.  That sounds very old fashioned and odd.  But, there’s no way around it.  Knowing God is knowing what is best — best for me and best for the world.  I cannot eat sugar and refined carbohydrates and feel good.  I just can’t.  I love that stuff!!  Knowing God and growing in holiness means that I would like to know which actions in my life would help me to be happy.  Discernment is the skill with which I can learn to evaluate what is the best choice at any juncture in my road every day, all day long.  There are certain feelings and thoughts that characterize good decisions and others which characterize poor decisions.

The End is the Beginning

Certainly, St. Ignatius never intended for the Examen to be a long exercise – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. It was part of his view of being a contemplative in action. We see and experience God all around us every day in everything. The Examen, in my view, was meant to reinforce a fundamental behavior and mindset that action for the Kingdom of Heaven is contemplation. Clearly, prayer and contemplation are prominent in the Spiritual Exercises.

As we move through our daily lives, the Examen offers a quick opportunity to check our direction through the day’s activities. It should not take a long time. It is simply a tool, like a road map, to help us stay on the road, on the Way of Jesus to God’s dream for us.

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Posted by on Feb 2, 2016

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Dirty Macaroni for the Feast of St. Blaise

Dirty Macaroni

  Dirty Macaroni

In the city of Dubrovnik, since the days of the Republic, on the Feast of St. Blaise, folks from the countryside traditionally came into the city to celebrate the life of their patron saint with Mass and processions. Families living in town were expected to provide a meal for their visiting relatives. As this could get quite expensive, families opted for a simpler dish, with less expensive ingredients that would be both tasty and filling. “Dirty Macaroni” was the result.

How did it get this name?

The sauce was prepared the day before the feast, with the macaroni left to cook fresh on the feast day itself (February 3). Those who arrived early to eat got a nice serving of both meat sauce and macaroni. Those arriving later got more macaroni and less sauce. Eventually, when the kettle of sauce was pretty much empty, the macaroni got a light coat of sauce and came to look like it was not quite clean anymore. Hence the name, Dirty Macaroni.

Recipe please!

 

Dirty Macaroni

Ingredients:
(serves about 5 people)

1 lb elbow macaroni
1 lb ground or chopped beef (or other meat)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, including liquid
½ C red wine
2 cloves garlic (or less, to taste)
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
Pinch cinnamon
Chopped parsely
Shredded cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

Saute onion in olive oil or lard until lightly yellowed, then add the meat. After the fluid has evaporated, add the tomatoes, including the tomato juice and let it cook a bit more. Add the red wine and a bit of water and simmer, stirring from time to time. Add parsley, garlic, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, salt and pepper and simmer for around 2 hours. Add warm water as needed. Cook until the meat is very soft.

When ready to serve the meal, cook the macaroni, drain, cover with the sauce and let sit for about 10 minutes to allow the sauce to soak into the macaroni.

Serve with a bit of grated cheese and enjoy!

 

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Posted by on Nov 18, 2015

A Prayer for Our Times

A Prayer for Our Times

 

Gift of Flowers

God of Love, whose compassion never fails,
we bring you the griefs and perils of people and nations,
the pains of the sick and injured,
the sighing of prisoners and captives,
the sorrows of the bereaved,
the necessities of the homeless,
the helplessness of the weak,
the despair of the weary,
the failing powers of the aged.
Comfort and relieve them, O merciful Lord.
Amen.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

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Posted by on Jun 17, 2015

The Sacred Heart Devotion – Love Conquers All

The Sacred Heart Devotion – Love Conquers All

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994

In Catholic culture, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has become so widespread that the image has become an icon of Catholicism. Sometimes, the various forms of the image can strike us as a little bizarre, with Jesus pointing to a physical heart on His chest. Others which are more contemporary move us with the more abstract heart on fire with love. Why is this image so central to the modern or post 1500s Catholic imagination? We don’t really find it in ancient icons.

 

Understandings of The Fall

In the 1500s and 1600s, Calvin and other protestant reformers focused on the fall of humanity from grace or the breakup of people from their loving relationship with God when Adam and Eve sinned. The only way that this divorce could be fixed was by God reaching out in love according to St Augustine (in the 300s) because humanity was too broken and too easily fell into sin. This sinful impulse is called concupiscence. The brokenness of humanity is called depravity which comes from the Latin word for crooked. The Catholic Church has always taught that the passion, death and resurrection of Christ has restored humanity and that we are not basically at our core wicked, corrupt, or crooked. Calvin and others taught that human nature is basically corrupt and is covered over by God’s love. Only a few will be saved and God has made up His mind ahead of time who they will be. Those few are predestined by God since there is really nothing anyone can do to enter into this loving relationship with God.

These ideas found their way into a Catholic movement led by Bishop Cornelius Jansen (1585 – 1635) of Ypres in the Belgian Province of West Flanders. In part, this was a reaction to the pre-reformation Catholic notion that you could win your way back into God’s favor by doing good works. Some people had the mistaken idea that God could be “bought.” This was a distortion of the fact that we are supposed to live our faith and show our reunion with God by doing good things for other people. Basically, love is more than words. Love is shown in how we live.

The Jansenist Change of Tone and Attitude

The Jansenist movement took St. Augustine’s view of a fallen human nature and moved toward Calvin’s position that we are so fundamentally damaged and crooked that there is nothing we can do. According to Calvin, we are incapable of reaching out to God’s love but God’s love or grace is so powerful that it can sweep us up and we have no choice in the matter. That’s the only way that we can be saved. While not throwing aside Catholic teaching the way that Calvin and other reformers had done, the Jansenist movement changed the tone and the attitude of how we are supposed to relate to God. We are so damaged and unworthy that we should receive communion only rarely. We should engage in a lot of prayer and penance because God still sees our sinfulness and brokenness and is always “ticked off” or at least supremely disappointed. There was no way that you could be human — loving, caring, and inconsistent — and make God happy, because we are all hopeless “screw ups.” Jesus may have suffered and died for us, but all we do is repay him with sin. The Jansenist attitude causes the loving Jesus to be off in the distance and our relationship with him to become formal and focused on certain types of religious practices that make no allowance for human frailty, weakness, or growth.

The Jansenist attitude became a prominent part of the Catholic Church in the United States since it was brought by Irish and French immigrants and the priests and nuns who accompanied them. One could not receive communion without going to confession first. Many types of minor human mistakes, even the gestures the priest used at Mass could be gravely serious mortal sins that cut us off from the love of God completely. Eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin; owning slaves was not. Not observing certain days of fasting and not eating meat (abstinence) were mortal sins; beating one’s wife or children was not. The tragic legacy of Jansenism and the Calvinism that is a big part of Anglo American culture is that we are seen as beyond real healing and redemption. We are so messed up that God’s healing love, forgiveness, and happiness are not within reach. This has become a major reason for people to give up on God and religion altogether. Such a distorted “god” is inhuman, abusive, and unloving.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

In the 1600s, at the same time that Catholic and Protestant movements were focusing on the brokenness and crookedness of humanity and how far we are from God, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Claude de la Colombière promoted a renewed focus on the love and forgiveness of Christ. This devotion came to be known as devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Since Christ is truly human and truly divine, this vision brings us an understanding of Jesus as loving us in a completely human way but with unlimited Divine love. This is the Divine love that continuously overflows in creation, redemption, and resurrection in our lives.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart has had its own excesses. There was a tendency to actually worship the heart of Jesus itself as opposed to rejoicing and reveling in God’s love. This is called an error of logical typing, an error which would lead to eating the menu instead of the food. Another problem was to humanize the love of Christ to the point of believing that our rejection of God’s love could somehow “hurt” him in the way that we suffer rejection when others do not respond to the love we offer them. God cannot be other than God, which is love. (1 John 4:16) God cannot help Godself. The divine love is what God is. If we love imperfectly it is because we are human and we love with all of those human limitations. This is the only way we can respond to that divine love that is always creating, redeeming, and bringing new life out of death. But it is not the way God loves.

This understandably human mistaken notion that God can be “hurt” led to a number of practices such as special prayers, fasting, and mortification of the “deadening” impulses related to hunger, thirst, and sex, as well as the deadly sins of pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, avarice (greed), and sloth or laziness. While these are important parts of spiritual training or getting “in shape” (called asceticism), they were often done to somehow make up for all of the bad stuff everyone else was doing to “hurt” God. These are called acts of reparation. In this mode we focused on the transcendence of God — the loftiness of the Almighty as separated from everyday creation and living.

The Second Vatican Council (1961 – 1965) focused more on the immanence of God — the presence of God in our daily lives. The Church’s concept of itself was no longer that of a “perfect society” that was complete and sufficient within itself like a strong kingdom or empire. The Church became the People of God on pilgrimage, living in and following the living Christ of the Resurrection. This changed the expression of our devotion to the loving presence of God. Images of the Divine Word Incarnate in Jesus became more human. Jesus became more Jewish looking, more middle-eastern, and more like a young virile man. Many earlier images of a pale, wan, almost effete white man no longer matched the Catholic imagination of the post-modern period that emerged after World War II.

Not all Catholics welcomed this development. Such a generous, understanding, and lovable Jesus who is the image of the Living God seemed to downplay the seriousness and widespread nature of sin. Getting in shape spiritually (asceticism) now focused on changing structures of sin and oppression — human rights, civil rights, freedom, and equality. This was quite a shock to the Catholic imagination which had focused so heavily on the interior and heavenly direction of our relationship with God. By retreating from the world to our “perfect” society we had security due to the certainty we enjoyed. Insecurity returned when we realized that faith is the opposite of certainty. Suddenly, the life of Christ was a not a noble walk of the white Aryan with fair hair through Palestine. The life of Christ as the model for our lives became a struggle to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven that ends in apparent failure, torture, and death. Yes, the resurrection transforms us all. The death and resurrection of Christ which we live out in our lives is God’s definitive “no” to evil and to death.

Michael Rubbelke in his post “Devotion to the Sacred Heart Today: The Heart of the Poor, Creation, and Mercy” offers an emerging vision of the Sacred Heart Devotion. The images of the Sacred Heart in his post offer a stark contrast. The first is a traditional image of the white serene Jesus. The second is a contemporary icon by Robert Lentz. This image of Jesus is a brown man with tightly curled African hair. He is portrayed in a more South Asian Hindu style, jutting forth from the icon with arms extended and stylized flames bursting from his hands. Perhaps this is the post-modern icon of the Sacred Heart. It gives expression to Pope Francis’ vision of a church of the poor for the poor, a call to be responsible stewards of creation, and a profound call to announce and to become the Divine Mercy.

This is a more challenging and less comforting Sacred Heart. It also brings more of the challenges of a direct, open, and honest love relationship with the Living God.

Image: Sacred Heart of Jesus, Joseph Fanelli,
used with permission

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Posted by on Apr 20, 2015

Martyrs Continue To Witness

Martyrs Continue To Witness

21 Martyrs of Libya - Tony Rezk - B-d6yZ9IMAAlR-zFrom the earliest days of Christianity, before Jesus’ followers were even known as Christians, men and women have been called upon to testify to what they have seen and experienced of God’s great love for all of us as it shines forth in the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord. We call those who witness with the total gift of their lives martyrs.

Today is no different. The martyrs of Libya and those who are dying in other countries around the world because they are Christians are a reminder that love and faith are risky. We pray for those who face this risk, that they may testify with courage and know the Father’s love in their hour of trial. And we pray that they will remember us when they meet our Lord.

Help for those left behind

As members of the wider community of faith, we may also feel called to make some offering of deeper support to the families of these martyrs. A program called Coptic Orphans works with poor families in Egypt.

Artist Tony Rezk, whose art is featured above, offers prints of his digital icons. A portion of the sale of the icon of the 21 Martyrs will go to support needy Christian families in Egypt.

Another group that is helping needy Christian families is Gather the Remnants.

The Vatican’s agency for humanitarian and pastoral support, Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) is also active in supporting Christian communities in this time of need.

Help will certainly be needed as this campaign against Christians in countries around the world continues.

 

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Posted by on Jan 22, 2015

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Sainthood for Father Junipero Serra

Bl. Junipero Serra Public Domain Image

Bl. Junipero Serra
Public Domain

Pope Francis on January 16 announced his decision to canonize Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan founder of the California missions during his visit to Washington, DC this fall. The ceremony will take place at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope decided to waive the requirement for two miracles. Blessed Fr. Serra is said to have cured a nun in St. Louis from lupus. However a second miracle has not been attributed to his intervention. Pope Francis said that Blessed Junipero Serra has been considered to have been a holy man for many decades and that he is a good example of evangelization — bringing the gospel — to those who have not heard it.

Blessed Junipero Serra has become a controversial figure since the mission system led to the downfall of the ancient cultures of the native people and their way of life. He and the other missionaries are blamed for the destruction of ancient ways. Others see him as the founder of California and a moderating force in the Spanish expansion into Alta California. For example, when the Viceroy demanded the execution of 12 captured Kumeyaay Indians who had attacked Mission San Diego in 1775 and killed three Spaniards, Blessed Junipero Serra managed to spare their lives. The Los Angeles Times published a well balanced article on January 16,  “Decision to Canonize Father Junipero Serra draws divided reaction.”

Native people today are divided on the subject. Andy Galvan an Ohlone Indian and curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco focuses on the positive aspects of Spanish colonization and says that Blessed Junipero Serra “was a very good man in a very bad situation.” His cousin, Vincent Medina, who is also an Ohlone Indian and the assistant curator at Mission Dolores, focuses on the negative outcomes. Jesuit Father Thomas Rausch, SJ, PhD, a religious studies professor at Loyola Marymount College in Los Angeles, has characterized the controversy as a debate about “an 18th century Catholic missionary by 21st century standards of cultural diversity, religious pluralism and personal autonomy.”

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Posted by on Oct 24, 2013

Seeking God, Decision-Making and the Ignatian Examen

Seeking God, Decision-Making and the Ignatian Examen

three-candles-by Alice Birkin

Finding Peace and Freedom

We cannot find peace if we are arguing with God in whatever form we perceive the sacred. The Divine Reality loves us without reservation. We cannot find happiness and peace in any other place. Even non-believers will only find peace in the Reality that has created the universe and encloses all of it within Itself. God has given everything in the universe love and freedom. God’s love is total. It encompasses everything that promotes our growth and transformation. We have been created for union with this sacred reality, so we learn and experience during all our lives ways to be like God: to be knowing, understanding, wise, discerning, reverent, courageous and in awe of the transcendent. Everything in the universe has degrees of freedom. The nature of everything determines the degrees of freedom. I cannot flap wings and fly. I cannot breathe under water just as I am. I will always be a middle child. But, there are many ways in which I can determine my course in life, work with limitations or with strengths.

As I live my life I have many possibilities before me. I also have a certain amount of freedom. If I believe in the reality of God, I see myself in a relationship with God, a God who is close or distant. All religious and spiritual traditions have concepts of the relationship of human powers and divine powers. These relationships involve change, improvement, decision, freedom, human failure, consequences and divine intervention. The theological terms often used for these phenomena are: conscience or consciousness, grace, nature, discernment, acts, harm or sin and moral good, and judgment or karma.  If I am thinking about getting more money I have a number of reasons as to why I want more money, what I possibly want to do to get money, and what the pros and cons are with various options. I can look at the decision from many angles. I can line up my ideas and come up with what I think will work the best. I can talk to others or read various sources. I can also present this to God in prayer and say: “Please tell me what You see as best for me.”

This is not easy to do because most people feel that God does not think of my little side to things; God is only interested in the Bigger Picture and saints or martyrs. In fact, God is very interested in individuals. God as most Westerners conceive of God is a personal Reality who sees us fully and knows exactly what would make us happy. We are still not too sure about that because it sounds too mature for us. Attending to our health and saving money may sound difficult, so long term happiness planning may seem very hard. I am the first to say that buying something new sounds like fun. But, wanting to surrender to God as our source of wisdom and a guide is the only way to have peace.  We are also very rational in the West and often think God is so intangible or un-provable as to be neither reliable nor a reality with which we can have a two-way communication.

Time for Centering

Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from.  Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.

Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc.  Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took.  Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your well being, or side-tracked you.  These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best.  You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear and I am much more at peace.

Image: Three Candles by Alice Birkin, public domain

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Posted by on Sep 17, 2013

St. Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen

 

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen lived in the 12th century. A remarkable woman, she founded a Benedictine convent, served as abbess of her community, studied medicine and physiology, including the use of medicinal herbs, composed and played hauntingly beautiful religious music, wrote poetry and morality plays, produced artistic works, and was a prophetic leader and preacher within the Church of her day.

Hildegard was also a mystic, having had visions beginning around the age of three. When in her early 40s, she began writing of her visions and their meaning. These were presented in three major works: Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), Liber Vitae Meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life), and Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works).

Many of her musical compositions have survived to the present and have been recorded by contemporary artists and orchestras. Her music goes beyond the traditional chant of her day, with a much broader range of notes in her melodies than was common at the time.

Hildegard saw humans as the thinking heart of all creation, called to work with God in shaping our world. Humans, and indeed all of creation, are “living sparks,” “rays of his splendor, just as the rays of the sun proceed from the sun itself.” She taught that our separation from God through sin brought harm to us as humans and to all of creation, but through Christ, we have the way for all to return to our original state of blessing.

In her words:

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?

Hildegard is honored as a Doctor of the Church. We celebrate her feast on September 17.

St. Hildegard, pray for us as we seek to see God’s face in each other and in all of creation.

 

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Posted by on Aug 8, 2013

St. Dominic’s Insight and Evangelization Today

St. Dominic’s Insight and Evangelization Today

St. Dominic

Insights from Conversing with an Innkeeper

Dominic Guzmán (1170-1221), a Spanish priest traveling with his bishop in southern France, spent an entire night talking with an innkeeper who was a believer in Catharism, a dualistic religious cult that originated in the East. He discovered that the man had not really rejected Catholic teachings but rather was ignorant of them. This discovery led to the founding of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), a group dedicated to learning theology and other disciplines and communicating the beliefs of the Church to all they met, while living as beggars and travelers on the highways and byways of Europe. Many great theologians and prophets, both men and women, have served the church through the centuries as followers of Dominic and his early companions.

Moving into a Changing World

Dominic’s insight that the Gospel must be taught both with words and through the lives of the ones proclaiming it in the contemporary world with all of its challenges holds as true today as it did some eight hundred years ago. In many ways, we as a community of faith had, until recently, settled into an almost self-satisfied attitude that all of the answers to the questions of faith and  moral behavior had been resolved by theologians of the Middle Ages and/or at the Council of Trent. As Tevye (of “Fiddler on the Roof”)  might have expressed it, “Everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to be!”

Yet such an attitude of self-confident satisfaction with who we are and what we believed did not serve us well. The world’s people continued to discover new truths in science and new understandings of human behaviors and cultures. Industrialization brought changes in family life and opportunities. Education of both boys and girls has become a given in Western societies and increasingly this is also the case in non-industrial societies around the world as well. More strikingly, perhaps, we did not as intelligent inhabitants of this planet learn how to live together in peace, with the common good as our highest concern. Instead, we set about conquering each other, with the nations having the strongest military plundering the regions they had conquered. Somehow the old teachings no longer answered the new questions about God, life, and the reality of evil in the world.

Evangelization Today

Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have called the Church to a new focus on evangelization. The teachings of the Church, including new insights from theology, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and other disciplines, must be presented to the world and lived out joyfully by Christian believers. Pope Francis repeatedly stresses the importance of going out into our communities and meeting people where they live and work. We are to work to alleviate poverty and suffering. We are to serve without judging others whose lives and values differ from ours. We are to be true to the traditions of our community, but recognize that those traditions may need to be presented in different words and explained using different images. Some of those traditions may need to be stretched so they express the lived experience of a new generation of believers. This is the age of the Holy Spirit in salvation history and we must recognize that God is so much bigger and more amazingly wonderful than we could ever imagine, that no human formulation could ever totally express the full reality of who God is.

Like the times of Dominic Guzmán, there is a great need in today’s world for people of faith to learn about God, about our Christian beliefs and traditions, and about the newly emerging insights of our living faith community. The days when the catechism lessons of childhood sufficed for an adult life of faith are long since gone, if they ever truly existed. We are all called to continue to learn, to study Scripture, to reflect on God’s active presence in our lives, and to share what we have learned with others. And we do this not just at Church or in catechism classes, but also in our daily activities on the highways and byways of our lives. The People of God are once again called to be proclaimers of the loving presence and activity of our God.

And that innkeeper with whom Dominic spoke all night? He returned to the Catholic faith once he understood what the community really believed.

St. Dominic, Pray for us!

Image: St. Dominic by Fra Angelico, Side panel of the Altarpiece in Perugia

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Posted by on Jul 31, 2013

Becoming Radiant in the Presence of the Lord

Becoming Radiant in the Presence of the Lord

 

Sun Shining Through Clouds

The readings of the Church recently have been focused on the experience of entering into the Presence of the Lord and spending time there. One way of describing the experience of spending time with God is to use the word prayer.* An ancient definition of prayer, attributed to St. Augustine, is this: “Prayer is lifting our minds and hearts to God.” On this feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, it seems fitting to spend a few moments reflecting on ways we enter into the presence of God and the results of doing so.

Jesus taught his followers to be very direct and straightforward in their prayers, asking for what they needed with confidence and persistence. They were (and we are) to ask for the coming of God’s kingdom and that God’s will be done both in heaven and on earth. Their prayer was also to include such seemingly mundane issues as requesting their daily bread and forgiveness for having hurt others,  failing to live in loving ways, as well as the much more serious concern that they be spared from the soul-shaking temptations that sometimes afflict even good and holy people at difficult points during their lives. Jesus himself spoke familiarly and intimately with God, calling him Abba — a word that means Father in the sense of a loving parent, a “Dad,” or even the “Daddy” of a small child. The result of the conversation would not always be the reception of exactly what was requested or preferred (remember the Agony in the Garden and Jesus’ prayer there), but it was always frank and based in trusting love. Those who learn to rely on God for the “little” things (daily bread and forgiveness) become more able to rely on God for the big things (courage to make the hard decisions and accept the consequences of following the Lord).

Among those whose relationship with God we have seen as examples are Abraham, who spoke with God directly, pleading for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah if as few as ten good men could be found within their walls. Many years later, Moses met God and entered into the cloud with God for forty days, returning to the people with the gift of the Law that would guide their lives in holiness. When Moses returned to the people, his face was so radiant it was frightening to the people. He covered his face when among them and only lifted the veil when he again entered into the presence of God. Jesus’ friend Martha, who had spent many hours in easy friendship with him, did not hesitate to speak frankly to him, complaining at one point that she had been left to do all the work of entertaining the large group of people who accompanied him on his visit. But Martha also is known for her declaration of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” These and many others model for us the importance of speaking directly with God and of doing so on a regular basis.

Ignatius called his followers to contemplation in action, recognizing that the fundamental basis for a fruitful discipleship is the time spent in the company of the Lord. Out of the experience of friendship with God comes the gift of seeing how God would respond to those we meet in our lives today and the courage to act accordingly.

Entering into the presence of the Lord is not for the faint of heart. The great mystery of Love is not tame, nor is it particularly predictable. Love is a powerful force that can sweep away obstacles but can also be as gentle as a mountain stream bubbling through a meadow and washing the feet of children playing by its side. Yet as we enter regularly into the Presence, we are changed subtly and profoundly. Peace, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness, persistence, confidence, compassion, and zeal for justice become characteristic of ones who have spent much time with the Lord. Like Moses, if to a somewhat lesser degree, they become radiant with the joy of that relationship. And when at last they return to their Father and we remember them with love, sometimes we portray that radiance with a golden aura or halo surrounding their heads.

*Philip St. Romain offers a good presentation of Christian prayer and contemplation. See also Fr. Ron Shirley’s reflections on prayer.

Public Domain image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol

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Posted by on Jun 24, 2013

A Song of Praise as a World Turns — The Benedictus

A Song of Praise as a World Turns — The Benedictus

Zechariah and John the Baptist

Zechariah and John the Baptist

 

On the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, I find myself reflecting on the song of praise attributed to his father, Zechariah, known by its Latin name, the Benedictus.

Who was Zechariah?

Zechariah was a priest from the family of Aaron. His wife Elizabeth was of the same family line. They were elderly and had no children. According to the Gospel of Luke, one day when Zechariah was serving at the temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer sacrifice. This was the most solemn duty for any priest and large numbers of people gathered outside to pray. Suddenly, an angel appeared to him, “standing at the right of the altar of incense.” The angel announced that his prayers and those of his wife for a child would be answered. The child would be a son and was to be named John. The angel explained that this child would be filled with the Holy Spirit while still within his mother’s womb and would bring back many of the sons of Israel to God. He would prepare “a people well-disposed” for the Lord. (Lk 1:5-17)

Zechariah found all of this hard to believe, so he asked the angel for more details about how it could happen — after all, both he and Elizabeth were beyond their normal child-bearing ages. The angel, Gabriel, responded that because he questioned the message, he would remain mute until the birth of the child. Then he would see that the Lord’s promise had been fulfilled. And so it happened. (Lk 1:18-25)

Nine months later, the child was born. Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, who had also been blessed by a visit from Gabriel, had come to help her for a few months and the child within Elizabeth’s womb leaped with the joy of Mary’s coming. (Lk 141) When John was born, all the relatives and neighbors expected that he would be named for his father, Zechariah, but both Elizabeth and Zechariah insisted that the child’s name would be John. With that, Zechariah’s tongue was freed and he spoke, praising God and uttering a prophecy regarding his son’s role in salvation history.

A Prophetic Canticle

Zechariah’s prophetic song is not a statement like that of a fortune teller. Prophecy in Biblical terms refers to speaking on behalf of God of the underlying reality of what God is doing in the lives of the members of the community.

Zechariah begins by blessing God as the God of Israel who visits and ransoms his people. God raises a savior from the House of David, the royal house, as promised in days of old. This savior will rescue the people from the hands of their foes in fulfillment of the covenant established with Abraham, delivering them from fear and freeing them to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. Only after laying out the ancient promises, Zechariah speaks briefly to his own child —  a child who will be called a prophet of the Most High because he will go before the Lord to announce the coming of salvation and to help the people prepare to receive it (the image used is to prepare straight paths for the coming savior). Zechariah concludes by noting that all of this is a work of kindness from the Lord, the Dayspring who in his tender mercy will visit Israel, freeing those who sit in darkness and guiding their feet into the way of peace. (Lk 1:68-79)

A World Turns

In the birth of John the Baptist, the trajectory of history began to turn. The final step of God’s plan to reclaim all of creation and return it to the initial unity with God has been initiated. God does not force this transition or the people involved in it to cooperate. But God persistently works with humans and through human history to bring it about. Zechariah reminds all who hear his voice through the ages that God keeps the covenant, rescues the people, gathers the community, and wants to bring all people back to joyful unity in Love.

The Christian church (community) remembers this song of prayer, praise and promise in the Liturgy of the Hours. As part of Morning Prayer, the People of God around the world recite or sing this canticle daily. Some chant it. Some arrange its words to fit other religious or popular tunes. One of my favorite versions was set to the tune of an English folk song by Ruth Duck. Those who really listen deeply to it find a special joy bubbling into their day as they join Zechariah in praising a God who works such wonders.

 Image from Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem

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Posted by on Nov 30, 2012

Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Follower of Christ the King

Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Follower of Christ the King

 

Dorothy Day, 1934

Dorothy Day, cofounder with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement, died 32 years ago, on November 29, 1980. Like many other activists who have struggled for social justice and worked among the poorest, most forgotten members of society, she is more respected by mainstream Americans, religious leaders, and commentators now than she was during all but the last decade of her life. In life she had the annoying habit of pointing out the discrepancies between our Gospel calling to serve the Lord in those around us, especially in the poor and most vulnerable, and our national focus on the value of making money and enjoying a middle class or higher lifestyle. She opposed war and participated in demonstrations against all wars, including World War II. She supported Cesar Chavez and the labor union movement. She was not unwilling to go to jail and did so on multiple occasions. She lived and died in a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in New York, providing services including food, clothing, shelter, and a cup of good coffee to the poor and homeless. With other activists, she also participated in non-violent direct actions aimed at changing the social structures that lead to poverty and homelessness.

Movies have been made and books written about this woman whose work led to the establishment of the Catholic Worker. Church leaders today speak of her with respect and support her cause for sainthood. Men and women around the world join together in soup kitchens, hospitality houses, and communal farms to carry on the work she began.

This year, Dorothy Day’s feast falls outside of Advent. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. The convergence of  our celebration of a King who was crucified, died, and rose from the dead with our celebration of the life of a woman whose life was focused on serving that King in the poorest of the poor is one that does not happen often. Yet it seems fitting that this connection should be noticed. Serving the poor and disenfranchised is hard, dirty, smelly, frustrating work. Most people who live on the street are not there by choice, yet some prefer to remain on the streets rather than deal with the requirements of the various shelters or programs in their communities. Some have mental illnesses that are untreated. Some battle post-traumatic stress. Some have lost their homes as a result of loss of employment or long-term illnesses. Families and single people live on the streets. Children and old men and women live on the streets. It’s cold, lonely and dangerous there and all too often, the rest of us pass by without noticing them or if we do see them, we somehow assume it’s their own fault and feel no compulsion to try to help.

Those who enter pastoral ministry, social workers, and others who regularly deal with the homeless and disabled quickly learn that it is not glamorous or easy to provide support and care for this population, particularly with scant resources and personnel. Yet as Dorothy noted, “The mystery of the poor is that they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do to Him.” This doesn’t mean she was never frustrated or angry with God. Anyone who regularly deals with impossibly difficult individuals, bureaucracies, social structures, and disdainful or fundamentally unaware fellow church members or citizens will experience times of total anger and frustration. Faithfulness to the call to serve Jesus in this way requires continuing anyway — telling God what a mess it all is, maybe telling God how angry one is feeling, complaining about how hard it is to keep going or to deal with the physical realities of life on the street or in poor neighborhoods, and then going out and continuing the work. This is the connection with Christ the King: faithful following of the call to service of the poor and vulnerable and to change those social institutions that keep so many people trapped in poverty.

Dorothy Day is on her way to officially recognized sainthood. Nevertheless, we would all do well to remember her thoughts about what might result in such an eventuality, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

Photograph from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

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Posted by on Aug 11, 2012

A Quote from St. Clare for her Feast Day

St. Clare of Assisi was a friend of Francis of Assisi and founder of the Poor Clares. Her advice to her sisters and other followers, as well as for us today is this:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation!

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Posted by on Aug 4, 2012

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney

August 4 is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in Lyons, France. He wanted to be a priest, but his education was limited and he was not a very good student, despite his great desire to learn enough to be ordained. Finally his bishop took a chance on him and agreed to ordain him. John was assigned to a remote town far away from any place of note. He was not a great homilist. His knowledge of theology was limited. But he was a good listener and a compassionate man whose advice and counsel was welcomed by those who came to him for confession. Before long, he was spending up to eighteen hours a day, sitting in a confessional, hearing the confessions of people who traveled from all over France to receive forgiveness through his ministry.

St. John Vianney also loved the Eucharist. Among his many insights was this one on God’s love for us.

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”

 Image of St. John Vianney is in the public domain.

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