What is Greater than the Wisdom of Solomon?

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. . . apparently the power of women.

Upon giving the throne to his son, David told Solomon, “Take courage and be a man. Keep the mandate of the Lord, your God, following his ways and observing his statutes, commands, ordinances, and decrees as they are written in the law of Moses, that you may succeed in whatever you do, wherever you turn.” (1 Kings 2-3)

Solomon, a smart young man understanding the immense responsibility his father has just bestowed on him, asks God, “O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kings 3:7-9)

God was so thrilled with this prayer that He did in fact give Solomon ‘A heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.” (1 Kings 3:12) To this day, we speak of the wisdom of Solomon and how clever and astute he was in his judgments.

Unfortunately in his later years, Solomon was not so wise. So just how did Solomon go from being the smartest guy ever, enjoying great success and riches, to losing favor with God and causing the loss of his kingdom?

‘When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God.’ (1 Kings 11:4)

It is understandable that Solomon’s wives, taken from tribes outside his Hebrew faith, would naturally want to steer their husband to their beliefs. What is curious though, is why did Solomon listen to them? Why did he turn from the God he knew all his life, the Source of his wisdom, to these new and strange gods?

Could it be that the influence of woman is greater than the intelligence of man?

What may surprise you is that the Catholic Church has always professed this feminine influence and directly addressed women concerning their power on December 8, 1965, in the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, when Pope Paul VI wrote:

“And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states—girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone—you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.”

So, what does the discovery of this feminine power, an influence so great we can bring down kingdoms, mean for us women?

As I see it, we have three choices:

1)    We can deny this power and continue to believe the culture’s mantra that women are victims with no voice (even though more women than men graduate with a college degree these days; and women have reached the top-echelon in all areas including industry, education, medicine and politics.)

2)    We can accept it and choose to wield this power for our own interests.

3)    We can embrace this gift and use our influence to give glory to the One who gave it us.

Assuming you are as wise as our ‘younger’ brother, Solomon, and chose number 3, here are some ways we can respond to the Church’s call to ‘acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved so as to aid mankind in not falling:’

  • We can become ‘impregnated with the Gospel’ by taking Catholic faith/bible studies on a consistent basis.
  • We can pray daily for wisdom to live a life of virtue and ask for the intercession of the woman most powerful, our Blessed Mother, in living out our vocation to womanhood.
  • We can frequent the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation and humbly ask Jesus to remove all obstacles that prevent us from influencing our family, friends, co-workers, etc. and turning their hearts to God.
  • We can transform the world! . . . . by simply being the woman God has created us to be.

Choose wisely, Sister!

The Night is Coming

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“The Raising of Lazarus” by Rembrandt, 1630

The gospel reading from this past Sunday’s liturgy seems to be one that has several odd quirks tossed in.

The basic outline of the resurrection of Lazarus is familiar enough: Jesus has retreated west of the Jordan River to the place where John baptized him, when he hears from Mary and Martha that their brother is ill. So he waits a few days – this part is shocking, but understandable - until Lazarus has died, and then goes to resurrect him, giving glory to God and bringing Mary, Martha and the disciples to a deeper faith in the process, the point being that here is a kind of preview of the death and resurrection that we will experience in him.

There’s another layer to the narrative, though, that gets hinted at throughout.

First, Jesus’ initial reply seems maybe a little dry in light of the urgent news that had come from Bethany, a two-day’s journey away. He says with noticeable lack of alarm, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” – which must have been a bit less than what they were expecting.

There is a tinge of that, “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already in flames!” impatience, but more muted, more compressed. Understandable: he spent thirty years watching, observing, living an ordinary life, such that no one expected to see the “carpenter’s son” making such waves. Now it’s time for action, and there’s not always time to explain everything! He sounds almost like a parent to the disciples.You don’t get it? Okay, let’s go, you’ll see.

And he is glad for the coming glory of God, but it’s not there yet. Lazarus will be resurrected, but for now he’s deadThen Thomas says something curious and unelaborated: “Let us also go to die with him.”

Commenting on this passage at the Catholic Seniors’ Conference this past weekend, Fr. Carl Beavers s noted that when Jesus retreated to this place along the Jordan, it was to rest and bask in the serenity of the breezy locale. He was speaking from experience, having visited the Holy Land and been to the peaceful riverside. Fr. Beavers recalled that Jesus had just struggled with a thick-headed Nicodemus, and then escaped from a crowd that wanted to stone him. He probably did need a breather.

There’s a deeper significance, too. This was the place where Christ first publicly threw in his lot with us. There was no need for him to receive the baptism of repentance, but he did so “to fulfill all righteousness.” God willed that he would show his unity with a broken humanity in submitting to the baptism of John. He was not just making a guest appearance on earth only to whisk back up to heaven before getting his hands dirty. This was where he began to publicly intertwine his life with ours, and John, in turn, is alarmed for us: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

After the baptism, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and the voice of God came from the heavens, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” After humility and meekness, here is the sublime encouragement and affection of the Father. Then Jesus goes out to the desert to suffer in fasting and temptation, being steeped further into the poverty of the human condition, and being prepared for ministry.

When Jesus and the disciples get to Bethany, Martha goes out to meet him. She confides, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died, but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Seeing the maturity of her faith, he tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,” and he asks her point-blank, “Do you believe this?”

More confidence from Martha: “Yes, Lord.” Mary, on the other hand, is more shaken. She falls at Jesus’ feet (again) and weeps, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” and stops there. She’s also confident like Martha, but overwhelmed.

This words of the Father bring up another parallel, one still to come on Mt. Tabor, where Christ is transfigured. There a voice comes from the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” More fatherly comfort, reassurance, and preparation. Shortly after, “he set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem,” where he would be crucified.

 

Where, despite their protests of faithfulness, Thomas’ eerie pre-notion, “Let us also go die with him,” would be reversed in their abandoning him.

Jesus knew all along that he would resurrect Lazarus. The disciples did not understand, but he gathered them up and set off resolutely toward Bethany, with what must have been an astounding equanimity. In a single curt breath, he tells them, “Our friend Lazarus… has died.  And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”

Solid marriage advice holds that when one spouse is freaking out, the other should be calm. Christ’s calm in the midst of Martha and Mary’s grief and the disciples’ confusion is appropriate. Come, hurry, let’s go, he tells the disciples.“Are there not twelve hours in a day? If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

Our night is as the day to God, he sees beyond the inexplicable. But even Christ cannot escape stumbling in the darkness, immersed as he is in our condition, his unique identity as the Father’s beloved Son now tied to his unique mission as the Incarnate Word of God come to draw us to himself. When he sees the sorrowful heart of Mary, he is “perturbed and deeply troubled.” He was composed before, but when he sees the tomb of Lazarus, he weeps. He knows that the resurrection is coming, but he is no stoic. His friend is dead, his loved ones are mourning. His heart aches with them.

After his transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, Jesus predicts his passion. He says, “The Son of Man must suffer,” by being “handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day,” and the disciples “were overwhelmed with grief” (Matt 17). It says nothing about Christ’s feelings, nothing of any trouble on his brow. Perhaps the memory of his Father’s voice was still fresh in his mind.

Then once more, when he gets to his destination, darkness: in the Garden of Gethsemane, now his own death is closer and he sweats blood as he prays. Like Mary outside of Bethany, now it’s Christ (divine, yet so much like us) who falls prostrate at the feet of the Father, so to speak, and confides his perturbed and deeply troubled heart, and his faithfulness.

The night comes. Stumbling: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We only get glimpses of his glory in this life, and it’s enough. Not to always prevent us from being overwhelmed, not to always save us from dark nights and sweating blood, and certainly not to offer an escape from the concrete to the abstract; but to enliven us during the many trials that put us to all kinds of death. Again, Jesus observed us quietly for thirty years – he takes for granted that our lives will be filled with poverties and darkness, which he will use to draw us into himself, his life. By grace, especially since baptism, he grafts our death into his own, because we are one. By grace, his life is our life, and vice versa. His grace is enough to make the Gospel our wise red blood.

We’re closing in on Holy Week. We started Lent with resolution, setting our face toward Jerusalem, then still a way’s away. We’ve walked in the light, and we hope to walk again in the dawn of Easter. But now, the night is near. Come, let us also go die with him.

The Man Born Blind

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When they saw a man who was blind from birth, Jesus` disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.”

The Kingdom of God and life itself is a mystery. Some people are born handicapped, some live their entire lives in poverty, while others seem to experience the best that this world has to offer. How do these extremes and everything in between, manifest the works of God?

For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, and hearts that are willing to be converted, the grace of God can bring transformation and sometimes healing to the most extreme circumstances. No matter who we are, or what our life experiences have been, there will always be someone who has had it more difficult than us, and were yet able to be witnesses of the transforming power of God’s grace.

In a certain way we can say that we were all born blind. We all need the cleansing waters of baptism to wash over us so that we can receive the light of Christ and to become a member of his body, which is the Church. In baptism we all receive the theological gifts of faith, hope and charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we must personally choose to believe, and then to act on what we believe.

Christ is present in his Church; in his Word, in the sacraments, in his teachings, and in his witnesses. Through the Church, Jesus gives us what we need for the circumstances of our lives.

At the beginning of Lent, when ashes were placed on our foreheads, we heard the words, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” The ashes are an outward sign that we know we need to make some changes; that we need to repent of our sins so that we can enter more deeply into a personal relationship with Jesus, who died on the cross for us. We need the season of Lent to remind us that once again we must make an effort to break free from the things that distract us from God’s plan for us.

It is natural for us to want to hold on to unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, envy, hatred, etc., but all these cause spiritual blindness and destroy relationships, and can even lead to poor health.

When we refuse to give in to all of these things which cause spiritual blindness and we seek Christ’s help through the sacraments; then the works of God are made manifest.

At first it may seem that living this life close to God is too difficult, but what are the other options? I guess most of us have tried the other options and experienced their emptiness.

Many of the saints that we are familiar with, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis and St. Augustin went down this path as well in the beginning. Some had everything that the world has to offer, but were only able to find their fulfillment in their relationship with Christ. Their example has been an inspiration for countless others to turn to Christ.

It is amazing how many people wait until they reach the point of desperation before they call out to God for help. It would be better for us and the people we love and for the whole Body of Christ if we would call out to Him now instead of waiting because He wants to make a difference in our lives right now. There is no convenient time to surrender our lives to the Lord. We all must at some time say, “Jesus, I want you to be the Lord of my life, please give me the grace to be faithful to you.” We are not going to be able to enter into heaven until we surrender our lives to the Lord, and the sooner we make that decision, the sooner we begin experiencing the peace and joy that is the fruit of an intimate relationship with the Lord.

It was St. Augustine who once said, “Our hearts are restless O`Lord, until they rest in you.”

Truly, Jesus longs to transform our lives with his healing presence, but we must have eyes that are willing to see; ears that are willing to hear; and hearts that are willing to be converted. It is the only way we can reach our potential for happiness in this life and for all eternity.

In Praise of the Honey Bee

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In the August 19, 2013 issue of TIME Magazine, author Bryan Walsh wrote, “When you sit down to dinner tonight, offer a prayer of thanks for the honeybee. Because one of out of every three mouthfuls of food you eat are because of the hard work of the bee.”

Walsh goes on to explain how essential the honey bee is the United States’ agriculture, noting that “they pollinate the seeds that ripen into our apples, cucumbers, cranberries, and many other fruits and vegetables in our diet.”

He continues,

A single hardworking honeybee can visit up to 100 flowers in a single trip and carry more than half its weight in pollen – yet a single honey bee will produce only a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey its short life time. In order to produce one pound of honey, a colony of bees will fly more than 55,000 miles and tap more than two million flowers. it’s amazing what such a small insect can do to affect our entire food chain and the world we live in!

This amazing story of bees can also remind us of Jesus’ message of the “mustard seed”. Jesus makes it clear that even a little faith can have a huge impact on not only our lives, but on the lives of those around us. What seems small and insignificant can produce wonderful and good things in the plan of God.

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“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31)

The work of the honeybee can help us see the value of the small, ordinary and unseen acts of faith, love and hope. So consider the bees, think about the size of a mustard seed and ask yourself, Am I building up the kingdom of God through my life as a Christian?

Facing Difficulties – Lessons from St. Patrick and the Irish

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StPatrickIreland’s greatest saint is remembered March 17, which falls during Lent, and while most Americans might shrug at this and chug their green beers, Paddy is actually more closely connected to fasting and penance than to feasting and beer.

St. Patrick, determined to evangelize the Irish, was at first unsuccessful at preaching. Legend tells us that when he preached about Hell and Purgatory, no one would believe him — UNLESS! — a man could go there, live, and come back to tell them. (Sounds outrageous until you consider that these were Irish folk, and if I know anything about my Irish family members, it’s that we live for a good story.)

St. Patrick became furious at their lack of faith. It’s said Christ led Patrick to a cave, where he saw visions of Hell and Purgatory. One story leads to another, and it’s said a man was lowered into the cave, experienced Purgatory, and ‘lived to tell’.

Owain’s World

We learn more from the story of Sir Owain, or Knight Owain, whose journey through the famous cave is re-told in Tractatus de Purga-torio Sancti Patricii (Treatise on St. Patrick’s Purgatory). This Treatise is clearly the product of Irish didactic storytelling. From it, we can glean a few gems to help us with our trials here on earth:

What We Should Think

As Owain enters the cave, monks advise him that although the road ahead is treacherous, he can survive by thinking about one thing: “Hold God in your heart, and think upon the Passion that he suffered on the cross for you.”

This advice has been passed down to us from the apostles and saints through the centuries, but we seem to meditate on Jesus’ Passion only during Lent. Why? Perhaps we’re too caught up in our search for comfort and pleasure, as if these would solve our problems. But only through meditation on God’s ultimate sacrifice, on Christ’s love-above-all-love for us, can we rise above our trials.

What We Should Speak

Depiction of Christ's Temptation, from the Celtic "Book of Kells" (ca. 800 AD)

Depiction of Christ’s Temptation, from the Celtic “Book of Kells” (ca. 800 AD)

Owain is also advised: “Use God’s exalted name and the fiends can do you no harm.” Scripture tells us that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”

Owain learns the power of Jesus’ name as fiends tie him up to be burned, but he “called out to Our Lord and at once the fire disappeared and not so much as a coal or a spark remained.” Soon, he realizes that whenever he speaks Jesus’ name, or thinks about His love, the fiends are rendered powerless. This holds true for us, too. Demons may seem frightening, but what is actually frightful is that they are so weak(!), and we can only be damaged when we give in to their weakness. Rather, strength comes from humility; when we rely on God. So in our trials, we should pray in Jesus’ name for protection.

What We Should Ignore

As Owain walks along, he sees people undergoing unthinkable sufferings, which correspond to their sinful attachments on earth. Each time he observes one of these horrors, Owain hears demons cry out to him, variations of this message: ‘You are such a terrible sinner! Look at what penance you’ll have to endure! But you don’t have to endure suffering! We’ll take you to be our friend, and where there are comforts!’

Owain simply ignores the demons and continues forward. What a simple, yet profound, lesson! Jesus teaches us this lesson; during his temptations, he rebukes Satan with the words of Scripture. We ought never to believe our tempters, because they serve the Father of Lies. Rather, we should ignore them and continue on our journey, trusting in God.

St. Patrick and Almighty God

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit o’ Irish lore; filled with timeless truths. As we remember St. Patrick, let’s remember this great saint — great because he knew these truths, and thus knew the power of God’s mighty love. Here’s a link to the prayer St. Paddy is said to have prayed daily: Lorica (Chainmail Armor) of Saint Patrick.

“So I’ll never stop giving thanks to my God, who kept me faithful in the time of my temptation. [...] He is the one who defended me in all my difficulties.” – St. Patrick of Ireland (from his Confession)

The Gift of Our Mistakes

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A funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago at the first class I attended for a new Catholic women’s study at my parish.

I walked in and introduced myself to the two women facilitators. “I know who you are,” one of them said, “You spoke at last year’s Catholic Women’s Conference.”  Her eyes got really wide and she stumbled a bit on her words. I could tell that she was a bit ‘star-struck.’ I read her mind, “My first time facilitating and she is going to be in my class!”  I chuckled quietly to myself, “Oh Honey, you have absolutely nothing to be intimidated about.”

It reminded me of the very first faith study I took when I returned to the Catholic Church. In this study were many of the women who represented to me the “perfect Catholic woman.” These were the women I saw dutifully at weekly Mass every Sunday with their children and husbands by their side.  I assumed as a re-vert to Catholicism after twenty years away and married to a non-Catholic, I was far removed from their obvious holiness and faithfulness.

I was so wrong!

It didn’t take long once we began sharing that I witnessed women who had a past like I did, who struggled to be holy as I did and who daily sought to be faithful but many times failed as I did. What a gift I received in that room hearing about their mistakes and their deep love for God and gratitude for his Mercy. As St. Paul says in Romans 3:23, “We all fall short of the grace of God,” yet by sharing our failures and our experiences of God’s mercy, we grow together in holiness and faithfulness.

Before long, these women came down from pedestals I had put them on and into my heart as life-long friends.

By the end of that class a few weeks ago, my facilitator experienced the same. As she spoke of an example of God’s mercy in her life to help me with a struggle I was going through, I noticed her shoulders relax and her fear disappear.  I smiled with the thought, “She just took me off that pedestal.”

I am so glad. Now we can journey as two sisters in Christ growing in holiness together and hopefully becoming life-long friends. What a great gift!

Dogma Guarantees Adventure

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“La conversión de San Pablo” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)

I used to be one of those people who claim that church is not for them – “too much dogma.”  Now I affirm that the exact opposite is true: the Catholic faith is rooted in the most exciting drama ever to stagger the imagination of man — and the dogma is the drama.

Have you seen the latest film, Son of God?  The first attempt made in 49 years to cover the full arc of Jesus’s life. It is real and it is moving.  The editing, expansive cinematography, acting, and musical score from Hans Zimmer – weaves a tale of a time when God submitted to the conditions He had laid down, became a man like the men He had made, and the men He had made broke Him and killed Him.  You can’t make stuff like this up!  If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting?

Everything boils down to the primary question which dominated St. Paul’s life, “Who are You, Lord?”  It was the answer to this question that sustained him in his last hours.

“…nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know Whom I have believed…” II Tim. 1:12

I doubt you could convince Paul that theology was dry, dull or impractical.  Easier to convince an adolescent male that sports are boring or a young maiden that she will yawn at her wedding. 

The God Who spoke the universe into existence, Who always was and always will be; and the fact that you and I even exist – have you wrapped your mind around about THAT lately!  Perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift.  Theology, properly pursued, is the greatest adventure entrusted to man.  Is there an earthly drama that can compare to it?

Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time

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In the first the reading the Lord tells Moses to tell to “tell the whole Israelite community to ‘be holy, for I , Lord your God , am holy.’” He then tells them how to be perfect, through charity; “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev.19:1-2)

In the St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he tells them, “…for the temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Cor. 3:17). They are holy because they belong to Christ.

The Gospel continues the same theme. Jesus tells his disciples not to seek revenge when they have been wronged, but instead to “… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” He concludes by saying, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)

In telling us to be perfect, he is not telling us to be perfectionist.

“Perfectionism refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high unrealistic goals. Perfectionism is often mistakenly seen in our society as desirable or even necessary for success. However, recent studies have shown that perfectionistic attitudes actually interfere with success. The desire to be perfect can both rob you of a sense of personal satisfaction and cause you to fail to achieve as much as people who have more realistic goals.” (source)

The perfection that Jesus calls us to is the life we experience in our relationship with God, by participating in His own perfection. With the help of his grace we are able to be charitable, humble and faithful. We must look more at Jesus and less at ourselves. Often we are overwhelmed because we are focused exclusively on our selves and our circumstances and have failed to surrender everything to Our Lord, drawing our strength from Him.

God has made it quite clear what is expected of us during our time on earth. We must love God above everything else and keep His commandments and love our neighbor as our self. We must even love our enemies and those who persecute us. We can only do this and the many more things that He asks of us by being in relationship with Him and receiving the graces He offers us through the sacraments.

St. Irenaeus famously said, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” God has great plans for humanity, but they can only be realized in relationship with Him.  We are fully alive when we are intimately connected to God and have a consuming desire to discover His will for our life. It is in this way that we become a “light to the world” because the choices we make reflect the desire of our heart and the joy of our life with Him.

Of course this intimate life with God is not without its trials and difficulties. As a matter of fact the trials are necessary because they purify us and deepen our faith and our trust in God. When we read the lives of the saints we see how they grew through their struggles and their lives became a testimony of their heroic love of God. The trials are never the end. They lead to great joy in time and in eternity.

We call this the “Good News” because it is the living Gospel and every person has the capacity to experience it. An outward sign of living the “Good News” is called the fruit of the Holy Spirit, “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Gal 5:22-23). This is not from us, it is from God and a consequence of our relationship with Him.

To strive for holiness does not mean that you will never sin. It does mean that we refuse to remain in sin and allow sin to shape our lives. Christ has given us the tools we need to overcome sin through His Church and the Sacraments; we must have the humility to use them.

Our readings today tell us we must be holy that we are the temple of God which is holy and that we must be perfect. Our first thought might be that this is not possible and it isn’t, unless we are in communion with God, because He makes it possible.

This intimacy with God is what moved people like Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, Maximilian Kolbe and all the saints to live not for themselves, but for God, and they made a difference in the world in which they lived. If you really want to make a difference in the world in which you live, read the Bible and read the lives of the saints. You will see that all things are possible with God. You can become holy and perfect in God and help to change the world in which you live. You will be glad you did.

Coming Up: Lent

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For as long as I can remember, Lent has always seemed like the most spiritual of all the liturgical seasons. Not that the Jesus of Christmas, Easter and Advent is any less bonafide and worthy of devotion, but he shares the spotlight with Hallmark, Mars Candy, and Williams Sonoma’s Hand-Buttered Very Madea Christmurs DVDs.

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For some reason, no one has really broken into the Lenten market with, say, brand name sackcloths.

All for the best, I suppose.

But even more than the lack of commercialization, there’s the intensity of a Lenten fast coupled with some pretty vivid rituals like the Stations of the Cross and veneration of the cross. We focus intently and squarely on Christ, on his pain, both his physical suffering and his sorrow. We foster sympathy for the God we worship.

Years ago, when I was still in college, I was waiting to meet my roommate for lunch. He was a semester-abroad student from Austria who had come here with the help of a scholarship. We were joining Fr. Franz Schorp, a Marianist priest and philosophy teacher at the university, who had provided the money for the scholarship himself.

As I was waiting outside the priests’ home, Fr. Schorp snuck up beside me and started, “You know, people like to cultivate their piety (and at this point, he began imitating a trembling old lady): ‘Oh sweet Jesus on the cross, have mercy on me…’ – but what about the Jesus that you encounter when you smack your head on a tree!”

I’d met Fr. Schorp a few months before, and if it wasn’t for that first meeting, I would have figured that senility had slightly grabbed ahold of him. The earlier impression he gave was of a warm, reflective, relaxed German (though he wasn’t) man who had never stopped thinking critically. With a memory as sharp as a whip, he recalled, if I remember right, studying under then-Professor Karol Wojtyla, and stealing his unfortunately illegible exam notes. So instead, I wondered what he meant. Here’s what, years later, I’ve come up with:

Heather King, writer extraordinaire and speaker at the 2013 Catholic Women’s Conference, recently wrote two blog posts with excerpts from and reflections on Fr. Patrick McNulty’s book, I Live, Not I. The title comes from St. Paul’s proclamation,

I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)

Fr. McNulty writes,

We must not ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, ‘Jesus, you experienced something like this in your own life–for different reasons than mine–so what kind of union with You are You calling me to right now through my humanity? What are You trying to teach me about You and Your relationship with Your Father right now in and through my flesh?

What I usually do when I’m hurt is figure out exactly who is to blame and how, then what I should do about it. But Fr. McNulty says that our response comes later – after we’ve opened ourselves to and sought out the Sacred Heart of Christ, who shares in our condition.

Christ experienced a life like our own, and by virtue of our unity with him initiated at baptism, everything including suffering becomes a vehicle for knowing him, as well as his (and our) relationship with the Father. When we suffer, we can say, Where is the Spirit of God in this? Christ experienced this pain before so how do I encounter him here? This is the road to a deeper unity with Christ: allowing him to draw us into his heart through our own pain, not to mention joys, thoughts, anxieties, affections…

Then we can offer our broken selves – with our longings, our shortcomings, our anxiety – to God, in union with Christ and with all people who suffer similarly. This not only cuts short our desire for self-pity, for vengeance, for being proven right;  it opens us up to the life of God. Whatsoever you did to the least of my people, you did it to me - it opens us up to our brothers, sisters, neighbors, too.

To be honest, I’m not sure how this relates to getting smacked by a tree branch, except that like the tension created by fasting, unexpected hurts can jolt us awake. Fr. McNulty might add that our unity with Christ makes us capable of a higher mind about life, and a larger heart, and I think that’s what Fr. Schorp was getting at too.

So couple that Lenten fasting and prayer with the traditional charitable giving, and you’ve got the basic ingredients of a successful penitential season. This Lent, when we give up whatever we give up, may it enable us to more deeply know and love Christ and other people. And when we stoop to kiss the crucifix, may our prayer, fasting and almsgiving ignite a heightened awareness of our Lord, who opens his heart to us in suffering, and brings his love to us with the goodness of his own body and blood.

Messages to the Heart

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For centuries, women have enjoyed receiving notes or letters with sweet messages.  Whether they were from beaus, husbands or friends, these messages often lead to nice feelings and romantic emotions. Many famous poets, writers and musicians were known to write lengthy letters filled with expressions of passion and romance. Mark Twain wrote a love letter to his future wife, Olivia Langdon, on May 12, 1869. In it he wrote:

Out of the depths of my happy heart wells a great tide of love and prayer for this priceless treasure that is confided to my life-long keeping. You cannot see its intangible waves as they flow towards you, darling, but in these lines you will hear, as it were, the distant beating of the surf.

Oh yes, women do enjoy receiving sweet messages from those who love them!  I began to think about letters written by men to communities, such as St. Paul’s writings to the community of Corinth, where he tells them about the way of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. … It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8).

Paul’s message penetrates heart and mind. His message directs them to love others.

A letter by another man of influence that gave direction, meaning, joy, and hope, was written by Pope John Paul II . On June 29, 1995, he wrote a letter giving thanks to all women throughout the world for their femininity.  When I read that letter, I took it personally. As a woman, I was so proud and happy to learn of the dignity and vocation of women being so eloquently articulated.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman!  Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.  (sect 2)

Not only is John Paul II speaking to all women, he is speaking directly to the hearts and minds of every individual woman, and is giving thanks to God for the gift of our femininity.  It is a beautiful letter written by a man who knew about the dignity and rights of women.

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, stores offer numerous cards with scenes of couples in passionate embrace and with messages describing their emotions. However, I’ve noticed how commercialism has portrayed these messages outside the true dignity of love between man and woman with sexual innuendos that reduce individuals to objects of sexual satisfaction.

This Valentine’s Day, or any day you share your romantic feelings with the one you love, think about adding a message that would help the other recognize their dignity as created in the image of God, as a son or daughter of God. Your expressions of passion and romantic feelings will follow well.