Which Blockbuster Movie Reveals Our Catholic Worldview?

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Do you know what is considered the “Catholic worldview”?

We see it illustrated in this Sunday’s readings:

  • Elijah, fed while wearily journeying through the desert
  • St. Paul urging us to love one another, since we were sealed by the Holy Spirit “for the day of redemption”
  • Jesus’ allusion to the Hebrews’ weary journey through the desert, fed by manna — and declaration that He is the Bread of Life

The Catholic worldview is also illustrated by one of my all-time favorite movies, based on the writings of a Catholic fantasy author.

(photo by fleno.de)

(photo by fleno.de)

John Ronald Ruel Tolkien carefully crafted perhaps the greatest of all literature’s fantastical worlds: Middle Earth, wherein a small, humble ‘nobody’ from a place no one had heard of, was chosen to carry the Enemy’s most dangerous object, on a treacherous journey, to cast it into a fiery pit and forever destroy it.

While bearing his heavy burden on this most difficult journey, Tolkien’s hero meets a mystical race of people—tall, beautiful and wise—who entrust him with gifts to aid his journey: protection, defense, medicine, and a supply of their bread.

This ancient bread is called Lembas, which in their language means “Waybread” or “journey bread”.  It is also called Coimas, meaning “life-bread”.

For me as a Catholic, watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films is like watching life’s most important truths in poetic motion.  Tolkien tells a fantastic tale with his Catholic imagination, revealing our faith’s ultimate worldview:

“The Church … will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 769)

Embodied in Tolkien’s hero, we see both a Christ-figure and our own selves.  The Catholic worldview is this: like Christ before us, we are pilgrims on a journey.

Do each of us, Catholics, while going about our daily tasks, view life as a pilgrimage – a journey, filled with obstacles and joys? Do we see life as a tiring yet invigorating adventure; with the Eucharistic “waybread” to sustain and strengthen us; with the sacraments and sacramentals to protect, defend, and heal us; with a mission and a destination, on which the entire world depends?

What would happen if we all lived like pilgrims?

One of my greatest joys of working at the Pilgrim Center of Hope is awakening individuals to this awesome reality: you are a pilgrim, and together we are a pilgrim people. May this reminder bring you hope today.

Watch a powerful clip from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Beyond Which We Cannot Go

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We are all creatures of routine and that is not a bad thing. Order is of God and therefore working within a pattern of tasks and schedules helps to guide us, focus us and direct us.

Since routine is defined as a sequence of actions regularly followed, it can also be defined as a type of journey. Literally, routine can be a journey as when we travel the same road at the same time each day to work. But it is also a journey if routine means changing twenty-five diapers a day, preparing dinner every night, exercising every other day or grocery shopping once a week. We are, through our tasks and chores, traveling from one thing to another: dirty bottom to a clean bottom, no dinner to dinner, unfit body to fit body and no food in the house to a stocked pantry.

Imagine walking a path and realize you have no idea where you are going. If you do not know the destination, then you will have no idea if you are headed in the right direction or when you have arrived. This same lack of purpose can happen when we see no end to the diapers, the meals, the drives to work, the work-outs and the grocery aisles.

So how do we find purpose to our routines? How do we keep them from becoming tedious?

For a journey to become an adventure, it must have a reason for doing it; a purpose. In other words, it must possess the why. For a life to have direction, a reason for even bothering to get out of bed in the morning, it must also possess the why.

We live in a culture that does not encourage our whys, preferring to tell us instead. Through education, politics and the mass media, our culture dictates what we should think, say and do. To question is frowned upon.

When I returned to the Catholic Church, I did so because my encounter with Jesus Christ brought me back to her doors. I did not understand how the One who lifted me up from my despair would want me to enter back into a place where I was convinced held no place or respect for me as a woman. So I dared to ask God, why?

In my heart, I heard my Savior answer, “I will tell you why, just come and see.”

What I have discovered over the last 15 years of my earthly journey is that the Catholic Church is full of generations of thinkers who dared to ask why. I have also discovered that no question is not worth asking and if we persevere in seeking and searching within the Truth, no question will go unanswered to our satisfaction.

St. Thomas Aquinas, born in 1225, discovered the same. He dared to go to the teachings of a Greek pagan born in 384 BC to search for the truth of God. In studying Aristotle, St. Thomas learned how to ask questions and how to discern truth. Though Aristotle did not believe in God, he did believe in Truth and was convinced there is a satisfactory answer to every question and an end to every seeking. He traveled the road of interrogation and this journey had an ultimate destination which he called, “Beyond which we cannot go.” It was at this destination, we found rest satisfied in the answer reached, and this satisfaction provided our purpose: eternal happiness.

Following the routine of questioning forged by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas discovered that Aristotle was correct. There is a “beyond which we cannot go,” it is our eternal happiness, and this destination even has a name: Jesus Christ.

So what does Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Jesus Christ have to do with you changing twenty-five diapers a day and bothering to get up and go to work each morning?

For our routines to have a purpose, we have to ask why.

Why am I doing what I am doing?

Why should I care for this baby?

Why should I go to work?

Why am I living this life?

Why I am the person I am?

Why should I even bother?

And you should ask these whys of the One who has all the answers, our Eternal Happiness and Beyond Which We Cannot Go —and why would we even want to!?

Every year at the Pilgrim Center of Hope’s Catholic Women’s Conference and Catholic Men’s Conference, many opportunities are provided to encounter Jesus. My favorite is the Benediction and Healing Service.

Our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament, comes to us. He comes to answer all our questions, heal all our wounds and give us the purpose to our lives; the whys of who we are. He invites our questions, no matter how small or how great, He desires our whys, He thirsts for us!

I invite all women to come join us in four weeks on August 28th and 29th at the Catholic Women’s Conference and experience this encounter for yourself!

O Jesus, King most wonderful!
O Conqueror renowned!
O source of peace ineffable
In whom all joys are found.

When once you visit darkened hearts,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanity departs,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
The fount of life and fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
All that we can desire.

May ev’ry heart confess your name,
Forever you adore,
And seeking you, itself inflame
To seek you more and more!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

To register for this year’s Catholic Women’s Conference, go to CWCSanAntonio.com.

To find out more about our 2016 Catholic Men’s Conference, go to CMCSanAntonio.com

To find other ways you can encounter Jesus Christ, go to PilgrimCenterofHope.org

Click here to watch one of our conferences’ regular speakers, Father Nathan Cromly, CSJ, as he offers a series of short, interesting and easy to understand videos on why we should ask why.

Transformed by God

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Institution of the Eucharist by Nicolas Poussin (1640)

In the Gospel of John, the Evangelist often refers to the miracles that Jesus performs as signs because they point to something more significant. Some of the signs or important events happen near the time of Passover. The Passover was and is the Jewish celebration of their deliverance from their Egyptian captivity. After the angel of death passed over the homes of the Israelites that were marked with lamb’s blood, it struck down the first-born of Pharaoh and all the Egyptians. After this event, Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt.

Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, he is also the fulfillment of the Passover, because he is the Lamb of God who shed his blood to save us from eternal death. That’s why the Feast of the Passover is so significant in the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus’ first miracle took place at the wedding feast of Cana. We remember how he changed the water in six 20-30 gallon stone jars into wine. A Scripture commentary states, “The vast quantity recalls the prophecies of abundance in the last days.” This miracle or sign not only fulfills prophecy, it is Eucharistic because it points toward the wine that will be changed into the blood of Christ “which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

After this first miracle of Jesus, the Scripture says that he and his mother and disciples went down to Capernaum for only a few days. The next sentence says, “Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”

Today’s Gospel also mentions that the Jewish feast of Passover is near and the miracle, or sign that Jesus will perform, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes is also Eucharistic because it points to the bread that will be changed into the Body of Christ, which will feed the multitudes until the end of time. An interesting point in this Gospel is that Jesus asks Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat,” even though he already knew what he was going to do. There is a message here for us. When we are confronted with challenges and trials and we ask the Lord for help, he may ask us what contribution we will make to resolve the difficulty. Perhaps it is our prayer and fasting or it may be the use of the gifts that we have received from the Holy Spirit in baptism. We all have something that the Lord can use and he wants us to be involved in the resolution.

Another interesting point: “Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.” This abundance of grass means it was spring time. Our pilgrim groups have stayed on the Mount of Beatitudes, where we could over look the beautiful Sea of Galilee and this very spot where Jesus performed this miracle. As you look down from the mount toward the Sea you will find an area that is almost shaped like an amphitheater which could easily accommodate thousands of people. This is where Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish in order to feed thousands of his followers.

This miracle of the multiplication is a prelude to Jesus discourse on the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, which he proclaims to the crowds that seek him out the next day. He admonishes them because they were interested primarily in the food he had provided. He then explains to them at great length that he is the Bread of Life which they must eat if they are to have eternal life. Four times he tells them they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they are to live forever. Many of his followers found this teaching to difficult to accept and would no longer follow him.

The final Passover that Jesus celebrates is what we call the Last Supper. This event ties together the miracle of the wine and the miracle of the loaves. At the Last Supper Jesus not only teaches his apostles that they must be servants of one another by washing their feet; he also institutes the priesthood and the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The Apostles who faithfully stayed with Jesus because they believed in him will finally understand how Jesus will give them his blood to drink and his flesh to eat. They become his first priests and Jesus will change bread and wine into his own body and blood through their hands and the hands of all the priests who will follow them.

The Holy Eucharist is a mystery of God’s love for us. At this Eucharist which we celebrate today and at every Eucharist celebrated everyday, every where in the world, Jesus Christ makes present to us his passion, death and resurrection. When we come to worship our Triune God we transcend time as we join the angels and saints offering praise and glory to Almighty God. We also have the opportunity to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ if we are properly prepared and disposed. This is not an empty ritual as some may think. Jesus loves us so much that he gives us himself under the appearance of bread and wine, but not all who receive Holy Communion receive the same benefit. It depends on how we have prepared. Have we fasted for one hour from everything except water and medicine? The purpose of this small fast is to remind us that we are about to enter into a supernatural experience. How long has it been since we have gone to Confession? We cannot receive the Lord in Communion if we have mortal sin on our soul. Sin is an obstacle to the grace that Jesus wants us to receive. Are we dressed as if we were going to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ?

Sunday Mass should be the high point of our week because we come together as a faith community to bear witness to our love for God and one another and His love for us. Jesus wants us to receive a super abundance of his grace, but he also wants us to be prepared to enter into intimacy with him so that we can be transformed by his love for our own good and the good of his Church. What we bring to this celebration is not only for our selves, it is for the whole body of Christ.

What Did the Early Christians See?

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One of my favorite places to visit in Rome are the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. So you are probably thinking – what? She is in Rome, the eternal city with Piazzas, art and cuisine and she is excited about a Christian burial place? Wait! They represent a lot more than just a burial site. These Catacombs are located on the Appian Way in Rome, with nearly 12 miles of underground burial places used by the early Christians in the second century.

Named after a St. Callistux, a deacon who was appointed by Pope Zephyrinus to be the administrator of the cemetery, so it became the official cemetery of the Church of Rome. One of the underground areas is called “the little Vatican” because nine Popes were buried there along with several dignitaries of the early Church in Rome.

The visit is fascinating! Each time I visit these Catacombs, I am reminded of the deep love and hope the early Christians had in the Christian Faith and Church.

Our guide introduces the place, explaining what we will see – burial places and the symbols of the early Church in Frescoes from the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The early Christians, we were told, used these symbols in sharing their testimony of faith. They would see these images as signs of hope and encouragement.

The symbols found in St. Callixtus Catacombs include:
The Good Shepherd with a lamb around his shoulders representing Christ and the soul which He has saved.
The “orante” figure with open arms symbolizing the soul that lives in divine peace.

The monogram of Christ, formed by interlacing two letters of the Greek alphabet: X (chi) and P (ro), which are the first two letters of the Greek word “Christòs” or Christ. When this monogram was placed on a tombstone, it meant a Christian was buried there.
The Ichtùs Fish (in Greek one says IXTHYS. Placed vertically, the letters of this word form an acrostic: Iesùs Christòs Theòu Uiòs Sotèr – Greek for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Acrostic is a Greek-derived word that means the first letter of every line or paragraph. The fish is a widespread symbol of Christ, a motto and a compendium of the Christian faith.
The dove holding an olive branch symbolizes the soul that reached divine peace.
The Alpha and the Omega are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. They signify that Christ is the beginning and the end of all things.

These were their symbols reminding them of the Christian Faith. Walking down 25-30 steps into a dimly lit narrow tunnel, the ground uneven – just think, we are walking on the original ground! There are thousands of burial places (some small due to the large infant mortality at that time), ancient oil lamps, the frescoes, large open crypts and small cubicles with more frescoes.

As our guide was finishing his explanation and leading us to stairs to exit, we asked to remain in one of the cubicles where one of the Popes was buried to pray. It was near the exit, so we wouldn’t get lost!.

The early Christians didn’t have the Bible, nor a Catechism of the Catholic Church, nor a Rosary, nor a Crucifix! After all, the Crucifix was scandalous because Romans were still crucifying Christians and criminals during that time.

What did they have? They had the “faith stories” of Christians, including those who were martyred and encouraged others to remain steadfast. They heard Bishops proclaim the Truths of the faith, encouraging them to have hope, and as a result, they became witnesses of their faith in Jesus Christ and his, Gospel even at the cost of personal sacrifice.

They saw how many Christians died for their faith in Christ. For me, the faith and hope of the early Christians encourages me to remain secure in what I believe as a Catholic Christian. I am also reminded of the importance to share my faith story with others, so they, too can be encouraged.

Faith has to be shared in order to be lived. When was the last time you shared your faith?

Interested in an outline on sharing your faith story? Contact me at dtmjfox@pilgrimcenterofhope.org for the ABC’s of telling your faith story.

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Mass of St. John of Mathaa- Juan Carreno de Miranda, 1666

In the first reading from the Book of Wisdom we see the great plan that God had in His mind for humanity; creating us in His own image. Everything was good until the devil entered into the world and became the source of death because of his envy. Those who remain close to God continue to experience His goodness even in the midst of trials, but those who give into the temptations of the devil become confused and unhappy. However, that is not the end. God’s plan continues.

In the Gospel we see two separate people approaching Jesus for a cure. They both believe he can perform a miracle and Jesus responds to their deep faith. Jesus is the generosity of God in human form, wanting to restore humanity to the perfection with which it was created. With one word he could have made all things new, but it is his desire and the will of the Father that each of us individually cooperate with the generous gifts he has given us; that we have the same deep faith as the two people in the Gospel who asked for a miracle. In baptism we received the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit and became children of God. And because he also gave us a free will that often puts us in conflict with his great plan for us, he established his Church and the sacraments so that we can be renewed in his love and his mercy. Of course this renewal depends upon our faith, it is not automatic. In this country we have become accustomed to efficiency. We expect things to happen at our convenience. God is not efficient. He does things in His own way and in His own time. We can become impatient with God. This is the reason people go to fortune tellers and look to astrology among other things. God has forbidden these things because they undermine our trust in Him.

We saw an example of this in the decision made by five members of the highest court of our nation recently. They put themselves above God and redefined what God had defined in the Scriptures and had been kept sacred for thousands of years. This is the arrogance of a society that continues to move further away from God. About this, Archbishop Gustavo said the decision was, “Profoundly troubling and a tragic error. The Catholic Church will continue to invite men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation to walk their journey of faith with us, discovering God’s plan for them and for all society.” He continued to say, “Catholic leaders will proclaim the truth about marriage from pulpits and in the public square. In catholic teaching about the sanctity of marriage, it is clear that the union of one man and one women in holy matrimony is more than a human convention or a legal contract. It is a sacred bond that reflects a great reality both in natural law and in our deepest held beliefs.”

The question to us is: do we have the faith to put our total trust in God and what he has revealed to us? If Jesus were standing here in this church speaking to us and you wanted to be healed would you have the faith to touch his garment, believing that is all you need to do to be healed? The reality is, Jesus is here in His Word that was proclaimed to you, in his priest ordained in his name, in the assembly gathered to worship him, and par excellence in the Eucharist. We have the possibility of touching his glorified Body and Blood. Are you ready to receive your God? What will you ask of him? Would you be willing to listen to what he might ask of you?

Even though almost everyone may receive Holy Communion, the precious Body and Blood of Jesus, we may not all receive the same benefit. The following is a quote from the Vatican II documents:

“For the faithful receive a more perfect participation in the Mass, when with proper dispositions, they receive the body of the Lord in the Mass itself, in obedience to his words, “take and eat.” Like the passion of Christ itself, this sacrifice, though offered for all has no effect except in those united to the passion of Christ by faith and charity… To these it brings a greater or less benefit in proportion to their devotion.”

Because this Holy Sacrament is meant to be an experience of the generous love of God, He expects us to be gracious in our reception. Our soul should be free from serious sin and we should not be harboring any unforgiveness, bitterness or resentment. Our Lord wants us to be free from the things that enslave us.

We should prepare ourselves for this supernatural gift by frequent confession, daily prayer and continued spiritual formation. It’s also good to read the readings of the Mass ahead of time. Because this hour we spend together worshiping God is like no other hour and the Gift we receive is Jesus himself, we fast for one hour from everything except water and medicine to help us to be properly disposed. During this hour, heaven and earth are united as the angels and saints worship with us.

What God created is good, and even though our human nature is fallen and we are prone to sin, God still has a great plan for us. In Christ and in His Church He has given us everything we need to live close to Him and experience His generous love and mercy. He expects us to also be generous, to believe in what He has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church, to trust Him and to share this Good News with others.

Covering Up For Others

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In the Gospel of John, Chapter 12 we read:

“Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”

This story is recounted in each of the Gospels. Sometimes she is given a name, as she is here in the Gospel of John, and in others she is simply, a woman.

What I love about this story and so admire about this woman is how she did not care what the others thought of her extravagant worship of Jesus. She wanted Him to know how much He meant to her and ridicule and criticism were not going to stop her from showing her love and appreciation for the Man who healed her.

In my journey from cradle Catholic to fallen away Catholic to re-converted Catholic to practicing Catholic, I too have grown into a desire to extravagantly worship our merciful God who also has healed me.

It starts as a tug of the heart. Would it be more reverent to take Communion on the tongue instead of in the hand? Our Catholic faith teaches either way is perfectly appropriate and I love how we are given the freedom to choose. I decide to try the tongue after years of the hand and have come to love this way of worship.

Another tug. Should I wear a veil? I have been reading the debates of veiling vs. not and am completely comfortable with those (interestingly, the young women) who choose to veil, and others who do not. Again, our Catholic faith teaches either way is respectfully reverent and left up to the individual woman. I contemplate and decide it would draw too much attention to me, others would think I was now ‘one of those’ and besides, I am too much a product of the 1970s.

One of the pilgrim women who recently traveled to the Holy Land with the Pilgrim Center of Hope had a private revelation during Mass in Bethlehem. Again, our faith teaches that we can choose to consider a private revelation or not, but when I heard this story, it pulled on the ‘little tugs’ I was already feeling in my contemplation.

This woman said she heard our Blessed Mother cry out for her persecuted children in the Middle East. She asked this pilgrim, “Could not the women of the West wear veils during Mass in solidarity with my suffering children in the Middle East?”

Of all the stories from this pilgrimage, why I was hearing this one? What was it about this woman’s story that inspired all the other women on the pilgrimage to buy veils that very day? I took this all to prayer. I wondered what would happen if thousands of women choose to veil. Would thousands of women, men and children forced from their homes, living in caves be lifted up in spirit, consoled and healed? Would thousands of persecutors drop their guns and fall to their knees?

What bountiful grace would God pour down from this simple act of humility, reverence and obedience by His daughters?

I decide if just one spirit is lifted, just one gun dropped, then I should just get over myself and the fear of ridicule and criticism. I also realize, I am not the one being persecuted, or forced from my home and having my city and Church demolished. I am just being asked to wear a veil for those who are.

Still I confess, I am not comfortable with the lacy veils. So instead, I go to a retail store and purchase a plain, sheer white scarf. The first time was difficult. I felt self-conscious, I felt silly and so I thought of that woman who crashed the dinner party and asked for her intercession to give me courage. In the span of just one week, I wore the veil in front of strangers, family, friends and those I assume will criticize.

Each time it has gotten easier and I am now growing to love this way of worship.

When asked why, which is not often, I respond, “Two reasons: I have the desire to more extravagantly worship Jesus and I do it in solidarity with our persecuted sisters and brothers in the Middle East.”

The usual response is an affirming nod of the head and a, “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

Portrait of Simone Fayet in Holy Communion by Odilon Redon, 1908

Portrait of Simone Fayet in Holy Communion by Odilon Redon, 1908

Should you veil or not? Trust the ‘tug’ and find comfort that our Catholic faith says the choice is yours.

Why would someone tell a saint to pray less?

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Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, age 17

That’s exactly what happened to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who—at seventeen years old—entered the Jesuits in 1585.  He had been raised among relatives who were mostly concerned with attaining and sustaining political power.  Without religious companions as a boy, yet with a tremendous desire for holiness, he had pieced together his own religious routine:

  • fasting, though he suffered kidney disease
  • attempting to pray for 1 hour without distraction, which in itself took several hours
  • avoiding women (even his mother), fearing his temptation to lust
  • avoiding anyone altogether, fearing his hot temper
  • scourging himself to a bloody mess
  • not wishing anyone to see even his foot undressed

… and various devotions.

I daresay we Catholics sometimes feel ‘expected’ to demonstrate ‘awe and wonder’ at saints like Aloysius, whose prayer lives involved intense self-abuse under the guise of penance, and other such extreme behaviors.  While reading the life of St. Aloysius, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief once his Jesuit superiors told him to…

  • eat more
  • only pray at scheduled times
  • take recreation
  • distract his mind

…etc.  But while discussing this with some friends at Afternoon Tea last Thursday, I asked, “Why would his superiors have told him to pray less?”  No one seemed to have a response.

Why would anyone tell a saint to pray less?

I was able to answer from personal experience.  Obviously, I’m not a saint(!), but I do wrestle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, particularly in religious matters.  At first, I was very embarrassed by this struggle, and resisted seeking help. (After all, our culture preaches the ‘virtue’ of self-reliance.)  After submitting myself in prayer, however, the Holy Spirit convicted me that I needed to seek outside direction.

Whether someone has a psychological struggle like mine or not, we all need guidance and direction from people other than ourselves.  Even the saints.  Even someone as holy as Aloysius, whose confessor (St. Robert Bellarmine) believed he had never committed a mortal sin in his entire life.  In Aloysius’ case, he needed direction in maintaining a healthy life.  We see a remarkable change after he submitted to his superiors: spiritual maturity, peace, and ecstatic joy.

Dear reader, isn’t it true that when we rely on ourselves for spiritual direction, we become self-centered and lost—even when our intentions are good, like Aloysius’ were?

Just one or two generations ago, it became ‘hip’ to exchange religion for nameless spirituality.  What’s the difference?  Religion requires authority.  Families began breaking apart.  Fast-forward to today: We as a society suffer from focus on self, what is ‘right for me’ and ‘best for me’.   We are our own decision-makers.  This is not to hail “The Good Ol’ Days”, but to highlight the dangerous results of cutting ourselves off from A.) community, and B.) spiritual authority.  We have seen the effects; self-reliance, self-centeredness, relativism, etc., equal chaos and imbalance.

Even Christ our God submitted to those who were in authority over him!  Look at his obedience to his parents, and especially his submission as a victim on Calvary:

“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered;
and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Hebrews 5:8-9)

What are you doing to seek direction from others?

Whether you struggle with praying – or – working – or – eating – or – sleeping – or – talking – or – trusting … too much or too little—truly submit yourself to the Holy Spirit.  Talk with Him about your struggles, your pain, your fears, your wounds.  Ask where He is directing you to find assistance and direction.  Listen.  Seek people who have been given the spiritual authority to direct you.

Like Aloysius, may we all find the peace and ecstatic joy ,which comes from the beautiful yet challenging virtue of obedience.

What Will Be Your Legacy?

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“Cross at Sunset” by BeverLR

A recent ad for Gold’s Gym caught my eye: “What will be your legacy?” I’m not sure what working out has to do with creating a legacy, but it made me think. I believe we all have an inner calling to make a difference in our lives; to have lived a life of significance.

But what constitutes significance – is it success? If that is the case, then I suppose Howard Hughes might be our role model; after all, he was the richest man in the United States, worth 2.5 billion dollars when he died. He owned a private fleet of jets, hotels and casinos. He also spent the last 15 years of his life a drug addict.

Not a single acquaintance or relative mourned his death. The only honor he received was a moment of silence in his Las Vegas casinos. Time magazine put it this way: “Howard Hughes’ death was commemorated in Las Vegas by a minute of silence. Casinos fell silent. Housewives stood uncomfortable clutching their paper cups full of coins at the slot machines, the blackjack games paused, and at the crap tables the stickmen cradled the dice in the crook of their wooden wands. Then a pit boss looked at his watch, leaned forward and whispered, “O.K., roll the dice. He’s had his minute.”

Or is significance proportional to our service to others and in doing the will of God through our daily lives?

In which case, Our Lord Jesus Christ becomes our role model. But how do we follow God’s will? God does not provide MapQuest for his saints so they can be sure to understand the whole path of their pilgrimage here. Almost always He provides only one thing: the very next step. Not the next two steps. Not the next three steps. And like Abraham, He calls us to take the next step wholly blind as to what the next step that will follow.

And make no mistake, being used by God sooner or later turns one’s world upside down. There are many whose lives have been profoundly impacted by their response to God’s highly inconvenient calling upon their lives. He disturbs us at His will. Human arrangements are disregarded, family ties ignored, business claims put aside. We are not asked if it is convenient. The Lord expects to be trusted.

I propose that our legacy, how we will be remembered in this world, ultimately intersects with the fundamental dilemma of being human, always coming back to that one simple and yet often incredibly difficult choice, “My will or God’s will?” A choice we must make over…and over…and over again.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

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“Holy Trinity” by Hans Baldung

Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Do you know when the Trinity was manifested for the first time? In the small village of Nazareth in the region of Galilee the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and said, “Hail, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Then he told Mary that she would be the mother of the Son of the Most High by the power of the Holy Spirit. The first public manifestation was at the baptism of Jesus.

“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.” (Lk. 3:21-22)

Even though the Holy Trinity is a mystery beyond our understanding, it is the means God has chosen to unite himself to those who choose to believe what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We do not have to understand in order to believe. As a matter-of-fact, the opposite is true. Much of what God has revealed to us is mysterious, and yet these mysteries touch our lives in such a profound way that it is possible for us to live in a supernatural relationship with Almighty God.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he reminds them that if they are children of God, they are also heirs with Christ, “…if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17). Being a child of God does not make us immune to suffering. However, when we unite our suffering with Christ, he gives us the graces we need to persevere, and even at times experience joy during our trials.

We have been baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our purpose for being on this earth is to bring to completion the good work that was begun in us at our baptism. God has a great plan for humanity that can only be realized in relationship with him. It is for this reason he has given us the Church and the sacraments. We must remember that in our humanity we inherited a fallen nature and often we are tempted to want to live for ourselves at the expense of others. God has made it possible for us to overcome these temptations that lead to sadness and even hopelessness. He desires to pour his grace into the hearts of those who believe in him.

We need God; he created us to be in relationship with him. For this reason Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

The only way we can discover God’s plan for us that will allow us to reach our potential for happiness and peace in this life is by being connected to Our Lord through fervent prayer, faithfulness to what he has revealed to us through the Church and the Scriptures, and living the sacramental life.

In the last paragraph of the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew it states, “When they (the Apostles) all saw him (Jesus) they worshiped but they doubted.” This would be the last time they would see Jesus before he would ascend into heaven.

Jesus did not say to them, “Do you still not understand?” He said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you until the end of the age.” It isn’t about the Apostles; it is about Jesus who will be with them always. In the same way our baptismal commission to share the Good News is not about us; it has to do with our relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit he promised to send to us.

It would be good for us to make note of the promises that God has given us in the Scriptures; promises of the Father, of the Son and the Holy Spirit. One of those promises is again a mystery of our faith: through the prayers and actions of a priest, Jesus Christ himself will change bread and wine into his own Body and Blood. He loves us so much that he gives himself, body, blood soul and divinity to those who believe in him and are properly disposed. It is no casual thing that we receive this true and real presence of Jesus into our body and soul. Jesus wants us to cooperate with his presence and be transformed into his own likeness for our own good and the good of the whole Church.

St. John Paul II said, “In that little host is the solution to all our problems.” In this Holy Sacrament we have all we need for even the most difficult experience of our life if we truly believe.

“Will few be saved?”

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Illustration to Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatory by William Blake

A few weeks ago, someone commented on a video claiming that most of the world will go to Hell and only a relative few will make it to the pearly gates.

As proof, he cited Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

Right out of the gate, it ought to be said that proof-texting is a Fundamentalist thing. Catholics should be wary of citing isolated Scripture verses out of context in order to “prove” a proposition.

Now let’s look at the verse. At first glance, it does seem to support the idea that only a piddling minority will be received into Heaven. It says right there: few! But look again and you’ll notice that nowhere in the verse are either Heaven or Hell mentioned.

It’s easy to read “the road to destruction” and “the road to life” as references to our eternal destination, but it’s not necessary. And it makes less sense when we look at the rest of the gospels and our daily experience.

Every waking hour of every day temptation presents itself, and every sin destructive. Telling a lie distorts the soul. It was only the eating of the forbidden fruit that lost paradise for Adam & Eve and all humanity down the line. The wages of sin is death, every time, to some degree: death to integrity, poison injected into relationships, the sapping of spiritual life. And all have sinned.

We all need grace, and lots of it. But is grace “narrow” and do “few” find it? Not really. It’s everywhere. In fact, a good number of saints have left the world with their last words, “Everything is grace.” If you only pay attention to what makes the world terrible, you’ll be less inclined and less able to see grace around you. And in you. But it’s there, and God gives freely and generously even to those who are undeserving (read: all of us).

So what does Christ mean by “few”?

Some have said that Jesus was in fact referring to Heaven in this verse, but that “few” to humans means something different than it does to God. For if any number of people refuse to enter into eternal life with God, how can the Father of Mercies believe that “enough” entered Heaven?

I like this idea, but I think the verse above means something else. I think Jesus wasn’t calling attention to our eternal fate, but to the possibility of sainthood here on earth.

The saints will always be the minority. Those who lived with heroic virtue and extraordinary holiness at the service of God and neighbor while on earth – they not only know the oceanic breadth of God’s grace and mercy, but the harrowing depth of unity with Christ. Think of Mother Teresa, who spent years in “darkness”, no longer feeling God’s intimacy as she once did, but soldiering on in faithfulness to Christ’s call. Think of how difficult it must be to live when you have surpassed the depth of faith of everyone else around you, save Christ. To suffer and still give joy to others – that’s the narrow road, and those who endure it on Earth and into Heaven, indeed, are relatively few.

But for the rest of humanity, the uncanonizable hoi poloi?

God’s mercy is such that it’s possible to sin and cause destruction – even sin greatly, and cause great destruction – and still be saved. Whether this takes place early in life or late, God’s willingness to take us as we are remains. Even if one is a great sinner, God will do His best to reach them. And even though one may not be an extraordinary saint, it doesn’t mean they’re inclined to fully reject God for all eternity.

Most likely, we’ll need some time sorting out the details in purgatory. St. Paul says:

Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corin. 3:11-15)

The saints are the people who “builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble” – and make no mistake, God wants us to try to be saintly, on earth as it is in Heaven. But his mercy is wider than the earth.

Will few be saved?

Ultimately, we don’t know. But a) we don’t have to believe that only a few will be saved; and b) we ought to hope that all will be saved, just as God desires.