Monthly Archives: February 2014

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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 Valentine-Bow

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.

Need spiritual direction?

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I finally got a spiritual director.

What? You’ve never heard of such a thing? Well, you’ve heard of personal trainers, right? Coaches? Teachers? These days, if you’re looking to…

  • get in shape
  • lose weight
  • excel at a sport
  • become a virtuoso
  • get motivated
"Taking the Count" by Thomas Eakins (1898)

“Taking the Count” by Thomas Eakins (1898)

…you’ll likely seek out an expert who can help you. So, if we do this for our body and our mind, why not for our spirit?

St. John of the Cross once said, “The blind person who falls will not be able to get up alone; the blind person who does get up alone will go off on the wrong road.” In other words, we all have ‘blind spots’ in our spiritual life: personal weaknesses or things we don’t notice about ourselves. We need the guidance of another person to overcome those, and to help us choose the right path.

Spiritual direction is an ancient practice that continues today. However, most people don’t know that they can (or should) seek a spiritual director, unless they are a clergyman or a consecrated man or woman. The reality is, spiritual direction is for everyone!

The principal objective of spiritual direction…is to discern the signs of God’s will for our journey of vocation, prayer, perfection, for our daily life, and for our fraternal mission.*

In plain English, that means a spiritual director will help you understand God’s calling for you, how to improve your prayer life, get rid of sin, live your faith daily, and understand how you can best serve others.

So, why not seek a spiritual director? For many years, my answer was simple: I don’t like asking for help. Yup, I’m a prideful dame. (There’s spiritual problem #1!) In high school and university, I thought God might be calling me to religious life (‘become a nun’), and for people considering religious or clerical life, spiritual direction is very common. I heard about spiritual directors frequently from my peers, and I watched them grow in holiness before my eyes.

Frequently, I wondered whether I should get a spiritual director, but I’d always give excuses, such as:

  • I don’t know who to pick as my spiritual director.
  • I only want a priest to be my spiritual director, but priests are too busy. I don’t want to bother them.
  • I already know a lot about spiritual things. I’ll leave the spiritual directors for people who don’t.
  • I’m doing OK spiritually.
  • I can work things out myself.
  • I’m too busy.

These excuses built up over time, until finally, God knocked me over the head with a two-by-four (sent me a plethora of signs, and threw my all excuses out the window), making it abundantly clear that I should ask a priest-acquaintance if he would be my spiritual director.

Now, I meet with Father every month for an hour. It’s great! You’d think that it’d be very somber or serious, and while we do have serious discussions, it seems I laugh more during spiritual direction than I do on a typical day! Spiritual direction has brought so much joy and insight into my life.

When I have questions, or when I’m having trouble making a decision, I receive support from Father. Our conversations always contribute to my personal growth. As I enact his guidance in my daily life, I feel more assured that I’m going down the path that God wants for me. Overall, this one-on-one spiritual direction has helped me with something that I have struggled with: now I’m more clearly seeing myself as I truly am, through God’s eyes.

As someone who was long-opposed to seeking a spiritual director, I encourage and challenge you to consider it for yourself. Take this intention to prayer, and ask God to help you know whether someone should be your spiritual director. It does not have to be a priest; consecrated religious sisters or brothers, or trained lay people can also act as guide and companion on your pilgrimage of life.

As she has never failed to do, again today the Church continues to recommend the practice of spiritual direction, not only to all those who wish to follow the Lord closely, but to every Christian who wishes to live responsibly his baptism, that is, the new life in Christ. Everyone, in fact, and in a particular way all those who have received the divine call to a closer following, needs to be supported personally by a sure guide in doctrine and expert in the things of God. […] [Spiritual direction] is a matter of establishing that same personal relationship that the Lord had with his disciples, that special bond with which he led them, following him, to embrace the will of the Father (cf. Luke 22:42), that is, to embrace the cross.
– Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Pontifical Theological Faculty Teresianum, 2011

Ways to Learn More:

*Taken from The Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy, by The Congregation for the Clergy. Vatican City: Vatican Press, 2011.