Doctors of the Church

Doctor, Doctor, Gimme The News

Have you ever heard the term “Doctor of the Church?” Does it bring to mind a stethoscope and time in a waiting room with outdated magazines? A “Doctor of the Church” has to do with spiritual health, not physical. Let’s talk about the Doctors of the Church.

First, in the 2,000 year history of the Church, only 35 men and women have been proclaimed “doctors,” so you know it must be special. But what does it mean?

[T]he Doctors of the Church are an elite cadre of Catholics who: 1) Demonstrated exemplary holiness; 2) Deepened the whole Church’s understanding of the Catholic faith; and 3) Were officially declared Doctors via papal proclamation. (Technically, an ecumenical council of bishops could also do the proclaiming, but they never have chosen to do so.)

The title itself dates back to the early fifth century, when Rufus of Aquileia decided the term “doctor” made a nice synonym for “teacher.” His innovation soon became a trend, and by AD 420, Augustine himself began giving the “doctor” label to some of the most authoritative teachers from the early Church.

So far, so good. But why should the average Catholic pay attention to these folks? The Doctor of the Church (you can find all of them listed here) have something to teach us. They have provided us with new insights (not new teachings) into our beautiful Faith. They all faced particular challenges – some personal, some regarding the times and circumstances they lived in – with faith, hope and charity.

For instance, there is St. Hildegard of Bingen. She was an abbess, an artist, a mystic, a gardener, a musician … Many people thought she was crazy, or at the very least pompous. How could God reveal himself to a woman, after all? Hildegard loved music, and knew it was one way to pray:

Sometimes when we hear a song we breathe deeply and sigh. This reminds the prophet that the soul arises from heavenly harmony. In thinking about this, he was aware that the soul itself has something in itself of this music…

Then there is St. John Chrysostem. “Chrysostem” wasn’t his name; it was a title given to him. It means “golden mouth,” because of the eloquence of his speaking and preaching. That didn’t keep him from trouble, however. The empress Eudoxia was so offended by him that he had to go into exile. St. John Chrysostem loved the Eucharist:

It is necessary to understand the wonder of this sacrament.  What it is, why it was given, and what is the profit of the action.  We become one body, and members, as it is said, of his flesh and of his bones…  This is effected by the food which he has given us…  He has mingled his body with ours that we may be one, as body joined to head.

With 35 Doctors, the Church has given us an enormous treasure of teachings, insights into the sacraments, prayer: all of the aspects of a Christian life well-lived. Why not spend some time getting to know one of these Doctors? It’s good medicine for the soul.

Revive Your Lenten Season

10 Simple Things To Do To Revive Your Lenten Season

We are at about the halfway point of Lent. It’s easy to slip up: your prayer life wanes, you absentmindedly bring a ham sandwich to work for lunch on Friday, that sort of thing. How can you revive your Lenten season? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Find a great, classic Catholic book to read. Maybe one on prayer or the life of a saint. You’ve still got time to read one book before Easter.
  2. Don’t wait until Good Friday to watch “The Passion of the Christ.” Watch it now. Watch it prayerfully.
  3. Get to confession.
  4. In this Year of Mercy, choose just one of the Corporal or Spiritual Works of Mercy and focus on that for the remainder of Lent.
  5. Make a commitment to pray the Rosary daily from now until Easter. If that seems daunting, try praying one decade at lunch time, and progress from there.
  6. Find a piece of art that you can meditate upon – maybe an icon of your patron saint, or Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son.
  7. Have you been promising a visit with a friend or relative, and just haven’t found the time? Find the time.
  8. Pray for the catechumens and candidates in your parish. As they make the final preparations to be received fully into into the Church, pray that they have a calm heart, a joyful spirit, and a heart for Christ.
  9. Having a hard time simply fitting prayer into your day? Set a reminder on your phone.
  10. Pray the Stations of the Cross. Even better, do it as a family.

Don’t let Lent slip by without it having an impact on your faith life. If we arrive at Easter, and our faith life is exactly the same as it was the day before Ash Wednesday, we’ve lost an opportunity to grow closer to Christ. Revive your Lent!

domestic church

Family As ‘Domestic Church’

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2685 The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit.

Our families are meant to be “little churches:” places where we practice our faith earnestly, we pray together, we make meals a priority, we forgive and celebrate together.

Is it just me, or are some of us saying, “Yeah, right…”?

We know the reality of family life: tussles to get everyone out the door in the morning. A shouting match with a teenager. Deep hurts with siblings that go back decades. Exhaustion from sleepless nights due to a baby’s needs or a toddler’s nightmares. Is this a “little church?”

Yes, it is. With all its troubles, heartaches, mistakes and mishaps, our family is our little church, our domestic church. It helps to remember that – as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying – God does not call us to be successful: He calls us to be faithful. We are not called to be perfect parents or perfect kids, perfect siblings or spouses. We are called to try to live out our faith in the mundane parts of our life (Time to clean the bathrooms!), in the harsh reality of our life (We need to put Dad in a nursing home), in the daily conflicts and crises (Our teen is lying to us; what do we do?)

It helps to think about the Holy Family. Maybe that seems a bit, well, ridiculous: after all, Jesus is perfect, Mary had no original sin to deal with, and Joseph was a saint! How is my family supposed to be like that?

Hear me out. Even though the Holy Family was holy, that doesn’t mean they didn’t face challenges. Imagine the gossip when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant before she and Joseph wed. That was literally a sin punishable by death; Mary could have been stoned. Surely there was talk – and not all of it nice.

Joseph and Mary, newlyweds and new parents, had to flee to Egypt in order to save their Son. They had to leave their family and home. Imagine: having a new baby and not having your mother or aunt or sister to help. Imagine leaving your business behind as the father, and having to provide for your young family in a foreign country.

At some point, Joseph died. Mary lost her spouse, Jesus his foster father. It may have happened when they were a younger family, or when Jesus was an adult. Either way, we know this pain.

Some of us know what it’s like to watch a child go through something terrible: a horrible illness, an addiction, an unplanned pregnancy. Imagine Mary’s pain watching her Son be tortured and killed.

Yet through all of this, the Holy Family was holy. They were faithful. They kept their promise to God: to serve Him, to love Him, to share His promise with others. When we were baptized, we made this same promise (or our parents made it for us.) We make it every time we pray the Creed: “I believe!” We make that promise when we faithfully attend Mass.

We also get the grace necessary to keep this promise. God doesn’t give us the task of being a domestic church, and not give us any help. No, we have grace: God’s very life in us. We can’t be holy on our own; we need God’s grace. But once we have that gift of grace, and we use it, we run with it: we can be holy! We can transform our lives, our families, our homes. That doesn’t mean we will be perfect, or even successful, but we will be faithful.

Make an opportunity to talk, as a family, about being a domestic church. What can you do better? What are you doing well? Where do you see God’s grace in your home? And then pray together for your domestic church.

radical prayer

Radical Prayer

St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest.) The order is known for its great scholarship and truly brave priests. While many Jesuits teach, the Jesuit order is, at its heart, a missionary order, charged with taking the Gospel to those who do not know it.

The Jesuits owe much of their spirit and calling to their founder. St. Ignatius was a Spanish soldier from a noble family. As a young man he dreamed of great deeds as a knight, but injuries forced him to abandon this. While recuperating, he began to deeply contemplate what God wanted of him.

One of the prayers St. Ignatius left us is called the Suscipe, or the Radical Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

No wonder it’s called the “Radical Prayer!” What a scary thought: that one should turn over everything to God! My free will, my memory … everything? Pray that I abandon my wants, desires and dreams for the will of God? Doesn’t that seem, well, just a little … crazy?

Perhaps. Lent is a good time to meditate on this prayer, even if one is not quite ready to pray it in earnest. We are Christians, after all: we bear the name of Christ because we choose to follow Him. And following Christ means a radical choice: picking up our cross, going wherever He sends us, becoming fishers of men.

St. Ignatius’ prayer acknowledges a simple truth: everything we have belongs to God. All the prayer says is, “I know that all I am is because of You, God. I want to use what You’ve given me, what You’ve made me, to do what You have planned for me.”

Even if we are not quite ready to pray this radical prayer, Lent is a good time to start asking God to lead you to it. What do you have planned for me, God? What is your will for me? How can I give everything to You, God?

holy ground

Walking On Holy Ground

For the third Sunday of Lent, the first reading proclaims the story of Moses encountering God in the burning bush. At first, Moses can’t make sense of what he’s seeing: a bush on fire but not being consumed by the flames. As he approaches, the voice of God cries out, and tells Moses to remove his sandals, for he is on holy ground.

Holy ground. A sacred place. The place where God is. Have you encountered that?

Every time we walk into a Catholic church, we are on holy ground. It is holy for one reason and one only: God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – resides there.

At every Mass, every day, around the world, Jesus is present in the Eucharist: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He is just as present at Mass as He is in Heaven. (Don’t try to wrap your head around that; it’s a mystery.) And since – in most churches – Jesus’ Body is kept in reserve in the tabernacle, Jesus is always there.

2,000 years ago, Jesus walked among the Jewish people. He taught and preached. He worked alongside his foster father, Joseph. He laughed and wept with his friends. He suffered and died. He conquered death. And every time we enter the doors of a Catholic church, Jesus is just as present there as He was on earth, 2.000 years ago. We truly are on holy ground.

That means we need to take care of how we enter, occupy and take leave of a Catholic church. When we enter, we bless ourselves with holy water and the sign of the cross. This reminds us of our baptism. We approach the altar with reverence, and genuflect towards the tabernacle (that is where Christ’s Body resides.) If the tabernacle is in a separate chapel, then we express our reverence by bowing towards the altar itself. We do the same when we leave. In between, we are reverent, respectful of God’s presence.

As we continue through the season of Lent, let us resolve to be mindful of the sacredness of our parish church, however humble or grand that building might be. It is holy ground.



The Courage of Lent

It is common for children, in their desire to be pious and good, to begin Lent with a long list of “give ups:” “I’m gonna give up candy, and I’m gonna give up TV and I’m gonna give up arguing with my sister…” Adults chuckle, knowing that the child underestimates the stamina and courage that Lent requires.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, the lawyer-father who chooses to defend a black man in the Jim Crow South against the charge of rape, has to explain to his son what “courage” is, as the town divides over the black man’s trial:

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.

In a sense, we are all losers – we are sinners in need of God’s grace and redemption. If we look to the lives of saints, men and women who are holy inspiration, we often see a bunch of “losers:”

  • Joan of Arc, burned at the stake as a heretic
  • Lawrence, burned in an iron grill by the Prefect of Rome
  • Margaret of Castello, deformed, rejected by her parents and forced to beg
  • Solanus Casey, ordained a priest, but told by his superiors that he could not preach or hear confessions due to his poor scholarship

We can go on. In fact, as Christians, the one whose name we claim, Christ Jesus, was a failure to most who knew him. He did not become king of the Jews, overthrowing the Romans. He was executed in the most horrific and shameful fashion. He went into the Passion knowing that this terrible cup would not pass from Him.

On that horrible Good Friday, the men of courage appeared to be the government officials, the soldiers with whips and chains, the religious leaders who failed to see God in their midst. We know, however, that courage hung on the Cross. “Real courage,” as Atticus Finch told his son, is doing what is right, what it good, even if you know you’ll “lose” in the eyes of the world.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, we must be courageous. We must continue to act with mercy and love, especially when we do not feel like it. We must pray even more fervently. We must see Lent through, courageously.


Will You Transform Your Heart This Lent?

What will it take to transform your heart this Lent? Pope Francis, in his 2016 Lenten message to the Universal Church, tells us that – in the eternal love story that is God – mercy will transform our hearts.

God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbour and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged. For this reason, I expressed my hope that “the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy”. For in the poor, the flesh of Christ “becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled… to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us”. It is the unprecedented and scandalous mystery of the extension in time of the suffering of the Innocent Lamb, the burning bush of gratuitous love. Before this love, we can, like Moses, take off our sandals (cf. Ex 3:5), especially when the poor are our brothers or sisters in Christ who are suffering for their faith.

“Scandalous mystery:” what a profound phrase! The mystery and scandal are that Christ – the God-Man, who knew no sin – died for our sins with “gratuitous love.” We could spend all of Lent just meditating on that alone!

It is God’s mercy that transforms us. Yet, this is not a passive event; we must cooperate with God. We must do our part to become more loving, more merciful, to never grow “dull,” as the Holy Father says, in the face of another’s suffering.

What will transform your heart this Lent? In this Year of Mercy, let us all contemplate God’s mercy and how we can experience and share this tremendous gift.


‘Come Running Like A Prodigal’

The band Sidewalk Prophets currently has a song out called, “Prodigal.” It’s a reflection of the well-known parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke. The song encourages the listener to acknowledge one’s sins, and return to the arms of God the Father:

Wherever you are, whatever you did
it’s a page in your book, but it isn’t the end
your father will meet you with arms open wide
this is where your heart belongs…

Come running like a prodigal
Come running like a prodigal

There will be nights, when you hear whispers
of a life you once knew, don’t let it linger
’cause there’s a grace that falls upon you
don’t you forget….

Yesterday, Pope Francis was wrapping up his trip to Mexico. It’s no secret that Pope Francis loves to embrace the people, literally. His delight towards young people is especially evident.

In the following video, Pope Francis calls two young women with Down Syndrome from the crowd to himself. The Holy Father’s gestures – walking towards them, holding his arms out wide, his tremendous smile – all symbolize God the Father’s anxious heart when His prodigal child returns.

We are all prodigals. We all sin, running from God’s grace, straight into the arms of evil. However, we always have the choice, the ability, to turn and run right back into the arms of the Father. And He will always reach out to us, smiling, beckoning us to return to His unbelievable embrace.


Are You Motivated By Fear Or Mercy?

The first reading today is from the book of Jonah, a story familiar to most of us. It’s a good meditation on two great Lenten themes: fear and mercy.

Jonah is given an assignment from God: go to Nineveh and straighten those people out. The people of Nineveh are, frankly, a mess, and Jonah has to put the fear of God into them, so to speak. Once Jonah gets to Nineveh, his preaching (first a message of fear and then of mercy) gets a terrific response.

Diane Jorgensen, at Creighton University’s Online Ministries, talks about these themes of fear and mercy:

We are so like Jonah, desiring goodness and prosperity for ourselves and others, and yet also wanting “evil doers” to be punished. Why should terrorists, criminals, selfish people, druggies (name any group you despise) receive the same measure of mercy as I do?  It offends our sense of justice and fairness. Pope Francis said it well several years ago: ‘I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy. …God’s mercy…is an abyss beyond our comprehension.’

Today, pray about your relationship with God and others. Do you act and react out of fear or from a place of mercy? Do you fear God’s assessment of you, or are you open to His deep and loving mercy?



How to pray

This Is How You Are To Pray

Today’s Gospel is Matthew 6:7-15. The disciples, those men and women who followed Jesus as He went about teaching and healing, hear His teaching on how to pray.

Keep in mind that these Jews lived a life prescribed by law: God’s law for His people. The food they ate, how it was prepared, what they wore, how and when they prayed were all spelled out for them. Yet here was this man, Jesus, who seemed to be turning everything they knew on its head. He tells them to quietly be generous, not to make “a scene” when they pray, but to go to their room and address God secretly.

Then Jesus tells them this:

“This is how you are to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread;
and forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors;
and do not subject us to the final test,
but deliver us from the evil one. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” (Mt. 6:9-15)

This prayer is so familiar to most of us that it is tempting to merely skim through it. Many of us have said this prayer countless times in our lives. We know it “by heart.”

But is it on our heart? Is it etched into the very core of our being? Just before this passage, Jesus tells His followers not to rattle off prayers thoughtlessly, babbling away.

It’s not simply the words Jesus is teaching us to pray – it is how to pray. We are not to have a prayer life ruled by law after law after law. Rather, our prayer is about relationship. We are not begging for favors from a god of rain, or a god of harvest, or a god of fertility. No, we pray to Our Father: a Father who knows what we need before we even ask. We pray to a Father who provides for our most basic needs but also protects us from the fiercest evil. We pray to a Father who forgives.

Today, take some time to truly pray to Our Father. Don’t rush the words – pray them. Talk to your Father; He waits for you with tenderness and love.

Spending Time With The Suffering Servant

We know it’s a good idea to spend time during Lent reading and meditating over Scripture. But that can be overwhelming: where does one start? Is there one Biblical book that is “better” than another for Lent? What does it mean to “meditate on Scripture” anyway? Let’s take a look at the book of Isaiah, and the verses that refer to the Suffering Servant.

Even if the “Suffering Servant” doesn’t sound familiar to you, you will recognize the chapters of Isaiah that refer to him:

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased.
Upon him I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry out, nor shout,
nor make his voice heard in the street.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
(Is. 42:1-3)

The Jewish listeners of this passage would recognize that Isaiah, the prophet, was referring to the Messiah, the Promised One of God, the One who would redeem humanity and save the nation of Israel. As Christians, we understand that Isaiah is foretelling the mission of Christ.

Of course, many Jews believed that the Messiah would be an earthly king, a man who would free Israel from the oppression of the Roman Empire. Yet, God’s plan would be that Emmanuel, God-With-Us, would be a servant, an example of mercy, love and justice, one who would wash the feet of his followers.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers a wonderful study of the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah. You can find it here. Why not spend some time learning more about the Suffering Servant this Lent?

Take nothing with you

Take Nothing With You This Lent

In Luke, chapter 9, Jesus sends the twelve apostles on a mission. They had been given authority over demons, the ability to cure illness, and are to preach the Good News.

Now, this is a tall order. Even knowing that it is the Messiah who has given them these abilities, and that He has done all these things Himself in their presence, one would think the apostles might still be a bit, well, nervous. To say the least.

Then Jesus adds this: “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.”

“Take nothing for the journey.” Most of us can’t even go away for the weekend without two suitcases. Luke does not disclose what the apostles were thinking at this point, but one might imagine something like this: “What?? We can’t even take any food? This is crazy!”

And in one sense, it is. In other places in Scripture, those who plan well are held in high esteem. In our way of thinking, it is foolish to head off on a journey ill-prepared.

But this is not our way; it is God’s. And while God’s way is always perfect, sometimes it looks a little crazy to us.

Imagine, God gives the responsibility of parenthood to a mother and father who are self-centered, immature, and who believe they are prepared because they’ve read some books.

God sent His people into the desert from Egypt, freeing them from slavery. Then He let them wander for 40 years, with virtually nothing.

A family gathers around the bedside of a dying parent, not yet ready to see that person go. They aren’t prepared for this next phase of their family’s life.

The Messiah Himself was born, not in grandeur, surrounded by all the lovely niceties a Prince should have, but in a stable. With hay. And some scraps of cloth.

Our Lenten journey is just beginning. Might God be calling us to begin with nothing, to trust wholly in Him this Lent? We may be burdened by belongings; clean house, literally! Perhaps we are weighed down by sin; go to Confession! Maybe our burden is an old wound with a friend or family member; now is the time to reach out and make amends.

Despite any misgivings the Twelve had, off they went, obedient to the Master. Let us do the same this Lent.