Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius of Antioch: Early Believer, Early Martyr

Ignatius of Antioch is one of the earliest believers and one of the earliest martyrs in the Church. By the year 107 A.D., Ignatius served as bishop of Antioch (its ruins are located in modern-day Turkey.) Sentenced to death my a Roman emperor, Ignatius was taken prisoner and brought to Rome.

Both on the journey to Rome and while imprisoned, Ignatius continued to lend pastoral support to his church in Antioch. The letters he sent survived far longer than he did; the Church treasures these letters as not only historical documents, but as testimony of how the teachings of Christ were passed on by the earliest Christians.

The content of the letters addressed the hierarchy and structure of the Church as well as the content of the orthodox Christian faith. It was Bishop Ignatius who first used the term “catholic” to describe the whole Church. These letters connect us to the early Church and the unbroken, clear teaching of the Apostles which was given to them directly by Jesus Christ. They also reveal the holiness of a man of God who became himself a living letter of Christ. The shedding his blood in the witness of holy martyrdom was the culmination of a life lived conformed to Jesus Christ.

Once in Rome, Ignatius faced the fate of so many early Christians: the arena. The lions released, Ignatius died a a martyr’s death. In one of his pastoral letters, he wrote, “Permit me to imitate my suffering God… I am God’s wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” God answered Ignatius’ heartfelt and humble prayer.

Today, the Church celebrates this humble man. His example as both bishop and martyr remain for us, his brothers and sisters in Christ, nearly 2000 years removed.

Our Lady of Peace Ivory Coast

The Universal Church: Basilica Of Our Lady Of Peace, Ivory Coast

The nation of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), on the Gulf of Guinea, borders both Liberia and Ghana. Its population is mostly Muslim, with multiple ethnic groups; it gained independence from France in 1960.

Yamoussoukro is its capitol city, with a population of about 355,000 people. This city is home to the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace:

In this small city, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, you will find the world’s largest church by some standards: the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.  Loosely modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it features the largest dome in Africa and one of the largest domes built anywhere in the 20th century.  By any standard it is among the world’s biggest church buildings, a testament to Catholicism in French West Africa, and also to the ego of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the president who virtually bankrupted the Ivory Coast while building it.  Despite the cost, the basilica has become a source of national pride for the entire country, not just Catholics.  Today it is the most popular Christian pilgrimage site in West Africa.

The basilica was consecrated by St. John Paul II in 1990, making it not only one of the largest Christian pilgrimage sites in the world but also one of the newest. Unfortunately for this relatively poor country, it cost $300 million to build, doubling the nation’s debt.

The exterior of the church boasts a glass cross atop its dome more than 500 feet in height. The basilica is so large, it can accommodate 18,000 (7,000 in pews, with standing room for the remainder.) It certainly does not reflect native architecture and art; rather, it reflects Europe: over 7,000 square feet of French-made stained glass and Gothic architecture, with marble imported from Italy. The windows tell the story of God’s salvific plan for humanity:

There are four triptychs combining (sic) great theological, philosophical and moral. In the middle of each triptych, the main window is easily recognized by its arched shape, due to the large radiant rosette which dominates … [T]he four large rosettes of the sanctuary are four cardinal virtues … Christian morality: Justice (stained glass Our Lady of Peace), [Fortitude] (the glorious Christ), Temperance (original sin), Prudence (the baptism of Jesus). The colors and patterns unique to each triptych draw from Greek philosophy to evoke the four elements of Creation: air, fire, earth and water … [T]he windows also show the theological symbolism of four triptychs: the Marian triptych, Christ the triptych, the triptych of creation, the triptych of the New Covenant.

With a very small population of Catholics in Yamoussoukro, the basilica is a point of pride for the city but is often nearly empty, save for tourists.

The basilica has aroused much international controversy, for the lavish building glittering with Italian marble sits in the middle of an impoverished African city where only a minority of homes have running water and adequate sanitation …

The church is maintained by priests of the Society of Catholic Apostolate (also known as the Pallottines), who claim St. Vincent Pallotti as their founder. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace certainly has one of the most colorful histories of any Catholic church: a miniature St. Peter’s in Africa, with stunning art and architecture, a financial burden for this mostly Muslim nation.

Notre-Dame Basilica

The Universal Church: Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

The city of Montreal is the best of both worlds: formed in the rich history of  Europe and North America. Notre-Dame Basilica stands as a monument to this heritage, but also as living testimony to the Catholic heritage of this beautiful city.

The original church was constructed between 1672 and 1683, while the current basilica was built between 1824 and 1829. Its Gothic Revival style was the first of its kind for Canada, and at the time it was built, the basilica was the largest church of any denomination in all of North America. (Today, it can hold 4,000 worshipers.) The basilica houses the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), used for smaller congregations, weddings and funerals. However, in 1978, the chapel suffered severe fire damage.

Reconstruction was undertaken by the architectural firm of Jodin, Lamarre, Pratte and Associates, whose plan suggested rebuilding the first two levels to be identical to the original chapel, with skilled carpenters, sculptors and woodworkers using traditional methods. The vault was built in a modern style allowing for natural lighting. The new chapel was opened in 1982.

The basilica’s main mission is to spread the Gospel. Aside from celebrating Mass and offering the sacraments, the basilica’s art is a feast for eyes and souls. The basilica “preaches” through the art of its side altars, high altar, its stained glass and its pulpit.

The pulpit is one of the Basilica’s greatest ornaments. In earlier times, the priest would mount the steps to deliver his sermon. From his position above the congregation, his voice could be heard throughout the church, without electronic amplification. The architect Victor Bourgeau (1809–1888) designed this pulpit during the renovations of the 1870s. The renowned sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert (1850–1917) created the ornamentation, particularly the two ground-level figures of the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah. As with the altarpiece, the pulpit signifies that the Old Testament of the Bible is the basis of Christian faith.

Above, on the skirting of the pulpit, is a series of smaller statures representing Christ seated and teaching, Saints Peter and Paul, and other religious themes.

Beneath the canopy appears the dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, leading the faithful to be receptive and obedient to God’s inspiration, and guiding through their life of faith.

On the canopy four Church Fathers appear: two from the West: Saint Augustine (4th century) and Saint Leo the Great (pope, 6th century) – and two from the East: Saint Basil the Great (4th century) and Saint John Chrysostom (4th century). These confirm the Church’s traditional fidelity to its origins

Completing the pulpit’s symbolism is a statue representing Faith as a young woman holding a cross in one hand and a chalice (the Mass) in the other.

This amazing basilica is truly one of the treasures of the universal church.

Oura Church

The Universal Church: Oura Church of Nagasaki

The history of Catholicism in Japan is riddled with martyrdom and tragedy. The Japanese knew virtually nothing of the Christian faith prior to 1549, when St. Francis Xavier entered this island nation. Missionary activity in Japan flourished for a time: it is estimated that more than 300,000 Japanese became Catholic in the years that followed.

However, the government of Japan officially banned the faith in 1587, fearing it would lead to European military strength. This began a time of massive persecution. Martyrdom was the fate of many priests and laity, although some Japanese were able to continue to practice of the Catholic faith underground.

In the city of Nagasaki, Fr. Bernard Petitjean built the Oura Church to minister to Catholics, both new converts and those who had lived their faith underground. The Oura Church was blessed in 1865, in honor of 26 martyrs who were crucified in the era of persecution. Pope Pius XI eventually named Fr. Petitjean vicar apostolic, and the Oura Church became the cathedral.

Unfortunately, the Japanese government remained hostile to the Catholic faith, and persecution continued. Over 3400 Japanese Catholics were imprisoned, and the government carried out a vicious campaign to force them to deny their faith. More than 600 died in prison. In 1872, the Japanese officially dropped its policy of persecution of Christians, as the government was eager to open trade with European countries. This allowed the Catholics to worship openly.

Upon returning to their lands, they found everything gone—their farming equipment, boats, furniture—with their once-neat rice paddies overtaken by wilderness.

By 1895 the Urakami Catholics had saved enough to build a stone and brick cathedral under the direction of their amateur architect priest [Fr. Petitjean]. It was a colossal effort, all done by poor people who had to learn everything, from the making of cement to the sculpture of statues. The project was stopped several times as money ran out. Finally, twenty-two years after the first foundation stones were dragged up the hill, the cathedral was completed. The year was 1917. It was 230 feet long, accommodating five thousand worshippers—the largest cathedral in the Far East, with two bell towers more than one hundred feet high. It was named St. Mary’s Cathedral.

While the Oura Church still stands as the oldest Catholic church in Japan, St. Mary’s Cathedral was destroyed by the atomic bomb dropped in that city by Allied Forces in 1945. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1959.

Today, less than 1% of the Japanese population are Catholic, and the faith still struggles to gain acceptance, as it is viewed as a “Western” religion, and its practices and theology considered foreign. The Oura Church has been designated a National Heritage site by the Japanese government and remains a popular place for visitors, both Japanese and foreign. It has survived persecution, an atomic bomb and natural disasters – it truly is a church whose foundation was built on the blood of martyrs.


The Church Suffering: Purgatory

Last week, we discussed briefly the states of the Church: military, triumphant and suffering. This week, we will take a closer look at each.

The Catholic Church teaches that each human being has an immortal soul, created in God’s image and likeness. It is our personal responsibility to make sure that our soul is in a state of grace – free from sin. This is not to say that we do not sin, but rather that we seek forgiveness for our sins. Should we harm another person, we must seek their forgiveness. Should we violate God’s commandments and Church teaching, we must seek forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We all know, however, that sin has lasting effects. When we harm a relationship with a loved one, we know that it takes time, trust and honesty to rebuild that relationship. And so it is with God.

Every immortal soul has but one of two eternal destinations: Heaven or Hell. Yet God, in His infinite mercy and wisdom allows for purification of souls even after death, which we call Purgatory. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.

This is the Church suffering: souls who know that the glory of God awaits them, but who must first be purified of sin.

Every Sunday, as a Church, we pray in the Creed of our belief of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” The Church suffering is part of that unified Church. They are not souls relegated to some other place where we have no relationship with them. They are not behind some sort of celestial barrier or imprisoned forever. No, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, in need of our prayers.

Fr. John Hardon, SJ, was a renowned theologian and speaker. Here are some of his teachings on Purgatory and the souls of the Church suffering:

The Poor Souls are the souls of those people who died in the friendship of God. But they still have some suffering to undergo for the sins they had committed during their lives on earth. It is the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church that there is a purgatory. As the word itself indicates, purgatory is the state of those who still have to be cleansed of the penalty which they owe for their past offenses against God…

It must seem strange to speak of devotion to the Poor Souls. But it is not really strange. Devotion to the Poor Souls has two sides: our side and the side of the souls in purgatory.

On their side, the Poor Souls are united with us in the one Kingdom of Christ. They can pray and obtain blessings for us here on earth. They are united, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, with the pilgrim Church in the Communion of Saints. We are therefore encouraged to invoke their aid, with a confidence of being heard by those who understand our needs. They know from their own experience what it means to carry the cross here on earth.

On our side we are to do everything we can to help the Poor Souls in the Church Suffering. The sufferings in purgatory are not the same for all. They depend on each person’s degree of sinfulness. St. Thomas Aquinas held that the least pain in purgatory is greater than the worst pain in this life. St. Bonaventure held that the worst suffering after death was greater than the worst suffering on earth, but the same could not be said regarding the least pain in purgatory. In general, however, we should say that the pains of purgatory are greater than those on earth.

Remember that devotion to the Poor Souls is really a covenant between them and us. We pray and sacrifice for them, They can pray and suffer for us. They appreciate whatever help we give them, to lessen their suffering and to shorten their stay in Purgatory. They will continue to show their appreciation when we join them in a heavenly eternity. [emphasis added]

Again, the Church is united, our souls in need of each others care and prayers. While the Church suffering may seem harsh, it is the act of a loving God: to allow for the cleansing of preparation of souls before they are able to be in the presence of God. Further, what a terrific act of love by God that we are able to be in community with these souls, and they with us. We pray for each other, we suffer (always in unity with Christ) for each other, we look forward to being in the presence of God together for all eternity. And so we pray:

O gentle Heart of Jesus, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, ever consumed with burning love for the poor captive souls in Purgatory, have mercy on them.
Be not severe in Your judgments, but let some drops of Your Precious Blood fall upon the devouring flames.
And, Merciful Savior, send Your angels to conduct them to a place of refreshment, light and peace.

Ignatian prayer

Praying With St. Ignatius Loyola And The Jesuits

In 1491, a baby boy was born in northern Spain to a family of nobility. As he grew, he dreamed of knighthood and what a young boy would see as the romance of battle and courtly life.

God had other plans for him.

St. Ignatius of Loyola did become a soldier, but was seriously wounded. During his time of recuperation, he began studying the life of Christ and the lives of saints. This began a radical conversion for the soldier, who laid down his weapons for the cross. Eventually, St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits, an order of Catholic priests and brothers known for their intellectual endeavors and their dedication to missionary work. Pope Francis is likely the best known Jesuit in the world right now.

Another Jesuit, known for his gentle humor and popular writings is  Fr. James Martin. In his book, The Jesuit Guide to {Almost} Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, Martin explains the manner in which Jesuits pray, known as the Examen. Jesuits pray this once or twice a day, but it’s perfectly accessible to the lay person. The manner in which Jesuits pray this is long and meditative, but Martin suggests a simpler method:

Before you begin, as in all prayer, remind yourself that you’re in God’s presence, and as God to help you with your prayer.

  1. Gratitude: Recall anything from the day for which you are especially grateful, and give thanks.
  2. Review: Recall the events of the day, from start to finish, noticing where you felt God’s presence, and where you accepted or turned away from any invitations to grow in love.
  3. Sorrow: Recall any actions for which you are sorry.
  4. Forgiveness: Ask for God’s forgiveness. Decide whether you want to reconcile with anyone  yo have hurt.
  5. Grace: Ask God for the grace you need for the next day and an ability to see God’s presence more clearly.

All of us, at some point, need some structure in our prayer life to keep us focused on God and the “bigger picture,” to guard against focusing our prayers on ourselves and not God. Perhaps you will find the structure you need in praying with St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits.

If you’d like to know more about this form of prayer, visit this website.

prodigal - home to stay

Home To Stay

A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  (Lk. 15:11-13)

The story of the prodigal son is one that most Christians know so well, we don’t always hear it. It’s easy to hear those first words of this parable, and think, “Oh, yeah. This one. I know it” and then tune out. That is a mistake. Like every word that Jesus uttered, recorded in the Gospels, we could spend our entire life plumbing the depths of this parable and still not wholly understand its riches. It’s good to spend time thinking, praying, listening with open ears and open hearts on every familiar word of our Lord’s.

The Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote a gem of a book entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen spent a great deal of time in front of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son, which is housed at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was from Nouwen’s meditation on this painting that the book was borne.

Nouwen’s book is essentially divided into three parts: meditations from the perspective of the father, the eldest son, and the younger son – the prodigal. Nouwen gives voice to the emotions, the prayers and thoughts of the three essential characters in the story. In his contemplation of the prodigal, Nouwen says:

The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.

Even as the prodigal realizes that he must return home, knowing full well he deserves to be treated as nothing more than a servant for his sins against the father, he doubts:

Although claiming my true identity as a child of God, I still live as though the God to whom I am returning demands an explanation. I still think about his love as conditional and about home as a place I am not yet fully sure of. While walking home, I keep entertaining doubts about whether I will be truly welcome when I get there. As I look at my spiritual journey, my long and fatiguing trip home, I see how full it is of guilt about the past and worries about the future. I realize my failures and know that I have lost the dignity of my sonship, but I am not yet able to fully believe that where my failings are great, ‘grace is always greater.’

On the part of the father, Nouwen explores his deep mourning. He is hurt, angry, disbelieving. How could his son, for whom he would do anything, turn his back on a father’s love? Eventually, even before the son’s return, the father reaches a point of forgiveness:

I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal, and offer a festive meal must become my own.

Ultimately, Nouwen concludes:

Unlike a fairy tale, the parable provides no happy ending. Instead, it leaves us face to face with one of life’s hardest spiritual choices: to trust or not to trust in God’s all-forgiving love.

Kevin Ray Brost is a young musician, originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River. Now a Nashville artist, he has released his first single, “Stay.” The video shows a young man, wandering. Is he headed home? We also glimpse an elderly man, in a home that seems devoid of life, writing a letter. Brost’s lyrics seem to give voice to the prodigal, but leave the listener to determine whether the prodigal is the father or the son:

Please believe me, I promise I’ve changed
I know I’ve hurt you, and caused you pain
Now, son, I’m sorry, I’ll take the blame
This time I mean it: I’m here to stay.

From Nouwen’s perspective, we are all the prodigal. We are also all the father and the eldest son. The emotions, anger, selfishness that these three men feel are all true of us as well. We all wander from God. We all are jealous of others. We all must ultimately learn to forgive. We all must finally trust in God’s all-forgiving love – and come home to stay.

Enjoy Brost’s video:


Silent Saints: Knowing God Within

Some saints are prolific writers, and we treasure their works. Some, like Thomas Aquinas, help us understand the mystery of God better. Other saints, like Maximilian Kolbe, find ways to use media in a new way in order to spread the Gospel. Or think of Mother Angelica, who founded a Catholic television station and hosted a show.

And then, there are the silent saints.

The Gospels do not record one single word spoken by St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. We know him only by his actions. The Gospel of Matthew tells us he is a “righteous man,” and his tender care of Mary and the newborn Jesus bear that out. Most of this man’s life is hidden from us, including his thoughts and words. Yet he was chosen by God to raise the Son of God. This silent saint, who listened to God in the silence of his heart, tells us much about how to live our faith under trying circumstances.

Another silent saint is Mary.

Mary’s words are recorded in four passages in the Bible. Three of the four passages are from the Gospel of Luke: the Annunciation, when she speaks with the angel (Luke 1:34 and 38); her visit to Elizabeth, when Mary sings the psalm of praise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); and the time that Jesus is lost in the Temple and Mary admonishes him (Luke 2:48).

We also find Mary speaking in the Gospel of John, during the story of the Wedding at Cana. She tells Jesus that there is no more wine (John 2:3) and then tells the servers, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5) — which, as someone once told me, is perhaps the best bit of advice in the entire Bible.

Of course, the gospels also tell us that Mary kept many things in her heart to ponder. In the Holy Family, the quiet must have led them to great contemplation of God and His will for their lives. One wonders if this habit of silence was one of the reasons Jesus often left everything behind to go and pray by Himself.

St. John the Silent (his name tells you something, huh?) was born in 5th century Armenia. At the young age of 28, he was sought out by the archbishop to become a bishop, an assignment John did not want. However, he served for nine years, and then joined a monastery, seeking seclusion for prayer. It is recorded that, during his life, he spent 76 years in solitude.

Of course, Catholics have the great history of the monastic tradition: Trappists, Carmelites, Benedictines and other orders of men and women whose main focus is prayer and work, done mostly in silence. Why the silence? One monastic priest says:

In my daily work the habit of silence (I’ve been here 35 years) helps me to focus, even to put aside pre-occupying worries while I concentrate on a particular responsibility. That can be preparing the community’s meal, typing the entries for our website, hearing confessions, preparing a class for the novitiate, chanting the psalms at community prayers when I have a cold, whatever. But I have learned that I started out with certain powers of concentration, so I may not be too accurate here; I grew up in NYC and it’s second nature to me to block out background noise. But I can say that the habit of silence keeps me from seeking additional noise. I’m not uneasy when it’s very quiet or when I’m totally alone. But I don’t find silence making tasks easier to complete.

The silence does make me aware of my inner workings, however, what we call in the monastery, “self-knowledge.” I can’t pretend that I’m always a nice guy, always patient, always calm and receptive. I have to admit that I can be abrupt, cold to offenders, or would often prefer efficiency to the messiness of other people’s moods. Silence seems to keep me from idealizing myself.

St. Mary Clare, a Carmelite nun, acknowledges that the silence can be hard. Our world is so full of noise that silence can seem empty. We want to fill it with something. For monastics, however, the silence is quite different:

Through silence we become more deeply aware of the beauty, unity, goodness and truth all around us and within us. Through faith our whole outlook on life is changed. What used to appear as ordinary, temporal events, become reflections of these four attributes of God. These happenings become messages through which He speaks intimately to our hearts; moments of sublime personal contact with Infinite Love Itself.

Listening to the word in silence, faith and love, we hear the secret to our happiness and authentic personal fulfillment. Only in this do we truly begin to fill that deep void and satisfy the longing that consumes us as human persons.

Now it is true that most of us are not called to the monastic life. But we all need silence. Silence is the only way God can truly speak to us, just us, with our own unique message. Yes, we hear God in prayer and song and Scripture and in other’s voices, but … silence. Silence is where God dwells. If we want to know God, we must turn to silence.

But the word of the Lord came to him: Why are you here, Elijah? He answered: “I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.” Then the Lord said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord will pass by.

There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake; was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound. (1 Kings 19:9-12)

pick up your cross

When The Cross Gets Heavy, Help Someone Out

Christ tells us that we must pick up our crosses and follow Him. And so we do. Most of the time, we carry those crosses pretty well. Sure, it’s heavy. It’s not always convenient. There are people who blatantly tell us it’s a stupid thing to do: bear a cross for someone whose existence they say we cannot prove. But we carry on.

And then there are times when our cross gets so heavy our knees buckle. We fall. Our mouth is full of dust and dirt. We’ve skinned our knees and elbows. We lay there, under a cross that seems far too heavy for one person. We just don’t know if we can carry on.

Denise C. McAllister has some advice. When you see someone lying there, bloodied and exhausted, with their cross bearing down on them, help them. Pick up their cross, set it aside for a moment. Cleanse their wounds and offer a drink of water. Then, when they are ready, help them stand. Then carry their cross, along with yours, just for a bit, until they are able to take the weight of that cross back.

McAllister was raised by a Marine Corps father, who instilled in her a “get it done” attitude. But she knows that sometimes, we can’t “get it done” on our own:

[O]ftentimes in life, people need more. They need a different kind of encouragement. They need an advocate who will speak on their behalf, even against themselves and their own negative thoughts. They need someone to come alongside them and give them strength because they are empty, broken, poured out, and hopeless.

They don’t just need praise or inspirational slogans; they need someone to enter into their life in a personal way and fill them with courage. This involves getting to know them, reminding them of who they really are, comforting them with love, exhorting them, and counseling them. Bottom line, it takes active involvement from the encourager.

Americans tend to value hard work and the ability to accomplish things on our own. We romanticize cowboys: those men who take care of business, not needing help from anyone. Moms get a dose of guilt whenever they buy cupcakes for a class party instead of making them at home. Our kids are pushed into sports and band and reading clubs and study sessions because parents are afraid that without a healthy “resume,'” their kid won’t get into college. The careers we choose often define us, rather than being defined by our faith and character.

And we do work hard. Until we can’t.

Maybe it’s an illness. Maybe it’s a job, or lack of one. Maybe your kid has gone off the rails and you don’t know where to turn. Maybe it’s that we are so in debt we don’t know how we’ll ever be able to manage our finances.

That’s when we hit the dirt, face plant, with that cross on our back. And we cry out, “God, where are you?? I need help and I’m so alone. God!!!” We feel weak, lonely, forgotten. McAllister:

The need for encouragement is part of living in this world, and we aren’t doing one another any favors by not giving it. The Bible is full of exhortations to encourage one another. Why? Why not just say, “Rely on yourself” or only “Trust in God” (although there is that too). Why are there so many passages that say “encourage one another”? Because life is difficult, and it’s human to struggle, spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

We need our family and friends to build us up. We need our bosses to remind us of what we can really accomplish, inspiring us to greatness. We need our coaches, counselors, teachers, and pastors to come alongside us and spur us on with boldness and love. When we don’t have it, we flounder and fail, and even if we somehow overcome, we aren’t always happy and we’re certainly not humbled.

Asking for help, to say we’re in need, to say we just can’t do it alone is not weakness. That is probably one of the hardest things to do. Many people don’t ask, so those of us who can give need to be on the lookout for the needy, for the ones who are struggling and encourage them. Is there someone in your life who is downcast, angry, withdrawn, underperforming, overwhelmed? Why ignore them? Why think, “They’ll get it together on their own”—or worse, “It’s not my place to get involved. I did it alone; they’ll have to make it on their own too”?

We can do so much better. If there is someone in your life, either at school, work, church, in the neighborhood, and you know they are suffering or discouraged in some way, help them. You will be better for it, and so will they.

Today, if you need help with that cross, ask. Someone in your life will step up and help. And if someone today needs your help, then pick up their cross, along with yours, and walk alongside them until they are ready to carry it again themselves. Needing help is not weakness, and offering help is not being judgmental.

For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you … and all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged as they are brought together in love, to have all the richness of fully assured understanding, for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col. 2:1-3

Assumption of Mary

Assumption Of Mary: Why Do We Celebrate This?

On August 15, Catholics celebrate the Assumption of Mary, a holy day of obligation. Normally, we would be obligated to attend Mass for this feast, but because this year it falls on a Monday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has lifted the obligation. However, the faithful are still urged to attend Mass if it is possible.

What exactly is the Assumption of Mary and why do we celebrate it? There is often criticism from our Protestant brothers and sisters regarding this, as there is no place in the Bible we can point to and say, “Here it is! It really happened!” However, the Church has always been careful to warn the faithful against biblical “fundamentalism:”

…typified by unyielding adherence to rigid doctrinal and ideological positions—an approach that affects the individual’s social and political attitudes as well as religious ones. Fundamentalism in this sense is found in non-Christian religions and can be doctrinal as well as biblical. But in this statement we are speaking only of biblical fundamentalism, presently attractive to some Christians, including some Catholics.

While the Church teaches that the Bible is without error, there is also living Tradition that must be considered when studying Scripture. As Catholics, we trust our spiritual leaders, the bishops, to help us understand and apply Scriptural truths. While the Assumption of Mary is not recorded in Scripture, the Church has  vast historical knowledge regarding this early Christian celebration.

After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem. One of the memories about his mother centered around the “Tomb of Mary,” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived.

On the hill itself was the “Place of Dormition,” the spot of Mary’s “falling asleep,” where she had died. The “Tomb of Mary” was where she was buried.

At this time, the “Memory of Mary” was being celebrated. Later it was to become our feast of the Assumption.

The dormition of Mary is a belief (but not a tenent of the Faith) that Mary did not suffer death, as death is a result of original sin. Since Mary was born without original sin, some theologians have concluded that Mary “fell asleep.” The use of the term “sleep” for “death” is well-documented in the New Testament.

So why do we celebrate Mary’s Assumption? From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

After her Son’s Ascension, Mary “aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.” In her association with the apostles and several women, “we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.”

“Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians:

In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the source of Life. You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.

By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a “preeminent and . . . wholly unique member of the Church”; indeed, she is the “exemplary realization” of the Church.

Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. “In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.”

“This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix. (para. 964-969)

In 2013, Pope Francis reminded the faithful that Mary “accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil.” Certainly that would be enough for us to want to celebrate this holy day. However, the Holy Father also said that the Faith we cherish is founded upon not a belief or an event, but a truth:

Our whole faith is based upon this fundamental truth which is not an idea but an event. Even the mystery of Mary’s Assumption body and soul is fully inscribed in the resurrection of Christ. The Mother’s humanity is “attracted” by the Son in his own passage from death to life. Once and for all, Jesus entered into eternal life with all the humanity he had drawn from Mary; and she, the Mother, who followed him faithfully throughout her life, followed him with her heart, and entered with him into eternal life which we also call heaven, paradise, the Father’s house.

As we look forward to this holy day, let us meditate upon all the riches the Church has given us regarding Mary. Let us turn to her in faith, asking her to intercede for us as we continue to seek Christ in all we do. His Mother will certainly aid us in this endeavor.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa Of Kolkata: Our Newest Saint

In one month, Pope Francis will declare Mother Teresa of Kolkata the Church’s newest saint. While most of us are familiar with her public work in India and elsewhere, it is good to learn more about this holy woman.

Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910, Mother Teresa was Albanian by birth, but lived most of her early years in Yugoslavia. At the age of just 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish order of teachers. During those years, she worked in India. However, God called her to something more.

Mother Teresa (the name she received when she entered the convent of the Loreto order) received a call from Christ to serve the poorest of the poor. In order to do that, she needed to leave her beloved Loreto Sisters and found a new order. She was determined that this order live among the poor, and that these sisters would live as the poor did: with as few possessions as possible.

Founding this new order took a great deal of determination. Mother Teresa was a tiny woman, with a warm smile and a heart for service. She was also one very determined lady. Although it took several years, she was finally given permission from the bishop to found her order: the Missionaries of Charity. These new sisters would wear simple saris, just like the women they would serve. The sisters would have only two habits: one to wear and another to change into when the first was dirty. They would wear sandals and carry rosaries. That was to be the sum total of their possessions. Mother Teresa felt strongly that in order to serve the poor, they must be poor themselves.

Her sisters would go out into the streets of Kolkata daily, feeding the poor, offering simple medicine for those who were ill and gathering the children for teaching and religious education. In twenty years, the order grew, as did their work.

Trusting entirely in God’s providence to sustain their work, in only three years they had built a motherhouse, established an orphanage, and set up a program to serve lepers throughout the city of Calcutta. Twelve years later they opened their first home outside of India. By 1971 the order ran 50 homes throughout the world, and many more were yet to come. Mother Teresa once told several sisters who were about to begin a new mission, “If there are poor people on the moon, we will go there.”

The work of the Missionaries of Charity was not without detractors. Many in India believed that the Sisters had set out to Christianize a Hindu nation. Others believed that the Sisters’ work was not enough: their hospices were not up to modern health standards, and they did little to actually help the poor, beyond offering food, simple medications and shelter. Through it all, Mother Teresa simply worked, serving her beloved poor.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. In her acceptance speech, she implored those in the West to spread her mission of love themselves:

I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbour – do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long – do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shinning with hunger – I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her – where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also.

Following her death in 1997, Pope John Paul II waived the five year period normally required for the process of canonization. He declared her “Blessed” in 2003 and Pope Francis will declare her a saint on September 4, 2016. The tiny woman who began her work with a call from God left a worldwide legacy that touched the lives of millions. However, she had only one focus: to serve God.

Mother Teresa’s spiritual vitality can be described with these words. “Don’t search for God in faraway lands. He is not there. He is close to you. He is with you. Just keep that lamp burning, and you will always see him.”

In the coming weeks prior to her canonization, we will explore more of the life and works of Mother Teresa. for now, let us take her advice and focus on the God who is with us here and now.


Do Not Lose Hope, For God Will Reign

St. Paul tells us that there are three things that truly matter: faith, hope and love. We must, as Catholics, not only assume these exist in our lives, we must constantly cultivate them. Like a tender garden in our soul, faith, hope and love must be sown, watered, saved from choking weeds, and strengthened by our daily attendance.

Hope. St. Paul tells us that, even when we are in affliction, we must hope. Indeed, affliction produces hope, through endurance and character. There is nothing that should separate us from our hope in Jesus Christ.

And all that is good and right and true. But then we watch the news or see another daily horror visited over and over again on social media. Violence and bloodshed and children missing and injured and those sent to help denigrated. The weeds begin to creep in, intertwining with hope, suffocating hope from the light it needs to survive.

But that is not the end. The weeds and the violence and the sense of abandonment are not the final word. Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. He is our answer, the Light our garden needs. We are not meant to be left alone, isolated, bereft in a garden that no longer produces good, but is now only an abandoned lot that no one claims.

Father Luis Espinal, S.J. knew this. Our little plot of hope needs our attention, now more than ever. Fr. Espinal gave us just the prayer we need.

There are Christians
Who have hysterical reactions
As if the world had slipped out of God’s hands.
They are violent
As if they were risking everything.

But we believe in history.
The world is not a roll of the dice
On its way toward chaos.
A new world has begun to happen
Since Christ has risen.

Jesus Christ,
We rejoice in your definitive triumph
With our bodies still in the breach,
Our souls in tension;
We cry our first “Hurrah!”
Till eternity unfolds itself.

Your sorrow now has passed.
Your enemies have failed.
You are the definitive smile for humankind.

What matter the wait now for us?
We accept the struggle and the death,
Because you, our love, will not die!

We march behind you on the road to the future.
You are with us. You are our immortality.

Take away the sadness from our faces;
We are not in a game of chance.
You have the last word!

Beyond the crushing of our bones,
Now has begun the eternal “Alleluia!”
From the thousands of openings
In our wounded bodies and souls,
There now arises a triumphal song!

So teach us to give voice
To your new life throughout the world,
Because you dry the tears of the oppressed forever,
And death will disappear.