Author Archives: Brian

Our Supersubstantial Bread – December 5, 2016

“Grant us this day our daily manna.” Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XI

The Lord has left us a mystery to contemplate. It is right there in the middle of the “Our Father” when Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Mt. 6:11) This is generally recognized to mean pray for our basic daily necessities. (CCC 2837) This is true. Yet, hidden in the mundane and seemingly redundant word “daily” is the veiled, mysterious Greek word epiousios (επιούσιος). Epiousios is a unique word, sacramental-like in nature, a visible sign of a hidden reality. Epiousios occurs nowhere else in the Greek Bible except in the same Our Father passage in Luke 11:3 and the Apostle’s Didache. In fact, epiousios is not found anywhere else at all in Greek literature. The only recorded reference to epiousios, ever, is Jesus’ prayer.

As the early Church Father and master of the Greek language Origen (d. 254 AD) concludes, epiousios was “invented by the Evangelists.” The millennia have bore out his assertion that epiousios was a new word, a neologism of uncertain etymology. The usual Greek word for “daily,” hemera, is, after all, used elsewhere in the New Testament, but not in this instance. Why did St. Matthew and St. Luke feel compelled to create a new Greek word to accurately reflect the words of Jesus? They most likely had to use a new word to faithfully translate a novel idea or a unique Aramaic word that Jesus used in His prayer. What was Jesus’ new idea? Although there are multiple levels of meanings to epiousios, Jesus is making a clear allusion to the Eucharist. “Our daily bread” is one translation of a word that goes far above our basic needs for sustenance, and invokes our supernatural needs.

St. Jerome translated the Bible in the 4th century from the original Latin, Hebrew and Greek texts to form the Latin Vulgate Bible. When it came to the mysterious word epiousios, St. Jerome hedged his bets. In Luke 11:3, St. Jerome translated epiousios as “daily.” Yet, in Matthew 6:11, he translated epiousios as “supersubstantial.” The root words are: epi, meaning “above” or “super;” and ousia, meaning “being,” “essence,” or “substance.” When they are read together, we come to the possible translations of “super-substantial,” “above-essence,” or, in effect, “supernatural” bread. This translation as supersubstantial is still found today in the Douay-Rheims Bible. Taken literally, our supersubstantial bread is the Eucharist. (CCC 2837) In his commentary on St. Matthew’s gospel, St. Jerome states this directly: “We can also understand supersubstantial bread in another sense as bread that is above all substances and surpasses all creatures.”

St. Jerome also suggests that the Hebrew word for epiousios was the word maar meaning “for tomorrow,” invoking an eschatological interpretation of epiousios. In this sense, we are praying “this day” for our bread “for tomorrow,” or our future bread. We are petitioning God for tomorrow’s future bread today. Pope Benedict reflects on this “petition for an anticipation for the world to come, asking the Lord to give already ‘today’ the future bread, the bread of the new world – Himself.” This again has Eucharistic overtones, as the Catechism states, “the Eucharist that is already the foretaste of the kingdom to come.” (CCC 2837)

This eschatological interpretation is also borne out in the parable for the “coming day’s bread,” that Jesus teaches immediately following the Our Father. In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus tells the story of a man, who at “midnight” asks a friend to lend him three loaves of bread, as another friend of his has arrived from a journey and he has nothing to give him. As scholars have noted, there is the crucial matter of timing in this parable. In the morning the man can provide an abundance of food and bread for his guest, but at midnight he has nothing. This is an allusion to the fact that in the coming day of the Lord in heaven we will have a superabundance to meet our every need, both material and spiritual. But, as of yet, in this temporal life, a constant need remains.

Ours, like the man in the parable, is a matter of timing. We desire to have a measure of that superabundance now, and not just to meet our needs, but also to share with others. Thus, in praying today for tomorrow’s bread, we are praying to realize now, in time, a bit of the fulfillment of eternity. This is in line with the theme of “realized eschatology” that runs through the Our Father, in which we pray for “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Even now on earth, we share daily in the realized eschatology of the heavenly Mass.

In asking God for our daily, supernatural bread, we are also reminded of the manna from heaven that the Israelites supernaturally survived on in the desert for forty years. In the exodus, where there was no food or water in the desert, God miraculously rained down bread from heaven each day, both a supernatural and daily occurrence. In the morning dew, they gathered manna for their daily sustenance, and in the evening they ate the flesh of quail. As the psalmist says, “Man ate of the bread of the angels,” and “He rained flesh upon them like dust.” (Ps. 78:25; 27) The Israelites ate of the heavenly bread and flesh from the time they crossed the waters of the Red Sea (a foreshadowing of Baptism) until they reached the Promised Land (a foreshadowing of heaven). Then, as soon as they completed their journey, the heavenly manna ceased. (Joshua 5:12) Our daily manna is with us too from the time we enter into the Church until the time we cross over into eternity.

Jesus makes a direct connection of Himself to the manna from heaven, calling Himself the “Bread of Life.” The Jews, citing Moses and the manna from heaven, demanded a similar sign from Jesus. In response, Jesus tells them, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever.” (Jn. 6:51) Jesus is the new Moses, leading a new exodus, with a new heavenly manna. Like the Israelites’ manna, Jesus offers His bread and flesh for us to survive on for our journey. He tells them “he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” (Jn. 6:54) Evidently Jesus wanted to make sure His scandalous words were not glossed over, because He repeated six times that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood have eternal life.

This theme of “eating and living forever” is mentioned in only one other place in the Bible – in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life. After the fall of man, God sent Adam and Eve out of paradise, lest he “take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” (Gen. 3:22) However, now with the Incarnation of the God-man, Jesus, paradise is, at last, opened fully to humanity to “eat and live forever.” The Tree of Life, cut off to us by our sins, is now open to us through the tree of the Cross, and resurrection of Christ. The fruit of this tree is given to us sacramentally in His supernatural manna, the Holy Eucharist. It is our spiritual bread without which we cannot live.

Thus, Jesus is making a direct reference in the Our Father for our daily supernatural bread of the Eucharist. As Jesus instructs us in the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse to not work for “food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (Jn. 6:27) The theme of bread runs through the life of Christ, as visible signs pointing to a hidden reality. He is a priest-king, the order of Melchizadek, who offered bread and wine. He was born in Bethlehem, Hebrew for the “house of bread.” He performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves to feed 5,000. He refers to Himself as the “Bread of Life,” the true manna from heaven. In the culmination of the Last Supper, the Passover feast and the feast of Unleavened Bread, He offered bread and wine as His Body and His Blood of the New Covenant. After His Resurrection, He revealed Himself to His disciples in the “breaking of the bread.” Jesus lives on with us sacramentally in the Holy Eucharist, under the guise of bread. In the final revelation He promises to give us “some of the hidden manna.” (Rev. 2:17) This is our food of salvation, our medicine of immortality, which gives eternal life. It is not surprising then that the disciples beseeched Jesus saying, “Lord, give us this bread always.” (Jn. 6:34) And, so it remains with us.

A Few Observations on Therese Neumann, Laywoman, Mystic, and Stigmatic – October 24, 2016

Very rarely has a person reflected so many purported supernatural gifts as did Therese Neumann, a 20th century German mystic and stigmatic. Her renown nearly rivaled that of St. Padre Pio. Their gifts supposedly included bearing the sacred stigmata (the wounds of Christ), visions, bilocation, reading hearts, healings and conversions, among other phenomena. However, unlike St. Padre Pio who was canonized June 16, 2002 by Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has not yet officially recognized Therese Neumann as a saint. She was known as a joyful woman who loved animals and flowers, and was particularly despised by the Nazis. By most accounts, Therese Neumann was an extraordinarily holy laywoman, as well as a Third Order Franciscan, who displayed a great devotion to Jesus and the Church. She truly lived as a “Servant of God.” After an investigative period for some years after her death, the Vatican officially opened proceedings for her beatification on February 13, 2005 by Bishop Gerhard Mueller of Regensburg, Germany. The process remains open to this day.

Regardless of the Church’s final ruling on Therese Neumann, we must recognize that the mystical component of her life falls squarely under private revelation, which no one in the Church is forced to accept. The Catechism states in no uncertain terms that the deposit of faith is closed, and there will be no further public revelation. (CCC 67) In certain limited instances the authority of the Church recognizes private revelations that are in line with magisterial teachings, in order to help the faithful “live more fully” the gospel. The Church obviously treads very carefully in these matters, so as to root out frauds and impostors. Indeed, the focus should never be directed towards sensationalism, but always towards faithful obedience to Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Still, in reviewing Therese Neumann’s purported mystical gifts, we may find inspiration for our own lives.

Therese was a stigmatist, that is, she bore the wounds of Christ on her own body. There have been numerous people in the history of the Church who have officially had the sacred stigmata, including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio, and perhaps even St. Paul himself, as he suggests in his letter to the Galatians. (Gal. 6:17) In March 1926, during Lent, as Therese began to have ecstatic visions of Jesus in His Passion, she concurrently began to have the stigmata. The wounds of Christ began to appear on successive Fridays: first the wound to her side, just over her heart; then the next Friday, the wounds to her hands; and finally, on Good Friday, all five wounds. Months later, on Friday November 5, 1926, Therese received the full complement of Jesus’ wounds from His Passion: holes in both hands; holes in both feet; the wound to the side above her heart; nine wounds around her head from the crown of thorns; and wounds to her shoulders and back from the scourging and the Cross. It is estimated that she bore at least 45 wounds in total, meaning she bore the full wounds of Christ’s Passion, not just the Crucifixion. Perhaps even more shocking, the wounds never left her from that moment in 1926 until her death in 1962. As one biographer, Adalbert Vogl, put it, “Not one of the wounds ever disappeared; they never healed, and they were still imprinted on her body at the time of her death.”

Therese’s sufferings and visions conformed exactly to the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church. Just as she received the wounds of the Crucifixion on Good Friday, so also were her visions and ecstasies aligned to the liturgical calendar. For example, when she initially received the sacred stigmata, it was during the liturgical season of Lent. Although Therese had the wounds of the Passion for the rest of her life, she only experienced the ecstasies of the Passion on Fridays, and only on Fridays during Lent and Advent, and on some of the sorrowful octaves. Thus, her experience of the Passion was connected only to the relevant liturgical days, and never during joyful seasons, such as Christmas or Easter. On the Fridays when she did not endure the Passion ecstasy, she would have a vision of the death or martyrdom of the saint whose feast day it happened to be, in recognition of the liturgical calendar. On All Saints Day, November 1st, she would have a 24-hour ecstasy and see souls of saints from Heaven, and similarly on All Soul’s Day, November 2nd, she saw saints from Purgatory. Based on the timing of the mystical experiences of Therese Neumann, it seems heaven honors with great respect the liturgical calendar; perhaps we should pay close attention to this as well.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Therese Neumann’s mystical experiences is that she evidently lived without food or water for much of her life. This supernatural phenomenon is known as inedia. It is not unheard of in ecclesiastical history, particularly with stigmatists, as reported in the life of St. Catherine of Siena, who supposedly ate no food for the last seven years of her life. Therese herself stopped eating food in 1922, and then stopped drinking nearly all water in 1926, and continued this way until her death in 1962. Her sole sustenance for 36 years was the Holy Eucharist. As part of this experience, she had no desire whatsoever to eat food or drink water. Solid food or liquids would be immediately expelled from her body, save her daily Holy Communion. Her physical sustenance depended directly on her reception of the Eucharist. If she did not receive the Eucharist on a given day, she would have an extreme hunger and fatigue until she received Him. Once when asked how she could live just on the Eucharist alone, she responded, “The Savior can do all things. Did He not say that “My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink?”” (Jn. 6:55)

For 15 days in 1927, Therese was placed under strict observation and investigation at the behest of the Archbishop of Regensburg. The investigation was directed by a non-Catholic professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Ewald, and a prominent Catholic physician, Dr. Seidl, as well as four nuns, who were trained nurses. Their strict instructions were to work in two-person teams, never leaving Therese alone, day or night. They were to record, measure and photograph everything that happened over the course of the investigation. At the end Dr. Ewald reported Therese’s complete abstinence from food and minimal water intake to swallow Communion (about 45cc of water, although this was apparently discharged too). Despite losing some weight around the time of her Passion ecstasy, she then regained the weight back over the next few days. Her weight was the same, 121 lbs., on July 28th as it had been on July 13th, despite not eating anything.

The supernatural phenomenon of inedia highlights in a literal way the words of the Lord regarding the Bread of Life. Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger; and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) There seems to be a mystical connection between the sacred stigmata and embracing the Passion of Jesus, and inedia and living strictly off the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. In consuming the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, His Passion and sacrifice of the Cross may come to life in the events of our ordinary lives. In some extreme instances, the Passion and sacrifice of Christ come to life in an individual’s life in an extraordinary way, such as with Therese Neumann. The Eucharistic life is a life of redemptive and vicarious suffering. It is an embrace of the Cross of Christ. Therese Neumann lived this life of divine union par excellence. As St. Paul said “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20) This suffering is not without meaning. We know that we who suffer with Christ, for this short while, will also rise with Him to eternal life.

Jesus and the Fulfillment of the Jewish Fall Feasts – October 18, 2016

“Spiritually we are all Semites.” Thus spoke Pope Pius XI on the eve of World War II, as Nazi Germany was about to launch its fateful war and Final Solution against the Jewish people. His words of solidarity are, of course, manifestly true. Christianity grew directly out of Judaism. Jesus was an observant Jew. The scriptures, the beliefs, and the rituals are all intertwined and interconnected between old and new. It is for this reason that St. Augustine can say, “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” (CCC 129) Christian theologians refer to this biblical prefiguring and foreshadowing as typology. There is a unity in the divine plan linking the progressive stages of salvation history. The Old Testament, in its symbols and rituals, point to the Messiah, while the New Testament fulfills all of these in the person of Jesus Christ. In speaking of the law and the prophets, Jesus Himself said plainly, “I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt. 5:17)

This typology is evident in the Jewish memorial feast days. They are generally broken up into two seasons, the spring feasts and the fall feasts. They anticipated and foreshadowed Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the Last Supper, the Eucharist, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The feasts prepared Israel for the Incarnation. God obligated centuries of faithful observance of these feasts to place the seeds of understanding in the minds of Israel to prepare them to accept the Son of God when He finally was born into the world. While we as Christians no longer celebrate these Jewish feasts, they are still part of our common Judeo-Christian lineage. Jesus chose these major Jewish feasts to fulfill the central parts of His mission. As the catechism teaches, “His public ministry itself was patterned by His pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the great Jewish feasts.” (CCC 583) Jesus was formed by the feasts, and in fact, the central events of His life gave ultimate meaning to the feasts. (CCC 592)

The primary focus of the Jewish feasts was to prefigure the coming of Jesus. This is true of the fall feasts of Yom Kippur and Sukkot (Oct. 16-23rd this year). Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is primarily a prefiguring of Calvary. One of the most important aspects of Yom Kippur is the idea of the scapegoat. This is the one and only time of the year when the high priest would go behind the veil in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, dare to utter the name of God, the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, and offer the sacrifice of two goats. Upon one goat, the high priest placed his hands while confessing all the sins of Israel, symbolically conferring the sin to the goat. It was then sent off into the wilderness to die. The other goat was sacrificed, and the high priest sprinkled its blood upon the mercy seat in the Holy Holies. The high priest then came out and announced, “It is done.” This has clear similarities with the paschal lamb, and again, a foreshadowing of Christ and His last words from the Cross “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30)

Calvary, of course, was sacramentalized in the Last Supper. The Mass became the feast of the new and eternal covenant. Just as the high priest entered the Temple and offered the sacrifice of goats, so too, does Christ enter the heavenly sanctuary and offer the sacrifice of Himself to the Father on behalf of our sins. The high priest of Yom Kippur is a ‘type’ of the true and eternal high priest of Christ in heaven. Christ Himself is both the high priest and the sacrifice. As the letter to the Hebrews states, “He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:12) If God accepted Israel’s sacrifice of goats, as mere symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, how much more efficacious is the actual sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood? The Day of Atonement finds its ultimate meaning in Calvary, and each Mass is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.

In this regard, Jewish tradition documents a miraculous event pertaining to Yom Kippur. In both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, they record that there was a scarlet cloth or strap tied to the scapegoat on Yom Kippur, as part of the sin offering. A thread from the crimson cloth was later tied to the Temple door. According to the Talmudic anecdote, every year when the goat was sacrificed, the thread would miraculously turn white, in recognition of God accepting their sin offering. One is reminded of Isaiah’s scripture “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Is. 1:18) Yet, as recorded in both Talmuds, this stopped happening some forty years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. This would have been about the time of Jesus’ crucifixion in 30 A.D. The scapegoat was no longer accepted in atonement for sin, but was superseded now by the sacrifice of Christ.

In contrast to Yom Kippur, the last fall feast is a little bit different. It is the joyous feast of Tabernacles, also known as the feast of Booths, or simply, Sukkot. Sukkot is the road map for the Church. It is ironic to call Sukkot a road map because it commemorates when the Israelites wandered seemingly aimlessly through the desert for forty years! But, their wanderings are representative of our wanderings as pilgrims on this earth. Just as the Israelites crossed the waters of the Red Sea and the evil Pharaoh was killed, so too, do we pass into new life through the waters of Baptism and sin is removed. Yet, the Israelites did not immediately make it to the Promised Land. Rather, they traveled in the desert wilderness for forty years with God leading them, who as “the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Ex. 13:22) For forty years, God sustained them in the desert. Sukkot is a roadmap because it reveals God’s plan to sustain us.

It is in this intermediary period that we find ourselves today, as travelers in the desert wilderness of life. Sukkot reveals that we must stay close to God, and be fed with the supernatural manna from heaven, and the water of the rock. The Israelites ate manna from heaven each day. As Moses said of the manna on the morning dew, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” (Ex. 16:15) This immediately reminds us of Jesus’ discourse on the Bread of Life. The Pharisees demanded a sign from Jesus, citing the miraculous manna from heaven story, but He answered them saying, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn. 6:35) Jesus reveals that He is the new manna from heaven, the Eucharist, which sustains us until we reach the eternal Promised Land.

God also quenched the thirst of the Israelites with the water from the rock. Sukkot commemorates Moses striking the rock in the desert and water coming out for the Israelites to drink. St. Paul tells us this rock and water was Christ. He says, “For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:4) In the time of the Temple, the priests would make a procession to the Pool of Siloam and draw water out with a golden pitcher. The high priest would then pour the water out on the altar in the Temple while reciting the verse from Isaiah, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Is. 12:3) This was to celebrate the days of the Messiah when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all of Israel.

It was at the climax of the feast of Booths, on the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, that scripture declares, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (Jn. 7:37-38) Jesus is telling them that He is the living water that is symbolized in this Temple ceremony. The living water is the Holy Spirit, and the sanctifying grace in faith and the sacraments, particularly the waters of Baptism. This is also reminiscent of Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14) The Holy Spirit and the sacraments are the fulfillment of the water ceremony in the feast of Booths. This is our spiritual water from the rock, to sustain us in this age of the Church, from Christ’s first coming to His second coming.

Sukkot also has a deeper eschatological meaning to it. During the exodus, the Israelites had no permanent abodes. So, during Sukkot, the Jews commemorated this by building temporary “booths” or “huts” outside their house, and covering them with leafy branches or palms. The roofs were not supposed to be perfect but have openings, so they could view the stars at night. This again is allegory to us. Our lives are also imperfect, but in much the same way, we can look up to heaven and yearn for our permanent home with God. Scripture reminds us that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth… seeking a homeland.” (Heb. 11:13-14) It is perhaps fitting, then, that Jesus likely chose the feast of Booths to reveal His glory to the Apostles in His Transfiguration. (see Mt. 17:4) The Transfiguration gives us a glimpse and hope of the glory of God to come.

Thus, the Jewish feasts were a foreshadowing of Christ, and Christ fulfilled them with His life. They point to eternal truths of God and the Incarnation. The signs and symbols of the feasts were fulfilled in reality with the coming of Jesus the Messiah and the foundation of His Church. We no longer anticipate the coming of the final sacrifice in the paschal lamb or the scapegoat or the pouring out of water in the Temple. The Temple itself is no longer necessary, because we ourselves have become the temple of God. The Jewish feasts have been superseded by the sacramental reality. However, the feasts are still metaphorical roadmaps for us. We are to survive on the food God provides in the Eucharist and the water God provides with the Holy Spirit and the sacraments. We continue to learn the faith now through the celebration of the Catholic liturgical calendar, with its sets of feasts, and festivals and fasts. The primordial feast remains the Sabbath, or to Christians, the Lord’s Day, Sunday. It is the day set aside each week for rest and worship offered to God. The Mass is the foundational liturgical celebration of the Church. It anticipates the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. This is our manna from heaven and our life giving water. Indeed, if but we believe, the sacramental life of the Church will sustain us, through our temporary wandering in this desert wilderness, to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Burning Passion of St. Francis – October 4, 2016

On his deathbed, Lenin reportedly uttered, “To save our Russia, what we needed . . . was ten Francises of Assisi.” Lenin was right: St. Francis of Assisi is one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church. Almost single-handedly, he helped revive the medieval Church in the 13th century with the foundation of his mendicant Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans. He had many preternatural gifts as a mystic, healer, and leader, as well as a special symbiosis with nature. It is not surprising that Dante dedicated a canto in Paradiso to St. Francis, calling him a “prince” who “was all Seraphic in his ardour.” More than these great many gifts, however, St. Francis’ success was rooted in his desire, to live a life in imitation of Jesus Christ, particularly the crucified Christ. Many people today erroneously think of St. Francis as a sandal-wearing, milquetoast peacenik whose greatest legacy was in gracing birdbaths everywhere. Rather, St. Francis lived a life of radical conformity and divine union to the sacrificial life of Christ. In retracing the life of St. Francis, we can see how his divine union with Christ grew and developed through successive stages of personal martyrdom.

As with many young people, especially those coming from a wealthy family, Francis in his youth was given to follow the vanities of life. Tradition holds that he loved wine, food, and feasts, and lived a life of indulgence. The lyric poems of troubadours and wandering minstrels also held sway over his imagination. Perhaps they sparked his daydreams of becoming a gallant knight, fighting chivalrously in a far off crusade. In fact, it was not long before the high-minded youth was caught up in a skirmish in 1202 against the nearby rival city of Perugia. In the battle the young Francis was wounded and taken captive. He was held in prison for a year, during which time he developed a long and protracted illness. Eventually, after his release and his continuing maladies, his thoughts began to turn away from knightly adventures and worldly desires. He then began to spend long hours in intense prayer, religious exercises, and in the contemplation of God. This was his first conversion.

It was in this period that Francis had a miraculous encounter with a leper. He had discerned in prayer that God wished him to deny himself and conquer his self-will. To this end, his conscience was tugging at him about his strong aversion and disgust of lepers. One day, tradition has it that while he was riding through the countryside, he came upon a leper. Recalling his resolution, he approached the afflicted person, gave him some alms, and kissed his diseased hand. Upon remounting his horse, he turned to look back at the person, but no one was there. From this point on, Francis began to visit and minister to lepers in hospitals and other undesirable places, washing their sores, kissing them, and eating with them. With this, he began his process of detachment from himself.

While praying intently in a chapel at San Damiano in 1205, and kneeling devoutly before a large Byzantine crucifix, Francis heard the voice of Jesus. He saw the lips on the image of Jesus move and heard the voice of Jesus say to him, “Francis, go, repair My house, which as you can see, is falling completely to ruin.” Three times Jesus spoke this to him. Francis was overwhelmed by the miraculous vision, and sought at once to repair, literally, the chapel at San Damiano. Initially he sold some of his father’s possessions to pay for the repairs at the chapel. Later, under direction from the Bishop, he understood that it was wrong for him to have taken his father’s wealth. At last, to the astonishment of the Bishop, his father, and many witnesses, Francis stripped his fine garments off piece by piece, and renounced all his possessions, save a hair shirt he had on. With this nakedness, Francis officially detached himself from his father and the world, and embraced a life of poverty.

For several years Francis lived in a small cottage, in an intense life of prayer and severe bodily discipline. He also begged for money to continue repairs to the chapel and other churches. After repairing San Damiano, he moved on to repair San Pietro della Spina, and then, the Portiuncula, or Little Portion, dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels. St. Bonaventure later recounted that Francis’ restoration of these three churches symbolized the three orders he would later establish: the Order of Friars Minor, the Poor Clares for women, and the Third Order of St. Francis for the laity. During mass at the Portiuncula, he heard the gospel reading, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” (Lk. 9:3) This made a profound impact upon Francis as if Jesus Himself had commissioned him. He set off with only a common peasant’s tunic tied by a cord, to preach the good news of penance and salvation to all he met.

Francis, the “poor man of Assisi,” continued to live the life of renouncement and poverty. With Francis’ tremendous charisma and preaching, he soon began to develop a large group of followers. They too were converted to a life of radical poverty of Christ, of begging and serving the poor and preaching the Gospel. Their life of self-martyrdom consisted of mortifications, penances, and prayer. In 1209, after Pope Innocent III had a remarkably vivid dream of Francis holding up the papal Lateran Basilica, he gave approval to the first Rule of the Order. They had tonsured haircuts and an austere habit made of coarse grey cloth with a pointed hood and a knotted cord around their waist. Francis was also ordained a deacon; in his profound humility, he did not deem himself worthy to be ordained a priest. Once his Order was established, the friars lived by the rules of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Roman Catholic Church.

Francis also sought to evangelize others and save souls, which manifested itself in his missionary work. In 1219, Francis travelled with the crusaders to Egypt, but not as a knight in battle as he had imagined in his youth, but now as a missionary for Christ. Pope Honorius III had enacted the Fifth Crusade to retake the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Since his initial conversion, Francis had been living a life of spiritual martyrdom and physical mortifications. Now, with the crusaders surrounding the Egyptian city of Damietta on the edge of Cairo, Francis was prepared to offer up his life as a true martyr for Christ. After warning the crusaders that they would lose the battle and suffer horrible losses, they attacked anyway. Once the Muslim forces won the battle, with some 5,000 crusaders killed and another 1,000 taken prisoner, a truce was called. It was at this time with the battle barely simmered down that Francis and one of his companions were permitted to enter the camp of the Saracens and approach the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil.

Francis boldly entered enemy territory, prepared to die, armed only with his zeal to save souls. He was immediately beaten and chained by the Saracens, and brought before the Sultan. There, he informed the Sultan that he came as a messenger of God to reveal the truth of Christianity and save the Sultan’s soul. Despite the Imams’ urging to cut off Francis’ head, the Sultan was moved by Francis’ concern for the Sultan’s eternal salvation. One of Francis’ companions described the Sultan, “that cruel beast,” who in response to Francis, “became sweetness itself.” By God’s grace, Francis was allowed to stay for weeks in the court of the Sultan, discussing theology and evangelizing him. The Sultan refused to convert to Christianity, at least publicly and be killed by his followers, so Francis eventually returned to the crusader encampment, undoubtedly to their amazement. According to oral tradition, the Sultan converted on his deathbed and embraced the faith of St. Francis. Francis’ companion, Brother Illuminato, said that after hearing Francis preach, the Sultan “always had the Christian faith imprinted in his heart.” As a lasting legacy of Francis’ encounter, the Franciscans were later made custodians of the Christian holy sites in the Holy Land and Middle East, a position they still hold today. After his brush with martyrdom, St. Francis updated the Order’s Rule of 1221, Regula non Bullata, chapter XVI, on travelling and evangelizing in Muslim territory by quoting the Lord thusly: “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves.” (Mt. 10:16) His recommendation was to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ, even if it meant persecution and death.

In 1224, St. Francis climbed a remote mountain La Verna for a forty-day fast and spiritual retreat for the feast of St. Michael. On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14th, while contemplating the passion and death of Christ, St. Francis had a vision of a six-winged Seraphim fixed on a cross and flying towards him. As it came closer, he recognized that it was Jesus with his hands and feet nailed to the cross. St. Francis understood the vision to mean that he himself would be transformed by his seraphic love of God into a perfect image of the crucified Christ. Waking from the vision, St. Francis found he had received Christ’s wounds into his very own body, holes in his hands and feet, and a wound in his side. He had received the sacred stigmata as a testament to the oneness of spirit he had with Christ, recalling the words of St. Paul, perhaps the Church’s first stigmatist, “For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal. 6:17) For the next two years until his death, St. Francis bore the stigmata as a sign for all, enduring this painful martyrdom supernaturally manifested in perfect unity with Christ’s passion.

St. Francis embraced his sufferings out of love for God and his neighbor. St. Bonaventure quotes him as saying, “Nothing would make me more happy than to have you afflict me with pain and not spare me. Doing your will is consolation enough, and more than enough, for me.” It was at this point that the saint composed his “Canticle of Brother Sun,” including the line “May thou be praised, my Lord, for those who forgive for the sake of They love and endure infirmity and tribulation.” Having trouble walking from the wounds in his feet, and his eyes now nearly blind, the little poor man of Assisi approached death on the evening of October 3, 1226. In recollection of his initial conversion, and in perfect imitation with the poverty and death of the Lord, he asked to be placed naked on the ground in anticipation of his own death. With his dying breaths, St. Francis implored his followers to hold fast to the Gospel and the faith of the Church. With that, he entered into his eternal reward.

In meditating on the life of St. Francis we are reminded of the stages of martyrdom he went through in his life, from renouncing his wealth and possessions, to serving lepers and the poor, to placing himself in danger by evangelizing Muslims, to suffering through infirmities, to eventually receiving the very wounds of Christ Himself with the stigmata. As much as anyone in the history of the Church, he imaged Christ perfectly. St. Francis believed in a life of sacrifice, poverty, and humility. It was St. Francis’ seraphic love and humility that led him to create the first creche, or manger scene, in its beautiful simplicity and reverence on one Christmas night for midnight mass. He lived his whole life out of this great love for the Lord, in imitation of the life of Christ. He also believed that vicarious and redemptive suffering, when offered to God, can be meritorious for the salvation of souls. His concern for the salvation of all souls was central to his life. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are all called to complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ and share in His redemptive work, for as Jesus said, “where I am, there shall My servant be also.” (Jn. 12:26) Let us be there now, with St. Francis, our brother, as we honor him on his feast day.

The Holy Name of God – September 18, 2016

According to Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the recently passed Chief Exorcist of Rome, who has performed seventy thousand exorcisms, demons generally do not and cannot say holy names. Instead, they call Jesus “he” or “your Boss.” If our most abhorrent spiritual enemies shudder at the idea of speaking the holy name of God, why then do we say it with such carelessness and recklessness? It seems everywhere these days people take the name of God in vain. It should stop us in our tracks whenever we hear it. It is after all the Second Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” (Ex. 20:7) included among the other Ten Commandments like “you shall not kill,” “you shall not commit adultery,” and “you shall not steal.” Taking the Lord’s name in vain, if done with full knowledge and consent, is blasphemy. That makes it a mortal sin, which could send a soul to hell. This echoes the warning from Jesus, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37) We should be very careful to heed the Second Commandment and treat the holy name of God with the utmost reverence and respect.

In Hebrew tradition, names are not merely labels but are linked inseparably to the identity of the person. When Jesus chose Simon to be the foundation of His church, He gave him a new name, Peter, from the word for “rock.” In this Jewish understanding, names reveal the identity and essence of a person. The catechism builds upon this saying, “Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person.” (CCC 2157) Yet, God had not revealed His name, even to the Patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was not until Moses comes to the burning bush on Mount Horeb that God reveals His name to His people. After God gives His mission to Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses says if they ask me, “‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” (Ex. 3:13-14) God reveals the divine name, Yahweh, to Moses and Israel, and establishes a personal relationship with them as their God. God’s name “I Am” reveals that He is existence and being itself. Later, after Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, he again comes before God on the top of a mountain. Yahweh is wrapped in smoke and fire, and lightning and trumpet blasts, as Mount Sinai quakes and trembles at His presence. It was here, in that terrifying scene, that Moses receives the Ten Commandments, and the voice of Yahweh speaks in thunder, commanding humanity not take His name in vain, for “the Lord will not hold him guiltless.” (Ex. 20:7) To this day, religious Jews will not speak the name of God, but instead refer to Him as Adonai (Lord), or simply “Ha Shem” (the Name).

The revealing of God’s name to man is a sign of trust and intimacy. (CCC 2143) It is part of His sacred mystery in revealing Himself to us. It is not a surprise then that Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would give birth to the Messiah, and His name would be Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” (Is. 7:14) In fulfillment of this, when the Virgin Mary was pregnant, an angel revealed to Joseph in a dream that they should name the child Jesus, “for he will save His people from their sins.” (Mt. 1:21) Jesus Himself claimed equality with the name of Yahweh. He tells the Pharisees who are questioning Him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am.” (Jn. 8:58) Jesus claims He is one with God, the I Am. As such, the name of Jesus is synonymous with the name of God. Jesus is God. It is because of this that St. Paul writes “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil. 2:10) For, the very name of Jesus is imbued with power. All who call upon the name of Jesus Christ will be saved. (Acts 4:12) In the “Our Father” prayer, Jesus teaches us how to pray and the importance of God’s name. He starts it with “hallowed be Thy name.” We should hold the name of God in reverence, adoration, and praise. Jesus similarly warns us not to take any oath by the name of God lest we be judged for failing to meet the promise. (Mt. 5:34)

The name of Jesus Christ is powerful and efficacious enough to bring grace in Baptism and cast out demons in those who are possessed. In Jesus’ final instruction to His disciples He commands them to baptize all people in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:19) The name of God is associated with the sacrament of initiation into the Church. It is in the rite of Baptism too that a minor rite of exorcism is performed. Jesus tells His disciples “in My name they will cast out demons.” (Mk. 16:17) Jesus Himself performed many exorcisms casting out demons by His own authority, leaving many in amazement at the power of His word. (Lk. 4:36) Jesus’ disciples similarly cast of demons through the power of Jesus’ name, as St. Paul did. (Acts 16:18) The power of Jesus’ name is not something relegated just to the pages of the Bible either. As modern day exorcists attest, they are able to command the demonic spirits in the midst of exorcisms by invoking the authority and power of the name of Jesus Christ. As exorcist Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea explains, “Rather than asking the demon anything, the priest orders or commands him in the name of Jesus.” With this authority, the demon, under the guise of the possessed person, is forced to submit to the name of Jesus. This confirms the disciples’ joyful exclamation “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” (Lk. 10:17)

The name of God and Jesus Christ are holy and powerful, and we should take great care not to utter them carelessly or profanely. The name of God is the means of our sanctification, consecration, and salvation. It should be spoken in prayer, worship and praise, not in idle or empty talk, and most certainly not as a curse word! Even as found on social media in everyday expressions, like OMG, this similarly expresses a lack of respect towards the holy name of God. It is interesting that that phrase is almost like a mocking of the first words of the Act of Contrition that we say in Confession, “O My God… I am heartily sorry for having offended You.” I find it deeply offensive, on behalf of how I am sure God feels, when I hear someone say the name of God in vain or curse using His name. I prefer to say a small prayer in reparation for this offense against God and for the person who said it, something like “Sit nomen Domini benedictum,” or “blessed be the name of the Lord.” Rather than using the Lord’s name in vain, we should consecrate all of our words and deeds in the name of Jesus. (Col. 3:17) He is our hope, for “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:13) We know too that Jesus calls each of us, His sheep, by name (Jn. 10:3) If we follow Him, God will inscribe His name on our foreheads, sealing us as His for all eternity. (Rev. 14:1) This is His promise of eternal life and our hope for Heaven. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

We All Need Leisure – August 1, 2016

“No philosopher has ever been able to grasp the being of a single fly,” pondered St. Thomas Aquinas. The scientist ceases to wonder when he receives his results. Yet, those who philosophize and contemplate the nature of the world, reality, and God, can never fully comprehend, and never cease to wonder. To contemplate spiritual and eternal things is to wonder and to hope, never fully grasp the infinite nature of God. The philosopher Josef Pieper calls this wonder and holy puzzlement “leisure.” Leisure, he says, is the basis for all culture. Derived from the same word, the ancient Greek “skole” means to educate or to teach.. They understood that the idea of leisure as something more than our limited interpretation today.

Here in the summer month of July and heading into the dog days of summer, with families focused on vacations, cookouts, swimming and the beach, taking a break from work, it is fitting to reflect upon leisure. What is leisure? To Pieper, leisure is not a break from an activity or a distraction, but a state of the soul. It is a contemplative and spiritual attitude consisting of an inner silence. It is receptivity to the world and an embrace of who we truly are.

One unfortunate tendency of the modern age is to idolize work. In the West, we tend towards careerism, to be workaholics. On the other side, under Communism and Marxist rule, all of life was oriented towards “the worker,” with all activities focused on material economics and work itself. In either extreme, the idea of the worker becomes an idol, and work becomes idolatry. The person lives to work, rather than work to live. The dignity of man and his personhood is subsumed under his utility. How useful is he to society? Utilitarianism is the ultimate purpose of the worker. There is no higher dignity, no contemplation of God, no comprehension of spiritual things. In short, no leisure.

It was not always so. Although modern philosophy and science focuses primarily upon utilitarian ends, the ancient Greeks and Romans considered liberal arts an end in themselves. In our current times the “hard sciences” of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, engineering, and medicine are favored culturally, and monetarily, over the “soft sciences” of philosophy and theology. The Aristotelian and Thomistic views of knowledge, however, focused not exclusively on the empirical senses, but also on a broader spiritual base of knowledge. Knowledge to them meant more than materialism, but also an understanding of ultimate things. It does not necessarily need function or utility, and the worker does not need to be tied to the State or production. Pieper called this the “de-proletariarizing” of the worker. Higher work and higher knowledge in ancient times were generally non-utilitarian and spiritual in nature.

Leisure is a form of rest. It does not necessarily mean “non-work.” It is an attitude of the mind, a state of the soul, whether working or not working. It does not imply that work is bad. God commanded man in the book of Genesis to work, then declaring, “it was good.” Work is good, but God also gives us the Sabbath. Sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word for rest. In the Creation story, on the seventh day, God rested. God commands us to rest on the seventh day as well and observe the Sabbath by doing no work. It is not a rule whimsically imposed on us by God. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man,” or, in other words, for our benefit. Rest in this Judeo-Christian sense does not mean to do nothing. It means to engage in restful contemplation and thanksgiving towards God. We are to worship in awe at all that God has created and wrought for us. As the psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

Leisure involves true knowledge. It involves recognition of who we truly are, in light of the knowledge of God. We can rest and be still in the knowledge that God created us, redeemed us, and it is to Him that we are ultimately to return home for eternity. This is the peaceful spirit of leisure that should inform our lives whether we are working or not working. The spirit of leisure can be our constant state of mind.

The ancient philosophers also had a term for idleness, “acedia.” It was not meant in the modern notion of laziness, or a lack of work or activity, but rather a sense of restlessness. It is a restlessness of our being when we refuse to receive God’s command to rest in Him. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Him.” The restlessness of acedia is to ignore the third Commandment to observe the Sabbath, and take our rest in God. When we refuse God’s rest, we will remain in a spirit of restlessness. Jesus renews the gift of the Sabbath: “Come to Me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… For My yoke is easy and burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28, 30) Jesus here is speaking of leisure of the soul.

Whether we are steeped in work or driven to distraction, God calls us first and foremost to rest in Him. This is our true leisure. We are not called to withdraw from the world, but rather, to fully reconnect to reality. The term religion comes from the Latin “religare” meaning to bind or to connect. When we engage in religion, and specifically the Church and the Mass, we are re-engaging with God, with spiritual things, with reality and ourselves, who we truly are. This is our leisure. Leisure is that briefest of glimpses of eternal rest when we will, with awe and wonder, behold the Beatific Vision.

This summer as we take our vacations, let us remember to embrace leisure in our minds, for we are not made for work alone. We are made for God. As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote of being “contemplatives in the midst of the world,” we can seek leisure in the midst of all our summer activities, as we orient all of our work and relaxation towards its proper end, with the true knowledge of God and of ourselves. In so doing, we will use our work and our rest to “consecrate the world itself to God.” (Lumen Gentium, 34)

St. Irenaeus and the Gnostics – June 28, 2016

How common is it today to hear someone say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” A very Gnostic-esque statement. One need only to glance at your local bookstore’s religion shelves to see that Gnosticism, that ancient heresy and foe of Christianity, is alive and well in the modern world. There you would find a smorgasbord of spirituality, with topics on “New Age,” transcendentalism, astrology, reincarnation, and ways of attaining a “secret knowledge.” Cults and belief systems for attaining secret knowledge, or gnosis, were all the rage back in the second century as well. Gnostic sects were in direct competition with the nascent Christian Church. It was amidst the threat of Gnosticism that perhaps the greatest Church Father of the second century emerged, Saint Irenaeus.

Irenaeus was born in 130 A.D. in Smyrna (modern day Turkey), and died in 202 A.D. in Lyons, France, where he had become the bishop. In his youth Irenaeus was a disciple of Saint Polycarp, who was martyred in 155 A.D, but who had himself been a disciple of the Apostle Saint John the Evangelist. Thus, Irenaeus’ close historical connection to John lends a distinct apostolic credence and weight to all his writings. His greatest work is the massive five-volume set of books Adversus Haereses, or Against Heresies, a refutation of the doctrines of Gnosticism. In addition to his close proximity to John and the Apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus’ writings are all thoroughly Catholic. It is as if we are reading the modern Catechism (on such topics as the Real Presence of the Jesus in the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass, Apostolic succession, and Mariology) inserted within the second century.

The heretical Gnostic movements led Irenaeus to develop Church sacramental theology and Christology, or an understanding of exactly who Christ is. Irenaeus developed the idea of the necessity of a bodily atonement and redemption through Jesus’ sacred humanity. This is simply the “Recapitulation theory of Atonement.” In order to understand this better, we should first look at the false teachings of Gnosticism.

The Gnostic sects emphasized a secret, pseudo-mystical knowledge that had to be gained for salvation, and generally reserved only for the few who were deemed spiritually worthy. As such, Gnosticism became associated with elitism. Most Gnostic myths, relying heavily upon Greek pagan philosophy, taught that worldly things were created by a wicked demi-god, Demiurge, and thus, evil. The evil material universe is then at odds with the goodness of the Supreme Creator and the spiritual world. Gnosticism descended into a form of Dualism, where the body and all matter are evil, and all that is spiritual is good. The world, and all that is in it, is to be rejected. Man is seen as a spark from the spiritual God, but entrapped in the evil material world and imprisoned in the body.

This is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christianity. Man is not simply a spiritual being, who discards the body at death. Man is a composite being of body and soul. In the Book of Genesis, God calls all creation “good,” and later, on the sixth day, when God creates Man, He calls him “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Orthodox Christianity’s major objection to Gnosticism focused around its denial of the goodness of the material world. St. Irenaeus fought such heresies vigorously, including the denial of the physical atonement of Jesus as well as the rejection of the material sacraments.

Before long, the Gnostics had devolved into a form of Docetism that denied the corporeal incarnation of God into the world. To them, Jesus only “appeared” to be human, and wore a body like a mask or shell. By their beliefs, it made no sense that God would enter into an evil material universe.

Irenaeus, in response, seized upon the teachings of St. Paul that Christ did unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph. 1:10) St. Irenaeus taught that Christ had to enter into the world, and into humanity, in order to atone for the sins of the world and redeem humanity. In his theory of Atonement by Recapitulation, Irenaeus says, “The Word, becoming man, recapitulates all things in Himself, so that just as the Word is foremost in things super-celestial, spiritual, and invisible, so also in things visible and corporeal He might have the primacy.” Jesus lived a life in the body like one of us, redeeming our humanity through His divine-humanity. Irenaeus goes further in saying that Jesus lived through all the stages of man, from birth, to infancy and childhood, maturity, old age and even unto death, thereby sanctifying all the stages of a man’s life. Here the Catechism concurs stating, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption… and a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 517-518)

Just as the Gnostics professed that God as Spirit would not incarnate into the evil world, so too, according to their belief, would His Spirit neither enter into the material sacraments of the Church. According to their teachings, God would not enter into bread and wine, or water, oil or chrism. St. Irenaeus fought vociferously against this heresy with an explicit defense of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. He writes, “For as the bread from the earth, receiving the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist . . . so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible but have the hope of resurrection into eternity.”

When we say the Apostles’ Creed, we are reminded of the early Church’s constant spiritual battle with Gnosticism. We say God is the creator of heaven “and earth.” Jesus was physically born into the world, physically suffered and died. We believe in the “resurrection of the body.” The Creed reveals a constant push back against those who denied the goodness of the material world, the body, and the corporeal redemption by Jesus. As one of the earliest and greatest defenders of the faith, St. Irenaeus counteracted the polymorphic pagan influences of Gnosticism, dispelling their dualism and wishy-washy spirituality, which St. Paul refers to as the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge.” (1 Tim. 6:20) And so, as we remember St. Irenaeus on his Feast day, June 28th, we should retain the true faith, clinging to the doctrines of our Apostolic religion, believing in the sacred humanity of Jesus, crucified on the Cross, and whose Real Presence is in the Eucharist. May He resurrect us bodily to eternal life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi – Housewife, Mother and Saint – June 9, 2016

Imagine the saint who was a renown healer and a great mystic, who conversed with Jesus and Mary, and was supernaturally gifted by God for 47 years with a miraculous, luminous globe that stayed with her at all times, and in which, she could see nearly all things hidden, present, and in the future. Was this an ascetic monk, or an angelic nun? No, this was Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, an ordinary housewife and mother to seven children. Bl. Anna Maria Taigi lived a saintly life as an ordinary layperson with worldly responsibilities, a spouse and children. Bl. Anna Maria is a great reminder to us that the intimate life of the soul with God is not meant for just the religious and the consecrated, but for all people.

Anna Maria was born on May 29, 1769 in Siena, Italy. She did not have wealth or worldly means. As a young woman she married Dominic Taigi, a pious man but with a rough temper. One day while they were at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Anna Maria was overcome with an inspiration to renounce her worldliness. She had been given over to some vanities, such as clothing and jewelry, but now began a new life of self-renunciation. Her strong interior illumination showed the state of her soul with the effects of sin and its misery before God. With that, she embarked on a life of obedience, mortifications, submission, patience, humility and self-renunciation.

Anna Maria found many opportunities to exercise her spiritual discipline of patience and charity towards her husband and children. She considered marriage one of the greatest missions from Heaven. For 49 years she submitted herself before her husband, keeping peace with him, assuaging his temper, and providing all things for her family. She was the quintessential housewife. She always fulfilled first her duties as wife and as mother, managing the daily activities of her home; cooking and cleaning, and rearing the children, including teaching them to pray. She embraced a martyrdom of humility in submitting herself to all those around her. This was her vocation of extraordinary holiness in the ordinariness of marriage and motherhood.

Yet, even though Anna Maria imposed great penances and mortifications upon herself, she never demanded that from other people. In fact, she tried all the more to serve those around her, especially her family, trying to make them happy and comfortable. Despite her self-sacrifices, she showed great affability to everyone else, including a special compassion and charity for the poor and suffering. She sought above all else to serve God through serving her family and others.

She also devoted herself to the Church, especially to the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion, attending Mass daily. She had a special devotion to our Blessed Mother, and to the Holy Trinity. On December 26, 1808, she entered the Third Order of the Most Holy Trinity as a layperson. She lived a sacramental life in the midst of the world.

Once, she heard the interior voice of Jesus tell her, “The greatest merit consists in being in the midst of the world and yet holding the world under one’s feet.” Jesus also told her, “Virtue consists above all in the mortification of one’s own will.”

The Blessed Virgin spoke to her as well. She told Anna Maria, “You must be devoted above all to doing His will and submitting your own constantly to his in the state of life to which it has pleased Him to call you; therein lies your special vocation.” True virtue is surrendering our will for the love of God in all things.

Jesus called Anna Maria to self-sacrifice and redemptive suffering, to be lived out in the midst of her marriage and motherhood. It was in her ordinary life that she progressed in sanctity and holiness. Blessed Anna Maria Taigi died June 9, 1837, with June 9th now her feast day. Years later, her body was exhumed and found to be uncorrupted. On May 30, 1920, Pope Benedict XV, beatified Anne Maria by declaring her “Blessed,” one-step from official canonization. She is now the patron saint of housewives, mothers, and victims of verbal and spousal abuse.

Blessed Anna Maria Taigi is a saint for the modern age. She reminds us that no matter what our state in life or vocation, layperson, single, married, children or no children, God calls us to renounce our self-love and self-will, abandoning it to the will of God, by submitting it for the good of others, and in this way, strive to be saints within the world.

 

 

 

The Blood and Water of the Sacred Heart of Jesus – June 2, 2016

It was at the Last Supper that John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” reclined on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Jn. 13:23) Just hours later, at the foot of the Cross, it was John again who witnessed Jesus’ Sacred Heart being pierced by a lance. He noted that one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (Jn. 19:34) The early Church Fathers interpret the blood and water sacramentally, as symbols of the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The sacraments and the Church sprung from the wound of Christ’s Heart. St. Augustine makes the connection that just as Eve was drawn from the side of Adam during his “deep sleep” (Gen. 2:21), so too, was the Church, the bride of Christ, drawn from the side of Jesus in His death. It is in the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that the Church is born and sustained. The Church appropriately venerates the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which “He allowed to be pierced by our sins,” as the definitive symbol of divine love towards humanity. (CCC 2669)

The 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas, on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, opens by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who writes about the life-giving waters of the suffering Messiah. Isaiah declares, “You shall draw waters with joy out of the savior’s fountains,” (Is. 12:3) and “every one who thirsts, come to the waters.” (Is. 55:1) The other prophets too, Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, speak of these life-giving waters of the Savior. Jesus Himself quotes the prophets saying that whoever believes in Him “rivers of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn. 7:38) What is this life-giving water? The early Church Fathers recognized the water that flowed from His Sacred Heart as the grace from the sacraments. It is a symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The living water is the sacramental water of Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit cleanses us of sin and comes to dwell within us. Jesus tells Nicodemus we must be born again of “water and spirit,” just as He tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14)

It is not a coincidence that the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes in the liturgical calendar just after Pentecost, commemorating the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the depths of Jesus’ Heart. The feast of the Sacred Heart is also the first Friday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, celebrating the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. This is fitting, as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is part of His physical body. In that sense, when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (H.A. 122) The blood that pours forth from His pierced heart at Calvary symbolizes the “blood of the new covenant” that Jesus offers up at the Last Supper, in which we partake at every Mass.

By the 17th century, the Faith was in tumult, particularly in France, dealing exteriorly with the Protestant Revolution and interiorly with the Jansenist heresy. Jansenism denied the free will of man, advocating that only those predestined by God would receive sanctifying grace. These teachers purported a moral rigorism, resulting in many people being denied Holy Communion due to their faults and sins. It was against the backdrop of this narrow worldview, constricting the sacraments of grace to only a few, that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and said, “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love.” Jesus shows that He offers Himself up, not for a few, but for the love of all people, and desires them to receive Holy Communion frequently. He requested that a feast day be established in honor of His Sacred Heart, and that people should go to Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, as well as regularly keeping Holy Hour adoration. Jesus did, in fact, renew the life of the Church, enlivening the hearts of believers, with this devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Jesus also made a number of famous promises (more than the generally assumed twelve promises) to St. Margaret Mary regarding those who would have a devotion to His Sacred Heart. These included, among others, bringing peace to their families, consoling them in their troubles, granting them all the necessary graces in their lives, helping them become more fervent and perfect in their faith, and inscribing their names on His Heart forever. In a letter from May 1688, St. Margaret Mary wrote about “the Great Promise” that Jesus told to her. He said, I promise you that My all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance.” As wonderful as this promise is, we should remember this is not an automatic guarantee to heaven. We should discern away any superstition involved with this. As Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, writes this is “not magic but the natural consequence of a life lived in union with the Heart of Jesus.” We are not called to superstition, but to devotion.

Our devotion to the Sacred Heart is most fully expressed in our devotion to the Church. The blood and water of the Eucharist and Baptism make us anew. His Spirit dwells within us giving us eternal life. This is the fulfillment of the great prophecy of Ezekiel. The scripture says, “And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 11:19-20) And so it is with us. Our hearts are conformed, and remade, in the sacraments to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As Jesus hung on the Cross, He cried out “I thirst.” In the lens of Christianity, Jesus’ thirst is to save souls. We can in a very real way console the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His thirst to save souls, through our reparation and devotion to His Sacred Heart. (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 13) Properly understood, Baptism and Eucharist transform us, who partake in them, into the Body of Christ. Through the life-giving waters of Jesus we are made clean, and through His body and blood we are transformed. In this, the beloved disciple, St. John, is our example; resting our heads on the breast of Jesus, listening closely to the sublime beats of His Heart, He makes us new creations.

The Blood and Water of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (long version)

It was at the Last Supper that John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” reclined on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Jn. 13:23) Just hours later, at the foot of the Cross, it was John again who witnessed Jesus’ Sacred Heart being pierced by a lance. As he recorded, But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (Jn. 19:34) Modern medicine suggests that Jesus had likely suffered from hemorrhagic shock from the severe scourging and blood loss, which probably caused pericardial fluid to build around His heart. Thus, it is not surprising that when His heart is pierced that blood and water gushed forth. The early Church Fathers interpret this sacramentally, as symbols of the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The sacraments and the Church sprung from the wound of Christ’s Heart. St. Augustine made the connection that just as Eve was drawn from the side of Adam during his “deep sleep” (Gen. 2:21), so too, was the Church, the bride of Christ, drawn from the side of Jesus in His death. It is in the waters of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that the Church is born and sustained. The Church appropriately venerates the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which “He allowed to be pierced by our sins,” as the definitive symbol of divine love. (CCC 2669)

The 1956 encyclical Haurietis Aquas, on the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, opens by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who writes about the life-giving waters of the suffering Messiah. Isaiah declares, “You shall draw waters with joy out of the savior’s fountains,” (Is. 12:3) and “every one who thirsts, come to the waters.” (Is. 55:1) The other prophets too, Joel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, speak of these life-giving waters of the Savior. Jesus Himself quotes the prophets saying that whoever believes in Him “rivers of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn. 7:38) What is this life-giving water? The early Church Fathers recognized the water that flows from His Sacred Heart as the sanctifying grace giving eternal life. It is a symbol of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The living water is the sacramental water of Baptism, in which the Holy Spirit cleanses us of sin and comes to dwell within us. Jesus tells Nicodemus we must be born again of “water and spirit,” just as He tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “..the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14)

It is not a coincidence that the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus comes in the liturgical calendar just after Pentecost, commemorating the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the depths of Jesus’ Heart. The feast of the Sacred Heart is also the first Friday within the Octave of Corpus Christi, celebrating the real presence of Jesus’ body and blood in the Eucharist. This is fitting, as the Sacred Heart of Jesus is part of His physical body. In that sense, when we receive the Eucharist, we are receiving the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (H.A. 122) The blood that pours forth from His pierced heart at Calvary symbolizes the “blood of the new covenant” that Jesus offers up at the Last Supper, and which we partake in at every Mass.

One of the great Eucharistic miracles in the history of the Church is the miracle of Lanciano. This happened in the 700’s in Lanciano, Italy at a monastery, interestingly enough, under the patronage of St. Longinus, who is traditionally believed to be the Roman centurion that pierced Jesus’ side with his lance. In the miracle, a doubting monk was offering up the Sacrifice of the Mass, and at the consecration, the bread and wine turned visibly into real flesh and blood. Although centuries old, and never hermetically sealed or stored with preservatives, the specimens never deteriorated. In 1981, with the permission of the pope, a major scientific examination was done on the relics to determine their true nature. The results came back that the samples are real human blood and flesh. Moreover, the flesh was determined to be myocardium of a heart wall and endocardium tissue of a heart cavity. The Eucharistic miracle revealed true flesh and blood of a human heart.

Yet, in the 17th century Church, particularly in France, human hearts had grown cold and become stony hearts. The faith was in tumult, dealing exteriorly with the Protestant Revolution and interiorly with the Jansenist heresy. Jansenism denied the free will of man, advocating that only those predestined by God would receive sanctifying grace. They taught a moral rigorism, resulting in few people receiving Holy Communion due to their faults and sins. It was in this narrow worldview, constricting the sacraments of grace to only the few, that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque revealing, for all, His Sacred Heart, saying, “Behold this Heart, which has loved men so much, that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify to them Its love.” Jesus shows that He offers Himself up for the love of all people, and desires them to receive Holy Communion frequently. He requested that a feast day be established in honor of His Sacred Heart, and that people should go to Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, as well as regularly keeping Holy Hour adoration. Jesus did, in fact, renew the life of the Church, enlivening the hearts of believers, with this devotion to His Sacred Heart.

Jesus also made a number of famous promises (more than the generally assumed twelve promises) to St. Margaret Mary regarding those who would have a devotion to His Sacred Heart. These included, among others, bringing peace to their families, consoling them in their troubles, granting them all the necessary graces in their lives, helping them become more fervent and perfect in their faith, and inscribing their names on His Heart forever. In a letter from May 1688, St. Margaret Mary wrote about “the Great Promise” that Jesus had spoken to her. He said, I promise you that My all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance.” As wonderful as this promise is, we should remember this is not an automatic guarantee to heaven. We should discern away any superstition involved with this. As Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., the National Director of the Apostleship of Prayer, writes this is “not magic but the natural consequence of a life lived in union with the Heart of Jesus.” We are not called to superstition, but to devotion.

We are called to devotion, and reparation, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As Jesus hung on the Cross, He cried out the first line from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He singles out this psalm specifically because it prophesied about His Crucifixion. Later in the psalm, David writes about Jesus’ heart saying, “I am poured out like water… my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast.” (Ps. 22:14) Yet, as Psalm 22 opens with the affliction of the Messiah, it ends with His victory saying, “May your hearts live for ever!” Jesus also cried out from the Cross “I thirst.” In the context of Christianity, Jesus’ thirst is to save souls. We can in a very real way console the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His thirst to save souls, through our reparation and devotion to His Sacred Heart. (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 13)

This devotion is also related to the Divine Mercy devotion. The Divine Mercy image shows red and white light emanating from Jesus’ Heart. Many have linked this, again, to the blood and water from the piercing of Jesus’ Heart, and the grace from the blood of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism. The Divine Mercy prayer makes this link explicit to Jesus’ Heart: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary, 84) The devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Divine Mercy are very much related and similar, with difference only in emphasis.   

The blood and water that flowed out of Jesus’ Sacred Heart at the Crucifixion remind us of the sacramental and sanctifying grace of the Church. With the blood of the Eucharist for redeeming and the water of Baptism for cleansing, we are brought into supernatural life through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Sacred Heart is the chief symbol of this divine love of the incarnated God and His Sacred Humanity. (H.A. 54) Properly understood, Baptism and Eucharist transform us, who partake in them, into the Body of Christ. This is a fulfillment of the great prophecy of Ezekiel. The scripture says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses… A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you..” (Ez. 36:25-27) Again, Ezekiel says, “And I will give them a new heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will take the stony heart out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.. and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ez. 11:19-20) Through the life-giving waters of Jesus we are made clean, and through His body and blood we are transformed. God gives us a new heart, and a new spirit. Our hearts of stone are transformed through the divine love of His Sacred Heart. The beloved disciple, St. John, is our example; we can rest our heads on the breast of Jesus, listening closely to the sublime beats of His Heart, making us anew.