Tag Archives: Catholic

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.

The Octave of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday – March 25, 2016

Easter Sunday is not the end of our Easter celebration. After forty days of preparation with Lent, and the Easter Triduum, from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, it is easy to miss looking ahead on the Church’s liturgical calendar. This is, after all, the climax of the Christian year with the celebration of the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Catechism calls Easter the “Feast of feasts” and the “Solemnity of solemnities.” Yet, Easter Sunday is actually just the first day of the Easter Octave, the eight-day festal period, in which we continue to celebrate the momentous conclusion to the Paschal mystery and the economy of salvation played out in liturgical time. The eight days of the Easter Octave are a special time to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection and more deeply contemplate its mysteries. The Church punctuates the special importance of this feast by assigning it the highest liturgical ranking, that is, as a Privileged Octave of the First Order. This means each of the eight days is counted as a solemnity, the highest-ranking feast day, in which no other feast can be celebrated. It begins the fifty days of the Easter celebration to the feast of Pentecost, but these first eight days of the Easter Octave culminate with the second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday.

It is entirely fitting that Divine Mercy Sunday is the culmination of the Easter Octave, for as St. Pope John Paul II stated in his Divine Mercy Sunday homily in 2001, “Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity..” Divine mercy is the grace and merit won by Christ on our behalf in His Passion and Resurrection. The grace of Easter naturally flows into Mercy Sunday. Even before the official designation, the Church has historically designated these eight days of Easter to celebrate the Paschal mysteries of divine mercy. The early Church celebrated the Sunday after Easter as the feast day, Dominica in Albis depositis, “the Sunday dressed in white linen.” St. Augustine is attributed to have called it “the compendium of the days of mercy.” Indeed, in his Regina Caeli address on Divine Mercy Sunday on April 26, 1995, Pope John Paul II said “The whole Octave of Easter is like a single day,” and that Octave is “thanksgiving for the goodness God has shown man in the whole Easter mystery.” In these eight feast days, we offer thanksgiving for the divine mercy and salvation wrought for us on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The modern Divine Mercy devotions began with the Polish mystic, St. Faustina Kowalska, who dutifully recorded in her well-known diary, everything that Christ commissioned to her regarding His Divine Mercy. These devotions included the spiritual practices of venerating the image of Divine Mercy, with its simple prayer “Jesus, I trust in You!,” praying the Chaplet and Novena of Divine Mercy, and establishing Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Pope John Paul II said he had felt spiritually “very near” Saint Faustina, and he had “been thinking about her for a long time,” when he began his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, “Rich in Mercy,” in which he calls mercy “love’s second name.” It is not surprising then that he later, on April 30 2000, at the canonization ceremony of St. Faustina, designated the Easter Octave, Divine Mercy Sunday.

It is fitting that Divine Mercy is a continuation of Easter because of its inherently Paschal and Eucharistic imagery. In the Divine Mercy image, Jesus is pictured with two rays of light coming from His heart, one red and one white. These depict the blood and water, which flowed forth from His heart after He was pierced by a lance on the Cross. The red ray of light reminds us of the blood of the Cross, and the blood of the Eucharist; whereas, the white ray of light reminds us of the waters that flowed from His pierced-side, and the waters of Baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The image embodies the Paschal and Eucharistic mysteries.

In the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Novena there are similar Paschal and Eucharistic overtones. In the Divine Mercy prayers we offer up to the Father, the “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity” of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “in atonement for our sins and for those of the whole world.” This hearkens us back to Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the first Mass, offering up His Body and Blood in the Eucharist; and then, on Good Friday, He suffered Bodily and Spiritually in His Passion and Crucifixion. The Divine Mercy prayers walk us through this same prayer language in Paschal and Eucharistic imagery. This is why we pray “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy upon us and the whole world,” for through His suffering, we have gained mercy. The Divine Mercy prayers encapsulate the Paschal mystery and the Eucharistic offering.

Therefore, we continue to celebrate the Paschal and Eucharistic mysteries in these eight days of Easter, culminating with the Easter Octave of Divine Mercy Sunday. Christ has promised us great mercies if we observe the Feast of Divine Mercy. As Jesus told St. Faustina, “I want to grant a complete pardon to the souls that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion on the feast of My mercy.” This is a particularly great indulgence promised by Jesus for the complete remission of our sins and punishment. So, as we celebrate Easter, let us recall the spark that came from Poland with Sts. Faustina and Pope John Paul II, and put mercy into action by dedicating ourselves to the devotions associated with its message: the image of Divine Mercy, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Novena of Divine Mercy, and the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Easter Sunday is not the end of the Church’s celebration. It is the beginning of the full Octave of Easter. Let us celebrate all eight days of this feast, all the way to Divine Mercy Sunday. How fitting it is, especially this Jubilee year, the Holy Year of Mercy.

The Lord of the Rings and the Eucharist

As J.R.R. Tolkien declared, “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work… the religion is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.” This is possibly no more obvious than in Tolkien’s description of lembas. As Tolkien introduced them into The Lord of the Rings, “The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream. Gimli took up one of the cakes and looked at it with a doubtful eye.” It was a special, almost supernatural, bread-like food given by the Elves of Lothlorien to the hobbit members of the fellowship on their journey. The elves describe the lembas to them saying, “..we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant then cram, by all accounts. … Eat little at a time and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails.” Lembas, or the “waybread,” is meant to sustain them in their deepest and darkest trials.

The Eucharistic tones and parallels are undeniable. The Eucharist has been called the “food of angels,” or as in Tolkien terms, the food of Elves. Gimli, the dwarf, initially even looked at it with a “doubtful eye” thinking it was just ordinary bread made by men, harkening the disbelief in the Eucharist among many, especially in the modern world. He quickly realizes this is not any ordinary bread. The unique and special qualities of lembas are depicted throughout the tale. As Merry and Pippin talk of it at one particularly stressful moment in the journey while trying to escape Orcs, “The cakes were broken, but good, still in their leaf wrappings. The hobbits each ate two or three pieces. The tasted brought back to them the memory of fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days, heedless of the cries and sounds of battle nearby.” They continue saying, “Lembas does put heart into you! A more wholesome sort of feeling, too, than the heat of that orc-draught. I wonder what it was made of.”

As the hobbits journey deeper into danger and to the very epicenter of evil, Mount Doom, the lembas play an increasingly significant role. Sam and Frodo are following their path of self-sacrifice, even to the possible end of laying down their lives for the love of their friends, for which, in Christian terms, “there is no greater love.” They are analogously on their way of the Cross. On the contrary, the evil characters find the lembas repulsive. Tolkien describes the Orcs’ reactions saying, “But I guess they disliked the very look and smell of the lembas, worse than Gollum did. It’s scattered about and some of it is trampled and broken, but I’ve gathered it together.” When the two hobbits reached the point when there was “no hope anymore” came Tolkien’s most poignant description of the lembas: “The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” The lembas sustained the two hobbit sojourners in their darkest hour, not by feeding them necessarily physically but by feeding their will. The waybread also evokes the viaticum, “a provision for the journey,” that is, the Communion given to people on their deathbed. It is the Eucharist for the journey, or the “waybread,” home towards one’s death. There are differences however. For one, lembas are not described as having any divine qualities, whereas the Eucharist is the divine sacrament of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. Additionally, the Eucharist is not just meant for times when all else fails, as lembas are described, but rather for our daily journeys. The two hobbits on their way fraught with death and destruction relied completely upon this waybread.

We too are all on our journeys to our inevitable deaths. Christ has left us His Body and Blood in the heavenly sacrament of the Eucharist.  It is our sustenance in this life. It is our waybread. Like the humble and seemingly weak hobbits, we must take our waybread in order to heroically, and against all odds, ascend the Mount Dooms in all our lives and complete our missions. As Tolkien confessed, he at first unconsciously, and later consciously, wove Catholic ideas and themes into the story. Tolkien was not out to re-create a Christian world or myth. Rather, he tried to create a literary myth to point towards the truths of the real world. The primary thrust of the story, as Tolkien said in one of his letters, is “about death and the desire for deathlessness,” two notions central to mythology and Christianity. As G.K. Chesterton spoke of Christianity as the fulfillment of myth, “The Catholic faith is the reconciliation because it is the realization both of mythology and philosophy. It is a story and in that sense one of a hundred stories; only it is a true story.”

We are the real-life Sam’s and Frodo’s. They are metaphors of us, as Christians, taking up our crosses, amidst our tribulations, while being sustained by the Eucharist. Though we are “weak” and “ordinary” people (hobbits if you will), we can achieve great and heroic ends by staying on the narrow paths of our simple faith journeys. Our lembas, the Eucharist, strengthens our wills and spirits, and presses us up the mountain, even when we would rather turn back and give up. But, it is up to us to choose: to give up or to not give up; to follow Christ or to not follow Christ. Tolkien’s literary myth spells out the lucid choice each one of us is to make of our own freewill between life and death, and good and evil. As Frodo laments the fact that the evil ring has come into his possession and the apparent hopelessness of the situation, Gandalf says to him: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” And so it is with each one of us to decide. Yet, as Tolkien slowly reveals Aragorn, the Christ-King archetype, he repeatedly declares to Sam and Frodo, “be not afraid.” In the end, even if, as Frodo, after our long journeys into the darkness, we remain faithful, but seemingly fall short in our mission, God’s grace can still save us.

Matthew 24, Josephus and the Preterist Apocalypse – February 5, 2016

Olivet Discourse

In Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, that is, His foretelling to the Apostles while on the Mount of Olives about the destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming, He said, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (Mt. 24:34) Jesus was predicting to them that Jerusalem and the Temple were going to be destroyed in their lifetimes. He spoke of “the desolating abomination” in the Temple, prophesied by Daniel, a time of great tribulation, false prophets, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, persecutions, and signs in the sky. Many regard that these prophecies concern the Second Coming of Christ. These are also all markedly similar to the prophecies found throughout the Book of Revelation. So, that raises the question, was Jesus wrong? Did He wrongly predict that these apocalyptic events were going to happen to His Apostles in the first century? Certainly, the first century Christians, the Apostles and disciples were expecting an imminent return of Christ. The Book of Revelation opens with John describing, “what must happen soon.” (Rev. 1:1) Yet, we know Christ did not return in His Second Coming in that generation, and even now, 2,000 years later Christ has not yet returned. So, again, was Jesus incorrect?

The definitive answer is no. As Jesus Himself said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Mt. 24:35) Jesus’ words were initially fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. The Jewish world, as they knew it in 70 A.D., did, in fact, come to an end. It was an apocalyptic end, as executed by the Roman Empire, against Jerusalem, Israel and Jewish Temple life. This is the Preterist interpretation (Latin praeter meaning “past”) of Christ’s prophecy, and the Book of Revelation. These eschatological prophecies were fulfilled in the devastations of the first century. The Catholic Church holds that these were a microcosm of the events, a type and foreshadowing, of what will happen at the end of the world, just preceding the Second Coming of Christ. The ultimate fulfillment of these prophecies will happen at the end of time, but were initially fulfilled here. The future fulfillment is called the Futurist interpretation. The Catholic Church holds the prophetic words of Christ are to be interpreted together, on multiple levels, and with multiple fulfillments, in both a Preterist interpretation and a Futurist interpretation. The Roman Empire of 70 A.D. and the Roman Caesars, foreshadow as a type, the yet-to-be, future empire of the Antichrist and the final Antichrist himself before the climax of history. As the Catechism teaches, Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.” (CCC 675)

Jesus was predicting the end of the Old Covenant and the removal of the central symbol of that Mosaic Covenant, the Temple. It was to be replaced by the Church, God’s New Covenant, and the New Jerusalem, made in the spiritual temples of Christian believers themselves. Christians, and the Church, the Body of Christ, is the New Temple, where the Holy Spirit dwells. Yet, Christ did not want the desolation of the Jews or Israel. He longed for them to believe in Him. As Jesus lamented over them, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate.” (Mt. 23:37-38) It is not hard to imagine the anguish Jesus felt with His foreknowledge of the destruction that lay ahead for Jerusalem. Jesus longed to save them, but many of them were unwilling to accept Him and His message. This rejection by the Jewish authorities, namely the Pharisees and Sadducees, reaches its climax when Jesus went on trial before the Sanhedrin and was condemned to death. As the Gospel plays out, the false prophets of the Jewish hierarchy, in collusion with the pagan Roman authorities, crucify and kill the Messiah. These are the same themes repeated throughout Scripture, especially in eschatology, concerning the false prophet, the pagan beast or empire, and the persecution of God’s people.

Flavius Josephus

What we are interested in here now, however, is the initial fulfillment, not the final, of these prophecies, the Preterist apocalypse. Fortunately, history has been blessed with firsthand accounts and witnesses to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Flavius Josephus, was a first century Roman, Jewish historian. He wrote extensive, detailed books from the time period called The War of the Jews. It is fairly amazing that any of the passages he wrote offer historical confirmation, sometimes in excruciating detail, of Jesus’ predictions concerning the fall of Jerusalem. For example, Jesus begins His Olivet Discourse by pointing to the Temple saying, “Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” (Mt. 24:2) Josephus affirms the fulfillment of this prophecy writing, “Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple…. it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.” (Bk 7.1.1) In fact, the Roman army, three legions, surrounded the walled city and lay siege to it for many months, while the Jews were trapped inside.

False Messiahs

Many more parallel confirmations abound. St. Matthew writes that Jesus warns His Apostles to not be deceived by false Messiahs. He says, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many.’” (Mt. 24:4-5) In the time period before the destruction of Jerusalem, in fact, many zealots and false prophets popped up misleading the people. Josephus records this too. He states, “Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting…. Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers..” (Bk 6.5.2-3) Josephus wrote more about them saying “These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration… and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty..” (Bk.2.13.4) Moreover, Josephus spoke about a certain “Egyptian false prophet” that “got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place..” Eventually, the Romans confronted them, and “the greatest part of those that were with him were either destroyed or taken alive.” (Bk.2.13.5) The false prophets are related to what Josephus termed the “seditious, “robbers” and “zealots.” These are the ones that took over the city in 66 A.D. provoking the Roman siege. These are the ones that mislead Jerusalem at its fateful hour. Jesus similarly spoke about the false prophets telling them they will hear of “wars and insurrections,” but that will not yet immediately be the end.

Natural Disasters

After this, St. Luke wrote that Jesus tells His Apostles “There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place;” (Lk. 21:11) Similarly, the Book of Revelation records, “A loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” Then there were lightning flashes, rumblings, and peals of thunder, and a great earthquake.” (Rev. 16:17-18) Josephus confirms massive storms and earthquakes so large that they interpreted them as portending imminent disaster. Josephus writes, “..for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.” (Bk.4.4.5) The Book of Revelation also speaks about a plague of “large hailstones.” It says, and huge hailstones, each weighing about one talent (or, a hundred pounds), dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague.” (Rev.16:21) Josephus offers a curiously matching description in his eyewitness account. He says,Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness; accordingly the watchmen that sat upon the towers gave them notice when the engine was let go, and the stone came from it, and cried out aloud, in their own country language, ‘The Son Cometh:’ so those that were in its way stood off, and threw themselves down upon the ground; by which means, and by their thus guarding themselves, the stone fell down and did them no harm. But the Romans contrived how to prevent that by blacking the stone, who then could aim at them with success, when the stone was not discerned beforehand, as it had been till then; and so they destroyed many of them at one blow.” (Bk.5.6.3)

Famine and Pestilence

The miseries were piled one upon another as the Jews were trapped behind the walls of the city, as the Roman soldiers encamped outside. For one thing, their food supply was running out. In fact, at one point their supply of corn, a major staple, was destroyed. (Bk.5.10.2) The robbers and the zealots had risen up against their fellow Jews, stealing their food, and leaving them to die. Josephus describes that the encampment around the city and the siege led to a famine so bad that it obliged them to chew everything, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some;” (Bk.6.3.4) The famine was so terrible that, as Josephus bitterly reports, some turned to cannibalism. He tells the story of one desperate woman who ends up killing, cooking and eating her own baby. He reports the men who witnessed this horrible act, along with all of Jerusalem, “trembled.” Josephus states as a matter of fact that, “So those that were thus distressed by the famine were very desirous to die; and those already dead were esteemed happy, because they had not live long enough either to hear or see such miseries.” (Bk.6.3.4) The living envied the dead! Similarly, disease and pestilence spread through the city as it was held under siege. Josephus says, “And indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another, was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench..” (Bk.6.1.1)

Mighty Signs from the Sky

Jesus said there would also be “awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” (Lk. 21:11) An incredulous Josephus wrote down what was witnessed in regard to miraculous phenomenon in Jerusalem before its destruction. Here Josephus tells of an ominous star, resembling a sword, that stood over the city; similarly, a comet continued in the sky for a whole year. He mentions a great light shone in the Temple making it as bright as daytime. Moreover, a massive brass and iron door, that required twenty men to open and shut it, swung opened by its own accord. One of the more incredible things witnessed was a heavenly display of chariots and armored soldiers running amidst the clouds. Also, a great noise was heard that sounded like “a great multitude,” saying “Let us remove hence.” As way of speculation, this may have been the voice of God declaring to all He would no longer remain in the Temple, and thus, the end of the Old Covenant. With the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews, the Great Diaspora, the Old Covenant ended and the New Covenant began, officially with the establishment of the Church in Rome. Josephus’ writings on these incredible phenomena are worth quoting at length:

“..while they did not attend, nor give credit, to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation; but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them . Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also, before the Jews’ rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eight day of the month Xanthicus, [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day-time; which light lasted for half an hour. This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.

Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner, [court of the temple,] which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night. Now, those that kept watch in the temple came thereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared, that this signal forshewed the desolation that was coming upon them.

 Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one-and-twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.” (Bk.6.5.3)   

 The Abomination of Desolation

Returning to the Olivet Discourse, Jesus spoke about the “desolating abomination” of the Temple. He said, “When you see the desolating abomination spoken through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains..” (Mt. 24:15-16) Here, Jesus is referring to the prophecies that Daniel made in the Old Testament concerning the desolation of the Temple, and the end of the world. Daniel prophesied, “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days.” (Dn.12:11) This prophecy, as with other prophecies from the Bible, has multiple fulfillments over time. The initial fulfillment, and again a foreshadowing type of the Antichrist, the tyrannical Seleucid king, Antioches IV Epiphanes, who set up a statue of Zeus in the Temple in 167 B.C., thus desecrating it. Yet, Jesus refers to the prophecy again, applying it to the coming desecration of the Temple by the Romans. Even in the time of Jesus, the Temple had become a meeting place for evildoers, as Jesus had to drive them out of the Temple, saying they are making it a den of thieves. (Mt. 21:13) By the time 70 A.D. came around, Josephus makes a similar observation that the Temple had become filled with abominations. He wrote, “And now, when the multitude were gotten together to an assembly, and every one was in indignation at these men’s seizing upon the sanctuary, at their rapine and murders but had not yet begun their attacks upon them Agnus stood in the midst of them, and casting his eyes frequently at the temple, and having a flood of tears in his eyes he said, ‘Certainly, it had been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with the feet of these bloodshedding villains.'” (Bk.4.3.10) And, just as Antiochus Epiphanes had erected the idol Zeus in the Temple, so did he put an end to the “daily sacrifice” (these were the lambs offered twice a day as proscribed in the Mosaic Law: Num. 28:3-4) in the Temple. Josephus records the same cessation with the Roman siege. He said, “..the sacrifice called ‘the Daily Sacrifice’ had failed, and had not been offered to God for want of men to offer it, and that the people were grievously troubled at it..” (Bk.6.2.1)  

Now, a large part of the problems for Jews and Christians in the Roman Empire was its polytheism and imperial cult of emperor worship. Nero Caesar, who’s name in Hebrew adds up to 666, the mark of the beast from Revelation, reigned from 54 – 68 A.D., was a great persecutor of Christians, and is seen as a forerunner to and a type of the Antichrist. He also claimed to be divine. The refusal of Christians to participate in this imperial cult, of emperor worship of various Caesars, led to many of the early martyrdoms. St. Jerome, in his Commentary on the Book of Daniel, expressed this idea, “And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.” This was no less true for the Roman soldiers, who participated in the imperial cultus, and even worshipped their own ensigns with the eagle. In the Jewish and Christian mind, this is all idolatry and blasphemy. Yet, Josephus wrote that the Roman soldiers brought their ensigns, especially the eagle emblem, and their idolatrous religion to Jerusalem. Then, upon entering and conquering the city, they set up their ensigns in the Temple and worshiped them, another fulfillment of the desolating abomination. Josephus wrote, “And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.” (Bk.6.6.1)

The Siege of Jerusalem

Now, in the corresponding passage in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside not enter the city, for these days are the time of punishment when all scriptures are fulfilled… They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Lk.21:20-24) Firstly, Josephus records that Vespasian had surrounded the city with his armies. He says, And now Vespasian had fortified all the places round about Jerusalem..” (Bk.4.9.1) He says they camped initially at the Mount of Olives, and then, they built in three days, a wall in that “encompassed the city.” (Bk.5.12.3) Yet, we know that the Christians actually took heed to the warning of Christ, as there are no recorded deaths of Christians, miraculously perhaps, within the city. They saw the armies of Vespasian and Titus in Judea and fled towards Jordan. Similarly, when there was a break in the siege of Jerusalem, upon hearing of Nero’s death, they took that opportunity to escape the city. The early Christian scholar Eusebius recorded it this way, “The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. To Pella those who believed in Christ migrated from Jerusalem; and as if holy men had utterly abandoned the royal metropolis of the Jews and the entire Jewish land, the judgment of God at last overtook them for their abominable crimes against Christ and His apostles, completely blotting out that wicked generation from among men.” (Bk.3.5) The Christians had taken Jesus’ advice and fled to the mountains!

The Great Tribulation

The death and destruction visited upon Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is nearly unimaginable. Jesus Himself prophesied, “..for at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect they will be shortened.” (Mt. 24:21-22) Josephus, as an eyewitness to these calamities, was able to confirm Jesus’ prophecy. Josephus wrote, “Whereas the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but in a manner, of those that ever were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations.” (Preface.1) He continued, “Accordingly it appears to me, that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews, are not so considerable as they were..” (Preface.4) Josephus related that the siege began during the feast of unleavened bread, or Passover, meaning Jews from all over Israel and beyond would have been visiting Jerusalem, swelling the number of people in the city. (Bk.5.3.1) Josephus speculated that the number of people killed during the siege is at least 1,100,000, and the number taken captive at 97,000. What a massive calamity! Over a million people killed and nearly a hundred thousand taken into bondage. He wrote, “Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a straitness among them that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.” (Bk.6.9.3) With that, the seven year tribulation from 63 A.D. to 70 A.D. came to an end, as Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and the Jewish people slaughtered and cast into a diaspora among the Gentile nations for the next two millennia. Therefore, Jesus’ warnings about the coming apocalypse, for that generation, were most definitely fulfilled. For its part, the early Church continued to suffer persecution and martyrdom under the Roman Empire, as Christians steadfastly refused to participate in imperial cults, emperor worship or sacrifice. This, just as Jesus had predicted, you will be hated by all nations because of My name,” (Mt. 24:9) and a foreshadowing of the final fulfillment of Christ’s words.

The 100th Anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima (long version) – February 24, 2016

“And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rev. 12:1)   

The Angel / 1916:

This spring 2016 is the one hundred year anniversary of the Fatima apparitions. It is true that Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, did not begin to appear to the three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco dos Santos, in Fatima, Portugal until May 13, 1917. However, in the spring of 1916 they were first visited by the “Angel of Peace,” who prepared the way for the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima the following year. The angel appeared to them “whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it and of great beauty.” He spoke to them, “Do not be afraid. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” The angel returned to three shepherd children again in the summer of 1916, and then again, lastly, in late September-early October 1916. The angel imparted heavenly entreaties to them for prayer, conversion and intercession; sacrifice and reparation; while imploring them to adoration and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The Virgin Mary later told Jacinta that war is a punishment for sin. In the spring of 1916, when the angel first appeared, Europe and the world were already embroiled in the “Great War,” World War I. It began on July 28, 1914, with an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war against Serbia, and an invasion soon after. Eventually, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria had joined forces to form the “Central Powers” in a war of aggression against the main Allied countries of Britain and the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Russia, and later on, the United States. There were many more countries obviously involved too, making it the first truly global conflict. It was “the war to end all wars,” and by the end of it, on November 11, 1918, over 17 million people had died. Portugal, for its part, had, at least initially, remained neutral, yet they ended up losing over 7,000 Allied combatants, and over 80,000 civilians as well due to disease, hunger, and the worldwide Influenza pandemic.

By the spring of 1916, Germany and the Allies were locked into their positions, along trench lines, in a grueling battle of attrition, and poison gas attacks, on the Western Front across northern France. Along the Eastern Front, Russian and Romanian forces continued to fight bitterly against German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish and Bulgarian troops. During the time of the angelic apparitions in Fatima in 1916, one of the largest battles of World War I was raging at the Battle of Verdun, along the Meuse River in France. Here, during the ten month long campaign, French and German forces suffered cumulative losses of over 300,000 dead and over 700,000 casualties. During the same time period from July to November 1916, the British and French, backed by the first ever use of tanks (British) on the battlefield, engaged the Germans at the Battle of the Somme River. The five month long assault resulted in over 1,000,000 men being killed or injured, including the shrapnel wounds of a German soldier, Adolf Hitler.

It was in this context of savage war that the Angel of Peace first appeared to the innocent children Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. He invited them to pray with him, as he bowed down touching his forehead to the ground, similar to as Muslim men pray five times a day. [It is interesting to note that God chose the small village, Fatima, in Portugal for these occurrences, as it is named after Muhammad’s favorite daughter, Fatima, from the time of Moorish Muslim occupation. Bishop Fulton Sheen attributed this to God’s attempt to reach out to and convert Muslims, who, in fact, do hold Mary, as the mother of Jesus, in high respect within Islamic tradition and the Quran. Perhaps, they will one day be converted, in part, as the Aztec Indians were through the intervention of Our Lady of Guadalupe.] At this first appearance, the angel taught them the “Pardon Prayer.” He prayed, “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You! I ask pardon of You for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” This is the heavenly entreaty for us to pray intercessory prayer for others, especially for those who do not worship God. This is one of the central messages of Fatima: to pray for the salvation of souls. Upon departing, the angel told them, “Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.”  

In the summer of 1916, the angel appeared again to the three children. One day during the siesta hours the children were relaxing and playing games, when the angel appeared, gently admonishing them, “What are you doing?” Then, he entreated them, “Pray! Pray very much! The Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High.” The angel was exhorting them to live a strong prayer life, to pray constantly and to offer sacrifices to God. The children continued to pray the Pardon Prayer he had previously taught them. Upon questioning the angel of how they should make sacrifices, he said, “Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners. You will thus draw down peace upon your country. I am its Angel Guardian, the Angel of Portugal. Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you.” With that, the angel made known to them that they should offer sacrifices to God as reparation and intercession for the conversion of sinners. They should also humbly bear any sufferings that God sends into their lives, as a form of intercession on behalf of sinners.

In late September or early October 1916 (Lucia did not recall the exact date), the angel returned again one last time. This time he came to teach them to pray and adore the Holy Eucharist and to receive Communion. He came with the chalice in his left hand with the Eucharistic host suspended over it, with drops of the precious blooded falling into the chalice. Bowing down, again touching his forehead to the ground, he taught them another prayer, “Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore You profoundly, and I offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and indifference with which He Himself is offended. And through the infinite merits of His most Sacred Heart, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners.” With that, the angel then offered the Eucharist as Holy Communion to the children. The angel said to them, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.” This underscored the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist; in it, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ to dwell within us. God wants us to receive Him and adore Him in the Eucharist. The angel also tells us to “console your God.” God has made Himself vulnerable for us, and because of us. He is hurt by our sins, especially our mortal sins, and the thought of the eternal loss of His children. God’s main goal in the Christian faith and the Catholic Church is to save our souls, as we are all sinners in need of His forgiveness, mercy and grace. Thus, by our intercession and sacrifices on behalf of others, we can atone for their lack of prayer, lack of faith and lack of sacrifice. We can be co-redeemers with Christ, by uniting our sacrifices to His one eternal sacrifice and infinite merits, for the salvation of souls. By virtue of our Baptisms, we are baptized into the priesthood of Christ, and so, we can offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in atonement for sin. In this way, we can, in fact, console God by renouncing ourselves for the good of others.

For the next seven months or so, the three little shepherd children contemplated and practiced these spiritual things the angel had taught them. Yet, in early 1917, Europe and the world were still engulfed in total war, unspeakable carnage, genocides and revolutions. Of note, the Ottoman Turks were in the process of exterminating 1.5 million Armenian Christians, along with Greeks and Assyrians, in the ethnic and religious genocide of their territory. Along the Western Front, the Germans had established a second defensive position called the Hindenburg Line. The first-ever aerial warfare was well underway as the Allies and German planes, including the German ace Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” clashed in the skies over Europe, fighting for air superiority. Naval and submarine warfare continued around the North Sea, as Germany tried to cut-off the British Isles and sink American ships. On April 6, after repeated German U-boat attacks, the U.S. finally declared war on Germany. To the East, British and Indian troops were fighting the Turks in Mesopotamia. Then, in March and April 1917, Russia, faltering and in the midst of revolution, overthrew the Czar, Nicholas II, and established a new provisional Russian Democratic government. Consequently, on April 16, a political agitator, Vladimir Lenin, returned from years in exile in Switzerland, and went back to Russia with his radical Bolshevik Party.

Our Lady / 1917:

It was amidst these years of swirling, manmade evil, and chaos, and devastation, that on May 13, 1917, the first apparition of Our Lady appeared to the same three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, seven months or so after they had last seen the Angel of Peace. Mary appeared to the children as they tended to their flock of sheep in a field, Cova da Iria. Shining “more brilliant than the sun,” Mary said to them, just as the angel had, “Do not be afraid. I will do you no harm.” When Lucia asked her where she was from, she replied, “I am from Heaven.” Mary focused her message along the same lines as the angel had done: on prayer, reparation and the Eucharist. She asked the children if they would be willing to accept the suffering God sends them as an act of reparation for sins and the conversion of sinners. Again, this gives insight into how heaven views our roles as intercessors and priests who can offer sacrifice on behalf of others. We are called to stand in the breach! Then, the children, led by an interior impulse, fell on their knees and recited this prayer, “O Most Holy Trinity, I adore You! My God, my God, I love You in the most Blessed Sacrament!” As the Catechism teaches us, the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Before departing Mary made one more request of them, “Pray the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world, and the end of the war.” Just as she indicated that sin is the cause of war, so too Mary shows them that by prayer, and specifically praying the Rosary, we can bring about peace. Sin brings conflict, suffering and war, whereas prayer brings resolution and peace. Interestingly, her request to pray the Rosary every day is the same and only request she repeated at all six apparitions. This is one of the central spokes of Fatima, to pray the Rosary everyday.

Mary appeared again to the three children on June 13, 1917. She repeated her request of them to return there on the 13th of each month, and of course, to pray the Rosary daily. Mary told them that Jesus wished to establish a worldwide devotion to her Immaculate Heart, which “will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.” This is another central component to the apparitions, that is, to offer devotion and reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To honor her along with her Son, Jesus Christ, and the devotion to His Sacred Heart, given previously to the world through revelations to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Mary was kept immaculate, without sin, at her conception. She became a suitable dwelling place for the Word of God. Yet, God did not force her to accept becoming Theotokos, the God bearer, but asked her assent, through her own freewill, to bear the Son of God. It is in Mary’s fiat, her yes to the archangel Gabriel, saying “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Lk 1:38) that Jesus came into the world. Our salvation was contingent upon Mary’s obedience and compliance with the divine plan. Thus, Jesus asks us to honor her, as our spiritual mother, through which, grace, mercy and redemption entered the world.

The Secrets

The following month, on July 13, 1917, Mary imparted a secret message in three parts to the children. By now many people were following the happenings at Fatima and making requests, such as healings, of the children to ask Mary. It is interesting that Mary’s response to Lucia is that it would be necessary for such people to “pray the Rosary in order to obtain the graces” they were requesting. Now, the first secret was a terrifying vision of hell, shown to them for a brief instant. She wished to show them that eternal damnation is real, and that is the place where sinners go upon death if they do not amend their lives. She taught them to plead to God on behalf of sinners living in mortal sin and in danger of being eternally lost. She said, “Sacrifice yourselves for sinners, and say many times, especially whenever you make any sacrifice: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.” Again, her focus is on prayer and sacrifice for the conversion of sinners and reparation to her Immaculate Heart. This is a stark reminder of how vitally important it is to live a holy life, close to the Church, and avoiding sin, because our eternal destiny hinges upon it. As horrible as it is that millions of people had lost their lives during World War I, losing your soul is far worse. God is much more concerned about the soul than the body. It is because of this that Mary requested a special prayer to be said at the end of each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.” Fatima is an urgent plea to stay on the narrow path to heaven.

In the second part of the secret message, Mary conveyed to the children a warning that if mankind did not stop offending God, another war would happen, far worse than the current war (ie, WWI). She said, “If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that He is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.” Of course, as we now know, that this all came to pass. Hitler and the National Socialists, Nazis, came to power in 1933. During the reign of Pope Pius XI, Germany annexed Austria and invaded the Sudetenland in 1938, marking the beginnings of aggression by Nazi Germany and World War II. This was heralded on January 25-26, 1938 by an extraordinary aurora borealis that illuminated the skies over Europe. Newspapers across Europe and America recorded the event. The January 26th edition of the NY Times has an article describing how Europe was “startled” by the brilliant display of lights. They were “pulsating beams like searchlights in dark red, greenish-blue and purple.” One person described it as a “shimmering curtain of fire.” Indeed, people from all over Europe, fearful and panicked that war had begun, called police stations and fire departments asking, “Where is the fire?” The true fire was soon set ablaze across the world, as it plunged into a second global conflagration.

Continuing in this third apparition in July, Mary also warned them, “To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are granted, Russia will be converted and there will be peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecution of the Church.” In this, Mary focuses attention not upon the Central Powers, but upon Russia. This might have seemed odd at the time. At this point in 1917, Russia was still part of the Allies, and was busy trying to establish a democratic government after the overthrow of the Czar, which put an end to the 300 years Romanov dynasty rule. Mary knew, however, the brutal atheistic Marxist regime that was emerging from the rubble of Russia’s Christian past. For the rest of the 20th century, atheistic Communism did run rampant from Russia and Eastern Europe to Red China and countries around the world, enslaving and killing tens of millions of people, and persecuting the Church.

First Five Saturdays Devotion

Mary did, in fact, come back again appearing to Lucia on December 10, 1925, while she was a postulant for the Congregation of Saint Dorothy Sisters in Pontevedra, Spain. The holy Virgin mystically showed her Heart covered and pierced by thorns from “ungrateful man” with their “blasphemies and ingratitude.” It was here that the Virgin Mary asked us to “console” her and make reparation to her Immaculate Heart. She said, “..I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all those who, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months, shall confess [their sins], receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for fifteen minutes while meditating on the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary, with the intention of making reparation to me.” This is the wonderful promise of graces necessary for our salvation, which the Virgin Mary makes to us, if we fulfill the first Five Saturdays devotion. This notion, for a holy, grace-filled death, is in the Hail Mary prayer itself, when we pray “..pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The devotion is not difficult. As she outlined, on the first Saturday of five consecutive months we must (1) go to Confession; (2) receive Holy Communion in a state of grace; (3) recite five decades of the Rosary; (4) meditate on the fifteen (now twenty) mysteries of the Rosary, all with the intention of offering reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Lucia believed that peace and war, and the salvation of souls were dependent upon spreading and fulfilling the First Five Saturdays devotion.   

The third Secret of Fatima also was given to the children that day on July 13, 1917. Whereas the first Secret was a vision of hell, and the second Secret concerned warnings about World War II and the spread of Communism, the third Secret was more enigmatic. It was a symbolic prophecy concerning the future sufferings of the Church, if the warnings of the other secrets were not heeded. In the vision, the children saw an angel with a flaming sword about to set the world on fire, crying out “Penance, Penance, Penance!” The flames from the sword, however, died out before they reached the earth, when they met the “splendor that Our Lady radiated..” The intercession of Mary on behalf of the world staved off divine chastisement. People, however, have to embrace a constant state of conversion; a metanoia, a constant turning away from one’s sins. The rest of the symbolic vision showed the Church, including the Bishops and Pope, climbing a large mountain, where they were attacked, killed and martyred. Although some have disputed the official interpretation, the Church has said this vision is a representation of the martyrdoms of the saints and Church through the 20th century, especially under the atheist, Communist regimes, and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.

In the next apparitions in August and September 1917, Mary again reiterated the need for prayer, in particular the Rosary, and conversion, especially to save sinners. In August, Mary said, “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and to pray for them.” Christians, by virtue of our Baptism into the priesthood of Christ, can offer our prayers and sacrifices on behalf of other souls. As Christ suffered for our sins and redeemed humanity, so too, can Christians, as mini-Christs, offer suffering and prayer for others. Indeed, many prayers and intercessions were needed for others, for as these apparitions were happening, the war lingered onwards. On the Western Front, the Third Battle of Ypres in Belgium was raging, and resulting in approximately half a million casualties by the Allies and the Germans. Russia continued to battle the Central Powers along the Eastern Front, in which, by the end of the war, both sides had suffered over 5,000,000 casualties in total. By October, in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia,” a British officer and diplomat, was leading an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks in the Sinai and Palestine. Carnage, death, uprisings and revolutions continued to rule the day.

The Miracle of the Sun

This set the stage for the sixth and dramatic final apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three small shepherd children on October 13, 1917.   She had also promised a sign, a miracle to show all present that she was really appearing in Fatima. In anticipation of this promise, an estimated 70,000 people came out in October in the driving rain to witness the final apparition. They were not disappointed. Mary spoke to the children again saying, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” She implored them to continue to pray the Rosary every day and not to offend God anymore with our sins. Then, as she ascended back up to heaven, she reflected light from her hand onto the sun. This is when the great crowd there witnessed the “dancing of the sun” as it seemed to spin, and zigzag and shoot off multicolored beams of light. It grew larger in size, and brightness, although the light did not hurt their eyes. The sun looked like a spinning wheel of fire that seemed to detach itself from its place in the sky and fall downwards close to the earth, frightening and terrifying the crowd. Many people began to pray and confess their sins out loud, thinking it was the end of the world. After the miracle was over with and the sun returned to its normal place and brightness, people realized that their clothes and the ground, which had been soaked in the rain, were now completely dry.

Yet, at the same time that many people witnessed the dancing of the sun, the seers, and some of the people, witnessed something different. Lucia described seeing at first, “..St. Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady robed in white with a blue mantle, besides the sun. St. Joseph and the Child Jesus appeared to bless the world, for they had traced the Sign of the Cross with their hands.” Next, Lucia described seeing “..Our Lord and Our Lady; it seemed to me that it was Our Lady of Dolours [Sorrows]. Our Lord appeared to bless the world in the same manner as St. Joseph had done.” Then, finally Lucia and the seers saw Mary one last time “..resembling Our Lady of Carmel.” The first apparition they saw was that of the holy family. God was showing the world the need to strengthen the bonds of marriage and the Christian family unit, as represented by the perfect model of St. Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus. Jesus lived most of His life as part of a family. By His life in a family, Jesus sanctified all families, raising them up by His sanctified humanity. God blessed the family, as our model, because He knew the unrelenting attacks on the family that would come for the rest of the century and into the 21st century. We know now the scourge modernity has had on the family unit, from divorce, broken-marriages, single parent homes, adultery, abortions, sexual abuse, same sex marriages, and negative forces of every kind. The tragic breakdown of the family has been the single most interiorly corrosive development to the fracturing of modern culture and society. It is also interesting that in the first vision, St. Joseph, as the father figure, is the one to bless the world. Again, stressing the importance of fathers and fatherhood in the family and society. In the second apparition, Jesus and Mary appear and bless the world. Lucia said Jesus appeared as “the Perfect Man” and Mary appeared as “Our Lady of Sorrows.” She attributed the meaning of this as a call to perfection in the Christian life, following the examples of Jesus and Mary in all things, especially in sacrifice and suffering. In the last apparition, the children saw Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in a religious habit, which Lucia attributed as a call of our total consecration to God, a call to holiness and to our intimate union with Him.

Russia

Immediately following the last apparition in Fatima in October 1917, more cataclysmic events befell the world, particularly with Russia, as Our Lady had placed so much emphasis upon. On November 6-7, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the provisional democratic government in Russia, in the “October Revolution,” (by the Russian calendar).  Soon thereafter, in March 1918, the new Bolshevik Russian regime signed a peace treaty with the Central Powers, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, effectively withdrawing from WWI and abandoning their alliance with the Allies. The Bolsheviks instituted a Soviet, non-democratic government based upon Marxism, without private enterprise or land ownership, repression of political rivals and ideas, and massacring their opponents, especially priests and the Church. They nationalized all of the Russian Orthodox Church property, sought to destroy all Christian practices, such as religious instruction, Sunday masses and holy days. The Bolshevik Communists sought to wipeout Christianity completely from Russia, and replace it entirely with atheistic materialism. Over the next couple of years, the Communist “Red Terror” campaign swept the country as the Communists and their secret police engaged in imprisonment, mass killings and gruesome torture of anyone, especially the Church, not seen as loyal to the new State. The era of Communist Russia had begun, and, as Our Lady had warned, to spread their errors around the world. From the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to China, Cambodia, Vietnam, North Korea to Africa, Cuba, and Latin America, it is estimated that Communists killed approximately 94,000,000 people in the 20th century; the largest collective massacre of peoples driven by a single ideology in the history of the world.  Systematic mass killings and genocides became state run programs. For seventy years, Communism metastasized from one country to the next, and fought a Cold War with the United States and the West, but as Mary had predicted in the July 1917 apparition, “..in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” And so it happened, with the eventual consecration of Russia and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Mary did come back again to ask for the consecration of Russia. This time it was on June 13, 1929, twelve years later, while Lucia was a postulant with the Sisters of Saint Dorothy in Tuy, Spain. Lucia had a vision of the Trinity, and then, Mary came to announce, “The moment has come in which God asks the Holy Father, in union with all the Bishops of the world, to make the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, promising to save it by this means.” We know, unfortunately, now through the long gaze of history, that the full consecration of Russia, with all the Bishops and the Pope, was delayed for various reasons and not fulfilled until 55 years later, when Pope John Paul II completed the consecration in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on March 25, 1984. That same month, in which, in March 1984, Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Soviet Union. A year later, in March 1985, hardline Communist leader Konstantin Chernenko died, and Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He soon began to initiate his program of Perestroika (“restructuring”) and Glasnost (“openness”), which altered the whole trajectory that the Communist country had embraced for seventy years. Gorbachev reached out to the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholics, and began pushing for religious freedom and liberty again. As a sign of the great conversion happening in the East, the Berlin Wall, a symbol of Iron Curtain repression, was torn down in November 1989. Finally, on Christmas night, December 25, 1991, President Gorbachev announced his resignation and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire. The Evil Empire was no more. The fifteen countries of the Soviet Republic were now free to become independent countries, and miraculously all happening virtually without war and bloodshed. In fulfillment of Mary’s promise, when the consecration happened, Russia was converted, and “a period of peace” has been granted to the world. One has to wonder now, some years later, in 2016, with a world in percolating turmoil, if that period of peace is coming to an end?

Consequential events continued in the next month, in December 1917, when the British captured Jerusalem, and then, Palestine and Syria, ending four centuries of control by Muslim Ottoman Turks. It was in this year that British foreign diplomat, Lord Balfour, sent a letter, the “Balfour Declaration,” to Jewish leaders indicating that the British government’s “..view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This led to the years of the British Mandate (1920-1948), when Britain controlled Palestine. It paved the way for the fulfillment of Jewish Zionist aspirations to return to their ancient homeland and reconstitute the state of Israel. This was propelled in the 1930’s and 1940’s with anti-Jewish pogroms in Europe, and of course, the Holocaust of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Eventually, on May 14, 1948, the Jewish people in Palestine won their war of independence and declared the new state of Israel. This opened the way for the Jews to return to Israel with an ingathering of their diaspora from around the world, which many saw as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The Jewish Israeli and Arab Muslim conflict remains to this day a central dispute in international geopolitical affairs.

On October 4, 1918, nearly a year after the last apparition of Fatima, Germany requested an armistice, and on November 11, 1918, it officially surrendered, ending World War I. In the midst of that, however, in 1918 and 1919, a worldwide Flu pandemic killed around 50 million people, including two of the child seers, Jacinta and Francisco Santos, while Lucia ended up living much longer (until February 13, 2005), as Mary had predicted. Yet, the groundwork was laid for a second worldwide conflagration in World War II, in which over 60 million were killed. In the June 13, 1929 apparition in Tuy, Spain, Lucia had a final vision, of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; with a supernaturally illumined Cross, and Eucharistic imagery of a chalice and a large host with drops of blood issuing from the side of Jesus, with the words “Grace and Mercy.” She also saw Our Lady below the right arm of the Cross, with her Immaculate Heart in her hand. Mary was again at the foot of the Cross, just as she had been at the original crucifixion of Jesus. This is the same place we go to every Mass, to receive in Holy Communion, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, into our lives. God was imploring us again to turn away from sin, to embrace the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The message of Fatima is just as relevant today, 100 years later, as it was in 1916-1917. We receive the grace and mercy of God through the sacrificial offering of Christ in the Eucharist. We see Mary, our spiritual mother, there too, leading us to God, just as Jesus from the Cross had beckoned the beloved disciple, St. John, and us, to embrace His mother as our own, “When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27)

The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles – 25 January 2016

Wouldn’t it be great to have a snapshot into the life of the early Church to see what they believed and taught and practiced on a day-to-day basis? Of course, we have the New Testament, which is divinely-inspired, and tells us about the life of Jesus Christ and the faith of the first Christian communities. Its 27 books, and eight (possibly nine, depending on if you think St.Paul, or a disciple of St.Paul, wrote the letter to the Hebrews.) authors – including the Apostles St.Matthew, St.John, St.James, St.Peter, St.Jude, and disciples St.Mark, St.Luke, and St.Paul – is the scriptural foundation of all Christian canonical beliefs. All of the books were written in the first century by eye-witnesses to Jesus, or by the first disciples of the Apostles. Aside from being the Word of God, these are incredibly reliable historical documents, reflecting direct contact with the person of Jesus and written relatively soon after. Yet, there are also many extra-biblical sources and letters, from the first century and early second century, that describe the life, belief and practices of the early Church. These are the writings of the early Church Fathers, in particular, the Apostolic Church Fathers, such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Smyrna. They are considered “Apostolic” because they had direct contact with the Apostles themselves, thus making their work fascinating and of utmost importance (even though they were not ultimately included within the canon of Church Scripture).

One such document is called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” or known simply as “The Didache.” It is one of the earliest known Christian writings, even possibly predating some of the New Testament books. It is generally agreed to have been written between 50-120 AD, well within the lifetime of some of the Apostles and first disciples. Some of the early Christians even considered it an inspired book, although again it was ultimately not included in the canon. The Didache is generally divided into four different sections concerning: (1) a moral catechesis (ie, “The Way of Life” vs. “The Way of Death”), (2) liturgical instruction, (3) a Church manual for various ecclesiastical and community norms, (4) and a brief eschatology of the parousia (ie, the second coming of Christ). One of the most profound aspects of the early Church Fathers’ writings is that they are thoroughly sacramental in nature, that is, they speak explicitly of the sacraments of the Church. Simply, from an apologetics point of view, they demonstrate that the sacraments and doctrines of the Catholic Church are not something contrived or incrementally slipped into Christianity over the centuries. They are not paganism, or a so-called Roman mystery religion. Christianity holds all of that in contempt as idolatry and blasphemy. Rather, the sacraments, the prayers, the Church, they were all there from the beginning. This is also true in The Didache. The tracts of the Didache, as are all the early Church Fathers’ writings, are decisively Catholic. [of note: The Way of Life specifically mentions not to commit “abortion, or infanticide,” which is probably the earliest known Christian writing explicitly condemning abortion and infanticide. Later, it references The Way of Death, in which they “murder their infants, and deface the image of God.”]

The Didache speaks matter-of-factly about Baptism, going to Church on Sundays, receiving the Eucharist, and making a general confession of sins. For example, as part of “The Way of Life,” the author says “In church, make confession of your faults, and do not come to your prayers with a bad conscience.” Later, he instructs:

“Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations.”

In the Church manual section, he similarly states, “No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord’s own saying applies here, ‘Give not that which is holy unto dogs.’” The manual gives in-depth instruction of the eucharistic prayers to say over the chalice and over the broken bread, offering us a glimpse into the first century Mass. They are to pray, “Thou, O Almighty Lord, hast created all things for thine own Name’s sake; to all men thou hast given meat and drink to enjoy, that they may give thanks to thee, but to us thou hast graciously given spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal, through thy Servant. Especially, and above all, do we give thanks to thee for the mightiness of thy power.” The manual similarly gives precise details about how to go about baptizing people saying, “..immerse in running water ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’” It offers a similar prescription for standing water, or simply pouring water over the person’s head. The manual delves also into fasting, instructing people to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, much like the modern tradition, and to pray the Our Father three times every day.

And, how should this affect us? These brief snippets offer us glimpses, from outside the New Testament (i.e., accepted Scripture), into the hearts and minds of the first Christians. They lived a sacramental life in toto. Their daily lives were rooted in Baptism, Confession, the Eucharist, Sunday worship, fasting, and prayer. This is what they called The Way of Life. The Way of Life involves modeling our lives after Christ, that is, among many other things, loving our enemies, living a moral life, being meek and compassionate. Moreover, it instructs us, “Accept as good whatever experience comes your way, in the knowledge that nothing can happen without God.” We are to live out our Christian vocations within our ordinary circumstances and trials of each day, with Christ as our “spiritual meat and drink, together with life eternal.” As some have argued, The Didache could be a form of vade mecum, a small handbook that Christians would have carried about with themselves. It spoke to them of how they should live their lives, conduct themselves and embrace the sacramental life. And so it remains with us!

Confirmation, the Sacrament of Spirit, Strength, and Combat – November 15, 2015

“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)

Some question whether Confirmation is really a sacrament. Martin Luther retained the ceremonial aspect of it, but rejected its sacramentality, saying, “God knows nothing of it.” Even some modern Catholic thinkers have referred to it as “a sacrament in search of a theology.” After all, Christians receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Why then do we need a second anointing of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation? What is its purpose? Part of the criteria the Church used in delineating the seven sacraments was that each had to have been instituted by Christ Himself, as when He instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and when He was baptized in the Jordan River. But, when and where in the Gospels did He institute the sacrament of Confirmation? Maybe its critics have a point. Yet, the Church has continually upheld Confirmation as a sacrament. In the 13th century, St.Thomas Aquinas took up this very question of the defense of Confirmation as a sacrament in his Summa Theologica (Summa, III, q.72). Later, the Church Council of Florence in 1439, and again, the Council of Trent in 1566 both affirmed the sacrament of Confirmation as one of the seven sacraments. These declarations have remained as the foundational Catholic understanding of Confirmation all the way up to modern times. As the Catechism now states, “Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the ‘sacraments of Christian initiation’.” (CCC 1285) Confirmation is one of the three sacraments in which the Christian is initiated into the Church. Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation are a unity which complete our initiation. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, unlike the Latin Church, this unity is expressed by administering these three sacraments together, one after another, for initiation into the Church. In Roman Catholicism, however, they are spread out over time, generally speaking, beginning with Baptism, then later, Eucharist, and finally, upon entering adulthood, Confirmation. The reception of Confirmation completes and perfects the Baptismal grace. (CCC 1285) So, Baptism and Confirmation are two distinct sacraments, but linked together in the conferral of grace. As the passage (above) from the book of Acts demonstrates, the disciples in Samaria had already been baptized, but Peter and John came to lay hands on them so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. They were then, in fact, “confirmed” into the Church, received the Holy Spirit, and completed their Baptismal grace.

Confirmation is sometimes called “the sacrament of Christian maturity.” It is the sacrament that ushers the Baptized into the fullness of the Christian community, through the special strength of the Holy Spirit it identifies us more closely with the public mission and witness to Jesus Christ. Lumen Gentium says that, in Confirmation, those confirmed are “more perfectly bound to the Church,” so that, they are “obliged to spread and defend the faith, both by word and by deed, as true witnesses of Christ.” (LG, 11) The Confirmed are to share more completely in the mission of Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit, so as to give off “the aroma of Christ.” (CCC 1294) In his letter to the Corinthian Church, St.Paul calls the newly converted, and presumably newly Baptized, “infants in Christ.” (1 Cor.3:1) Baptism is our beginning point to the life in the Spirit. St.Thomas also compares Baptism as the point of our spiritual regeneration, and Confirmation as the point of our spiritual maturity. Baptism is our entrance, and Confirmation is our graduation. St.Thomas says of Confirmation that “man is perfected by Confirmation.” (Summa, III, q.65, a.3)  In Baptism, we become children of God, and in Confirmation, we become friends of God, sent into the world to give witness and carry on the mission of Christ.

Jesus promised that His Spirit would lead us to all truth, and we must take into account the veracity of His word in the Church seeing fit to establish the sacrament of Confirmation. The Spirit does not make mistakes. Confirmation, as with all the sacraments, contains an essential form to make the rite valid. The signs and symbols of the rite confer the grace they signify and signify the grace they confer. The catechumens are confirmed by the bishop by anointing their foreheads with a perfumed oil, a sacred chrism blessed by the bishop, and the laying on of hands by the bishop (just as Peter and John, as the first apostolic bishops, laid hands on the disciples of Samaria), and with the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1300) The sign of anointing with the chrism imprints a spiritual seal upon our souls with the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1304) For this reason, because it imparts a special character upon us, just as in Baptism, it is only given once. (CCC 1305) In ancient times, a seal was a symbol of a person, or the symbol of who that person belonged to, such as, soldiers marked with their leader’s seal, or slaves with their master’s seal. (CCC 1295) So too, now, Christians are confirmed with the mark of the Holy Spirit in order to seal us as His, consecrated to Christ. In the old mosaic covenant, an indelible mark was left on the body in circumcision, but now, in the new covenant, an indelible mark is left on the soul with the seal of the Holy Spirit. St.Paul speaks about this saying we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph.1:13), and “marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30) To the Corinthians, he similarly says, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting His seal on us and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” (2 Cor.1:21-22) This idea of the seal of the Holy Spirit hearkens back to the Old Testament, where God prophesies through Ezekiel “I will put My spirit within you.” (Ez.36:27) The seal of the Holy Spirit is also promised to us as divine protection in the eschatological future, that is, at the end of the world. (CCC 1296) In Revelation, the angels of judgment are told, “Do not damage the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have marked the servants of our God with a seal on their foreheads.” (Rev. 7:3)

The effects of the sacrament of Confirmation are most commonly associated with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. (CCC 1302) As St.Luke describes the dramatic event in the book of Acts:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles in startling fashion with a rush of violent wind and tongues of fire. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Lk.24:49) In obedience, the Apostles had been persevering in prayer, hiding in the upper room for fear of persecution. However, once they were sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit “from on high,” they emerged from the upper room and began to preach powerfully and publicly to the crowds of people. St.Peter, in particular, is the first to fearlessly witness to the crowds about the crucified Jesus, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He begins by quoting the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28)

The Holy Spirit had strengthened the Apostles and the disciples, who were now unafraid to proclaim and defend the faith publicly. The flinching Apostles became towering super-Apostles, for through these twelve men, Christianity spread throughout the whole world in the midst of, and in spite of, terrible persecutions and martyrdom. St.Thomas discusses the miraculous change in their behavior due to the Holy Spirit. He says, “whereas in Confirmation he receives power to do those things which pertain to the spiritual combat with the enemies of the Faith.” (III, q.72, a.5) Confirmation anoints us with the power for spiritual combat, and to persevere amidst the trials and tribulations of giving witness to Christ in a hostile world. Confirmation is the sacrament to strengthen us for combat.

Jesus Himself, in fact, did institute the sacrament of Confirmation, albeit not by bestowing it directly, but with the promise of a future fulfillment, for He could not give the Spirit until after His Resurrection and Ascension. (Summa, III, q.72) Jesus promises His Apostles beforehand, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (Jn.16:7) Jesus promises that once He is gone He will send the Spirit of Truth (Jn.14:17), the Advocate (Jn.14:16), the Paraclete, the Comforter and Counselor, to clothe them with power “from on high.” And again, Jesus tells His Apostles, “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn14:25-26) Jesus promises this, even though His Apostles had already been baptized, as implied in Him washing their feet and His saying to them “you are clean.” (Jn.13:10) Yet, Jesus promises more. He promises to clothe them with the power of Heaven, the Holy Spirit, which is ultimately fulfilled on that day of Pentecost.

This is the birth of the active Church, the Church militant. From there, the Church spread through the ancient world, first to Jew, and then, soon after, to Gentile, and all the way up till today, to all nations, universally across the globe. Yet, the Holy Spirit did not continue to anoint the disciples in such a dramatic, miraculous and visible fashion as at Pentecost. From that point on, the Apostles begin to invoke and confer the Holy Spirit through the imposition of hands, or the laying on of hands. This is truly the birth of the sacrament of Confirmation. As Acts says, “Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17) St.Paul and the other bishops of the apostolic Church also conferred the Holy Spirit upon the Baptized through the imposition of hands. As St.Paul’s letter says, “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6) We see this again in Acts, “When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts, 19:6) The “laying on of hands” is similarly mentioned in other places throughout the New Testament, such as in the letter to the Hebrews. (Heb.6:2) It was an integral part to the early, apostolic Church. It was part of The Way. The laying on of hands is the sacrament of Confirmation. It remains part of our way today. Confirmation is an extraordinary and charismatic conferral of grace, that completes our Baptism, unites us more closely with Christ, confers an indelible character upon our souls, gives us a special permanent status within the Church, strengthens our faith to engage in spiritual combat and to be able to publicly and boldly defend it. (CCC 1303) In short, it perfects the character we receive (in Baptism) as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1305) Our initiation is complete. Our status and our service in the common priesthood of the faithful are officially consecrated to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. With the winds of the Spirit in our hearts and the tongues of fire in our minds, we are ready now, ready to leave the safe confines of the upper room and witness to Christ in the public marketplace.

Consoling the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Part II – 17 September 2015

The Catechism states that, “Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life.” (CCC 478) As we have just explored, this would have been possible for Jesus to know us, and who we are, and what we would do, despite living in a different time and a different location. Jesus Christ, as the Word of God, was filled with divine knowledge. He had Infused divine knowledge about everything related to His mission of Redemption, and all the people and events involved in fulfilling that mission. He also had divine knowledge of the Beatific Vision, in which He constantly beheld the glory of God the Father and the Holy Trinity. He, as the divine being, was not confined by space and time, in relation to His divine nature. In this way He could perceive people and places in the future and in other locations; hence, Jesus’ ability to read people’s minds and hearts, know what was happening elsewhere, and prophesize future events and actions. There was no one who was outside of Jesus’ grasp to know or understand. Jesus’ only limitation in this respect, during the time of His Incarnation, was His finite human mind and soul’s ability to grasp the infiniteness of God the Father. Yet, we know as per the discussion by St.Thomas, that Jesus knew the essence of all finite creatures. Furthermore, He knew “whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time.” (S.T. III, Q.10.,a.2) All human beings and human nature are finite in essence, and so, Jesus, as the Word of God, in His deified humanity, could well perceive all that we are, and all that we did, or will do, despite the limitations of His human mind.

And so, St.Paul could say, “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) Jesus loved me and gave Himself for me. This is a fascinating thing to contemplate. Specifically, Jesus, in His earthly life 2,000 years ago, knew me. He knew my life, my circumstances, my failings, my actions, my prayers. When Jesus willingly entered on Holy Thursday and Good Friday into His Passion, to suffer horrible tortures and death, He was thinking about saving you, and saving me. Jesus in His divine knowledge saw that His suffering and death could save us from our individual sins. So, He willingly laid down His life for us, out of love for us. As Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:13) Think about all the good you have done and all the sins you have committed. They were all there, wrapped up in the heart and mind of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We have to remember that Jesus was no ordinary man. What may seem impossible to us would not have been impossible to the God-man. We were on His mind. Indeed, Jesus prayed for us saying, “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (Jn.17:20)  

Jesus was in fact praying for all of His followers throughout the centuries who would form His Church and His Mystical Body. In His divinely Infused knowledge and the Beatific Vision, Jesus would perceive not only God the Father, but the whole Blessed Trinity. As a part of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, Jesus would have been able to know all the people that make up His Mystical Body. The Mystical Body of Christ is made up of Christ’s followers, or simply, the Church. In 1943, Pope Pius XII put out an encyclical “On the Mystical Body of Christ,” or “Mystici Corporis Christi.” In one section of that, he addresses Christ’s vision of us in the Mystical Body, “For hardly was He conceived in the womb of the Mother of God, when He began to enjoy the Beatific Vision, and in that vision all the members of His Mystical Body were continually and unceasingly present to Him, and He embraced them with His redeeming love.” (Mystici Corporis Christi, 75) Throughout Christ’s life He beheld all of us in the Beatific Vision as members of the Mystical Body of Christ. There, Christ was able to keep all of us individually present to Himself throughout His life and continually in His thoughts. Whoever we are, wherever or whenever we live, Christ loved us. The symbol with which the Church shows this love for us is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. As the Catechism states, “He has loved us all with a human heart.” (CCC 478) In the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane, that human heart of Jesus was afflicted by our sins and consoled by our acts of charity and mercy.

In 1928, Pope Pius XI put out an encyclical “Miserentissimus Redemptor,” or “All Merciful Redeemer,” concerning Reparation to the Sacred Heart. This is a wonderful meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus that also delves into the idea of forethought in Christ. The encyclical reminds us that, “no created power was sufficient to expiate the sins of men.” (M.R. 9) Rather, the God-man alone would be sufficient to undo the transgressions of sin for all mankind. It quotes the suffering servant prophesies from Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities.” (Is.53:5) All of the sins of every person in the history of the world were placed upon Christ in the hour of His Passion and Crucifixion. The Chief Apostle, St.Peter, reiterated this saying, He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” (1 Pt.2:24) The sins and crimes of people throughout the ages were the source of Jesus’ grief, suffering, and death. Our sins today, caused Jesus’ agony then. Seeing and bearing the immensity of sins and crimes committed by every person that has ever lived, an unimaginable burden, Jesus was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, even to the point of His sweat becoming like drops of blood. (Lk.22:44) So, for us today, in the 21st century, when we sin, are “crucifying again the Son of God and are holding Him up to contempt.” (Heb.6:6) Jesus, with His divine foreknowledge, knew the sins we would commit. He beheld them in the garden. It was a source of agony for Him, and He willingly suffered that torture on our behalf to expiate our sins. Simply put, our sins today are a source of suffering and grief to Jesus’ Sacred Heart then.

Now, if we are a source of pain to Jesus in His agony by our actions now, it reasons that by our prayers, sacrifices and good deeds now, we can also console the Sacred Heart of Jesus then. This reaches a key point in the encyclical. It says: Now if, because of our sins also which were as yet in the future, but were foreseen, the soul of Christ became sorrowful unto death, it cannot be doubted that then, too, already He derived somewhat of solace from our reparation, which was likewise foreseen.” (M.R. 13) So, just as Jesus foresaw our sins, He also foresaw our acts of reparation, love and mercy. We, by our actions today, can console the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the past. This is a wonderful thing to contemplate. By our acts of mercy and charity, we can ease the pain of Christ in His Passion. We can bring Him consolation, even now after the fact. The encyclical says this plainly, “And so even now, in a wondrous yet true manner, we can and ought to console that Most Sacred Heart which is continually wounded by the sins of thankless men.” (M.R. 13) It is within our power to make reparation and console the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the midst of His Passion. Time and space is of no constraint to the divine person, the eternal Word. We are, in a mystical but real way, present to Jesus in His life and His Passion. By our actions in the present, we can either wound or console Jesus’ Sacred Heart in the past. Our unfolding actions here and now in time are already present to Jesus in the eternity of His foreknowledge.

In 1980, in Pope John Paul II”s encyclical Dives in misericordia,” or “Rich in Mercy,” he also addressed this idea of consoling the crucified Christ. He said, “In a special way, God also reveals His mercy when He invites man to have “mercy” on His only Son, the crucified one.” (Dives et Misericordia, 8) We can show mercy to Christ. Think about that, God allows us to comfort Him. This is part of the scandal of Christianity. It calls to mind the fact that Jesus’ Mystical Body continues to live on in the world as the Church, whose members continue to suffer, “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church.(Col.1:24) The resurrected and glorified Christ also appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus as he was trying to slaughter the Christians of the infant Church. Jesus confronted him saying, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4) Jesus implied attacks on His Church were in fact attacks on His very person. Saul, by persecuting individual Christians and the Church was persecuting Jesus Himself. This is the same language Jesus uses when He spoke about the Last Judgment. The Righteous will be rewarded for all the good deeds they did, even those done to the least person among us. Jesus associates Himself with those suffering the most, and the weakest, most in need. Jesus said, And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to Me.” (Mt.25:40) Thus, our good deeds, our charity, our prayers, and our mercy, especially towards those most in need, can bring comfort both to Jesus’ Sacred Heart in His Passion 2,000 years ago and to the on-going suffering of His Mystical Body today. As the encyclical states we can, by living holy lives and by reparation and by deeds of mercy, “fulfill the office of the Angel consoling Jesus in the garden.” (M.R. 19) For as the Gospel states, “there appeared to Him an angel from heaven” (Lk. 22:43), in order that His Heart, oppressed with weariness and anguish, might find consolation.” (M.R. 13)

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary – 24 August 2015

The hidden life at Nazareth allows everyone to enter into fellowship with Jesus by the most ordinary events of daily life.” (CCC 533)

Jesus spent the majority of His life in relative obscurity, in family life, growing, learning, working and manual labor. Jesus did not come to Earth and immediately set the world ablaze with His divine power and majesty. On the contrary, Jesus came in obscurity, humility and poverty; being born as a baby, completely dependent and helpless, to a poor family in a small village placed in an animal manger. God came as the least among us. How few recognized the extraordinary baby in the midst of that most ordinary scene? How often do we fail to see God in our ordinary circumstances each day? Following His birth, Jesus then spent His childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in continued obscurity. Or, in other words, the God-man, the divine Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, spent the vast majority of His earthly life in a very ordinary, everyday existence; a seemingly average person. Christ lived as one of us in every way, but sin. As the Catechism teaches, “During the greater part of His life Jesus shared the condition of the vast majority of human beings: a daily life spent without evident greatness, a life of manual labor.” (CCC 531) This is truly an amazing thing to contemplate. Jesus, the divine being, spent most of His life, or approximately thirty years, living a private, ordinary life just like ours. But why? He worked in Joseph’s workshop as a carpenter. He lived an existence in humble obedience to Mary, His mother, and Joseph, His step-father. Little else is said of this time period in the Bible. Of course, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think most often about the last three years of His life, His public life, as recorded in the Gospels. These were the all-important years when Jesus gathered His disciples, preached the kingdom of God and the repentance of sins, worked miracles, healings, instituted the Sacraments, founded His Church, and of course, offered Himself to the Father with His Passion and Crucifixion. There seems to be a huge dichotomy between the ordinariness of His first thirty years and the extraordinariness of His last three years. One can imagine at the beginning of His public ministry the astonishment of His neighbors when they asked, “Where did this man get all this?” (Mk. 6:2) They only recognized the “ordinary” Jesus, and were incredulous at seeing and hearing the divine Jesus.

This begs the question then, why did Jesus live these two almost separate, distinct stages in His life? Why was there seemingly such a difference between the first 90% of His life versus the last 10% of His life?  In part, I think the answer lies in the focus of those stages. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father.  As Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(Jn 6:40) Jesus was born into the world in order to save and bring to Heaven as many human souls as possible. This was clearly accomplished by Jesus in His Passion and Crucifixion. The reason for the Incarnation was the Redemption. (CCC 607) In the midst of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mt. 26:39) Jesus accomplishes His Father’s will in the redemptive act of His Passion. This was the culmination of His public ministry, the culmination of the Incarnation. Yet, to state the obvious, Jesus was God even before His public ministry. For the first thirty years, in His private, ordinary life, He was God. He was already accomplishing the will of the Father in perfect obedience. As the Catechism states, “From the first moment of His Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in His redemptive mission: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”” (CCC 606/Jn 4:34) Jesus’ whole life was lived accomplishing the will of the Father. From the first moment of His Incarnation into the womb of Mary, to His birth in Bethlehem, to His childhood and adolescence, to His young adulthood in Nazareth, Jesus accomplished the will of the Father. The two distinct periods of Jesus’ life, the private and the public, were not at odds with each other. They were one continuous redemptive mission along the spectrum of Jesus’ life. The mystery of redemption was at work throughout His life. As the Catechism states, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption. Redemption to us above all through the blood of His cross, but this mystery is at work throughout Christ’s entire life.” (CCC 517) Thus, Jesus was fulfilling the will of the Father to redeem and save, even in His private life as an ordinary person.

Then, what was the mystery of redemption at work through the thirty or so years of Jesus’ private life? How did this mystery of redemption permeate Jesus’ ordinary existence? Part of Jesus’ mission was to restore mankind to its original dignity and vocation. Jesus could have descended from the clouds of Heaven and begun His life in His public ministry. Yet, that is not what He did. Instead, He followed the same path that we all follow of being born into this world, growing up, and laboring as an adult. Jesus took on all of our circumstances, and lived our daily, ordinary lives. And not only that, He lived in the most humble and extreme of circumstances so as to encompass the breadth and depth of human experiences. He came intentionally to live through all these various stages of life. The Catechism says, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of recapitulation. All Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim restoring fallen man to his original vocation.” (CCC 518) Jesus recapitulated within Himself all of our ordinary human actions, our ordinary human vocations, and in fact, our very ordinary human nature. The Catechism quotes St.Irenaeus in this area, “For this reason Christ experienced all the stages of life, thereby giving communion with God to all men.” (CCC518) Within Jesus, all aspects of human life, from birth until death, were sanctified. All of the material nature of man was subsumed in the vastness of His divinity. The infinite efficaciousness of His divine nature was infused into human nature. As such, human nature was raised up, restored, and divinized in the person of Jesus Christ. When the God-man lived our stages of life and our ordinary actions and vocations, He infused them with His eternal grace. Thus, the Catechism can state, “The obedience of Christ in the daily routine of His hidden life was already inaugurating His work of restoring what the disobedience of Adam had destroyed.” (CCC 532)

Christ was indeed the “perfect man” (CCC 520), the new Adam, who lived a perfect life, but He did not live it for Himself. Rather, Christ lived it for us and for our salvation. Moreover, “All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property.’” (CCC 519) Taking on human nature, all of humanity was recapitulated within the God-man Redeemer (CCC 518) St.Paul uses the perfect phrase to illustrate this idea; that is, in order “to sum up all things in Christ.” (Eph.1:10) This captures it succinctly. Jesus is all that we are and all that we live. The divine man Jesus, lived the ordinary life of each of us, suffering the mundane work and trials of each day, so as to redeem our lives, consecrate them, and divinize them by His own divine life. Jesus cares about us in our poverty. He lived it. He offers eternal meaning to our poor lives. Christ, by living an ordinary life like ours, consecrated our ordinary vocations. The effects of His Spirit are not limited by time or space. We can be united with Jesus in our humanity, in our ordinariness. Our ordinariness should not worry us. We don’t have to do extraordinary things or live extraordinary lives. We can be content in our simplicity. Christ summed up all that we are within Himself. We can live within Him, and He will live within us. In a certain way Christ Himself is united with each man. Christ saves us individually. Being united as one with Jesus – as a part of the Mystical Body of Christ – we continue within ourselves the mysteries of His life, making Him present in the world. (CCC 521) In Nazareth, Jesus lived a quiet, humble and obedient life. He lived in communion with His family. He worked in the carpenter’s workshop. Jesus is our perfect example. We should imitate Him by consecrating to God our family life, our work life, and our everyday activities. We do this through the intentions of our thoughts and prayers. Part of the reason Jesus lived His private life of 30 years was so we could be united to Him in everything we do. Our ordinary lives can have extraordinary meaning. After His Resurrection, Jesus repeatedly shows up to His disciples, sometimes unawares; once walking with them on the road to Emmaus; another time fixing breakfast for them at the Sea of Galilee. What’s to stop Jesus now from being with us as we drive to work? Or, as we sit down for dinner with our family? Or, at anytime in our daily routine? This should be our intention every day: union with Jesus. Whether in family life or at work or in leisure, we should unite ourselves with Him. Then the ordinary will take on the extraordinary. This is our true treasure.