Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Name of God – September 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Nightly Examination of Conscience – January 22, 2016

Each day is a microcosm of our entire life. In the morning we are “born” into our day, and at night we go to sleep into our “death.” Each day is analogous to one’s life, and each night is analogous to one’s death. If we consecrate each morning and day to God, should we not also consecrate each night and sleep to God? In that way, our whole day, whether awake or asleep, is consecrated to God. Our sleep anticipates our death, and our waking in the morning anticipates our resurrection. What is more important at the end of one’s life, at the doorstep of death, than to review one’s life, and to ask forgiveness for all one has done or failed to do? If we seek pardon and forgiveness at the end of life, in anticipation of the final judgment, should we not seek to examine our lives and ask for forgiveness each and every day? After all, we do not know when our end will come, it may be fifty years from now, or fifty minutes from now. As Jesus cautions us, the end may come for us at an hour we do not expect, and so, we must be like the faithful servant, and always vigilant and ready. As Jesus warns in the Gospel of Matthew in the parable of the ten bridesmaids: “..the Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But He replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Mt. 25:10-12)

Even though this is a horrible judgment, Jesus gives us reason to hope. He tells us that we can be ready for the end and welcomed into the “marriage feast” of the Lord. But, how? We must remain vigilant and prepared for the return of the Master, either at the end of the world, or at the end of our lives. And, how do we remain vigilant and ready? We must remain faithful servants, obedient to the Church, living closely to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, have an active prayer life, read the word of God, and live a life filled with good and merciful deeds, in short, we must love God and our neighbor. All of these activities contribute to us having a well-formed moral conscience. Once we have a well-formed moral conscience we will better understand that we regularly fall short of the commandments of God, and are in constant need of His forgiveness. Moreover, the more we examine our lives and seek forgiveness, the more clearly we will know right from wrong, that is, have a “correct conscience,” and seek to perfect our lives. This is the idea of the nightly examination of conscience. As the Catechism quotes Gaudium et Spes, “ For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.” (CCC 1776) In the traditional canonical hours of the Church the nightly examination of conscience would be “Compline,” or night prayers for the last hour of the day. Before we go to sleep each night, we should examine in our minds, at least briefly, the events of the day, and everything that we did or said, or failed to do, good or bad.

So, how should we proceed? First, we should ask for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and enlighten our consciences, to give us discernment about the events of the day. Then, we should offer thanksgiving, by thanking God for all the good gifts and blessings that day. Where did we receive His grace and encounter Christ throughout the day? Where did we pray, sacrifice, be merciful or love throughout the day? Where did we fail to do so? Then, we should also confess directly to God, in the silence of our heart, all our sins and failures for that day, and ask forgiveness.(**see below) We can ask God to forgive us and to help us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to do better tomorrow, in renewal of our commitment to Christ. We can consecrate ourselves to God in our sleep, that even our rest may glorify God. After having examined our whole day, from beginning to end, and asked forgiveness for our sins, we should pray an act of contrition. This is a typical version of the Act of Contrition:

“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended You, and I detest all my sins because of Your just punishments, but most of all because they offend You, my God, Who is all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”

It is also traditional to end your nightly prayer by saying the Our Father. We can also offer our breath and our heartbeats, in union with the breath and heartbeats of Christ, for the sanctification of the world. The examination of conscience and Compline prayers at night are the final seal of prayer and consecration of the day, finishing what we began in the morning, with our Morning Offering prayer, in that way the whole day is consecrated to God, where Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our life (for that day), sealed in God as one. In this way, we can go to rest in the peace of the Holy Spirit, at peace with our day and with our God, in hope of the resurrection to a new and eternal life.

**There are a number of standards by which we should judge our selves and our actions for the day. These are the same questions we should measure ourselves, in the examination of our consciences, when approaching the sacrament of Confession. They are all rooted in following the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. The questions include (but, obviously not an exhaustive list): Have I humbled myself before God today and prayed? Did I fail to make acts of faith or charity today? Have I made an idol out of anything in my life? Have I taken the name of God in vain? Have I missed going to Church? Have I stolen anything? Have I lied? Have I hurt someone? Have I bore false witness against someone, or gossiped about someone? Have I cursed today? Have I committed sins of the flesh and lust? Have I been envious of others’ property? Have I lashed out in anger? Have I been lazy and wasted time? Have I engaged in gluttony? Have I been greedy? Have I harbored jealous or evil thoughts? Have I been stubborn or unforgiving today? Did I give into temptation today? Have I seen, said or watched anything sinful, or blasphemous? Did I respect and honor my family and my parents today? Did I fail to be merciful to someone? Was I joyful and nice to other people today? Was I arrogant and proud? Have I willingly not followed Jesus in any aspect today?

Divine Filiation and Ordinary Life, St.Josemaria Escriva – January 20, 2016

“The street does not get in the way of our contemplative dialogue; the hubbub of the world is, for us, a place of prayer.” St.Josemaria Escriva (letter 9, Jan.1959, No.60)

St.Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was a Catholic priest from Spain in the 20th century who founded the Catholic organization, Opus Dei, “The Work of God,” a personal prelature comprised of lay people and clergy. The mission of Opus Dei is to evangelize Christians everywhere to live out their faith in their ordinary lives, to sanctify their daily work, and offer it all up to God. As St.Josemaria Escriva said, We have come to point to the example of Jesus, who spent thirty years in Nazareth, working at His job. In Jesus’ hands, work, an ordinary job like that done by millions of people throughout the world, becomes a divine task, a redeeming job, a path of salvation.” Josemaria was the “saint of ordinary life.” On October 2, 1928, God gave him an overwhelming vision. It was of ordinary Christians, who direct all their activity towards God, as a sanctifying sacrifice in participation with their baptismal vocation in the priesthood of Christ. He saw ordinary Christians sanctifying their daily work and activities by uniting them with the life of Christ. He saw the laity, of every background and race and profession and social status, all becoming apostles, saints in the world. Factory worker saints, farmer saints, carpenter saints, teacher saints, regardless of their profession or work, no matter how small, average or ordinary, they could all be saints. This is echoed in Lumen Gentium from Vatican II with the “universal call to holiness.” (LG, 5) All people, not just the clerical and religious class, but all people are called to holiness, even the lowliest of the laity are called to “be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16) Josemaria called this “The Way,” or more precisely, the way of sanctification. By this, he meant that we should unite our daily duties, whatever they may be, with God, through Christ; that is, to live out our Christian vocation within our daily secular vocation. Then, our daily secular work will become divine work that transforms us into holy apostles of Christ.

But, how is any of this possible? The key to St.Josemaria is “divine filiation,” the idea that, through Baptism, we have become God’s children. In Baptism, we are born by grace into the death and life of Christ, and become by grace what Jesus is by nature, namely, a son of God. St.John says See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 Jn. 3:1) This idea is scattered throughout the New Testament. St.Paul says to the Romans, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God… but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God..” (Rom. 8:14-16) In the second letter of Peter, he says God has let us “become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet. 1:4) Even Jesus Himself quotes Psalms 82:6 saying, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?” (Jn.10:34) Of course, He also teaches us at the Sermon on the Mount to pray to God by radically calling Him “Our Father.” (Mt.6:9) As part of our redemption and sanctification in Christ, St.Josemaria points out, it also involves our deification and divinization. We are no longer just servants created by God, but rather, we have been grafted through Jesus into the divine family. We have become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, and brothers and sisters to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, by incarnating into the world, humanized His divinity, and divinized His humanity. God reached down to humanity, so humanity could reach up to God. By giving us His Spirit, the Holy Spirit and grace, we can become one with Jesus in our life, just as the Persons of the Trinity, in their inner relationship, are one. Through Baptism and faith, we are brought into oneness with Jesus, and then, necessarily into the life of the Holy Trinity. Jesus prayed this in the Garden of Gethsemane saying “As you, Father, are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us..” (Jn 17:21) This is the scandal of Christianity. Not only do we believe in a singular divine, omnipotent Being, but we also believe that He came into the world to personally save us, and by grace, adopt us into His divine family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By nothing of ourselves, but only by the free gift of faith and grace, God makes us part of His family.

So, what is the significance of all of this? Firstly, we should recognize our special dignity as Christians, and our unique status conferred upon us in Baptism. The gift of faith, the Church, the sacraments should not be taken lightly. We should live our lives uprightly as fitting as children of God. As St.Peter states, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9) We have been baptized into the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ, the one true mediator between God and man. So, we are anointed as a priest of Christ, as part of the common priesthood of the faithful. (CCC 1547) St.Josemaria urged us that we should have a “lay mentality” with a “priestly soul.” Yet, unlike an ordained ministerial priest who offers the sacrifice of the Mass, what are we, as ordinary lay people, to offer and sacrifice? To answer that, we should understand that Jesus’ whole life was a mystery of redemption. (CCC 517) Even before Jesus’ passion and death, He was performing redemptive acts in His daily private life, which He lived for thirty years. Jesus lived the ordinary life of each one of us, a private life of work and daily routine, and as part of a family. During Jesus’ “hidden life,” He sanctified our everyday existence. Since Jesus, as God, became man, all of His life and actions were that of a divine Being. Jesus divinized humanity, and made holy everything in His ordinary life, from work, to leisure, to eating and meals, to family and friendship. Jesus sanctified everyday life. The people of Jesus’ day who saw Him declared, “He has done everything well.” (Mk. 7:37) Jesus lived out perfectly the common priesthood of the faithful that God had intended for Adam and Eve. He is our perfect model. (CCC 520) Jesus offered His priestly action and sacrifice throughout His whole life, including the thirty years of His private life, so that while He worked in Joseph’s carpenter shop, He offered work as a redemptive spiritual sacrifice. Jesus made possible the elevation and transformation of all of our mundane, ordinary actions into acts of divine worship. Because God performed these actions and lived this life, He has made them holy. So now, too, we as His divinely adopted children, can in conjunction with Him and His life, offer to God, all of our everyday routines and works as spiritual sacrifice, prayer, worship and praise. We can now fulfill our role as children of God, imitators of Christ, striving to become holy and sanctified, interceding on behalf of the souls of others, exercising our common priesthood of the faithful in the midst of the streets and homes and workplaces of the world.     

Jesus said “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (Jn. 12:32), and so, St.Josemaria had another vision of God drawing all men and women to Himself through their ordinary lives and occupations and vocations throughout the world, becoming “another Christ,” or Christs, within the world. Jesus endowed our work and our actions and our sufferings with divine efficaciousness. St.Paul mentions this idea saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church..” (Col. 1:24) Because of the mystery of the Incarnation, we are connected in some way with the life of Christ and His redemptive actions. We can offer all of our works, prayers, and sacrifices in conjunction with His. God has willed that we can, in effect, be co-redeemers and co-workers of Christ in the mystery of sanctification and redemption, both of ourselves and of others. For through our Baptism and in the Eucharist, we are connected to Jesus and in a real way with each other. We form, as it were, a communion of saints. Our work then is the sanctification of ourselves and of each other, in unity with the grace of Christ. As St.Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thess. 4:3) Now, through Christ, we can “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12) by offering worship to God through our everyday activities. All things sacred need not be relegated just to Church on Sundays while the rest of the week is occupied by the secular, devoid of holiness. God wills that all of our lives, each and every day, be holy and sanctified, worshipping God ceaselessly. (1 Thess. 5:17) We can do that by offering sacred worship to God through our secular ordinary activities. St.Josemaria cautioned against living a “double-life,” but rather instead, we should live an “integrated life,” single-minded in the pursuit of holiness. The key is bringing the presence of God into our lives, in whatever it is we are doing, making the secular holy.

And how can we bring the presence of God into our lives in whatever we are doing? Well, first off, this is not necessarily a loud, visible obvious presence. On the contrary, this is an invisible, interior apostolate. This is us, interiorly asking for the presence of God in our lives each day, consecrating all of our actions, submitting even our “small” actions, to God, in order to please Him. This involves our invisible, interior relationship with Him directly. We can join all of our work to the saving work of Jesus, again via the mystery of the Incarnation. Now, St.Josemaria asks, in effect, should we leave our jobs or families, and run off to do great, heroic deeds, or join a contemplative, monastic order in order to please God? No, not necessarily. Although some most certainly are called to religious life, most are not. As St.Paul again instructs us, “Every one should remain in the state in which he was called.” (1 Cor. 7:20) We can be at peace with where we are, and work out our sanctification amidst the circumstances we find ourselves.

Yet, to answer the original question, St.Josemaria recommended a number of daily markers and spiritual milestones to follow each day. These spiritual practices, a daily “plan of life,” followed by Opus Dei begin with offering a Morning Offering, or prayer immediately once we wake up in the morning; attending Mass each day if possible; prayer, such as saying the Rosary and the Angelus; reading the Gospels or scriptures, or a spiritual book; offering small acts of penance and mortifications; adoration before the tabernacle; three hail Marys at bedtime, examination of your conscience and asking forgiveness at night before going to bed. He also recommended regular sacramental confession and yearly spiritual retreats. By sticking to these simple milestones throughout the day, the person spiritually orders his or her workday to worship. Thus, our most common actions become spiritual sacrifices, offered in our temples (of our lives), which can be anywhere and everywhere of everyday life. St.Paul exhorts us directly to do this, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes also highlights that this glorification of God in our lives “concerns the whole of everyday activity.” (GS, 34) Our most basic tasks can be transformed into supernatural activities, ie, folding laundry, cooking dinner, serving customers at work can become holy acts of worship. So, we should strive, as Jesus did, to “do all things well,” and offer everything we do for the glorification of God and the sanctification of ourselves and for each other. Our secular day should be wrapped in spiritual prayer and sacrifice. This is part of the “pure offering” mentioned by the prophet Malachi (Mal.1:11) St.Josemaria spoke of how we should live: “Live as the others around you live with naturalness, but ‘supernaturalizing’ every moment of your day.” This is how we should approach each day, with a “holy ambition,” to ambitiously pursue holiness in the ordinary things of life. We are not called out of the world, but to sanctify the world from within, as leaven within the dough, to raise up Christ in ourselves and in our actions and in our place in life, as St.Josemaria espoused, to be “contemplatives in the midst of the world.” Then, we will truly be children of God.

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)