Tag Archives: Passion

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 3:00 Hour, The Hour of Divine Mercy – January 27, 2016

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:45-46)

Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.” (Acts, 3:1)

“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary of St.Faustina, 187)

Jesus died at the three o’clock hour. This is known in the bible as “the ninth hour.” It was for this hour that Jesus had come into the world. In the beginning of His Passion, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father, in agony and sweating blood, with foreknowledge of His coming torture and death, saying “Now My soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (Jn. 12:27) As the Catechism states “..for His redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation.” (CCC 607) The Word of God became flesh and suffered and died as an expiation for our sins, in order to reconcile humanity with God. (CCC 457) St.John reinforces this point by declaring that the Father “sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn.4:10) This atoning sacrifice, the Passion and death of the Son of God, was accomplished at the ninth hour, or at three o’clock, on a Friday afternoon. As the Scripture tells us, “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.” (Mt. 27:50) Jesus’ willing sacrificial death freed us from our sins and gave the possibility of conquering death and resurrecting us to eternal life.

The three o’clock hour inaugurates the new covenant, the New Testament between God and man, through the person of Jesus Christ. As the next line indicates, “And behold, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom;” (Mt. 27:51) The curtain, or the veil, was the massive cloth that hung between the two holiest chambers in the Temple, hiding the inner most holiest of holies, or the presence of God. No man was allowed to approach the holy presence of God there, except only the High Priest himself, on one day of the year, the Day of Atonement. The fact that God rent the veil in half, down the middle, thus exposing the inner holy of holies, or God Himself, shows that the sacrificial death of Jesus now allows man again to approach God directly. God is no longer partitioned, or hidden from humanity, but rather, He is available now for all, intimately for each of us. As the letter to the Hebrews describes this radical change in the God-to-man dynamic, saying “..since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh..” (Heb. 9:19-20)

At the three o’clock hour, Creation itself is in distress over the dying and death of its Creator. From noon until three o’clock, as Jesus hung on the Cross, the sun withheld its light and darkness came over the land. We do not know exactly whether this was an eclipse or something supernatural. This hearkens back to the prophet Amos, who prophesied, “On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos, 8:9) With the earth too, at the three o’clock hour, when Jesus expires, there is a great earthquake. St.Matthew describes the scene saying, “and the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Mt. 27:51), again echoing the prophet Amos, “Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it…. I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos, 8:8,10)  

At the three o’clock hour, in the midst of His Passion, Jesus, the only Son of the Father, took on the sins of the whole world, in order to free us from our sins. As St.Paul tells the Corinthians, “For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) During the original Passover of the Israelites in Egypt, they offered the sacrifice of a one year old lamb “without blemish” (Ex.12:5), putting its blood on their house doorpost, so that the angel of death would “pass over” them, and keep them from dying. Later, in the Temple period, under the Mosaic law, the Temple priests sacrificed two lambs a day in expiation for the sins of the people. (Ex.29:38-39) So, now too, Jesus, as He went into His Passion and Crucifixion, was “like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, He was silent and opened not His mouth.” (Is. 53:7) The Old Mosaic lamb sacrifices were merely symbolic representations, typologies, to prepare the Jews for the one true sacrifice of the Son of God. Jesus is the true lamb of God. This is why, upon first seeing Jesus, John the Baptist declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29) Jesus took on our sins and became sin on the Cross, for the sake of our eternal well-being.

This is why at the three o’clock hour He cries out just before His death, quoting the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps.22:1) Jesus quotes Psalm 22, which prophesied His suffering and death. All the Jews who were present would have known exactly what He was referencing. Psalm 22 speaks of an ignominious death of a righteous man, but who does not lose faith, and is ultimately justified before God. The parallels are amazing, and not because they are amazing coincidences, but because they fulfill the word of God exactly. The Psalmist prophesies, “All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver; let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” (Ps. 22:7-8) As St.Matthew describes this fulfillment:

“And those who passed by derided Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him, saying, “He saved others; He cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Mt.27:39-43)

Psalm 22 continues foretelling the events that would unfold: “Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet; I can count all my bones; they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.” (Ps.22:16-18) This parallels the account in the Gospels, “And when they had crucified Him, they divided His garments among them by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over Him there.” (Mt.27:35-36) Ultimately, the righteous man of Psalm 22 does not lose hope, but is justified. The Psalmist says, “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live for ever!” (Ps. 22:36) This is similar to the end of the Crucifixion account, which ends with the righteous praising God and saints rising from the dead. As St.Matthew described it:

“..the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Mt. 27:52-54)

The three o’clock hour is hour of great mercy for the whole world. It is the hour of divine mercy, when humanity was restored to fullness in its relation to God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Beginning in the 1930’s, Sister Faustina Kowalska of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, Poland began to have divine revelations from our Lord Jesus Christ. Sister Faustina, now Saint Faustina, recorded all of these revelations in her private diary, “Divine Mercy In My Soul.” Among the many revelations imparted by Jesus to St.Faustina in her diary is the great importance of the moment of the three o’clock hour. The moment of three o’clock, the moment of Jesus’ agony and death, is the great moment of God’s divine mercy for the whole world. Jesus told St.Faustina of the tremendous importance we should attach to this moment each day. As per Jesus’ words from her revelation:  

“At three o’clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to enter into My mortal sorrow. In this hour, I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion.” (Diary, 1320)

And again, Jesus reminded St.Faustina:

“As often as you hear the clock strike the third hour, immerse yourself completely in My mercy, adoring and glorifying it; invoke its omnipotence for the whole world, and particularly for poor sinners; for at that moment mercy was opened wide for every soul.  In this hour you can obtain everything for yourself and for others for the asking; it was the hour of grace for the whole world — mercy triumphed over justice.” (Diary, 1572)

“My daughter, try your best to make the Stations of the Cross in this hour, provided that your duties permit it; and if you are not able to make the Stations of the Cross, then at least step into the chapel for a moment and adore, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, My Heart, which is full of mercy; and should you be unable to step into the chapel, immerse yourself in prayer there where you happen to be, if only for a very brief instant.” (Diary, 1572)

The three o’clock hour is a privileged moment in the day for us, to claim mercy for the salvation of sinners, and the whole world, by virtue of Jesus’ passion, suffering and death. We can be there with Mary and St.John at the foot of the Cross. As Jesus implores us, we can, even “for a very brief instant,” at the three o’clock hour, immerse ourselves in prayer to Jesus, calling upon His divine mercy, in intercession for others. We can make a short prayer each and every day at 3:00, despite our busy days and schedules, whether at work, or at home, or in the car, or whatever we might happen to be doing at that moment. It is very easy to make this a part of our daily schedule. After a while, it will become second nature to us, pausing for a moment in our daily routines, to worship the divine mercy of Jesus and ask for intercession of behalf of the salvation of sinners. A brief prayer at the three o’clock hour should be a part of our prayer life, each and every day. In this way, we can trust in Jesus’ divine mercy for the salvation of our souls.

 

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)